Afro Buddha

Recently, I saw this post on Twitter from the Kyoto Tea Ceremony company about a fascinating example of Buddhist art:

This statue, found at the temple of Konkai-Komyoji in Kyoto, Japan, is of the bodhisattva named Dharmakara (Japanese: Hōzō 法蔵). According to Buddhist tradition, Dharmakara Bodhisattva later would become Amitabha (Japanese: Amida 阿弥陀) Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, and the central figure of Pure Land Buddhism, of which I am a follower.

The source for all this is from a Buddhist text called the “Larger Sutra“, more properly known as The Sutra on [the Buddha of] Immeasurable Life, which covers the origin story of Amitabha Buddha among other things. For example, regarding Dharmakara Bodhisattva, the text explains how Dharmakara was once a king many eons ago who encountered another Buddha and was very inspired to follow the Buddhist path himself:

“Then appeared a Buddha named Lokeshvararaja [“World-Sovereign], the Tathagata, Arhat, Perfectly Enlightened One, Possessed of Wisdom and Practice, Perfected One, Knower of the World, Unsurpassed One, Tamer of Men, Master of Gods and Men, Buddha and World-Honored One.

“At that time there was a king, who, having heard the Buddha’s exposition of the Dharma, rejoiced in his heart and awakened aspiration for the highest, perfect Enlightenment. He renounced his kingdom and the throne, and became a monk named Dharmakara. Having superior intelligence, courage and wisdom, he distinguished himself in the world….


….”Having spoken these verses, the Bhiksu Dharmakara said to the Buddha Lokeshvararaja, ‘Respectfully, World-Honored One, I announce that I have awakened aspiration for the highest, perfect Enlightenment. I beseech you to explain the Dharma to me fully, so that I can perform practices for the establishment of a pure Buddha-land adorned with infinite excellent qualities. So please teach me how to attain Enlightenment quickly and to remove the roots of afflictions of birth-and-death for all.'”

translation by Rev. Hisao Inagaki

The sutra then explains at length how the former-king-turned-bodhisattva Dharmakara then undertook vast lifetimes of ascetic practices to fulfill his goal (specifically 48 vows) to provide a refuge for all beings (e.g. the Pure Land). Having fulfilled these vows in the distant past, and having established the Pure Land, he becomes Amitabha Buddha, and this is the foundation of Pure Land Buddhism.

The head of curly hair that adorns this statue, and many Buddhist statues across East Asia is a form of Buddhist art and symbolism, called rahotsu (螺髪), as Kyoto Tea Company explains above.

So, the artist who made this statue meant to demonstrate through the symbolism of his huge head of hair that Dharmakara Bodhisattva, having made these grandiose vows to rescue all beings, and undertook countless practices to accomplish them, is not just a mundane buddha, but an extraordinary one.

In a more mundane level, the so called “Afro Buddha” or afuro-butsu (アフロ仏) has become a tourist attraction in Japan, and one can even find Afro Buddha goods such as candy.

So, here’s to Afro Buddha! Namu Amida Butsu! 🙏🏼

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

2 thoughts on “Afro Buddha

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: