Tag Archives: Moon Disk

Zen and Jimotsu

In Japanese Buddhism, including Zen, and particularly in sculpture and painting, there exists an elaborate system of religious symbols known as jimotsu (or jibutsu). These symbols appear, often in the grasp of an associated deity, to signify different roles the deity may play in defending the Buddhist faith, teaching devotees, reprimanding deviants, and comforting the suffering. The list below details just a few of these, and gives hints to their relation to the concept of light in Buddhism. However, jimotsurarely appear exclusively in one context; they are seen together with various deities, and many have multiple meanings. The 1000-Armed Kannon, for instance, is often shown holding numerous of these elements and accessories.

  • Mirror
    Providing mere reflection, the mirror demonstrates the illusion of life, and thus the unenlightened mind that is captivated thereby. It can, however, be positively interpreted as a sign of the resolve to dispel that illusion.
  • Moon Disk (Gachirin)
    A perfect circular, usually white disk representing the full moon, the moon disk appears as a symbol of the perfect virtue and omniscience of the Buddha. In the Esoteric Buddhist “Kongōkai Mandala” nine deities are shown, each seated in a full-moon disk. The symbol is also held to have a curative influence on fever and a cooling effect on the body, and accordingly talismans of this symbol are used by those suffering from hyperthermic conditions. It is associated with the Bodhisattva of Lunar Radiance, “Gakkō.”
  • Sun Disk (Nichirin)
    In turn the sign of “Nikkō Bosatsu,” the Bodhisattva of Solar Radiance, is a circular, usually red disc. Whereas the moon disk sometimes is shown with a rabbit figure inscribed (the “moon rabbit” being an instance of cultural pareidolia similar to the West’s “man in the moon”), in the sun disk is sometimes seen the image of a three-legged crow-like bird. Believed to be curative of eye ailments and a dispeller of darkness, the sun disk is also used as a talisman called “Nissei Manishu,” for related medical purposes.
  • Wish-fulfilling Jewel
    This jewel appears as one or three, the latter case corresponding to the “Three Jewels of Buddhism:” Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Though symbolizing an incorporeal power to grant wishes, end suffering, and communicate Dharma (these gifts collectively conceived of as “wealth”), the jewel also appears within an aureole of flame. Also called the “Mani Jewel,” it was in the writings of Guifeng Zongmi that this symbol’s multiple interpretations were used to differentiate four major Zen schools. The Heze School was said to appreciate the jewel’s supposed shroud of blackness as but an illusory form of its brightness—luster and dullness being for them as one; the Hongzhou School said of this blackness instead that it was the very jewel itself, and the jewel’s “purity” was what was hidden; the Ox Head School would have said, according to Guifeng, that the jewel and its brilliant appearance were inherently empty; and the Northern School is claimed to have believed the jewel’s fundamental purity must be approached ever more closely by cleaning and polishing.

select research Copyright Mark Schumacher,