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The Honzons (Main Figures)

Each temple on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku has one or more main figures on the altar of the main hall. These are called honzons (本尊, ほんぞん) or main images. Because any one figure may be found at more than one temple, there are only 15 of them at the main 88 temples. (Some of the bangai include other honzons, including a number that count Kobo Daishi himself!)

Below I have given you:
  • a picture, scanned from the cards handed out at each temple (the image of Kobo Daishi is from A Henro Pilgrimage to the 88 Temples of Shikoku Island Japan by Bishop Taisen Miyata);
  • the figure's name, in Japanese romaji (Roman characters), then in Sanskrit and/or English, then in Japanase kanji (Chinese characters) and hiragana (a phonetic syllabary);
  • a brief description;
  • the mantra or chant to go with that figure (these are usually transliterated from Sanskrit, and have no meaning in Japanese); and
  • a list of temples at which the figure is found.

A bit more about the mantras: the syllabification is meaningless, as the words are meaningless. For example, here's the mantra for Shaka Nyorai, the historical Buddha, in Japanese:
Nomaku sanmanda, bodanan, baku!
And here it is in Sanskrit:
namaḥ samanta buddhānāṃ bhaḥ
Now, the Sanskrit has meaning; it could be translated "Homage to all the Buddhas" (with a little cry at the end). The Japanese is merely imitative of this, and so I have decided to eliminate any distinction of words and just list the syllables phonetically. I have also eliminated any commas etc., and may not have been too careful about distinguishing syllables from diphthongs (is it "ei" or "e-i"? "Ran" or "ra-n"? I don't know. Shoganai!) So the above mantra looks like this:
That should do.

All righty, then. Here they are.

Shaka Nyorai (Shakyamuni Buddha, 釈迦如来, しゃかにょらい)
  • This is the historical Buddha, the "Sage of the Shakya Clan," and the only figure on this list that can be said to have truly existed. All of Buddhism is derived from his teachings.
  • Mantra: No-ma-ku-san-man-da-bo-da-nan-ba-ku!
  • Found at Temples 1, 3, 9, 49, 73 (Card from Temple 1, Ryozen-ji)

Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Buddha, 阿弥陀仏, あみだぶつ)
  • This ahistorical "Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life" is one of the most popular figures in East Asian Buddhism. He is said to take faithful believers to a Western Pure Land, where they can continue to practice until the achieve enlightenment. The popular Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (known in Japan as Kannon) is a compassionate emanation of this Buddha.
  • Mantra: On-a-mi-ri-ta-tei-sei-ka-ra-un.
  • Found at Temples 2, 7, 30, 47, 53, 57, 64, 68, 78 (Card from Temple 2, Gokuraku-ji)

Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairochana Buddha, 大日如来, だいにちにょらい)
  • The "Great Sun Buddha," this ahistorical figure's body is said to constitute the whole universe.
  • Mantra: On-a-bi-ra-un-ken-ba-za-ra-da-to-ban!
  • Found at Temples 4, 28, 42, 60, 61, 72 (Card from Temple 4, Dainichi-ji)

Jizo Bosatsu (Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva, 地蔵菩薩, じぞうぼさつ)
  • This "Earth Store Bodhisattva" vowed to save all beings from hell (actually, six hells, depending on whether the being is a god, human, animal, etc.) As such, he is especailly associated with the dead, including aborted fetuses.
  • Mantra: On-ka-ka-ka-bi-san-ma-ei-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temples 5, 19, 20, 25, 56 (Card from Temple 5, Jizo-ji)

Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaishajyaguru, 薬師如来, やくしにょらい)
  • The "Medicine Buddha" is associated with healing of the body, and presides over the eastern Pure Land (analogous to the Western Pure Land of Amida Nyorai).
  • Mantra: On-ko-ro-ko-ro-sen-da-ri-ma-tou-gi-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temples 6, 11, 15, 17, 18, 22, 23, 26, 33, 34, 35, 39, 40, 46, 50, 51, 59, 67, 74, 75, 76, 77, 88 (Card from Temple 6, Anraku-ji)

Senju Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva with a Thousand-Arms, 千手観音, せんじゅかんのん)
  • This particular manifestation of Kannon--the Bodhisattva of Compassion--is shown with a thousand arms to indicate the myriad ways he/she can help those in need. (Sometimes the "thousand" is represented by 40, or even fewer.)
  • Mantra: On-ba-sa-ra-ta-ra-ma-ki-ri-ku!
  • Found at Temples 8, 10, 16, 29, 38, 43, 58, 66, 71, 81, 82, 84 (Card from Temple 8, Kumadani-ji)

Kokuzo Bosatsu (Akashagarbha Bodhisattva, 虚空蔵菩薩, こくうぞうぼさつ)
  • A relatively rare figure, this "Bodhisattva of Empty Space" is one of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas. A vision of Kokuzo Bosatsu led Kobo Daishi to travel to China to seek further teachings.
  • Mantra: Nou-bou-a-kya-sha-kya-ra-ba-ya-on-a-ri-kya-ma-ri-bo-ri-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temples 12, 21, 24 (Card from Temple 12, Shosan-ji)

Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya Bodhisattva, 弥勒菩薩, みろくぼさつ)
  • This is the "Buddha-to-be," the Buddha of the next age. He lived at the time of Shaka Nyorai, and was identified by the Buddha as the coming one. (In China, he is often seen as the fat, happy "Laughing Buddha." In Japan, not so much.)
  • Mantra: On-mai-ta-rei-ya-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temple 14 (Card from Temple 14, Joraku-ji)

Juichimen Kannon Bosatsu (Eleven-Headed Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, 十一面観音菩薩, じゅういちめんかんのんぼさつ)
  • As the Thousand-Armed Kannon has many ways to help, so the Eleven-headed one has many ways to perceive tose who need help. Eleven heads = 22 eyes and 22 ears!
  • Mantra: On-ro-ke-jim-ba-ra-a-ran-ja-ki-ri-ku! Or On-ma-ka-kya-ro-ni-kya-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temples 13, 27, 32, 41, 44, 48, 52, 62, 65, 79, 80, (84), 86 (Card from Temple 13, Dainichi-ji)

Fudo Myoo (Achalanatha, 不動明王, ふどうみょうおう)
  • Fudo is a fierce deity who protects the Buddha, his teachings, and his followers. His name means "unmovable"--not able to be deflected from his duty.
  • Mantra: No-ma-ku-san-man-da-ba-sa-ra-dan-sen-da-ma-ka-ro-sha-da-so-wa-ta-ya-un-ta-ra-ta-kan-man!
  • Found at Temples 36, 37, 45, 54 (Card from Temple 36, Shoryu-ji)

Monju Bosatsu (Manjushri Bodhisattva, 文殊菩薩, もんじゅぼさつ)
  • Monju is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, a counterpart to the compassion of Kannon.
  • Mantra: On-a-ra-ha-sha-no!
  • Found at Temple 31 (Card from Temple 31, Chikurin-ji)

Daitsu Chisho Butsu (Mahabhijnajnanabhibhu, , 大通智勝仏, だいつうちしょうふつ)
  • Almost unknown in modern practice, he is one of the ancient Buddhas that preceded Shaka Nyorai.
  • Mantra: Na-mu-dai-tsu-chi-sho-bu-tsu!
  • Found at Temple 55 (Card from Temple 55, Nanko-bo)

Bishamon Ten (Vaishravana, 毘沙門天, びしゃもんてん)
  • The most popular (in Japan) of the Four Heavenly Kings often found guarding temples or the Buddha (in statue form) himself.
  • Mantra: On-bai-shi-ra-man-da-ya-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temple 63 (Card from Temple 63, Kichijo-ji)

Sho Kannon Bosatsu (Arya Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, 聖観音菩薩, しょうかんのんぼさつ)
  • This is the primary, "uninflected" form of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It simply means something like "Holy Kannon."
  • Mantra: On-a-ro-ri-kya-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temples 69, 83, 85, 87 (Card from Temple 69, Kannon-ji)

Bato Kannon Bosatsu (Horse-Headed Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, 馬頭観音菩薩, 観音菩薩)
  • As one might suspect when a horse's head is added to a holy figure, this form of Kannon is especially compassionate regarding the welfare of animals, particularly horses.
  • Mantra: On-a-mi-ri-to-do-han-ba-un-pat-ta-so-wa-ka!
  • Found at Temple 70 (Card from Temple 70, Motoyama-ji)

Kukai, known as Kobo Daishi (Sky/Sea, Master Who Spreads Teachings Widely; 空海, 弘法大師; くうかい, こうぼうだいし)
  • This historical monk (774-835) was born on the Japanese island of Shikoku. As a young monk he traveled to China to study, and came back as a master of Shingon Buddhism. Legend says the 88 Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku was founded by him; certainly he frequently traveled and practiced on the island. He founded the monastic complex on Mount Koya in Japan--the center of Shingon Buddhism-where he died and where his remains sit in state.
  • Mantra: Na-mu-dai-shi-hen-jo-kon-go!
  • Found mainly at various bangais, including all of those I visited (see the Guide for locations).

Updated October 15, 2019

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