Buddhism in Japan - Part two - Major Zen Deities

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03 Feb 2008 13:19 #10902 by Garm

In Zen Buddhist, historical figures often attained a state of deification. This is a prime example of the historical and mythical uniting. For example, the regent Hojo Tokimune was praised as a “Buddha to be” because he defeated the invading Mongolian forces. Many tales such as this exist about Zen warriors and their accomplishments. Further, in the history of the faithful samurai, ronin appeared. A ronin was a masterless samurai who roamed the land performing honorable acts. The Zen warrior became exemplary by maintaining a pious existence.


The Zen belief was founded by Bodhi Dharma (Bodhidharma). Dharma was an Indian monk who traveled to China and founded the Ch’an Tsung, or inner-light school, of Buddhism. In the year A.D. 520, he visited Nanking, where he presented himself to the Emperor. The Emperor was taken aback by this monks’ cryptic way of thinking. Dharma then went on to settle in a Buddhist monastery in the north, where he spent many years in meditation. There is a tale that is told about his rigid asceticism; he once fell asleep during meditation, and when he awoke, became completely infuriated with himself. He cut off his eyelids so that he would never again pass into slumber. From his severed eyelids grew the first tea plant. Tea became the sacred drink of the Zen Bubbhist.


There were Zen deities that were intimately associated with the warrior. Manjusri carried a sword in his right hand and a sutra (a collection of prayers) in his left. He did not kill people, but he was night merciful when it came to destroying their anger, avarice, and foolishness. Overall, he was a benevolent deity. In direct contrast to him was Acala, another samurai-like god, who destroyed all those who opposed the virtues of Buddha. He was sometimes associated with the Vairocana Buddha, who was a sword himself.


Kwannon Bosatsu is depicted as having a thousand arms, with each arm holding a different weapon. Every single arm was depended on all the others: if his mind stopped or faltered for an instant, and one hand was misused, the other 999 became useless. This is the lesson called Prajna Immovable, which demonstrates that one must let the mind be free. The Prajna Immovable is an attempt to attain a state of “no mind,” the ability to take everything in and let everything go.

Kwannon and his mate Shoten embody the yin and yang. They are the perfect divine couple, the realization of enlightenment, and exalted state of being.


Fudo Myoo, who was also worshiped by other Buddhist sects, was similar to Acala and was acknowledged as both the “immovable” and the “unshakable” spirit. He is depicted with sword in right hand and rope in hand. His face is blazing with the threat of battle, his teeth are bared, and his eyes are glaring. He would crush all those who threatened the Buddha’s teachings. He was the savior of souls and the patron of ascetics.


Honen and Shinran taught about the “great solar Buddha,” Amida-Nyorai was the Buddha of “Infinite Light,” who brought about a change in moral character. The Pure Land, Gokuraku Jodo, was where Amid resided. Gokuraku Jodo was the Buddhist heaven, or paradise; this was the place where one went upon completion of an ascetic human existence. The Pure Land is one of the most beautiful and spectacular places, filled with priceless jewels and the delightful sounds of birdsong. Amida was a compassionate and kind being who was responsible for bringing about salvation. The reward for sincere devotion to Amida was admittance into his heavenly paradise.


Emmo-o, the black faced, morbid god of death, was Amida’s archenemy. He resided in his own land, which was the complete opposite of Gokuraku Jodo, the Pure Land. He was a merciless and fierce judge of the dead. Those unfortunate souls who were condemned to spend eternity in Emmo-o’s domain were consoled by the gentle-faced Jizo-bosatsu. Jizo-bosatsu wandered the land of the Emmo-o comforting the suffering souls. The kind and merciful Jizo-bosatsu is depicted as having a shaved head, wearing a long robe, and carrying a staff that rings hen it touches the ground. It was believed that his staff had the power to ward off evil.

Compiled from \"Myths, Deities and Demons of the Far East\" by Brian Katz

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