Nio Guardians

Agyo, Todaji temple, Nara 13th C. AD,
by the Kei school of sculptures

Ungyo,Todaji temple, Nara 13th C.AD,
by the Kei school of sculptures

These Nio Guardians (仁王ーBenevolent Kings)can be seen at the entrance gate of Buddhist temples. A temple, a shrine, a church, a mosque or the house of the Lord are all symbols for the heart, the intellectual part of the emotional center.

The heart is the secluded shrine of God. -- Al-Din Razi (13th c. Persian sufi)
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
-- The Bible, 1 Corinthians 3:16

These Nio guardians are symbols for psychological tools to protect the heart that is trying to be present and awaken the God within.

The heart that is empty of all things is said to be pure, in utter placidity not giving rise to a thought.
-- Journey to the West, chapter 56
Place strict and unsleeping guards at the gateway of your heart. -- The Philokalia, John of the Ladder

The Nio guardians are making sure that no miscellaneous thoughts or emotions enter the heart and disturb the state of Presence.

Seeing and hearing, emotions, desires, and opinions are all internal thieves.
-- Hong Zicheng (16th c. Chinese philosopher) Caigentan
Thou shalt not steal. -- The Bible, Exodus 20:15

The left guardian has his mouth opened and is saying A, the first syllable of the Japanese syllabary and the Sanskrit alphabet.

Make the A-syllable your inhalation and exhalation, and contemplate it at the three times.
-- Mahavairocana Sutra (Esoteric Buddhist sutra)
The A syllable is the basis of all words, and the mother of all syllables. It is the wellspring of all teachings.
-- Commentary on the Mahavairocana Sutra

The guardian on the right has his mouth closed, saying hum, the last syllable of the mantra Om Mani Pad Me Hum or N, the last syllable of the Japanese Hiragana alphabet.

I am Om, the Word that is God. -- Bhagavad Gita 7:8 (Hindu text)

It is said that the two guardians represent the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, birth and death. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The guardians symbolize the first and last syllable of a mantra, or the birth and death of the spiritual body of effort to reach the state of prolonged presence.

Allah is the First and the Last, and the Outward and the Inward. -- The Koran
You were First and you are Last. You make my end better than my beginning.
-- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.-- The Bible, Revelation 22:13

In Taoism, dragons are used to symbolize the same concept.

Two dragon heads, Shoren-in, Kyoto, Japan
But to practice what is beneficial, it is important to have a beginning and a conclusion. If there is a beginning but no conclusion, one's acts are still of no benefit — there is no gain, but loss. -- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching, Hexagram #42 increase
In alchemy, the work of warding off danger is indispensable, from start to finish. -- Liu Yiming, The Inner Teachings of Taoism

In Mahayana Buddhism the spiritual body of effort to reach the state of prolonged presence is called the Saṃbhogakāya, the body whereby a bodhisattva completes his vows and becomes a Buddha. A body has a birth and a death, an end and a beginning.

To realize our own Essence of Mind from moment to moment without intermission until we attain Supreme Enlightenment, so that we are perpetually in a state of Right Mindfulness, is the Sambhogakaya.
-- Huineng (6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)

The Kings of Light have a wrathful facial expression, symbolizing a firm determination not to allow thoughts and emotions to disturb the state of presence.

When we notice a wicked thought draw near, let us wrathfully hurl a heartfelt curse at it.
-- Hesychius of Jerusalem, Philokalia

At the entance gates of Shinto shrines, instead of the Kings of Light, one can see The Ministers at the right and left as temple guardians.

The ministers at the right and left in the gate of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

The ancient Japanese government was based on the ancient Chinese government which reflected the inner government of a true man. The Japanese and Chinese emperor symbolizes the ruler or steward.

The human body is like a country, and the mind is like a ruler.
-- Liu Yiming, commentary on the I Ching (18th c.Taoist master)
The human being is a city, with a special place at its centre for the Lord’s deputy, where he resides with his governing officials. -- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher)
If the ruler is proud and self-indulgent,
And abandons the Way,
Or the ministers are corrupt and insincere,
And act without following the track,
Then the waxing of the moon,
Results in blame and misfortune.
The Upholder of the law gets rid of ridicule,
And then passes on the rule to the Master.
So from the Hall of Light shall you carry out your governance,
And no ills will come to your country.
-- Wei Boyang (Cantong Qi - Triplex Unity 2nd c. Taoist text
The ruler stands for the quiet attention of the mind, the ministers stand for the breath.
-- Yuyan (13th c. Taoist master) Commentary on Canton Qi

The ministers of the right and left, Fushimi-Inari shrine, Kyoto
The work of turning the light around depends entirely on the method of reversal, to concentrate one`s thoughts on the heavenly heart. The eyes start the light circulating like two ministers at the right and left who support the ruler with all their might.-- The Secret of the Golden Flower (Taoist text)

Two Sishi Dogs

A pair of Sishi Lions or Dogs, can also be seen at the gate of temples. They symbolize the same as the Nio Guardians.

Guard well the fortress of your heart, for there are thieves everywhere.-- Fariduddin Attar (12th c. Persian Sufi poet)

Thieves represent thoughts and emotions that steal our presence.

He who sees wandering thoughts sneaking in like thieves, will understand the necessity of watching these intruding thoughts. -- Milarepa (11th c. Tibetan yogi)

A Fox Guardian

A Fox Guardian

Foxes are used as protectors in front of Shinto shrines, again with the same symbolism.

And he set the porters at the gates of the house of the Lord that none which is unclean in anything should enter in.
-- The Bible, 2 Chronicles 23:19

Two Chinese Fu Loins

In China, nowadays one can see these Fu Lions in front of banks, hotels and restaurants.

As a knight guards his castle gate, so one must guard the gates of one`s mind. -- Buddha

Solomon with two lions, Amiens Cathedral, France

Buddha with two lions, Yungang Cave Grottoes, Shanxi, China, 4th Century AD

The king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with pure gold. And there were six steps to the throne, with a footstool of gold, which were fastened to the throne … and two lions standing by the stays.
-- The Bible, 2 Chronicles 9:17-18

Two lions guarding the Sun disk of Ra, Tomb of Inherkau, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

The Sun disk of Ra, became the halo in Christianity and Buddhism. The sun-god Ra, just like the Shinto Goddess Amaterasu (She who shines in Heaven) and Mahavairocana (jp. Dainichi Nyorai - Great Sun Buddha), symbolizes the state of Divine Presence.

Mahavairocana Buddha


The Self in man and in the sun are one. Those who understand this see through the world.
-- Hindu Texts, Upanishads
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