Secret Buddhas in Japan: The Hidden Presence

Sarah Horton , Visiting Lecturer,Stanford University

Secret buddhas (hibutsu) in Japan are Buddhist images, usually statues, that are completely hidden from view and revealed only at set intervals, if at all. Often the appearance of the statue is completely unknown to worshippers, to whom for the most part it does not matter. For example, almost all of the thirty-three statues of Kannon on the Western Pilgrimage (Saikoku junrei) are secret buddhas, but devotees nevertheless expend enormous amounts of time, energy, and money to be able to worship in the presence of these "buddhas." This phenomenon challenges the commonly accepted notion that the significance of a Buddhist statue lies primarily in its physical characteristics such as the mudra its hands form or the expression on its face


Sarah Horton received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2001 and has taught at the University of Colorado, Macalester College, and Sarah Lawrence College. Author of the book Living Buddhist Statues in Early Medieval and Modern Japan, she currently works for the Bukkyoo Dend? Ky?kai.

Thursday, March 03, 2011 | 5:15 pm — 6:30 pm
Encina Hall West - Room 208

Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford