Need a little extra motivation to make it through these winter months? Well maybe you should go buy a daruma doll! These dolls are small and round with no arms or legs and usually for sale at Japanese Buddhist temples. The dolls have painted faces but no eyes. This is so that when you buy a daruma doll you can fill in one eye and make a wish. The other eye is filled in when the wish comes true. They are often used as a motivation device for this reason.
But where does this strange practice come from? Daruma dolls (達磨) are based on a Buddhist sage named Daruma, in Japanese, although he is also known as Bodhidharma. Daruma is usually depicted bald with a beard. He travelled through China (probably from India) and founded the Shōrinji temple where he gathered many students. He eventually decided the best way to reach enlightenment was through meditation. So he spent nine years meditating facing a wall in a cave. During this time his legs shrivelled to mere stumps (thus the round bottom of the doll). But just before he reached enlightenment he fell asleep! So, just like I am sure any of us would do in this situation, he angrily ripped off his eyelids and threw them away determined to reach his goal. It is said that a magical bush grew where his eyelids landed whose leaves can be brewed into tea that will get rid of sleepiness. Daruma noticed that his disciples were also having trouble concentrating long enough to reach enlightenment. He developed a series of exercises to help them focus that influenced the martial arts. Because of his incredible self-discipline, Daruma is considered the patron saint of determination.
As you can see, daruma dolls are a playful way of spreading Daruma’s intense determination. In addition to painting the eyes, when you push the dolls over they will not fall but just bounce back because of the round bottoms. There is also a variation of the daruma doll used for a game called daruma otoshi (達磨落とし) where you try to knock blocks out of a stack with a hammer without letting the rest fall over. This video shows one guy who is really good at it…
When both eyes have been filled in and the daruma is no longer necessary it cannot just be thrown away. Instead it must be burned so that the kami know that you have not given up on or forgotten that wish. At Dairyo-ji temple in Gifu they hold a large memorial service for daruma dolls. In January many daruma dolls are thrown into a large fire of lucky bamboo. This temple also has a five meter Daruma statue that you could go check out if you get bored during the six hours it takes to burn all the daruma. You can learn more about Dairyo-ji temple at this site.
~guest blogger, Andrea Reid