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The Buddhist Protectors of the Chinese Zodiac

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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When the Chinese Zodiac reached Japan, it met with a very strong and positive response and became very popular among the Japanese. As Buddhism is also very strong in Japan, the Chinese Zodiac soon became linked to their religion, where 8 Buddhist Protectors became associated with each of the 12 animals of the horoscope.

It is believed that people born under each sign receive the blessings and protection of the associated Protector. As to why there are 8 Protectors and not 12, there is no definitive answer. Sources often conjecture that it must be aligned to Chinese Taoism and Feng Shui which is based upon 8 specifically connected cosmic symbols (used in divinations etc.).

It is believed if you solicit the protector related to your birth during times of obstacles, you can clear your problems faster. If pujas, prayers and mantras are done to them, then it will benefit your obstacle periods.

The relationship with the 8 respective Buddhist Protectors are as follows:

Animal Year of Birth Buddhist Protector (Japanese Name)
Rat 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 Senju Kannon / Chenrezig / Avalokiteshvara
Ox 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021 Kokuzo / Namkai Nyingpo / Akasagarbha
Tiger 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022 Kokuzo / Namkai Nyingpo / Akasagarbha
Rabbit 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023 Monju / Jampel Yang / Manjushri
Dragon 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024 Fugen / Kuntu Zangpo / Samantabhadra
Snake 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025 Fugen / Kuntu Zangpo / Samantabhadra
Horse 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026 Seishi / Mahasthamapranta
Sheep 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027 Dainichi / Nangpa Nangdze / Vairocana
Monkey 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028 Dainichi / Nangpa Nangdze / Vairocana
Rooster 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029 Fudo / Acala Vidyaraja
Dog 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030 Amida / Opakme / Amitabha
Pig 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031 Amida / Opakme / Amitabha

Senju Kannon / Kuan Yin / Chenrezig / Avalokiteshvara


The 1000-armed Buddha of Compassion

Kannon is the embodiment of all the Buddhascompassion, appearing in a female form in the Chinese / Japanese Mahayana Buddhist traditions, and as a male in the Indian / Tibetan traditions. Kannon is more commonly known as Kuan Yin in Chinese, Chenrezig in Tibetan and Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. Kannon’s practice is among the most popular in all Buddhist countries and she/he is often propitiated for blessings and protection. The 1000-armed form of Kannon is depicted with 1000 eyes on every hand, which are all-seeing, gazing upon all sentient beings and coming to their aid to relieve their sufferings. It is believed that in doing Kannon’s practice sincerely, we can develop great patience, peace and compassion..

Kokuzo / Namkai Nyingpo / Akasagarbha


One of the eight great Bodhisattvas, Kokuzo represents the immense vastness of Buddha’s wisdom. It was widely believed in both Japan and Chinese that this Buddha’s blessings are so powerful that merely reciting his name and mantra would bestow great wisdom, intelligence and creative powers. Because of this, he is sometimes regarded as the Patron Deity of art. His practice is not as commonly practiced now except in the Japanese Shingon lineage. However, historically, he was very widely revered and worshipped for he is able to remove obstacles, help people to recognize and overcome their weaknesses and encourage the practice of the 6 Paramitas / Perfections: Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Perseverance, Concentration and Wisdom. .

Monju / Jampel Yang / Manjushri


Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom, is the perfect and complete representation of enlightened Wisdom; he represents all the wisdom of all the Buddhas. He is known for bestowing great intelligence, sharpness in studying and assimilating knowledge, sharp memory, and excellent communication skills – whether written or spoken. Many students, or people who are in the industries of learning and communication – such as teachers, academics, journalists, counselors, artists, public speakers – would benefit from relying on Manjushri’s practice. Spiritual practitioners often pray to Manjushri to help them in their study and meditations, and to grant them the ultimate wisdom they need to achieve full Enlightenment. .

Fugen / Kuntu Zangpo / Samantabhadra


In our mind is the potential to reach the awakened (Buddha) mind, the attainment of primordial reality where there is no suffering. This source potential is what is called Adi-Buddha. Fugen – more commonly known as Samantabhadra – is an Adi-Buddha representing the pure, unsullied mind that arises out of practice and pure conduct. He emphasizes the importance of sincere practice and moral conduct (which would involve the holding of precepts and vows).

Seishi / Mahasthamaprapta


Seishi is mentioned in three very important Buddhist texts: the Immeasurable Life Sutra, the Meditation Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. Seishi is an attendant to Amitabha and a guardian of Wisdom. He also represents great strength. In Japan, he is depicted in part of a trio, together with Amitabha and Chenrezig, and is part of a very strong Pure Land tradition. It is believed that this trio helps to lead the deceased to Sukhavati, Amitabha’s Pure Land.

Dainichi / Nangpa Nangdze / Vairocana


Dainichi is more commonly known by his Sanskrit name, Vairocana, worshipped as a part of the 5 Dhayani Buddhas or 5 Buddha families. He is sometimes also referred to as the “primordial Buddha” and regarded as the embodiment of “Dharmakaya”, the ultimate, formless truth body of the Buddha. He also represents Emptiness (Shunyata) and is often depicted performing the Dharmacakra (teaching) mudra, symbolizing that he can teach us the way to achieve Emptiness and Enlightenment. As the realization of Emptiness is the direct counter to ignorance, our prayers to this Buddha can help us to cut away ignorance, gain wisdom and help us to realise the ultimate truth and nature of all things. This is very powerful and one of the two aspects we need to attain full Enlightenment (the other being Bodhicitta, Great Compassion).

Fudo / Acala Vidyaraja


This Protector is known for being very swift at removing obstacles, particularly to Dharma practice. He is also able to clear very heavy, serious negative energies. As part of a group called the “Five Great Kings” or the “Five Knowledge Kings”, Fudo / Acala Vidyaraja is characterized by a wrathful expression, used to “scare” away interferences and evil beings. Anyone who prayers to this Protector Buddha can be assured of protection.

Amida / Opakme / Amitabha


Many Chinese and Japanese would have an especially strong affinity with Amitabha, having relied on his practice for many generations. Known to be the Buddha of Infinite Light or Infinite Life, Amitabha’s peaceful practice helps people to create the cause to be reborn in his pure realm of Sukhavati. Amitabha, in the form of Amitayus, is also a long-life deity and is known for bestowing blessings of longevity and good health. Many very large Buddhist schools around the world – both East and West – are based upon Amitabha’s practice.