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Fudo Myoo Museum Rietberg RJP 21.jpg
Statue of Acala (Fudō Myō-ō), in Rietberg Museum (Zürich, Switzerland)
Sanskritअचल (Acala)
Chinese不动明王; 不動明王; Búdòng Míngwáng
Japanese不動明王 (Fudō Myō-ō)
Korean부동명왕 (budong myeongwang)
MongolianХөдөлшгүй (Khödölshgüi)
Tibetanམི་གཡོ་བ་ (Miyowa)
Venerated byVajrayana Buddhism
Dharma Wheel.svg Buddhism portal

Acala (Sanskrit: अचल "immovable") is a dharmapala[1] 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,[2] in Tangmi traditions of China and Taiwan as Búdòng Míngwáng, in Nepal and Tibet as Caṇḍaroṣaṇa, and elsewhere.[3][4]

He is classed among the Wisdom Kings and is preeminent among the Five Wisdom Kings of the Womb Realm. Accordingly, his figure occupies an important hierarchical position in the Mandala of the Two Realms

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[citation needed].


Descriptions of his physical appearance derive from such scriptural source as the Mahavairocana Tantra (大日経, Dainichikyō) and its annotation.[5]

His face is expressive of extreme wrath,[1][5][6] wrinkle-browed,[5] left eye squinted[5][6] or looking askance,[5] lower teeth biting down the upper lip. He has the physique of a corpulent (round-bellied) child.[5] He bears a straight sword in his right hand, and a lariat[6] or noose in his left hand. He is engulfed in flame, and seated on a huge rock base.[7]

Acala is said to be a powerful deity who protects the faithful by burning away all impediments (antarāya) (障難, shōnan) and defilements (kleśa) (雜染, zōzen),[5] thus aiding them towards enlightenment.[5]

In Japanese esoteric Buddhism, according to an arcane interpretive concept known as the three chakra bodies (三輪身, sanrinjin)[1] Acala and the rest of the five wisdom kings are considered embodiments of the wheel of injunction (教令輪身, kyōryō tenshin),[1] 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),[8] 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).[9] 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.[3]


Arya Achala, Tibet 12th century, Kadampa school

Originally the Mahayana deity Acalanātha,[1] whose name means "immovable protector", Acala was incorporated into Vajrayana Buddhism as a servant of the Buddha.[1] 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)[10] 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.[11][12]

The deity has been popular throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times in Nepal, Tibet and Japan,[3] where sculptural and pictorial representations of him are most often found. Much of the iconography comes from Japan.[1]

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.[13] Other sources refer to the Acala and Caṇḍaroṣaṇa as an "emanation" of Akshobhya, suggesting further assimilation.[3]

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.[3] In some Buddhist texts such as the Sādhanamālā, the Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Kandarpa (god of love) are said to be "wicked" because they cause endless rebirth, and these gods are terrified of Acala because he carries a rope to bind them. In other texts, such as the Mahāvairocana Sūtra, one dedicated to the Buddha is instructed to visualize the left foot of Acala on his head during meditation, to prevent obstacles in his reaching Prajñā (insight).[3][14]

In the Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, Viśvavajrī becomes Acala's consort.[4]

Acala in Japan[edit]

The Akafudō, Myō-ō'in temple, Mount Kōya, Heian period

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[6] and a lariat.[6] In later representations, such as those used by the yamabushi monks, he may have one fang pointing up and another pointing down,[6] and a braid on the one side of his head.[6]

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).[15] However, in some cases, as in the Akafudō painting, the divinity is seen holding the Kurikara-ken (倶利伽羅剣),[16] a sword with the dragon coiled around it which nonetheless also has a vajra-shaped pommel.

The flaming nimbus or halo behind the statue is known as the "karura flame", after a mythical firebreathing birdlike creature, the garuda.[5]

The two boy servants who is usually depicted in attendance to Acala are named Kiṃkara (矜羯羅童子, Kongara dōji)[1][5] 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.[1]

His seat, the huge rock base (盤石座, banjakuza), "is considered an appropriate iconographic symbol to demonstrate the steadfastness of" the Fudō.[7]

Acala/Fudō worship[edit]

In Japan, Acala became a focus of worship in his 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.[1]


The mantra recited in honor of Fudō Myō-ō is as follows: (Syllables in parentheses are oftentimes omitted in recitation)

"Nōmaku sanmanda bazaradan sendamakaroshada sowataya un tarata kan man"

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)[1] as a purification tool.

Acala at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore

Lay persons or monks in yamabushi gear who go into rigorous training outdoors in the mountains often pray to small Acala statues or portable talismans that serve as his honzon.[1] This element of yamabushi training, known as Shugendō, predates the introduction of Acala to Japan. At this time, figures such as the Zaō Gongen (蔵王権現), who appeared before the sect's founder, En no Gyōja, or the Vairocana, were commonly worshiped.[1] Once Acala was added to list of deities typically enshrined by the yamabushi monks, his images were either portable, or installed in hokora (outdoor shrines).[1] These statues would often be placed near waterfalls (a common training ground), deep in the mountains and in caves.[6]

Ācala also tops the list of so-called Thirteen Buddhas (十三仏, jūsan butsu)).[17] Thus Shingon Buddhist mourners assign Fudō to the first seven days of service.[17] The first week is an important observance, but perhaps not as much as the observance of "seven times seven days" (i.e. 49 days) signifying the end of the "intermediate state" (bardo).

Literature on Shingon Buddhist ritual will explain that Sanskrit "seed syllables", mantras and mudras are attendant to each of the Buddhas for each observance period. But the scholarly consensus seems to be that invocation of the "Thirteen Buddhas" had evolved later, around the 14th century[18][19] and became widespread by the following century,[18] so it's doubtful that this practice was part of Kūkai's original teachings.

Conflations and Confusions[edit]

There is claim that Acala is identifiable with one of the "two kings" or Niō (仁王), or the gate guardian deities in Japan,[20] 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,[20] but Acala's symbol is hāṃ हां as aforementioned, and hūṃ actually belongs to another Wisdom King, Kuṇḍali (軍荼利明王, Gundari Myō-ō).[9]

This latter syllabic symbol, hūṃ (ウン, un), is identified as the "closed mouth" character,[21] frequently associated with the "two kings" or Niō (仁王), whose respective opened or closed mouth features 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 Niō statue represented by the hūm sound.[20] If Acala were a Niō gate guardian,[22] then by transference he would belong to the class of beings called Vajrapāṇi (執金剛神, Shūkongōshin) (also known as Vajra warriors (金剛力士, Kongōrikishi) in wrestler form), or vajra (lightningbolt) weilding yakṣas (not to be confused with the closely-related bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi).[22] Such a case would be contradictory to the aforementioned concept of the "three wheel-embodiments", which considers the wisdom-king a higher class of being than the vajrapāṇi yakṣas and other dharmapala guardian deities.

Nevertheless, that is strictly a Japanese interpretation. It may be noted that one of the Five Wisdom Kings, Vajrayakṣa, bears the same name as this class of deity. In commentary on Tibetan art, one encounters several references to the "Acala-Vajrapāṇi".[3][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Murakami 1988, Jp. rel. dict., pp.242–246
  2. ^ Fudō Myō-ō and Myō-ō, Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Donaldson, Thomas E. (2001). Iconography of the Buddhist Sculpture of Orissa: Text. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. pp. 219–221. ISBN 978-0-486-25575-0.
  4. ^ a b Hugo Kreijger (1999). Kathmandu Valley painting: the Jucker collection. Shambhala. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-57062-454-4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Shincho 1985, under Fudo Myoo (in Japanese)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Snyder 1999 pg. 244
  7. ^ a b JAANUS (2001). "iwaza (岩座)". Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  8. ^ ja:護法善神, added 2008.4.23 (Wed) 06:02 by Boca samba (Japanese interwiki link to Dharmapala) makes this distinction.
  9. ^ a b Sogeisha. 梵字入門: 仏教美術考古学研究者のための [For the Buddhist art archaeologists: Introduction to Sanskrit]. 綜芸舎編集部. pp. 14–15.
  10. ^ Murakami 1988, p.243-4, quote "不動信仰を日本にもたらしたのは..空海である"
  11. ^ Miyeko Murase (1975). Japanese Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 31–32. ISBN 978-0-87099-136-3.
  12. ^ [a] Charles Eliot (1998). Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch. Routledge. pp. 391–392. ISBN 978-0-7007-0679-2.;
    [b] Charles Eliot (2014). Japanese Buddhism. Routledge. p. 136. ISBN 978-1-317-79274-1.
  13. ^ Weldon, David; Singer, Jane Casey (1999). The sculptural heritage of Tibet: Buddhist art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection. Laurence King Pub., p.100, "Aksobhya, the Buddha who presides over the family (kula) of deities with which Acala is associated"
  14. ^ Louise Child (2013). Tantric Buddhism and Altered States of Consciousness. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 111–112. ISBN 978-1-4094-7764-8.
  15. ^ Sato, Ken'ichi(佐藤貫一) (1961). 日本の刀剣 (snippet). Shibundo(至文堂). p. 81.
  16. ^ Heibonsha (1969) [1968]. 世界百科事典(world encyclopedia)., article on "akafudo" by Tanaka, Ichimatsu (田中一松)
  17. ^ a b Yamada, Binyō (1894). The Nihon dai jisho. ISBN 978-0-8248-3261-2., Japanese Dictionary, p.748, middle row, under 「志ふさん・ぶつ.. (十三)佛」
  18. ^ a b Gerhart, Karen M. (2009). The Material Culture of Death in Medieval Japan (preview). University of Hawaii Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-8248-3261-2.
  19. ^ Kunishige, Masathoshi; illus. Kenji Kagwaguchi(川口健治) (1985). Utsukushiki kokyō Yamaguchi-ken Seibu-ban (美しき故郷山口県西部版) (preview). Fujimoto Printing Corporation. ISBN 978-4-901977-02-9., p.68 gives "late Kamakura Period"
  20. ^ a b c d Getty 1988,p.170, where she gives a walkthrough of the identification of one of the Nio gods as Acala (Fudō)
  21. ^ Shincho 1985, p.7, article on 阿吽 a-un [a-hūṃ] (in Japanese)
  22. ^ a b Shincho 1985, articles on 仁王 Nio p.674, 執金剛神 Shukogoshin p.1084, 金剛力士 Kongorikishi p.565 (in Japanese)


External links[edit]