Sarasvati in Japanese and Tibetan Buddhism today
Sarasvati, the river goddess and the Goddess of Wisdom, is known as Benzai-ten in Japanese language and is one of the seven most important Gods-Goddesses of Japan who provide luck.
The link below shows sixteen photographs of statues of Japanese
Benzaiten is the Japanese name of Goddess Sarasvati, which was
originally a mighty river in ancient India (mentioned in the Rig Veda). Later she became the eponymous deity of that river. However, she was associated with wisdom, knowledge, music and good fortune. Benzaiten arrived in Japan between the sixth and eighth centuries with Buddhism, primarily through the Chinese translations of the Sutra of Golden Light (金光明經), which has a section devoted to her. She is also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. She was later incorporated into Shinto religion as one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods.
Benza-tien comes in two main forms: (1) with two arms holding a lute; (2) with eight arms holding martial implements to indicate her role as protector against disaster; this version is called Happi Benzaiten. In less-common forms she is depicted naked or as Uga Benzaiten (esoteric form). Originally a river-deity, Sarasvati came to be the Goddess of everything that flows: words (and knowledge, by extension), learning, poetry, rhetoric, speech, eloquence, music
and also longevity and wealth. Japanese consider her to be the inventor of Sanskrit language, the divine language.
The characters used to write her name in the early Chinese-Japanese script, read ‘Biancaitian’ in Chinese and ‘Benzaiten’ in Japanese (辯才天), reflected her role as the goddess of eloquence or speech. The Sutra of Golden Light promised protection of the state, hence in Japan she became a protector-deity, at first of the state and then of people. It is possible that Sarasvati became fused with Durga of India at this very period.
Photograph of Benzai-ten statue in Hogonji Temple, Japan. This statue bears evidence of fusion of Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Durga into one Goddess, which is consistent with Hindu view of Shakti. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzaiten
Lastly she became one of the Seven Gods of Fortune, and the (Sino-Japanese characters used to write her name changed to 弁財天 (no change in pronunciation), which reflects her role in bestowing monetary fortune. She is enshrined on the Island of Enoshima (江の島) in Sagami Bay, about 50 kilometers south of Tokyo, and she and a
dragon are the central figures of the Enoshima Engi (江嶋縁起), a history of the shrines on Enoshima written by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kokei (皇慶) in 1047 A.D.
Suzuki writes of her: “Benzaiten’s Sanskrit name is Sarasvatî Devî, which means: “flowing water” or “eloquence,” and her character has remained the same in Japan; only the Japanese paint her in their own fashion, for so far as the outside appearance goes, the identity between Sarasvatî p. 401 and Benzaiten is hardly recognizabie. Muir in his Original Sanskrit Texts, V. 339, says of her: “Sarasvatî is a goddess of some though not of any great importance in the Vedas. She is celebrated both as a river and a goddess. She was primarily a river deity, as her name ‘watery’ clearly denotes; and in this capacity she is celebrated in a few separate passages . . . . The Sarasvatî thus appears to have been to the early Indians what the Ganges is to their descendants.”…
“The tradition of Sarasvatî or Benzaiten as water goddess is not lost sight of in Japan, for we see her temples very frequently in isolated islands or in caverns on the sea-coast.”
(Suzuki, Teitaro, The Seven Gods of Bliss, The Open Court, XXI, 1907, Chicago; http://www.sacred-texts.com/journals/oc/ts-sgb.htm ).
Japanese Sarasvati Temple at Inokashira: Source http://muza-chan.net/japan/index.php/blog/benzaiten-temple-inokashira
This is a video from the same temple showing puja of Sarasvati
Benzai-Ten at Inokashira temple:
Mitsubishi Gold Gods: Sarasvati and Shiva are identifiable in the video below. Shiva with trident and Lingam is on the left:
In fact not only Sarasvati penetrated the Japanese culture, but Shiva too penetrated the Japanese list of seven Great Gods. Shiva is called
Daikoku-ten (literally Great Black God, which is same as Mahakala) in Japanese language:
Shiva in stone, Tokyo:
Figure: Indra in Japanese religion. The Indra’s elephant has been shown very small because there lived no elephant in Japan. Vedic Indra is there in Japan by the name Taishakuten has been explained in this Japanese Embassy note: http://www.np.emb-japan.go.jp/history/diet.html
In fact six of the Seven Great Gods of Bliss originated in India. Only one of the seven Gods originated in Japan
Sarasvati in Tibet
Goddess Sarasvati is worshipped in Tibetan Buddhism too:
This is prayer to Sarasvati by a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Mipham Rinpoche (19th century), who invokes Sarasvati in the introduction to The Blazing Lights of the Sun and Moon (Tib. Sherab Raltri🙂 in the following words:
“In the expansive lotus-garden of speech of all the conquerors,
With 100,000 melodious blooms of holy Dharma,
You are a singing swan that shines as bright as moonlight,
May you now enjoy the vast lake of my mind.”
The Tibetan mantra for praying to Sarasvati is “Om Hrih Mahamayange Mahasarasvatyai namah”
Tibetan Sarasvati: Figure at khandro.net (link provided above)
Sarasvati along with other Tibetan Hindu-Buddhist Gods and Goddesses.:
Some other Hindu gods in Tibetan Buddhism are:
Goddess Tara (see lower half of the page on the link below)
Yama (see at the bottom of the page which this link opens)
Mahakala (Lowest part of the page in the link below)