Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
Fudo, one of the Five Great Kings of Light, is a manifestation of Vairocana, the Universal Buddha; he is especially worshipped in the esoteric Shingon, or True Word, school of Buddhism. His wrathful appearance, emphasized by his fierce visage and flaming halo, symbolizes Vairocana’s rage against wickedness; ignorance, that is, illusions; and the worldly desires that hinder enlightenment. His attributes are his sword of wisdom, which cuts through delusion, and a rope to bind those ruled by violent passions. His upward-protruding tooth signifies the striving for truth; the tooth pointing downward signals his concern for the suffering of beings. The seven knots of his hair, styled like a servant’s, signify his intention to help, however aggressively. Standing on a rocky base, Fudo is flanked by two attendants. Kongara doji, a pale teenage boy, holds a sharp weapon to skewer worldly passions. Seitaka doji, his skin the color of a red lotus, personifies expedient action.
All of Fudo’s seemingly contradictory aspects are specified in Buddhist writings; this image is, in effect, a pictorial text. Above all, despite his fiery and intimidating demeanor, Fudo’s mission to save humanity from evil arises from profound compassion.
[T]he secrets of the sutras . . . can be depicted in art. . . . Art is what reveals to us the state of perfection. —Buddhist priest Kukai, 774–835
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