Visitors to a Zen monastery in Japan will be greeted by various Buddhist figures enshrined in the different parts of the institution. This section is devoted to the description of such figures.
Each Buddhist sect in Japan has its own Honzon, i.e. "the chief honoured one" as its main object of worship: for instance, the Jodo and the Shin have Amida Nyorai; the Shingon, Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana); the Nichiren and the Zen, Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni). But this tradition Is not uniformly observed by the Zen sect and much latitude has been allowed to the founder of each temple or monastery.
The Buddha Sakyamuni is the proper one no doubt for all Zen institutions, for Zen claims to transmit the Buddha-heart--the first transmission taking place between Sakyamuni and Mahakashyapa. Sakyamuni thus occupies the main seat of honour on the Zen altar. But frequently we find there a statue of Kwannon (Avalokitesvara), or Yakushi (Bhaishajyaguru), or Jizo (Kshitigarbha), or Miroku (Maitreya), or even a trinity of Amida, Shaka, and Miroku. In this latter case Amida is the Buddha of the past, Shaka of the present, and Miroku of the future.
When the Honzon is Sakyamuni he is sometimes attended by a pair of Bodhisattvas and another of Arhats. The Bodhisattvas are Monju (Manjusri) and Fugen (Samantabhadra), and the Arhats are Kasho (Mahakashyapa) and Anan (Ananda). Sakyamuni is here both historical and "metaphysical", so to speak. Seeing him attended by his two chief disciples, he is a historical figure, but with Monju and Fugen who represent or symbolize wisdom and love, the two ruling attributes of the highest Reality, Sakyamuni is Vairocana standing above the world of transmigration s. Here we see the philosophy of the Avatamsaka or Gandavyuha incorporated into Zen. In fact, our religious life has two aspects--the experience itself and its philosophy.
This is represented in Buddhism by the historical trinity of Sakyamuni, Kashyapa, and Ananda, and by the metaphysical one of Vairocana, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra. Ananda stands for learning, intellection, and philosophizing; Kashyapa for life, experience, and realization; and Sakyamuni naturally for the unifying body in which experience and intellection find their field of harmonious co-operation. That religion needs philosophy is sometimes forgotten, and one of the great merits achieved by Buddhism is that it has never ignored this truth, and wherever it is propagated it helps the native genius of that land to develop its philosophy or to supply an intellectual background to its already-existing beliefs.
Perhaps it is only in the Zen monastery that the birth of the Buddha, his Enlightenment, and his Nirvana are commemorated. Mahayana Buddhism is much given up to the idealistic or metaphysical or transcendental interpretation of the historical facts so called in the life of the Buddha, and the evolution of the Bodhisattva-ideal has pushed the historical personages to the background. Vairocana or Amitabha has thus come to take the place of Sakyamuni Buddha, and a host of Bodhisattvas has completely displaced the Arhats.
But Zen has not forgotten the historical side of the Buddha's life. While Zen is not apparently concerned with earthly affairs, the fact that it has been nurtured in China where history plays an important rôle in the cultural life of the people, points to its connection again with the earth. So the three most significant events in the development of Buddhism are properly remembered and elaborate rituals are annually performed at all the main Zen monasteries in Japan for the Buddha's birth-day, his attainment of Enlightenment, and his entrance into Nirvana.
[1. Respectively: April 8, December 8, and February 15.]
The Buddha's birth as represented by Zen followers laces him in the most remarkable contrast to that of Christ. The baby Buddha is made to stand straight up with his right hand pointing at heaven and with his left at the earth, and he exclaims: "Above the heavens and below the heavens, I alone am the honoured one!" The voice reaches the furthest ends of the chiliocosm, and all the living being--even matter is not dead in Buddhism-share in the joy of the Buddha's birth, realizing that they too are destined to be Buddhas.
On April 8 this baby Buddha standing in a bronze basin is taken out of the shrine, and the ceremony of baptizing the baby with sweet tea made of some vegetable leaves is performed; the tea thus used is afterwards given away to children. Recently, the celebration of this day takes place on a grand scale in all the larger cities of Japan, not only by Zen followers but by all Buddhists including monks, priests, laymen, laywomen, and children.
Sakyamuni as the Enlightened One sits on the lotus throne enshrined in the main hall of the Zen monastery. He is generally in the meditation posture.
The Nirvana scene is generally represented pictorially, except perhaps the one at the Nirvana Hall of Myoshinji, Kyoto, which is a bronze-slab. The most noted Nirvana picture is by Chodensu, of Tofukuji, the whole length of which is about sixteen yards.
When Sakyamuni is not found in the Main Buddha all, one of the following Bodhisattvas is enshrined in his ace: Monju (Manjusri), Fugen (Samantabhadra), Kwan-non (Avalokitesvara), Yakushi (Bhaishajyaguru), Miroku (Maitreya), Jizo (Kshitigarbha), or sometimes Kokuzo (Akasagarbha).
Monju and Fugen generally go in pairs and are the chief Bodhisattvas in the Avatamsaka (Kegon) conception of the world. Monju stands for Prajna. Sitting on a lion he holds a sword which is meant to cut all the intellectual and affectional entanglements in order to reveal the light of transcendental Prajna. Fugen is found on an elephant and presents love, Karuna. Karuna is contrasted with Prajna in that Prajna points to annihilation and to identity whereas Karuna points to construction and to multiplicity. The one is intellectual and the other emotional; the one unifies and the her diversifies. Fugen's ten vows are well known to students of the Kegon.
Kwannon is exclusively the Bodhisattva of compassion. In this respect he resembles Fugen. A special chapter is devoted to him in the Hokkekyo (Saddharma-pundarika) and so in the Ryogonkyo (Suramgama). He is one of the most popular Bosatsus or Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism. For an English translation of the Kwannongyo as rendered into Chinese by Kumarajiva see p. 30 of the present Manual.
Yakushi is the Bodhisattva-doctor. He holds a medicine jar in his hands and is attended by twelve gods each of whom presents one of his twelve vows. The main object of his appearance among us is to cure us of ignorance, which is the most fundamental of all the ills the flesh is heir to.
Jizo is principally or popularly the protector of children nowadays, but his original vows are to save us from wandering in the six paths of existence. He thus divides himself into six forms each of which stands as guardian in each one of the six paths. Hence the six Jizo we often find by the country roadside. He is generally represented in priestly robe, with a shaven head, and carries a long walking staff in his hand. In the Kamakura and the Ashikaga period he was quite a popular object of worship, and we find many fine artistic sculptures of this Bodhisattva in Kamakura.
Miroku is the future Buddha and at present has his abode in the Tushita Heaven waiting for his time to appear among us. He is also essentially compassionate as his name implies. He is sometimes called a Buddha and sometimes a Bodhisattva. Although he is supposed to be in one of the heavens, he is frequently encountered on earth.
The Arhats, generally sixteen in number, are enshrined in the second storey of the tower gate. They are all registered as dwellers in some remote mountains, and each is the leader of a large following. Their superficially grotesque and irregular appearances contrast in a strange way with those of the Bodhisattvas. They are miracle workers and tamers of the wild beasts. This characteristic seems to have excited the interest of the Zen monk-artist who has turned them into one of the favourite objects of his artistic imagination.
In a large Zen monastery the five hundred Arhats are given a special shelter in the premises.
Bhadrapala is one of the sixteen Arhats and had his satori while bathing. He is now enshrined in a niche in the bath-room attached to the Meditation Hall. When the monks take their bath, they pay respect to his figure. The picture shown below belongs to Engakuji, Kamakura, and is one of the national treasures of Japan.
[1. The Training of the Zen Monk, p. 40.]
Of the many protecting gods of Buddhism the following may be counted as belonging more or less exclusively to Zen, and they have each his or her own special quarter where they perform their several official duties for Buddhism.
The Niwo or "two guardian kings" are found enclosed at either side of the entrance gate. They represent the Vajra god in two forms; the one is masculine with the mouth tightly closed, and the other is feminine with an opened mouth. They guard the holy place from intruders.
The Shitenno or the four guardian gods are enshrined in the Buddha-hall at the four corners of the altar. Of these gods the most popular one is Tamonten (Vaisravana), the guardian of the North. This fact comes perhaps from his being the god of learning and also of wealth.
It is difficult to trace historically how Benzaiten (Sarasvati), who is the goddess of the River, finds her shrine in a Zen monastery. Some say that Benzaiten is not Sarasvati but Sridevi. Whoever she may be, a female form is often found among the audience of a saintly priest, and later she appears in his dream telling him how she who was formerly an enemy of Buddhism is now enlightened and will be one of its protectors, and so on. In any event there is room even in the Zen monastery, where the severest kind of asceticism is supposed to prevail, for a goddess to enter.
Idaten is a god of the kitchen looking after the provisions of the Brotherhood. The original Sanskrit term for it seems to be Skanda and not Veda as may be suggested from i-da or wei-t'o. He is one of the eight generals belonging to Virudhaka, the guardian god of the Southern quarter. He is a great runner and wherever there is a trouble he is instantly found there. In the Chinese monastery he occupies an important seat in the hall of the four guardian gods, but in the Japanese he is in the little shrine attached to the monks' dining-room.
Ususama Myowo is a god of the lavatory. Ucchushma in Sanskrit means "to dry", "to parch", that is, to clean up filth by burning, by fire, for fire is a great purifying agency. Myowo is Vidyaraja, a special class of the gods who assume a form of wrath.
Sambo Kojin seems to be a Japanese mountain god in the form of an Indian god. He is found outside the temple buildings. As the monasteries are generally located in the mountains this god who is supposed to preside over such districts, is invited to have his residence in the grounds so that he would be a good protector of the Brotherhood against the inimical influence of evil spirits.
Daikokuten whose Indian prototype is sometimes regarded as Mahakala is at present a purely Japanese god. He carries a large bag over his shoulder and stands on rice bales. Though his phallic origin is suspected, he has nothing, as he is, to do with it. He is a god of material wealth and like Idaten looks after the physical welfare of the Brotherhood. He is not such a universal object of respect in the Zen monastery.
Wherever the Prajnaparamita is preached or copied or recited, the sixteen "good gods" stand about the place and guard the devoted spirits against their being lured away by the enemy. As Zen is connected with the philosophy of Prajna they are also the gods of Zen. The picture below shows more than sixteen figures. Of the extra four personages standing in the foreground the two on the left are the Jotai Bosatsu (Sadaprarudita) and Jinsha Daio while the two on the right are Hsuan-Chuang with a kind of carrying-case on his back and Hoyu Bosatsu (Dharmodgata). Jotai and Hoyu are the principal characters in the Prajnaparamita as told in the second series of my Essays in Zen Buddhism. Hsuan-chuang is the translator of the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra in six hundred fascicles and also that of Nagarjuna's commentary
[1. See also my Training of the Zen Monk, p. 106.
2 Ibid., p. 44.]
on the sutra in one hundred fascicles. While he was travelling through the desert, he was accosted by Jinsha, the god of the wilderness, who was responsible for the unsuccessful trips repeatedly attempted by the devoted Chinese pilgrims to India prior to Hsuan-chuang. The god was carrying six of the skulls of such victims about his neck. Listening to the Prajnaparamita as recited by Hsuan-chuang, he was converted and became a most devoted protector of the holy text. Hence his presence here.
Besides these mythical personages the Zen monastery gives shelter to some other historical characters deeply connected not only with Zen but with Buddhism as a whole. Bodhidharma as founder of Zen Buddhism naturally occupies a chief seat of honour beside the Buddha Sakyamuni. With Japanese Zen followers, however, the founder of a given temple is more highly honoured, and in each of the principal Zen institutions in Japan there is a special hall dedicated to the founder of that particular monastery, where an oil-lamp is kept burning all day and night. Bodhidharma is a unique figure and may be identified wherever he is. He is one of the favourite subjects for the Zen masters to try their amateurish brush. Kwannon is perhaps another such subject.
Fudaishi (Fu Ta-shih), also known as Zenne Daishi (Shan-hui), 493-564, was a contemporary of Bodhidharma. Although he does not belong to the orthodox lineage of Zen transmission, his life and sermons as recorded in the Transmission of the Lamp (Ch'uan-teng Lu) are full of Zen flavour, so to speak. His famous gatha is well known to all Zen students. Tradition makes him the inventor of what is known as Rinzo (luntsang), which is a system of revolving shelves for keeping the Chinese Tripitaka. For this reason he, together with his two sons, is set up in the Buddhist library as a kind of god of literature.
The Zen monastery harbours many old eccentric characters of whom the most noted of a Chinese origin are Kanzan (Han-shan) and Jittoku (Shih-te). They are vagabond poet-ascetics. Another belonging to this group of
[1. Fas. XXVII.
2. Introduction to Zen Buddhism, p. 58.
3. Zen Essays, III, Plates XIV and XV, with their accompanying explanations.]
characters is Hotei (Pu-tai). That Hotei plays quite a different rôle in Japanese Buddhism from what he does in Chine, I have explained in my article in the Eastern Buddhist, VI, 4, "Impressions of Chinese Buddhism".
Shotoku Taishi (574-622) was really one of the most remarkable figures in the cultural history of Japan, and it is no wonder that the Japanese Buddhists pay special monastery buildings. One of the legendary stories circulating in Japan with regard to Bodhidharma is that he came to Japan after he had finished his work in China and was found in the form of a miserable beggar at Kataoka Yama, near Nara. Shotoku Taishi met him there and it is said that they exchanged poems.
[1. Ibid. Plates X and XVI, and also Second Series.]