The text on this page is used with permission from Oxford University Press from A Dictionary of World Mythology by Arthur Cotterell.
- Of all the deities in the Japanese Buddhist pantheon, 'the Buddha of the
Infinite Light' approaches the closest to an exalted yet personal god.
Amida-nyorai is the Japanese Amitabha, who the dying devotee thinks of as
Benten - In Japanese folklore Saraswati, the Hindu river goddess, was transformed as Benton into the genius of music, the guardian of eloquence, and the giver of wealth. As a deity of good fortune, she had been quite popular and there are many local legends that tell of her and her shrines.
Bishaman-tenno - One of the celestial guardians of the world, he was successfully reincarnated by Prince Shotou in 587 during a campaign against the anti-Buddhist clans of Japan.
Bodhidharma - Ta-mo of China, Daruma of Japan and the founder of the Ch'an Tsung or 'inner-light school' of Buddhism. The sect was one of the most distinctive and original products of the Chinese mind, while its culmination as Zen in Japan has had a profound effect of both East and West Asia.
Buga - Literally, 'god'. The supreme deity of the Tungus people in Siberia. Buga created the first people out of iron, fire, water and earth.
Dainichi-nyorai - The Buddha Mahavairocana, the 'great illuminator', was the special form of the Enlightened One for the Shingon sect. He is depicted as seated in deep serene contemplation on a white lotus; around him raged his emanations, stretching outward through bodhisattvas and saints to the myriad beings which compromise the universal order. It is possible to evoke magical powers that allow Dainichi-nyorai to realize his presence on earth.
Erlanga - The only Balinese prince to govern the islands of both Bali and Java. His eventful life encouraged the accretion of legend, so that his death image was made in the shape of Vishnu seated on the sun-bird, Garuda. Erlanga was an incarnation of Vishnu.
Erlik - In Siberian mythology Erlik was the spirit of evil who was sometimes thought of as the primeval man fallen from grace. In Lapp mythology, he was always the lord of the underworld; the monstrous guardian of departed souls. The Black Tartars believe that the spittle of Erlik was responsible for the present appearance of mankind.
Fudo-myoo - The guardian of wisdom, 'the unshakable spirit'. One of several forces or formulae personified in Japanese Buddhism. Fudo-myoo, and intense saver of souls, is the friend of the ascetics.
Fugen-bosatu - In Japan the bodhisattva Samantbhadra, who will be the final Buddha. He is a young man seated on an elephant, white with six tusks. He either carries a lotus flower or, like Avalokitesvara, has his hands joined together. Fugen-bosatu appeared as a monk courtesan, thereby revealing that buddhahood was potential in all beings.
Fujiyama - The troubles of medieval was a prime cause in the revival in the Shinto belief. Mount Fuji was the abode of the supreme deity and thus, Fujiyama became the protector of the nation. Mount Fuji is only to be climbed after ritual purification.
Gimokodan - The nether world of Bagobo tribes of Mindanao in the Philippines. A giant female resides in the dark river that surrounds this place. Her body is covered with nipples and she suckles infants before they pass on. Gimokodan is divided into two parts. The red is for those killed in combat and the white is for those killed in the normal world except everything is reversed.
Hachiman - The Shinto war god, a popular deity in Japan. While the favorite of soldiers, Hachiman is also worshipped as a protector of life, especially children, as the god of agriculture and as the guardian deity of the Archipelago. In 783, he was styled a bodhisattva.
Hari-Hara - Literal meaning, 'grower-remover' Hari is a popular name for Vishnu and Hara is a popular name for Shiva and together they symbolize the great opposites, creation-destruction, life-death: the intimate harmony of the two supreme, antagonist divine principles. Visually Hari-Hara is Shiva on the right and Vishnu on the left. Examples are found in the temples of Cambodia, a once renowned Hindu-Buddhist area.
Hou T'u - The agricultural culture of China is clearly seen in the worship given to Hou T'u. The name means 'prince of the earth'. Every village possessed a shrine to honor Hou T'u, with the shrines being larger for bigger cities so the public cult could worship.
Hsien - Literally 'an immortal', living on or above the earth, but within natural things. Hsien was a material immortality in which the body was still needed, however preserved in a 'lightened' form. Hsien were Taoist immortals who were supposed to have partaken in the elixir of life and were portrayed as feathered men.
Huang-ti - Literally, 'yellow emperor'. Huang-ti is the patron saints of all Taoists and is associated with Lao-tzu. Huang-ti is among the most ancient of the legendary emperors but among the last to be invented. Haung-ti attained perfection, within and without and is the cultural founder of the hero. This benevolent king left his mark by subduing rebels.
Inari - In Shinto mythology, Inari was the god of rice and was sometimes called the food god. Inari was identified with Uke-mochi, the good genius. Every Japanese village contains a shrine dedicated to Inari, and in many houses she also receives prayers as the bringer of wealth and friendship.
Izanami - The primeval mother of Shinto, she was the sister and spouse of Izanagi, who unsuccessfully descended into the nether world after her.
Jizo-bosatu - Ti-tsang of China, Jizo of Japan - the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha - wanders eternally through the realms of hell, comforting tortured souls and rescuing them from darkness by his very presence. Ksitigarbha was not very popular in India, but his aspect of judging the dead made him a very popular bodhisattva with the Chinese.
Kadaklan - The greatest deity of Tinguian, a people living in the mountainous interior of Luzon. The thunder god Kadaklan lives in the sky with his faithful dog Kimat, lightning. Kimat will bite a house, a tree or a field whenever the divine master desires that a special ceremony be performed.
Kishimo-jin - The protectress of Children. She is the Japanese equivalent of Hariti, 'the snatcher', whom Buddha dissuaded from stealing and eating children. Moved by the doctrine of compassion, the demon goddess foreswore that she would cause no more destruction and became the tutelary deity for children. In shrines her image appears as a mother suckling an infant , while her symbol is a pomegranate (it stands for fertility).
Kuan Ti - The god of war in Confucian tradition. A popular figure in Chinese folklore, Kuanti was a leading general in a period of dissent known as San Kuo. Kuan Ti, unlike other gods, is one the prevents war not one that supports it.
Kumang - The mother goddess of the Ibans, the sea dayaks of Borneo. Kumang had a white back that was scorched by the setting sun. Kumang had charge of paradise, which was the home of Bujang, the first Iban. Kumang has appeared as a shy young warrior.
Kwan-Yin - The bestower of children and the all-compassionate mother goddess. The bodhisattva Avalokitesvara went through this metamorphosis in China, possibly through the influence of Tantric Buddhism.
Lao-tzu - The mad man of Chu’u, the first of the irresponsible hermits according to Confucians. Lao-tzu was the founder of Taoism . There is little known about his life. Lao-tzu was a hidden wiseman, reluctant to found a school and gather a following.
Li T'ien - The first known use of fire-crackers against demons. The success of Li T'en is said to have led to the widespread use of fireworks.
Lieh-tzu - A semi-legendary sage, Lei-tzu provides a perfect example of the Taoist obscurity. He dwelt on a vegetable plot for forty years and no man knew him for what he was.
Lung - The dragon of Chinese folklore. Unlike the ferocious and evil creature in West Asian and medieval European mythology, the lung is essentially a benevolent divinity held in high regard. He is the rain bringer, the lord of the waters. The dragon was closely associated with the Chinese emperor.
Mi-lo - The future Buddha, at present living as a bodhisattva in Tushita Heaven. In Indian mythology he played a minor role, but his role immediately expanded when he was introduced to China. Devotees prayed for rebirth in his paradise , but the pure land of Amithaba eclipsed his refuge during the seventh century. Mi-lo is referred to as the laughing Buddha.
Okuninushi - Literally, 'the great land master'. Son - in - law of Susanowo, the Storm God of the Shinto tradition. He obtained the hand of Susanawo';s daughter through stealth, an attribute the father-in-law much admired.
Oni - Japanese demons. In Shinto, Oni's are associated with disease, calamity and misfortune. These spirits are basically human in appearance but possess three eyes, a wide mouth, horns and three sharp talons on both hands and feet. Oni can fly, often swooping down to seize the soul of a dying wicked man.
Rati - Literally 'erotic desire'. The Balinese version of the HIndu goddess of maternity and fertility. In her portrayal as a heavily pregnant woman there is a surreal element. The teeming womb and the distended breasts are all juxtaposed with demonic voluptuousness, perhaps a sinister legacy from the island Polynesian past.
Shaka-nyorai - In Japan the Buddha known as Sakyamuni, is the perfect embodiment of virtue. There are shrines dedicated to Shaka-nyorai in every monastery. The great festival of this Buddha is his birthday, April 8. Its popular name is Hanamatsuri, the festival of flowers.
Shen Nung - Typically Chinese was the legendary ruler Shen Nung, who taught the art of agriculture and discovered the medicinal properties of plants.
Shoten - The Japanese version of Ganesa who removes obstacles and vouchsafes wisdom. Incorporated into Buddhist mythology, the cult of this divinity flourished within various esoteric sects. Shoten was associated with Tantric practices, one of his images being the double-bodied union of male and female.
Sukuna-biko - The dwarf god of Japan. He is the son-in-law of Susanwo and King of Izumo.
Susanwo - Takehaya Susanwo is the storm god of Shinto. Susanwo planted the mountains with his own hair, which became trees. His tomb is thought to exist on the eastern coast Kii.
Tengri - Literal meaning, 'god or heaven'. The sky god of the Mongols, their original creator deity. Tengri was regarded as the author of all things visible and invisible, the controller of destiny, the ruler of the world.
Tripitaka - The historical Hsuan-tsang, the great Chinese pilgrim. In 629 he started overland on the long journey to India. Legend has converted the pilgrimage of Tripitaka into the most popular cycle stories of Chinese folklore.
Tsao Chun - The Chinese kitchen god. Tsao Chun was a deity of remote antiquity and his temple is a small niche enclosed by a cooking stove, long regarded as the most important piece of furniture in the house. Tsao Chun is portrayed as a kindly gentleman surrounded by children.
Ukulan-tojon - The water spirit of the Yakuts. In the Lena river valley, as throughout Siberia and Mongolia, it was believed that the world was ruled by spirits. Ukulan-tojon was a master spirit since had was in charge of other spirits.
Urashima - The fisher boy of Japanese folklore. He married a sea maiden and lived in a palace beneath the waves. Today the shrine of Urashima shines on the coast of Tango.
Yakushi-nyorai - Literally, 'the master of remedies', one of the six meditation Buddhas. The Japanese worship of this savior is as the one who promised to cure all sickness and to obtain for mankind the remedies it needs.
Yen Wang - Yen Wang of China was imported as part of Buddhist mythology from India. His task was the enforcement of the law of retribution, but the idea that the wheel of birth operated automatically outmoded an infernal judgement, leaving 'king of the devils' as tormentor of the most abominable souls.
Yi - The William Tell of China. In remote times there were no less than ten suns in the sky that scorched the earth with excessive heat. A hero, Yi 'the excellent archer', shot down nine of the ten suns with a magic bow. The significance of this episode is obscure.
Yin-Yang - The two sustaining forces that sustain the Chinese cosmos. They are not seen as in conflict, but existing together in a precarious balance. Yin is negative, female, dark, earth while Yan is positive, male, white, heaven. If the balance is broken the fate of the universe would be thrown out of sync.
Yrin-ai-tojon - The word means white creator lord. Yrin-ai-trojon was the supreme being, whose tethering post was the pillar of the world, a gigantic tree. Another name for Yrin-ai-trojon was Ulgan who created the land on the water and placed under the earth disc three large fishes to support it, the movement of a fish was an earthquake.
Yu - Semi-legendary Chinese emperor, renowned as a hydraulic engineer. According to the Shu Ching, Yu asked to contain a deluge by Shun, a divine monarch. Yu was a paragon of virtue, the ancient standard of public duty. The Taoists, however, feared that his ways of hydraulic engineering were the inhibition of feudal relationships.