Acala Vidy^ar^aja (Fudō Myōō) and Two Attendants

Creation date
ink and color on silk
39 1/2 x 15 11/16 in. (image) 70 1/4 x 23 3/4 in. (overall)
Credit line
John Herron Fund
Accession number
Not Currently On View
purchased in Japan by J. Arthur MacLean
Reproduction of these images, including downloading, is prohibited without written authorization from VAGA.

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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