Japan: Masterworks & National Treasures (Fudo-myoo)
Achala: Early Treasures
Jeff Watt 1-2022
The Buddhist deity Achala, also known as Chanda Maha Roshana, of Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism is the same deity as Fudo-myoo of Japanese Tantric Buddhism. They are both popular figures represented in art. The oldest referenced description of Achala is found in the Mahavairochana Abhisambodhi sutra (tantra) along with the accompanying early Sanskrit commentaries. The rituals, mandalas and meditation practices of Achala/Fudo-myoo still continue in both Japan and the Himalayan regions.
Video: Achala & Fudo-myoo: Key Topics for a Comparison Study
Both geographic regions created artistic depictions as painting and sculpture. Sculpture is more common and found in a variety of regional styles. Examples of early painting is less common. Himalayan regional art has the addition of textile works, produced during the Western Xia and Yuan dynasties, which are based on painted examples.
- Japanese: Painting
- Himalayan: Painting & Textiles
Japanese Buddhism primarily bases the visual depictions of Fudo-myoo on the Mahavairochana sutra, while the Buddhists of the Himalayan regions collected and added additional Sanskrit Tantric literature specific to Achala. These added texts often had iconographic differences from those earlier forms based on the Mahavairochana sutra and commentaries. Only a single example of an early sculpture from Kashmir (HAR #58341) is similar in posture to the Fudo-myoo figures of Japan. Posture is essentially the only iconographic difference between the artistic depictions of the deity and the two different geographic regions. Japanese examples are typically seated with one leg pendant the other folded.
Three Key Topics for a Comparison of Achala & Fudo-myoo:
- Original Source Text (for both Japan & the Himalayan Regions)
- Iconographic Descriptions of Achala & Fudo-myoo
- Additional Tantra Texts (Himalayan Regions)
Aside from posture, in general there are very strong visual similarities between the two figures of Achala and Fudo-myoo. Both deities are wrathful in appearance following early Indian cultural guidelines. Both deities have one face and two arms. The right hand holds a sword and the left hand a lasso. For the Japanese depictions the sword and lasso are held close to the body in a non-threatening and relaxed manner. The upper teeth are generally exposed and biting down on the lower lip.
In the early literature Achala is described as blue in colour. With Himalayan iconography a white form of the deity became popular in the 13th century with artistic example to follow. Similarly, Fudo-myoo, generally blue in colour, has a famous red and a yellow form of the deity memorialized in painting, added based on the personal experiences of the famous teacher Enchin/Chishou Dashi, Heian Period (879-1187).
A significant visual difference between the two forms of Achala/Fudo-myoo is the posture. In the post Mahavairochana sutra literature Achala is iconographically depicted as either in a kneeling posture or standing in a pose with the right leg bent and the left straight. The arms and hand attributes of Achala are described in a more dynamic action with the sword raised aloft in anticipation of striking. The left hand is held close to the heart with the fingers in a wrathful gesture and the ends of the lasso flying outward to the left and slightly upward.
Achala and Fudo-myoo are almost identical in appearance with the only real difference found in the posture of the legs and arms. The origins of the differences in posture are explained by the reliance on two different sources of Indian Sanskrit literature. The Fudo-myoo of Japanese Buddhism arises from the Mahavairochana Abhisambodhi sutra. The Achala in the art of the Himalayan regions arises almost entirely from the later Achala tantras of Sanskrit literature.