Pamela Winfield publishes article “Mandala As Metropolis” in Brill volume

Assistant professor Pamela Winfield has published an article titled "Mandala As Metropolis" in Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia.

Edited by Charles Orzech, Richard Payne and Henrik Sorensen.  Handbook of Oriental Studies (Handbuch der Orientalistik section 4- China vol. 24). Leiden, Boston: Brill Publishers, 2011, pp. 719-743.


The Two World Mandalas of esoteric Shingon Buddhism illustrate two important estoeric scriptures, namely the Dainichikyo and the Kongochokyo sutras.  However, the organizational floorplans for these two mandala palaces are not found in either of these source sutras.  What other visual or conceptual influences could have shaped the format of these two famous architectures of enlightenment?  This article argues that these two mandala palace blueprints exhibit striking similarities to long-standing East Asian ideals for perfect religio-political spaces. The first section of this analysis demonstrates that the layout of the Womb World mandala evokes the capital-I-shaped gong plans of early Chinese palaces as well as the architectural elements of typical sihe yuan courtyard dwellings. The second section argues that the Diamond World mandala visually evokes the tick-tack-toe-like grid plan of the Zhou dynasty wang cheng or Emperor’s City, as documented in the classic Rites of Zhou (Zhouli). The third and final section argues that when displayed together in Japan, as they probably were from 835 onwards, these Two World mandalas reflect the double-palace system of earlier eighth-century Sino-Japanese capitals, which housed religious and political functions of the court in ministries of the Right and Left, respectively. This evocation of the city in the mandalas demonstrates the symbiotic relationship that exists between political and religious symbolism, between secular and sacred architecture, between imperial and Buddhist topologies. This symbiosis, itself reminiscent of the double-palace system, compels art historians, Buddhologists, political scientists and urban studies scholars to accommodate and integrate one another’s constructs into their own architectures of understanding.