Radiance and Wrath

Buddhism in Japan includes a wide diversity of fully enlightened beings known as Buddha’s, those beings who defer enlightenment to assist others, Bodhisattavas, and wrathful protectors.

Descent of the Amida trinity and Fudõ Myõõ, were created at approximately the same time and depict very different aspects of Buddhism as understood in Japan. The 14th and 15th centuries were a period unrest in Japan due to the attempted invasions of the Mongol empire and widespread belief that Buddhism was in decline. Devotees sought more direct practices to attain enlightenment and ultimately nirvana (the end of suffering), after which one is not reborn on to the wheel of suffering (samsara) or life.

The hanging scroll depicts Amida Buddha as he descends from his Western Paradise to a devotee on their deathbed. It was believed that at the moment of death if one uttered the Japanese words ‘namu amida butsu’ three times, which means 'I take refuge in Amida Buddha', the devotee would be transported to the Pure land of bliss. These scrolls were often used for personal devotion and meditation on Amida and the Pure Land.

Fully enlightened beings often took more wrathful forms as well such as the form of Amida known as Fudõ Myõõ, whose sword and lasso were used to bind and cut down anything that would interfere with the path of enlightenment. As a wrathful protector he guarded the western direction, associated with Amida. Fudo was often incorporated into complex Buddhist practices used to attain enlightenment and which contrasted with the more direct Pure Land Buddhism.  

Spend some time practicing meditation. Reflect on this experience. How might this have helped the samurai?

Religions and belief systems around the world differ in many ways. In some belief systems people worship a deity (God or Goddess). Find depictions of different deities from a variety of religions. What distinguishing features or characteristics do they have? How different are these depictions from one religion to the next? Below is Zao Gongen, a Japanese guardian deity in the Buddhist religion and Male and female Shinto deities.

Jakugen, Japan, born active early 18th century, Zao Gongen, 1704, Edo (Tokyo), wood, inlaid glass, traces of colour, 136.0 x 70.8 x 50.5 cm; Gift of Andrew and Hiroko Gwinnett through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2007, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Japan, Kyushu, Japan, Male and Female Shinto deities [Shinzo], 15th-16th century, Usa Shrine area, Oita, Kyushu, camphor wood, 79.0 cm (male figure), 48.5 cm (female figure); Mrs Mary Overton Gift Fund 1998, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Japan, Kyushu, Japan, Male and Female Shinto deities [Shinzo], 15th-16th century, Usa Shrine area, Oita, Kyushu, camphor wood, 79.0 cm (male figure), 48.5 cm (female figure); Mrs Mary Overton Gift Fund 1998, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.