The wish-fulfilling jewel

Mandala of the Mani hoju, the Jewel that Removes Misfortune

Mani hoju mandara zushi e
摩尼宝珠曼荼羅厨子絵 Mandala of the Mani hoju, the Jewel that Removes Misfortune
Japanese, Meiji era, 19th century, Photo credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Known as the hōju 宝珠 or hōju-no-tama 宝珠の玉 or nyoi houju 如意宝珠 in Japan, this jewel signifies the bestowal of blessings on all who suffer, for it grants wishes, pacifies desires, and brings clear understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist law). In Japan, the hoju is often appears as giboshi bridge ornaments and are said to resemble the onion domes seen in Western or Baltic cultures, however, they are mostly likely the form of the peach which is the fruit symbolic of immortality and healing (known from the myths and legends of the ancient chronicles of Japan).

One of the oldest known forms of the hoju is the jewel (called kuurin) atop a simple stupa called the gorinto or sotoba. The gorinto was originally a stupa structure component of a mausoleum built over a sacred area and usually containing a relic of either the Buddha or a revered teacher. Over time, exterior forms of the sotoba of China, Tibet and India changed, but the sotoba always included symbolic shapes integral to the doctrine of the godai Five Elements, Mahabhuta. This is the doctrine of Five Elements of Indian origin, that the physical body, being composed of five elements, would in death return to them.  Given that the hoju jewel was used in the mausoleum context, the “jewel” may actually originally have been symbolic of the magical peach of immortality for those going into the afterlife, the peach that Izanagi lobbed at the hags of hell or as a magical amulet to keep the “hungry ghosts” at bay.

Below is an example of the gorinto from Ishiteji Temple, Matsuyama, Ehime.

Ishite-ji three-storey pagoda and gorintō, both from the end of the Kamakura Period and important cultural properties.

Ishite-ji three-storey pagoda and gorintō, both from the end of the Kamakura Period and Important Cultural Properties. Source: Wikipedia

The development of the Japanese gorintō shows the deep influence of Mikkyō, and in particular of Kūkai and Kakuban. The use of gorintō is thought to have begun in the second half of the Heian period. The oldest known examples can be found at Chūsonji (1100AD), Iwate Prefecture, that display a mix of gorintō and hōtō (two-storied Buddhist tower) and go back to 1169.

The mani hoju or jewel is also found on top of railing structures called giboju or giboshi 擬宝珠, particularly older bridges built in ancient Japan. The giboju is a decoration made of bronze, wood, tile, brass or iron that is found on top of the newel, an upright post structure of oyabashira 親柱, of railings *kouran 高欄, bridges, and platforms *dan 壇.

Giboshi or Giboju of Tsurugaoka Hachimanguu Taikobashi (in Kanagawa)

Similar decorations are found on top of lanterns or mikoshi portable shrines called souka and the jewel at the top is a mani-gem *nyoi houju 如意宝珠. A similarly shaped decoration is also found on lanterns Giboshi (擬宝珠) is a kind of ornament used on older Japanese bridges, and are to be found equally among temple/shrine-roof ornaments, among the structures of the oldest shrines at Ise or Shimane. Images of the wish-fulfilling jewel are also commonly seen on the roofs of Inari Shinto shrines, or in the mouth or under the paw of Inari’s messenger — the fox.

See Closeup of wish-fulfilling jewel from a Heian-era scroll in the collection of Tokyo National Museum

“Monks and laypersons, for instance, began to worsnip Buddha relics as wish-fulfilling jewels (nyoi hdju 如愛主珠). Ruppert states that by the late Heian and early Kamakura periods there was a conflation of wish-fulfilling jewels and Buddha relics. In Japan, wish-fulfilling jewels were Buddha relics fashioned with valuable materials and with substances considered to have medical efficacy.”

Based on Ruppert’s interpretation of the work of Oe no Chikamichi 大江親通(d .1151),Issai sharira —切舍利羅集(Comprehensive  collection on relics) four reasons are drawn for the popularity and great significance given the nyoi hoju relics:

1 ) the relic has apotropaic qualities whereby it “enables the worshipper to avert illness, pacify the world, and lengthen his or her life”;

2) the relic is fecund: “it transforms into the five grains, ensures rain, and even grants benefits during Last Age”;

3) the relic has economic value: “it fulfills the believer’s desires, produces jewels, and itself becomes a wish-fulfilling jewer5; and

4) the relic is purificatory because “its worship can expiate the believer’s transgressions.

Often depicted as a single orb with a pointed top, or as a set of three jewels, sometimes with a flame nimbus. This grouping of three probably represents the Three Jewels (Sanbō 三宝) of Buddhism, which are Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist law), and the Sangha (community of Buddhist believers).

The jewel appears in a wide range of artistic forms, e.g.,  as an object held by Buddhist deities or atop the weapons their carry, and as a sacred symbol in mandala paintings.

Wish-fulfilling jewels came to be associated with the bodhisattva Kannon, especially the Nyoirin Kannon (an esoteric form of Kannon; where the jewel represents Nyoirin’s vow to save those in the realm of hungry ghosts). The associations increased the popularity of Buddha relics due to their perceived potency. Other deities also came to be depicted as holding the Cintamani (Skt) jewel, including the 1000-Armed Kannon, Jizō Bosatsu, Kokūzō Bosatsu, and Aizen Myō-ō.

The sacred jewel’s power to grant wishes also symbolized “wealth” in Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist deities with wealth-bringing associations Kichijōten (Goddess of Fortune, Luck, Beauty, and Merit). Daikokuten, one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods, is often depicted with a wish-granting jewel inside his magic mallet or inside his belt.

The maṇi-jewel was above all a magical jewel, which manifests whatever one wishes for (Skt. maṇi, cintā-maṇi, cintāmaṇi-ratna). According to one’s desires, treasures, clothing and food can be manifested, while sickness and suffering can be removed, water can be purified, etc. It is a metaphor for the teachings and virtues of the Buddha. … but in mythical traditions, the jewel was said to have been obtained from the dragon-king of the sea, or the head of the great fish, Makara.–The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism’s ruyizhu

In William E. Deal’s review of Brian D. Ruppert’s “Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan“, he draws out attention to the following points about the remarkable historical significance and value of the jewel.

“The perceived economic value of Buddha relics was thus partly material and partly spiritual. Competition over relics—and their theft~was one of the results of this synthesis of material and spiritual power.”

“Ruppert also discusses the development of competing traditions of wish-fulfilling jewel lineages. Competition between Shingon lineages for ritual prominence was especially fierce. Such struggles centered on access to jewels and claims to their authenticity and power. Ruppert remarks that the “development of traditions concerning multiple jewels paralleled the crystallization of lineages that increasingly splintered Shingon and the court during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries” (169). In effect, rifts in monastic and court alliances can be uncovered simply by following the jewels. Both monastics and aristocratic lay Buddhists made use of the power of wish-fulfilling jewels and Buddha relics”.”

A brief history of the (cinta)mani jewel in the rest of Asia

The wish-granting jewel has served historically as one of Buddhism’s most important repositories of Buddhist relics — the ashes, fingernail clippings, hair, bone, or teeth of the Historical Buddha. They were made in great number in mainland Asia and in Japan, and represent the “internationalization” of Buddhist teachings, as each nation that received the Buddhist philosophies erected numerous stupa designed with jewel iconography or containing a wish-granting jewel.

In Tibet, the Chintamani is commonly believed to be one of four relics that came in a chest that fell from the sky during the reign of king Lha Thothori Nyantsen of Tibet (his rule is dated to the 5th c.). Though the king did not understand the purpose of the objects, he kept them in a position of reverence. Several years later, two mysterious strangers appeared at the court of the king, explaining the four relics, which included the Buddha’s bowl (possibly a Singing Bowl) and a mani stone with the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra inscribed on it. These few objects were the bringers of the Dharma to Tibet.

In Japan, the Nyoirin Kannon 如意輪観音Sk:Cintamanicakra, is a form of the Kannon (most often six armed) is depicted proffering a “wish-fulfilling jewel” *nyoi houju and holding up a wheel, rinpou 輪宝.  Most characteristically, from the Heian period on, he sits on a lotus on top of a rock (symbolic of Kannon’s paradise) that rises from the sea. Wearing a crown with a small image of Amida set in it, in his left hands he holds a full blown lotus and a wheel, while another hand rests on the dais. One of his right hands holds the jewel, another a rosary. The jewel represents wealth, wisdom, the aspiration to enlightenment, the Buddha-nature, the transmission, as well as material fulfilment.

Cintāmaṇi (Sanskrit; Devanagari: चिन्तामणि) or Chintamani (or the Chintamani Stone) is a wish-fulfilling jewel within both Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the equivalent to the philosopher’s stone in Western alchemy. According to Buddhist traditions, it is held by the bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara and Ksitigarbha. It is also seen carried upon the back of the Lung ta (wind horse) which is depicted on Tibetan prayer flags. By reciting the Dharani of Cintamani, Buddhist tradition maintains that one attains the Wisdom of Buddha, able to understand the truth of the Buddha, and turn afflictions into Bodhi. It is said to allow one to see the Holy Retinue of Amitabha and assembly upon one’s deathbed. In Tibetan Buddhist tradition the Chintamani is sometimes depicted as a luminous pearl.

The maritime references may be connected to the Hindu tradition which is often associated with the Vishnu and Ganesha deities with the cintamani depicted as a fabulous jewel in the possession of the dragon-king of the sea, the Naga king or as on the forehead of the great fish Makara. The Yoga Vasistha, originally written in the 10th century AD, contains a story about the cintamani.

Further elucidation of the wish-filling jewel’s significance in the ascetic practices and rituals of Yoshino and Kumano sects come from recent discoveries of Monkan’s writings of the medieval era:

“​From among these texts, let us investigate the essentials of Kinpusen himitsuden. This book is focused on Zaō Gongen of Kinpusen, and in the first half, the secret teachings regarding the relations of honji-suijaku and epithets, as well as images, are clarified and “learned” (習事) in relation to him, and also Ama no Kawa Benzaiten and Kumano Gongen, who are deities sacred to Yoshino and Kumano. In the second half, the procedures for worshipping Zaō Gongen (and many other gods) and their original manifestations (本地) are collected, and the colophon states that this is for the purpose of “the emperor’s ascetic practice.”
​It is a text which represents the religious system during Emperor Go-Daigo’s reign while he was in Yoshino. The contents concern secret teachings on honji-suijaku and rituals for the worship of original manifestations…
​The re-discovery of Monkan’s writings on the rite for synthesizing the three icons should stimulate a re-evaluation of our knowledge of Monkan’s writings up until now. Any one of them exemplifies a close connection with the situation at the time they were written, and their discourse is entirely directed toward Emperor Go-Daigo. These texts can be thought to have produced and mimicked his imperial power.
​In addition, regarding Saikyoku himitsushō, which is the most recently discovered (2007) work by Monkan, I wish to summarize the entire contents, and touch on its treatment of the rite for synthesizing the three icons in one of its sections. The entire five volumes of the book were discovered in the Kōmyōin archives of Takanoyama University library. In the colophon to the first volume, dated the ninth month of 1337, Monkan writes at the end “five volumes in all.” This refers to the completion of the text and the form of the text…
​The third volume is entitled “Kanjō inmyō kangyōgi,” and it gives the secret teachings on the transmission of mudrās and dhārāṇīs for the coronation abhiṣeka (伝法灌頂)… Mixing in gāthās from scripture to explain the concepts and oral transmissions, it reveals the mudrās and dhārāṇīs. It includes illustrations of jeweled stupas and mudrās. Attached to this, there is a discussion of “matters regarding mudrās and dhārāṇīs and epithets for abhiṣeka rituals and mudrās of the wish-fulfilling jewel,” with illustrations of jewelled banners, and finally it teaches of “the great sage Vajrakumāra with wish-fulfilling jewel,” giving a secret transmission of an image of Kōbō Daishi as a divine youth, presenting him as a deity for worship in the rite for synthesizing the three icons in common with the Himitsu gentei kuketsu, while he is flanked by two deities as in Goyuigō daiji.” — Abe Yasuro



Sources and references:

Abe Yasuro, “The Rediscovery of Sacred Texts Composed by Monkan — Aspects Involved in Assessing  His Texts on the Rite for His Texts on the Rite for Synthesizing the Three Icons”

Nyoirin Kannon (JAANUS website)

Objects, Symbols, and Weapons
Held by 1000-Armed Kannon & Other Buddhist Deities

Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Early Medieval Japan by Brian D. Ruppert. Harvard East Asian Monographs 188. Cambridge: Harvard Univer­sity Press, 2000. xviii + 505 pp. $52.00 cloth, isbn 0-674-00245-8.  See William E. Deal’s review and commentary, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 29/ 1-2

Giboshi (Wikipedia)

Gorinto | The Five Elements Stele (Japanese Mythology and Folklore website)

Wish-fulfilling jewel Objects, Symbols, and Weapons (A-Z Photo Dictionary Japanese Buddhist Statuary website)

Held by 1000-Armed Kannon & Other Buddhist Deities

The sotoba explained

Ishite-ji Temple (Wikipedia)

nyoi houju 如意宝珠 (JAANUS)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s