Traffic Safety Kannon Bodhisattva Praying for Traffic Safety
What is the Traffic Safety Kannon Bodhisattva Praying for Traffic Safety?
１．What is the Kannon Bodhisattva?
As you may know, Buddhist statues fall into four categories: "Tathagata," "Bodhisattva," "Wisdom King," and "Deva." Bodhisattvas, among these, represent those who are "in pursuit of enlightenment and practicing to become a Tathagata." There are various types of Bodhisattvas, including the Kannon Bodhisattva, Miroku Bodhisattva, Seishi Bodhisattva, and Jizo Bodhisattva. Additionally, Bodhisattvas not only guide people to the Pure Land but also bestow worldly benefits such as family safety, traffic safety, and physical health.
The Kannon Bodhisattva, also abbreviated as Kannon and affectionately known as Kannon-sama, has been widely worshipped since ancient times. Numerous temples worship Kannon Bodhisattva as the main deity, and pilgrimages dedicated to Kannon, such as the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, are still actively carried out throughout Japan. Moreover, various forms of Kannon Bodhisattvas exist, including the human-like Sei Kannon Bodhisattva, Juichimen Kannon Bodhisattva (Eleven-headed Kannon Bodhisattva), and Senju Kannon Bodhisattva (Thousand-Armed Kannon Bodhisattva).
２．What is the Traffic Safety Kannon Bodhisattva?
The position of Kannon Bodhisattva is as previously mentioned, however, the category of "Traffic Safety Kannon Bodhisattva" does not exist as a specific classification in the realm of Buddhist statues. Indeed, an online search will yield several instances of Kannon Bodhisattvas associated with traffic safety. However, this term typically refers to Kannon Bodhisattvas that have been erected specifically to pray for "traffic safety."
Furthermore, there are typically two kinds of Kannon Bodhisattvas erected to pray for traffic safety: those constructed by temples to mourn the many individuals who have lost their lives in traffic accidents, and those donated by the families of such victims. The latter case is often referred to as "Traffic Safety Kannon Bodhisattva." In terms of the traditional categories of Kannon Bodhisattvas, figures such as the human-like Sei Kannon Bodhisattva and the Juichimen Kannon Bodhisattva are commonly selected.
The Kannon Bodhisattva Established at Isshinji Temple for Praying for Traffic Safety
１．Overview of Isshinji Temple, Known as the "Temple of Bone Buddhas" in Kansai
In Osaka's Tennoji Ward, there are two famous temples: Shitennoji, founded by Prince Shotoku, and on the opposite side (west side) across the Tanimachi Street, the well-known Isshinji, also known as the "Temple of Bone Buddhas" in the Kansai region.
This temple has a long history and is said to have its origins in 1185 when Honen Shonin, the founder of the Jodo sect, established a grass hut here and practiced the "Nisōkan" meditation. During the late Edo period, it thrived as a temple holding year-round ceremonies for the deceased spirits called "Osegaki," and since the construction of the first "Bone Buddhas" in 1887, it has been renowned as the "Temple of Bone Buddhas." Nowadays, the temple remains vibrant, with numerous bone-relic interments performed daily in an assembly-line fashion.
The "Bone Buddha" is a statue of Amida Buddha constructed from crushed and specially processed cremated remains that have been interred in this temple. Initially, only a small portion of the collected bones were used to construct a Bone Buddha once every ten years. However, with the increasing trend of accepting interments for perpetual memorial services and the shift towards interment in facilities for perpetual memorial services rather than in graves, there were so many interments that the acceptance of all bones from cremation urns eventually had to be suspended. Now, only a limited number of bones are accepted for interment.
By the way, the remains of my father-in-law were also interred at Isshin-ji, becoming part of the most recent Bone Buddha. When I wrote this article, I first paid my respects to the Bone Buddha with incense and flowers, then took photos of the temple grounds in a way that wouldn't disturb other visitors.
２．Temple Architecture within the Temple Grounds
Upon your first visit to Isshin-ji, you will be amazed by the modern sculptures of Nio guardians and the contemporary architectural style of the shanmen.
The temple grounds are not very extensive, and as you enter, you will see the main hall diagonally to the left. To the left of the main hall, amidst the smoke of burning incense, you'll find the columbarium where many worshippers are offering prayers. On the right-hand side, there is a prayer hall (columbarium reception) with a golden spire on the roof, and in front of it, a statue of Kannon Bodhisattva catches your eye. There are several other structures as well, all of which are relatively new. While Isshinji is a historically significant temple, it is not a temple for admiring historical buildings or Buddha statues; instead, it remains a vibrant place where many common people visit to pay respects to their ancestors, centered around the columbarium. During the equinox and Obon festivals, the temple grounds are filled with people. On the other hand, with features like the Shanmen and the Sanzenbutsudo (3000 Buddhas Hall), Isshinji offers surprises and leaves visitors moved by its contemporary aspects, making it a temple of modern astonishment.
３．Kannon Bodhisattva Statue Erected to Pray for Traffic Safety
During the equinox and Obon festivals, the temple grounds are overflowing with worshippers. Many people bow in front of the main hall, offer incense and flowers at the ossuary hall, and pray with their hands clasped. However, not many people bow in front of the Kannon Bodhisattva statue located in front of the prayer hall.
This standing Kannon Bodhisattva statue holds a lotus flower in the left hand, and based on the attributes and overall appearance, it appears to be the Sei Kannon Bodhisattva. This Kannon Bodhisattva statue was created for the purpose of praying for traffic safety at the temple, but it doesn't seem to have been donated by the bereaved families of those who died in traffic accidents. However, there is no description anywhere indicating that it was specifically created for praying for traffic safety. Therefore, it is also possible to pray for other things, such as family safety and good health, besides traffic safety, in front of this Kannon Bodhisattva.
When visiting Isshin-ji, people may come to pay respects to their ancestors at the graves, but it is also good to offer prayers in front of this Kannon Bodhisattva statue, wishing for the well-being and safety of themselves and their families in the present.
４．Must-See: The Unique Atmosphere of the Sanzenbutsudo
Due to the limited space within Isshinji Temple, the Sanzenbutsudo, which serves as the lecture hall, is located just outside the main precinct. Inside this hall, there is a large wall standing in front of the circular corridor, enshrining numerous Buddha statues and twelve Deva Kings as their guardians. These Buddha statues are gradually being erected through donations, and eventually, a thousand bodies of Buddha are planned to be enshrined. By circumambulating the corridor in a clockwise direction three times, one can pray for repentance and purification to the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, from which it was named "Sanzenbutsudo".
Furthermore, upon entering the hall from the entrance along the wall, a theater-like space unfolds. In the front, a colossal triad statue of Amida Buddha is depicted, drawn against the backdrop of the Himalayan mountain landscape known as "Yukiyama" (Snow Mountain). Illuminated softly, it exudes a beautiful and solemn ambiance. This hall serves as the temple's lecture hall and is used for various sermons as well as hosting Buddhist wedding ceremonies and other social activities.
Please note that Isshinji Temple is a place where people come to pay respects to their ancestors, and the temple may not welcome those who are simply tourists seeking to observe aspects like the Bone Buddhas. However, you may be permitted to view the Shanmen, experience the temple grounds' atmosphere, and offer prayers at the Kannon Bodhisattva statue. Additionally, visitors can admire the Sanzenbutsudo without causing any inconvenience to the worshippers.
Jizo Bodhisattva and Traffic Safety at the Street Corner
There are also Jizo Bodhisattva statues erected to pray for traffic safety. Among them, there are overwhelmingly more Jizo statues built by local community associations, wishing for children's peaceful growth, academic success, and longevity, commonly enshrined in small temples.
However, there are also Jizo Bodhisattva statues erected near accident sites to offer prayers for the repose of children who lost their lives in traffic accidents and to pray for traffic safety. These statues share the same purpose as the Traffic Safety Kannon Bodhisattva, and they can be referred to as Traffic Safety Jizo Bodhisattva.
Unlike the ones enshrined in temples, these Jizo statues are built in places easily noticed by passing vehicles and pedestrians. When you come across such statues in the city, take a moment to reflect on their significance and renew your thoughts for traffic safety.