Japan Temples and Shrines

Kannon – goddess of compassion and mercy

One of the most common figures encountered in Japanese temples is Kannon-sama, in English, the goddess of compassion and mercy and in Japanese as Kanzeon Bosatsu. Like Jizo, Kannon is not a Buddha, but a Bodhisattva, a being who is able to achieve Nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings. Kannon is extremely popular in Japan, mostly because she is atributted to answering many prayers and many miracles. Many temples are named after her, Kannon-ji, and no fewer than twenty-nine of the temples on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage are dedicated to her.

There are many legends surrounding her. At Temple No. 10 on Shikoku, Kirihataji, is famous for the story of a beautiful young woman who wove cloth for the priest Kobo Daishi during his seven-day ascetic practice there. Upon completion, the woman told him of her loyalty to Kannon and the Daishi carved a statue of Kannon, “bowing three times before each cut of the blade into the sacred wood.” When he finished, the girl asked the Daishi to ordain her a Buddhist nun, and as he did, she was transformed into Kannon herself. Another tells of a man from Kyushu, named Mano, was, in the 6th century, saved by Kannon from a shipwreck while en route to Osaka. He thanked Kannon for her supreme intervention by building temple No. 52, Taisanji, for her.

Outwardly Kannon is manifested in many forms,

Senju Kannon (Kannon of a thousand arms) is the most popular of all images. She holds 1,000 tools including an arrow, spear, bell, mirror and a moon to help save you and it is said that Kannon “sees all and hears all.”

Juichimen Kannon (Kannon with 11 faces), carries juzu prayer beads, a lotus flower and a weapon. She forms the mudra with her hands that means “fearless.” She offers recovery from sickness, rescue from poison and protection from fires, among other things. Her worshippers enjoy the protection of Buddha.

Sho Kannon The most distinguished of the Kannon Bodhisattvas holds an unopened lotus in one hand, which represents the Buddha nature in us all, waiting to flower. Her other hand is open ready to rescue her followers.

Bato Kannon, the horse-headed Kannon. It is said, that those who worship Bato Kannon are protected from calamities, sickness and accidental death. This Kannon is depicted as having the head of a horse, and is seated on a lotus petal, holding fighting implements. Bato Kannon is popular among soldiers, seafarers and construction workers. Farmers have also been known to pray to Bato Kannon for the health of their horses and cows. In the below picture, Bato Kannon is on the right, Sho kannon in the middle and Senju kannon on the left.

Jibo Kannon is most often are visualized wearing white robes and holding a baby, whilst Byakue Kannon prevents disasters and aids in fertility, childbirth, and the raising of children. Many forms of Kannon exhibit motherly attributes.

The popularity of Kannon led to the creation of pilgrimages to Kannon temples. The pilgrimage covers mostly 33 temples, as a sutra mentions that Kannon takes on 33 different manifestations.

The oldest such pilgrimage, and possibly the oldest circuit pilgrimage in Japan, is the Saigoku which covers 1,100 kilometers in what is now Wakayama, Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Hyogo, and Gifu prefectures.

Later copies of the pilgrimage were made in different areas around Japan, some over a thousand kilometers long, other regional ones only a couple of hundred kilometers or less.

Information for this blog taken from https://www.japanvisitor.com and https://www.japantimes.co.jp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *