Japanese Buddhist Pantheon
The rich Buddhist Pantheon of northern Buddhism ultimately derives from Vajrayana and Tantrism. The historical devotional roots of pantheistic Buddhism seem to go back to the period of the Kushan Empire.The first proper mention of a Buddhist Pantheon appears in the 3-4th century Guhyasamāja, in which five Buddhas are mentioned, the emanations of which constitute a family:
The five Kulas are Dvesa, Moha, Rāga, Cintāmani, and Samaya, which conduce to the attainment of all desires and emancipation— Guhyasamāja.
By the 9th century under the Pala king Dharmapala, the Buddhist Pantheon had already swelled to about 1,000 Buddhas. In Japan, Kūkai introduced Shingon Esoteric Buddhism and its Buddhist Pantheon, also in the 9th century.
Hierarchical structure of the Buddhist pantheon
The Buddhist Pantheon in Japanese Buddhism is defined by a hierarchy in which the Buddhas occupy the topmost category, followed in order by the numerous Bodhisattvas, the Wisdom Kings, the Deities, the “Circumstantial appearances” and lastly the patriarchs and eminent religious people.
|Level 1||Buddhas||Nyorai-bu (如来部)|
|Level 2||Bodhisattvas||Bosatsu-bu (菩薩部)|
|Level 3||Wisdom Kings||Myōō-bu (明王部)|
|Level 4||Heavenly deities||Ten-bu (天部)|
|Level 5||Circumstantial appearances||Gongen (権現)|
|Level 6||Religious masters||Kōsō – Soshi (高僧・祖師)|
A famous statue group, the mandala located at Tō-ji temple in Kyōto, shows some of the main elements and structure of the Buddhist Pantheon. The mandala was made in the 9th century and offered to Kūkai. A duplicate was brought to Paris, France, by Emile Guimet at the end of the 19th century, and is now located in the Musée Guimet.
Japanese Buddhism incorporated numerous Shintō deities in its pantheon and reciprocally. Japanese Shingon also has other categories, such as the Thirteen Buddhas. Zen Buddhism however clearly rejected the strong polytheistic conceptions of orthodox Buddhism.
Level 1: Buddhas (Nyorai-bu)
Five Wisdom Buddha
The five Wisdom Buddhas (五仏) are centered around Vairocana (Dainichi Nyorai, 大日如来), the supreme Buddha. Each of the four remaining Buddhas occupies a fixed cardinal point. Each of them is a manifestation of Buddhahood, and each is active in a different world-period, in which they manifest themselves among Bodhisattvas and humans.
These “Dhyani Buddhas” form the core of the Buddhist pantheistic system, which developed from them in a multiform way. At the Musée Guimet, the five Buddhas are surrounded by protective Bodhisattvas. There is also a multitude of other Buddhas, such as Yakushi, the Buddha of medicine.
Level 2: Bodhisattvas (Bosatsu-bu)
Main article: Bodhisattvas
Bodhisattvas are personages who are on the point of entering Buddhahood but postpone doing so in order to help other beings attain enlightenment. Bodhisattvas are paragons of compassion in Mahayana Buddhism. In the Buddhist Pantheon, besides the past and future Buddhas, there are numerous Bodhisattvas as well.
Sometimes, five main “Matrix” Bodhisattvas are determined (五大菩薩), grouped around a central Bodhisattva, Kongō-Haramitsu (金剛波羅蜜菩薩) in the case of Tōji Temple.
Beyond these five main Bodhisattvas, there exists a huge number of other Bodhisattvas, all beings who have postponed enlightenment for the benefit of helping mankind.
Level 3: Wisdom Kings (Myōō-bu)
Main article: Wisdom Kings
Five Wisdom Kings
Main article: Five Wisdom Kings
Beyond the five principal kings, numerous other Wisdom Kings exist with a great variety of roles.
Other Wisdom Kings
Many more Wisdom Kings also exist with numerous functions. In general, the Wisdom Kings are viewed as the guardians of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Level 4: Heavenly deities (Ten-bu)
Main article: Deva in Hinduism
- Kangiten (歓喜天) / Ganesha
- Taishakuten (帝釈天) / Indra
- Benzaiten (弁財天) / Saraswati
- Kisshōten (吉祥天) / Lakshmi
- Bichūten (毘紐天) / Vishnu
- Daikokuten (大黒天) / Mahakala
- Daijizaiten (大自在天) / Mahesvara
- Umahi (烏摩妃) / Uma
- Katen (火天) / Agni
- Jiten (地天) / Prthivi
- Nitten (日天) / Surya
- Gatten (月天) / Chandra
- Suiten (水天) / Varuna
- Fūten (風天) / Vayu
- Kumaraten (鳩摩羅天) / Kumara
- Naraenten (那羅延天) / Narayana
- Rago (羅睺) / Rahu
- Izanaten (伊舎那天) / Ishana
- Enma (閻魔) / Yama
Level 5: Circumstantial appearances (Suijakushin)
Although divinities are considered to be subjects to the law of impermanence, Buddhism nevertheless considers that men should place themselves under their protection. When Buddhism entered Japan in the 6th century numerous Shintō divinities (kami) were also present in the Japanese islands, although they had no iconography. The shuijakushin category is specific to Japan and provides for the incorporation into Buddhism of these Shintō kami.
The Buddhist term “Gongen” 権現 or “Avatar” (meaning the capability of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to change their appearance to that of a Japanese kami to facilitate conversion of the Japanese) thus came into use in relation to these gods. Shintō deities came to be considered as local appearances in disguise of foreign Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (suijakushin (垂迹神 circumstantial appearance gods)). Thus numerous Shinto figures have been absorbed as Buddhist deities. This was also sometimes reciprocal, as in the case of Buddhist Benzaiten and Shinto kami Ugajin.
This syncretism was officially abolished by the establishment of the Meiji Emperor in 1868 with the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order (神仏分離令, also 神仏混淆禁止 Shinbutsu Konkō Kinshi).
Level 6: Religious masters (Kōsō・Soshi)
Eight Legions (八部衆, Hachi Bushū)
In Sanskrit, these classes of beings are called the Aṣṭagatyaḥ or the Aṣṭauparṣadaḥ.
- Tenbu (Japanese: 天部) / Deva
- Ryū (Japanese: 龍) / Naga
- Yasha (Japanese: 夜叉) / Yaksha
- Kendatsuba (Japanese: 乾闥婆) / Gandharva
- Ashura (Japanese: 阿修羅) / Asura
- Karura (Japanese: 迦楼羅) / Garuda
- Kinnara (Japanese: 緊那羅) / Kinnara
- Magoraka (Japanese: 摩睺羅伽) / Mahoraga
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia