Query> Ocean of Samsara in Chinese, Indian or Central Asian pre-Tang iconography

Etienne de la Vaissiere's picture

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to know if the idea of "ocean of samsara," or "ocean of rebirth," or "ocean of suffering," with monsters (makara) ready to swallow was depicted in the iconography of India, Central Asia or China before, say, the 9th c. AD. Up to now, I have failed to find a precise example combining these features. 

A bibliography or specific examples would be greatly appreciated 




Etienne de la Vaissière

Central Asian Medieval Societies

EHESS, Paris

Categories: Query

Hi Etienne,

I have found one example through a dissertation by Nobuyoshi Yamabe which treats the Sutra on the Ocean-like Samadhi (Guanfo sanmei hai jing, 觀佛三昧海經) titled "The Sutra on the Ocean-like Samadhi of the Visualization of the Buddha: The Interfusion of the Chinese and Indian Cultures in Central Asia as Reflected in a Fifth Century Apocryphal Sutra" and translates as follows:

"One should reflect on the lotus-like face of the Lord who has taken form here [in this world] out of the compassionate mind to [his] servants; the pure cheek illuminated by the swinging and shining Makara(61)-shaped earrings; the great nose; [...]
The superior gaze of his eyes cast out of compassion in order to soothe the extremely fearful threehold torments one should meditate for along time through extended meditation in the heart on the great favor accompanied by loving smile;
The noble laughter of Hari drying up the ocean of tears of the vehement grief of the all prostrating people; the round brows formed by his own illusion (maya) to stupefy Makaradhvaja(63) for the same of sages."

(61) N[ame] of a kind of mythological sea-monster, often confounded with the crocodile although represented with a fish's tail and (often) an elephant's trunk. (Iconographic Dictionary of the Indian Religions, s.v. "makara")
(63) ('Having a makara upon his banner'), epithet of Kama (IDIR, s.v. "Makaradhvaja")

Hope this helps,

Ming Wen

East Asian Studies, University of Arizona