Reading the Air: Achala


Achala, one of the main images of Buddhism in Japan, is often a small rough stone image, hewn out of rock, and usually covered in moss. Achala is the strict side of the usually benefic Buddha, so he wears a grimace, wields a lasso to rescue people from their delusions, and stands on the earth unlike other images which float on celestial lotus pads.

This image represents the rigorous determination the Buddha developed during his six days of sitting working for his enlightenment. During this intense time, he drove away many temptations and demons sent to test his meditation focus, in order to reveal the truth of the Universe, the Dharma.

Nohmen bowed low and renewed his vow to continue on with his mission no matter what achala 1happened to him.  It was the Achala figure , the focus of the Homa rite or Fire rite, which stands consumed in flames whist being determined to continue to help all people. Nohmen smiles because the flames, instead of being red or orange as they were in the internal image, are covered in green moss and lichen.

But this image is what drove the founder of their school of Buddhism on to undergo strict austerities, cold water ablutionsuch as ice-water ablutions – sitting in the snow, then breaking the ice on the top of barrels of water to pour over his head to rid himself of self-centred or egotistic thoughts and desires, wearing only a thin cotton robe.

Tears rise in Nohmen’s eyes as he thinks of all the great spiritual leaders who were so willing to put their own needs and desires aside so that they could lead all people to happiness and truth. The fierce Achala with his huge sword of wisdom works tirelessly to cut away people’s delusions in the human world. Achala 2



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