Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Wheel of the Buddhist Law (Rinpō)

Kamakura period (1185–1333)
late 13th century
Gilt bronze
Diam. 5 in.(12.7 cm); Th. 3/8 in. (11 cm); Wt. approx. 1.2 lbs (530 g.)
Credit Line:
Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 223
This bronze ritual object connected with Esoteric Buddhism symbolizes the Wheel of the Law (Sanskrit: dharmachakra). In Buddhist texts and rituals, the phrase “turning the wheel of the law” refers to the act of teaching by the Buddha Shakyamuni. Each of the eight spokes and eight corners represents one of the moral admonitions of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the central section depicts a lotus flower with eight petals.
A number of ritual objects connected with Esoteric Buddhism such as the chakra (J: rinpō), or wheel, have a long history in Buddhist iconography, dating back to the era before anthropomorphic depictions of the Buddha were established and standardized. In Buddhist texts and rituals, the phrase "Turning of the Wheel of the Law" refers to the act of teaching by the Buddha Shakyamuni, and in India the wheel was used in early Buddhist imagery to represent the Buddha himself. According to the Chōagongyō Sutra, a chakra once preceded a military ruler into battle and vanquished his enemies.[1] The image of a chakra hurtling through the air as it precedes a deity on his way to cure an ailing emperor appears in the twelfth-century emaki the Shigisan engi emaki (Legends of Mount Shigi), in the Chōgosonshiji, Nara.[2] Appropriated as a ritual object by Esoteric Buddhism, the chakra continued to symbolize the teachings of the Buddha and was also thought to have the power to overcome delusions.

The eight spokes in this wheel, which correspond to the eight points on the outer edge, are shaped like a vajra (cat. no. 30). The hub resembles a lotus flower with eight petals and innumerable stamens. Two rings circle the rim where it meets the spokes, the inner ring with a pearl motif, the outer with a pattern of flower petals. The vajra-shaped spokes are thin in contrast to the outer rim, which is wide and thick—features suggesting that this chakra is a work of the late Kamakura period.

[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]

[1] Daizōkyō 1914–32, vol. I, no. 151.

[2] Komatsu Shigemi 1977b, pp. 64–65.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
Tokyo National Museum. Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: New York Burke Collection / A Selection of Japanese Art from the Mary and Jackson Burke Collection. Exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, 1985, cat. no. 84.

Avitabile, Gunhild, ed. Die Kunst des alten Japan: Meisterwerke aus der Mary and Jackson Burke Collection, New York. Exh. cat. Frankfurt: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1990, cat. no. 16.

Murase, Miyeko. Bridge of Dreams: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, cat. no. 28.
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