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Dec 15, 2021

Matara-jin (摩多羅神) is a Buddhist god from the Tendai school of Japanese Buddhism. Through history he was closely associated with the Mt. Hiei temple complex.[1] He was commonly worshiped in an area called ushirodo (後戸; “backdoor”) in Tendai temples.[2]

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Buddhism in Japan

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Suzuki Masataka and Bernard Faure consider Matara-jin a typical example of the so-called shukujin.[3][4] Faure considers the primary role of this category of deities to be that of an “astral god (…) controlling human destiny.”[5]

Many researchers consider Matara-jin a god of perfroming arts. Hattori Yukio, following Zeami‘s Fushikaden (風姿花傳), concluded that Matara-jin was connected to the origin of sarugaku and noh.[6][7] Omote Akira proposed that the okina mask, representing an enigmatic “auspicious old man” character in performances, was viewed as a representation of Matara-jin.[8]

Additionally in 1617 Tendai priest Tenkai established Matara-jin as one of the divine protectors of the Tokugawa shogunate.[9]

According to William M. Bodifordd, Matara-jin has his origin in the introduction and subsequent confusion of two separate deities to Japan: Taizan Fukun, the Taoist afterlife judge and god of Mount Tai (incorporated into Mahayana Buddhism as one of the kings of hell), and the Hindu wrathful protector deity Mahakala.[10]

In the writings of 13th century Tendai monk Koshu, Matara-jin is identified as one and the same as Mahakala (Daikokuten), or as a demon (specifically a dakini) serving him.[11]

Konparu Zenchiku in his work Meishuku shū (明宿集)envisioned a complex network of connections between various shukujin figures, regarding all of them as manifestations of a single Okina deity.[12] Zenchiku’s shukujin network also incorporated the legendary figure of Hata no Kawakatsu.[13]

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