Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk; 53 5/16 x 32 7/16 in. (135.4 x 82.4 cm)
Purchase, Mary Griggs Burke Gift, 1966 (66.90)
The blood-red body and flaming halo of the King of Passion, Aizen Myōō, symbolize how, in Buddhist practice, the violent energies of carnality and desire can be converted in the pursuit of enlightenment. Aizen Myōō is the embodiment of rage: his hair stands on end, a snarling lion rises from his head, and his six arms brandish Esoteric Buddhist weapons and other emblems of power. The bow and arrow in his middle hands are attributes appropriated from Kāma, the Hindu god of love. In contrast with this righteous anger, jewels of good fortune forming flaming clusters spill from a vase in front of the deity. While the philosophical and moral aspects of Aizen Myōō inspire mortification, worshippers afflicted with problems of the heart address him as a popular intercessor in their mystical practices and ritual invocations of his powers. This painting is a classical presentation of a Buddhist deity. The frontal composition, exacting geometry, painstaking technique, and lavish coloration result in an icon of great formal strength that expresses the Esoteric Buddhist concept of the essential unity of the material and the spiritual realms. Of particular note is the extensive use of raised relief decoration (moriage) in gold on the jewelry, bell, thunderbolt, and lotus pedestal.