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Statuette of Hoharamitsu Bosatsu

Statuette of Hoharamitsu Bosatsu


In Buddhism, a bodhisattva ( / ˌ b oʊ d iː ˈ s ʌ t v ə / BOH -dee- SUT -və) [1] is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood.

In the Early Buddhist schools as well as modern Theravada Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Pali: bodhisatta) refers to anyone who has made a resolution to become a Buddha and has also received a confirmation or prediction from a living Buddha that this will be so. [2]

In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva refers to anyone who has generated bodhicitta, a spontaneous wish and compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. [3]

The elaborate concept refers to a sentient being or sattva that develops bodhi or enlightenment — thus possessing the boddisattva's psyche described as those who work to develop and exemplify the loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuṇā), empathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). These four virtues are the four divine abodes, called Brahmavihara (illimitables). [4]

Chūgūji was once the palace of Hashihito, mother of Shōtoku Taishi. After her death it was converted into a temple. It was restored and converted to a nunnery by the nun Shinnyo in the late Kamakura period. [1] [2] Originally standing three hundred metres to the east, it was moved to its present location in the Muromachi period. [3] Chūgū-ji is one of three nunneries in Yamato whose chief priestesses were imperial princesses. [4] The site of Chūgū-ji has been designated a Historic Site, and the Edo period Omotegomon has been registered as a cultural property. [5] [6]

The camphor wood statue of Miroku ( 菩薩半跏像 ) is a National Treasure dating from the Asuka period. Formerly painted, it is finished in lacquer. [3] [7] [8] [9]

After the death of Shōtoku Taishi in 622, his consort Tachibana-no-Oiratsume commissioned the Tenjukoku Shūchō Mandala ( 天寿国繍帳 ) . The embroidery of heaven and eternal life, together with one hundred tortoises and accompanying text, was restored in the Edo period by combining the surviving fragments with parts of a Kamakura period replica. [10] [11]

Statuette of Hoharamitsu Bosatsu - History

One of Love
resides in Tusita
paradise but will
return to earth as
Buddha of Future

Mílè 彌勒
Mile (Mi-le)
Mílèpúsà 彌勒菩薩
Mileh-fo, Mi Lo Fwo

(name means
lovingly kind)

Cham pa
Namdren Mapham
Jampa ("Friend")

Sanskrit Seed for Miroku
(Pronounced “YU” in Japan

  • Depicted as either a Buddha or Bodhisattva
  • Lord of Tuṣita Heaven 兜率天 (Jp = Tosotsu Ten see below)
  • Worshipped by both Mahayana & Therevada followers
  • Profound Korean Influence on Japan’s Miroku statuary , one of Japan’s popular 7 Lucky Gods, is considered an incarnation of Miroku Bosatsu
  • Also associated with Jizō Bosatsu, one of Japan’s most beloved deities, who vowed to remain on earth doing good deeds until the advent of Miroku in the distant future

On Maitareiya Sowaka (Mantra for Miroku in Japan)

Miroku is already prominent in Japan by the 7th century AD and was among the most important deities in early Japanese Buddhism. By the 9th century, Miroku became extremely popular among believers of the Shingon Sect, a form of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō 密教). Founded by Kōbō Daishi (774 to 835 AD), who visited China and brought back the teachings, the Shingon sect believes that, far in the future, Miroku Bodhisattva will become a Buddha, and then appear on earth to save those unable to achieve enlightenment, thus bringing universal salvation to all sentient beings.

Even today, Shingon followers are awaiting Miroku's return, scheduled to occur 5.6 billion years after the death of the Historical Buddha (his death is generally given in modern times as 483 BC but a date still contested by scholars). Miroku is also one of the 13 Buddha 十三仏 (Jūsanbutsu) of Japan’s Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism. In this role, Miroku presides over the memorial service held on the 42nd day following one's death. Among Japan’s Esoteric sects, Miroku likewise appears in the Kongōkai Mandala as one of the 16 Deities of the Auspicious Aeon, and in the Eight-Petal Court of the Taizōkai Mandala, where Miroku’s right hand is often shown holding a lotus surmounted with a vase and Miroku’s left hand forming the fear not mudra. There is also a mandala devoted to Miroku called the Miroku Mandala.

Buddha of the Future
In the latter half of Japan’s Heian period (794-1185) there arose a widespread belief in the “Three Periods of Law” -- a concept of society’s rise and fall that originated much earlier in Indian Buddhism but came to prominence later in China and then Japan. It foretold of the world’s ultimate decay and the complete disappearance of Buddhist practice. The Japanese believed the third and final period -- the Age of Mappō (Decline of the Law see below) -- had begun in 1052. The ensuing decades, moreover, were marked by civil wars, famine, and pestilence. A sense of foreboding filled the land, and people from all classes yearned for a gospel of salvation. Faith in Miroku experienced a revival during this time, but Miroku faith was ultimately overshadowed by the teachings of the Pure Land sects (Jōdokyō 浄土教) devoted to Amida Buddha. Nevertheless, Miroku became intimately linked to ideas concerning the Three Periods of Law, and like Amida, artwork portrayed Miroku descending to earth to welcome and then convey devotees to Miroku’s Tusita 兜率天 heaven. Such pieces are known as Miroku Raigō-zu 弥勒来迎図 (lit. = Miroku’s Welcoming Descent).

Days of Dharma, Three Periods of Law
In Buddhist lore, the Days of the Dharma (Buddhist Law) are divided into three periods, called the Three Periods of Law (Jp. = 三時 Sanji, literally “three periods” or Shōzōmatsu 正像末 (literally “true, semblance, and degenerate”). There are various schemes used to represent the Days of the Dharma, with varying lengths for each period, but the below scheme is commonly recognized in Japan. It was a concept that resonated especially with Japan’s Pure Land school (Jōdo Shū 淨土宗). Below text gives the Japanese spellings.

  1. First Phase. True Law. The Age of Shōbō (Shobo) 正法 , which lasts 1,000 years following the death of the Historical Buddha, whose death was generally given as 949 BC in the old calendar. The first phase symbolizes the Turning of the Wheel of the Law (a metaphor for teaching the way to enlightenment) the first phase refers to the spread and acceptance of Buddhist teachings sometimes known as the “Age of Correct Law,” it was considered a golden age, when followers had the capacity to understand and practice the Buddhist teachings. Other translations include “Age of True Teaching” or “Age of Correct Dharma.”
  2. Second Phase. Copied Law. The Age of Zōhō (Zoho) 像法, which lasts 1,000 years during this period the practice of the Law begins to deteriorate. Also translated as the “Age of Copied Law,” or the “Age of the Imitation Law,” or the “Age of Semblance Dharma,” or the “Age of Semblance Teaching.”
  3. Last Phase, Final Phase. Degenerate Law. The Age of Mappō (Mappo) 末法 , which lasts 3,000 years during this period, the practice of the Law declines until no one follows the Buddhist tenets also translated as the “Age of the Decline of the Law,” or the “Age of Degenerate Dharma,” or the “Age of Degenerate Teaching.”

NOTE: Says scholar Robert E. Morrell, in his wonderful book “Kamakura Buddhism, A Minority Report:” Asian Humanities Press, Berkeley, California, 1987 ISBN 0-89581-849-3:

“In China, the Period of the True Law (first phase) was generally understood to have been the interval of 500 years after the death of the Historical Buddha, during which his followers had the capacity both to understand and to practice the Dharma. According to the calculations of the time, the Buddha left this life in the year 949 BC of the Western calendar, so this first period would have continued through 449 BC. The thousand-year Period of the Imitation Law (second phase), during which there would be understanding of the teaching but deteriorating practice, would then continue through 551 AD (since the year 1 AD immediately follows 1 BC). The year 552 AD would then be the first of 10,000 years (although the most common schemes use a 500/1000 pattern) constituting the Period of the Decline of the Law (last phase), during which both understanding and practice would disappear. The chief proponent of this view in China was Hsin-hsing (Jp. = Shingyō, 540-594 AD). His Sect of the Three Stages (Jp. = Sangaikyō) was short-lived, but provides an instructive parallel to later Japanese developments.” <Morrell also asks in his footnotes: “Is it mere coincidence that the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki, 720 AD) gives 552 AD as the year of the first official introduction of Buddhism to Japan?>

Buddha of Three Worlds
(Jp. = Sanze Butsu)

Jizo Bosatsu promised to remain in this world until the advent of Miroku Buddha

Miroku Artwork in Japan
From the late Heian period onward, the majority of Miroku artwork in Japan depicts Miroku as a Bodhisattva -- not sure if this holds true outside Japan -- holding a stupa (tō 塔) or wearing a stupa in the crown. Also, in Japan, Miroku is typically shown seated, with the finger of the right hand touching the cheek, as if in deep meditation or musing, and the ankle of the right foot resting atop the left knee (Hankazō 半跏像 or Hanka Shiyuizō 半跏思惟像). The left hand is typically shown resting on the ankle of the right foot. These are characteristic of Miroku statuary -- indeed, the half-lotus sitting position and cheek-touching gesture are rarely found on other Buddha and Bodhisattva statues. Sometimes Miroku's hands form the Fear Not Mudra and Charity Mudra, much like the Historical Buddha, for Miroku is the future heir to the Buddha of the Present, who is none other than Shaka Buddha (the Historical Buddha). Since Miroku will return as the Buddha of the Future, statues of Miroku are not generally portrayed with the ornaments, princely clothing, and headdresses found on most Bodhisattva statues. Rather, Miroku Bodhisattva is generally portrayed in a form more akin to a Buddha (i.e., simple clothing, unadorned, without an elaborate headdress). To help you differentiate between the Nyorai (Buddha) and Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) versions of Miroku, just remember that Bosatsu statues are typically ornate, wearing crowns, jewelry, and princely clothes. In contrast, statues of the Nyorai (Buddha) are typically unadorned and dressed in the simple robe of a monk. This guideline doesn’t always work, of course, but in often yields a correct assessment of the deity. Finally, we should note that Korea’s influence on Japan’s Miroku statuary was profound.

Tosotsuten Mandala 兜率天曼荼羅
Shiga Prefecture, Important Prefectural Property, Color on Silk no date given at this J-site (where image was found).

Such mandala began appearing in the Kamakura period, and depicted Miroku in Tusita Heaven.

In Esoteric Buddhism, Miroku appears in the Eight-Petal Court of the Taizōkai Mandala, and in the Kongōkai Mandala as one of the 16 Deities of the Auspicious Aeon (Gengō Jūrokuson 賢劫十六尊). A 30-armed form of Miroku is also mentioned in iconographic texts, but no statuary or mandala of this type exists. Miroku also appears in the Tosotsuten Mandala 兜率天曼荼羅 depicting Miroku’s Tusita Heaven (one is preserved at Enmeiji 延命寺 in Osaka), as well as in paintings known as the Miroku Raigō-zu 弥勒来迎図 (one is preserved at Shōmyōji Temple 称名寺 in Kanagawa prefecture). The latter shows Miroku’s descent to earth to bring devotees back to Miroku’s Pure Land (akin to Amida Raigo artwork).

Miroku Nyorai, 9th Century, Todai-ji, Nara
Photo Courtesy of book entitled
The Concise History of Japanese Buddhist Sculpture (page 071)
Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, ISBN 4-568-40061-9

Miroku Nyorai, Jison-in, Wakayama Pref., Heian Era
Photo Courtesy of book Hidden Buddhas of Japan (page 78)
Corona Books, ISBN 4-582-63395-1

Miroku Bosatsu, 7th Century, Kyoto, National Treasure
Kouryuu-ji Temple, Wood, H = 84.2 cm
Photo Courtesy of book entitled
Concise History of Japanese Buddhist Sculpture (page 015)
Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, ISBN 4-568-40061-9

There are many different forms or images of the Maitreya (Miroku), yet many of these forms of Maitreya show a stupa in the crown. This contains a sarira or real relic of the Buddha Sakyamuni. In the Shingon Tradition, it is taught that this stupa represents Mahavairocana (Dainichi) Buddha.

Maitreya Bodhisattva is the Buddha who saves the world of the future. Sakyamuni was born in this world 2,500 years ago and preached the teachings of salvation for all humanity. After the passage of 5,670,000,000 years into the future after the death of Sakyamuni , Maitreya Bodhisattva will appear in the world and save all beings who have lost their way. At that time, a flower known as the Dragon Blossom will bloom, and Maitreya Bodhisattva will convene a gathering three times to preach the teachings and save the world. This is referred to as the Three Gatherings of the Dragon Blossom.

Another name for Maitreya Bodhisattva is Jishi Bodhisattva 慈氏, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and this is because he vowed to save all beings in the world with a mind of compassion.

Kobo Daishi (774 to 835 AD), the real-life founder of the Japanese Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism, resides in the Tusita Heaven, which is the pure land of Maitreya Bodhisattva, and he guarantees Maitreya's vow, having attained salvation in this present world. It is for this reason that Kobo Daishi is said to grant salvation during the time between the death of Sakyamuni and the appearance of Maitreya, and is a source of great spiritual light as the Bodhisattva between these two Buddhist deities.

Editor’s Note: In some traditions, Jizo Bosatsu was entrusted by the Historical Buddha to save others between the time of the Buddha's death and the arrival of Miroku. But according to this Shingon web site, Kobo Daishi has taken over this task from Jizo.

Miroku Bosatsu (Two views of same statue)
7th Century AD, Wood, Chuuguuji Temple 中宮寺 (Nara)
87 cm in height, Made of Japanese Cinnamon Wood

Miroku Bosatsu (All copper with gold plating)
(L) Three Kingdoms Era, 6th - 7th Century AD
Houryuu-ji Temple, 20.4 cm in height
(M) 7th Century, Kanmatsu-in Temple, 16.4 cm in height
(R) 7th Century AD, Houryuu-ji Temple, 23.6 cm in height

(L) Miroku Bosatsu, 7th Century AD
Houryuu-ji Temple, Copper with Gold Plating, H = 22 cm

(R) Miroku Bosatsu, Early 7th C. AD
Wood, Kouryuu-ji Temple, H = 66.4 cm

Exploring the Beauty of Japan #11
July 9th, 2002

40+ pages, 70+ color photos
Japanese Language Only
Publisher: 小学館、東京都千代田区
一ツ橋 2-3-1, TEL: 03-3230-5118
Wonderful magazine featuring treasures of Houryuu-ji Templei. Some photos at this site were scanned from this magazine.

Miroku Bosatsu, Wood with Pigment
Located inside the Sangyou-in at Houryuu-ji Temple
Heian Era, 9th Century, H = 97 cm

Above Photo Courtesy: Showa Inventory of Houryuu-ji Temple, Page 62
Exhibition of the Treasures of Houryuu-ji Temple. 法隆寺昭和資財帳調査完成記念 - 国宝法隆寺展.
Exhibition Catalog, 1994. Exhibition held in turn at the Nara National Museum and
Tokyo National Museum, and then the Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Sendai Municipal Museums.

    . Miroku statues are available for online purchase at our sister site.

半跏思惟像 (はんかしゆいぞう)の弥勒菩薩が有名です 。五仏の付いている冠をかぶったり、手に宝塔を持っている姿が一般的です。お釈迦様が亡くなってから56億7000万年後に現れると言われている。

Copyright 1995 - 2014. Mark Schumacher. Email Mark.
All stories and photos, unless specified otherwise, by Schumacher.
www.onmarkproductions.com | make a donation

Please do not copy these pages or photos into Wikipedia or elsewhere without proper citation !

The Statuette of the Bodhisattva

The Hokkeji Temple was built in the 8 th century AD when Buddhism was becoming very popular. At the time Nara was one of the centers of Buddhist activity in Japan. The temple is home to many treasures and the statue with the hoard of artifacts is just one of the many rare and precious objects housed at the site.

The statuette portrays Monju Bosatsu, a Bodhisattva, that is a person who has elected not to enter Nirvana or to become a Buddha , in order to help humanity to escape suffering. The statue is believed to be approximately seven centuries old and has been in the possession of the temple for many years. The statuette of Monju Bosatsu only stands at 73 cm or 30 inches high.

The statuette of the Bodhisattva, Nara National Museum (Image: NHK Newsline Screenshot )

Monju Bosatsu is associated with wisdom and is venerated for his ability to help individuals to become enlightened and is usually depicted as a youth. He is often portrayed with scrolls, and with a sword in his hand, symbolizing his ability to cut through ignorance and illusions. The Bodhisattva is venerated as one of the four great bodhisattvas and has been depicted in Buddhist art in many countries in East Asia.

Based on a close examination of the statuette Japanese experts were certain that the figure of the Bodhisattva contained some artifacts or scrolls. It was quite a common practice for items and even mummies to be placed in Buddhist statues, all over Asia. After consulting with the head priest and others at the Hokkeji Temple a group of local experts, were granted permission to examine the precious statuette, on condition that they did not damage the object.

Statuette of Hoharamitsu Bosatsu - History

Seishi Bosatsu, Seishi Bodhisattva, Daiseishi
勢至 lit. = “to obtain strength”

  • One of two main attendants to Amida Buddha, appearing frequently in artwork known as the Amida Sanzon 阿弥陀三尊 (lit. = Amida Triad). Seishi is typically placed to the right of the central Amida image, but sometimes (e.g., Immeasurable Life Sutra) Seishi appears on the left.
  • One of 25 Bodhisattva who descent from heaven (raigō) with Amida to welcome dying souls into Amida’s Pure Land
  • One of the Thirteen Deities (Jūsanbutsu) of the Shingon sect invoked in memorial services for the departed.
  • One of the Eight Great Bodhisattva (Hachi Daibosatsu or Hachi Bosatsu) who appear in the Taizōkai Mandala and Butsugen Mandala.
  • Guardian of People Born in Zodiac Year of the Horse.
  • In Tibetan Buddhism, Mahāsthāmaprāpta (aka Seishi) is equated with Vajrāpani (aka Niō).
    In Tibet, Vajrāpani is considered an incarnation (manifestation) of Seishi.

Seishi appears in early Mahayana sutras, including the Immeasurable Life Sutra, the Meditation Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. Seishi did not gain great popularity in India, but in China and Japan, Seishi's importance grew with the spread of the Pure Land sects devoted to Amida Buddha, for Seishi is one of the two main attendants (kyōji 脇侍) of Amida Buddha. The other is Kannon. In Japan, the three appear in a popular grouping known as the Amida Sanzon 阿弥陀三尊 (lit. = Amida Triad), with Amida in the center, Seishi to the right (representing wisdom), and Kannon to the left (representing compassion). Even today, the Pure Land sects of Japan are among the nation’s largest and most popular. Nevertheless, in both China and Japan, Seishi has always been eclipsed in popularity by Kannon (the God/Goddess of Mercy).

Seishi is rarely represented in Japanese sculpture except for the Amida Triad. In triad artwork, Kannon’s crown often contains a small image of Amida, which symbolizes compassion. Seishi’s crown often shows a small water vase (suibyō 水瓶), which symbolizes wisdom, a virtue that is perhaps religiously less significant than compassion, and this may help to explain why Seishi is not widely revered outside of Japan’s Pure Land traditions. Another reason may be the vast popularity once enjoyed by Monju Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva of Supreme Wisdom, the Wisest of the Bodhisattva).

Seishi is also one of the 13 Buddha 十三仏 (Jūsanbutsu) of the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō 密教) in Japan. In this role, Seishi presides over the memorial service held on the first-year anniversary following one's death. Seishi is also portrayed in the Rengebu-in 蓮華部院 section of the Womb World Mandala of Japan’s Esoteric sects. In the Lotus Sutra, Seishi is listed among those who assembled on Eagle (Vulture) Peak to listen to the teachings of the Historical Buddha. Eagle Peak is located near the modern-day Indian city of Rajagrha, and is the spot where the Historical Buddha often preached.

On Sanzansaku Sowaka
(also Om Sanzansaku Sowaka)

Japanese Mantra
for Seishi Bosatsu

SAKU (Japanese pronunciation)
Sanskrit Seed Syllable for Seishi Bosatsu

Seishi in Japanese Art
Seishi Bodhisattva appears mostly in paintings and sculptures of the Amida Triad, where Amida Buddha is seated in the center, attended by Seishi on the right and Kannon on the left. Seishi is typically depicted with hands held together in prayer (gasshō mudra 合掌), or holding a lotus flower. Sometimes there is a water jar in Seishi's crown (suibyō 水瓶), which represents wisdom. Belief in Amida Buddha and Amida's Pure Land was popular among the Japanese court in the late Heian Period, but it was only in the Kamakura era that Amida faith became popular among the common people.

Amida Nyorai Triad (Sanzon)
1148 AD, Byōdō-in Temple
See Bosatsu on Clouds page for more photos and details.
Also see Amida Raigo Triad page for more photos and details.

Amida Triad by accaimled sculptor Kaikei
Seishi on right, Kannon on left, of the central Amida image (H = 371 cm).
Lacquer and gold leaf over wood. Dated +1197. Jodoji (Jōdoji) Temple 浄土寺 , Hyōgo Prefecture.

Raigō 来迎 (Heavenly Descent) & Raigō Artwork
Raigō (Raigo) literally means "coming in welcome." Raigō artwork typically depicts Amida, Seishi, and Kannon descending from the Pure Land (heaven) on clouds to welcome the faithful into Amida's Pure Land of Utmost Bliss (Jp. = Jōdo, Jp. = Gokuraku Skt. = Sukhavati). Seishi is also counted, along with Kannon, as one of the 25 Bodhisattva 二十五菩薩 (Jp. = Nijūgo Bosatsu) who are often depicted in Japanese paintings of Amida's decent. They join Amida in leading the faithful spirits of the departed back to Amida's Pure Land.

山越阿弥陀図 - Yamagoe Amida
Lit. = Amida Coming Over the Mountain Seishi at right, Kannon at left
Hanging Scroll. Color on Silk. National Treasure of Japan.
Kamakura Era, Treasure of Zenrin-ji Temple (Kyoto).
Photo Courtesy Zenrin-ji Temple (also called Eikando)
永観堂 禅林寺, 一躯像高 77cm, 平安後期~鎌倉初期
See Amida Raigo Triad page for more photos and details.

Amida Raigo Triad
Photo: www.jodo.org

Seishi Bosatsu, Wood
Northern and Southern Dynasties, 1336 - 1392
Hase Dera in Kamakura (scanned from temple catalog)

Seishi Bosatsu - 12th Century, Chuusonji Temple, Scanned from temple catalog

Seishi (L) and Kannon (R) Bosatsu
Hands outstretched in Varada and Vitarka Mudras
Courtesy http://www.shakris.com (Arts of Japan section)

Hakuhō Era 663 - 709 AD, Treasure of Hōryūji Temple, Bronze, H = 22 cm
Photo: Handbook on Viewing Buddhist Statues (click here to buy book at Amazon)
A wonderful book. Japanese language only 192 pages. 80 or so color photos. By author Ishii Ayako.


  • Ninnaji Temple 仁和寺 (Kyoto) Heian Period, National Treasure.
    Seishi as part of an Amida Triad. Wood, H = 124.2 cm
  • Konbuin Temple 興福院 (Nara) Nara Era statue. Seishi as part of an Amida Triad. Wood-core dry lacquer (Mokushin Kanshitsu 木心乾漆). H = 75.4 cm. Important Cultural Treasure.
  • Sanzenin 三千院 (Kyoto) Dated 1148 AD, National Treasure.
    Seishi as part of an Amida Triad. Wood, H = 131.8 cm
  • Jōdoji (Jodoji) Temple 浄土寺 (Hyōgo Prefecture) Dated +1197. Amida Triad by Kaikei.
    Seishi as part of an Amida Triad. Lacquer and gold leaf over wood.
  • Amida Nyorai Triad (Sanzon), 1148 AD, Byōdō-in Temple.
    See Bosatsu on Clouds page for more photos and details.
  • Joshoko-ji Temple (north of Kyoto) 12th Century, Amida Raigo Triad.
    See photos from Kyoto National Museum.
    Statues of Seishi are available for online purchase at our sister site, Buddhist-Artwork.com, which launched in July 2006. The 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.
  • 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. (outside link). Compiled by the late Dr. Mary Neighbour Parent covers both Buddhist and Shinto deities in great detail and contains over 8,000 entries. . 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") . Numerous online scholarly papers and its semi-annual Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.

Copyright 1995 - 2014. Mark Schumacher. Email Mark.
All stories and photos, unless specified otherwise, by Schumacher.
www.onmarkproductions.com | make a donation

Please do not copy these pages or photos into Wikipedia or elsewhere without proper citation !


O-Jizo-Sama as he is often respectfully called, is one of the most
venerated Bosatsu in all of Japan. He is usually depicted as a monk,
wearing robes with a shaven head. He often holds a staff called a
shakujo. This is used to both scare away living creatures so he doesn’t
hurt them accidentally, and to awaken us from our dream-like world of
illusion. On many images and statues, he holds a wish-granting jewel
that he shares with Kanzeon Bosatsu and Vishnu in the Hindu tradition.

You can find O-Jizo-san (Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit) in cemeteries,
gardens, on road-sides and of course temples all over Japan. He is the
protector of travelers, children and all beings trapped in hell.

You can see Jizo with the Shakujo and the Wish-granting Jewel here.

The story goes, that the souls of children who die before their
parents, are not capable of crossing the fabled Sanzu River (similar to
the Styx river in Greek mythology) in the afterlife. This is because
they have not had the time to accumulate enough good deeds (karma) and
they have made their parents suffer. It is believed that Jizo saves
these souls from the punishment of having to pile stones eternally on
the bank of the river. O-Jizo-sama, is thus widely recognize as the
saint patron of dead children, especially still-born and aborted

You often encounter Ojizo-sama in graveyards and it is not unusual
to see the idol adorned with a red bib and a red baby hat. The reason
for this, is parents put it there to either thank him for saving a
child from illness or to ask him to protect a child in the after-life.
Thus each time you see a Jizo statue, adorned with these clothes, you
witness the pain of a parent. Sometimes, you’ll see small piles of
stones next to the statues and those are connected to building stupas
for the granting of merit. Doing so, the parents hope to earn enough
merit for their child so that it can cross the river as fast as
possible and thus, end suffering.

If you go to Koya-san’s graveyard, there is a river crossing it. The
river from that river is sacred and brings comfort to the souls. That
is why people splash the statues of Jizo with it as you can see in the
following video.

File:Statues of nikko bosatsu and gakko bosatsu of Shojo-ji, Fukushima.jpg

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Statuette of Hoharamitsu Bosatsu - History

Kun tu zang po, Kuntu Zangpo

Fugen atop elephant
13th Century
Sanjūsangendō in Kyoto

Esoteric Mantra in Japanese
On Sanmaya Sataban

AN (Japanese pronunciation)
Fugen’s Sanskrit Seed Syllable

AKU (Japanese pronunciation)
Fugen’s Sanskrit Seed Syllable

Modern wood statue. Praying Hands Mudra. Photo this J-site.

Sanmaya Mudra 三昧耶印

  • Origin India
  • Bodhisattva of Universal Goodness, Virtue, & Worthiness
  • Great Conduct Bosatsu made 10 vows of practice & faith
  • Symbolizes praxis (diligent practice of Buddhist tenets)
  • One Who Is All-Pervadingly Good
  • One Whose Beneficence is Everywhere
  • Protector of Those Who Teach the Dharma (Buddhist Law)
  • Embodies Wisdom of Essential Sameness
  • Prominent in Lotus Sutra & Patron of Lotus-Sutra devotees
  • Popular by Heian era among Japan’s Tendai Sect
  • Often depicted riding an elephant, with the deity’s hands pressed together in prayer (the so-called praying-hands mudra, or Gasshō 合掌 Mudra, known in Sanskrit as the Añjali Mudra).
  • One of 13 Deities 十三仏 (Jūsanbutsu) of Japan’s Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō 密教). In this role, Fugen presides over the memorial service held on the 28th day following one's death and is associated with Gokan-ō 五官王 (the fourth judge of ten hell judges). In Shingon circles, this version of Fugen is represented with the the Sanmaya-in Mudra 三昧耶印 (see photo in right column). In artwork, however, Fugen appears most commonly with the Gasshō (praying hands) mudra.
  • Often appears with Monju Bosatsu flanking the Historical Buddha (Shaka) in Japanese artwork known as the Shaka Triad (Shaka Sanzon 釈迦三尊).
  • Appears in both the Womb World and Diamond Worldmandalas. In the Taizōkai mandala, Fugen is positioned in the central Eight-Petal Court (Chūdaiihachiyō-in 中台八葉院) with left hand grasping a lotus surmounted with a sword, and also in the Monju Court (Monju-in 文殊院), with left hand holding a lotus topped with a three-pronged vajra.
  • In the Kongōkai Mandala, Fugen is one of the 16 Deities of the Auspicious Aeon and also identified as the esoteric deity Kongōsatta 金剛薩た among the 16 Great Bodhisattva.
  • The Tendai sect invokes a variant form, the Fugen Enmei Bodhisattva 普賢延命菩薩, in a special rite for longevity known as the Fugen Enmei Hō 普賢延命法. In this role, Fugen can appear in two different forms -- as a two-armed deity holding a five-pronged vajra in right hand and a bell in the left while sitting atop a lotus supported by three elephants (or by a single three-headed elephant) or as a 20-armed deity sitting atop a lotus sometime supported by four elephants. This latter form appears in the Henchi-in 遍知院 section of the Taizoukai mandala.
  • ENNICHI (Holy Day). The 14th day of each month is considered Fugen’s Ennichi 縁日, literally "related day" or “day of connection.” This is translated as holy day, one with special significance to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva. Saying prayers to the deity on this day is believed to bring greater merits and results than on regular days. Says the Digitial Dictionary of Buddhism (login = guest) : “The deity is understood to be in special charge of mundane affairs on that day, e.g. the 5th is Miroku, 15th Amida, 25th Monju, 30th Shaka. According to popular belief, religious services held on such a day will have particular merit.” <end quote> See Ennichi list for 30 Deities (Sanjūn Nichi Hibutsu 三十日秘仏 Japanese only).
  • Guardian of People Born in Zodiac Years of the Dragon & Snake. Find your Zodiac patron here.

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.

The lotus is a symbol of purity, and in Buddhist art, Shaka Buddha (the Historical Buddha) and other Buddhist deities are often pictured sitting or standing on a lotus or holding a lotus. Although a beautiful flower, the lotus grows out of the mud at the bottom of a pond. Buddhist deities are enlightened beings who "grew" out of the "mud" of the material world. Like the lotus, they are beautiful and pure even though they grew up in the material world. Fugen, moreover, is the patron of devotees of the Lotus Sutra, and the lotus is thus fittingly one of Fugen's main symbols.

Fugen represents meditation and practice (praxis) in Mahayana Buddhism. Fugen is often accompanied by Monju Bosatsu, who in contrast symbolizes wisdom and the enlightened mind (realization). In Japanese artwork, Fugen and Monju are often shown flanking the Historical Buddha (Shaka) in a grouping called the Shaka Trinity (Shaka Sanzon 釈迦三尊), with Fugen placed to the right of the central Shaka statue and Monju situated on the left. In this triad, Fugen is often depicted holding a lotus flower and riding an elephant (to symbolize the great power of Buddhist practice in overcoming all obstacles). Monju is frequently depicted with a sword in one hand (to cut through ignorance), holding the Sutra of Wisdom in the other, and sitting atop a roaring lion (symbolizing the powerful voice of Buddhist Law).

In addition, in Asia, there is a grouping called the Four Great Bodhisattva, with each of the four symbolizing a specific aspect of Buddhism. They are Kannon (compassion), Monju (wisdom), Fugen (praxis), and Jizō (vast patience and salvation from suffering).

Shaka Sanzon (Shaka Triad)
Historical Buddha in center, Fugen on left atop elephant,
Monju on right atop lion. Painting H 124 cm. Nanboku Era (1333-1392).
Photo courtesy Linden Museum (Germany)

Zendōji Temple 善導寺 (Kyoto)
Stone, H = 82 cm., Kamakura era
Photo this J-site

Fugen probably arrived in Japan sometime in the 8th or 9th century, for Fugen was already a major deity during the last half of the Heian Period (794-1192 AD). Fugen is a central deity of the Garland Sutra (Avatamsaka Sutra Jp. = Kegonkyō). Fugen also appears in the Lotus Sutra (Jp. = Hokekyō), which is one of the most important scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism throughout Asia, but especially popular and influential in Japan. According to one source:

“In the Heian period, women of the Japanese court adopted a form of Buddhism based on the worship of the Lotus Sutra and Fugen Bodhisattva. The Lotus Sutra is the principle Buddhist text concerned with the salvation of women, and Fugen is the protector Bodhisattva of the disciples of the Lotus Sutra. Thus did the women of the time adopt Fugen as their protector.” < Source cyberport.uqam.ca >

Indeed, in the 12th chapter (Devadatta) of the Lotus Sutra, the daughter of the Dragon King Sagara attains enlightenment at the young age of eight, illustrating the universal possibility of Buddhahood for both men and women. In Japan, Fugen is also one of the Thirteen Deities, the one who presides over the memorial service held on the 28th day following one's death. There are other forms of Fugen in Japan as well. The esoteric sects have their own special representations of Fugen in their Womb World and Diamond World mandalas. For example, the Tendai sect invokes a variant form, the Fugen Enmei Bodhisattva 普賢延命菩薩, in a special rite for longevity known as the Fugen Enmei Hō 普賢延命法.

Fugen. Three views of the same statue.
Heian-Kamakura Period, 13th Century
Treasure of Myōhō-in (Sanjūsangendō 三十三間堂) in Kyoto.
Wood, H = 140 cm when sitting atop elephant. Important Cultural Property.
Same statue as top of this page. Scanned from temple catalog

Quoted from JAANUS: Literally “universally good” also called Henkitsu 遍吉 . A bodhisattva who is shown mounted on a six-tusked white elephant and appears to devotees in order to protect and instruct them. In Mahayana Buddhism he plays a central role in the KEGONKYOU 華厳経 (Sk: Avatamsaka-sutra), the pilgrimage mandara of fifty-five saints preserved at Toudaiji 東大寺 in Nara. At the same time, according to the HOKEKYOU 法華経 or Lotus Sutra. (Sk: Saddharmapundarika-sutra) he is closely associated with Monju Bosatsu , the principal bodisattva who represents wisdom and enlightenment. Together they serve as the two attendants of Shaka Nyorai (the Historical Buddha), in one version of the Shaka Triad (Shaka Sanzon), with Fugen on the right symbolizing praxis and Monju on the left symbolizing wisdom. In Japan, because of the great popularity of the Lotus Sutra, Fugen is most commonly represented riding an elephant as described in that text, usually with his hands clasped together but sometimes holding a lotus, scepter or scroll. Renowned examples of pictorial representations are kept at Tokyo National Museum (late Heian period mid 12c) and Bujouji 豊乗寺 (Tottori prefecture late Heian period 12c), while a representative example of a statuary image dates from the Heian period (first half of 12c) and is held by the Okura Shuukokan 大倉集古館 (Tokyo). In Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyou 密教 ), Fugen is considered to symbolize the thought/mind of enlightenment, bodaishin 菩提心 , and appears in both the Womb World and Diamond World Mandalas . In the Taizoukai mandala he appears in the central Eight-Petal Court, Chuudaiihachiyouin 中台八葉院 (holding a lotus surmounted with a sword in his left hand) and in the Monju Court, Monjuin 文殊院 next to Monju (holding a lotus surmounted with a three-pronged vajra in his left hand). In the Kongoukai Mandala he is included among the 16 Deities of the Auspicious Aeon (gengou juurokuson 賢劫十六尊 ) and is also identified with Kongousatta 金剛薩た among the 16 Great Bodhisattva (juuroku daibosatsu 十六大菩薩 ). In Japan he also figures among the so-called Thirteen (13) Buddha (juusanbutsu 十三仏 ), presiding over the memorial service held on the 28th day after a person's death. A variant form of Fugen is called Fugen Enmei Bosatsu 普賢延命菩薩 and is invoked in the “Fugen Rite for Longevity” (Fugenenmei Hou 普賢延命法) , regarded as an important rite especially in the Tendai 天台 sect. Fugen Enmei Bosatsu appears in two forms. The first is two-armed and seated on a lotus supported by either three elephants or a single three-headed elephant. He holds a five-pronged vajra in his right hand and a bell in his left hand. The second form is the 20-armed form (also appearing in the Henchiin 遍知院 of the Taizoukai mandala), seated on a lotus that is sometimes supported by four elephants. An example of a painting of the first form is that preserved at Matsunoodera 松尾寺 (Kyoto mid 12c) and of the second that preserved at Jikouji 持光寺 (Hiroshima Prefecture 1153). There are also examples of statuary images of both forms. Fugen also figures in the “Picture of Fugen and the Ten Demonesses” (Fugen juurasetsunyo-zu 普賢十羅刹女図 ), in which Fugen in his role as protector of devotees of the Lotus Sutra is depicted sitting on a six-tusked elephant and accompanied by ten demonesses ( rasetsunyo 羅刹女 Sk: raksasi, who are also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra as tutelary spirits of the Lotus Sutra). These demonesses are depicted in either Tang Chinese costume (e.g., painting from the Heian period (12c) preserved at Rozanji 盧山寺 , Kyoto or in Japanese dress (e.g., painting from Kamakura period (13c) in the Hinohara 日野原 Collection, Tokyo. <end JAANUS quote>

Fugen atop Elephant
Wood, H = 55.2 cm, Heian Era, National Treasure
Located at Ōkurashūkokan 大倉集古館 in Tokyo
Photo courtesy Handbook on Viewing Buddhist Statues (Bustsuzo no Mikata 仏像の見方).
By Ishii Ayako. Click here to buy this wonderful Japanese handbook at Amazon.

Below Text Courtesy Kondo Takahiro.
Monju Bosatsu and Fugen Bosatsu may remind us of the accidents at a nuclear power plant. Two fast breeder reactors located in Fukui Prefecture were named Monju and Fugen. However, Monju was temporarily shut down on December 8, 1995, due to a leak of sodium coolant. Ironically, December 8 was the day Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) attained enlightenment.

Also Fugen is supposed to be advanced thermal reactors using both uranium and plutonium as fuel. In 1995, however, the government gave up the plan to develop such reactors in the face of stiff opposition. The reactor, which entered service in March 1979, cost 68.5 billion yen to build, but may cost three times that amount to dismantle, or 200 billion yen (US$1.5 billion). From the Buddhist viewpoint, naming the reactors Fugen and Monju was blasphemy against the two Bodhisattva. Swift is heaven's vengeance.

Same statue as that shown at top of page.
Sanjūsangendō 三十三間堂 in Kyoto. 13th century, Wood, H = 140 cm. Important Cultural Property.
Photo scanned from magazine 日本の仏像 (Japan's Buddha Statues), No. 2, June 2007

In India, the Hindu god Ganesh (also Ganesha) is portrayed with the head of an elephant, and assists believers in overcoming all obstacles -- akin to the force of an elephant crashing through the jungle. The son of Parvati, Ganesh removes every difficulty and is invoked at the start of any new enterprise. The elephant may also symbolize unrestrained passion. Linked with Fugen Bodhisattva, the elephant symbolizes the overcoming of obstacles. In Japanese artwork, the Buddhist deity Taishakuten (Sanskrit = Indra) is often depicted riding an elephant. This reflects Taishakuten's Hindu origin, for in India an elephant serves as the mount of Indra. In India, Indra often rides an elephant with 33 heads and 33 tusks named Erawan (Airavata). In Buddhist traditions, this symbolizes the 33 gods of the Trayastrimsha Heaven. Erawan, however, is often depicted as a three-headed elephant in artwork. The elephant is also closely associated with Shaka Buddha (the Historical Buddha). According to Buddhist mythology, when Shaka was 72 years old, his cousin and brother-in-law, the malevolent Devadatta, hoped to displace the Buddha and take over leadership of the Sangha (Buddhist community). Devadatta released an elephant maddened with alcohol upon the Historical Buddha, but the elephant was struck by Shaka's spiritual power and fell prostrate before him. Some art historians claim this is the origin of the Semui-in Mudra (the "Fear Not" hand gesture) found commonly throughout Asia on statues of the Buddha. In other lore, Queen Maya, the mother of the Historical Buddha, dreamt of an elephant before giving birth to the Buddha. In his prior lives, it is said, the Buddha was once an elephant. Elephant symbolism is also linked to Fugen Bodhisattva (the page you are now viewing), who is commonly depicted riding an elephant as described in the Lotus Sutra.

Fugen, Stone, Taishō period 大正時代 (1912-1926), Private Garden in Kamakura

Fugen Closeup, Stone, Taishō period 大正時代 (1912-1926), Private Garden in Kamakura. Same as above photo.

    Fugen statues available for purchase at our sister site.

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