Buddhism Teachings in Relief of Mahakarmavibhangga

January 17, 2018 / Articles

The rich giving charity to the poor

If we look further, we can see that the reliefs found at the foot of the Borobudur Temple are related to the essence of Buddhism. The reliefs that decorate the foot of the temple describe teachings about the cause of human suffering and the result of human actions in the next life. By comparing the relief sculptures with Buddhist or Sutra scriptures, it can be seen that temple reliefs are connected to each other to tell a story that represents the Mahakarmavibhanga Sutra, or the law of suffering and the result from deeds.
The 160 panels that contain scenes in relief tells about everyday life, deeds that produce good and evil, the consequences that exist on the act, as well as heaven and hell. 23 of the entire panel are a quote from the Mahakarmavibhanga Sutra. As shown by the word karma, this relief describes the various human actions and their effects. Some scenes can be interpreted as a “pretitya samutpada” symbol, which refers to the Bhacavakra mandala from Tibet.


A dove, a peacock, a parakeet, a horse, a buffalo and a musk deer are reincarnations of people who sinned

In this mandala, (1) avidya (indifference) is symbolized by a blind woman, (2) samskara (basic impulse) symbolized by pottery being made by artisans, (3) vijnana (consciousness) is illustrated by monkeys picking fruit, 4) namarupa (personality) is illustrated as a boat in a journey, (5) sadayatana (the six sense organs) is a house with many windows, (6) sparsa (relationship) is illustrated by kiss, (7) vedana (feeling) is illustrated through a man with arrows in his eyes, (8) trsna (desire) is illustrated by drinking scenes, (9) upadana (charity) is illustrated by the activity of picking fruit from trees, (10) bhava (process of occurrence) is illustrated with pregnant women, (11) jati (Birth) is illustrated by a scene of birth, and (12) jaramaranam (old age and death) is illustrated with a corpse brought to the place of extermination.
The meaning of the whole series of reliefs shows that the concept of karma here is placed in the context of the “samutpada pratitya” consisting of 12 chains that describe the cause of human suffering. Now, the series of reliefs have been covered and formed as the foot of the temple. Thus, the foot of the Borobudur Temple contains an essence of Buddhism that emphasizes the first of two Truths; Life is misery, and the misery has a cause.

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