Decided to pull this big old dusty statue off a high shelf and take a quick test photo before going to bed. I wound up pulling out our Buddhist iconography book,* identifying the diety, then dreaming about him nearly all night long — or not quite dreaming but in that transition zone between wakefulness and sleep when the ghosts come a-callin.’
Aizen Myo-o is one of the Vidyarajas of esoteric Buddhist mythology. They are kings of mystic knowledge symbolizing the power and the victory of the Buddha** over the passions and desires. Their “irritated” expressions show the “wrath of the great compassion” that brings us the comfort of the “Good Law.”
Specifically, Aizen Myo-o represents amorous passion victorious over itself, not by suppression, but by transforming the impulse to a desire for Awakening.
His color is red, symbolizing the blood sweat of compassion. (On our statue, there are only traces of red paint remaining.) His headdress is a lion’s head — for strength. He has three eyes to see the “three worlds” (desire, form, formlessness). He has six arms: holding a lotus (calming of the senses); holding a bow and arrows (armed & dangerous and/or presiding over physical love like Cupid); holding a 5-pointed vajra (5-pointed thunderbolt scepter — 5 elements, 5 jinas, 5 sorts of wisdom***); holding a bell (calling the heart to Awakening [missing from our statue’s lowest left hand]); and making the fist of wisdom.
In my Western/Catholic mindset, I’m used to the good guys being good-looking. In esoteric Buddhism, the deities often have a wrathful version when they need to be most protective or when they need the most power to transform human obsessions to higher purposes. It reminds me that it was anger that propelled Gandhi in the non-violence movement, transforming chaotic lightning into electric power.
* Flammarion Iconographic Guides: Buddhism by Louis Frederic.
** Buddha being my shorthand here for the jinas, the Five Great Buddhas of Wisdom. Like Catholicism, Buddhism of the Northern tradition has great pantheons of saintly and angelic creatures, as well as a few demons.
***Five wisdoms vs poisons: wisdom of individuality vs desire; mirror-like wisdom vs anger/hatred; reality wisdom vs delusion; wisdom of equanimity vs greed/pride; and all-accomplishing wisdom vs envy.