Today I’d like to introduce you to someone so important, she may change your life. She has been a highly revered VIP for years, and is a household name in Japan, China and India. Although she is relatively unknown to the Western world, her accolades abound. She is Kannon, the goddess of mercy. I’d like to introduce you to her because she has some real estate I think you might be interested in.
If you live in Japan, you’ve seen Kannon many, many times. You may not have even realized who she was. Just in case you’re interested, I’d like to offer a formal introduction.
Kannon presides over her Pure Land in the South called Fudaraku, an island-mountain paradise. You can catch a glimpse of this magnificent place in paintings that depict the goddess descending the mountain to welcome those who seek her salvation. She is also prominent in sculpture, and her icons grace Buddhist temples all over Japan. Many of these icons have been designated national treasures.
Kannon is a Bodhisattva, which means she has prolonged her own eternal enlightenment to stay behind and help everyone who suffers in this world. Now that’s compassion!
Twenty-nine of the temples on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage are dedicated to Kannon. Here are just a few of the legends surrounding them:
Temple No. 10, 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.
At temple No. 27, Konomineji, the image of Kannon is hibutsu, meaning it is so sacred it cannot be shown to the public.
At the southern tip of Shikoku on Cape Ashizuri, temple No. 38, Kongofukuji, sits on a cliff. Kannon worshippers would set out in boats from this coast, never to be heard from again. They left in pursuit of Kannon’s Pure Land of Fudaraku.
In the 6th century a man from Kyushu, named Mano, was 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.
Kannon is also the symbol of the divine mother. At temple No. 62, Hojuji, a Lord Ouchi’s wife prayed to Kannon for an easy childbirth. When her wish was granted, she returned the favor by writing a goeika chant in Kannon’s honor, which remains a part of this temple.
The goddess of mercy even has entire pilgrimages dedicated to her, the most famous being the Saikoku Kannon Pilgrimage in Kansai. Kannon pilgrimages have 33 sites of worship, symbolizing the goddess’s 33 different appearances she can take on to save people. Followers who visit 100 sites on combined Kannon pilgrimages can gain everlasting life. Even the founder of Zen Buddhism, Daruma (of Daruma doll fame) is considered to be an incarnation of Kannon.
Here are a few of the more popular images of Kannon which can be seen around Japan.
Senju Kannon (Kannon of a thousand arms) is the most popular of all images. She holds 1,000 implements including an arrow, spear, bell, mirror and a moon to help save you. With so many tools at her disposal (probably even cell phones and cameras these days) it is no wonder it is said that Kannon “sees all and hears all.”
Juichimen Kannon (Kannon with 11 faces)
In this manifestation, the goddess 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.
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 (Horse-headed Kannon)
Traditional affinity with warriors and samurai, 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. These days 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.
As deities often do, Kannon has adapted to modern wishes and desires by recently manifesting herself in yet another form, that of Dobutsu Shugo Kannon. While Kannon is known to protect animals, it now appears she is expanding her compassion to cats, dogs and other pets. I do hope pets are also granted eternal salvation in Kannon’s Pure Land real estate in the South.
But even after your pet dies and goes off to Fudaraku to await your arrival, there is still plenty you can do for your pet. Visiting the sacred sites of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage to pray for recently deceased relatives has a long tradition in Japan called kuyo. It is believed that praying on such a pilgrimage helps the deceased’s soul rest easier. You can now do this for your pet too. It’s called, naturally, petto kuyo.
Now that I have formally introduced you to the compassionate Kannon, goddess of mercy, it’s up to you to do the networking from here. See you in Fudaraku!