Buddhist Statues 6: Monks and Priests

Whereas many of the other Buddhist statues shown in these pages dervie from, or have their counterparts in, Buddhist effigies from other countries, these statues are unique to Japan.



A lovely late Edo statue of Nichiren (1222-1282), the founder of one of the main schools of Japanese Buddhism. He was a Buddhist monk of the Tendai school, but he left to form his own school, based on the Lotus Sutra and emphasising individual effort, rather than the saving power of the Buddha, as the key to salvation.

This statue is made of wood and measures some 12.5 cm. (5 inches) in height, 15 cm. (6 inches) with the base.


This is a little Ikkyu-san. He's not very old at all (perhaps from the 1960s or 70s), but he was the first thing I bought at a Japanese flea market, and I'm very fond of him. He's made of lacquered wood (urushi) and is about 9 cm. (3.6 inches) in height. He has a coral-red lacquer underneath a black lacquer, the idea being that as the black wears away the red lacquer will show through. Usually, it's the other way about (red lacquer on black), which is called "negoro".

Ikkyu-san (a Buddhist monk and poet who lived from 1394 to 1481) is best remembered for his wit while still a boy. For example, one day he was taken to the castle of a celebrated wit, who said he could not sleep at night for fear of a tiger and asked Ikkyu to help him. There was a large screen with a tiger painted on it in the room, and everyone was laughing at the joke, but Ikkyu san played it straight, asking for rope, which he tied into a noose. Everyone was laughing even harder as it seemed that Ikkyu-san had not caught on to the joke.

Then he dashed out into the garden and shouted, "OK! I'm ready! You chase the tiger into the garden and I'll catch him!"



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