I thought today we would take a look at a handful (or so) photos of the various Buddhas I’ve come across in Japan.
First up is Amida Buddha (Amitābha). He is the Western Buddha according to Mahāyanā Buddhism, and he is very popular in Japan. It’s said if you say his name you will be reborn in the pure land, a paradise somewhere to the West free of misery where it is possible to better concentrate on reaching nirvāṇa.
Look closely to see his stylish moustache.
Next up we have Fudō-sama (Ācala). Not a buddha, but rather a wisdom king. Don’t worry too much about what that means. Something like a saint. He may look mean, but he’s a softy at heart. His purpose is to reveal the true essence of Buddhist teaching by instilling good mental discipline. With that sword, no doubt…
Many Shingon temples hold a fire festival around his image. And, yes, they involve walking on hot coals.
Kannon (Guanyin) is commonly known as the goddess of mercy in English, but she’s actually a bodhisattva. Her many arms (representing a thousand of them) come from trying to help everyone reach nirvāṇa. The story goes that her two arms shattered when she tried to help everyone, so Amida (the fella we met a few photos up) gave her a thousand of them. Nice guy, that Amida.
Trivia fact: The camera company is named after her.
The Laughing Buddha
Budai (or Hotei), known as the laughing Buddha and often confused with the historic Buddha in the West. Some schools say he’s the future Buddha (Maitreya), but in most he is a simple monk—a simple enlightened monk, at any rate.
One of my favorite zen tales involves him hunched over, caring a heavy pack. A monk stops him and asks, “What is enlightenment?”. He smiles, drops his heavy pack, and stands up straight. “Ah, I see,” says the monk. “Tell me then, what is after enlightenment?” Bodai’s smile grows even wider, he leans over, throws his heavy bag over his shoulder, hunching under the weight, and walks away.
Next we have Siddhārtha Gautama, Śākyamuni, the historic Buddha and real deal. About 2500 years ago he achieved enlightenment and spent the next 40 years of his life spreading the word before dying and entering nirvāṇa.
He likely didn’t look like this, by the way. For the first hundred or so years after his death, he was never represented in images and instead a symbol was used (the wheel of life, I believe, if memory serves). It was only after a century or so that people started to become curious about him and made statues.
Just for the heck of it, a random monk.
And the Buddha Path. A bunch of statues of various boddhisatvas.
Finally we have the 13 Buddhas of Shingon Buddhism.
The secret is they aren’t all Buddhas. Look—there’s Fudosama, for one, and we know he’s not a buddha.
I love the phoenix flying on either side of all these guys.