Tuesday, 31. January 2006
Faith and Form
The Buddha at Birth
(Japanese: Tanjø butsu)
|According to legend, at his birth the Buddha-to-be miraculously took seven steps, pointed with one hand to heaven and to earth with the other, and proclaimed, “Between heaven and earth, I alone am honored”; lotuses flowered where each footprint had been, and two Serpent Kings bathed the newborn by showering him with pure water. The unnaturalness of this small totemic sculpture—the figure making this commanding gesture is both child and adult—demonstrates that there is a condition apart from the ordinary cycle of growth and decay.|
His gold skin, patterned hair, protuberance on the head, gestures, and the lotus pedestal are forms that set forth aspects of the Buddhist faith.
Buddhism was introduced to Japan, from Korea, in the sixth century, but the earliest surviving Japanese Buddhist sculptures are, like this one, from the early seventh century. The present sculpture may be the earliest Japanese gilt bronze in the United States, and perhaps the oldest outside of Japan. The Buddha’s birth is celebrated as a national holiday in Japan. On April 8 images such as this one are put in basins, and colored or scented water or sweet tea is ladled over them, commemorating the first bath and in a degree activating the religious power in the image. The liquid may then be drunk, or used to dissolve an ink cake, producing ink with which a sacred text is then written.
Implements such as the vajra are placed on an altar or are held by a celebrant in order to sanctify the space, to symbolize the Buddha’s power, and to empower the celebrant so that he may understand the paradoxical concept that lies at the heart of Esotericism: There is no distinction between the profane and the sacred.
Faith and Form
Ritual implements such as this vajra are essential in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism (Japanese: Mikkyo), whose two chief branches are the Tendai and Shingon orders. Speaking roughly, Esoteric Buddhism shifts the emphasis from faith and wisdom to consecration by means of actions of the body, speech, and mind.Whereas earlier Buddhism assumes the Buddha essence was incarnated in Shakyamuni (the Historical Buddha), and that his parable-based teachings in the familiar sutras are understandable, Esoteric Buddhism turns to the mysterious teachings of the primordial cosmic deity Mahávairocana or Vairocana (Japanese: Dainichi Nyorai, Great Radiance of Illumination), which are intelligible only to persons who have been initiated by a master and who engage in certain rituals that join the practitioners to Dainichi Buddha.
The entire universe is his manifestation, which is to say that everything emanates from Dainichi. Through rituals, practitioners can realize the unity of their own actions, voices, and minds with the otherwise unimaginably profound actions, voice, and mind of Dainichi.
: Selected Calligraphy and Paintings from Japanese Religious Traditions. (English)
Check also the detailed descriptions at the offered pdf.
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