Acala (Fudō Myō-ō) in Japan
|Chinese||不动明王; 不動明王; Búdòng Míngwáng|
|Japanese||不動明王 (Fudō Myō-ō)|
|Venerated by||Vajrayana Buddhism|
Acala (Sanskrit: अचल "immovable") is a dharmapala primarily revered in Vajrayana Buddhism. He is seen as a protective deity particularly in Shingon traditions of Japan where he is known as Fudō Myō-ō, in Tangmi traditions China, in Nepal and Tibet as Candarosana, and elsewhere in Tantric Buddhism.
He is classed among the Wisdom Kings and preeminent among the Five Wisdom Kings of the Womb Realm. Accordingly, his figure occupies an important hierarchical position in the pictorial diagramatic Mandala of the Two Realms. He mirrors Vidyārāja, or "king of knowledge" in Sanskrit texts of Buddhism.
In Japan, Acala is highly venerated in the Shingon Buddhism, Tendai, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism and in Shugendō. Fudō Myō-ō is also highly revered amongst some Yakuza members, who oftentimes draw on his intense facial expression and demeanor.
His face is expressive of extreme wrath, wrinkle-browed, left eye squinted or looking askance, lower teeth biting down the upper lip. He has the physique of a corpulent (round-bellied) child. He bears a straight sword in his right hand, and a lariat or noose in his left hand. He is engulfed in flame, and seated on a huge rock base.
In Japanese esoteric Buddhism, according to an arcane interpretive concept known as the three chakra bodies (三輪身 san rinjin) Acala and the rest of the five wisdom kings are considered embodiments of the wheel of injunction (教令輪身 kyōryō tenshin), or beings whose actions constitute the teaching of the law (the other embodiments teach by word, or merely by their manifest existence). Under this conceptualization, the wisdom kings are ranked superior to the dharmapala (護法善神 gohō zenshin), a different class of guardian deities. Nevertheless, this distinction sometimes fails to be asserted, or the two are openly treated as synonymous by many commentators, even in clearly Japanese religious contexts.
The Sanskrit-derived symbol that represents Acala is hāṃ हां, conventionally transliterated kān (カーン). However, it has been confounded with the similar glyph (हूं hūṃ), prompting some commentators to mistakenly identify Acala with other deities. This symbol is called a "seed syllable" (Sanskrit: बीज, 'bīja'; Japanese: 種子, shuji), and is written using the Siddham script (Japanese: 梵字, bonji).
Some of the other transliterations and variants to his name are Ācalanātha, Āryācalanātha, and Ācalavidyārāja. The Nepalese and Tibetan form of this Buddhist deity is also known as Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa or Caṇḍaroṣaṇa "the violent-wrathful" one.
Originally the Mahayana deity Acalanātha, whose name means "immovable protector", Acala was incorporated into Vajrayana Buddhism as a servant of the Buddha. In Tangmi (Tang-era Chinese Vajrayana), his name was translated as Budong "immovable" (Chinese: 不動; pinyin: Búdòng, Middle Chinese: /pǝw dungx/). In turn, the deity was imported into Japan as "Immovable" (不動 Fudō) by the priest Kūkai (died 835) who was studying in China as a member of the Kentoshi mission and founded Shingon Buddhism. Scholars such as Miyeko Murase state that the origins of this Buddhist deity are in the Hindu god Shiva, particularly his attributes of destruction and reincarnation.
The deity has been popular throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times in Nepal, Tibet and Japan, where sculptural and pictorial representations of him are most often found. Much of the iconography comes from Japan.
In Tibetan Buddhism and art, the buddha Akshobhya, whose name also means "the immovable one", presides over the clan of deities to which Ācala belongs. Other sources refer to the Acala and Caṇḍaroṣaṇa as an "emanation" of Akshobhya, suggesting further assimilation.
He evolves into a deity invoked in Buddhist rituals to "frighten gods, titans, men and destroy the strength of demons", and he slays all ghosts and evil spirits. In some Buddhist texts such as Sadhanamala, the Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Kandarpa (god of love) are said to be "wicked" because they cause the endless rebirths, and these gods are terrified of Acala because he carries a rope to bind them. In others, such as Mahavairocana-sutra, one dedicated to Buddha is instructed to visualize the left foot of Acala on his head during meditation, to prevent obstacles in his reaching Prajna (insights).
In the Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Vishvavajri becomes Acala's consort.
Acala in Japan
Fudō Myō-ō (不動明王) is the full Japanese translation of "Wisdom King Acala", and appears as Fudō (o-Fudō-sama etc.) for short.
Acala in Buddhist art since the Heian period has depicted him as angry-faced, holding a vajra sword and a lariat. In later representations, such as those used by the yamabushi monks, he may have one fang pointing up and another pointing down, and a braid on the one side of his head.
The sword he holds may or may not be flaming and sometimes described only generically as a treasure sword (宝剣 hōken) or as vajra-sword (金剛剣 kongō-ken), which is descriptive of the fact that the pommel of the sword is in the shape of the talon-like vajra (金剛杵 kongō-sho) of one type or another. It may also be referred to as three-pronged vajra sword (三鈷剣 sanko-ken). However, in some cases, as in the Akafudō painting, the divinity is seen holding the Kurikara-ken (倶利伽羅剣), a sword with the dragon coiled around it which nonetheless also has a vajra-shaped pommel.
The two boy servants who is usually depicted in attendance to Acala are named Kiṃkara (矜羯羅童子 Kongara dōji) and Ceṭaka (吒迦童子 Seitaka dōji), though there are said to be eight such boy servants altogether and as many as forty-eight servants overall.
His seat, the huge rock base (盤石座 banjakuza), "is considered an appropriate iconographic symbol to demonstrate the steadfastness of" the Fudō.
In Japan, Acala became an idol of worship in its own right, and became installed as the honzon (本尊) or main deity at temples and outdoor shrines. A famous example is the Narita Fudō-dō, a Shingon subsect temple at Narita-san.
The mantra recited in honor of Fudō Myō-ō Sama is as follows: (Syllables in parentheses are oftentimes omitted in recitation)
"No-maku Samanda Bazara (da) Senda Makaroshada Sowataya (um) Tarata Kanman"
At Shingon Buddhist temples dedicated to Ācala, priests perform the Fudō-hō (不動法), or ritual service to enlist the deity's power of purification to benefit the faithful. This rite routinely involves the use of the Homa ritual (護摩 goma) as a purification tool.
Lay persons or monks in yamabushi gear who go into rigorous training outdoors in the mountains also often pray to small Acala statue or talisman they carry, which serve as his honzon. This praciticed path of yamabushi's training, known as Shugendō, predates the introduction of Acala, so at first adored idols such as the Zaō Gongen (蔵王権現), who appeared before the sect's founder, En no Gyōja, or the Vairocana. But eventually Acala was added to list of deities most typically enshrined by the yamabushi monks, either portable, or installed in hokora (outdoor shrines). These statues would be often placed near waterfalls (a common training ground) and deep in the mountains and in caves.
Ācala also tops the list of so-called Thirteen Buddhas (十三仏 jūsan butsu)). Thus Shingon Buddhist mourners assign Fudō the first seven days of service. The first week is an important observance, but perhaps not as prominently important as the observance of "seven times seven days" (i.e. 49 days) signifying the end of "intermediate state" (bardo).
Literature on Shingon Buddhist ritual will explain that such and such Sanskrit "seed syllable", or mantra or mudra is attendant to each of the "buddhas" for each observance period. But the scholarly consensus seems to be that the invoking of the "Thirteen Buddhas" had evolved later around the 14th century and became widespread by the following century, so this could not have been part of the original teachings by priest Kukai, but rather a later adaptation.
Conflations and Confusions
There is claim that Acala is identifiable with one of the "two kings" or Niō (仁王), or the gate guardian deities in Japan, but that assertion is not backed by much of the available[weasel words] commentary on the deity. One source which makes this claim explains that the seed syllable हूं hūṃ represents Acala, but Acala's symbol is hāṃ हां as aforementioned, and hūṃ actually belongs to another Wisdom King, Kuṇḍali (Gundari Myō-ō (軍荼利明王)).
This latter syllabic symbol, hūṃ, is actually the same as un or "closed mouth" character, frequently associated with the "two kings" or Niō (仁王), whose respective opened or closed mouth position are referred to by the phrase A-un (阿吽). This probably led to the further assertion that Acala was to be identified with the closed-mouthed Nio statue represented by the hūm sound. If Acala were a Nio gate guardian, then by transference he would belong to the class of beings called Vajrapani (Shūkongōshin (執金剛神); also known as Kongōrikishi (金剛力士) in wrestler form), that is to say, or vajra (lightning)-wielding yakshas. But that would be contradictory to the aforementioned concept of the "three wheel-embodiments", which considers the wisdom-king as a higher class of beings than vajrapani or other dharmapala guardian deities. However, that is strictly a Japanese interpretation. In commentary on Tibetan art, one encounters many references to the "Acala-Vajrapani".
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- Getty 1988,p.170, where she gives a walkthrough of the identification of one of the Nio gods as Acala (Fudō)
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