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The bodhisattva Samantabhadra

The bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Japanese: Fugen Bosatsu), 1200-1300.  Japan. Kamakura period (1185-1333). Ink, colors, and gold on silk. The Avery Brundage Collection, B66D2. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Japanese: Fugen Bosatsu), 1200-1300.  Japan. Kamakura period (1185-1333). Ink, colors, and gold on silk. The Avery Brundage Collection, B66D2. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

This Buddhist painting shows the bodhisattva of benevolence Samantabhadra, called Fugen in Japanese. As described in the Buddhist scripture the Lotus Sutra, Fugen is mounted on a six-tusked elephant. He makes the gesture of prayer with both  hands before his chest. In the Japanese tradition Fugen personifies the active aspects of the Buddha's teachings: meditation and practice. He is paired with his counterpart, Manjushri (Japanese: Monju), as an attendant of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. While Fugen is often depicted on an elephant, Monju is shown riding on a lion. Worship of Fugen reached its height late in the Heian period (794–1185), a pessimistic time during which people feared an imminent decline in the power of the Buddha's teachings. Many believed that Fugen would protect those teachings with all his power; he was also seen as an effective protector of women.