Kings of Brightness in Japanese Esoteric Buddhist Art
Due in part to its inclusion of powerful beings like the Kings of Brightness, Esoteric Buddhism was perceived to offer spiritual and worldly benefits beyond those offered by other forms of Buddhism theretofore practiced in Japan, and it thus transformed the arts and rituals of Japanese Buddhism.
Fudō Myōō, the "Immovable" King of Brightness, is considered to be a direct emanation of the Buddha Dainichi Nyorai, who is the principal Buddha of Esoteric Buddhism (26.118) and appears at the center of the main mandalas of the tradition.
He sits on a rock.
He looks humble and fat. He is extremely angry." Emphasizing his role as an unflagging, fierce defender of Buddhism, Fudō uses his sword to cut through ignorance and his lasso to reign in those who would block the path to enlightenment.
He is always bright red, and in two of his six arms he holds a bow and arrow, properties borrowed from Kāma, the Hindu god of love (1975.409.3). Aizen's role is to convert carnality into aspiration for enlightenment, but people also turn to him for assistance with matters of the heart.
Aside from paintings and sculptures that present certain Kings individually, the Kings of Brightness referred to as the Five Great Kings of Brightness (Five Kings) are often portrayed as a group—sometimes as sets of paintings and sculptures, and sometimes painted within a single scroll.
At the ritual, the special powers of the Kings were called upon to protect the nation. For example, Daiitoku Myōō's Sanskrit name, Yamāntaka, means, "one who stops the power of the King of Hell," or the one who terminates death.
Beyond state rituals, prominent members of court society also commissioned mandala-driven rituals for their personal needs and worldly aspirations, from protection against diseases to success in competition with political rivals.
These frequently included images of Myōō.
Japanese monks returning from travel and study in China brought back multiple scriptures, commentaries, and iconographic guides to Esoteric Buddhist deities, as well as fully realized painted mandalas and ritual implements adorned with the corporal forms of Buddhist deities including the Kings of Brightness (Tang dynasty bell with Myōō ).
As part of the process of parsing and synthesizing the new information, Japanese monastic communities both copied and created annotated iconographic guides. The eighth of a ten-scroll encyclopedic text known as Collected Iconography (Zuzōshō) and designed to help monks navigate proliferating iconographic and ritual variations was dedicated to the Kings of Brightness.
The early twelfth-century original is lost, but a number of early copies survive.
A lightly colored version in ink on paper dating to the late twelfth to early thirteenth century and said to have belonged to the major Esoteric Buddhist temple Tōji in Kyoto reveals the wrathful qualities of the Kings, with their grimacing facial expressions and the extreme flames of their mandorlas (1975.268.6).
The iconography for the Kings of Brightness expanded beyond its intended use to provide models for figural representations of certain deities originating in the Japanese tradition of kami veneration and later incorporated into Shinto-Buddhist combinatory schemes of worship.
In the cult of Shugendō, a Buddhist tradition based in austere practices carried out deep in the mountains, Zaō is seen as a manifestation of the Buddha Shakyamuni and the Buddha Miroku—the Buddha of the Future.
While the representation of Zaō was a completely new invention based on Buddhist iconographical prototypes, other kami became identified with particular Kings of Brightness, and appear in their Buddhist forms in mandalas devoted to specific sites of kami worship, such as Mount Kumano (2006.521).
The collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains for the most part examples of representations of Kings of Brightness dating from the Heian period through the Edo period (1615–1868), in painted and sculpted form, that would have been used in temples, as well as metalwork incorporated into armor.
at the turn of the twentieth century, a grand champion (yokozuna) sumo wrestler by the name of Hitachiyama Taniemon (1874–1922) presented the Museum with his wrestling costume, a photograph of himself wearing it (08.25.5), and a personal devotional icon of Fudō Myōō, the exemplar of righteous strength, in a small shrine (08.74).
Citation Vilbar, Sinéad. "Kings of Brightness in Japanese Esoteric Buddhist Art". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kibr/hd_kibr.htm (October 2013)
Goepper, Roger. Aizen-myÅÅ, the Esoteric King of Lust: An Iconological Study. Zurich: Artibus Asiae, 1993. Gerstle, Andrew C., "Flowers of Edo: Eighteenth-Century Kabuki and Its Patrons." Asian Theater Journal 4, no. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 52–75. MyÅÅ: Buddhist Deities of Wrath and Love. Nara: Nara National Museum, 2000.
Okada, Barbra Teri, in collaboration with Kanya Tsujimoto. "The FudÅ MyÅ-Å from the Packard Collection: A Study during Restoration." Metropolitan Museum Journal, no. 14 (1980), pp. 51–66.
These related Museum Bulletin or Journal articles may or may not represent the most current scholarship. Okada, Barbra Teri and Tsujimoto, Kanya. "The Fudo Myo-o from the Packard Collection: A Study during Restoration". Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 14 (1979) JSTOR | PDF