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TO 33 SITES SACRED TO KANNON
KANNON BOSATSU 観音菩薩 (Skt. Avalokitesvara)
GODDESS OF MERCY; Origin India
Help for People in Distress in Earthly Realm
According to the Lotus Sutra, Kannon appears in 33 different manifestations to alleviate the suffering of all living beings. Although the Kamakura Pilgrimage does not feature statues from all 33 manifestations, there are nonetheless 33 old and famed temples sacred to Kannon in Kamakura. It has long been believed that visiting these temples in order is an act of great merit. The following is the order of the Kamakura 33 Kannon Pilgrimage, which was probably established sometime in the 13th or 14th century AD. See 100 Kannon Pilgrimages Nationwide for more details.
KAMAKURA PILGRIMAGE TO 33 SITES SACRED TO KANNON
Buddhism for the Common Folk. The three deities Amida, Kannon, and Jizō, became especially popular among the common folk during the Kamakura Period, and today remain the bedrock of folk Buddhism. Amida for the coming life in paradise, Kannon for salvation in earthly life, and Jizō for salvation from hell. See From Court to Commoner Buddhism in the Kamakura Era.
Why Number 33 ? The Kannon Sutra (chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra) mentions 33 specific forms of the Kannon. But it is unclear why the number 33 was used. One theory relates to the Buddhist realm Mt. Shumisen 須弥山 (Skt. = Mt. Sumeru, Mt. Meru) from Hindu mythology. In this heavenly palace of the Buddha and all followers, there are 33 deities who guard and protect the realm. They are commanded by Taishakuten (Skt. = Indra), who governs the other 32 gods who live on the 32 peaks of Sumeru, eight in each of the four directons. Taishakuten’s palace is known as Zenkenjō 善見城 (Palace of Correct Views); also called Kikenjō (Joyful to See), located in the Buddhist heaven called Trayastriṃśas (Skt.) atop Mt. Shumisen. Also, probably related to the 32 realms of Vedic mythology and to the 32 Marks of the Buddha. The Shitennō (Four Heavenly Kings) live halfway down the four sides of Mt. Shumisen, the mythical home of Shakya Nyorai (Historical Buddha). According to Buddhist lore, Mt. Shumisen is found at the center of the universe, surrounded by eight mountain ranges, and in the ocean between the 7th and 8th there are four continents inhabited by humans. These four continents are protected by the Shitennō, with each leading an army of supernatural creatures to keep the fighting Ashura at bay. On the top of Mt. Shumisen is the heavenly palace of Shakya Nyorai, and the abode of the Trayastrimsha (33 Gods) ruled by Taishakuten, who commands the Shitennō.
33 Kannon Pilgrimages. In Japan, there are numerous 33-site pilgrimage circuits sacred to Kannon. Among the best known are the Saigoku Pilgrimage to 33 sites (Kansai area), the Bandō Pilgrimage to 33 sites (Kanto area), and the Chichibu Pilgrimage to 34 sites (Saitama Valley). Together these 100 nationwide sites are extremely sacred to Kannon, and making the circuit to each in proper order is said to save the believer from hell and to open the gates to everlasting life. The 33 forms of Kannon given in the Lotus Sutra are the basis for these pilgrimage circuits. For those who cannot spare the time, miniature circuits (wherein pilgrims can visit 33 images within a single temple compound, like that at Ishiyamadera) are available. In all these pilgrimages, the forms of Kannon don’t match the 33 forms of the Lotus Sutra, but instead feature popular Kannon manifestations such as the 1000-Armed Kannon, the 11-Headed Kannon, the Nyoirin Kannon, and the Shō Kannon.
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