Antique Bronze Daruma – Father of Zen Buddhism Riding on Deer | Showa Period
Daruma-zō is a generic term for Daruma statues or sculpture as shown in this Daruma Riding a Deer. This is a heavy Bronze piece (Weight: 3 lbs.), with beautiful detailing on Daruma’s robe and the body of the deer. The piece is in excellent condition, naturally patinated, no dings, no scratches or no breaks. The piece is unsigned and dated approximately early 20th/century. Dimensions: 4-3/4”w x 2-3/4”w x 5-3/4”h.
As the Bodhidharma, Daruma Daishi, lived sometime in the 5th or 6th century AD, was the great monk who introduced Buddhism to China. Originally from India, he traveled across the Himalayas on foot, sharing the wisdom and knowledge of his studies. Daruma traveled throughout Asia on his mission to spread his teachings. At one point when he was in China, he decided to go up into the mountains and meditate until the time was right to share his knowledge.
Later in Japan, Daruma introduced his teachings as the religion of Zen Buddhism. Japanese stories about Daruma, (Bodhidharma’s name in Japan), go far beyond Asian legends — they are overlaid with a wealth of mythology and superstition involving popular culture and local Japanese folkloric motifs related to astral deities, gods of the crossroads, epidemic spirits, fertility, and more. According to the legend, Daruma’s arms and legs atrophied so much they, shriveled up, and fell off during his nine-year meditation facing a cave wall. During that time, legend also credits Bodhidharma with plucking out, (or cutting off), his eyelids. Apparently he once fell asleep during meditation, and in anger, he cast them off. The eyelids fell to the ground and sprouted into the first green tea plants. As we know, Zen’s assimilation into Japanese culture was accompanied by the introduction of green tea, which was used to ward off drowsiness during lengthy Zazen sessions. Additionally, Japan’s medieval Tendai sect claims that Bodhidharma did not return to India but journeyed throughout Japan, where he met Prince Shotoku Taishi (574 – 622 AD), the first great patron of Buddhism in Japan, and from this association, Daruma is also linked, (in Japanese myth), to deer, horses and monkeys.
Daruma is referred to in religious writings as one of Japan’s so-called “Eminent Monks”. Daruma in modern Japan is a living icon, not a dead one. Daruma’s aim is not to retire from the world into solitary meditation, but to stay in close touch with the common classes, to live not away from the community but within the community, forever carrying out the Bodhisattva’s task of bringing compassion and wisdom to all.
According to local folklore, deer in Nara, Japan were considered sacred. Daruma was said to have appeared on Mt. Mikasa, riding a white deer. From that point, both the Kasuga Shrine, and Kofuju-ji considered the deer divine and sacred. Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637, the last recorded date of that law having been enforced. In the Post World War II years, deer were officially stripped of their sacred/divine status, and were instead designated as National Treasures and are protected to this day.