Sanskrit Acala
Chinese Búdòng Míngwáng (不動明王)
Japanese Fudō-myōō (不動明王)
Mongolian Хөдөлшгүй
Tibetan མི་གཡོ་བ་ (Miyowa)
Venerated by Vajrayana Buddhism
Attributes Vajra
Buddhism portal

Acala (Sanskrit: "immovable") is a dharmapala[1] primarily revered in Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly in Tangmi in Japan, China and elsewhere.

He is classed among the Wisdom Kings and preeminent among the Five Wisdom Kings of the Womb Realm. Accordingly, his figure occupies an important hierarchical position in the pictorial diagramatic Mandala of the Two Realms. In Japan, Acala is revered in the Shingon Buddhism, Tendai, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism and in Shugendō.


  • Overview 1
  • History 2
  • Acala in Japan 3
    • Iconography 3.1
    • Acala/Fudo Cult 3.2
  • Conflations and Confusions 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6
  • External links 7


Descriptions of his physical appearance derive from such scriptural source as the Mahavairocana Tantra (大日経 Dainichikyō) and its annotation.[2]

His face is expressive of extreme wrath,[1][2][3] wrinkle-browed,[2] left eye squinted[2][3] or looking askance,[2] lower teeth biting down the upper lip. He has the physique of a corpulent (round-bellied) child.[2] He bears a sword in his right hand, and a lariat[3] or noose (羂索 kensaku) in his left hand. He is engulfed in flame, and seated on a huge rock base (盤石座 banjakuza).[4]

Acala is said to be a powerful deity who protects all the living (衆生 shujō)[2] by burning away all impediments antarāya (障難 shōnan) and defilements,[2] thus aiding them towards enlightenment.[2] shōnan In Japanese esoteric Buddhism, according to an arcane interpretive concept known as the three cakra bodies (三輪身 san rinjin)[1] Acala and the rest of the five wisdom kings are considered embodiments of the wheel of injunction (教令輪身 kyōryō tenshin),[1] or beings whose actions constitute the teaching of the law (the other embodiments teach by word, or merely by their manifest existence). Under this conceptualization, the wisdom kings are ranked superior to the dharmapala (護法善神 gohō zenshin),[5] a different class of guardian deities. Nevertheless, this distinction sometimes fails to be asserted, or the two are openly treated as synonymous by many commentators, even in clearly Japanese religious contexts.

The Sanskrit symbol that represents Acala is hāṃ हां, conventionally transliterated kān (カーン).[6] However, it has been confounded with the similar glyph (हूं hūṃ), prompting some commentators to mistakenly identify Acala with other deities. (The Sanskrit symbol is called a siddham (梵字, bonji) or a bīja (種子 shuji).

Some of the other transliterations and variants to his name are Ācalanātha, Āryācalanātha, and Ācalavidyārāja. The Hindu form of the deity may also be known as Caṇḍamahāroṣaṇa or Caṇḍaroṣaṇa "the violent-wrathful" one.[7]


Arya Achala, Tibet 12th century, Kadampa school

Originally the Mahayana deity Acalanātha,[1] whose name means "immovable protector", Acala was incorporated into Vajrayana Buddhism (late 7th century, India) as a servant of the Buddha.[1] In Tangmi (Tang-era Chinese Vajrayana), his name was translated as Budong "immovable" (Chinese: 不動; pinyin: Búdòng, Middle Chinese: /pǝw dungx/). In turn, the deity was imported into Japan as "Immovable" (不動 Fūdō) by the priest Kūkai (died 835)[8] who was studying in China as a member of the Kentoshi mission and founded the Shingon Buddhism.

As the deity's importance waned in India and China (as did the religion itself), the iconic image remained popular throughout the Middle Ages (and into modern times) in Nepal, Tibet and Japan,[7] where sculptural and pictorial representations of them are most often found. Much of the iconography comes from Japan, where a popular cult especially devoted to him has developed.[1]

In Tibetan Buddhism and art, the buddha Akshobhya, whose name also means "the immovable one", presides over the clan of deities to which Ācala belongs.[9] Other sources refer to the Acala/Caṇḍaroṣaṇa as an "emanation" of Akshobhya, suggesting further assimilation.[7]

Acala in Japan

The Akafudō, Myōō-in temple, Mount Kōya, Heian period

Fudō-myōō (不動明王) is the full Japanese translation of "Wisdom King Acala", and appears as Fudō (o-Fudō-sama etc.) for short.


Acala in Buddhist art since the Heian period has depicted him as angry-faced, holding a vajra sword[3] and a lariat.[3] In later representations, such as those used by the yamabushi monks, he may have one fang pointing up and another pointing down,[3] and a braid on the one side of his head.[3]

The sword he holds may or may not be flaming and sometimes described only generically as a treasure sword (宝剣 hōken) or as vajra-sword (金剛杵 kongō-ken), which is descriptive of the fact that the pommel of the sword is in the shape of the talon-like vajra (金剛杵 kongō-sho) of one type or another. It may also be referred to as three-pronged vajra sword (三鈷剣 sanko-ken).[10] However in some cases, as in the Akafudō painting, the divinity is seen holding the Kurikara-ken (倶利伽羅剣),[11] a sword with the dragon coiled around it.

The flaming nimbus or halo behind the statue is known as the "karura flame", after a mythical firebreathing birdlike creature, the garuda.[2]

The two boy servants who is usually depicted in attendance to Acala are named Kiṃkara (矜羯羅童子 Kongara dōji)[1][2] and Ceṭaka (吒迦童子 Seitaka dōji), though there are said to be eight such boy servants altogether and as many as forty-eight servants overall.[1]

His seat, the huge rock base (盤石座 banjakuza), "is considered an appropriate iconographic symbol to demonstrate the steadfastness of" the Fudō.[4]

Acala/Fudo Cult

In Japan, Acala became an idol of worship in its own right, and became installed as the honzon (本尊) or main deity at temples and outdoor shrines. A famous example is the Narita Fudo, a Shingon subsect temple at Narita-san.[1]

At Shingon Buddhist temples dedicated to Ācala, priests perform the Fudō-hō (不動法), or ritual service to enlist the deity's power of purification to benefit the faithful. This rite routinely involves the use of the Homa ritual (護摩 goma)[1] as a purification tool.

Lay persons or monks in yamabushi gear who go into rigorous training outdoors in the mountains also often pray to small Acala statue or talisman they carry, which serve as his honzon.[1] This praciticed path of yamabushi's training, known as Shugendō, predates the introduction of Acala, so at first adored idols such as the Zaō Gongen (蔵王権現), who appeared before the sect's founder, En no Gyōja, or the Vairocana.[1] But eventually Acala was added to list of deities most typically enshrined by the yamabushi monks, either portable, or installed in hokora (outdoor shrines).[1] These statues would be often placed near waterfalls (a common training ground) and deep in the mountains and in caves.[3]

Ācala also tops the list of so-called Thirteen Buddhas (十三仏 jūsan butsu)).[12] Thus Shingon Buddhist mourners assign Fudō the first seven days (初七日 Shonanoka)) of service.[12] The first week is an important observance, but perhaps not as prominently important as the observance of "seven times seven days" (i.e. 49 days) signifying the end of "intermediate state" (bardo).

Literature on Shinto Buddhist ritual will explain that such and such Sanskrit "seed syllable", or mantra or mudra is attendant to each of the "buddhas" for each observance period. But the scholarly consensus seems to be that the invoking of the "Thirteen Buddhas" had evolved later around the 14th century[13][14] and became widespread by the following century,[13] so this could not have been part of the original teachings by priest Kukai, but rather a later adaptation.

Conflations and Confusions

There is claim that Acala/Fudo is identifiable with one of the "two kings" or Niō (仁王), or the gate guardian deities in Japan,[15] but that assertion is not backed by many of the available commentary on the deity, and may be a common misconception. One source which makes this claim explains that the seed syllable हूं hūṃ represents the Acala/Fudo,[15] but Acala's symbol is hāṃ हां as aforementioned, and hūṃ actually belongs to another Wisdom King, Kuṇḍali (Gundari Myōō (軍荼利明王)).[6]

This latter syllabic symbol, hūṃ, is actually the same as un or "closed mouth" character,[16] frequently associated with the "two kings" or Niō (仁王), whose resepective opened or closed mouth position are referred to by the phrase A-un (阿吽). This probably led to the further assertion that Acala/Fudo was to be identified with the closed-mouthed Nio statue represented by the hūm sound.[15] If Acala were a Nio gate guardian,[17] then by transference he would belong to the class of beings called Vajrapani (Shūkongōshin (執金剛神); also known as Kongōrikishi (金剛力士) in wrestler form), that is to say, or vajra (lightning)-wielding yakshas.[17] But that would be contradictory to the aforementioned concept of the "three wheel-embodiments", which considers the wisdom-king as a higher class of beings than vajrapani or other dharmapala guardian deities. However, that is strictly a Japanese interpretation. In commentary on Tibetan art, one encounters many references to the "Acala-Vajrapani".[7][15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Murakami 1988, Jp. rel. dict., pp.242-246
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Shincho 1985, under Fudo Myoo (in Japanese)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Snyder 1999 pg. 244
  4. ^ a b JAANUS (2001). "iwaza (岩座)". Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. Retrieved June 2012. 
  5. ^ 護法善神, added 2008.4.23 (Wed) 06:02 by Boca samba (Japanese interwiki link to Dharmapala) makes this distinction.
  6. ^ a b Sogeisha. ]For the Buddhist art archaeologists: Introduction to Sanskrit [梵字入門: 仏教美術考古学研究者のための. 綜芸舎編集部. pp. 14–15. 
  7. ^ a b c d Donaldson, Thomas E. (2001). Iconography of the Buddhist Sculpture of Orissa: Text. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.  
  8. ^ Murakami 1988, p.243-4, quote "不動信仰を日本にもたらしたのは..空海である"
  9. ^ Weldon, David; Singer, Jane Casey (1999). The sculptural heritage of Tibet: Buddhist art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection. Laurence King Pub. , p.100, "Aksobhya, the Buddha who presides over the family (kula) of deities with which Acala is associated"
  10. ^ Sato, Ken'ichi(佐藤貫一) (1961). 日本の刀剣 (snippet). Shibundo(至文堂). p. 81. 
  11. ^ Heibonsha (1969) [1968]. 世界百科事典(world encyclopedia). , article on "akafudo" by Tanaka, Ichimatsu (田中一松)
  12. ^ a b Yamada, Binyō (1894). The Nihon dai jisho.  , Japanese Dictionary, p.748, middle row, under 「志ふさん・ぶつ.. (十三)佛」
  13. ^ a b Gerhart, Karen M. (2009). The Material Culture of Death in Medieval Japan (preview). University of Hawaii Press. p. 22.  
  14. ^ Kunishige, Masathoshi; illus. Kenji Kagwaguchi(川口健治) (1985). Utsukushiki kokyō Yamaguchi-ken Seibu-ban (美しき故郷山口県西部版) (preview). Fujimoto Printing Corporation.  , p.68 gives "late Kamakura Period"
  15. ^ a b c d Getty 1988,p.170, where she gives a walkthrough of the identification of one of the Nio gods as Acala(Fudō)
  16. ^ Shincho 1985, p.7, article on 阿吽 a-un [a-hūṃ] (in Japanese)
  17. ^ a b Shincho 1985, articles on 仁王 Nio p.674, 執金剛神 Shukogoshin p.1084, 金剛力士 Kongorikishi p.565 (in Japanese)


  • Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, Kenkyusha Limited, Tokyo 1991, ISBN 4-7674-2015-6
  • Shinchosha (1985). 新潮世界美術事典 [Shincho Encyclopedia of World Art]. Shinchosha.  
  • Getty, Alice (1988). The Gods of Northern Buddhism: Their History and Iconography. Courier Dover Publications.  
  • Murakami, Shigeyoshi(村上重良) (1988). 日本宗教事典 [Japanese religion dictionary]. Kodansha.  

External links

  • Fudo Myo-O, 不動明王 O-Fudo-sama in Japan
  • Ellen Schattschneider "Fudo Myoo (Acala)" - In: immortal wishes (2003)
  • Shingon Buddhist International Institute
  • Tendai Buddhist Sangha in Denver Colorado