Bishamonten is the God of War, and has existed since ancient times. The name comes from the toponymic roots of Japan - 毘貝閻魔大王, or "Bishamonten Bosatsu-ō." While this moniker is used to refer to the god in the context of Japanese Buddhism, it also often appears in other texts.
The contradiction between his figure as a wrathful deity and his role as an agent for peace has resulted in Bishamonten being associated with various other beliefs throughout history; this ended up with him being worshipped under several names.
The origins of Bishamonten can be traced to the pre-literate "Yayoi period" (300 BCE to 300 CE), when he was worshiped as Totei Bosatsu. The records of this are contained in "The Kōun Collection" (皇道書) - a collection of Chinese texts that were translated into Japanese. According to the stories, Bishamonten would appear to people who performed acts of great virtue, while simultaneously scaring away evil spirits.
Bishamonten’s Cultural Adaption
Over time, Bishamonten became known by other names in different contexts. A deity associated with agriculture, he was given the name Hachiman in Japan. He was also known as Xuan Wu in China - a name that means Black Emperor. He was named Sun Wukong in Eastern Asia - a name that means "Heavenly Monkey."
Bishamonten was worshipped by warriors of the Imperial Household Agency. A passage of the "Manjusaka" (如來書), an encyclopedia compiled in 8th century, reads: "As long as his majesty remains on earth, Bishamonten will protect him. If his majesty dies, Bishamonten will take him off to the western paradise."
Bishamonten was worshiped in a number of places throughout Japan. The most famous of these were within the Kamo Shrine and Kyoei-ji Temple in Kyoto (the "Kamakura" or "Kamakura Triad"). At the Kamo Shrine, Bishamonten was depicted in tantric form; he would be depicted towered with flames and wearing an armor.
The God of War and Asura
Bishamonten was not only the patron god of warriors, but also the defender of the righteous and guarder against evil. In this capacity, he was also associated with Asura (阿修羅); a class of Hindu deities who battled war against Deva (天人). This figure can be seen as a personification of the forces of order; as such Bishamonten is an apt patron for those who wish to maintain peace.
Bishamonten is often depicted with the emblem of the sword (剣文). This is not because he is associated with violence, but rather due to his role as defender of the virtuous. As such, anyone who wishes to protect others should imitate his practice of wielding a sword.
When about to embark on a journey or engage in battle, it is appropriate to seek protection from Bishamonten; this would be done by praying to him. This protection can also act as a blessing; anyone who wishes to be blessed should pray to Bishamonten.
Bishamonten (Japanese: 毘貝閻魔大王 “Bishamonten Bosatsu-ō”) is the deified spirit of Japan's imperial family who serves the Emperor of Japan. The Emperor is considered to be the deity's direct descendant, though neither he nor the other members of the imperial family are officially worshiped. This is a Japanese invention based on a misunderstanding of a passage in the Chinese text, The Secret History of the Northern Ming.
Bishamonten is one of the earliest deities associated with Japan's Emperors. His most important temple is located in Nara, where he was introduced as Bishamonten Bosatsu-ō (武装天皇大王). This deity is responsible for maintaining order, blessing righteous individuals and protecting historical figures; in particular, he protects warriors in battle.
Bishamonten's Other Names
While this moniker is used to refer to the god in the context of Japanese Buddhism, it also often appears in other texts. The name comes from the toponymic roots of Japan - 毘貝閻魔大王, or "Bishamonten Bosatsu-ō." Bishamon (毘貝門), on the other hand, is a variant form; this form is most commonly used in Japanese folklore and by Buddhist practitioners.
In the Zen school of Buddhism, Bishamon is a bodhisattva ("enlightened being") associated with wrathful deities. In the Shinto religion, Bishamonten is a name he uses to identify himself as a deity.
The contradiction between his figure as a wrathful deity and his role as an agent for peace has resulted in Bishamonten being associated with various other beliefs throughout history; this ended up with him being worshiped under several names.
While the story of Bishamonten is an alternative to the Japanese imperial family's official genealogy, it is not an entirely fictional tale. In ancient times, many people believed that gods actually existed and that they intervened in human life.
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