Sunday, July 22, 2007
The Nio (Benevolent Kings) are a pair of protectors who stand guard outside the temple gate at most Japanese Buddhist temples, one on either side of the entrance. In Japan, the gate itself is often called the Nio-mon (literally Nio Gate). Their fierce and threatening appearance wards off evil spirits and keeps the temple ground free of demons and thieves. In some accounts, the Nio were said to have followed and protected the historical Buddha when he traveled throughout India. They have since been adopted by the Japanese into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon. Each is named after a particular cosmic sound. The open-mouthed figure is called "Agyo," who is uttering the sound "ah," meaning birth. His closed-mouth partner is called "Ungyo," who sounds "un" or "om," meaning death. Other explanations for the open/closed mouth include: (1) mouth open to scare off demons, closed to shelter/keep in the good spirits; (2) "Ah" is the first letter in the Sanskrit alphabet and "Un" is the last (same in Japanese syllabary too), so the combination symbolically represents all possible outcomes (from alpha to omega) in the cosmic dance of existence. At some Buddhist temples, the Nio guardians are replaced with a pair of mythical and magical Shishi Lion-Dogs -- one with mouth open, the other closed.
Posted by Stuart Vickers at 1:23 PM
Says the Flammarion Iconograhic Guide: "These two guardian kings are Vajradharas (lit. holders of vajras, thunderbolt holders, called Shukongo-jin or Shitsukongou-shin in Japan). Or they may be a type of Raksa (man-eating demons of Indian folklore). In Esoteric Buddhism, they represent two aspects of Vairocana (Dainichi Nyorai). In this respect, they are sometimes confused with the wrathful forms of Fudo Myoo and Aizen Myoo. Although similar to these latter forms, they are in fact distinct from them." Says the Flammarion Iconograhic Guide: "These two guardian kings are Vajradharas (lit. holders of vajras, thunderbolt holders, called Shukongo-jin or Shitsukongou-shin in Japan). Or they may be a type of Raksa (man-eating demons of Indian folklore). In Esoteric Buddhism, they represent two aspects of Vairocana (Dainichi Nyorai). In this respect, they are sometimes confused with the wrathful forms of Fudo Myoo and Aizen Myoo. Although similar to these latter forms, they are in fact distinct from them."
Posted by Stuart Vickers at 1:22 PM
One guardian mouths "ahhh"—referring to the beginning of the cosmos.
The other guardian mouths "mmmm"—the end of the cosmos.
Together, these two sounds symbolize the beginning and ending of the cosmos.
Posted by Stuart Vickers at 1:16 PM
In both cases these figures originally would have been brightly colored. Originally, the dhoti would have been brilliantly painted—often with decorative roundels or other painted patterns that served to suggest foreign fabric. And their skin also would have been pigmented: red for the figure on the right, and green for the figure on the left. They're in very active postures, and the sculptors carved the dhoti as if they were fluttering about—activated by the guardian's cosmic fury. Typically too, each guardian would have held a weapon in his hand—usually a staff with avajra-shaped (pronunciation: "VAHJ-rah"), or stylized thunderbolt, finial.
Posted by Stuart Vickers at 1:13 PM
They typically flank the entrance gate to Buddhist temples—one on each side of the opening.
Their duty is to protect the complex, the monks, and the worshippers from harm, but
more generally to challenge anyone or anything that would contradict the Buddha's
teachings. Consequently, unlike Buddhas who are often depicted in a state of meditative bliss—
suggestive of their passage into nirvana—guardian figures are shown in threatening
postures, revealing their involvement with the more mundane task of protecting the faith.
They're fantastically muscled—and their robes are removed from their torsos in the Indian
dhoti (pronunciation: "DOH-tee") fashion. In this regard, they would have seemed very
exotic and foreign to the Japanese, and consequently very frightening.
Posted by Stuart Vickers at 1:11 PM
Nio (pronunciation: "nee-OH"), literally,"Two Kings."
Within the vast Buddhist pantheon, the Nio are members of a group of heavenly beings,
known as devas that generally serve Buddhism as guardians or attendants to Buddhas or bodhisattvas. Devas that serve in the role of guardians are typically represented as ferocious beings withagitated bodies and scowling faces.
Posted by Stuart Vickers at 1:05 PM