Biwa as pantheon

In his Biwa hōshi, Hyōdō Hiromi 兵藤裕己 quotes Fukishima Junkai 福貴島順海 of Kagoshima on "the interpretation [or buddhas] of the biwa" (琵琶の釈):

The "with-many-wondrous-sounds-as-these" biwa is the five world-element prajñā body; the four strings are the four seasons [associated with Wood (Spring), Fire (Summer), Metal (Autumn), and Water (Winter)], the pick is the Earth [that makes them turn]. The voice, once plucked, reverberates across the land in all directions. The myriad buddhas and gods are present within it, making the biwa the method most beloved by the Boddhisattva "Miraculous Sound" 妙音菩薩 for paying homage to house gods.

Or does that "愛染" refer to Rāgarāja a.k.a. Aizen Myō-ō 愛染明王?

Anyway, what does he mean by "the myriad buddhas and gods are present within it"? (諸仏神のましませば — actually now that I think of it maybe that's 仏神 as in just plain buddhas, who are like unto gods.) Well, it turns out that the various parts of the biwa are associated with bits and pieces of the Buddhiverse.

Now, the head of the biwa is called Sumeru. The pegbox learns [derives?] from Satō Hachiman [?]. The daihatsu [?] is our [human] world, the four pegs are the Four Heavenly Kings,  the nut is the various buddhas of the earth, the six frets are the six forms of Kannon, the kyō no kuchi [??] is Sakyamuni...

I'm going to give up there. I think that the gist is pretty clear, I'm at a distinct loss not knowing anything more than you could find in a standard reference book about biwa construction, Kagoshima dialect, or regional/chronological variations on the "official" names of Buddhist entities.

For example, what is the daihatsu? And: "Satō Hachiman"? Really? Maybe satō is an adverbial form of satoi? Or sa is a particle? I thought that was a Tōhoku thing.

Popularity factor: 7


Here's my lame attempt to be helpful: 栴檀こうおう = 栴檀香王 = sandalwood Gandharaja ~= 香王菩薩

"栴檀仏というのは、昔、釈迦がこの世にあったとき、インドの優填王が栴檀(せんだん--中国語では「旃檀」 ただし、これは香木のビャクダンをいう)の木で釈迦の形を作ったことに由来している。この形が、立像で左手を下げ、右手を上げて、いずれも手のひらを表にする、いわゆる与願(よがん)、施無畏(せむい)の印相を持っているところから、その後、この形で作った釈迦像を栴檀仏と呼ぶようになったものである。"

I can't really further elucidate on this yamabushi-esque esoteric exposition of the biwa, but I would like to add an irrelevant comment about biwas, because it weighs heavy on my soul. I was reading the Japanese Wikipedia article on 三種の神器 recently and noticed a link to 絃上 in the "See also" section. Apparently 絃上 was the name of a biwa handed down from Emperor Murakami which was part of the Imperial regalia in the Middle Ages. Or maybe this is just a story that some medieval Noh director made up. The Internet failed to elucidate this for me, which is surprising because I thought people would go nuts over extra Imperial regalia.


You'd think they'd go nuts over regalia, but only specialists know about the Ten Regalia (versus the learn-in-school three).

Genjo is also special for having walked itself out of a fire once, speaking of the awesomeness of biwa. (By contrast, the sacred mirror kept in the naishidokoro melted down to nothing in an early 11th century fire.)

Leonardo Boiko:

plz to tell more about the Ten Regalia?


I wish I could just point you to google books, but apparently this one isn't even partially indexed.

Kadoya Atsushi. “Myths, Rites, and Icons: Three Views of a Secret.” In <em>The Culture of Secrecy in Japanese Religion,</em> ed. Bernhard Scheid and Mark Teeuwen, pp. 269–83


If anyone wants to pay $50 for that book instead of the $150-$250 it fetches on Amazon.com and Alibris, send me an e-mail and I'll read the arcane runes of Amazon.co.jp.


Actually, never mind -- as it's out of stock, there's a high probability they'll just cancel my order. I'll make do with the 十種神宝 Wikipedia article and my own imagination.


Hey, that's one Wikipedia article more than many writers on the subject.

Comment season is closed.