This is the Buddhist war God Vajrapani. Vajrapani is actually the Buddhist version of Heracles (Hercules). (Search my tumblr for more on that) This statue is in the front of a Zen Buddhist temple in Hadano, Kanagawa prefecture Japan.
What is his role in Zen Buddhism? Is it just a statue representing a certain teaching? Is it a teaching aid? Is it simply a very expensive decoration?
It is taught within Zen that Vajrapani is the bodyguard to the Buddha and protector of the Buddha’s teachings. He is the manifestation of all the Buddha’s power and Zen teaches that Vajrapani is a wrathful emanation that can crush and destroy enemies of the Buddha and the Buddha Dharma (teachings). He carries the Vajra, an ancient Vedic weapon of war that traces it’s history all the way back to Egypt.
But it’s a statue and Zen doesn’t believe in gods, right? Not so.
Within Zen it is taught that if one wishes to achieve determination and fearlessness one can simply pray to Vajrapani day and night for 8 days and he will bestow his power upon them. Vajrapani is believed to be an actual god living in an unseen realm. The statues are actual living conduits through which Vajrapani can hear those praying to him (see my past tumblr posts on this).
The Zen monk Suzuki Shosan (1579-1655) states: “The Niõ (Vajrapani) is a menacing God. He wields the kongõsho (vajra) and he can crush your enemies. Depend on him, pray to him that he will protect you as he protects the Buddha. He vibrates with energy and spiritual power which you can absorb from him in times of need.”
Vajrapani is also the patron God of the Chinese Shaolin monastery where warrior monks prayed to him that he would bring them strength in battle.