Myo-o is the Japanese term for Sanskrit "Vidyaraja," a group of warlike and wrathful deities known in English as the Mantra Kings, the Wisdom Kings, or the Knowledge Kings. Myo-o statues appear ferocious and menacing, with threatening postures and faces designed to subdue evil and frighten unbelievers into accepting Buddhist law. They represent the luminescent wisdom of Buddhism, protect the Buddhist teachings, remove all obstacles to enlightenment, and force evil to surrender. Introduced to Japan in 9th century, the Myo-o were originally Hindu deities that were adopted into Esoteric Buddhism to vanquish blind craving. They serve and protect the various Buddha, especially Dainichi Buddha. In most traditions, they are considered emanations of Dainichi, and represent Dainichi's wrath against evil and ignorance. In Japan, the Myo-o group is worshipped mostly by the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism, but among the individual Myo-o, the one named "Fudo" is widely venerated throughout Japan. In Japan, Fudo is also worshipped as a deity who can bring monetary fortune.
Sanskrit Seed Syllable
for Fudo Myo-o
Sanskrit and Chinese Spellings & Translations:
Japanese Spellings and Translations
English Translations: Kings of Light, Kings of Luminescent Wisdom, Kings of Mystic Knowledge
ESOTERIC BUDDHISM IN JAPAN. The teachings of Esoteric Buddhism are mystical and hard to understand, and require a high level of devotion and austerity to master. Elaborate and secret ritual practices (utilizing mantras and mudras and mandalas) are used to help partitioners develop and realize the eternal wisdom of the Buddha. This form of Buddhism is not taught to the general public, but is confined mostly to Buddhist believers, priests and those far along the path toward enlightenment. Esoteric Buddhism's main practitioners in Japan were Priest Kukai (774 - 835 AD) and Priest Saicho (767 - 822 AD). Kukai, also called Kobo Daishi, founded the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism, while Priest Saicho founded the Tendai Sect. In the Esoteric sects, the Myo-o protect Buddhism and force its outside enemies to surrender. Today, the Myo-o are revered mainly by the Shingon sect, which emphasizes the Great Sun Sutra (Maha-vairocana Sutra) and worships Dainichi Buddha as the Central "All-Encompassing" Buddha. Indeed, the Myo-o are forms of Dainichi, and represent Dainichi's wrath against evil and ignorance.
GODAI MYO-O, FIVE GREAT KINGS. In contrast to the saintly images of the Buddha and Bodhisattva, images of the Myo-o are ferocious and menacing, for their threatening postures and facial expressions are designed to subdue evil spirits and convert nonbelievers. They are often depicted engulfed in flames, which according to Buddhist lore, represent the purification of the mind by the burning away of all material desires. They carry vicious weapons to protect believers and subdue evil. Among Myo-o sculptures, the "Godai Myo-o" (the grouping called the "Five Great Kings") is the most prevalent; among individual Myo-o, the most widely venerated and prevalent in Japan is Fudo "The Immovable." This group of five serve the Buddha, while another group of eight (Jp. = Hachidai Myo-o) serve the Bodhisattva. In both groups, Fudo is their chief.
FUDO ICONOGRAPHY. Fudo Myo-o is the central deity in all Myo-o groupings, and in artwork is positioned in the center. Fudo is a personification of Dainichi Buddha, and is the best known of the Myo-o. Fudo converts anger into salvation, and is nearly always shown with a furious, glaring face, for Fudo seeks to frighten people into accepting the teachings of Dainichi. Fudo carries the "kurikara" or devil-subduing sword in right hand (used to smite the wicked; also represents wisdom cutting through ignorance). In the left hand, Fudo holds a rope (lasso) to catch and bind up the wicked. Fudo often has a third eye in the forehead (all-seeing), and is frequently shown seated or standing on a rock (because Fudo is "immovable" in his faith). Fudo's left eye is often closed, and the teeth bite the upper lip; alternatively, Fudo is shown with two fangs, one pointing upward and other pointing downward. Fudo's aureole is typically the flames of fire, which according to Buddhist lore, represent the purification of the mind by the burning away of all material desires. In some Japanese sculpture, Fudo is flanked by two attendants, Kongara Douji and Seitaka Douji. In Japan, he is also worshipped as a deity who can bring monetary fortune (see below).
Head Piece and Hair Iconography
Quote from Tokyo National Museum Exhibition Catalog, 1985
In his left hand, Fudo holds a lasso for pulling reluctant beings toward the path of salvation, and in his right is a sword for demolishing evil forces. His long hair is gathered at the left side of his face in several knots - as many knots as there are incarnations through which he will serve as the faithful servant of his master. On his head he often bears a small, six-petaled flower or a lotus blossom, signifying his determination to uphold Buddha's Law. Terrible gods are often depicted in violent movement, but Fudo is usually motionless, in keeping with the belief that the mightiest power is best expressed in such a state. <end quote>
NOTE: Above quote from exhibition catalogue written by Miyeko Murase, Takeo and Itsuko Atsumi Professor Emeritus at Columbia University and research Curator of Japanese Art at the Tokyo National Museum who have collaborated with the Burke Collection (held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art) for the past four decades. Click here for full story.
MONEY-WASHING TRADITION. The Zeniarai Benten Shrine in Kamakura City is devoted to the goddess Benzaiten. At this shrine, believers "wash" their money in water to make it reproduce and increase. But there is another deity, known as Fudo Myou-ou, who can work the same miracle in Japan. This money-washing tradition is easy to understand for Benzaiten. She is the Japanese goddess (Hindu origin) of fortune, and shrines/temples devoted to her are always located near water (river, pond, lake, ocean). She is closely associated with dragons and serpents (Sanskrit = NAGA), who guard treasure. But why Fudo? His real symbol is fire. His aureole is almost always the flames of fire. He is also the central object of veneration for "GOMA," a Japanese fire ceremony still popular today in which defilements are symbolically burnt away. So why would people wash money under Fudo's protection? Because he washes away impurities? Maybe, perhaps, because drawings of Fudo show him standing on a rock rising from the sea -- for example, the drawing at Daigoji Temple (Kyoto) and the famous 1282 AD drawing by Shinkai of Fudou standing on a rock rising from the sea. Moreover, Kurikara, a dragon wound around a sword, may appear in paintings of Fudo. Also, both Kurikara and Fudo are found often near ascetic practice places, such as small waterfalls. Perhaps this is the reason. For more details on this topic, see the Fudo Money Washing Page by Gabi Greve (outside link).
Quote from NichirensCoffeeHouse (outside link). Myo-o - The Knowledge Kings, The Vidyarajas. These esoteric deities are the kings of mystic knowledge who represent the power of the Buddhas to vanquish blind craving. They are known as the the kings of mystic knowledge because they wield the mantras, which are the mystical spells made up of Sanskrit syllables imbued with the power to protect practitioners of the Dharma (Buddhist Law) from all harm and evil influences. The Vidyarajas appear in terrifying wrathful forms because they embody the indomitable energy of compassion which breaks down all obstacles to wisdom and liberation.
Quote from The Flammarion Iconographic Guide, by Louis Frederic (ISBN 2-08013-558-9). Chiefly represented in Japan, Fudo Myo-o, by his mystic name Joju Kongo, "the eternal and immutable diamond," is the chief of the five great kings of magic science. The Sanskrit name for him, Acalanatha means "immutable lord."
Japanese Mantra for Fudo (Fudou)
LEARN MORE ABOUT FUDO MYO-O AT THE A-TO-Z
PHOTO DICTIONARY OF JAPANESE BUDDHISM (SISTER SITE)