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Who's Who - Classifying Deities

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Who is Who Among the Buddhist Deities - Learn how to classify the deities


Buddha (Nyorai, Tathagata) List
Bodhisattva (Bosatsu) List
Others, Deva (Tenbu), Myo-o
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Butsuzou -- Japanese for "Buddha Statues"

Japanese term
"Buddha Statue"

Ceramic Incense Burner - Details Here !! (Gassho Praying Hands Design)
Incense Burner
Details Here


spacer1INTRO PAGE. Buddhist deities are traditionally classified by art scholars into four main categories, and the same scheme is used here. Nearly all Buddhist deities originated in India, where Buddhism was born around 500 BC. Buddhism in Asia arrived last in Japan, reaching its shores in the early 6th century AD. The Mahayana form in particular spread throughout the Japanese islands. Even today, Japanese statuary primarily reflects Mahayana traditions. Artwork belonging to Theravada and Vajrayana (Esoteric) traditions is less prominent, but it is nonetheless plentiful, especially in the sculpture and mandala of Japan's Esoteric sects.

Standard Japanese Classification of Buddhist DeitiesJump to Learn More Section to explore the Three Main Schools of Buddhism in Asia

Overview of Buddha Concept and Iconography

The highest rank. Buddha is the past participle of Sanskrit buddh (to awaken, to know), and is translated as "one who has awakened to the truth." Buddha is not a personal name. It is an honorific term, like messiah or Christ (the anointed one). Another common Sanskrit term for Buddha is Tathagata. In Japan, Tathagata is rendered as "Nyorai," an honorific title given to those who have attained enlightenment. There are many Buddha in Mahayana traditions. The Historical Buddha (a real person who lived around 500 BC) is one of the most widely recognized in Asia and worldwide. Statues of the various Buddha share common attributes. First, they are generally simple, without jewelry or princely clothes. Second, most Buddha statues are depicted with elongated ears (all-hearing), a bump atop the head (all-knowing), and a boss in the forehead (all-seeing). Third, they are portrayed with characteristic hand gestures (mudra). In contrast, artwork of the Bodhisattva (see below) typically includes jewelry, princely clothes, and elaborate headdresses.


spacer1Buddha Statues in eStore
Listed by Japanese Name

Nyorai = Japanese term for Tathagata, an honorific title for Buddha
Jp. = Nyorai
Ch. = Rúlái
Meaning = Tathagata, Buddha

Overview of Bodhisattva Concept and Iconography

The penultimate state of enlightenment, just prior to Buddhahood. The Sanskrit term Bodhisattva (bodhi = wisdom, sattva = being) means "those seeking enlightenment." In Japan, Bodhisattva is rendered as "Bosatsu." The Bodhisattva will certainly attain Buddhahood, but for a time, they delay Buddha status, and instead remain on Earth in various guises (manifestations, emanations, reincarnations) to help each of us achieve salvation. All Bodhisattva are motivated by compassion, by the desire to "benefit others" -- indeed, the highest aspiration of the Bodhisattva is to save all sentient beings. The term has other meanings, but the above Mahayana concept is the most widely known. In contrast, followers of Theravada Buddhism revere only the Historical Buddha, and do not pay homage to the numerous Buddha and Bodhisattva venerated by Mahayana followers. While images of the Buddha are generally unadorned, statues of the Bodhisattva typically appear with princely clothes and jewelry -- as many as 13 ornaments, including crowns, earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, and anklets. The Bodhisattva can sometimes be recognized by the objects they carry and the creatures they ride. They share only one of the 32 physical attributes of the Buddha -- the elongated earlobes.


spacer1Statues in eStore
Listed by Japanese Name

Bosatsu - Japanese Spelling of Sanskrit Bodhisattva
Jp. = Bosatsu
Ch. = Púsà
Meaning = Bodhisattva

Overview of Myo-o and Deva Concepts and Iconography

Myō-ō is the Japanese term for Sanskrit "Vidyaraja," a group of warlike deities known in English as the Mantra Kings, the Wisdom Kings, or Wrathful Forms. Myo-o statues appear ferocious and menacing, with threatening postures and faces designed to subdue evil and frighten unbelievers into accepting Buddhist law. They remove all obstacles to enlightenment and represent the luminescent wisdom of Buddhism. Introduced to Japan in 9th century, the Myo-o were originally Hindu deities that were adopted into Esoteric Buddhism to vanquish blind craving. They serve and protect the various Buddha, especially Dainichi Buddha. In many traditions, they are considered emanations of Dainichi, and represent Dainichi's wrath against evil and ignorance. In Japan, the Myo-o group is worshipped mostly by the Shingon Sect of Esoteric Buddhism, but among the individual Myo-o, the one named "Fudo" is widely venerated throughout Japan. 


spacer1Statues in eStore
Listed by Japanese Name

Myou-ou - Japanese term for Sanskrit Vidyaraja
Japanese term
for Vidyaraja

Overview of Myo-o and Deva Concepts and Iconography

Hindu deities and non-human entities who converted to Buddhism after hearing the teachings of the Historical Buddha. Like the Myo-o, they stand guard over the various Buddha and protect Buddhist Law. The Sanskrit term DEVA is translated as TEN in Japan, meaning "Celestial Beings." The term BU means "grouping." Thus TENBU literally means "Group of Celestial Beings." The Tenbu grouping includes the Deva and many other divine entities, including creatures like the Dragon. Most originated in ancient Indian myths, but once incorporated into Buddhism, they became protectors of Buddhist Law. The Tenbu appear in great number in the mandala scrolls and paintings of Japan's Esoteric sects.


spacer1Statues in eStore
Listed by Japanese Name

Tenbu - Japanese term for Sanskrit DEVA
Japanese for Deva Group


The deities listed above often serve as members in a variety of special Buddhist groupings. The Zodiac Grouping of Eight Guardian Deities is one such group, still widely recognized, although the peak of its popularity occurred in Japan's Edo Period (1603 - 1867 AD). Each of the Eight Guardians is linked to one (or two) of the 12 zodiac animals, to one of the 8 directions and semi-directions, and to one of the 10 calendar signs. The Zodiac originated in China centuries before the birth of Buddhism. Based on Chinese cosmology and divination, the Zodiac grew more elaborate over time. It was used to count years, months, days and hours, to forecast the future, to tell fortunes, and to determine personality types based on one's animal birth year. Its importance in China ensured its acceptance elsewhere, and for many centuries the Zodiac served as the preeminent calendar of Asia. Many Buddhist traditions in China and Japan were influenced by Zodiac concepts -- e.g., notions about auspicious or inauspicious times. Even now, temples and shrines perform many of their services and festivals on specific Zodiac days. Amulets of the eight can still be found quite frequently at Japanese temples, where they are sold for double or triple the price offered in our estore. To find your Buddhist Guardian Deity (based on your year of birth), please visit the Zodiac Page.


spacer1Zodiac Amulets in eStore
Listed by Japanese Name

Eight Guardians of the Zodiac (Jp. = Hachi Hogo Butsu, Hattai Butsu, Shugo Honzon, Jyuunishi Mamori Honzon
Hachi Hogo Butsu
Hattai Butsu, Shugo Honzon
Jyuunishi Mamori Honzon
Japanese terms for
the Eight Zodiac Guardians


Large wooden Buddha statues, standing or sitting on lotus petal

Praying Hands - Folds open/shut to reveal two deities inside

Pocket-sized Zodiac Amulets; Buddhist Protectors of the Zodiac

Miniature Wooden Statuette

Large wooden statues made of White Fir and hand carved

Praying Hands Form - Opens up to reveal two deities inside

Pocket-sized,  Buddhist Protectors of the Zodiac

Thumb-sized miniature wooden Buddhist amulets

DEITIES AND STYLES. Our regular lineup of hand-carved Buddhist deities are based on templates and standardized styles. Nonetheless, each statue is unique, for the very nature of handicraft production means that slight variations will occur in every carving. Thus, the statue you order will not look "exactly" like the photo in our estore. We inspect all pieces for artistic merit and quality before shipping to the customer, and refuse to sell inferior carvings. We handle numerous Buddhist deities and offer most deities in two, three, or more different styles. Our mainstay styles are:    

  1. Bodhisattva with Hands in Veneration (Praying) MudraLarge Standing-or-Sitting Style (Wood)
  2. Hand-Size Folding Style; Praying-Hands Shape Opens/Closes (Wood)
  3. Numerous AMULET style statuary
  4. Thumb-Size Miniature Style (Wood)
  5. Some Deities are Available in Glassware or Ceramic Styles

ICONOGRAPHY AND ARTISANS. Our regular offerings are hand-carved both in China and Japan, but most are crafted by master artisans in China, a nation that has enormously influenced the development of Buddhist art and faith in Japan. Even so, Japan's artistic sensibilities are different from those of China, and we have commissioned the carving of our statues for the Japanese market. Thus, the iconography of our regular lineup closely reflects the Buddhist artistic traditions of the Japanese, not the Chinese. Details about each item are presented on the product pages, so you always know what you are buying. Finally, we occasionally find wonderful statues at flea markets in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. These latter statues are offered in the Flea Market section. They are not based on template designs, nor offered again once sold.

CUSTOMIZE YOUR ORDER. If you cannot find the Buddhist statue you desire in our eStore, but would like to inquire about its availability, please ask. We can either locate or commission the carving of the statue. Please bear in mind that such statues typically cost more than our regular offerings. We will inform you of statue availability, time required, size options, wood options, and pricing. You will be given the opportunity to proceed with your customized order or to decline our offer. Please be patient. It may take one or two weeks before we can determine product availability for customized orders. To contact us with customization inquiries, click here.

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