Vairochana, the Great Sun Buddha

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on October 26, 2015.)

Vairocana Buddha at Longhua Temple, Shanghai

Longtime followers of this column may remember me saying (more than once!) that Vairochana is my "favorite Buddha," or even my "personal Buddha." Here's why.

The first time I saw his statue--in a museum on Mount Koya in Japan--I was immediately captivated by the mudra (ritual gesture) used to identify him in Japan and Korea. He is usually seated, one hand (usually the left) in his lap, with the index finger raised. This is encircled in the fingers of the right hand. It struck me, and I got it right away: "Apprehend the One."

Later I learned that in folk Buddhism, this was the Buddha dedicated both to my birth year (Sheep) and my birth month (July). That cinched it.

In China, he is called Dari Rulai (Great Sun Buddha) or Piluzhena Fo, a transliteration of his Sanskrit name. His mudra is different in China. His hands are clasped, with the two index fingers raised and touching. If you look carefully, though, the tips of the fingers are not even, leaving the impression that one finger is pointing at the other--again emphasizing "the One."

In some sects, Vairochana is considered to be the body of the universe, from which all things--including all Buddhas--arise. He is the "ground of being," the source of all phenomena. Some call him the "Emptiness" (interdependence) that underlies all existence.

He was once immensely popular in China, especially in the more esoteric sects: Huayan, Tiantai, and Zhenyan. This last, no longer common in China, was taken to Japan by the Tang monk Konghai to become the Shingon sect, which is still popular today.

Vairocana Buddha at Daci'en Temple, Xi'an

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