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FUDŌ , the "Immovable One" (Skt. Acala, also Acalanātha Vidyārāja), is one of the most popular esoteric Buddhist deities in contemporary Japan. Fudō is most frequently colored black or dark blue and portrayed as sitting or standing on a large stone which, according to the commentary by Śubhākarasiha (637735), represents both the heaviness of the obscurations (Skt. kleśa ) and the immovability of the thought of awakening (Skt. bodhicitta ). This ambiguity is typical of tantric thought in which the obscurations are non-dually identical with awakening (Jpn. bonnō soku bodai ).

Fudō is encircled by flames that are produced by his state of concentration. These flames themselves are described as being "garuda-headed," that is, shaped like the head of the mythic garuda bird, said to be able to eat snakes without harm. For this reason, the garuda is taken as a symbol of the power of Buddhist teachings to transform the three poisons of ignorance, greed, and hatred. Fudō's hair is braided and hangs down on one side of his face, his eyes are crossed or bulging from anger, and two fangs emerge from his mouthusually one pointed up, the other down. He holds in his right hand a vajra (a ritual implement representing a thunderbolt) sword that cuts through the delusions of sentient beings. Sometimes a dragon is coiled around the sword. In his left hand he holds a noose which is used to pull sentient beings toward awakening. His mantra is "naumaku sanmanda bazaradan senda makaroshada sowataya un tarata kan man " (Skt. "nama samanta vajrāā caa mahāroaa sphoaya hū tra hā mā "), meaning "Praise all vajras, Violent and Exceedingly Wrathful One, destroy (all delusions)." The mudrā (yogic hand position) used in ritual for Fudō is formed by extending the fore- and middle fingers of both hands straight out, and curling the thumb, ring and little finger into the palm. The right hand is held palm down, and the left hand palm up. This represents Fudō's vajra sword and its scabbard, respectively.

He is considered to be the chief of the five Kings of Wisdom (Jpn. Godai Myōō, Skt. Vidyārāja, also translatable as "Mantra Kings" given the ambiguity of the Sanskrit vidya, meaning both wisdom and mantra ), who appear wrathful in their function as protectors of the buddhadharma. The other four Kings of Wisdom are Trailokyavijaya (Jpn. Gōzanze), Kualin (Jpn. Gundari), Yamāntaka (Jpn. Daiitoku), and Vajrayaka (Jpn. Kongoyasha). Fudō frequently appears accompanied by children, most commonly two (Jpn. Kongara and Seitaka), or eight children.

Fudō appears in both of the two maalas of the Shingon tradition, the Matrix Maala (Skt. garbhakośadhātu maala, Jpn. taizōkai mandara ) described in the Mahāvairocana sūtra, and the Diamond World Maala (Skt. vajradhātu maala, Jpn. kongōkai mandara ) described in the Vajraśekhara sūtra. In the former, below the central assembly is the "mansion of the mantra holders," within which Fudō is central.

The temple of Tōji ("Eastern Temple," Kyōtō) as redesigned by Kūkai beginning in 839 has as its altar a sculptural maala. One of the three groupings is that of the five Kings of Wisdom. Fudō is in the center, with Gōzanze to the east, Gundari to the south, Daiitoku to the west, and Kongōyasha to the north. These directions are symbolic, rather than literal, and are associated with specific colors according to the Chinese system of five elements.

Fudō also appears together with the other Kings of Wisdom at the center of the maala used in the Ninnō-kyō Hō, an elaborate esoteric rite centering on the recitation of the Benevolent Kings Sūtra (Jpn. Ninnō-kyō ). In this maala he is shown seated, with a vajra sword in his right hand, and a dharma wheel (Jpn. hōrin, Skt. dharmacakra ) in his left. Much more commonly performed today, however, is the protective fire ritual (Jpn. sokusai goma ) with Fudō as the chief deity. In the training for Shingon priests this is the final ritual practiced.

Fudō is considered to be the wrathful manifestation of Mahāvairocana Buddha, the central cult figure of Shingon Buddhism. Under the theory of "original form, trace manifestation" (Jpn. honji-suijaku ), Fudō is identified with Amaterasu, the sun goddess who is the ancestress of Japan's imperial family.

Fudō is linked with the widespread practice of cold water austerities, the practice of bathing in cold water, thought to stimulate internal energy, during which his mantra is commonly recited; the cult of Shugendō, mountain ascetics who engage in the practice (along with other austerities) are one vehicle for the spread of Fudō's popularity. Shugendō practitioners also construct large, outdoor fire rituals (Jpn. saito goma ) in which Fudō plays a central role. Such rituals continue today, both in traditional Shugendō settings and in such new religions as Agon shū.

The association of cold water austerities with Fudō is found in the literary record. For example, the Heike monogatari tells of the cold water austerities of the warrior Mongaku, who vows to stand under the waterfall at Kumano in midwinter for twenty-one days, reciting the mantra of Fudō. After eight days, Mongaku collapses a second time and is revived by Kongara and Seitaku, who reassure him that Fudō, who is residing in Tuita heaven, has heard his invocations. Now reinspired, he returns to the waters which, because of the divine protection that has been extended to him, now feel warm, though winter gales blow around him. He is able to successfully complete the twenty-one days as he had vowed.

Whereas the iconography of Fudō became fairly standardized in Japan, his appearance is more varied in the Indian sources. In addition to the one-faced and two-armed form found, for example, in the Sādhanamālā, there is a one-faced and six-armed form and a three-faced and four-armed form (both found in the Nipannayogāvalī), and a three-faced and six-armed form (found in the Piīkrama-Sādhana ). In a painting from central Tibet (c. 1200), Fudō is the central figure, depicted kneeling in a position that has his right foot and left knee on the ground (Skt. acalāsana ), and with three eyes.

Fudō is also named Caamahāroaa (the "fierce and greatly wrathful one"), the main figure of the Caama-hāroaa tantra, classified in the Tibetan system as one of the anuttarayoga tantras. In this text he teaches his consort while they are in sexual union, and is identified as a manifestation of Akobhya, whose quality is an unshakable resolve to attain awakening. It has also been suggested that Fudō is related to Śiva, for whom Acala is an epithet. They share the attribute of immovability, and the iconographic detail of dark blue or black color.


De Mallman, Marie-Thérèse. Introduction a l'Iconographie du Tântrisme Bouddhique. Paris, 1986.

Frank, Bernard. Le panthéon bouddhique au Japon: Collections d'Emile Guimet. Paris, 1991.

George, C. S. The Caamahāroaatantra: Chapters IVII. New Haven, Conn., 1974.

Izutsu, Shinryu, and Shoryu Omori. Sacred Treasures of Mount Kōya: The Art of Shingon Buddhism. Honolulu, 2002.

McCullough, Helen Craig, trans. The Tale of Heike. Stanford, Calif., 1988.

Orzech, Charles. Politics and Transcendent Wisdom: The Scripture for Humane Kinds in the Creation of Chinese Buddhism. University Park, Penn., 1998. Presents translations of the Benevolent Kings Sūtra and the Benevolent Kings rite, and a discussion of the vidyārājas in Chinese esoteric Buddhism.

Payne, Richard K. "Standing Fast: Fudō Myōō in Japanese Literature." Pacific World, The Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies 3 (1987): 5358.

Payne, Richard K. "Firmly Rooted: On Fudō Myōō's Origins." Pacific World, The Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies 4 (1988): pp. 614.

Teeuwen, Mark. "The Kami in Esoteric Buddhist Thought and Practice." In Shintō and History: Ways of the Kami, edited by John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, pp. 95116. Honolulu, 2000. Shows the interplay between the Indic Buddhist category of vidyārāja as dharma protector and indigenous Japanese category of kami as local, territorial deities.

Richard K. Payne (2005)