Zodiac Protectors

Along the sides of the Universal Wisdom Hall are the Zodiac Protectors, accompanied by their corresponding Generals, and surrounded by smaller gilt Bodhisattva Cintamanicakra Avalokitesvara statues.
Zodiac Protectors
According to Japanese Buddhist Culture, there is a Buddha or Bodhisattva to protect you upon birth. There is a corresponding Zodiac Protector for each Lunar Zodiac animal. The Zodiac Protectors engages in His vows that whoever prays to the respective Zodiac Protectors with faith would be blessed by Him. Each Zodiac Protector has a corresponding Zodiac General as guardian.

According to 12 Zodiac Animals & Zodiac Calendar – Buddhism in Japan and China (website), “ When Buddhism arrived in Japan, in the mid-6th century AD, the Japanese eagerly imported both the Buddhist teachings and the Zodiac calendar — the calendar was officially adopted in 604 AD. In Japan, the Zodiac calendar is known as Kanshi 干支 (also read Eto), and the 12 animals of the Zodiac are known as the Jūni Shi (Juni Shi) 十二支. The Zodiac’s popularity in Japan peaked during the Edo Era (1600-1868 AD), by which time each of the 12 animals were commonly associated with one of eight Buddhist patron protector deities (four guarding the four cardinal directions and four guarding the four semi-directions; the latter four are each associated with two animals, thus covering all 12 animals). At many Japanese temples even today, visitors can purchase small protective amulets or carvings of their patron Buddhist-Zodiac deity. In Japan, the lunar calendar was abandoned in 1872 in favor of the solar (Gregorian) calendar, but even today many temples and shrines continue to use the lunar calendar for important festivals and events.”

According to 12 Zodiac Animals & Zodiac Calendar – Buddhism in Japan and China (website), “This grouping of eight Buddhist deities is associated with the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Each deity is associated with a specific Zodiac animal and serves as the protector (guardian, patron) for all people born in that animal year. For example, people born in the Year of the Tiger are protected by Kokūzō Bosatsu (see chart below).

The origin of this grouping is unknown to me, but it likely originated in China. The grouping was popular in Japan by at least the Edo period (1603 – 1867) for it was listed in the 1783 enlarged edition of the Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙 or “Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images,” one of Japan’s most important studies of Buddhist iconography. The first edition of the Butsuzō-zu-i was published in 1690 but did not include this grouping of eight. Each of the eight Buddhist protectors is linked to one of the 12 zodiac animals, to one of the eight directions and semi-directions, and to one of the 10 calendar signs. The list goes on, with these Buddhist protectors also linked to the Five Elements, Five Colors, and Five Entrances. The Chinese Zodiac is tremendously confusing and clouded by differing interpretations, making it hard to track down the origin of the many traditions and legends still flourishing in Japan.

Why not assign 12 patron Buddhist deities instead of eight? The most plausible reasons involve Chinese cosmology, Taoist yin-yang influences, and divination (Jp. = Onmyōdō 陰陽道). In Chinese cosmology, there are eight interrelated trigrams called the Bā Guà 八卦 (Jp. = Hakka). Each consists of three lines, each is associated with either yin 陰 or yang 陽, and each is linked to one of the eight directions (four cardinal directions and four semi-directions.”

They were all exquisitely hand crafted and gilded, from Canadian cypress wood in China by highly skilled carvers from Yueqing Global Arts and Crafts Factory of Zhejiang Province, China.

Each adoption of a share of the Zodiac Protectors is S$88. (Click in to sponsor.)

Zodiac Generals
The Zodiac Generals are also associated with the Twelve Heavenly Generals (Chinese: 十二神将, 十二神將; pinyin: shí èr shén jiāng; Japanese: Jūni Shinshō (十二神将) or Jūni Shinnō (十二神王) or Jūni Yakusha Taishō (十二薬叉大将) or Twelve Divine Generals (sometimes considered as protective deities, or yaksas or titans) of the Buddha of Medicine (Bhaisajyaguru). They are introduced in the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabharāja Sūtra.

According to 12 Divine Generals of Yakushi Buddha – Japanese Buddhism Photo Gallery (website), “The 12 Heavenly Generals protect and serve the Yakushi Nyorai (the Medicine Buddha). The twelve are Hindu Yashas 夜叉 who were later incorporated into Buddhism as protective warriors. In Japanese sculpture and art, they are almost always grouped in a protective circle around the Yakushi Nyorai — they are rarely shown independently. Many say they represent the twelve vows of Yakushi; others say the 12 were present when the Historical Buddha introduced the “Healing Sutra;” yet others that they offer protection during the 12 daylight hours, or that they represent the 12 months and 12 cosmic directions, or the 12 animals of the 12-year Chinese zodiac. The Jūni Shinshō are also members of the Tenbu (Sanskrit: Deva), a larger grouping of deities protecting the Buddhist realm.

Yakushi Nyorai, along with his 12 attendants, arrived early in Japan (Asuka Period) from Korea and China, and soon appeared in temples throughout the nation. As such, the 12 Generals of Yakushi Buddha are among the very first Buddhist deities to be introduced to Japan in the 6th and 7th century AD. By the late Heian period, or early Kamakura era, the twelve become associated/confused with the 12 animals (see details below) of the Chinese zodiac, and sculptures thereafter often show an animal in the head dress of each general. The general named KUBIRA 宮毘羅 is the leader of the twelve.”

According to 12 Zodiac Animals & Zodiac Calendar – Buddhism in Japan and China (website), “In Japan, by the end of the Heian Period, these twelve generals become associated with the twelve animals of the twelve-year cycle based on the twelve divisions of heaven in ancient Chinese astronomy. As a result, in Japan, it is not uncommon to see depictions of the Twelve Generals with the astrological animals in their headdresses. See M. W. de Visser’s charts relating the twelve Yaksa to zodiacal signs in Ancient Buddhism in Japan, Vol. II (Leiden: 1935, pp. 551-553).”

According to JAANUS / juuni shinshou 十二神将 (website), “Although the appearance of the Juuni Shinshou is not described in the very early Chinese translation of the Yakushi-kyou, images appear to have been made in China from the Sui period (ca. 581-618) onward, and at an early point it appears that they were coordinated with the twelve emblematic animals, Juunishi 十二支. In Cave number 220 of the Tun huang Caves (Tonkou sekkutsu 敦煌石窟), carved in 642, the Juuni Shinshou who appear in the depictions of Yakushi’s Pure Land Yakushi Joudo Hensou 薬師浄土変相 have animals on their crowns.” They are namely (*refer to image above – left to right):

Zodiac Protectors
Zodiac Animals
Zodiac Generals
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
鼠 Rat 子神 Vikarala
Akasagarbha Buddha
寅神 Sindura,
丑神 Catura
Manjusri Bodhisattva
兔 Rabbit 卯神 Mahoraga
Samantabadra Bodhisattva
龙 Dragon,
蛇 Snake
辰神 Pajra,
巳神 Indra
Maha-Sthama-Prapta Buddha
马 Horse 午神 Sandilya
Vairocana Buddha
羊 Goat,
猴 Monkey
未神 Anila,
申神 Andira
Acala Bodhisattva
鸡 Rooster 酉神 Mihira
Amitabha Buddha
狗 Dog,
猪 Pig
戌神 Vajra,
亥神 Khumbira


  1. Ancient Buddhism in Japan, Vol. II (Leiden: 1935, pp. 551-553), See M. W. de Visser’s charts relating the twelve Yaksa to zodiacal signs
  2. Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography, Lokesh Chandra, International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan, 1999, Vol 2, pages 523 – 525


  1. Twelve Heavenly Generals – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. Shin-Yakushi-ji – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  3. 12 Divine Generals of Yakushi Buddha – Japanese Buddhism Photo Gallery
  4. SPECIAL GALLERIES ….. DARUMA MUSEUM (03): Twelve Heavenly Generals
  5. JAANUS / juuni shinshou 十二神将

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