TENBU INTRO PAGE
TENBU GROUP = Celestial Beings, Gods, Deities, Deva
Origin = Hindu demi-gods (DEVA) incorporated into Buddhism.
Protectors of Buddhist Law. This large group of deities includes divine beings and
supernatural creatures like the Dragon, the bird-man Karura, and Celestial Nymphs.
Deva, Divine Beings, Celestial Beings
Jp. = Tenbu 天部, Sanskrit = Deva Group. Like most deities in Japan’s Buddhist pantheon, the Tenbu originated from Hindu mythology. But once these Hindu gods were incorporated into Buddhism, they became protectors of Buddhist Law (Dharma in Sanskrit) and given both Buddhist and Shintō attributes. In most Japanese traditions, the Tenbu are Hindu deities who became protectors of Buddhism after learning the teachings of the Historical Buddha.
Like the Myō-ō (Wisdom Kings), the Tenbu stand guard over the Nyorai (Buddha) and Bosatsu (Bodhisattva), and the Buddhist community. The Sanskrit term DEVA is translated as TEN 天 in Japan, meaning “Celestial Beings, Deities, or Gods.” The Japanese term BU 部 means “group.” Thus TENBU literally means “Group of Celestial Beings.”
The TENBU group includes the Deva and many other divinely spiritual beings, including creatures like the Dragon, the bird-man Karura, plus Celestial Nymphs & Heavenly Musicians. Most originated in ancient Indian myths, but once incorporated into Buddhism, they became protectors of Buddhist Law (Dharma in Sanskrit).
The TENBU appear in great number in Japanese mandala. Among the TENBU, Bonten and Taishakuten are highest in rank. TENBU artwork becomes very prominent by the Heian Period (late 10th century AD). Please visit the specific links at left (and in below table) for details on these deities.
The TENBU live for countless ages, but even they grow old and die, for they are still trapped in the Six States of Existence, the cycle of suffering, the cycle of rebirth and redeath (i.e., Sanskrit samsara). The Tenbu are hindered by their great bliss and thus they fail to recognize the truth of suffering. They ultimately “use up” their good karma after countless years in paradise and once again fall down into a lower state. Says author Karen Armstrong in The Case for God (p. 12): “The Aryans called their gods ‘the shining ones’ (deva) because Spirit shone through them more brightly than through mortal creatures, but these gods had no control over the world; they were not omniscient and were obliged, like everything else, to submit to the transcendent order that kept everything in existence, set the stars on their course, made the seasons follow each other, and compelled the seas to remain within bounds.” <end quote>
The road from Hell to Buddhahood actually covers Ten States (the Ten Worlds). Thus, there are four more states of existence above the TENBU, who occupy the sixth highest state in ten. Click here for details on the Ten Worlds.
Japan’s syncretic religious traditions involve a Deva-Buddha-Kami (Hindu-Buddhist-Shintō) matrix rather than a simple binary Buddha-Kami matrix (the latter model is known as Honji Suijaku 本地垂迹).
4 Heavenly Kings (Shitennō)
8 Legions (Hachi-bushū)
12 Devas (Jūni-ten)
12 Generals (Jūni Shinshō)
20 Celestials (Nijūten)
28 Legions (Nijūhachi-bushū)
Benzaiten (Skt. = Sarasvatī)
Bishamonten (Skt. = Vaiśravaṇa)
Bonten (Skt. = Brahman, Sikhin)
Daijizaiten (Skt. = Mahesvara)
Daikokuten (Skt. = Mahākāla)
Dakiniten (Skt. = Ḍākinī))
Dragon (Eight Legions)
Enmaten (Skt. = Yama)
Futen (Skt. = Vayu, Anila)
Gatten (Skt. = Candra)
Gigeiten (Skt. = Bhīmā)
Idaten (Skt. = Skanda)
Ishanaten (Skt. = Isana)
Jiten (Skt. = Prthivi)
Kankiten (Skt. = Gaṇeśa)
Karyōbinga (Skt. = Apsaras)
Karura (28 Legions)
Katen (Skt. = Agni)
Kichijōten (Skt. = Mahasri, Laksmi)
Marishiten (Skt. = Marici)
Niō (Misshaku, Narayana)
Nitten (Skt. = Surya)
Rasetsuten (Skt. = Rākṣasa)
Sendan Kendatsuba (Skt = Gandharva)
Shikumon Setsuki (Rasetsu)
Shima (Skt. = Māra)
Shōten (Skt. = Gaṇeśa)
Suiten (Skt. = Varuna)
Tamonten (Skt. = Vaiśravaṇa)
Taishakuten (Skt. = Indra)
Tennin & Tennyo (Skt = Apsara)
See below for 80+ listings
Bonten, Heian Era Mask
Kyoto Nat’l Museum
TENBU GROUPS & GROUP DEITIES
Index to nearly 80 Tenbu Deities
There are some 80 TENBU deities covered at this site. They are listed alphabetically below in their main TENBU categories. Click the maroon links to learn about each group and each deity in that group.
Hachi-bushū (Eight Legions)
Ryu (Naga; dragons)
Jūni Shinshō (12 Generals
of Yakushi Nyorai)
Kubira (Khumbhira, Kuvera))
Jūni-ten (12 Devas)
Bonten (Heaven; Brahman)
Enmaten (South; Yama)
Futen (NW; Vayu)
Gatten (Moon; Candra)
Ishanaten (NE; Isana)
Jiten (Earth; Prthivi)
Katen (SE; Agri)
Nitten (Sun; Surya, Aditya)
Rasetsuten (SW; Rakasasa)
Suiten (West; Varuna)
Tamonten (North; Vaisravana)
Taishakuten (East; Indra)
28 Legions of the
1000-Armed Kannon Bosatsu
Click above link for
listing of the 28 legions.
Nio Protectors (Gate Guardians)
Sanskrit = Vajradhara
Kongo Rikishi and Shukongoshin
Daijizaiten (Protector of Dharma)
Enma-ō (Judge of Hell)
Gigeiten (Goddess of the Arts)
Marishiten (Goddess of Wealth, War)
Seven Lucky Gods
Shitennō (Four Heavenly Kings/Devas)
Guard the 4 Directions & Center
Jikokuten (E; Dhrtarasta)
Taishakuten (C; Indra)
Tamonten (N; Vaisravana)
Zōchōten (S; Virudhaka)
Some Tenbu are worshipped independently, not as part of a group.
Governs music and arts; one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods.
God of warriors, and one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods.
One of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods; god of wealth and farmers.
Kitchen God, Protector of Monasteries and Monks.
God of Conjugal Harmony, Child-Giving, & Long Life. Also known as Shouten, Shoten, Kangiten.
Easy delivery & child-rearing. Also known as Kishimojin.
Kichijōten (Sri Laksmi)
Wife of Vishnu in Hindu myth; wife or sister of Bishamonten in Buddhism. Also read Kisshouten or Kudokuten.
Suiten (Varuna). Suiten’s Shinto counterpart is Suijin, who is worshipped independently. Suiten is not an object of central devotion.
TENBU 天部, JAPANESE SPELLINGS
See individual pages for proper Japanese spellings of all group-related deities. There is another grouping of 20 Celestials (see below), but this latter grouping is not well known in Japan and rarely represented in Japanese artwork.
- Eight Legions 八部衆 (Hachi Bushuu, Protectors of Buddhist Teachings)
- 12 Deva 十二天 (Juuniten, the 12 guard the Nyorai and Bosatsu)
- 12 Generals 十二神将 (Jūni Shinshō of Yakushi Nyorai)
- 28 Legions 二十八部衆 (Nijuuhachi Bushuu of the 1000-armed Kannon)
- Benzaiten 弁財天 (Goddess of Music; one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods)
- Bishamonten 毘沙門天 (Guardian of the North, aka Taishakuten, one of 7 Lucky Gods)
- Bonten 梵天 (Skt. = Brahman)
- Daijizaiten 大自在天 (Protector of Buddhist teachings)
- Daikokuten 大黒天 (God of Wealth, one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods)
- Enma-ou and Jyuu-ou 閻魔王・焔魔天・十王 (Kings of Hell)
- Gigeiten 技芸天 (Goddess of the Arts)
- Idaten 韋駄天 (Kitchen God, Protector of Monasteries & Monks)
- Ikomasyouten 生駒聖天
- Jinjya Daishou 深沙大将
- Kankiten 歓喜天 (Conjugal Harmony, Child-Giving, & Long Life)
- Kariteimo 訶梨帝母・鬼子母神 (Goddess of Children))
- Kichijouten 吉祥天 (Goddess who Grants Happiness)
- Marishiten 摩利支天 (Goddess of Wealth & Warrior Class)
- Nio Protectors 仁王・金剛力士・執金剛神 (Guardians of Temple Gates)
- Shitenno 四天王 (Guard the Four Directions)
- Kangiten, Kankiten, or Shouten 歓喜天 or 聖天 (Deva of Bliss)
- Taishakuten 帝釈天 (Skt. = Indra; God of the Center)
二十天 Nijūten = Twenty Celestials
ANOTHER GROUPING OF THE TENBU
More widely known in mainland Asia; little known in Japan. Below list adapted from Soothill’s Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. Japanese kanji listed first, followed by Sanskrit and then English equivalent in Japan (shown in parenthesis).
- 大梵天王 Mahabrahman (Bonten)
- 帝釋尊天 Sakra Devanam Indra (Taishakuten)
- 多聞天王 Vaisravana or 毘沙門 Dhanada (Tamonten)
- 持國天王 Dhrtarastra (Jikokuten)
- 增長天王 Virudhaka (Zouchoten)
- 廣目天王 Virupaksa (Koumokuten)
- 金剛密迹 Guhyapati (Kongo Misshaku, Vajrapani, Nio)
- 摩醯首羅 Mahesvara (Daijizaiten)
- 散脂迦 Pancika (Kariteimo’s husband; a general serving Bishamon)
- 大辯才天 Sarasvati (Benzaiten)
- 大功德天 Laksmi (Kichijouten)
- 韋驛天神 Skanda (Idaten)
- 堅牢地神 Prthivi (Jiten)
- 菩提樹神 Bodhidruma or Bodhi-vrksa (Bodaijujin; an Arhat);
Also the goddess-guardian of the Bo-tree (bodhi tree)
- 鬼子母神 Hariti (Kariteimo)
- 摩利支天 Marici (Marishiten)
- 日宮天子 Surya (Nitten, Nikko, Sun Deva)
- 月嬀天子 Candra (Gatten, Gakko, Moon Deva)
- 裟竭龍王 Sagara (Shakara, Shakatsura-ryuo, Sha-gara-ryuo)
- 閻摩羅王 Yama-raja (Enmaten; King of Underworld)
<end Soothill list>
<#19 Above> Says the Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: “One of the eight great dragon kings assembled at the ceremony of the Lotus Sutra. In the "Devadatta" (twelfth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the dragon king Sagara is described as the father of a dragon girl who attained enlightenment at age eight. The Sanskrit word sagara means the ocean. According to the Long Agama Sutra, he lives in the dragon palace on the bed of the ocean. The Flower Garland Sutra describes Sagara as the dragon who causes rain to fall throughout the world.“ <end SG quote>
Below data courtesy of:
Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms
By William Edward Soothill & Lewis Hodous
Below not yet incorporated into site.
七十二天 The seventy-two devas, namely, sixty-nine devas, the lord of Tai Shan, the god of the five roads, and 大吉祥天 Mahāśrī .
天宮 devapura; devaloka; the palace of devas, the abode of the gods, i. e. the six celestial worlds situated above the Meru, between the earth and the Brahmalokas. v. 六天.
天帝生驢胎 Lord of devas, born in the womb of an ass, a Buddhist fable, that Indra knowing he was to be reborn from the womb of an ass, in sorrow sought to escape his fate, and was told that trust in Buddha was the only way. Before he reached Buddha his life came to an end and he found himself in the ass. His resolve, however, had proved effective, for the master of the ass beat her so hard that she dropped her foal dead. Thus Indra returned to his former existence and began his ascent to Buddha.
天主 Devapati. The Lord of devas, a title of Indra.
The Indra heaven, the second of the six heavens of form. Its capital is situated on the summit of Mt. Sumeru, where Indra rules over his thirty-two devas, who reside on thirty-two peaks of Sumeru, eight in each of the four directons. Indra's capital is called 殊勝 Sudarśana, 喜見城 Joy-view city. Its people are a yojana in height, each one's clothing weighs 六鐵 (1/4 oz. ), and they live 1, 000 years, a day and night being equal to 100 earthly years. Eitel says Indra's heaven 'tallies in all its details with the Svarga of Brahminic mythology' and suggests that 'the whole myth may have an astronomical meaning', or be connected, with 'the atmosphere with its phenomena, which strengthens Koeppen's hypothesis explaining the number thirty-three as referring to the eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Ādityas, and two Aśvins of Vedic mythology'. In his palace called Vaijayanta 'Indra is enthroned with 1, 000 eyes with four arms grasping the vajra. There he revels in numberless sensual pleasures together with his wife Śacī... and with 119, 000 concubines with whom he associates by means of transformation'.
忉利天 Trāyastriṃśas, 怛唎耶怛唎奢; 多羅夜登陵舍; the heavens of the thirty-three devas, 三十三天, the second of the desire-heavens, the heaven of Indra; it is the Svarga of Hindu mythology, situated on Meru with thirty-two deva-cities, eight on each side; a central city is 善見城 Sudarśana, or Amarāvatī, where Indra, with 1, 000 heads and eyes and four arms, lives in his palace called 禪延; 毘闍延 (or 毘禪延) ? Vaijayanta, and 'revels in numberless sensual pleasures together with his wife' Śacī and with 119, 000 concubines. 'There he receives the monthly reports of the' four Mahārājas as to the good and evil in the world. 'The whole myth may have an astronomical' or meteorological background, e. g. the number thirty-three indicating the 'eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Ādityas, and two Aśvins of Vedic mythology. ' Eitel. Cf. 因陀羅.
自在 Īśvara , 伊濕伐邏; can, king, master, sovereign, independent, royal; intp. as free from resistance; also, the mind free from delusion; in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra it translates vasitā. There are several groups of this independence, or sovereignty — 2, 4, 5, 8, and 10, e. g. the 2 are that a bodhisattva has sovereign knowledge and sovereign power; the others are categories of a bodhisattva's sovereign powers. For the eight powers v. 八大自在我.
自在天 (or自在王) Īśvaradeva, a title of Śiva, king of the devas, also known as 大自在天 Maheśvara, q. v. It is a title also applied to Guanyin and others.
自在天外道 Śivaites, who ascribed creation and destruction to Śiva, and that all things form his body, space his head, sun and moon his eyes, earth his body, rivers and seas his urine, mountains his fæces, wind his life, fire his heat, and all living things the vermin on his body. This sect is also known as the 自在等因宗. Śiva is represented with eight arms, three eyes, sitting on a bull.
自在王 is also a title of Vairocana; and, as Sureśvara, is the name of a mythical king, contemporary of the mythical Śikhin Buddha.
Below data courtesy of:
Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms
By William Edward Soothill & Lewis Hodous
Below not yet incorporated into site.
八方天 The eight heavens and devas at the eight points of the compass: E., the Indra, or Śakra heaven; S., the Yama heaven; W., the Varuna, or water heaven; N., the Vaiśramana, or Pluto heaven; N.E., the Īśāna, or Śiva heaven; S.E., the Homa, or fire heaven; S.W., the Nirṛti, or Rakṣa heaven; N.W., the Vāyu, or wind heaven. All these may be considered as devalokas or heavens.
火天 The fire devas shown as the 12th group in the diamond court of the Garbhadhātu; v. 火神.
四大護 The guardian devas of the four quarters: south 金剛無勝結護; east 無畏結護; north 懷諸怖結護; and west 難降伏結護. The 四大佛護院 is the thirteenth group of the Garbhadhātu.
外金剛部 The external twenty devas in the Vajradhātu group, whose names, many of them doubtful, are given as Nārāyaṇa, Kumāra, Vajragoḍa, Brahmā, Śakra, Āditya, Candra, Vajramāha, ? Musala, Piṅgala, ? Rakṣalevatā, Vāyu, Vajravāsin, Agni, Vaiśravaṇa, Vajrāṅkuśa, Yama, Vajrājaya, Vināyaka, Nāgavajra.
外金剛部院 The last of the thirteen courts in the Garbhadhātu group.
十六天 (十六大天) The sixteen devas are E. Indra and his wife; S.E. the fire deva and his wife; S. Yama and his wife; S.W. Yakṣa-rāja (Kuvera) and wife; W. the water deva and his nāga wife (Śakti); N.W. the wind deva and wife; N. Vaiśramaṇa and wife; N.E. Īśāna and wife.
五類天 The five kinds of devas: (1) 上界天 in the upper realms of form and non-form; (2) 虛空天 in the sky, i. e. four of the six devas of the desire-realm; (3) 地居天 on the earth, i. e. the other two of the six devas, on Sumeru; (4) 遊虛天空 wandering devas of the sky, e. g. sun, moon, starvas, (5) 地下天 under-world devas, e. g. nāgas, asuras, māras, etc. Of. 五大明王.
天 Heaven; the sky; a day; cf. dyo, dyaus also as 提婆 a deva, or divine being, deity; and as 素羅 sura, shining, bright.
三種天 The three classes of devas: (1) 名天 famous rulers on earth styled 天王, 天子; (2) 生天 the highest incarnations of the six paths; (3) 淨天 the pure, or the saints, from śrāvakas to pratyeka-buddhas. 智度論 7.
四種天 The four classes of devas include (1) 名天 famous rulers on earth styled 天王, 天子; (2) 生天 the highest incarnations of the six paths; (3) 淨天 the pure, or the saints, from śrāvakas to pratyekabuddhas, and (4) 義天 all bodhisattvas above the ten stages 十住. The Buddhas are not included; 智度論 22.
五種天 (1) 名天 famous rulers on earth styled 天王, 天子; (2) 生天 the highest incarnations of the six paths; (3) 淨天 the pure, or the saints, from śrāvakas to pratyekabuddhas, and (4) 義天 all bodhisattvas above the ten stages 十住, and (5) 第一義天 a supreme heaven with bodhisattvas and Buddhas in eternal immutability; 涅槃經 23. Cf. 天宮.
妙法堂 善法堂 The hall of wonderful dharma, situated in the south-west corner of the Trāyastriṃśas heaven, v. 忉, where the thirty-three devas discuss whether affairs are according to law or truth or the contrary.
妙法宮 The palace of the wonderful Law, in which the Buddha ever dwells.
妙法燈 The lamp of the wonderful Law shining into the darkness of ignorance.
供天 天供 The devas who serve Indra.
初禪梵天 devas in the realms of form, who have purged themselves from all sexuality.
治國天 (or 持國天) One of the four devas or maharājas, guarding the eastern quarter.
金剛天 The vajradevas twenty in number in the vajradhātu group.
長壽天 devas of long life, in the fourth dhyāna heaven where life is 500 great kalpas, and in the fourth arūpaloka where life extends over 80, 000 kalpas.
帝釋 Sovereign Śakra; Indra; 能天帝 mighty lord of devas; Lord of the Trayastriṃśas, i.e. the thirty-three heavens 三十三天 q. v.; he is also styled 釋迦提桓因陀羅 (or 釋迦提婆因陀羅) (or 釋迦提桓因達羅 or 釋迦提婆因達羅); 釋帝桓因 Śakra-devānām Indra.
The Deva (TENBU) represent the highest state of existence prior to the last four states leading to Buddahood. There are six states (see Six States) referred to as the Wheel of Life by Tibetans. These six are followed by four more, the final four steps to Buddhahood. The lowest three states are called the three evil paths, or three bad states. They are (1) people in hells; (2) hungry ghosts; (3) animals. The next three states are (4) Asuras; (5) Humans; (6) Devas. All beings in these six states are doomed to death and rebirth in a recurring cycle over countless ages -- unless they can break free from desire and attain enlightenment. Even the lives of the powerful Deva come to an end, for they are not yet free from the cycle of birth and death. Only those who attain enlightenment (the Bosatsu, Rakan, and Nyorai) are free from the cycle of birth and death, the cycle of suffering (samsara in Sanskrit). To escape from the cycle, one must either (1) achieve Buddhahood in one's life, or (2) be reborn in Amida Nyorai’s Western Pure Land, practice there, and achive enlightenment there. Those reborn in the Pure Land are no longer trapped in the cycle of birth and death (samsara), and can thus devote all their efforts to attaining enlightenment. Above the TENBU (the sixth state) are the final four states, yielding a total of Ten States (the Ten Worlds) that must be achieved prior to Buddhahood.
Below Text Courtesy of:
In India's ancient religious traditions, which heavily influenced Buddhism, certain auxiliary deities are called DEVA, translated in Japanese as TEN (or collectivity as TENBU). There are various types of TEN (Deva), which are differentiated from Japan’s own indigenous Shinto deities, the latter referred to as SHIN (or Myoujin, or Gongen). The TEN deities usually first appeared in ancient Indian myths, and from the time of Siddhartha Gautama (the Historical Buddha) they developed a deep interrelationship with Buddhism. Once incorporated into the Buddhist tradition, they became objects of faith and came to be worshiped as protectors of the Buddhist Law (dharma in Sanskrit). With the development of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo) in Japan, the number of these auxiliary tenbu deities increased even further. They became particularly important for the design of mandalas, where they appear in great number.
Iconographically, they wear "deva clothing," which almost always includes a skirt or wrap-around tunic, and often leaves the upper part of the torso exposed. They often wear elaborate crown-like headdresses and other decorative accessories. Many Tenbu deities are also garbed in warrior dress with weapons in their hands. In accordance with Buddhist cosmology, each Deva has an assigned quarter of heaven to fulfill its specific mission.
Many of the artistic representations of devas are revered as "attendants," usually placed at the sides of larger Buddhist images which serve as the main focus of devotion. Certain devas, however, like Kichijoten, Benzaiten, and Suiten, receive independent status as main objects of devotion, attracting the faith of wide segments of the Japanese people.
The Historical Buddha is believed to live in Shumisen, or Mt. Shumi (Jp. = Shumisen 須弥山). There is an ocean and a gigantic lotus growing there. Numerous smaller lotuses are blooming there. These lotuses contain oceans, which contain four large islands, and Shumisen is in the middle of the islands. These four islands are protected by the Shitenno. Human beings and other animals are thought to live on the southern island.
- Buddhist-Artwork.com, our sister site, launched in July 2006. This online store sells quality hand-carved wooden statues of many Buddhist deities, especially those carved for the Japanese market. It is aimed at art lovers, Buddhist practitioners, and laity alike. Just like this site (OnmarkProductions.com), it is not associated with any educational institution, private corporation, governmental agency, or religious group.
Last Update July 2013