Thursday, September 11, 2008

Four Heavenly Kings

In the , the Four Heavenly Kings are four guardian gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world. They are collectively named as follows:

*Sanskrit: ''caturmahārāja'' "Four Kings" or '''' "guardian of the world"
*: ''Tiānwáng'' "Heavenly kings" or ''Sì Tiānwáng'' "Four heavenly kings"
*: ''Cheonwang'' "Heavenly kings" or ''Sacheonwang'' "Four heavenly kings"
*: "Four heavenly kings"
*: ''rgyal.chen bzhi'' "Four great kings"
*: ''chatumaharaja'' "Four great kings" or ''chatulokkaban'' "guardian of the world"

They reside in the Cāturmahārājika heaven on the lower slopes of Mount Sumeru, which is the lowest of the six worlds of the of the . They are the protectors of the world and fighters of evil, each able to command a legion of supernatural creatures to protect the . They are:

Further associations between the four directions and elements, seasons, planets, animals, internal organs, etc. can be found at Five elements . Note, however, that the colors assigned to the Four Heavenly Kings represent an independent tradition and do not correspond to the traditional Chinese association of colors and directions.

All four serve ?akra , the lord of the devas of . On the 8th, 14th and 15th days of each lunar month, the Four Heavenly Kings either send out messengers or go themselves to see how virtue and morality are faring in the world of men. Then they report upon the state of affairs to the assembly of the devas.

On the orders of ?akra, the four kings and their retinues stand guard to protect from another attack by the , which once threatened to destroy the kingdom of the devas. They are also vowed to protect the Buddha, the , and the Buddha's followers from danger.

According to Vasubandhu, devas born in the Cāturmahārājika heaven are 1/4 of a kro?a in height . They also have a five-hundred year lifespan, of which each day is equivalent to 50 years in our world; thus their total lifespan amounts to about nine million years .

In Chinese they are known collectively as "Fēng Tiáo Yǔ Shùn" , which translates into "Good Climate". This mnemonic reminds one of the symbols the Heavenly Kings carry. For instance, "Fēng" sounds like the Chinese word for "edge" , hence the corresponding symbol is a sword. "Tiáo" sounds like "Tune", hence the corresponding symbol is a musical instrument. "Yǔ" means "rain", hence the corresponding symbol is an umbrella. "Shùn" refers to the symbol of a crimson .

These symbols also link the deities to their followers; for instance, the , magical creatures who can change form between human and serpent, are led by , represented with a snake; the gandharvas are celestial musicians, led by , represented with a lute. The umbrella was a symbol of regal sovereignty in ancient India, and the sword is a symbol of martial prowess. 's mongoose, which ejects jewels from its mouth, is said to represent generosity in opposition to greed.

No comments: