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Chinese Bodhisattva with Diadem

Chinese Bodhisattva with Diadem


Wooden Statue of the Guanyin Deity

This roughly 4.5’ Paulownia wood statue is a portrayal of the Guanyin diety, a Chinese bodhisattva [See Meulenbend 2016, 2] known as the “goddess of mercy and compassion” [See Hedges 2012, 1].  It is believed to have been created in the early 12 th  century CE in China under the Jin Dynasty (also known as the Jurchen Jin Dynasty) [See "Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion" 2018]. It is interesting that this statue does not incorporate much of the symbolism associated with the Guanyin, such as a willow branch, which symbolizes the ability to bend but not break, or a water jar, symbolizing the “divine nectar of life” [See Gehrmann 2018]. However, she does wear a crown of sorts, which symbolizes Amitabha Buddha (Guany Yin’s teacher before she became a Bodhisattva). The beads and jewelry around her neck symbolize the continuing circle of “rebirth into nirvana” and enlightenment [See Gehrmann 2018]. In this statue, she is depicted as if she is gazing into a pond with fish, a metaphor for her watching over the world’s pain [See Gehrmann 2018]. The statue is currently located in the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, Massachusetts [See "Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion" 2018] 


Chinese Bodhisattva with Diadem - History


Four Bodhisattva Carved in Halo.
From Risshō Kosei-kai 立正佼成会,
a Buddhist organization founded in
1938, that combines the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra and the core teaching of Shaka Buddha (Historical Buddha).
Based in Tokyo, with worldwide communities. Photo of grouping two.

Throughout Asian, there are four widely revered Bodhisattva, each symbolizing different aspects of Buddhist belief and practice, and each with its own individual cult of veneration. The most common grouping includes Kannon Bosatsu (boundless compassion), Monju Bosatsu (wisdom), Fugen Bosatsu (praxis, or practice), and Jizō Bosatsu (vast patience and salvation from suffering). Among the four, the most widely venerated throughout Asia is Kannon, the God/Goddess of Mercy (Compassion). The group of four first appeared in the Lotus Sutra, but the group itself is not an object of worship. Indeed, the four rarely appear together as a group in Japanese artwork except in the mandala paintings and halo (kōhai 光背) carvings of the Esoteric sects.

Technically speaking, compassion (Skt. = Karuna Jp. = Jihi 慈非) is the defining characteristic of all Bosatsu, who, by definition, have willingly delayed their entry into Nirvana -- out of compassion -- to save the vast multitude of souls still caught in the wheel of karmic rebirth, the cycle of suffering. This grouping of four is thus arbitrary, and its members can vary. It refers simply to four of the most venerated Bosatsu in the Asian region, and is based on both scriptural sources and changing popularity.

In the centuries following Buddhism’s introduction in India around 500 BC, moreover, a system of vows was developed -- the 48 Vows of the Bodhisattva -- for those seeking to achieve the Bodhisattva state. The vows differ somewhat among the Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese traditions, but all originated from the vows taken and then dutifully fulfilled by Hōzō Bosatsu (who then becomes Amida Buddha).

In addition to compassion, there are six perfections (Skt. Parmitas) that a Bodhisattva must cultivate in order to attain Buddhahood, to which four more perfections were added in later times:

  1. Generosity (Skt. Dana-paramita) selfless and impartial generosity
  2. Discipline (Skt. Shila-paramita) observance of the ethical regimen
  3. Patience (Skt. Kshanti-paramita) patient endurance of difficulties
  4. Energy (Skt. Virya-paramita) zealous energy in perseverance
  5. Meditation (Skt. Dhyana-paramita) mindful absorption in meditation
  6. Wisdom (Skt. Prajna-paramita) wisdom of transcendent insight

Four Great Bodhisattva 四大菩薩
There are various groupings of the four.

GROUPING ONE. As appearing in the Lotus Sūtra 法華經 (T 262.9.40a24)

GROUPING TWO. Another list appears in the 從地踊出 chapter of the Lotus Sūtra 法華經 (T 262.9.40a24). These four are largely forgotten among the Japanese people, but still found in artwork of the Esoteric sects (see photo at top of page).

  1. Jōgyō 上行 (Skt. = Viśiṣtacāritra, Chn. = Shàngxíng). Trans. "excellent practices/behavior."
  2. Muhen Gyō 無辺行 (Skt. = Anantacāritra, Chn. = Wúbiānxíng). Trans. "unlimited practice."
  3. Jōgyō 浄行 (Skt. = Viśuddhacāritra, Chn. = JìngXíng). Trans. "practice purity."
  4. Anryūgyō 安立行 (Skt. = Supratiṣṭhitacāritra, Chn. = ānlì xíng). Trans. "stable practice."

GROUPING THREE. Another list appears in Louis Frederic’s Buddhism (Flammarion Iconographic Guides) , page 151: "Esoteric Buddhism recognizes Four Great Bodhisattvas or 'Great Acolytes' (Mahaparivara, great entourage), who are the symbols of the virtues of the Great Solar Buddha Vairocana (aka Dainichi Buddha).

  1. Southeast. Samantabhadra (J = Fugen), represents the merits of the 'heart of Bodhi.'
  2. Northeast. Maitreya (J = Miroku), who represents the great compassion of the Buddha.
  3. Southwest. Mañjuśrī (J = Monju), who represents wisdom and the merit of the teaching of the law.
  4. Northwest. Sarvanīvaraṇaviṣkambhin (J = Jo Kaishō Bosatsu 除蓋障菩薩, C = Chú Gàizhàng Púsà), a form of Kannon who represents the merits resulting from the destruction of obstacles on the path of the Bodhi."

GROUPING FOUR. Four Famous Mountains in China 四大名山 (C = Sìdà Míngshān, J = Shidai Myōsan). Also Four Famous Mountains of Buddhism (C = Sìdà Fójiào Míngshān 四大佛教名山. J = Shidai Bukkyō Myōsan). This grouping is very similar to GROUP ONE, but here Jizō Bosatsu replaces Miroku Bosatsu. However, this is easily understood if we recall that Jizō is a substitute for Miroku. Indeed, Jizō promises to unceasingly fulfill Miroku’s tasks in the eons-long interval between the death of the Historical Buddha and the arrival of Miroku (the Future Buddha). Miroku is scheduled to arrive, according to Japan’s Shingon 真言 sect of Esoteric Buddhism, about 5.6 billion years from now, to bestow universal salvation on all beings. During this interval, Jizō serves as Miroku’s replacement. Each of the four Bodhisattva in this group are introduced below.

    (Skt. = Mañjuśrī). Presides over the element wind/air/ether. Mt. Wutai (J = Godai) (Skt. = Avalokitêśvara). Presides over the element water. Mt. Pǔtuó (J = Fudaraku) (Skt. = Samantabhadra). Presides over the element fire. Mt Éméi (J = Gabi) (Skt. = Kṣitigarbha). Presides over the element earth. Mt. Jǐuhuá (J = Kukesen)

FOUR BODHISATTVA OF
CHINA’S FOUR FAMOUS MOUNTAINS

1. Kannon Bosatsu
Jp. = Kannon Bosatsu 観音菩薩
Chn. = Guānyīn Púsà 観音菩薩 Guanyin
Skt. = Avalokitêśvara अवलोकितेश्वर
Pǔtuó shan (Pu-t'o, Puto) 普陀山 is Kannon's holy mountain on the Chinese isles of Zhou-shan 舟山群嶋 in Chekiang 浙江 Province. In Japan, Kannon's paradise is known as Fudarakusen (or Fudarakusan, or Fudasan) 補陀洛山, literally Mt. Fudaraku, which is the Japanese transliteration of Sanskrit Potalaka.

Kannon is commonly known in English as the Goddess of Mercy, Kannon is perhaps the most venerated and most popular Buddhist deity in mainland Asia. Kannon embodies “boundless compassion” and is one of the principal attendants of Amida Nyorai, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, and in statues of the 11-Headed Kannon, the topmost head is that of Amida Buddha. Kannon comes in numerous manifestations -- most frequently depicted with a thousand arms and eleven heads, but in Japan also appears in 33 specific forms called the keshin. Originally portrayed as male, Kannon in modern times appears mostly as a female in China, and in Japan is often associated with female virtues. Click here for a bit more on this sex change. Avalokitesvara is found early on in Mahayana traditions, and enjoyed great favor in India until Buddhism was overrun by Islam and Hindu beliefs around 1200 AD. Kannon worship passed from India to Southeast Asia, where it met with great success, and then into Tibet and Nepal (in Tibet, the current Dali Lama is thought to be the earthly reincarnation of the Kannon), and also into China and Korea, before finally arriving in Japan.


Fugen atop elephant
13th Century
Sanjūsangendō in Kyoto

Fugen is known as the "Great Conduct" Bodhisattva, for Fugen teaches that action and conduct (behavior) are equally important as thought and meditation. Fugen encourages people to diligently practice the Buddhist precepts of charity, moral conduct, patience, and devotion. Fugen made ten vows for practicing Buddhism, and is the protector of all those who teach the Dharma (Buddhist Law).

Fugen is often depicted on an elephant (traditionally a white elephant with six tusks). The six tusks represent overcoming attachment to the six senses, while the elephant symbolizes the power of Buddhism to overcome all obstacles. In artwork of Mahayana traditions, Fugen is often shown holding the wish-fulfilling jewel or a lotus bud, but in artwork of the esoteric sects, Fugen is commonly seated on a lotus petal rather than atop an elephant. Fugen often appears with Monju Bosatsu flanking the Historical Buddha (Shaka) in Japanese artwork known as the Shaka Triad (Shaka Sanzon 釈迦三尊).


Monju Bosatsu riding lion.
12th century, Chusonji Temple
Photo from magazine
Nihon no Bi no Meguru #35

One who is noble and gentle. Monju is the embodiment of wisdom. Images of Monju were introduced into Japan by Chinese monks who, during a voyage to Wutaishan, learned that Manjusri was reincarnated in the person of the Japanese monk Gyōki, and so went to Nara in 736. One of these monks, Bodhisena (Japanese Bodaisenna), succeeded Gyōki as director of the Buddhist community of the Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara in 751 or 752. In turn, another monk named Ennin traveled to China to Mt. Wutai (Monju’s holy mountain in China) in the year 840, during a journey that lasted nine years from 838 to 847, and brought back scriptures and images of this deity.

Monju Bosatsu, along with Fugen Bosatsu (Samantabhadra), are disciples of the Historical Buddha. In Japan, the two often appear with the Historical Buddha in a grouping called Shaka Sanzon, “the three venerables of Sakyamuni.” also known as the Shaka Triad. Monju represents wisdom, intelligence, willpower, mastery of the Dharma, an infallible memory, mental perfection, and eloquence. This deity, known in India by the doctrines of the Theravada, is identified with the King of Gandharva -- Pancasikha. Monju Bosatsu also appears in many Mahayana texts.

Monju is often represented in India and Tibet, in China and Japan, and in Nepal, which tradition claims Monju founded upon his arrival from China. Monju’s images appear only late in the sixth century in Central Asia and on a few Chinese stele associated with Vimalakirti (Japanese = Yuima Koji).


Jizo, Kamakura Era
Jufuku-ji Temple. Now kept at
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
National Museum in Kamakura

Jizō vowed to remain among us doing good works and to help and instruct all those spinning endlessly in the six realms of suffering, especially the souls of the departed who are undergoing judgment by the Ten Kings of Hell (thus explaining why Jizō statues are commonly found in Japanese graveyards). Jizō promises to unceasingly fulfill these tasks in the eons-long interval between the death of the Historical Buddha and the arrival of Miroku Buddha (the Future Buddha). Miroku is scheduled to arrive, according to Japan’s Shingon 真言 sect of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō 密教), about 5.6 billion years from now, to bestow universal salvation on all beings.

Mayahana Buddhism -- The Bosatsu Concept
Mahayana Buddhism (also called the “Greater Vehicle”) proclaims the existence of countless Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) who act as universal saviors for all living beings. To Buddhist followers in Japan, who are mostly of the Mahayana tradition, “compassion” is the defining value of the Bosatsu concept. Throughout the Asian region, the Four Bosatsu of Compassion are among the most widely known Buddhist saviors.

The term “Bodhisattva” was originally used to refer to the Historical Buddha before he attained enlightenment. Thereafter, the term was also used to refer to Miroku (Skt. Maitreya), the Buddha of the Future. With the spread of Mahayana Buddhism, however, the term came to mean one who achieves enlightenment but delays Buddhahood, remaining instead on earth to help all sentient beings attain salvation. In the present age (our current age), Miroku appears only as a Bosatsu, one who has delayed Buddhahood, one who as remained behind to benefit others. This latter concept was vigorously promoted by Mahayana adherents to differentiate it from the Theravada concept of Arhat. The Arhat is also an enlightened being, but according to Mahayana believers, the Theravada Arhat possesses an inferior, selfishly attained enlightenment, one based on "benefitting self" -- for the Theravadins emphasize the monastic life, the forsaking of secular pleasures, the focusing of all one’s energies on achieving individual liberation. The Bodhisattva of Mahayana traditions, however, is motivated entirely by compassion, by the desire to "benefit others" -- indeed, the highest aspiration of the Mahayana Bodhisattva is to save all sentient beings.

Bodhisattva has a third meaning as well in Mahayana traditions -- it refers to anyone who sincerely seeks to save others while pursuing the path of enlightenment. Essentially, anyone who decides to pursue the Buddhist path can be called a Bodhisattva, and many Mahayanans believe there are countless bodhisattvas on earth at any moment. Whereas Theravada Buddhism stresses the monastic life -- the monk's life -- as the only path to salvation (Arhatship), the Mahayana school says anyone, including laity, can attain Buddhahood by practicing the Bodhisattva values. For more on these different interpretations, please click here.


Gokō Shii Amida 五刧思惟阿弥陀 (aka Hōzō Bosatsu). Tōdaiji Temple (Nara), 13th Century.

Hōzō practiced for a long time (five kapla) before attaining enlightenment, and is thus shown with thick hair. One kalpa (Jp. = Kō) is the period required to empty a ten-square mile city of poppy sees, if one seed were removed every three years. <Source: Enlightenment Embodied, The Art of the Japanese Buddhist Sculptor (7th - 14th Centuries). Japan Society, 1997. ISBN 0-913304-43-3.

Skt. Dharmakara. The Sutra of Infinite Life (Jp. = Muryojukyō 無量壽經) records the discourses delivered by the Historical Buddha at Vulture Peak in Rajagriha (India), where he speaks of the 48 vows made by Hōzō Bosatsu 法蔵菩薩 (also spelled Hozo or Houzou) to help all sentient beings achieve salvation. As a human, Hōzō was a king who gave up his throne after hearing the teachings of Lokesvararaja Buddha ((Sejizaiō Butsu 自在王佛).

After eons of practice, he made 48 vows 四十八願 and thereafter achieved Buddhahood, becoming known as Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Life. Those who believe in Amida will be reborn in the Buddha Land of Perfection (the “Pure Land”). Of the 48 vows, the 18th vow is most important. In this vow, Hōzō Bosatsu aspires for the universal salvation of all beings. It reads:

"Upon my attainment of Buddhahood, if sentient beings in the ten quarters -- who have sincerity of heart, hold faith, and wish to be born in my land -- repeat my name up to ten times, yet are unable to be reborn in my land, then may I fail to obtain enlightenment."

The 48 vows of Hōzō Bosatsu have survived into modern times, and variations on the vows are used by laity, nuns, and monks in Tibet, China, and Japan.

  • Buddhist-Artwork.com, our sister site, launched in July 2006. This online store sells quality hand-carved wooden Buddha statues and Bodhisattva statues, especially those carved for the Japanese market. It is aimed at art lovers, Buddhist practitioners, and laity alike. Just like this site (OnmarkProductions.com), it is not associated with any educational institution, private corporation, governmental agency, or religious group.
    . Outside link. No longer online. A wonderful online dictionary that included many details on Kannon Bodhisattva in Japanese art. Also included separate entries on many Kannon manifestations in Japan.
  • See Bibliography for our complete list of resources on Japanese Buddhism, or visit any site page and scroll to the bottom for detailed resources on that specific deity or topic. . With Sanskrit & English Equivalents. Plus Sanskrit-Pali Index. By William Edward Soothill & Lewis Hodous. Hardcover, 530 pages. Published by Munshirm Manoharlal. Reprinted March 31, 2005. ISBN 8121511453.
  • Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙 , the “Collected Illustrations of Buddhist Images.” Published in 1690 (Genroku 元禄 3). One of Japan’s first major studies of Buddhist iconography. Hundreds of pages and drawings, with deities classified into approximately 80 (eighty) categories. Modern-day reprints are available at this online store (J-site).
  • Mandara Zuten 曼荼羅図典 (Japanese Edition). The Mandala Dictionary. 422 pages. First published in 1993. Publisher Daihorinkaku 大法輪閣. Language Japanese. ISBN-10: 480461102-9. Available at Amazon. (C. Muller login "guest")
  • Buddhism: Flammarion Iconographic Guides, by Louis Frederic, Printed in France, ISBN 2-08013-558-9, First published 1995. A highly illustrated volume, with special significance to those studying Japanese Buddhist iconography. Includes many of the myths and legends of mainland Asia as well, but its special strength is in its coverage of the Japanese tradition. Hundreds of accompanying images/photos, both B&W and color.

Last Update = April 9, 2011 (major rewrite)

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The Role of Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism

In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhisattvas were transformed into savior-like figures. This is in line with the concept of bodhicitta (which refers to the striving of the mind enlightenment) held by this branch of Buddhism.

In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta involves not only the liberation of the self, but also a desire by those who have achieved enlightenment to help other sentient beings. By comparison, the concept of bodhicitta in Theravada Buddhism places emphasis on the liberation of the self, which can only be achieved through the eradication of desires by oneself, without reliance on external aid.

Mahayana Buddhism teaches that anyone can aspire to become a bodhisattva. Nevertheless, in the history of Mahayana Buddhism, there are a number of bodhisattvas who have attained great fame and are thus highly revered. One of the best-known bodhisattvas is Avalokiteśvara, whose name may be taken to mean ‘the lord who looks down with compassion’.

He is known also as Guanyin in Chinese and Kannon in Japanese. Incidentally, in East Asia, this bodhisattva was transformed from a male into a female. It has been speculated that in China, Avalokiteśvara acquired the characteristics of Taoist female deities, especially the Queen Mother of the West, which may have contributed to his transformation into a female.

Avalokiteśvara is regarded to be the embodiment of the compassion of all the buddhas and is arguably the most popular figure in Buddhist legend. He is beloved not only in Mahayana Buddhism, but also in the Theravada, Vajrayana, and Tantric branches of Buddhism.

Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva who is known for compassion. (FlickreviewR / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

According to Buddhist beliefs, Avalokiteśvara resolved to postpone his own Buddhahood so that he could continue his quest to help all sentient beings achieve enlightenment. According to one story, at the beginning of Avalokiteśvara’s career as a bodhisattva, he vowed that should he ever become disheartened in his quest to liberate all sentient beings from suffering and the eternal cycle of death and rebirth, his body would be shattered into a thousand pieces.

This is meant to demonstrate Avalokiteśvara’s infinite compassion, and his determination. One day, Avalokiteśvara looked down from a higher realm into the hells he had just emptied through the teaching of the dharma. He noticed that despite all he had done, the hells continued to be flooded by countless beings. For a brief moment, Avalokiteśvara became so disheartened that his vow became true – his body shattered into a thousand pieces.

Avalokiteśvara’s personal teacher, Buddha Amitabha, came to his aid. The Buddha collected the fragments and gave his student a new form – one with 11 heads and a thousand arms. The additional heads enhanced Avalokiteśvara’s ability to hear the cries of the suffering, while his extra arms allowed him to bring salvation to more people.

Thousand-armed bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. (Huihermit / Pubic Domain )


Kuan-yin : The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara

By far one of the most important objects of worship in the Buddhist traditions, the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is regarded as the embodiment of compassion. He has been widely revered throughout the Buddhist countries of Asia since the early centuries of the Common Era. While he was closely identified with the royalty in South and Southeast Asia, and the Tibetans continue to this day to view the Dalai Lamas as his incarnations, in China he became a she—Kuan-yin, the "Goddess of Mercy"—and has a very different history. The causes and processes of this metamorphosis have perplexed Buddhist scholars for centuries.

In this groundbreaking, comprehensive study, Chün-fang Yü discusses this dramatic transformation of the (male) Indian bodhisattva Avalokitesvara into the (female) Chinese Kuan-yin—from a relatively minor figure in the Buddha's retinue to a universal savior and one of the most popular deities in Chinese religion.

Focusing on the various media through which the feminine Kuan-yin became constructed and domesticated in China, Yü thoroughly examines Buddhist scriptures, miracle stories, pilgrimages, popular literature, and monastic and local gazetteers—as well as the changing iconography reflected in Kuan-yin's images and artistic representations—to determine the role this material played in this amazing transformation. The book eloquently depicts the domestication of Kuan-yin as a case study of the indigenization of Buddhism in China and illuminates the ways this beloved deity has affected the lives of all Chinese people down the ages.


FEATURES | THEMES | Art and Archaeology

In a second lecture offered in July at the University of Hong Kong&rsquos Centre for Buddhist Studies, Professor Osmund Bopearchchi continued his discussion of the land routes of the Silk Road, citing several cases of cultural interactions that have been shown through the discoveries of Gandharan motifs in Buddhist iconography.

Enthusiastic traveling monks, who may have accompanied traders and caravan merchants, introduced Buddhism to China at a very early date. They transmitted not only Buddhist philosophy, but also Buddhist iconography to Buddhist centers in Bamiyan in Afghanistan, the Kizil Caves in Xinjiang, and in Dunhuang in northwestern Gansu Province in western China. The events related to the life of Shakyamuni Buddha or stories of his previous births (Jatakas) were of Indian origin, but their iconographic rendering in a Chinese context have additions and omissions corresponding to the tastes of the donors who commissioned them and of the artists who visualized them. Pious traders who sponsored these sumptuous murals to acquire merit may have preferred stories in which the ultimate sacrifice of the Buddha and buddha-to-be are well idealized.

As Prof. Bopearachchi shared, &ldquoBuddhism provided new grounds for innovative artistic expression.&rdquo He compared images of a sculpture from greater Gandhara depicting the cry of agony of a monk with the agonising layman under the Buddha&rsquos bed lamenting the death of the Blessed One as depicted on a relief currently exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. The resemblance was not only in the look and feel of the images, but also in the detail of the expressions: in the teeth, tongue, jaw, eyebrows, and staring eyes, all conveying a deep sorrow and cry of despair. Prof. Bopearachchi further pointed out that inspiration could have come from the Hellenistic statue Laocoön and His Sons, also known as the Laocoon Group, &ldquo the prototypical icon of human agony &rdquo in Western art. This type of iconography directly or indirectly traveled to Dunhuang. The most famous depictions come from cave No.158 in Mogao, known as the Nirvana Cave, which features mourners witnessing the passing of the Buddha, depicted in murals along the length of the hall behind.

The utter despair of the Trojan priest facing his own death (Fig. 1) is the precursor to the passionate and emotional expressions of the agonizing Buddhist monk of the stucco sculpture from the Vardak region (Fig. 2), the pain-stricken layman on the sculpture from the V&A (Fig. 3), and the arahat from theMogao cave No.158 grieving the death of their beloved teacher (Fig. 4). Gandharan art is largely inspired by Hellenistic art, which explains why Greek and Roman mythological stories and images are found in Gandharan Buddhist art and as far as Dunhuang in China.

Fig. 1. Laocoon from the Hellenistic Laocoon Group. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 2. Agonized monk, Vardak, Ghandhara. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 3. Pain-stricken layman, V&A Museum. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 4. Lamenting arahat, Mogao cave No.158. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi

Another example of artistic expression spreading east can be found in the scarf-holding wind god, which influenced art in China and even Japan. The Wind Goddess of Kizil in cave No.38 of the Mogao Grottoes and the headgear of Shiva seated on his vehicle Nandi in cave No.285 are good examples of Iranian, Greco-Roman, and Gandharan inspirations in central China. Although the wind deities are known in Greco-Roman art, the closest parallels to the ones at Bamyan, Kizil, and Mogao come from the Kushan context. The wind god, known as Oado and found on Kushan coins, may have inspired the iconography of the Bamyan and Chinese murals.

The earliest known depiction of Avalokiteshvara-ekadasamukha is found in No.41 of the Kanheri caves, on the western outskirts of Mumbai. There are 109 caves carved from the basalt and dated from the first century BCE to the 10th century CE. As epigraphical evidence shows, these establishments were built by traders who were associated with the trade centers of Sopara, Kalyan, Nasik, Paithan, and Ujjain. This iconography traveled along the Silk Road. The Mogao and Yulin caves have many depictions of Avalokiteshvara deriving from the Indian prototype, but over time they began to be characterized by additional heads and arms. Mogao Cave No.35, dated to the period of the Five Dynasties, depicts an 11-headed bodhisattva of compassion holding in his eight arms the Sun, the Moon, a trident, and a treasure stick.

The mural on the north wall of Mogao cave No.76 has a symbolic image of the thousand-handed-and-thousand-eyed Avalokiteshvara. The main face has three eyes. Each palm of the eight hands also has a merciful eye. One of the most elaborate versions of the Avalokiteshvara-ekadasamukha is the mural of this bodhisattva of compassion with a thousand hands on the north wall of cave No.3 of the Mogao Grottoes, dated to the Yuan dynasty. The heads are arranged in three rows, one above another, respectively consisting of three, seven, and one head, from the top down. The reputation of Avalokiteshvara as the protector of traders taking the perilous land routes can be seen in the Buddhist cave sculptures depicting the Astamahabhaya Avalokiteshvara protecting humans from the eight great perils.

The stories behind these depictions are Indian, but the artistic rendering of these narrations is Chinese. The Indian iconographies are not simply copied and pasted, but restructured in a Chinese context. Once restructured, the visualisation of the Indian story changes&mdashmaking Silk Road art a unique mode of expression.

Discussion of the diffusion and reinterpretation of Graeco-Iranian and Gandharan iconography can be further developed by another important motif: the beribboned diadem, also known as fluttering ribbons and flying streamers. These are found behind the heads of buddhas, bodhisattvas, gods, nobles, and traders on the paintings of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, in the Kizil Caves in Xinjiang, and in Dunhuang. Traditionally, the diadem was tied in the back with a reef (square) knot, with the long ends left hanging down. Exactly which ancient culture introduced the diadem remains unclear, but by the late ninth century BCE, the Neo-Assyrian kings were wearing a ribbon around the base of their turbans (Fig. 5). Alexander the Great is also seen wearing a diadem after defeating his opponent Darius III (330 BCE) (Fig. 6). This was in accordance with Eastern practice, which allowed important people to tie their hair with a diadem (Fig. 7) in the West, it was used to imply divinity (Fig. 8).

From the fifth century CE onwards, these motifs were diffused widely in Buddhist imagery (Fig. 9). This occurred to the extent that the divine royal symbolism of the Greeks and Persians lost its specific signification, and nobles, traders, celestial beings, and even animals can be found wearing fluttering ribbons in Buddhist paintings in India, Central Asia, and China. Although these motifs originated in Central Asian and Gandharan regions, they traveled in space and time along the Silk Roads to Buddhist centers in distant lands. As they did, they developed in cross-fertilized cultural contexts, becoming incorporated into the sentiments and aesthetics of their respective populations creating new forms of art (Fig. 10&ndash11).

Fig. 5. Assyrian King Tukul-apil-esharra III receiving homage (745–27 BCE). Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 6. Lysimachus (360-281 BCE) was a Macedonian officer and “successor” of Alexander the Great. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 7. Investiture relief at Naqs-I Rustan, Ahura Mazda hands the beribboned diadem to Ardasir I (224-42 CE). Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 8. Huviška’s venerating bodhisattva Maitreya, second or third century CE, Museo d'Arte Orientale, Turin. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi

Fig. 9. Standing bodhisattva Siddhartha Gautama, Mes Aynak, Afghanistan. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 10. Bodhisattva, fifth century CE, cave No.272, Mogao, Dunhuang. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi Fig. 11. Narayana, with three heads and six arms, on the south end of the west wall, cave No.285 of the Western Wei dynasty (535–56 CE), Mogao, Dunhuang. Image courtesy of Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi

Having gone through the journey of the discovery of these Buddhist images and hence historical facts, Prof. Bopearchchi takes pride in the passion and effort that goes into sharing this history with people who already have an habitually established perception for a history told otherwise. The resilient spirit in fact-finding will not end. When asked about the one thing he would say to the students who are following his path, in a faithful and sincere voice, Prof. Bopearchchi replied: &ldquoGo beyond me!&rdquo


Contents

Acala first appears in the Amoghapāśakalparāja Sūtra (不空羂索神変真言經, Bùkōng juànsuǒ shénbiàn zhēnyán jīng, translated by Bodhiruci circa 707-709 CE [7] ), where he is described as a servant or messenger of the buddha Vairocana: [8]

The first from the west in the northern quadrant is the acolyte Acala (不動使者). In his left hand he grasps a noose and in his right hand he holds a sword. He is seated in the half-lotus position. [8] [9]

More well-known, however, is the following passage from the Mahāvairocana Tantra which refers to Acala as one of the deities of the Womb Mandala:

Below the lord of mantras [i.e. Vairocana], in the southwestern direction, is Acala, servant of the Tathāgata (不動如来使). He holds the sword of wisdom and the noose (pāśa). His hair hangs on his left shoulder. One eye lightly squinting, he gazes intently. Blazing flames radiate from his awe-inspiring body. He dwells on a large rock. On his forehead are wrinkles like waves on the water. He is a young boy with a plump body. [8] [10]

The deity was apparently popular in India during the 8th-9th centuries as evident by the fact that six of the Sanskrit texts translated by the esoteric master Amoghavajra into Chinese are devoted entirely to him. [3]

While some scholars have put forward the theory that Acala originated from the Hindu god Shiva, particularly his attributes of destruction and reincarnation, [11] [12] Bernard Faure suggested the wrathful esoteric deity Trailokyavijaya (whose name is an epithet of Shiva), the Vedic fire god Agni, and the guardian deity Vajrapāṇi to be other, more likely prototypes for Acala. He notes: "one could theoretically locate Acala's origins in a generic Śiva, but only in the sense that all Tantric deities can in one way or another be traced back to Śiva." [8] Faure compares Acala to Vajrapāṇi in that both were originally minor deities who eventually came to occupy important places in the Buddhist pantheon. [13]

Acala is said to be a powerful deity who protects the faithful by burning away all impediments (antarāya) and defilements (kleśa), thus aiding them towards enlightenment. [14] In a commentary on the Mahāvairocana Tantra by Yi Xing, he is said to have manifested in the world following Vairocana's vow to save all beings, and that his primary function is to remove obstacles to enlightenment. [8] Indeed, the tantra instructs the ritual practitioner to recite Acala's mantras or to visualize himself as Acala in order to remove obstacles. [15]

From a humble acolyte, Acala evolved into a powerful demon-subduing deity. In later texts such as the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra, Acala - under the name Caṇḍaroṣaṇa ("Violent Wrathful One") or Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa ("Violent One of Great Wrath") - is portrayed as the "frightener of gods, titans, and men, the destroyer of the strength of demons" who slays ghosts and evil spirits with his fierce anger. [3] [16] In the Sādhanamālā, the gods Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Kandarpa - described as "wicked" beings who subject humanity to endless rebirth - are said to be terrified of Acala because he carries a rope to bind them. [3]

In Tibetan Buddhism, Acala or Miyowa (མི་གཡོ་བ་, Wylie: mi g.yo ba) is considered as belonging to the vajrakula ("vajra family", Tibetan: དོ་རྗེའི་རིགས་, dorjé rik), a category of deities presided over by the buddha Akṣobhya and may even be regarded, along with the other deities of the kula, as an aspect or emanation of the latter. [3] [17] [18] [19] Indeed, he is sometimes depicted in South Asian art wearing a crown bearing an effigy of Akṣobhya. [3] [18] [19] In Nepal, Acala may also be identified as a manifestation of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. [20] [21] [22] He has a consort named Viśvavajrī in both the Nepalese and Tibetan traditions, with whom he is at times depicted in yab-yum union. [4] [21]

By contrast, the sanrinjin (三輪身, "three cakra bodies") theory prevalent in Japanese esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō) interprets Acala as an incarnation of Vairocana. In this theory, the five chief vidyārājas or wisdom kings (明王, myōō), of which Acala is one, are interpreted as the wrathful manifestations (教令輪身, kyōryō rinshin, lit. ""embodiments of the wheel of injunction") of the Five Tathāgatas, who assume the form of gentle bodhisattvas to teach the Dharma to sentient beings and terrifying wisdom kings to subdue and convert hardened nonbelievers. [23] [24] [25] Under this conceptualization, the wisdom kings are ranked superior to the dharmapala ( 護法善神 , gohō zenshin) , [26] a different class of guardian deities. However, this interpretation, while common, is not necessarily universal: in Nichiren-shū, for instance, Acala and Rāgarāja (Aizen Myōō), the two vidyārājas who commonly feature in the mandalas inscribed by Nichiren, are apparently interpreted as protective deities (外護神, gegoshin) who are the respective embodiments of the two tenets of hongaku ("original enlightenment") doctrine: shōji soku nehan (生死即涅槃, "the sufferings of life and death (saṃsāra) are nirvana") and bonnō soku bodai (煩悩即菩提, "earthly desires (kleśa) lead to enlightenment (bodhi)"). [27] [28] [29] [30]

As noted above, Acala appears in the Amoghapāśakalparāja Sūtra and the Mahāvairocana Tantra (also known as the Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra or the Vairocana Sūtra). As Caṇḍaroṣaṇa or Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa, he is the primary deity of the Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra and is described in the Sādhanamālā.

The Japanese esoteric Buddhist tradition and Shugendō also make use of the following apocryphal sutras on Acala:

  • Sūtra of the Great Wrathful King Āryācala's Secret Dhāraṇī (聖無動尊大威怒王秘密陀羅尼経, Shō-Mudō-son daiifunnuō himitsu darani kyō)
  • Āryācala Sūtra (仏説聖不動経, Bussetsu Shō-Fudō kyō)
  • Sūtra on Reverencing the Secret Dhāraṇī of Āryācala (稽首聖無動尊秘密陀羅尼経, Keishu Shō-Mudō-son himitsu darani kyō) [35][36]

The bīja or seed syllables used to represent Acala in Japanese Buddhism are hāṃ (हां / हाँ) and hāmmāṃ (हाम्मां / हाम्माँ), the latter being a combination of the two final bīja in his mantra: hāṃ māṃ (हां मां). [37] [38] Hāṃ is sometimes confounded with the similar-looking hūṃ (हूं), prompting some writers to mistakenly identify Acala with other deities. [39] The syllables are written using the Siddham script and is conventionally read as kān (カーン) and kānmān (カーンマーン). [37] [40] [41]

Three mantras of Acala are considered to be the standard in Japan. The most widely known one, derived from the Mahāvairocana Tantra and popularly known as the "Mantra of Compassionate Help" (慈救呪, jikushu or jikuju), goes as follows: [42] [43]

Sanskrit Shingon pronunciation Tendai pronunciation English translation
Namaḥ samanta vajrānāṃ caṇḍa-mahāroṣaṇa sphoṭaya hūṃ traṭ hāṃ māṃ [38] Nōmaku sanmanda bazarada(n) senda(n) makaroshada sowataya un tarata kan man [44] [45] Namaku samanda basaranan senda makaroshana sowataya un tarata kan man [46] [47] Homage to the all-encompassing Vajras! O violent one of great wrath (caṇḍa-mahāroṣaṇa), destroy! hūṃ traṭ hāṃ māṃ.

The "Short Mantra" (小呪, shōshu) of Acala - also found in the Mahāvairocana Tantra [48] - is as follows:

Sanskrit Shingon pronunciation English translation
Namaḥ samanta vajrānāṃ hāṃ [38] Nōmaku sanmanda bazaradan kan [49] [50] Homage to the all-encompassing Vajras! hāṃ.

The longest of the three is the "Great Mantra" of Acala, also known as the "Fire Realm Mantra" (火界呪, kakaishu / kakaiju): [51]

Sanskrit Shingon pronunciation English translation
Namaḥ sarva-tathāgatebhyaḥ sarva-mukhebhyaḥ sarvathā traṭ caṇḍa-mahāroṣaṇa khaṃ khā he khā he (or khāhi khāhi [52] ) sarva-vighnaṃ hūṃ traṭ hāṃ māṃ [53] Nōmaku saraba tatagyateibyaku saraba bokkeibyaku sarabata tarata senda makaroshada ken gyaki gyaki saraba bikin(n)an un tarata kan man [45] [49] [50] Homage to all Tathāgatas, the omnipresent doors, who are in all directions! traṭ. O violent one of great wrath! khaṃ. Root out, root out every obstacle! hūm traṭ hām mām. [54]

Another mantra associated with the deity is Oṃ caṇḍa-mahā­roṣaṇa hūṃ phaṭ, found in the Siddhaikavīra Tantra. The text describes it as the "king of mantras" that dispels all evil and grants "whatever the follower of Mantrayāna desires". [55]

The Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa Tantra 's description of Acala is a good summary of the deity's depiction in South Asian Buddhist art.

"His right hand is terrifying with a sword in it,
His left is holding a noose
He is making a threatening gesture with his index finger,
And bites his lower lip with his fangs.
"Kicking with his right foot,
He is smashing the four Māras.
His left knee is on the ground.
Squint eyed, he inspires fear.
"He points a threatening gesture at Vasudhā [i.e. the earth],
Kneeling on the cap of his left knee.
He has Akṣobhya for his crest jewel
He is of blue color and wears a jewel diadem.
"A princely youth, Wearing Five Braids of Hair,
Adorned with all the ornaments,
He appears to be sixteen years old,
And his eyes are red—he, the powerful one." [16]

In Nepalese and Tibetan art, Acala is usually shown either kneeling on his left knee or standing astride, bearing a noose or lasso (pāśa) and an upraised sword. Some depictions portray him trampling on the elephant-headed Vighnarāja (the Hindu god Ganesha), the "Lord of Hindrances". He may also be shown wearing a tiger skin, with snakes coiled around his arms and body. [3] [56]

By contrast, portrayals of Acala (Fudō) in Japan tend to conform to the description given in the Amoghapāśakalparāja Sūtra and the Mahāvairocana Tantra: holding a lasso and a sword while sitting or standing on a rock (盤石座, banjakuza) or a pile of hewn stones (瑟瑟座, shitsushitsuza), with his braided hair hanging from the left of his head. [57] [58] [59] He may also be depicted with a lotus flower - a symbol of enlightenment - on his head (頂蓮, chōren). [60] Unlike the South Asian Acala (whose posture conveys movement and dynamism), the Japanese Fudō sits or stands erect, suggesting motionlessness and rigidity. [8] The sword he wields may or may not be flaming and is sometimes described generically as a "jeweled sword" ( 宝剣 , hōken) or "vajra sword" ( 金剛剣 , kongō-ken) , which is descriptive of the fact that the sword's pommel is in the shape of the talon-like vajra (金剛杵, kongō-sho). It may also be referred to as a "three-pronged vajra sword" ( 三鈷剣 , sanko-ken) . [61] In some cases, he is seen holding the "Kurikara sword" (倶利伽羅剣, Kurikara-ken), [62] a sword with the dragon (nāga) king Kurikara (倶利伽羅 Sanskrit: Kulikāla-rāja or Kṛkāla-rāja) coiled around it. [63] The flaming nimbus or halo behind Acala is known in Japanese as the "Garuda flame" (迦楼羅炎, karura-en), after the mythical fire-breathing bird from Indian mythology. [14]

Whereas earlier Japanese images showed Acala with glaring eyes and two fangs pointing upwards, a new variation developed by the late Heian period which depicted him with one eye wide open and/or looking upwards, with the other narrowed and/or looking downwards - an iconographic trait known as the tenchigan (天地眼), "heaven-and-earth eyes". Similarly, one of his fangs is now shown as pointing up, with the other pointing down. [59] [64] [65] [66] Acala's mismatched eyes and fangs were allegorically interpreted to signify both the duality and nonduality of his nature (and of all reality): the upward fang for instance was interpreted as symbolizing the process of elevation towards enlightenment, with the downward fang symbolizing the descent of enlightened beings into the world to teach sentient beings. The two fangs also symbolize the realms of buddhas and sentient beings, yin and yang, and male and female, with the nonduality of these two polar opposites being expressed by Acala's tightly closed lips. [67]

Acala is commonly shown as having either black or blue skin (the Sādhanamālā describes his color as being "like that of the atasī (flax) flower," which may be either yellow [68] or blue [69] [70] ), though he may be at times portrayed in other colors. In Tibet, for instance, a variant of the kneeling Acala depiction shows him as being white in hue "like sunrise on a snow mountain reflecting many rays of light". [71] In Japan, some images may depict Acala sporting a red (赤不動, Aka-Fudō) or yellow (黄不動, Ki-Fudō) complexion. The most famous example of the Aka-Fudō portrayal is a painting kept at Myōō-in on Mount Kōya (Wakayama Prefecture) traditionally attributed to the Heian period Tendai monk Enchin. Legend claims that Enchin, inspired by a vision of Acala, painted the image using his own blood (thus explaining its red color), though recent analysis suggests that the image may have been actually created much later, during the Kamakura period. [72] [73] [74] The most well-known image of the Ki-Fudō type, meanwhile, is enshrined in Mii-dera (Onjō-ji) at the foot of Mount Hiei in Shiga Prefecture and is said to have been based on another vision that Enchin saw while practicing austerities in 838. The original Mii-dera Ki-Fudō is traditionally only shown to esoteric masters (ācārya 阿闍梨, ajari) during initiation rites and is otherwise not shown to the public, though copies of it have been made. One such copy, made in the 12th century, is kept at Manshu-in in Kyoto. [75] [76] [77] [78] [79]

The deity is usually depicted with one head and two arms, though a few portrayals show him with multiple heads, arms or legs. [80] In Japan, a depiction of Acala with four arms is employed in subjugation rituals and earth-placating rituals (安鎮法, anchin-hō) this four-armed form is identified in one text as "the lord of the various categories [of gods]." [81] An iconographic depiction known as the "Two-Headed Rāgarāja" (両頭愛染, Ryōzu Aizen or Ryōtō Aizen) shows Acala combined with the wisdom king Rāgarāja (Aizen). [82] [83] [84]

Acolytes Edit

Acala is sometimes described as having a retinue of acolytes, the number of which vary between sources, usually two or eight but sometimes thirty-six or even forty-eight. These represent the elemental, untamed forces of nature that the ritual practitioner seeks to harness. [1] [85]

The two boy servants or dōji (童子) most commonly depicted in Japanese iconographic portrayals are Kiṃkara ( 矜羯羅童子 , Kongara-dōji ) and Ceṭaka ( 吒迦童子 , Seitaka-dōji ) , who also appear as the last two of the list of Acala's eight great dōji. [1] [14] [85] Kiṃkara is depicted as white in color, with his hands joined in respect, while Ceṭaka is red-skinned and holds a vajra in his left hand and a vajra staff in his right hand. The two are said to symbolize both Dharma-essence and ignorance, respectively, and is held to be in charge of good and evil. [85]

Kiṃkara and Ceṭaka are also sometimes interpreted as transformations or emanations of Acala himself. In a sense, they reflect Acala's original characterization as an attendant of Vairocana indeed, their servile nature is reflected in their names (Ceṭaka for instance means "slave") and their topknots, the mark of banished people and slaves. In other texts, they are also described as manifestations of Avalokiteśvara (Kannon) and Vajrapāṇi or as transformations of the dragon Kurikara, who is himself sometimes seen as one of Acala's various incarnations. [85]

Two other notable dōji are Matijvala (恵光童子, Ekō-dōji) and Matisādhu (恵喜童子, Eki-dōji), the first two of Acala's eight great acolytes. Matijvala is depicted as white in color and holds a three-pronged vajra in his right hand and a lotus topped with a moon disk on his left, while Matisādhu is red and holds a trident in his right hand and a wish-fulfilling jewel (cintāmaṇi) on his left. The eight acolytes as a whole symbolize the eight directions, with Matijvala and Matisādhu representing east and south, respectively. [85]

Japan Edit

The cult of Acala was first brought to Japan by the esoteric master Kūkai, the founder of the Shingon school, and his successors, where it developed as part of the growing popularity of rituals for the protection of the state. While Acala was at first simply regarded as the primus inter pares among the five wisdom kings, he gradually became a focus of worship in his own right, subsuming characteristics of the other four vidyarājas (who came to be perceived as emanating from him), and became installed as the main deity (honzon) at many temples and outdoor shrines. [1] [86]

Acala, as a powerful vanquisher of evil, was regarded both as a protector of the imperial court and the nation as a whole (in which capacity he was invoked during state-sponsored rituals) and the personal guardian of ritual practitioners. Many eminent Buddhist priests like Kūkai, Kakuban, Ennin, Enchin, and Sōō worshiped Acala as their patron deity, and stories of how he miraculously rescued his devotees in times of danger were widely circulated. [87]

At temples dedicated to Acala, priests perform the Fudō-hō ( 不動法 ) , or ritual service to enlist the deity's power of purification to benefit the faithful. This rite routinely involves the use of the Homa ritual ( 護摩 , goma) [1] as a purification tool.

Lay persons or monks in yamabushi gear who go into rigorous training outdoors in the mountains often pray to small Acala statues or portable talismans that serve as his honzon. [1] This element of yamabushi training, known as Shugendō, predates the introduction of Acala to Japan. At this time, figures such as Zaō Gongen ( 蔵王権現 ) , who appeared before the sect's founder, En no Gyōja, or Vairocana, were commonly worshiped. [1] Once Acala was added to list of deities typically enshrined by the yamabushi monks, his images were either portable, or installed in hokora (outdoor shrines). [1] These statues would often be placed near waterfalls (a common training ground), deep in the mountains and in caves. [59]

Acala also tops the list of Thirteen Buddhas. [88] Thus Shingon Buddhist mourners assign Fudō to the first seven days of service. [88] The first week is an important observance, but perhaps not as much as the observance of "seven times seven days" (i.e. 49 days) signifying the end of the "intermediate state" (bardo).

Literature on Shingon Buddhist ritual will explain that Sanskrit "seed syllables", mantras and mudras are attendant to each of the Buddhas for each observance period. But the scholarly consensus seems to be that invocation of the "Thirteen Buddhas" had evolved later, around the 14th century [89] [90] and became widespread by the following century, [89] so it is doubtful that this practice was part of Kūkai's original teachings.

China Edit

While iconography of Acala is not as popular in Chinese Buddhist temples as in Japan, he is revered as one of the eight Buddhist guardians of the Chinese zodiac and specifically considered to be the protector of those born in the year of the Rooster.

    's 1969 poem Smokey the Bear Sutra portrays Smokey Bear (the mascot of the U.S. Forest Service) as an incarnation of Vairocana (the "Great Sun Buddha") in a similar vein as Acala. Indeed, Acala's Mantra of Compassionate Help is presented in the text as Smokey's "great mantra." [91]
  • The character Daigo Dojima from the Yakuza series has a tattoo of Acala on his back.

Gilt bronze statue from Tibet, 15th-16th century, Honolulu Museum of Art

Thangka depicting four-armed Acala, from Khara-Khoto, 13th-14th century

Kamakura period painting at Daigo-ji, Kyoto showing Acala with Kiṃkara and Ceṭaka

Acala with eight acolytes, Kamakura period, Nara National Museum

The Kurikara sword flanked by Kiṃkara and Ceṭaka, Kamakura period, Nara National Museum

Drawing of four-armed Acala, from the Fudō Giki (1245) [92]

Statue of Two-Headed Rāgarāja, the combined form of Acala (Fudō) and Rāgarāja (Aizen), at Hokke-ji (Mitahora Kōbō) in Gifu

Statue at the Great Peace Pagoda in Shinshō-ji, Narita, Chiba Prefecture


In eighth-century China, Buddhist sculptors adopted new standards of secular beauty for spiritual figures. Whereas images of the Buddha appear sternly formal, bodhisattvas, the merciful deities that guide men toward salvation, often display more humanistic features. This bodhisattva’s graceful proportions, upswept hair, sinuous drapery, and delicate jewelry convey an appealing physical elegance. Seated informally, the deity is poised to step down from its pedestal.

Together with a large seated Buddha and another attendant bodhisattva in the Art Institute collection (1930.83, 1930.84), this sculpture came to the museum in 1930 with a note of its discovery in a temple known as Cangfosi in northern Hebei province. Neither archaeological nor written records have been located to confirm this reported site. The scale and stone medium of these figures suggest that they were commissioned for a cave temple or shrine a chamber carved into the face of a mountain or cliff.


Ksitigarbha in Japan

Ksitigarbha has a unique place in Japan, however. As Jizo, the bodhisattva (bosatsu in Japanese) has become one of the most beloved figures of Japanese Buddhism. Stone figures of Jizo populate temple grounds, city intersections, and country roads. Often several Jizos stand together, portrayed as small children, dressed in bibs or children's clothes.

Visitors might find the statues charming, but most tell a sad story. The caps and bibs and sometimes toys that decorate the silent statues often have been left by grieving parents in memory of a dead child.

Jizo Bosatsu is the protector of children, expectant mothers, firemen, and travelers. Most of all, he is the protector of deceased children, including miscarried, aborted, or stillborn infants. In Japanese folklore, Jizo hides the children in his robes to protect them from demons and guide them to salvation.

According to one folk tale, the dead children go to a kind of purgatory where they must spend eons piling stones into towers to make merit and be released. But demons come to scatter the stones, and the towers are never built. Only Jizo can save them.

Like most of the transcendent bodhisattvas, Jizo may appear in many forms and is ready to help whenever and wherever he is needed. Nearly every community in Japan has its own beloved Jizo statue, and each one has its own name and unique characteristics. For example, Agonashi Jizo heals toothaches. Doroashi Jizo helps rice farmers with their crops. The Miso Jizo is a patron of scholars. The Koyasu Jizo assists women in labor. There is even a Shogun Jizo, dressed in armor, who protects soldiers in battle. There are easily a hundred or more special Jizos throughout Japan.


Chinese Bodhisattva with Diadem - History

(Minghui.org) Buddhism flourished in China during the Southern Dynasty, mostly because Xiao Yan (464 - 549 AD), Emperor Wu of Liang, was a devout Buddhist. He not only promoted Buddhism nationwide, but also conscientiously practiced Buddhism in his daily life and in his managing of state affairs.

After Xiao Yan became the emperor, he achieved great things politically. Having learned from the demise of the Qi State, he was diligent in handling state affairs and always got up early every morning to review memorials and official documents regardless of the weather or season. In the winter, his hands were sometimes so cold that the skin cracked, but he never complained.

To hear good advice from all over and to make the best use of his people’s talents, he ordered two boxes set up outside the gate of the imperial compound, one called “Bang Mu Han” and the other, “Fei Shi Han.”

If meritorious officials or talented people were not properly rewarded or promoted, they could put their letters of appeal into the “Fei Shi Han” box. If ordinary people wanted to make critical comments on state affairs or offer suggestions, they could put their petitions into the “Bang Mu Han” box.

Emperor Wu of Liang attached great importance to the selection and appointment of officials. He demanded that local officials be honest with a clear conscience, and he often summoned them to the court to remind them that it was their responsibility to serve the country and the people.

To promote high standards in governance, the emperor also sent edicts across the country. If magistrates in small counties were responsible for outstanding achievements, they would be promoted to be magistrates in large counties, and large county magistrates with outstanding merits would be promoted to the position of governor in a prefecture. Thanks to these sound policies, the officials in Liang did well, and agriculture, the silk textile industry, and commerce in Liang flourished.

Emperor Wu of Liang believed in and worshiped Buddha with all sincerity. In the early years when he spent most of his time fighting on the battlefield, he did not have time to visit temples or burn incense and show his respect to Buddha. After he became emperor, he took worshiping Buddha and visiting temples very seriously, and such events became important ritual activities in his country.

In 504 AD, the year after he became emperor of Liang, he led 20,000 monks and laymen to Chongyun Pavilion of Chongyun Hall and wrote “She Dao Shi Fo Wen,” declaring his sincerity in worshiping Buddha.

Emperor Wu of Liang also showed his commitment to Buddhism in his daily life and gained his people’s respect. According to history books, he wore the same headwear for three years and used the same quilt for two years before replacing them with new ones. He followed a vegetarian diet and paid little attention to food or clothing. He wore the same clothes even after they had been washed several times. All his clothes were made of cotton instead of silk, since the extraction of silk would kill countless silkworms, which would not comply with the Buddhist prohibition against killing. He ate mostly vegetables and only one meal a day. When he was very busy, he would just have porridge when he felt hungry. He never drank alcohol or listened to music for pleasure, even though he himself was a proficient musician. He was the most “miserable” emperor in Chinese history.

Emperor Wu of Liang showed great compassion in his governance. Whenever the court sentenced a criminal to death, he would look very sad for many days. In his later years, he declared that he was willing to convert to Buddhism and actually went to stay in Tongtai Temple, the largest temple in Jiankang City, four times. Consequently, he was given the nickname “Emperor Bodhisattva.”

Xiao Yan, Emperor Wu of Liang, truly deserved the title “Emperor Bodhisattva.” He ordered the construction of many temple towers and Buddha statues and promoted Buddhism earnestly during his reign. The capital city, Jiankang, which covered an area of 40 miles in each direction, was home to more than 500 temples, with numerous towering pavilions and pagodas. The Liang Dynasty had a population of five million, and the number of monks and nuns in Jiankang City alone reached 100,000. There were also many monks and nuns in other counties and prefectures.

There was a common practice at that time, known as “sacrificing oneself.” There were two ways to do this. One was to give one's assets to the temple, and the other was to join the temple to serve the monks. Xiao Yan “sacrificed himself” four times as a monk in Tongtai Temple (now the Jiming Temple in Nanjing), with lengths of stay from four to 37 days. And each time the court redeemed him with gold. The total amount paid in ransoms to the temple came to 400 million gold coins. Buddhism achieved unprecedented prosperity during the Liang Dynasty.

Xiao Yan was on the throne for nearly half a century, and his country and people enjoyed remarkable cultural and economic prosperity during his reign. Even the enemy countries to the north were amazed and followed suit.

Traditional Confucianism also reached a historical high while Emperor Wu of Liang was vigorously promoting Buddhism. The whole country was permeated with an atmosphere of Confucian culture, and scholars showed a keen interest in Confucian studies. From the emperor to the princes and nobles, everybody took pride in being gracious and having integrity, and strove to improve their cultural literacy.

As a result, during Liang’s just over 50 years, an impressive number of accomplished writers and poets made significant contributions to Chinese literature, such as Xiao Tong, who wrote “Selected Works of Zhaoming” Shen Yue, author of “Song Shu” Xiao Ziliang, who wrote “Nan Qi Shu” Liu Xie, author of “Wen Xin Diao Long” Zhong Rong, author of “Shi Pin” as well as many other well-known scholars, not to mention Xiao Yan’s two sons who became emperors themselves—Jianwen Emperor Xiao Gang and Yuan Emperor Xiao Yi. In short, the literary achievements during the Liang Dynasty could be matched only by the prosperous Tang and Northern Song dynasties in Chinese history.

Emperor Wu of Liang made remarkable contributions to Chinese Buddhist culture, the promotion of Confucianism, and the spread of China’s divine culture.


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