Mythological Spotlight #1: Dairokuten Maou

This is the first of a new kind of post that I call a Mythological Spotlight, so let me explain how this is going to work. Mythological Spotlights are posts that are devoted to mythological figures, almost always deities or demons. Mythological Spotlights will be similar to the Deity Pages, except the Description section before the History may be much shorter will focus more on the general description of the mythological figure, whereas my opinion of the figure will probably appear after the History section. Mythological Spotlights will be posted infrequently rather than in a regular pattern unless I have a strong motivation to do so, though it may or may not occur that I post the first few Spotlights once a week since I have a few candidates in mind.

Anyways, let’s begin with Dairokuten Maou.

Dairokuten Maou attacking the Buddha and his followers, as depicted by Katsushika Hokusai

Description

In Japanese Buddhism, Dairokuten Maou is the personification of delusion and the demonic ruler of the sixth heaven. The sixth heaven refers to the realm known as Takejizai-Ten, the realm of Free Enjoyment of Transformations by Others, and is the sixth heaven of the realm of the devas, one of the six desire realms into which reincarnation is said to be possible. Dairokuten Maou is said to make free use of things created by others for his own pleasure, and his role is said to prevent conscious beings from escaping from the cycle of metempsychosis or Samsara by tempting them towards worldly life, desires, and goals while tempting them away from Buddhist teachings. He is said to have innumerable minions under his service and enjoys sapping life force from others. Nichiren Buddhism identifies Dairokuten Maou as the heavenly devil and classes him as one of four devils that afflict practitioners and obstruct Buddhist practice, the other three being the devil of the five components of life (or the five aggregates or skandas), the devil of earthly desires, and the devil of death.

History

Dairokuten Maou seems to be the Japanese iteration of a being named Mara, who is sometimes referred to as “the Evil One”. Mara is seen as a personification of distraction from the spiritual life and from pursuit of enlightenment, as well as unskillfulness and spiritual death. In fact, his name seems to be a reference to death itself. Usually Mara is a representation of internal vices and impulses that lie within the mind, rather than an external demon. In the story of how the Buddha achieved enlightenment, Mara tried to distract Siddhartha Gautama with temptations in order to prevent him from achieving enlightenment. Like Dairokuten Maou, Mara was also said to distract people from practicing the Buddhist teachings with temptations.

It was also said that Mara referred to four obstructive forces: Skandha-Mara, Klesa-Mara, Mrtyu-Mara, and Devaputra-Mara. Skanhda-Mara is said to be the embodimenet of the five skandhas, or aggregates of existence: form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness. Klesa-Mara is said to be the embodiment of attachment to “unskillful” and negative emotions, and the patterns that pertain to them. Mrtyu-Mara is said to be the embodiment of death and the fear of death and impermanence, also known as the Lord of Death (not to be confused with Yama). Devaputra-Mara is said to be the embodiment of great attachment and craving, particularly for pleasure, and is also referred to as a child of the gods. Some refer to Devaputra-Mara as the literal Mara. These four Maras seem to be the basis of the four devils described in Nichiren Buddhism.

Dairokuten Maou was also a nickname attributed to Nobunaga Oda, a daimyo (fuedal lord) who conquered a third of Japan until his death at Honnō-ji in 1582. Nobunaga actually adopted the title for himself,  and it seems to have started after Nobunaga was sent a message from rival warlord Shingen Takeda, who proclaimed himself Tendai Zasu-Shamon Shingen (protector of the Tendai sect and its leader) in a letter sent in response to him burning down Enraku-ji, which was based in Mt. Hiei and was also the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Buddhism (and still is today). In response, Nobunaga boasted that he was the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven, and he continued to do so in missives sent to his enemies (according to his confidant, the Portugese Jesuit missionary Luis Frois). Presumably, this was done to try and inspire fear in his enemies and discourage them from opposing him, but to this day Nobunaga is often depicted as villainous and even an actual demon king, and this has not always been down to him adopting the title of Demon King of the Sixth Heaven for himself. Nobunaga had been infamous for his brutality and cruelty and for committing various atrocities. One example is how, after his campaign against the Azai and Asakura factions, he apparently took the skulls of his rival Nagamasa Azai, his father Hisamasa Azai, and Yoshikuge Asakura, and made them into cups for drinking sake out of. Another is how he burned Buddhist temples, such as Enryaku-ji which was home to warrior monks who were independent and allied with the Azai and Asakura factions, and killed even innocent people in the siege of Mt. Hiei. Such actions were likely done in order to strike fear into his enemies and discourage them from opposing him.

Nobunaga was not always known for being cruel or villainous, however. He is also remembered as being one of the three unifiers of Japan during the Sengoku period that lasted from 1467 to 1603 CE, a time were many fuedal lords fought each other for land and influence and the influence of the Ashikaga Shogunate that governed the land had declined. For better or worse, Nobunaga’s actions set the foundation for the end of this period of civil war, and after his death, the land would eventually be united by one of his successors, Ieyasu Tokugawa. He is also remembered for changing the way war was fought in Japan with the introduction of firearms, and for modernizing the economy. Yet, many works of faction to this day, particularly works of anime that lean to towards fantasy and action, depict Nobunaga as supernaturally villainous, and chances are when you’re in Japan and you think Nobunaga Oda, you’re also thinking of the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven.

Conclusion

In my opinion, Dairokuten Maou seems to be the closest thing in Buddhist theology to the Christian interpretation of Satan: a being who personifies delusion, temptation, and/or evil, a being with innumerable minions serving under him, and a being who leads humans away from a given religion (in this case Buddhism) and its teachings as well as obstructing religious practice. But, unlike the Christian Satan who resides in Hell, Dairokuten Maou resides in a heavenly realm, and unlike the Christian Satan who is attested to have fallen from heaven where he was once an angel, Dairokuten Maou pretty much remained in the heavenly realm his occupies and there’s no information that attests to him ever having fallen from any sort of heavenly realm and being in the good graces of any particular deity or deities. At any rate, Dairokuten Maou is an interesting character, and his attachment to a historical figure (in this case Nobunaga Oda) seems to make him all the more so because of the prospect of a powerful heavenly demon getting himself involving in a war on Earth, even if it was never anything literal.

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