Nature : Ungodly Wrath?

Japan Adventures (3) : Gods of Nature?

Sanjusangendo-Exterior3.gifIn ancient Japanese temples (such as Sanjūsangendō), it is not uncommon to find wrathful images of the Wind (Fūjin) and Thunder gods (Raijin). Of course, in Buddhist temples, images of the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas will always take centrestage. In the case of Sanjūsangendō are 1001 Kannon (Guanyin Bodhisattva) images (which represent the immeasurable concurrent compassionate activities of the Bodhisattva)!

20081013-6The brochure of Sanjūsangendō describes the above characters as so – ‘The powerful and dynamic statues of the Thunder and Wind God are placed at either side of the temple hall on raised pedestals of cloud shape. The images of these gods derived from people’s fear and gratitude for nature in the old days. People worshipped them as deities who controlled rain and wind, and brought about good harvests. These statues are representative masterpiece sculptures of the Kamakura period (12th to 14th centuries).’

Fūjin is considered the Japanese god of the wind and is one of the eldest Shinto gods. He is portrayed as a terrifying dark demon, who resembles a red-headed black leopard humanoid wearing a leopard skin, carrying a large bag of winds on his shoulders. Raijin is a god of thunder and lightning in Japanese mythology. He is typically depicted as a demon beating drums to create thunder. A Chinese Buddhist legend states that Fūjin and Raijin were both originally evil demons who opposed the Buddha, who were indirectly subdued by him, working as gods ever since.

20081013-7Just as Hinduism mistakenly considers the Buddha as a manifestation of Vishnu, some ‘Buddhists’ later considered many Shinto gods to be manifestations of Bodhisattvas. (There are existing lesser religions in Japan today that combine Buddhism and Shintoism.) Whether this cross-manifestation is possible is complex. (Please see the second recommended article below why). Every ancient culture seems to have its own versions of gods of nature, some of whom are similar in character. Archetypes of human imagination perhaps? Does the prevalence of such beliefs render them more real? Beholding three-dimensional images of these gods, it is easy to imagine how real they were to those who sculpted and worshipped them.

20081013-8Nature can be as awe-inspiring as how those who lord over them are ‘seen’ to be. Whether they are real is beside the point. This is especially so in Buddhist culture, where weather is seen to also be controlled by the wrath or pleasure of the nagas (dragons). (There is Naga Puja in Tibetan Buddhism – for requesting the blessings of fair weather.) Yes, the collective positive and negative karma of humans can be expressed through our experience of good or foul weather. We humans too lord over the weather with the choice of furthering the climate crisis or reversing it. The main point is that we humans control the weather we experience karmically – not any god or naga, whom, if are true controllers of weather, are but means of karmic expression.

Related Articles:

Are Buddhists Atheists?
http://wp.me/P54LT-3tM
The Cross-Manifestations of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Gods?
http://wp.me/P54LT-3tT

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