Taishakuten (帝釈天)

Taishakuten is one of the Tenbu, deities of Buddhism who reside in a heavenly realm, this being one of six realms in which the souls of living beings transmigrate from one to another. It is the war god of Brahmin, Hindu and Zoroastrianism and the same god as Indra that is seen in the clauses of Hittite. It is also called Shaku Daikanin. Shaku is Azana, and Daikanin means "most high." It is often shown as a pair of statues with Bonten (Brahma), a major Hindu deity thought to be responsible for creating the world. It is the husband of Sachi, a daughter of Ashura.


The name of Taishakuten (帝釈天) originated from Indra's name, Sakro Devanam Indrah, as follows: Sakuro is transliterated to 釈, Devanam is translated freely to 天, and Indrah is translated freely to 帝 and placed first.

Originally, Indra was a war god that fought with Ashura, but it became one of the two good major deities of Buddhism with Bonten after it was incorporated to Buddhism, and it was considered to have helped Shaka before gaining enlightenment and hearing its preaching (see the article on Indra).

It is said that it has some followers such as the Shitenno (four guardian kings) and lives at Zenken-jo Castle atop Mt. Shumisen (the Touriten). There are Buddhist pictures of Indra, in which Taishakuten, who follows Shaka, has been drawn.

In Vol. 33 of Nehan-kyo Sutra (The Sutra of the Great Nirvana) and Vol. 56 of Daichidoron, there is a description that Taishakuten was called Kyoshika (Kauśika)when he was a human. In ancient times, in Mahadh there was a Brahmin whose first name was Maka and family name was Kyoshika, and who did good deeds (福徳) and had great wisdom. He had 32 acquaintances and friends with whom to learn and do good deeds, and after death he was reborn in the second world above on the top of Mt. Shumisen. Maka Brahmin became most high, and 32 acquaintances and friends became ministers to give advice so that 33 (including him) are called the 33 Ten. For this reason Shaka Buddha calls him Kyoshika, his true name. Moreover, his wife Sachi is in some cases called Mrs. Kyoshika.

In Japan it is often expressed as a statue with two upper arms (二臂像), its hair tied in a treasure bun (宝髻) atop the head, and dressed in Chinese formal clothes. In some cases he wears armor under the clothes and has a kongosho or a lotus root in his hand.

In Mikkyo (Esoteric Buddhism) there are some examples in which he has one face and two upper arms (一面二臂) with a crown on the head, armor on the body and a tokkosho, a pestle with a single sharp blade at each end--this being considered an attribute of Buddhist guardian figures as well as a symbolic item of Esoteric Buddhism--in his hand. The other figure depicts him riding a white elephant.

Taishakuten in Japan

The oldest work in Japan is seen in 'the picture of Seshin Monge, giving up the body to hear a verse of scripture,' drawn on Tamamushi no zushi, the Beetle Wing Shrine, (Asuka period) at Horyu-ji Temple. At Jiki-do in Horyu-ji Temple were placed statues of Bonten and Taishakuten (Nara period) (currently placed at Dai-Hozo-In (Great Treasure Gallery). At Hoke-do (Sangatsudo) in Todai-ji Temple there are statues of Bonten and Taishakuten of kanshitsu-zukuri, done in the dry lacquer technique (Nara period). At Toshodai-ji Temple Kondo there are wooden statues of Bonten and Taishakuten (Nara period).
At the Toji Lecture Hall, in Kyoto, there is a wooden statue on a white elephant, which is characteristic of Mikkyo.(first stage of the Heian period)

In Japan, Ennichi (Hoping) is held on Koshin Day.

For an example of the temple where Taishakuten is enshrined, Shibamata Taishakuten (Daikyo-ji Temple) in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, has been made famous by the movie "Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo (It's Tough Being a Man)." Since the lost Ita-honzon (wooden main deity) of Taishakuten was discovered during the restoration of the main hall of Daikyo-ji Temple one Koshin Day in the latter half of the eighteenth century, Ennichi became to be held on Koshin Day (for details, see "Shibamata Taishakuten").

The Dankun myth in Korea and Taishakuten

In the Dankun myth, which originated in the Goryeo period of Korea, Dankun, a founder of Dankun (Korea) is regarded as a son who was born from Kanyu, a bastard child of Taishakuten (Kanin in 'Sangokuiji'), and a woman that had humanized from a female bear.

[Original Japanese]