Met curator Sinéad Vilbar on inner conflict in Fudō Myōō (Achala-vidyaraja) dating back to Japan’s Heian period, in the 12th century. Fudō Myōō is the most widely represented of the Buddhist deities known as Myōō, or Kings of Brightness. A fierce protector of the Buddhist Law, he is a direct emanation of the Buddha Dainichi Nyorai, the principal Buddha of Esoteric Buddhism. The first sculptures of Fudō made in Japan were seated, but standing sculptures like this one were carved beginning in the eleventh century. Fudō uses his sword to cut through ignorance and his lasso to reign in those who would block the path to enlightenment. The heavy weight of the shoulders and back is planted firmly on the stiffened legs, appropriate for a deity whose name means the “Immovable.”

Images of Fudō are often housed in temple halls called Gomadō where a fire-burning ritual called the goma-e is performed. The ritual involves the burning of incense and other possessions to symbolically destroy defilements. This statue, originally composed of six hollowed-out pieces of wood, was formerly the central icon of the Kuhonji Gomadō in Funasaka, twenty miles northwest of Kyoto. The hall has not survived. Fudō would once have had a mandorla carved in the shape of wild flames and inserted behind him into the rock upon which he stands.

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