Fudo-sama — immovable wisdom

Fudō uses his sword to cut through ignorance and his lasso to reign in those who would block the path to enlightenment. Fudō Myōō (Achala-vidyārāja)
Artwork © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fudō Myōō is the most widely represented of the Buddhist deities known as Myōō, or Kings of Brightness. A fierce protector of the Buddhist Law, he is a direct emanation of the Buddha Dainichi Nyorai, the principal Buddha of Esoteric Buddhism. The first sculptures of Fudō made in Japan were seated, but standing sculptures like this one were carved beginning in the eleventh century. Fudō uses his sword to cut through ignorance and his lasso to reign in those who would block the path to enlightenment. The heavy weight of the shoulders and back is planted firmly on the stiffened legs, appropriate for a deity whose name means the “Immovable.”

This statue, originally composed of six hollowed-out pieces of wood, was formerly the central icon of the Kuhonji Gomadō in Funasaka, twenty miles northwest of Kyoto.

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Fudō Myōō, Japan early 13th century. © The Metropolitan Museum of ArtFudō Myōō (Sanskrit: Acala-vidyaraja), the chief of the Five Wisdom Kings (Godai myōō), is the wrathful avatar of Dainichi Buddha and the tenacious protector of Buddhist law. His iconography, drawn from the Dainichi Sutra, describes his body as black or blue, with bulging eyes, protruding fangs that bite his lower lip, and hair that hangs down his left shoulder. He carries in his left hand a lasso to catch and bind demons (obstacles to awakening) and in his right hand a sword to decapitate them (cut through ignorance).

The present example, from the workshop of Kaikei, one of the leading sculptors of his day, adheres to this iconography. Traces of colored pigments and strips of cut gold (kirikane) are visible in the deity’s robes, and his eyes are inlaid with crystal, intensifying his ferocious expression.

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This print illustrates a legend about the thirty-sixth Abbot Yūten (1637–1718) of Zōjōji, the family temple of the Tokugawa shoguns. While Yūten was a young novice, he prayed for Fudō Myōō’s aid to become a wise Buddhist monk. He dreamed that the statue of Fudō Myōō jumped down from its pedestal and made him swallow one of Fudō’s two swords.

Fudō Myōō Threatening a Novice, Japan Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japanese, 1839–1892). © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When Yūten woke up, he became an excellent monk. In the center print the statue of Fudō aims his sword at a young Yūten, while Fudō’s two attendants witness his magical power from the two sides. At the end of the Edo period Yoshitoshi, a disciple of Kuniyoshi, departed from Kuniyoshi’s dense, dynamic presentation of motifs, and moved instead to airy, theatrical compositions during the Meiji period. This print demonstrates the excellence of the artist’s later style.

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Click on any image below to open the gallery of Fudō Myōō photographs.

Artwork © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Categories: Art, Buddhism, Encyclopedia, Mahayana

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