Dainichi Nyorai, The Chief Deity In Shingon Buddhism
In General Buddhism, it is said that Buddhism was taught by the
Buddha Sakyamuni. The Shingon Tradition however teaches that it
was the dharmakaya Buddha, the Tathagata Mahavairocana, and not
Íakyamuni, who taught the Shingon teachings.
Mahayana Buddhism teaches that there are three bodies (kayas)
or modes of manifestation of the principal of enlightenment in
In other words, there are three way in which we may view the Buddha,
The Enlightened One. The follower should always remember that
these three are one truth, or in the words of the Shingon Tradition,
"the three bodies are one (sanjin soku itsu)."
The dharmakaya is that aspect of the Buddha which has eternal
and unchanging existence. This is the foundation of being of all
things in the universe. It is also the underlying foundation of
being of the two other bodies of the Buddha. In the Shingon Tradition,
the dharmakaya Buddha is given the name "Mahavairocana."
The word "sambhoga" means "reward" or " recompense." When a highly
advanced Bodhisattva cultivates many religious practices, these
practice -- which are likened to a seed -- bear fruit (have their
reward) in his attainment of Buddhahood. This state of his Buddhahood
is the body of a Buddha known as sambhogakaya. In his sambhogakaya
form, the Buddha appears as very large, in his glory, surrounded
by hundreds of attendant Devas and Bodhisattvas, and dwelling
in his Pure Land. Two examples of sambhogakaya Buddhas are Amitabha,
who lives in his Pure Land, Sukhavati, and the Buddha Aksobhya,
who lives in his Pure Land Abhirati.
The Sanskrit word "Nirmana" means " a phantom" or " a ghost."
A form that is ultimately unreal, temporary, and without absolute
substance. This form that the Buddha assumes, for a while, in
order to teach sentient beings. A form that he assumes in order
to resemble those persons he is preaching to. This is the form
of the historic Buddha, the Buddha Íakyamuni. The real form of
the historic Buddha Íakyamuni, who was born in North India, who
attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, and who died at the
age of eighty, is actually that of the dharmakaya.
In Shingon Buddhism, many buddhas are enshrined as the Chief Deity
of devotion. These different buddhas each have their own unique
vows and powers to help. In other words, they lead us to salvation
through the power of their vows and compassion to save all living
beings. For example, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Kannon Bosatsu),
Bhaisjyaguru Tathagata (Yakushi Nyorai), Acala Vidyaraja (Fudo
Myoo), Shoten (Ganesa), and also Kobo Daishi can all be enshrined
as the main deity; and therefore Shingon temples have a variety
of main deities.
To explain it this way might lead one to think that the deities
in Shingon Buddhism are confusingly unsystematic, but actually
this is not the case. As indicated by the Vajradhatu and the Garbhakosa
Mandalas that are in Shingon temples, there is a system and an
interconnectedness to the deities, and it can be said that the
main objects of worship in Shingon Buddhism are these two Mandalas.
However, when we meditate on these Mandalas, we note that Mahavairocana
Buddha is at the center, and that surrounding him are all the
buddhas, bodhisattvas, and devas that are protective deities.
Each temple, according to its past relationships and lineage,
enshrines a certain deity in the Mandala as its main deity. In
all matters, Shingon Buddhism takes these Mandalas as its foundation,
and the overall main deity is Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai),
while all of the many other buddhas are emanations of Mahavairocana
Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai), which is the absolute Dharma Body, and
manifest themselves in the world in order to enlighten all living
Therefore, even though in Shingon Buddhism the overall main deity
is Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai), it is all right to
have an affinity for another buddha and call it one's main deity.
Although the main deity in each temple is different from each
other, in Shingon Buddhism the Mandalas are the main tenets, and
there is a deep significance to the fact that people can establish
their own respective deity for salvation and as their main deity.
However, we do need to touch briefly on the matter of Mahavairocana
Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) as the overall main deity and Kobo Daishi
as the main deity in Daishi belief.
The first virtue of Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) is
his universal radiance that dispels the darkness, and his ability
to destroy suffering and despair. His second virtue is that his
radiance has neither beginning nor end, and the light of his wisdom
is like the sun, which always shines regardless of whether it
is day or night. His third virtue is his ability to enlighten
living beings, and the greatness of his compassion expresses the
fact the he is the parent of life that continues to nourish all
living beings at all times. Kobo Daishi, whom we refer to as the
Daishi and enshrine as a main deity, contains all the virtues
of Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai) and saves all living
beings as a Bodhisattva eternally alive.
©1998,1999 Shingon Buddhist International Institute