JP. = Fugen Bodhisattva (Sanskrit = Samantabhadra)
Fugen is known as the "Great Conduct" Bodhisattva, for Fugen teaches that action and conduct (behavior) are equally important as thought and meditation. Fugen encourages people to diligently practice the Buddhist precepts of charity, moral conduct, patience, and devotion. Fugen made ten vows for practicing Buddhism. Fugen is also the protector of all those who teach the Dharma (Buddhist Law). Often depicted on an elephant (traditionally a white elephant with six tusks). The six tusks represent overcoming attachment to the six senses, while the elephant symbolizes the power of Buddhism to overcome all obstacles.
Fugen is often shown holding the wish-fulfilling jewel or a lotus bud, and is sometimes seated on a lotus petal rather than atop an elephant. The lotus is a symbol of purity, and in Buddhist art, Shaka Buddha (the Historical Buddha) and other Buddhist deities are often pictured sitting or standing on a lotus or holding a lotus. Although a beautiful flower, the lotus grows out of the mud at the bottom of a pond. Buddhist deities are enlightened beings who "grew" out of the "mud" of the material world. Like the lotus, they are beautiful and pure even though they grew up in the material world. Fugen, moreover, is the patron of devotees of the Lotus Sutra, and the lotus is thus fittingly one of Fugen's main symbols.
Sanskrit Seed Syllable
for Fugen Bodhisattva
Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese Spellings
- Bodhisattva of Universal Goodness
- Bodhisattva of Great Conduct; Fugen made ten vows of practice and faith;
Fugen symbolizes praxis (i.e., the diligent practice of Buddhist tenets)
- One Who Is All-Pervadingly Good
- One Whose Beneficence is Everywhere
- Protector of Those Who Teach the Dharma (Buddhist Law)
Historical Notes. Fugen represents practice and meditation (praxis) in Mahayana Buddhism. Fugen is often accompanied by Monju Bodhisattva, who in contrast symbolizes wisdom and the enlightened mind (realization). In Japanese artwork, Fugen and Monju are often shown flanking the Historical Buddha in a grouping called the Shaka Trinity (Jp. = Shaka Sanzon), with Fugen placed to the right of the central Shaka statue and Monju situated on the left. In addition, in Asia, there is a grouping called the Four Great Bodhisattva, with each of the four symbolizing a specific aspect of Buddhism. They are Kannon Bodhisattva (compassion), Monju Bodhisattva (wisdom), Fugen Bodhisattva (praxis), and Jizo Bodhisattva (vast patience and salvation from suffering).
Fugen in Japan, Fugen as Patron of Women. Fugen probably arrived in Japan sometime in the 8th or 9th century, for Fugen was already a major deity during the last half of the Heian Period (794-1192 AD). Fugen is a central deity of the Garland Sutra (Avatamsaka Sutra; Jp. = Kegonkyou). Fugen also appears in the Lotus Sutra (Jp. = Hokkekyou, Hokke-kyou, Hokke-kyo, Hokekyo), which is one of the most important scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism throughout Asia, but especially popular and influential in Japan. According to one source:
In the Heian period, women of the Japanese court adopted a form of Buddhism based on the worship of the Lotus Sutra and Fugen Bodhisattva. The Lotus Sutra is the principle Buddhist text concerned with the salvation of women, and Fugen is the protector Bodhisattva of the disciples of the Lotus Sutra. Thus did the women of the time adopt Fugen as their protector.
Indeed, in the 12th chapter (Devadatta) of the Lotus Sutra, the daughter of the Dragon King Sagara attains enlightenment at the young age of eight, illustrating the universal possibility of Buddhahood for both men and women. In Japan, Fugen is also one of the Thirteen Buddha (Jp. = Juusanbutsu), the one who presides over the memorial service held on the 28th day following one's death. There are other forms of Fugen in Japan as well. The esoteric sects have their own special representations of Fugen in their Womb World and Diamond World mandalas. The Tendai sect invokes a variant form, the Fugen Enmei Bodhisattva, in a special rite for longevity.
Elephant Symbolism. In India, the Hindu god Ganesh (also Ganesha) is portrayed with the head of an elephant, and assists believers in overcoming all obstacles -- akin to the force of an elephant crashing through the jungle. The son of Parvati, Ganesh removes every difficulty and is invoked at the start of any new enterprise. The elephant may also symbolize unrestrained passion. Linked with Fugen Bodhisattva, the elephant symbolizes the overcoming of obstacles. In Japanese artwork, the Buddhist deity Taishakuten (Sanskrit = Indra; learn more below) is often depicted riding an elephant. This reflects Taishakuten's Hindu origin, for in India an elephant serves as the mount of Indra. In India, Indra often rides an elephant with 33 heads and 33 tusks named Erawan (Airavata). In Buddhist traditions, this symbolizes the 33 gods of the Trayastrimsha Heaven. Erawan, however, is often depicted as a three-headed elephant in artwork. The elephant is also closely associated with Shaka Buddha (the Historical Buddha). According to Buddhist mythology, when Shaka was 72 years old, his cousin and brother-in-law, the malevolent Devadatta, hoped to displace the Buddha and take over leadership of the Sangha (Buddhist community). Devadatta released an elephant maddened with alcohol upon the Historical Buddha, but the elephant was struck by Shaka's spiritual power and fell prostrate before him. Some art historians claim this is the origin of the Semui-in Mudra (the "Fear Not" hand gesture) found commonly throughout Asia on statues of the Buddha. In other lore, Queen Maya, the mother of the Historical Buddha, dreamt of an elephant before giving birth to the Buddha. In his prior lives, it is said, the Buddha was once an elephant. Elephant symbolism is also linked to Fugen Bodhisattva, who is commonly depicted riding an elephant as described in the Lotus Sutra.
Japanese Mantra for Fugen Bodhisattva
LEARN MORE ABOUT FUGEN AT THE
A-TO-Z PHOTO DICTIONARY (SISTER SITE)