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Vairocana (Jp Dainichi), "The Spreader of Light in All Directions"

Page history last edited by elise.swanson@colorado.edu 14 years, 3 months ago

Image courtesy of http://z.about.com/d/buddhism/1/0/t/1/-/-/Vairochana.jpg




            Vairocana Buddha (Mahavairocana), or Dainichi Buddha (Japan), is a cosmic buddha and central figure in esoteric, or tantric, Buddhist practice. He represents the truth body, a non-physical, abstract body that is wisdom itself. In other words, is the embodiment of the Dharmakaya. The name Vairocana means “luminous” or “embodiment of light” in Sanskrit while in Japanese, Dainichi means “great sun.” He is often referred to as the “Life force that illuminates the universe,” the “great illuminating one,” and most importantly, the “all-encompassing Buddha” (www.onmarkproductions.com/html/dainichi.shtml). Vairocana is believed to be everywhere and in everything; he is omniscient and omnipresent (http://www.tamqui.com/buddhaworld/Vairocana_Buddha). All buddhas are thought to be emanations of him because he represents “transcendental” wisdom, the most clear and powerful form of wisdom. More specifically, he represents the conversion of ignorance into wisdom. In images he is often depicted in the Dharmacakra mudra, a teaching gesture which is meant to reflect the Buddha’s first sermon in Deer Park and the turning of the wheel of dharma (www.onmarkproductions.com/html/dainichi.shtml).


Image courtesy of http://buddhistsymbols.info/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/vairocana-meru.jpg


     Vairocana is the central deity among the five primordial buddhas, or the Tathagata. This is often depicted in mandalas where Vairocana sits at the center while the other buddhas sit at the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west). He also represents the color white, which is meant to show that he possesses the qualities and wisdom of all of the primordial buddhas (www.onmarkproductions.com/html/dainichi.shtml). (Akshobhya is blue, Ratnasmbhava is yellow, Amithaba is red, and Amoghasiddhi is green.) Just as white is a reflection of all the colors, Vairocana is a reflection, or representation, of all buddhas. He is the supreme, all-pervasive buddha and the central deity in esoteric Buddhism.


     The buddha-field of Vairocana is called the Lotus Repository World. It is described using the metaphor of a giant lotus flower, which represents his embracing of all worlds. In countless images, Vairocana sits on a giant lotus flower (that is often depicted resting on the backs of lions). His great lotus thrown is believed to sit at the top of Mount Meru, the sacred center of the universe. A fragrant ocean is located above the many layers of wind that make up the middle of Mount Meru, and it is out of this ocean that Vairocana's lotus flower blooms ( http://people.virginia.edu/~dcw7a/articles/Wong-Mapping-of-Sacred-Space.pdf). A description of his repository world can be found in the Brahmajala Sutra (also called the Brahma Net Sutra):


Now, I, Vairocana Buddha

Am sitting atop a lotus pedestal;

On a thousand flowers surrounding me

Are a thousand Sakyamuni Buddhas.

Each flower supports a hundred million worlds;

In each world a Sakyamuni Buddha appears.

All are seated beneath a Bodhi-tree,

All simultaneously attain Buddhahood.

All these innumerable Buddhas

Have Vairocana as their original body.

(continue reading at http://www.ymba.org/bns/bnsframe.htm)






     The Buddha known in Sanskrit as Vairocana has many names.  As the deity made its way into East Asian traditions,  “Vairocana” was transliterated into “Birushana” to suit Japanese pronunciation.  It was also translated into “Dainichi”, literally the Great Sun.  Among the slew of other titles bestowed upon Vairocana are “Cosmic Buddha” and “the Spreader of Light in all Directions”.  Light in the Buddhist tradition represents wisdom and Vairocana is a manifestation of the initial wheel turning, or dharmacakra, that the Historical Buddha undertook at the deer park in Sarnath.  And as such, Vairocana is said to be the center and origin of all wisdom and light, thus the image of the Great Sun.  With this in mind, we can observe iconographic depictions of the Vairocana Buddha.


Image courtesy of www.onmarkproductions.com


            The Vairocana is depicted in statues and images as displaying two primary mudras.  The first mudra represents the aforementioned role of Vairocana as the manifestation of the initial wheel-turning.  In some depictions, Vairocana employs the dharmacakra mudra.  The Vairocana Buddha is frequently shown, especially in a Japanese setting, displaying the mudra of “Six Elements”.  This mudra is formed by gripping the index finger of the left and with the hand of the right.  This mudra is interpreted in a few different ways.  Being the mudra of six elements, it is said to represent the unity of the five elements (the fingers of the right hand) with the six element, our mind or consciousness (the index finger of the right).  In another interpretation, the hand of the right is said to be the Buddha and the left index finger our self, demonstrating the interaction between the two.  It is also said that the mudra has a sexual interpretation, symbolizing the conception and birth of all wisdom, with which Vairocana is equated.


            The Vairocana, or Dainichi, Buddha developed a particularly significant role in the Buddhist practices of Japan.  The so-called “esoteric” sects of the Japanese Heian era, particularly the Shingon sect, adopted Dainichi as their central figure of worship.  Dainichi was believed to represent the utter totality of all reality and experience.  As such, the most prevalent depictions of Dainichi are in a Japanese setting.  Of these, the Todaiji, in Nara, Japan, is the perhaps the most famous.  The Daibutsu, which is housed, at the Todaiji dates to 752.  While this “Great Buddha” is certainly linked to the Heian period Dainichi, the statue actually predates the Heian adoption of this Buddha, and as such the statue in fact represents Dainichi’s predecessor Birushana.  The depiction of Birushana at Todaiji has the Buddha displaying the “Fear Not” mudra, and sitting on a bed of lotus flowers.  Lotus flowers, when bearing eight petals, represents the Noble Eightfold Path.


     The Japanese monk Kukai traveled to China in 804.  Then in Japan, he established a new sect of Buddhism, centered around the art and texts with which he had returned.  A central element of the regimen of study which Kukai established at his mountain temple was the contemplation of mandalas.  Mandalas are diagrams that illustrate Buddhist cosmology or other spiritual ideas.  Vairocana, as the central Buddha of worship in the Esoteric tradition, featured heavily in these mandalas.



Historical Context


            The Buddha Vairocana, or Dainichi, is known in Esoteric Buddhism as the Central Buddha of the Universe, the Cosmic Buddha, and the supreme deity of Esoteric Buddhism.  Vairocana is seen in Esoteric tradition as the most important Buddha, who is said to be everywhere and everything, “like the air we breathe, with all other Buddha and divine beings considered as emanations of Dainichi” (http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/godai-nyorai.shtml). The Buddha Vairocana is most associated with the Chinese school of Buddhism known as Hua-Yen and the Japanese school known as Kegon Buddhism.  Vairocana is also seen in Sino-Japanese Buddhism as the embodiment of emptiness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vairocana).  The Buddha Vairocana is mainly associated, however, with Esoteric Buddhism, where Vairocana is scene and venerated as its central figure, as its “supreme deity.”


Esoteric Buddhism is one of three schools of Buddhism, the other two being Theravada and Mahayana.  Within Esoteric Buddhism exists the Shingon and Tendai sects.  These two sects of Esoteric Buddhism are most associated with the Buddha Vairocana.   Within the Shingon sect there are 13 deities, Vairocana being one of them, which first appeared in the 14th century.  Each deity is present at a different year after an individual passes away.  The deities continue up to the thirteenth year, with Vairocana being the 12th.


Esoteric Buddhism is most popular in Japan, Korea, and Tibet.  It began in Japan during the Heian Period, which took place from 794 to 1185.  The Shingon sect started when a monk went to China to study Buddhism and, from the texts and works that he studied, developed his own practice.  This new practice he developed was centered on the Buddha Vairocana.  He established a monastery and eventually the name “Shingon” was established (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shingon_Buddhism).  Shingon was widely popular during the Heian period in Japanese history and continues to be popular today.  Although today the mainstream school of Buddhism in Japan is Mahayana, the Shingon and Tendai sects of esoteric Buddhism are still prevalent and strong, especially the Shingon sect (http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/godai-nyorai.shtml).  When Shingon first formed, the Buddha Vairocana was the central figure, which is still the case today.  Esoteric Buddhism is practiced still by many people in Japan, which makes Vairocana still a central figure in much of Japanese Buddhist culture. 




Mantra of Light


     Dainichi is the focus of the Mantra of Light.  The Mantra of Light was of great importance to Japanese Buddhism and was used as a way to rebel against the ways of Pure Land Buddhism.  The Japanese version of the mantra is “On abokya beiroshanō makabodara mani handoma jimbara harabaritaya un”.  This translates roughly to “Praise be to the unfailing, all-pervasive illumination of the great seal of the Buddha, the jewel, the lotus, and the radiant light existing in our world”.   The mantra should be chanted 3, 7, or 21 times per day.


     It is believed in Shingon Buddhism that if a monk chants the Mantra of Light without ego, Dianichi will dispel all ignorance and delusion from the chanter.  Use of the Mantra of Light was somewhat rare until it was popularized by Myōe, a Japanese Shingon monk, as a way to protest against the Pure Land Buddhism founded in Japan by Hōnen and the practice of nembutsu. 


     Hōnen (1133-1212) founded the first independent Japanese sect of Pure Land Buddhism.  Rather than emphasizing meditation and discipline, Hōnen argued that nembutsu alone was enough for a practitioner to gain rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha.  Nembutsu is the practice of uttering the name of Amitabha at all times – sitting, working, walking, lying in bed, standing still etc. 


     Myōe (1173-1232) sharply criticized Hōnen’s method of obtaining rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida.  Myōe, ordained in the Shingon school of Buddhism, argued that the practice of nembutsu was too relaxed and argued for a more disciplined approach to Buddhism.  He revived a strict regimen that included daily meditation.  He also replaced nembutsu with daily recitation of the Mantra of Light.  Myōe believed that the Mantra of Light, along with meditation, could result in Pure Land rebirth and that this approach would be more accessible to the general population.


     The Japanese later adopted the practice of blessing sand using the Mantra of Light which was then sprinkled onto the bodies of the dead.  This was believed to free the deceased from the realms of hell and guarantee a good rebirth. 


     The Sanskrit version of the Mantra of Light is "Oṃ amogha vairocana mahāmudrā maṇipadma jvāla pravarttaya hūṃ".  Here is how it sounds when a computer chants it:Mantra_of_light.OGG  Set your player on repeat and listen for at least ten minuets to get the full effect.











Group Members

Elise Swanson-Introduction

Tobias Cragg-Iconography

Cassie Fosheim-Historical Context

John Fuhrmann-Mantra of Light


Comments (4)

Amanda Haynes said

at 12:59 pm on Apr 11, 2010

This page is very informative and well-organized. I liked that you started off with an introduction then went through each of the categories, making it easy to follow. If one thing could be improved, I think the ritual section could be expanded to include more than just the Mantra of Light. Overall, I give this page a rating of 4 out of 5.

Quang Nguyen said

at 1:17 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Well done! This is quite an interesting Bodhisattva that your group has chosen. The page layout is pleasing to the eye without using to many colors and images. I would have to agreee with Amanda on her comment on how this page is well informative and well-organized. My favorite part about this page is the mantra of light of its discussion of the rituals and customs of the mantra. In the future, maybe move the img source link to the sources section. 4/5.

zoe.tomar@... said

at 1:09 pm on Apr 12, 2010

I think your group did an excellent job describing the aspects of this Bodhisattva. It must've been difficult to write about a Bodhisattva who is the "all-encompassing Buddha." However, I think you wrote on the most important topics and didn't try to explain every single detail. It makes it much easier to comprehend

Henry said

at 3:42 pm on Apr 17, 2010

Well constructed and thorough. You have done a good job incorporating history and iconography. Several points need addressing. Myths surrounding this figure have been largely omitted, as have specific ritual approaches to veneration. Another issue is reference to esoteric Buddhism, which should be clarified. I am thinking of two phrases in particular, “Esoteric Buddhism is most popular in Japan, Korea, and Tibet. It began in Japan during the Heian Period, which took place from 794 to 1185.” If the author is speaking of Vajrayana Buddhism this statement strikes me as misinformed and possibly do to inaccurate source material. An important note for all posts; online sites (e.g. wikipedia) are, generally speaking, a good place to find sources, not citations. That said, the work here is quite good and shows much consideration and effort.
Grade: 4.0

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