Buddhist iconography

In Japanese Buddhism, Buddhist deities are divided into four principal gropes:NYORAI,BOSATSU,TEMBU,AND MYOO.Each group has a specific vocabulary of costume, stance, and symbolic gesture represented in paintings and sculpture, and individual deities within each group have additional identifying attributes.

A nyorai is a Buddha and is generally shown in plain monk’s raiment,without decoration.Among the nyorai are Amida, the Buddha of light;Ykushi, the Buddha of healing; and Shaka, the historical Buddha. Dainichi, the cosmic Buddha, an exception to the rule, is depicted in princely costume of the type worn by a bodhisattva.

Bodhisattvas are compassionate beings who have postponed their own enlightment in order to save others.Generally a bodhisattva is shown dressed in clothing that might be worn by a prince:elaborate robes,accessories such as a sash and scarf, and jewelry, which often includes a crown. Among the bodhisattvas frequently encountered in art are Kannon, who represents compassion;Monju,who represents wisdom; and Fugen, who represents praxis.Miroku, the Buddha of the future, is usually depicted as a bodhisattva.

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The bodhisattva Jizo, however, is usually shown in the robes of a monk.Buddhas and bodhisattvas are often presented in triad form, with a Buddha flanked to the right and left by a bodhisattva. In aShaka triad, Shaka is flanked by Fugen and Monju. In a Yakushi triad, the attendant bodhisattva are Nikko and Gakko. Kannon and Seishi flank Amida in an Amida triad.

Tembu are deities introduced into the Buddhist pantheon from non-Buddhist religious traditions, most importantly those of pre-Buddhist India. Most gods in this class are guardian deities,usually depicted in warrior dress, with weapons in their hands. Among the guardian deities most often encountered in art are the Twelve Guardian Generals, The Benevolent kings(Nio;also called Kongo Rikishi),and the Four Heavenly Kings(Shitenno).

Myoo ,warlike deities representing the luminescent wisdom of the Buddha,were introduced into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon with the arrival of esoteric Buddhism in the 9th century. The most widely encountered myoo are the Go Dai Myoo or “Five Wisdom Kings”: Fudo; Gozanze; Gundari; Daitoku; and Kongoyasha.

Exhaustive iconographic reference works explaining the purpose and the meaning associated with each deity in Japanese Buddhism were compiled as early as the 10th century by esoteric Buddhist monks and were relied upon to elucidate Buddhist theology.

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