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Zazen Sacred Icons :: FAQ - BUDDHA

Please note that in the various schools of Mahayana (the ‘greater vehicle’) Buddhism (which includes Tibetan Buddism, Chinese Ch’an and Japanese Zen, etc.) most of the Buddhas mentioned below are recognised. Theravada (or Hinayana, ‘the lesser vehicle’ ~ the Buddhism of Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma) Buddhism just recognises Sakyamuni (and perhaps Maitreya and a few others) and so Amoghashiddi will be referred to as Sakyamuni (or Shakyamuni) with hands in Abhaya Mudra, etc., rather than Amoghashiddhi. Buddhism in Nepal has a tendency to mix and recognise both Buddhas and Hindu deities.

What and who are the 5 Dhyani Buddhas?

The 5 Dhyani Buddhas are celestial Buddhas visualised during meditation, and considered to be great healers of the mind and soul. They are not historical figures, like Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha, but transcendent beings who symbolise universal divine principles or forces.

(1) Akshobhya


Akshobhya is regarded as the second Dhyani Buddha by the Nepalese Buddhists. He originates from the blue syllable HUM. He sits in the Vajraparyanka pose and his right hand is in the Bhumisparsha (earth-touching) Mudra, calling the earth for witness (Sakyamuni usually adopts the same pose). He represents the primordial cosmic element of Vijnana (consciousness). His left hand rests in his lap, while the right rests on his right knee with the tips of the middle fingers touching the ground with the palm facing inwards. His vehicle is a pair of elephants, and his symbol is the vajra (thunderbolt). His female counterpart is Locana.

(2) Amitabha Buddha (Jap. Amida)

Amitabha is the most ancient buddha among the Dhyani Buddhas. He is said to reside in the Sukhabati heaven in peaceful meditation. He is red, originating from the red syllable HRIH. He represents the cosmic element of Sanjna (name). His vehicle is a peacock. He sits in the full-lotus posture, right leg over left, with his palms folded face up, the right on top of the left, on his lap in Samadhi Mudra. His female counterpart is Pandara. Amitabha denotes ‘boundless light’ or the incomprehensible.

(3) Amoghashiddhi Buddha

Amoghashiddhi is the fifth Dhyani Buddha. He sits in the full-lotus posture, left leg over right, with his left hand open, palm facing upwards, on his lap, and the right in the Abhaya Mudra. He represents the cosmic element of Samskara (conformation). His colour is green and his symbol is the viswa vajra or double thunderbolt. He is the embodiment of the rainy season. His vehicle is Garuda.

(4) Ratna Sambhav  Buddha

Ratna Sambhav is regarded as the third Dhyani Buddha. His symbol is the jewel and his hands are in the Varada (gift-bestowing) Mudra. He represents the cosmic element of Vedana (sensation). His colour is yellow. His female counterpart is Mamaki.

(5) Vairochana Buddha (Jap. Dainichi Nyorai)

Vairochana is regarded as the first Dhyani Buddha by the Nepalese Buddhists. He represents the cosmic element of Rupa (form). His colour is white, and his two hands are held against the chest with the tips of the thumbs and forefingers of each hand united, in the Dharmachakra (preaching) Mudra. His female counterpart is Vajradhatviswari.


What is Bhaisajya Buddha? (Jap. Yakushi Nyorai)

Bhaisajya (known as the medicine or healing Buddha) is said to dispense spiritual medicine when properly worshipped. He wears a monastic robe and is seated with legs crossed. His left hand, lying on his lap in the meditation mudra, usually holds a medicine bowl, while the right hand, in the charity mudra, holds either a branch with fruit, or the fruit alone, of myrobalam, a medicinal plant found in India.

What is Hotei? (also known as Budai, or The Laughing Buddha)

The Japanese name for the Chinese Zen Master Poe-Tai Hoshang (10th to 11th Century). Fat, grotesque and lovable, he symbolises the state of detached bliss which belongs to those who realise their Buddha Nature, or the Buddha within. He is loved the world over and worshipped by many as the God of Good Fortune (he is also regarded by some as a form of Maitreya).

What is Sakyamuni Buddha?

Gautama Buddha is believed to have had 550 incarnations. To distinguish him from all other Buddhas, he is known as Sakyamuni (sage of the Sakya Clan). He was born in 563 BC in Lumbini, Nepal, the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Mayadevi. He attained enlightenment after 6 years of meditation and fasting. He died aged 80 in Kushinagara. Usually shown seated in padmasana (lotus posture) with right hand in Bhumisparsha (earth-touching) Mudra. Sometimes shown standing with right hand in Abhaya (protecting) Mudra.

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