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The Origin and Peculiarity of the Buddhist Yama

  • Journal of Humanities
  • 2016, (60), pp.373-397
  • Publisher : Institute for Humanities
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : December 31, 2015
  • Accepted : January 28, 2016

Yu, Sung-uk 1

1안동대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Yama, originated in Vedic religion, was placed as a god of death in their pantheon, since the early vedic period. His characteristic of death, known as a protector of the dead in the initial stages, was strengthened to the judge of death through the Braḥmaṇa-Upaniṣadic and the Epics-Purāṇic periods. Although his name was mentioned in early Buddhist literature, there was no connection to the Buddhist doctrine and myth found. Yama had began to be combined to Buddhist doctrine with the Buddha’s words, “... ... by doing so be relieved from doubt, became pure-minded, and put reliance on it, to such a one the door of the three states of misfortune shall be shut : he shall not fall so low as to be born in hell, among the beasts, or in Yama’s kingdom”(Sap., XI, 46), and later his Buddhistized feature was completed with the development of the ideas of the next world in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. On the other hands, in the Chinese Buddhist tradition he shared one of his proper vedic characteristics, the protector of the dead, with Kṣitigarbha, one of the main gods in the Mahāyana Buddhist pantheon, which was generally accepted in Korea and Japan. The Mahāyāna Buddhists composed their pantheon in the way of adopting Vedic gods and folklore worship by renaming them or inventing their parallels. Yama in the point of keeping his Vedic name and characteristic was very unusual. However, he had to be remained at the outer edge of the Buddhist pantheon until the time of the development of the Bar do ideas in Tibetan Buddhism, because Buddhism kept their atheistic attitude and emphasized ethics. Some scholars made a mistake of identifying him with Māra. It was evident that he and Māra had opposite aims, but coexisted in the Buddhist myths. And it should be remembered that some similar divine beings with Yama, such as Kṣitigarbha, appeared in the myths, and that no changes was witnessed in his characteristics, even though some minor things were little bit modified. It is important that Yama has never taken a major position in the Buddhist pantheon and that he has seldom appeared in the Buddhist tales on death.

Citation status

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This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.