Shichi Fukujin-The Seven Gods of Good Luck
The seven gods of good luck are “kami” and an excellent example of the serene marriage between Shinto and Buddhism. At first, the Shinto kami were thought of as of protectors of Buddha when assimilation between the two beliefs began to place, however, today many kami are considered manifestations of Buddha, thereby taking human form.
Kami are the multitude of spirits and deities that represent the forces of good and evil and can be natural phenomena, disaster, plants and humans, for example. Although kami deities are not necessarily almighty, undying or omniscient, their concept affects everything- from the way in which tea is served, to the way battles are fought. Therefore, Shinto is a way of life rather than a religion, despite rituals and prayers. Full Shinto worship consists of purification, presentation, prayer and participation, a design that has always been vital to Shinto followers.
The Shichi Fukujin, which means the seven gods of good luck, have been worshipped since the late Middle Ages and represent various aspects of good fortune. They all have positive characteristics and represent material and world values. Their coming together first took place with the incarnation of three of these deities; however it was in the 17th century that all seven were brought together by the monk Tenkai, to signify the virtues of men during his time. These virtues are: Candor, Fortune, Amiability, Magnamity, Popularity, Longevity, and Dignity.
The seven gods are usually portrayed sitting in a treasure ship called the Takara-bune with a cargo of all the good luck anyone could wish for. Some of the ship’s goods are a wallet that never empties, a sacred key, a lucky coat and a hat that makes a person invisible. They are often listed in the order as follows:
Ebisu- (Candor) Dressed as a peasant while carrying a fishing line and fish ( symbolization of luck and congratulation) the always smiling Ebisu is the god of fisherman. He is the most popular god of the seven, always depicted as fat, jolly and ever cheerful. He grants success to those in their chosen occupation. He is the patron saint of laborers, and one who promotes hard work. He is regarded as one of the ancestors of the Japanese people, thereby making him an already established Japanese deity. He is commonly believed to be the son of primal gods Izanagi and Izanami. In Shinto he is thought of as the son of Okuninushi, a mythical hero.
Daikoku-ten-(Fortune) “The Great Black One” is the leader of the Shichi Fukujin and god of wealth and agriculture. He wears a cap and hunter’s clothes; he holds a magic mallet in his right hand and carries a treasure sack while standing on bundles of rice. He is the god of five cereals, earth, wealth, prosperity farmers, flood control and the kitchen. His iconography has changed throughout the years, due to the complexity of his germane attributes. He is often thought of as the father or brother of Ebisu due to their connection with the Spirit Master of the Great Land. His cult is still observed in Shingon, Tendai and Nichiren monasteries.
Benzai-ten (Benten)- (Amiability) The only female crew member, she is the Goddess of the Gift of Eloquence and the personification of the waters of the Indian River (Sarasvati.) Her shrines are located by the sea or on islands. She is an important figure of Brahamanism, where she was the patron of language, wisdom, knowledge and the arts. In the middle of the eight century her cult in Japan developed due to a principle text in the “Great Vehicle” where she promised to protect, cure the sick, increase eloquence and wisdom, as well as, grant freedom from calamity. Her fusion with other like deities led her to become a favorite of the merchant class, which later led to her inclusion of the Shichi Fukujin. Benten, for short, is depicted as a beautiful woman, with a white complexion, and dressed in beautiful ornate garments. She is portrayed with either two or eight arms in which she holds a lute, sword, and the jewel that grants desires. She is the patron saint of geishas, professional dancers, musicians and conversationalists.
Fukorukuju-(Popularity) aka The Philosopher; is the god of good health and long life. His name means Happiness-Emoluments-Longevity. He is represented as an old man with short legs and a tall forehead which signifies both intelligence and immortality. He is typically accompanied by a turtle and a crane, symbols of prolonged existence in Japan. He has the unique ability to bring the dead back to life and in his human form can survive without eating. The scross he carries on his cane containes all the wisdom in the world.
Hotei-(Magnanimity) Always in a good mood, Hotei stands for cheerful thrift and philanthropy and is usually surrounded by children. He is the God of Contentment and Happiness and is based on a legendary Chinese monk from the ninth century. He is also the incarnation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Buddha of the future and the model for the Chinese laughing Buddha. Hotei holds a hand-screen and a large sack which containes food and treasure that never empties. Rubbing his stomach brings good luck.
Jurojin- (Longevity) god of happiness and long life is an old man with a long white beard. He is accompanied by a stag, tortoise, or crane while holding a staff. Tied to his staff is a scroll on which is written the life span of all living things. He is sometimes shown carrying a drinking vessel as he loves the taste of sake (rice wine.)
Bishamonten-(Dignity) aka The Watchman; is a god of good fortune and a war god. Originally a Hindu god, he is derived from Vaishravana, one of the Guardians Kings of Buddhism. Despite his being a Shinto god, he still wears the armor of the Chinese soldiers while carrying a spear and a small pagoda, all this while trampling two demons. This god is not only the guardian of the north, but protector of human life, as well. He cures sickness and prevents attack from demon invasion on the world. He is a benevolent authority with impeccable hearing and has the dual virtues of a soldier and a missionary. He has enormous wealth and dispenses ten sorts of treasure or good luck.
This group is not the entity of any cult, but are considered more so as a lucky charm. Their picture is hung on walls, especially during the New Year, to promote a good omen. It is believed that their ship enters port on New Year’s Eve where they bring happiness to everyone. Traditionally a picture of the Shichi Fukujin aboard their Takura-bune is placed under a pillow on January 2nd. If a lucky dream is dreamt, it is considered a good omen for the year.
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