The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Dragon King (traditional Chinese: 龍王; simplified Chinese: 龙王; pinyin: Lóng Wáng; Sanskrit: nāgarāja) is a deity in Chinese mythology commonly regarded as the divine ruler of the ocean. He has the ability to shapeshift into human form and lives in an underwater crystal palace. He has his own royal court and commands an army comprising various marine creatures. Apart from presiding over aquatic life, the Dragon King can also manipulate the weather and bring rainfall. The Dragon King often appears in classical Chinese literature. Detailed descriptions are given of the grandeur of their palaces.
They are believed to be the rulers of moving bodies of water, such as waterfalls, rivers, or seas. They can show themselves as water spouts (tornado or twister over water). In this capacity as the rulers of water and weather, the dragon is more anthropomorphic in form, often depicted as a humanoid, dressed in a king's costume, but with a dragon head wearing a king's headdress.
==Dragon Kings of the Four Seas==
There are four major Dragon Kings, each ruling a sea corresponding to one of the four cardinal directions: the East Sea (corresponding to the East China Sea), the South Sea (corresponding to the South China Sea), the West Sea (sometimes seen as the Indian Ocean and beyond), and the North Sea (sometimes seen as Lake Baikal). They appear in the classical novels Fengshen Bang and Journey to the West.
Because of this association, they are seen as "in charge" of water-related weather phenomenon. In premodern times, many Chinese villages (especially those close to rivers and seas) had temples dedicated to their local "dragon king". In times of drought or flooding, it was customary for the local gentry and government officials to lead the community in offering sacrifices and conducting other religious rites to appease the dragon, either to ask for rain or a cessation thereof.
The four Dragon Kings in Journey to the West are:
- Ao Guang (敖廣), Dragon King of the East Sea
- Ao Qin (敖欽), Dragon King of the South Sea
- Ao Run (敖閏), Dragon King of the West Sea
- Ao Shun (敖順), Dragon King of the North Sea
The origin of their family name, Ao (敖), however, remains unclear. The names of the Dragon Kings also vary according to the stories they are featured in.
==Worship of the Dragon King==
There are numerous temples dedicated to Dragon King in China and one in Oregon, United States. One temple in Beijing was built during the Yuan Dynasty and renovated in the early 21st century. Chaotian Palace (朝天宮) of Beigang, Yunlin County in Taiwan, is devoted to the goddess Mazu, also has human-shaped statues for the four Dragon Kings, each riding on a dragon. In contrast to the Dragon Kings, Mazu, although also a deity of sea, is a motherly figure who never wreaks havoc.
About Dragon Kings Kings of the dragons (Japanese: ryuuou 龍王) are said to live at the bottom of the seas. Eight dragon kings are depicted in the Lotus Sutra in the assembly at Vulture Peak:
“There were eight dragon kings, the dragon king Nanda, the dragon king Upananda, the dragon king Sagara, the dragon king Vasuki, the dragon king Takshaka, the dragon king Anavatapta, the dragon king Manasvin, the dragon king Utpalaka, each with several hundreds of thousands of followers.”
In chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra called Devadatta, The eight-year old daughter of the dragon king Sagara attained Enlightenment after offering a jewel to Buddha Sakyamuni:
“Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated questioned Manjushri, saying, “This sutra is a profound, subtle and wonderful, a treasure among sutras, a rarity in the world. Are there perhaps any living beings who, by earnestly and diligently practicing this sutra, have been able to attain Buddhahood quickly?”
Manjushri replied, “There is the daughter of the dragon king Sagara, who was just turned eight. Her wisdom has keen roots and she is good at the understanding the root activities and of living beings. She has mastered the dharanis, has been able to accept and embrace all the store house of profound secrets preached by the Buddhas, has entered deep into meditation, thoroughly grasping the doctrines, and in the space of an instant conceived the desire for bodhi and reached the level of no regression. Her eloquence knows no hindrance, and she thinks of living beings with compassion as though they were her own children. She is fully endowed with blessings, and when it comes to conceiving in mind and expounding by mouth, she is subtle, wonderful, comprehensive and great. Kind, compassionate, benevolent, yielding, she is gentle and refined in will, capable of attaining bodhi.”
Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated said, “When I observe Shakyamuni Thus Come One, I see that for immeasurable kalpas he carried out harsh and difficult practices, accumulated merit, piling up virtue, seeking the way to the bodhisattva without ever resting. I observe that throughout the thousand-million fold world there is not a single spot tiny as a mustard seed where this bodhisattva failed to sacrifice body and life the sake of living beings. Only after he had done that was he able to complete the bodhi way. I cannot believe that this girl in the space of the instant could actually achieve correct enlightenment.”
Before his words had come to an end, the dragon king’s daughter suddenly appeared before the Buddha, bowed her head in obeisance, and then retired to one side, reciting these verses of praise:
He profoundly understands the signs of guilt and good fortune and illuminates the ten directions everywhere. His subtle, wonderful pure Dharma body is endowed with the thirty-two features; the eighty characteristics adorn his Dharma body. Heavenly and human beings gaze up in awe, dragons and spirits all pay honor and respect; among all living beings, none who do not hold him in reverence. And having heard his teachings, I have attained bodhi - the Buddha alone can bear witness to this. I unfold the doctrines of the Great Vehicle to rescue living beings from suffering.
At that time Shariputra said to the dragon girl, “You suppose that in this short time you have been able to attain the unsurpassed way. But this is difficult to believe. Why? Because a woman’s body is soiled and defiled, not a vessel for the Law. How could you attain the unsurpassed bodhi? The road to Buddhahood is long and far-reaching. Only after one has spent immeasurable kalpas pursuing austerities, accumulating deeds, practicing all kinds of paramitas, can one finally achieve success. Moreover, a woman is subject to the five obstacles. First, she cannot become a Brahma heavenly king. Second, she cannot become the king Shakra. Third, she cannot become a devil king. Fourth, she cannot become a wheel-turning sage king. Fifth, she cannot become a Buddha. How then could a woman like you be able to attain Buddhahood so quickly?”
At that time the dragon girl had a precious jewel worth as much as the thousand-million-fold world which she presented to the Buddha. The Buddha immediately accepted it. The dragon girl said to Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated to the venerable one, Shariputra, “I presented the precious jewel and the World-Honored One accepted it – was that not quickly done?”
They replied, “Very quickly!”
The girls said, “Employ your supernatural powers and watch me attain Buddhahood. It shall be even quicker than that!”
At that time the members of the assembly all saw the dragon girl in the space of an instant change into a man and carry out all the practices of a bodhisattva, immediately proceeding to the Spotless World of the south, taking a seat on a jeweled lotus, and attaining impartial and correct enlightenment. With the thirty-two features and the eighty characteristics, he expounded the wonderful Law for all living beings everywhere in the ten directions.
At that time in the saha world to the bodhisattvas, voice-hearers, gods, dragons and others of the eight kinds of guardians, human and non-human beings all from a distance saw the dragon girl become a Buddha and preach the law to all the human and heavenly beings in the assembly at that time. Their hearts were filled with great joy and all from a distance paid reverent obeisance. Immeasurable living beings, hearing the Law, understood it and were able to reach the level of no regression. Immeasurable living beings received prophecies that they would gain the way. The Spotless World quaked and trembled in six different ways. Three thousand living beings of the saha world remained on the level of no regression. Three thousand living beings conceived a desire for bodhi and received prophecies of enlightenment. Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated, Shariputra and all the other members of the assembly silently believed and accepted these things.”
There is also The Dharma-Seal Sutra Spoken by the Buddha for Ocean Dragon King, translated into Chinese during Tang Dynasty by Tripitaka master Yi-Tzing:
“Thus have I heard, At one time the Bhagavan was in Ocean Dragon King’s palace, along with one thousand two hundred and fifty great monks, and many Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas.
At that time, Sagara the dragon king arose from his seat, went ahead, bowed to the feet of the Buddha, and said: “World-Honored One, is it possible to accept and uphold a few Dharmas but gain a lot of blessings?”
The Buddha told Ocean Dragon King: “There are four especially exalted Dharmas, if one can accept, uphold, read, and recite them, and can understand their meanings, although he spends little effort, he will gain lots of blessings. The merits and virtues that he gains will be the same as reading and reciting eighty-four thousand Dharma-Stores.”
“What are these four? They are:
All movements are impermanence.
All beings suffer.
Everything has no ego.
The tranquil extinction is the Bliss.”
“Dragon king, these are the four especially exalted Dharmas, which can grant the exhaustless Dharma-wisdom to the Bodhisattvas, make them achieve the uncreated stage earlier, and reach the Perfect Tranquility quickly. Therefore, you all should often recite and be mindful of them.”
When the World-Honored One spoke this Dharma-Seal Sutra of the four sentences, those Voice-Hearers, great Bodhisattvas, and the eight kinds of super-mundane beings, including the gods, dragons, Asuras, Gandharvas, and so forth, having heard the Buddha’s words, were greatly delighted. They accepted the teachings with faith, and began upholding and practicing them.