In the news: Stolen and recovered! Dainichi Nyorai Buddha from the Enichiji Temple in Fukushima

Dainichi Nyorai statue, Important Cultural Property of Enichiji Temple Photo: KYODO

The statue in the photo above was among four statues stolen from and recovered by Enichiji Temple in Fukushima Prefecture.

The significance of the stolen statues

Designated by the government as an Important Cultural Property, the recovered Dainichi Nyôrai (Vairocana or Mahavairocana) is the main object of worship at the historic Enichiji Temple.

“The area of what is now called Fukushima Prefecture came under the influence of the Yamato Court ahead of the rest of Michinoku; Buddhism is said to have been transmitted to the area in the 7th century. 
During the Golden Age of Buddhist culture, from the 9th to 12th centuries, the Fukushima area flourished as one of the centers of Buddhist culture in northeastern Japan. Many important temples, such as Enichi-ji Temple in Aizu (westernmost Fukushima) and Shiramizu Amidado Pavilion in Iwaki, date from this era.”

— “History and Tradition”(C) Fukushima Prefecture

Enichiji was a large monastery of the Heian period (794–1185) at the foot of the active Mt. Bandai volcano that erupted in 806 and again in 1888 (it is located directly north of what is now Bandai Town, which is northwest of Lake Inawashiro in the center of modern Fukushima Prefecture). In the Edo period (1600–1868), the monastery had about 60 sub temples and 25 officially certified koku of landed estates.

The Buddhist scholar-monk of the Hosso sect, Tokuichi (781-842) is credited with the founding of Enichiji Temple annd its sister temple Shojoji.

The Hossô monk Tokuitsu founded Enichiji, which later became a “major monastery.” He chose the name out of respect for Fa-hsiang [Faxiang] patriarch Hui-chao (650-714)’s [writings] Hui jih lun. Tokuitsu was often called “the bodhisattva” by local people for his humble lifestyle. He got into a famous literary dispute with Tendai leader Saichô over doctrinal matters.

Groner (2000: 91-3)

Historic site of Enichiji Temple

On a south-north axis (bottom to top): the Niomon (Outer Gate); Chuumon (Central Gate); Kondou (Golden Hall), Koudou (Lecture Hall), and Ryoukaidou (Hall of Two Worlds). A five-tiered pagoda lies east of the axis. The Golden Hall dimensions are based on earlier archaeological findings that have been superseded by recent work. The main gate containing a pair of guardian kings (wooden sculptures), and two small halls were built from the middle of the Tokugawa period onwards. The main hall has not survived, but plans are underway to rebuild it…this is according to Banda Town website

The Enichiji Temple is shrouded with the ambience and steeped in the history of early Buddhism as it emerged, as well as ascetic mountain worship (by which the Buddhist doctrines are influenced) of Heian Japan. During the Heian Period, the temple was a stronghold for believers adhering to the Faxiang school doctrine.

“Being a first and foremost idealistic school of Mahayana Buddhism, the Faxiang School categorically discerns chimerical phenomena manifested in consistent patterns of regularity and continuity; in order to justify this order in which only defiled elements could prevail before enlightenment is attained, it created the tenet of the alaya-vijnana. Sense perceptions are commanded as regular and coherent by a store of consciousnesses, of which one is consciously unaware. …Each and every single one of beings possesses this seed consciousness, which therefore becomes a sort of collective consciousness that takes control of human perceptions of the world, though this world does not exist at all according to the very tenet.

…The base consciousness is interpreted as the container of the karmic impressions or seeds, nourished by us beings in the process of our existence. …In view of the foregoing, philosophers of this school have constantly essayed to explain in detail how karmic force actually operates and affects us on a concrete, personal level. Comprised in this development of consciousness theory is the concept of conscious justification — phenomena that are presumably external to us can never exist but in intimate association with consciousness itself. Such a notion is commonly referred to as “Mind Only.””

The Dainichi Nyorai Buddha is popularly called the Cosmic Buddha who illuminates the Universe, and the recovered statue holds key importance as the Centre or Zenith of that Cosmic Consciousness.

The Faxiang school emerged in India roughly the second century AD, peaked there in the fourth century, during the time of Asanga and Vasubandha. The school’s teachings spread to China mainly through the work of Paramartha, a sixth-century Indian missionary-translator. His rendition of the Mahayana-samparigraha-sastra (Compendium of the Great Vehicle) by Asanga was the basis of doctrine for the Sanlun (Three-Treatise) School, and the forerunner of the Faxiang School, and the work of his successor, Dharmakirti (c. AD 600-680).

The body of consciousness-oriented school of ideology or doctrine that was thus transmitted was largely represented in China by the Faxiang School … Faxiang being the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term dharmalaksana (characteristic of dharma), referring to the school’s basal emphasis on the unique characteristics of the dharmas that make up the world.

Faxiang is called Popsang in Korea, and Hosso in Japan. The Dainichi Nyorai Buddha is venerated as the Centre or Zenith of that cosmic “consciousness” and is today only venerated more than Japanese…by Tibetans. The Faxiang school or brand of Buddhism that took off in Japan in the hands of the Hosso sect, declined in China in part due to the anti-Buddhist imperial persecutions of 845, and in part, because…

“the philosophy of this school, with its abstruse terminology and hairsplitting analysis of the mind and the senses, was too alien to be accepted by the practical-minded Chinese.” — Xuanzang (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The mountain ascetics Shugenja helped spread the popularity of the Dainichi Nyorai since it taught …

“illness and calamity were the curses of evil kami and spirits, and … that all these spirits were embraced and governed by Dainichi Nyorai, the embodiment of the Diamond and Womb realms, which symbolized all the phenomena of the universe. Thus through the power of Dainichi Nyorai, it was possible to enlist these spirirts to protect people’s lives and prevent calamities.”  –“A History of Japanese Religion” (ed.) by Kazuo Kasahara

The recovered statue is also rare and is an earlier creation than the other Dainichi Nyorai in Nara (see photo below for comparison).

Dainichi Nyorai, attributed to Unkei, Enjo-ji, Nara (Wikimedia Commons)

The above pictured seated wooden statue at Shingon sect’s Enjō-ji in Nara is one of the earliest representations and is thought to be the best-substantiated work by Japanese master sculptor Unkei. According to an inscription on the pedestal, Unkei began work on the piece in 1175 completed it the following year.

Quiz: Why does the Buddha clasp the index finger of his left hand in his right hand? Scroll down to the very bottom of the page for the answer…

Sources and references:

Four Buddhist statues, including key cultural asset, recovered in Shikoku (Japan Times, June 18, 2012)

Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) (602—664 C.E.) (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The Enichiji monastery in Bandai, Fukushima (Mapping Buddhist Monasteries online resource)

“History and Tradition” Fukushima government internet guide

Saichō: The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School” by Paul Groner

Dainichi Nyorai (A-Z Photo Dictonary Japanese Statuary)

“A History of Japanese Religion” (ed.) by Kazuo Kasahara pp. 467-468

Quiz Answer: This is “a characteristic hand gesture called the Mudra of Six Elements (Chiken-in 智拳印), in which the index finger of the left hand is clasped by the five fingers of the right. This mudra symbolizes the unity of the five worldly elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space) with a six element, spiritual consciousness. Others equate the left hand with the male organ and the right hand with the female organ, and maintain that it represents, by means of sexual symbolism, the central deity of the mandala from which all the other deities emanate.”

Godai Nyorai (Five Buddha of Wisdom) (A-Z Photo Dictonary Japanese Statuary)

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