Art/ Collection/ Art Object

元 王振鵬 維摩不二圖 卷
Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality

Wang Zhenpeng (Chinese, active ca. 1275–1330)
Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
dated 1308
Handscroll; ink on silk
Image: 15 7/16 x 85 15/16 in. (39.2 x 218.3 cm)
Overall with mounting: 15 13/16 in. x 29 ft. 4 5/8 in. (40.2 x 895.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1980
Accession Number:
Not on view
This handscroll depicts an episode from the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Buddhist scripture in which Vimalakirti, a layman, and Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, engage in a theological debate. According to the sutra, Vimalakirti proved the more subtle by remaining silent when asked to explain the ultimate meaning of the Buddhist Law. The subject appealed to China's Confucian elite, for it demonstrated how a cultured layman could surpass even a deity in his understanding of doctrine.

The scroll is a rare example of a preparatory draft, submitted for the approval of the future Emperor Renzong (r. 1311–20) before a final version in color was executed.
#7361. Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality
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Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature

1. 3 columns in standard script, dated 1308:

On the first day of the second lunar month in the first year of the Zhida reign era [February 23, 1308], the day after Baizhu [1298–1323] was appointed to the rank of Palace Guard, in the West Lotus Leaf Hall on the hill in the garden of the Palace of Surpassing Happiness, [I], the official Wang Zhenpeng, was commanded by an imperial decree of Emperor Renzong [r. 1311–1320], [who at the time lived] in the residence of the heir apparent, to copy the draft of Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality by Ma Yunqing of the Jin dynasty (1115–1234).[1]

至大元年二月初一日,拜住怯薛第二日,隆福宮花園山子上西荷葉殿內,臣王振鵬特奉仁宗皇帝潛邸聖旨,臨金馬雲卿畫 《維摩不二圖》 草本。

2. 25 columns in standard script, undated:

In the second lunar month of the wushen year of the Zhida reign era [February 23–March 22, 1308] Emperor Renzong, while at the Spring Palace [of the heir apparent], took out a painting on silk of Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality by the former Jin [subject] Ma Yunqing so that I, the official Zhenpeng, could copy it on Dong silk and also explain the meaning of the phrase “nonduality.” Carefully following the Buddhist canon I accordingly stated:

In the city of Vaisali there was a layman whose Indian name was Vimalakirti, which is translated [in Chinese] as Jingming [“Pure Name”]. He was the reincarnation of the Golden Grain Tathagatha. He had a profound understanding of the Law. At home he manifested illness, and when visitors came to inquire about his condition, he preached the Law. Then Shakyamuni [tried to] send bodhisattvas to inquire about Vimalakirti’s illness, but many said that they had done so in the past and were incapable of responding [to his questions]. Therefore, they were unqualified to go. At last Manjushri said: “This gentleman is one to whom it is difficult to respond. He profoundly understands reality and excels in expounding the essence of the Law.” Thereupon Manjushri himself went. [When] the other bodhisattvas heard that Manjushri was going, they said [Vimalakirti and Manjushri] will certainly discuss the wondrous Law. So they all followed along.
When they arrived at Vimalakirti’s room, [they found that] due to his illness he sat alone in bed. Manjushri said, “The sage layman is ill, so Shakyamuni has sent me to inquire [about his condition].” After their conversation, Shariputra thought there were not any other seats in the room. Vimalakirti used his magical power, and instantly the Light King Tathagatha of Merudhvaja sent 32,000 lofty, vast, solemn, and pure lion-thrones to the room, where all were accommodated. The two great beings [Vimalakirti and Manjushri] sat down. Shariputra and Nara-ya Bodhisattva, because their thrones were so lofty and vast, could not ascend them. Vimalakirti ordered them to bow to the Light King Tathagatha of Merudhvaja, and afterward they were able to sit down.

Vimalakirti asked all of the bodhisattvas how one enters the Dharma gate of Nonduality. Each and every one of the bodhisattvas expressed his opinion. Manjushri addressed Vimalakirti, saying, “We have now spoken. Benevolent One, you should expound how one enters the Dharma gate of Nonduality.” Vimalakirti remained silent. Manjushri exclaimed, “Wonderful, wonderful! To remain silent is to have truly obtained the Law of Nonduality.” Then, Shariputra thought it was time to eat. Vimalakirti transformed himself into a bodhisattva and went to the Buddha of the Land of Fragrance to pick up a bowl of rice, and returned instantaneously. The fragrance of the rice permeated Vaisali City, and all the great beings attending the gathering became full upon inhaling the fragrance. There was a goddess in the room who was listening to the heavenly beings discussing the Law. She then appeared and scattered heavenly flowers. When they landed on the bodies of the bodhisattvas, the flowers fell off. When they landed on the body of one of Buddha’s great disciples (Shariputra), they did not. The disciple tried to get rid of the flowers with his magic power, but failed. The goddess asked why he did so. He replied: “These flowers do not compare to the Law; that is why I want to get rid of them.” The goddess said: “Do not say that the flowers do not match the Law. The flowers do not make any difference. It must be because you have not renounced your mundane desire that the flowers cling to your body. If you had renounced your mundane desire, the flowers would not cling to your body.” That is why the Tang monk Jiaoran (active ca. 766–804) has a poem: “The Chan maiden came to challenge. / Holding flowers, she intends to tarnish my robe. / Attentively, I gave back the flowers.” Su Dongpo [Su Shi, 1037–1101] has a poem “Guest Wearing Flowers”: “Mundane desires have dissipated gradually; / you cannot keep them. / On the contrary, return them to the flower-scattering goddess.” And “The place the lay devotee of Vaisali expounded ‘emptiness’ / Mundane desire has been extinguished and flowers need not be scattered. / Try to convince the goddess to use rouge and powder. / Even one thousand lively Buddhist hymns will not provoke a word.” And “Would that the reclining sick one respect Manjushri.” Another poem by Su Dongpo, “Requesting Leave Due to Sore Arms”:

“By a low window in a small pavilion, reclining on a mild and peaceful day / I remain in total silence. / Vimalakirti was not ill, but I truly am. / Who understands Dongpo’s gate of nonduality?” Dongpo also has a poem, “The Sculpture of Vimalakirti”: “When he was here, someone asked him about the Law. / He bowed his head and did not speak, knowing in his own mind.” Du Fu (712–770) inscribed a portrait of Vimalakirti by Gu Kaizhi (ca. 348–ca. 409): “The portrait of Golden Grain Tathagatha is marvelous and difficult to forget.” Dongpo inscribed a painting of Vimalakirti by Shike (fl. mid-10th c.): “I observe Shike, a recluse, wearing hemp shoes, / threadbare hat, and two elbows worn through. / He can depict Vimalakirti with the tip of his brush; / His magic power surpassed Vimalakirti.” I saw Ma Yunqing’s Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality. His brushwork is of surpassing excellence. He seems to have perceived and entered the gate of nonduality. Hasn’t his magic power surpassed that of Vimalakirit? At that time, I was instructed to make a copy [of Ma Yunqing’s Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality] and decorate it with color. After I had completed it, I summarized the story and presented it [to the throne]. Hence I obtained the draft and treasure it. In my spare time I unroll it to entertain myself. Respectfully inscribed by Wang Zhenpeng of Dongjia [modern Wenzhou, Zhejiang].[2]

至大戊申二月仁宗皇帝在春宮,出張子有平章所進故金馬雲卿繭紙畫 《維摩不二圖》,俾臣振鵬臨於東絹,更敘說不二之因。振鵬謹按: 《釋典》 有云:“毗耶離城中有居士梵名維摩詰,譯言淨名,乃金粟如來後身。入深法門,在室示病,徃問疾者,以疾而為說法。爾時世尊遣諸菩薩問疾,菩薩眾皆言,某甲昔各有因,謁問維摩詰,別無詶應,是以不任徃問。最後曼殊大士言,彼上人者難為詶對,深達實相,善說要法。於是曼徃殊乃自徃問,其菩薩眾聞曼殊徃,謂必談妙法,皆亦隨徃。及眾至,維摩詰丈室中以疾獨坐一床,曼殊言居士疾,世尊遣致問,時問答已。舎利弗念丈室別無床座,維摩詰以神通力,即時須彌,相國須彌燈王如來遣三萬二千獅子座高廣嚴淨來入室中,悉皆包容。二大士既坐,舎利弗及新發意,菩薩等以座高廣,皆不能登,維摩詰令舎利弗等為須稱燈王作禮畢,各得登座。維摩詰問菩薩眾云:‘何入不二法門?’諸菩薩眾各各以意說已,唯曼殊問維摩詰:‘我等今已說仁者,當說何等是入不二法門?’時維摩詰嘿然無語。曼殊歎曰:‘善哉!善哉!乃至無有語言,是真入不二法門。’又舍利弗心念食時已至,維摩詰現化菩薩往眾香國香積佛取飯一鉢即至,飯香薰滿毗耶離城,會眾聞香悉飽。又丈室中有一天女,聞諸天人說法,即現身以天花散諸菩薩身上,花皆墮落,至一大弟子身上,花不墮,弟子以神力去花,不能去。天女問:‘何故去花?’答曰:‘此花不如法,是以去之。’天女曰:‘勿謂此花不如法,是花無所分別,想爾結習未盡,花著身矣。結習已盡,花不著矣。’”故唐僧皎然詩云:“禪女來相試,將花欲染衣。禪心定不起,還捧舊花歸。”東坡有〈坐上戴花〉詩云:“結習漸消留不住,却須還與散花天。”又云:“毗耶居士談空處,結習已空花不墜。試教天女御鉛華,千偈翻瀾無一語。”又云:“要令臥疾致文殊。”又坡〈因臂痛謁告〉詩云:“小閣低窓臥晏溫,了然非嘿亦非言。維摩未病吾真病,誰識東坡不二門?”又坡有〈維摩塑像〉詩云:“當其在時或問法,俛首無言心自知。”杜工部〈題顧愷之畫維摩像〉云:“虎頭金粟影,神妙獨難忘。”又東坡〈題石恪畫維摩〉云:“我觀石子一處士,麻鞋破帽露兩肘。能使筆端出維摩,神通又過維摩詰。”振鵬詳觀馬雲卿所作 《維摩不二圖》,筆意超絕,似亦悟入不二門,豈非神通過於摩詰者乎?振鵬當時奉命臨摹,更為修飾潤色之。圖成,并述其概略,進呈,因得摹本珍藏,暇日展玩以自娛也。東嘉王振鵬拜手謹識。

Artist's seals

Ci Guyun Chushi zhang 賜孤雲處士章
Wang Zhenpeng 王振鵬
Pengmei Daoren 朋梅道人

Label strip

Unidentified artist, 1 column in standard script, undated (mounted on brocade wrapper):

Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality by Wang Pengmei [Wang Zhenpeng] of the Yuan dynasty.

元王朋梅 《維摩不二圖》


1. Wu Rongguang 吳榮光 (1773–1843), 7 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1837; 2 seals:

On the twenty-ninth day of the third lunar month in the dingyou year of the Daoguang reign era [May 3, 1837], Wu Rongguang of Nanhai [Guangdong] was leaving for Shi Min [Fujian] to assume the post of Provincial Administration Commissioner. Ye Zhishen (1779–1863), Dongqing, of Hanyang [in Hubei], Xu Song (1781–1848), Xingbo, of Wanping [near Beijing], Gong Gongzuo, Ding’an [Gong Zizhen, 1792–1841] from Renhe [in Zhejiang], and Wu Shifen (1796–1856), Songsun, from Haifeng [in Shandong] gathered outside the Guang’an Gate [in Beijing] to bid me farewell. Li Zhangyu [jinshi 1820], Ruoting, from Zhucheng [in Shandong] showed me this scroll by Wang Pengmei [Wang Zhenpeng] and asked for an inscription. At the time, myriad flowers were in full bloom. None of the six men who waved one another goodbye had flower petals attached to their bodies. Inscribed by Rongguang. [Seals]: Wu Rongguang yin, Baijing Laoren

道光丁酉三月廿有九日南海吳榮光有備藩十閩之行,漢陽葉志詵東卿、宛平徐松星伯、仁和龔鞏祚定庵、海豐吳式芬誦孫郊餞於廣安門外,諸城李璋煜箬汀出王朋梅此卷索題,時萬花全放,揮手告別,六人皆身不著花也。榮光識。 [印]: 吳榮光印,拜經老人

2. Yang Liang楊亮 (active first half 19th c.), 2 columns in standard script, dated 1838:

On the twenty-eighth day of the twelfth lunar month in the seventeenth year of the Daoguang reign era [January 17, 1838], Mao Yuesheng (1791–1841) from Baoshan [part of modern Shanghai] and Yang Liang from Ganquan [in Shaanxi] view [this scroll] together.


[1] The location of Wang’s interview with Renzong can be found on a diagram of the heir-apparent’s palace; see Yuan Dadu gongdian tu kao. Shanghai: Shangwu shudian, 1936, p. 46. For a slightly different translation of this text see Marsha Weidner, ed. Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism (850-1850), Lawrence: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, 1994, p. 349.
[2] Translation from Department records.
[3 Translations from Department records.
Private collection (until sale, Sotheby’s New York, Chinese Paintings, June 17, 1980, lot 24, to MMA)
Lawrence. Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas. "Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850–1850," August 28, 1994–October 9, 1994.

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. "Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850–1850," November 16, 1994–January 11, 1995.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30, 1998–January 3, 1999.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Millennium of Chinese Painting: Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," September 8, 2001–January 13, 2002.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Douglas Dillon Legacy: Chinese Painting for the Metropolitan Museum," March 12, 2004–August 8, 2004.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Secular and Sacred: Scholars, Deities, and Immortals in Chinese Art," September 10, 2005–January 8, 2006.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings," March 1, 2008–August 10, 2008.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty," September 28, 2010–January 2, 2011.

Shanghai Museum. "Masterpieces of Chinese Tang, Song and Yuan Paintings from America," November 3, 2012–January 3, 2013.

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