Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Lot More Fudo at Myo-on-ji Temple


I usually limit the number of photos in a post to just 5. This time I post a lot more, mainly because I realize that at my current rate of posting I will be dead long before I get to post everything. I previously posted 5 different Fudo Myo statues from Myo-on-ji temple, a small temple near the start of the Sasaguri Pilgrimage near Fukuoka.

All 11 photos in this post are also just from Myo-on-ji temple, and just statues of Fudo-Myo-O. My guess would be that while walking this 4 day pilgrimage I encountered at least 1,000 statues of Fudo Myo, probably much more. My fascination is with the wide diversity of forms that this deity takes and his incredible popularity.

The statues come in all manner of sizes and are made of a range of different materials, and of course, some of the sculptors will have been made by  highly skilled professionals and some by less than gifted amateurs. This in itself makes for a complex diversity, but there are other factors at play I think that means there is no one single identity for Fudo, but many, and this is why a single site like Myo-on-ji temple can have so many different altars to Fudo and statues of Fudo.

Fudo in Japan has an incredibly complex and rich history, and this has led to a wide set of fluid identities. Most commonly Fudo began as a Hindu deity, though some sources suggest an even earlier origin. Adapted into Indian Buddhism, Fudo spread with Buddhism to China and Korea. In China he picked up attributes from Daoist deities. before coming to Japan where, especially in the medieval period,  he picked up connections with an array of what are now called Shinto kami.

Within Japan he is most commonly associated with the two esoteric schools of Shingon and Tendai, but also within other sects. most notably Shugendo. His cult, or cults, spread through individual lineages and sub sects and his form and identity changed at specific temples and locations.

He appeared in a variety of different rituals and mandalas, as well as varying forms as statues. When researching his identity and attributes, as with any of the deities in Japanese religious traditions, one comes across all kinds of associations, for instance a particular figure may be ..... conflated with....., equated with......., identified with......., symbolizes......., an emanation of....., trace of....., manifestation of....., identical to....., representation of...., reincarnation of....., coresponds to...., interpreted as....., are all common phrases explaining identities and attributes of Japanese deities, not least Fudo.

These one-to-one relationships among deities come about for a variety of reasons, similar attributes etc but a common one is through language. Homophones are words that have the same sound but different meanings. With a relatively small range of sounds the Japanese language is rife with homophones and is why puns are so very common in Japanese humor. Another linguistic convention is the use of kanji, Chinese characters, which each have multiple meanings and pronunciations. A clear example of the latter is the conflation of the Buddhist deity Daikokuten, originally a Hindu deity, with Okuninushi, the famous Izumo kami, both names written with the same kanji.

As well as one on one identities of different deities, Fudo, like most others, exist in patterned relationships with groups of other deities in such things as rituals and mandalas. Pairing is very common, obviously reflecting the very basic yin-yang, male-female, light-dark, heaven-earth, structure. Triads are also common. Patterns of 5 are very common in Japan, and China too, with Fudo being the head of the five Wisdom Kings. patterns of seven are quite common and 12 is very common. With Fudo, 36 plays a part. All Fudo Myo-O pilgrimages are of 36 temples, whereas Kannon pilgrimages are 33.

So each statue of Fudo obviously shares many common features and attributes with other Fudo statues, but each identity can have multiple meanings, right down to each individual one being different. Oaths in historical Japan were not made to universal deities like Hachiman, Amida, or Amaterasu, but to the specific deity of a location, the Hachiman of a particular shrine, or to a particular Buddhist statue.

Karen Smyers excellent book "The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and private meanings in contemporary Inari worship." shows this rich and complex set of identities of Inari, one of the most popular deities in Japan. Bernard Faure"s book "The Fluid Pantheon" is an excellent source for digging into the meaning and identity of Fudo Myo-O. I am currently reading it so that's why I ramble so much in today's post.

A gentle reminder........ if you download and share any of my photos without supplying a link back to the original here, then you are in fact stealing. I am happy if you share my work, but I keep finding my photos around the interweb without any link back to my original, and that is sad.