The gods of northern Buddhism

their history, iconography and progressive evolution through the northern Buddhist countries

by Alice Getty | 1914 | 98,662 words

Indispensable reference for art historians, scholars of Eastern philosophy and religion. Wealth of detailed scholarly information on names, attributes, symbolism, pictorial representations of virtually every major and minor divinity in Mahayana pantheon, as worshipped in Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea, Mongolia, and Japan. 185 black-and-white illustrat...

Chapter III - Dhyani-Buddhas

The Dhyani-Buddhas (Dharma-Kaya)

(Buddhas of Meditation).

The Dhyani-Buddha is the first kaya or 'body' in the Buddhist Trinity (Tri-kaya), and dwells quiescent in the Arupadhatu heaven in abstract form of perfect unity. He is the 'body of Dharma' (Dharma-kaya), or the inner enlightened body of a Buddha. According to the Yoga doctrine, the law preached by the Nirmana-kaya (Manushi-Buddha) is exoteric. When he preaches the esoteric doctrine he is inspired by the Dharma-kaya — his Dhyani-Buddha. The 'body of Dharma' is identified by certain Buddhist sects with Dharma, in the Triad, 'Buddha, Dharma, Sahgha', or the Tri-ratna (Three Jewels). Dharma is looked upon by them as the material essence, which, united with the intellectual essence (Buddha), produced Sangha, or the Dhyani-Bodhisattva, the active power of creation.

According to the system of Adi-Buddha, the group of five Dhyani-Buddhas (Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddha) was evolved by the Adi-Buddha.

Each of the Dhyani-Buddhas received,

'together with his existence, the virtues of that jnana (wisdom) and dhyana (meditation), to the exertion of which, by Adi-Buddha, he owed his existence: and by similar exertion of both he produced a Dhyani-Bodhisattva.' [1]

Besides the five Dhyani-Buddhas who evolved the five Dhyani-Bodhisattvas, there is a sixth, [2] Vajrasattva, who is looked upon as 'president' of the group of five, and was adopted by certain sects as Adi-Buddha. It is believed that the sixth sense of man emanated from him, while the other five organs of sense (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) proceeded from the five Dhyani-Buddhas.

Likewise the five colours, white, blue, yellow, red, and green, are believed to emanate from the five Dhyani-Buddhas as well as five of the six elements of which man is composed: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. The sixth element, variously called wisdom, the soul, or the mind (manas), is claimed to be a particle of the essence of Adi-Buddha.

The five Dhyani-Buddhas, with the direction where they are located, their corresponding elements, senses, colours, oija, and Dhyani-Bodhisattva, are:

The Dhyani-Buddhas

  Location. Element. Sense. [3] Colour. Bija [4] Dhyani-Bodhisattva.
Vairocana central ether sound white A Samantabhadra.
Akshobhya east air touch blue Y Vajrapani.
Ratnasambhava south fire sight yellow R Ratnapani.
Amitabha west water taste red V or (B) Avalokitesvara.
Amoghasiddha north earth smell green L Visvapani.

The sixth Dhyani-Buddha, with the corresponding direction where located, element, sense, and colour, is:

Vajrasattva —
location, above the central point;
element, the divine mind (manas);
sense, intuition;
colour, white.

In Japan Vajrasattva is sometimes represented with a rainbow aura, which possibly signifies the 'rainbow' body, or the accomplishment of Perfection. According to M. de la Valine Poussin, Vajrasattva may be looked upon as 'a combination of the five elements'. As his colour is 'white', which potentially contains all the five colours, the ' rainbow ' aura may be the esoteric sign of Vajrasattva as the sixth Dhyani-Buddha.

According to Lloyd, [5] the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists invoke the Dhyani-Buddhas by a six-syllabled mantra composed of six Chinese characters, the sounds of which are: A-ba-ra-ka-ki, and the sixth is un, which they claim signifies hum. Might it not be inferred from this that the bija-mantra of the sixth Dhyani-Buddha is tem?

The Dhyani-Buddhas are generally seated in 'adamantine' pose of deepest meditation, the legs firmly locked with the soles of the feet turned upward; and they wear the monastic garments with the right shoulder usually bare, and no ornaments. They have the sign of fore-knowledge (urna) on the forehead and the lobes of the ears are long. The hair may be drawn up on the head, in a knot, [6] forming the traditional ushnlsha, or be represented in short curls resembling sea-shells or beads. In the latter case, the skull has always a protuberance (also called ushnlsha) from which, in the southern images of Buddha, usually issues a flame, three or fiveforked.

In Japan the Dhyani-Buddhas are also represented in monastic garments, with the urna and long-lobed ears, but instead of the protuberance on the skull like the Tibetan Dhyani-Buddhas, they may have the hair arranged in a high ushnlsha. (v. PI. ii, fig. a.) In Japanese Buddhism there is no such term as Dhyani-Buddha. (nor -Dhyani-Bodhisattva). The four Celestial Buddhas, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddha, are believed by the Shingon sect to be merely 'manifestations of Vairocana, [7] who, as Bodhisattva, was known as Prajna, while the other four were: Vajrasattva, Akasagarbha, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani. The list of Celestial Buddhas in Japan also varies.

One often finds:

  1. Yakushi (Bhaishajyaguru);
  2. Taho (Prabhutaratna);
  3. Vairocana;
  4. Akshobhya; and
  5. Amoghasiddha or Sakya-muni.

Yakushi is sometimes placed second and Jizo third.

Each Dhyani-Buddha possesses a iakti (female energy), who, if painted, takes his special colour but in a paler tonality. When represented with his sakti, the DhyaniBuddha is seated in the yab-yum attitude and is dressed like an Indian prince with the thirteen Bodhisattva ornaments. The Dhyani-Buddhas are always crowned when holding the iakti, and hence are called by the Tibetans the 'crowned Buddhas'. Vajrasattva alone is always crowned, with or without his female energy. Schlagintweit, however, in his Atlas, gives the reproduction of a temple drawing where Vajrasattva is represented as a Buddha, uncrowned and holding his iakti, but this is practically unique.

The heads of the Dhyani-Buddhas are often encircled by a nimbus, which, in the most ancient form, was round; but later examples, especially in Japan, were often pointed at the top in the shape of the leaf of the Bodhi-tree under which the Buddha attained Supreme Knowledge. The five Dhyani-Buddhas are represented in India in the aura of a Dhyani-Bodhisattva when preaching the Law. [8] In the Mahavastu it is written that when a Bodhisattva is about to preach the Law 'five thrones appear'. In Tibet the five Dhyani-Buddhas surrounding the Dhyani-Bodhisattva are more often found in paintings than in statues, but in Japan they are frequently found in both. (PI. xiv.) In China there may be only three Dhyani-Buddhas in the aura of a Bodhisattva. (v, PI. xxi, fig. b.)

In Nepal the Dhyani-Buddhas are represented in niches around the base of the caitya. [9] Amoghasiddha is enshrined in the North; Batnasambhava in the South; Akshobhya in the East; Amitabha in the West. Vairocana is believed to be in the interior, but if he is represented outside, his statue, according to Hodgson, is at the right of Akshobhya. The sixth Dhyani-Buddha, Vajrasattva, is never represented in statue form on the caitya.

Each Dhyani-Buddha has his own colour, mount (vahana), iakti, and mystic pose of the hands, taken from the mudra invented by the Gandhara and Indian schools to symbolize certain events in the life of Gautama Buddha, whose ethereal form is Amitabha.

Of the various groups of Dhyani-Buddhas, the five Celestial Jinas are alone of interest to the student of iconography, being the Buddhas of the actual universe — the fourth world.


Vairocana [10] (First Dhyani-Buddha)

(Buddha Supreme and Eternal).

(T.) rnam-par-snah-mdsad or rnam-snan (maker of brilliant light).
(M.) masi geigulun joqiaqci (maker of perfect light).
(C.) Pi-lo-che-na (),
(J.) Dai-nichi Ayorai (Great Sun), As Adi-Buddha.

Mystic mudra, of the Six Elements [11] (earth, water, fire, air, ether, and wisdom), As Dhyani-Buddha.
Mudra: dharmacakra (teaching).
Symbol: cakra (wheel).
Colour: white.
Vahana: lion.
Sakti: Vajradhatvisvari (white).
Support: blue lotus.
Element: ether

Dhyani-Buddha: Vairocana.
Dhyani-Bodhisattva: Samantabhadra.
Manushi-Buddha: Krakucchanda.

When the system of Adi-Buddha appeared in Nepal, certain Northern Buddhist sects set up Vairocana as Adi-Buddha; but, prior to this, he was worshipped as the first of the five Dhyani-Buddhas of the actual universe, and is best known under that form.

The Tibetan Northern Buddhists do not associate Vairocana [12] with the founding of the Yoga system, but the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists of the Yogacarya [13] school claim that he transmitted the doctrine directly to the Hindu sage Vajrasattva, who, it is believed, lived in an Iron Tower in Southern India. They further claim that Nagarjuna visited Vajrasattva in his Iron Tower [14] and learned from him the mystic doctrine of the Mandala of the Two Parts [15] (Vajradhatu and Garbhadhatu), which he transmitted to Nagabodhi, his disciple. Nagabodhi, in his turn, taught the doctrine to Vajrabodhi, who transmitted it to Amoghavajra.

In the year A. d. 720, Vajrabodhi, accompanied by his disciple, Amoghavajra, introduced the Yoga system into China. After his death, Amoghavajra continued the propagation of the Yoga doctrine by transmitting it to the Chinese scholar Kei-kwa, who spread it to all the provinces of China.

Toward the end of the eighth century, the Japanese sage Kukai (Kobo Daishi) went to China to study the doctrine of the Yogacarya school with Kei-kwa (Jap. Hiu-kio), and after being initiated into the most secret mysteries of the system, carried it into Japan and founded the Shingon sect.

In India the Yogacarya school was grafted on to the Mahayana in the middle of the sixth century by Asanga, [16] who claimed to be inspired by Maitreya from the Tushita heaven. The doctrine was purely esoteric, and

'taught that by means of mystic formularies (tantra) or litanies (dharani) or spells (mantra), the reciting of which should be accompanied by music and certain distortions of the fingers (mudra), a state of mental fixity might be reached, characterized by their being neither thought, nor annihilation of thoughts, and consisting of sixfold bodily and mental happiness (yogi), from which would result endowment with supernatural miracle-working power.' (Eitel.)

The fundamental principle of the Yoga [17] system is the ecstatic union of the individual with the Universal Spirit, and in Japan Vairocana is looked upon as the highest vehicle of the mystic Union, which is called by the Japanese the 'action of the Dainichi Nyorai'. The mudra of Vairocana indicate the mystic Union. As DhyaniBuddha he has the dharmacakra mudra (v. Glossary), which the Tibetans call ThabdongsJiesrab, or the Union of Wisdom with Matter. As Adi J3uddha he has the mudra of the Six Elements, which also indicates the same principle, and, although rare in Tibet, [18]is often found in Japan. The index finger of the left hand is clasped by the five fingers of the right. The six fingers represent the Six Elements which, when united, produce the 'sixfold bodily and mental happiness'.

The five fingers of the right hand represent the five material elements of which man is composed:

  1. earth (little finger),
  2. water (ring finger),
  3. fire (middle finger),
  4. air (index), and
  5. ether (thumb).

The index finger of the left hand represents the flame-symbol of Adi-Buddha, for the sixth element, the mind (manas), is a particle of his essence.

The two hands, thus representing the union of the Spiritual with the Material, correspond with the Vajradhatu and Garbhadhatu of the Mandala [19] of the Two Parts. The Vajradhatu, represented by the index finger, is the 'diamond' element corresponding to the spiritual world (v. Vajradhatu). The Garbhadhatu, indicated by the five fingers, is the matrix element, corresponding to the material world.

The Shingon sect represents the 'Two Parts' of the Yoga Mandala by two diagrams. In the Vajradhatu diagram, Vairocana is the sun — the centre of a planetary system around which revolve his manifestations, the four Dhyani-Buddhas, as planets. [20] It is believed that 'in him as in a mighty sun all things visible and invisible have their consummation and absorption'. He is in fact the 'one Truth surrounded by the four constituent elements'. (Lloyd.)

Vairocana is represented in the centre of the diagram. He is seated, dressedlike a Bodhisattva, with a crown and the traditional ornaments, and his hands are in the mudra of the Six Elements (see above). It is believed that from him proceeded the element ether (akasa) ,the organ of sight and all colours. The colour of Vairocana is white.

In the centre of the diagram of the Garbhadhatu [21] is an eight-leaved lotus-flower which represents the 'heart' (hridaya) of beings. It is the solar matrix, 'the mysterious sanctuary to which the sun returns each night to be re-born' (v. Vajradhatu). Vairocana is represented in the centre, and is looked upon as the source of all organic life — the ' heart ' of the lotus. (According to Hodgson, [22] his symbol, the wheel, may be represented by the round top of the seed-vessel of the lotus, in the centre of which is the Nepalese yin-yang [23] around which are eight seed-cells.) The eight petals around the ' heart ' of the lotus represent the four DhyaniBodhisattva who have created the four worlds (the fifth being yet to come), and their respective four Dhyani-Buddhas, or spiritual fathers. Around the eight-leaved lotus enclosure are twelve other enclosures. In the centre of the Sarvajha enclosure, immediately above the eight-leaved lotus enclosure, is a triangle resting on its base, which is the symbol of Adi-Dharma, or Matter (v. trikona, tri-ratna, and v. PI. xvi).

Vairocana, seated in the heart of the lotus of the Garbhadhatu, is represented like a Bodhisattva, with a crown and many ornaments. He is not, in the Mandala, a simple Dhyani-Buddha, but the president of the Dhyani-Buddhas — almost an Adi-Buddha (in which case he would also be represented like a Bodhisattva). His hands are in his lap in dhyana mudra, balancing his special symbol, the eight-spoked wheel.

The fundamental principle of the Yoga doctrine, the Union of the Spiritual with the Material, is represented in Nepal and Tibet by the divinity and his Sakti (female energy) in the attitude called 'yab-yum'. The yah is the divinity representing the Vajradhatu, while the yum (the sakti) represents the Garbhadhatu. But this crude representation of the union of Spirit and Matter, while it found favour in Mongolia, highly displeased the more refined sense of the Chinese and Japanese, and was never adopted in either country. [24] They considered the mystic mudra of the Six Elements as sufficiently representing the principle on which the Yoga school was founded, and one finds many beautiful examples of Dai-nichi Nyorai in Japan, expressing this principle with great dignity and much religious feeling,

The Shingon sect associates Vairocana with its funeral ceremonies. Lloyd says in his Shinran:

'When, prior to its removal to the Temple, the corpse has been placed before a temporary altar in the house, on which stand the thirteen Buddhas [25] whom the Shingon reverence, the priest commences the service with lustrations. . . .'

Then comes an invocation of the Being who represents to the Shingon the 'sum total of the Universe', who manifests himself to man through his five personified attributes: earth, fire, water, air, and ether.

The five Dhyani-Buddhas are next invoked: Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddha, after which, Amitabha, as 'conductor of souls', accompanied by Kwannon and Seishi (Mahasthana-prapta) is invoked ' to come and meet the soul in its passage from this world to the next '. Then follows an invocation of Jizo (Kshitigarbha), also 'conductor of souls', and of Fudo (Acala), 'champion of the righteous'. When all these gods have been invoked, ' the celebrant at last raises his heart to the invocation of Vairocana, the great Buddha '.

This ceremony shows that the Shingon sect worships Vairocana in his three forms: as Buddha Supreme, [26] Dhyani-Buddha, and in his manifestation of Fudo, the form which he takes to combat Evil, the flames about him symbolizing the destruction of Evil.

The 'thirteen Buddhas' invoked in the ceremony are Vairocana, his eleven disciples, and his manifestation, Fudo, who are looked upon as 'Guardians of the spirits of the dead'. The Kegon sect worships a triad of Vairocana with Fugen and Monju (Samantabhadra and Manjusri). (v. Fudo.)

In Nepal and Tibet the statues of Vairocana, either as Adi-Buddha or DhyaniBuddha, are extremely rare, but in Japan he is frequently found in statues and paintings. As Adi-Buddha he is always represented in Tibet as a Bodhisattva and is seated with his legs locked, his hands forming the mystic mudra of the Six Elements; or he may be represented holding his special symbol, the wheel, balanced in his hands in dhyana mudra.

In Pander's Pantheon, illustration No. 76, there is the representation of a deity with four heads, wearing a Bodhisattva crown, but called by Pander a 'Dhyani-Buddha'. He is seated, with his hands in dhyana-mudra, balancing a wheel surrounded by flames. He is called kun-rigs, which means 'omniscient', one of the qualities of Vairocana, and may possibly be his Tibetan form as Adi-Buddha.

As Dhyani-Buddha he is represented in Tibet with the monastic garments and short, curly hair, the ushnlsha, urnd, and long-lobed ears. His hands are in dharmacahra mudra, and his legs are closely locked. He is sometimes in company with his Sakti, in which case he is dressed like a Bodhisattva and holds a wheel and a bell. The sakti encircles his body with her legs, and holds a skull cup and a knife or a wheel. If painted, Vairocana is white, and when with his sakti is seated on a blue lotus.

The goddess Ushnlshavijaya holds in the hands, lying in her lap in dhyana mudra, a vase which is believed to contain a particle of the essence of Vairocana — thus symbolizing the Spiritual, enveloped by the Material — or the ' Two Parts ', Vajradhatu and Garbhadhatu.

The goddess MaricI has a small image of Vairocana in her head-dress.

In Japan, Vairocana (Dai-nichi Nyorai) is represented with the high head-dress of the Japanese Bodhisattva, but is, however, dressed in the monastic garments of the Japanese Buddhas, with the right shoulder bare and wears no ornaments. His hands form the mystic mudra of the Six Elements (PI. n, fig. a, and PI. lxii, fig. d).

Mio-ken (Polar Star) [27] is worshipped in Japan under the form of Dai-nichi Nyorai, who balances a wheel in his hands lying in dhyana mudra on his lap.



Form of Dai-nichi Nyorai (Vairocana).

Symbols: khadga (sword), paia (lasso).
Colour: black.
Distinctive mark: glory of flames.

Fudo, champion of the Righteous, is chief of the five Devas called niyo-o (malm deva), and is believed in Japan to be a manifestation of the Dhyani-Buddha Vairocana, for the purpose of combating Evil. This form, however, so closely resembles one of the Dharmapala forms of Vajrapani, [28] that one cannot but believe with Satow, that it is the Japanese manifestation of Acala rather than of Dai-nichi Nyorai.

His appearance is fierce and angry. He holds the sword in his right hand to smite the guilty, and the lasso in his left to catch and bind the wicked. He may, however, have four arms and be standing on a dragon. Behind him is a glory of flames, symbolizing the destruction of Evil (v. PI. liii, fig. d).

Fudo figures in the group of thirteen Buddhas (illustration, PL xvn) used in the funereal ceremonies of the Shingon sect, and is believed to take charge of the soul after death. The central Buddha at the top of the group is Dai-nichi Nyorai (Vairocana), while the figure surrounded by flames at the left of the lowest row is Fudo, who is believed to meet the soul and look after it for the first week.

Sakya-muni for the 2nd week,
Monju (Manjusri) for the 3rd week,
Fugen (Samantabhadra) for the 4th week,
Jizo (Kshitigarbha) for the 5th week,
Miroku (Maitreya) for the 6th week,
Yakushi (Bhaishajyaguru) [29] for the 7th week,
Kwannon (Avalokitesvara) for 100 days,
Seishi (Mahasthanaprapta) for 1 year,
Amida (Amitabha) for 3 year,
Ashaku (Akshobhya) for 7 year,
Kokuzo (Akasagarbha) and Vairocana remain its guardians for ever. [30]

Akshobhya (second Dhyani-Buddha)

(The Immovable). [31]

(T.) mi-bskyod-pa (pro. mijod-pa) or mi-hkhrugs-pa (pro. mintug-pa) (unagitated).
(M.) ulu kudelukci (without movement).
(C.) Pu-tung-fo ().
(J.) Ashuku.

Mudra: bhumisparsa (witness).
Symbol: vajra (thunderbolt).
Colour: blue.
Vahana: elephant.
Sakti: Locana (blue).
Element: air.
Dhyani-Buddha: Akshobhya.
Dhyani-Bodhisattva: Vajrapani.
Manushi-Buddha: Kanaka-muni.

Akshobhya is supposed to reside in a realm called Abhirati, the Eastern Paradise, which, however, has never been so popular as the Western Paradise of Amitabha.

It has been claimed by certain Buddhist sects that the Bodhisattva of Akshobhya is Vajrasattva, while others look upon Vajradhara as his spiritual son; but, according to the system of five Dhyani-Buddhas, his Dhyani-Bodhisattva is Vajrapani.

His worship extended to China and Japan, but Akshobhya was never popular to the same extent as Vairocana or Amitabha. He is represented less frequently in statues than in religious paintings and mandala, where he is found in company with the other Dhyani-Buddhas.

Akshobhya is represented seated, like all the Dhyani-Buddhas, with the legs locked and both feet apparent. There are often wheels marked on the soles of his feet, or a protuberance like a button, resembling the urna on the forehead. His left hand lies on his lap in 'meditation' mudra. His right touches the earth with the tips of the outstretched fingers, the palm turned inward. This is called the bhumisparsa or 'witness' mudra, and is the same pose of the hands that the Gandhara school gave to Gautama Buddha, when representing his invoking the Earth to bear witness that he had resisted the temptation of the God of Evil, Mara (v. PI. i).

The Hinayana Buddhists in Ceylon, Java, Burma, and Siam worship Gautama Buddha under this form, while those of the Mahayana school look upon it as Akshobhya; for, with but rare exceptions, the historic Buddha is only appealed to by the Northern Buddhists in his ethereal form of Amitabha.

Akshobhya may also take in Tibet another form of Gautama Buddha called 'Vajrasana' (diamond throne). [32] The attitude is the same as the above, but before him on the lotus throne lies a vajra, or it may be balanced in the palm of the left hand lying in 'meditation' mudra on his lap.

In St. Petersburg, according to Oldenburg, there is a unique representation of Akshobhya with the vajra in the hand which holds the folds of his monastic garment on the left shoulder.

A small image of Akshobhya is often in the head-dress of Manjusri, Yamantaka, Tara, and Prajnaparamita.

In his yab-yum form he is crowned and presses his iakti to his breast, with arms crossed at her back, holding the vajra and bell. She holds the Icapala (skull-cup) and vajra.


Ratnasambhava [33] (Third Dhyani-Buddha)

(Buddha of Precious Birth).

(T.) rin-byun (source of the treasure).
(M.) erdeni-in oron (the place of the jewel).
(C.) Pao-sheng-fo ().
(J.) Hosho.

Mudra: vara (charity).
Symbol: cintamani (magic jewel).
Colour: yellow.
Vahana: horse.
Sakti: Mamaki.
Support: yellow lotus.
Element: fire.
Dhyani-Buddha: Ratnasambhava.
Dhyani-Bodhisattva: Ratnapani.
Manushi-Buddha: Kasyapa.

Ratnasambhava, the third Dhyani-Buddha, seems to have been the least popular of all the five Dhyani-Buddhas. His statues are extremely rare, but one may come across him in paintings.

He is represented seated, with his legs closely locked. His left hand, lying on his lap, holds the cintamani (magic jewel), and his right is in vara (charity) mudra — the arm is stretched downwards, the hand having all the fingers extended, and the palm is turned outwards. He has the ushnisha, urna, and long-lobed ears.

There may be a small image of Ratnasambhava in the head-dress of Jambala.


Amitabha (Fourth Dhyani-Buddha)

(Buddha of Infinite Light).

(T.) hod-dpag-med (infinite light).
(M.) caghlasi ugei gereltu (he who is eternally brilliant).
(C.) O-mi-t'o-fo ().
(J.) Amida.

Mudra: dhyana (meditation).
Symbol: patra (begging-bowl).
Vahana: peacock.
Colour: red.
Sakti: Pandara (rose).
Element: water.
Dhyani-Buddha: Amitabha.
Dhyani-Bodhisattva: Avalokitesvara.
Manushi-Buddha: Sakya-muni.
'Crowned' form of Amitabha, without sakti- Amitayus.

Amitabha is the fourth Dhyani-Buddha and the ethereal form of Sakya-muni. It is claimed by the Northern Buddhists that Gautama Buddha, before entering into Nirvana, transmitted to Sariputra (one of his favourite disciples) the dogma of the Western Paradise (Sukhavati) over which presides Amitabha, Buddha of Boundless Light, immortal, and bestowing immortality on the people of his paradise.

Amitabha is only known in Northern Buddhism. His name does not appear in the canons of the Hlnayana school, and his worship is unknown in Ceylon, Burma, and Siam. Neither Fa-hian in the account of his travels in India (399-414) nor Hiuentsang (629-45) mentions him, although both refer to Avalokitesvara and Manjusri.

The name of Amitabha first appears in a list of one thousand fictitious Buddhas introduced by the Nepalese Mahayana school. The list so closely coincides with the thousand Zarathustras of the Zoroastrians that Amitabha (in reality a sun-god) and his Western Paradise are thought to have been evolved in Nepal, or Kashmir, from Persian sources. His worship reached China at the same time as the Mahayana doctrine of Dhyani-Buddhas and Bodhisattva, by the northern route, and it is therefore believed that the birthplace of the worship of Amitabha was probably north of the Himalayas.

The description of Sukhavati, [34] the Western Paradise of Amitabha, varies according to the imagination of the author. In the Saddharma pmidariha (Lotus of the Good Law) it is written that women are debarred from Amitabha's paradise, but by acts of merit may attain masculinity in the next world, and thus be eligible to the joys of Sukhavati.

The thirty -fifth vow of Amitabha, according to the Aparimitayus-sutra, is as follows:

'If I become Buddha, all women in innumerable other Buddhist countries shall hear my name and be filled with joy and gladness and dislike their womanhood, desiring enlightenment. If they again resume the feminine form after death and remain unsaved, I will not receive Buddhahood.'

One finds, however, in other Buddhist writings, reference to the inmates of the Western Paradise as sexless.

Amitabha is represented seated with his legs closely locked. His hands lie on his lap, in dhyana (meditation) mudra, and hold the patra (begging-bowl). He has the ushnlsha and urna and long-lobed ears (v. PI. xvill, fig. a).

He is sometimes represented with his sakti held in the yab-yum attitude, but his manifestations in China and Japan are never with the female energy. In this form he wears a crown and is dressed like a Bodhisattva. His arms are crossed behind her back and hold the vajra and ghanta, while the sakti holds the skull and either the grigug (chopper) or wheel.

A small image of Amitabha is in the head-dress of Avalokitesvara, or may be held above the ten heads by two of his arms. He may also be in the head-dress of the goddess Kurukulla.

Besides being Buddha of Boundless Light, Amitabha is Buddha of Boundless Life, [35] in his form of Amitayus, and of Boundless Compassion in his Bodhisattva form of Avalokitesvara.


Amitayus (Aparimitayus)

(Buddha of Eternal Life).

(T.) ts'e-dpag-med (eternal life).
(M.) ajusi or caghlasi ugei nasatu (having eternal life).
(C.) Ch'ang sheng-fo ()

Mudra: dhyana (meditation).
Symbol: tse-bum (ambrosia vase).
Colour: bright red.

Amitayus (Dispenser of Long Life) is the name given to Amitabha in his character of bestower of longevity, and the Tibetans, unlike the Chinese and Japanese, never confuse the two forms.

The Lamaist ceremony for 'Obtaining Long Life' is a curious mixture of Buddhism and demon-worship, and takes place in Tibet at stated intervals with much pomp.

According to Waddell,

'in the preliminary worship, the pills are made from buttered dough and the ambrosia (amrita) is brewed from spirit or beer and offered in a skull-bowl to the great image of Amitayus'.

The Lama then places a vajra on the ambrosia vase, which the image of Amitayus holds in its lap, and applies a cord, which is attached to the vajra, to his own heart.

'Thus, through the string, as by a telegraph wire, passes the divine spirit, and the Lama must mentally conceive that his heart is in actual communion with that of the god Amitayus.' [36]

The wine in the tsd-bum, or ambrosia vase, is then consecrated, and the people partake of it, as well as of the sacred pills, with the firm conviction that their lives will be prolonged through their faith in Amitayus. He is, therefore, a very popular divinity, and one sees many of his images and paintings in Tibet.

Amitayus may be termed either a 'crowned Buddha', or a Bodhisattva, and is therefore richly clad and wears the thirteen ornaments. His hair is painted blue and falls on either side to his elbows, or may be curiously coiled. He is seated [37] like a Buddha, and his hands lie on his lap in dhyana (meditation) mudra, holding the ambrosia vase, his special emblem. The vase is richly decorated, and from the cover fall four strings of beads, which represent the sacred pills quoted above; and from this cover often sprouts a tiny asoka-tree (tree of Consolation, v. Vajradhatu). (v. PI. iii, fig. a; PI. xv, fig. d; PI. xviii, figs, c and d; PL xix, fig. b.)

Amitayus never holds a sakti, or female energy, nor has he a consort.

He is often found in a triad between Manjusri and Vajrapani. The presence of Vajrapani in company with Amitayus might be accounted for by the fact that the Buddhas put him in charge of the Water of Life, which they had procured by churning the ocean with the mountain Sumeru. [38]

In China and Japan Amitayus is worshipped under the usual form of Amitabha.


O-Mi-To Fo

(Chinese Buddha of Boundless Light).

The first Amitabha sutra is supposed to have been brought from Nepal or Kashmir into China by a Buddhist priest, about A.D. 147; but the doctrine of Amitabha made no headway until the fourth century A. D., when an exoteric sect called the 'Lotus School' (Lien Tsung), more commonly called the 'Pure Land School', was founded. In the next century an Amitabha sutra was translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva; and Amidai'sm then began to spread so rapidly that the Confucianists took alarm — the result of which was a heated controversy between the literati of both sides as to the relative merits of Buddhism and Confucianism.

The Chinese had never been able to understand the Indian conception of Nirvana. Ancestor worship was a universal custom in China. It found its way even into the Buddhist monasteries, [39] where ancestral tablets were set up dedicated to members of the community who had died in sanctity.

The great teachers, philosophers, moralists, were themselves ancestor worshippers, and while they would not accept the Indian doctrine of complete annihilation after death, they as greatly disapproved of the doctrine of immortality in Amitabha's paradise. They avoided as much as possible discussing the problem of life after death, preferring to teach men how to live. They claimed that an act of merit with hope of ultimate recompense was no real act of merit. The Northern Buddhist reply was that no man would till his field without ultimate hope of harvest.

The common people understood nothing of the controversy. They were Tao'ists, and Taoism, indigenous to China, promised life hereafter in glowing colours. The step from Taoism to Amidaism was easy enough, with its promise of paradise, and faith in O-mi-to Fo was not difficult, when he was flanked by the popular god (or goddess) Kwan-yin on the left (place of honour in China) and Ta-shi-chi on the right. [40] Thus Amitabha became the object of much veneration in China.

The Chinese representations of Amitabha resemble the Southern Buddhist images of Buddha, with short, curly hair, long-lobed ears, the ushnisha, the urnd, and the half-closed eyes indicating deep meditation (the eyes and features are always Indian, not Mongolian). He is seated with closely locked legs, and his hands are against his breast with the tips of the index fingers touching and pointing upwards, while the other fingers are locked. This mudra in India indicates Buddha as 'Liberator of the Nagas', and in Japan is the mystic gesture of the Ba-to Kwannon. It is said to be emblematical of the lotus-flower.

There is another form of O-mi-to Fo sometimes seen in China. He is standing, his arms abnormally long, and is called Chien-yin Fo, or the 'Buddha who guides into Paradise'.


Amida Nyorai

(Japanese Buddha of Infinite Light).

Amitabha was pronounced incarnate in the great Sun god Amaterasu [41] by Kobo Daishi in the ninth century a.d., but the actual worship of Amida in Japan does not date further back than the twelfth century.

The Jodo-shu (Pure Land Sect) was founded by Gen-kou a.d. 1175 on the doctrines of the Amitayurdhyana sutra. Towards the thirteenth century another Amida sect, the Shin-shu, was founded by the great Shin-ran, and Amidaism, with its dogma of the Western Paradise and salvation through faith in Amida, became so popular that these two sects alone constituted more than half the Buddhist population of Japan.

Amida is looked upon as the One Original Buddha (Ichi-butsu), without beginning and without end, besides whom there is none other. He is the 'Father of the World', and all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are temporary manifestations of him, but is he the creator? Here the Amida sects disagree. They call him the 'Supreme Buddha', although the doctrine of Adi-Buddha, as evolved in Nepal, does not appear to have been adopted by the Japanese Mahayanists.

The Amida sects claim, however, that Amida revealed himself in Nepal as AdiBuddha, and that when Nagarjuna [42] went there to worship the Adi-Buddha, he became acquainted with the Bodhisattva Mahanaga, who taught him the doctrine of faith in Amida. When Nagarjuna was sufficiently enlightened, Mahanaga conducted him to the Dragon Palace under the sea, where he received further instruction, and was then given the treatise on which the Amida doctrine is founded.

According to Mr. A. Lloyd, the Amida sects claim that Amida 'revealed himself many times in a long list of Tathagata, of which Sakya-muni was the last manifestation'. He is believed to have two special qualities, Mercy and Wisdom, which are personified by Kwan-non (Avalokita), god of Mercy, and Dai-sei-shi (Mahasthanaprapta), who is the spiritual manifestation of the wisdom of Amida, and these two, with Amida, form a trinity.

According to Lloyd, they

'are at once distinct in Person and one in Essence, and bear a striking resemblance to the unity of Three Persons in our Christian Trinity'.

Amida is represented like the Amitabha of Northern Buddhism with the exception that, while he wears the usual monastic garments, both shoulders are covered, the breast partly bare. If sitting, the legs are closely locked, the soles of the feet turned upward. The hands may be forming the dharmacakra mudra, but are usually both lying in the lap in dhyana mudra, differing, however, from the Indian pose. The palms are held upward with all the fingers locked underneath, except the indexes, which touch the tips of the thumbs with their tips (the second joints of the indexes against each other), thus forming two 'triangular' poses. [43]

The eyes are almost closed in deep meditation, and the features with the long-lobed ears are Indian.


Amoghasiddha (Fifth Dhyani-Buddha)

(Buddha of Infallible Magic).

(T.) don-grub.
(J.) Fukujo-ju.

Mudra: abhaya (protecting).
Symbol: viiva-vajra (double thunderbolt).
Colour: green.
Vahana: shen-shang (dwarf).
Sakti: Tara.
Support: blue-green lotus.
Element: earth.

Amoghasiddha, the fifth Dhyani-Buddha, is believed to be ' unfailingly successful ' and to have the power of infallible magic. He is seated in ' adamantine ' pose (legs closely locked, with the soles of the feet apparent). The left hand lies in his lap, with the palm upwards, and may balance the double thunderbolt, or hold a sword. The right hand is lifted in abhaya mudra (' blessing of Fearlessness'), a pose of the hands indicating protection. All the fingers are extended upwards, palm outwards.

At Touen-houang (or, more exactly, in the Chinese province of Kantsu) a statue of Amoghasiddha [44] was discovered by the Pelliot mission, with the right hand in abhaya and the left in vara (charity) mudra. The right shoulder is bare, and he is seated in European fashion like his Manushi-Buddha, Maitreya.


a. Maitreya b. Maitreya
c. Maitreya d. Amitayus


Mandala (Garbhadhatu)


The Thirteen Shin-gon Buddhas


a. Amida b. Amida
c. Amitayus d. Amitayus


a. Naga Lamp b. Amitayus
c. Manjusri (or Avalokita?) d. Buddhist emblematic vase

Footnotes and references:


Hodgson, The Languages, Literature, and Religion of Nepal and Tibet, p. 28.


The group of five is the exoteric group. The sixth belongs to the esoteric system.


According to Hodgson, the Nepalese school claimed that from Vairocana proceeded the sense of sight; from Akshobhya, sound; from Ratnasambhava, smell; from Amoghasiddha, touch.


Germ or seed; v. Glossary.


The Creed of Half Japan, p. 240.


Gandhara school.


The Amida sects claim that Vairocana and the other three Dhyani-Buddhas were emanations or manifestations of Amitabha.


v. illustration of Simhanada-Lokesvara, A. Foucher, Iconographie bouddhique, Partie II, p. 33.


v. Glossary.


Lit., the Illuminator. Pro. Vairochana.


I use this term as I have been unable to find a Sanskrit or other name for this mudra.


They look upon Samantabhadra as the founder of the Yoga doctrine.


In Japan the Hosso, Tendai, Kegon, and Shingon sects were founded on the Yoga doctrine.


v. Nagarjuna.


The secret doctrine of the Two Parts forms the body and substance of the Yoga system (v. Vajra dhatu).


Lloyd places Asanga about A. d. 300. Prof. Takakusu a. d. 445, and Grunwedel A. d. 550, which is the usual date given.


Derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, or ' union '.


v. Tibetan statuette, Bacot collection, Musee Guimet, Paris, No. 23. Japanese examples, v. PI. n, fig. a, and PI. lxii, fig. d.


Mystic circle, v. PI. xvi and Bunyiu Nanjio, A Short History of the Twelve Buddhist Sects; A. Lloyd, Developments of Japanese Buddhism.


Dai-nichi Nyorai (Vairocana), Ashuku (Akshobhya), Hosho (Ratnasambhava), Amida (Amitabha), Fuku-jo-ju (Amoghasiddha).


v. PI. xvi.


Notice on Buddhist symbols, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. xviii, Part II.


v. Glossary.


One finds examples in the Lamaist temple in Peking, but carefully covered.


Illustration, PI. xvii.


The Nepalese system of Adi-Buddha was not adopted in Japan. There is no Japanese term for 'Adi-Buddha', but Vairooana is nevertheless looked upon as the 'origin of all even of the universe'.


The Polar Star was a type of the Eternal because apparently it never changed with time. It was the earliest type of Supreme Intelligence . . . which was unerring, just and true . . . a point within the circle from which you could not err.' Churchward, Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man. It was called the 'Eye upon the mountain', the radiating centre of light surmounting the triangle, (v. trikona.)


v. Vajrapani.


v. Mania (Chin. Yo-shi Fo), or the Healing Buddha, and Edkins, Chinese Buddhism, p. 235.


Lloyd, Creed of Half Japan, p. 65.


Or 'the undisturbed'.


v. Gautama Buddha and PI. n, fig. d.


Ratna-sambhava, 'the rource of precious (or holy) things'.


v. Glossary.


v. PI. xv, fig. d.


Waddell, Lamaism, p. 445.


Statues of Amitayus standing are very rare.


v. Vajrapani.


Edkins, Chinese Buddhism.


Avalokitesvara and Mahasthanaprapta.


According to A. Lloyd, Creed of Half Japan, p. 201, goddess identified with Vairocana.


v. Nagarjuna.


v. Glossary for vitarka and dhyana-rnudra, Illus. PI. xviii, fig. b, and PI. lvii.


Amoghasiddha, lit unfailingly successful, according to E. Denison Ross, Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal,

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