The tutelary venerable of the bath in Zen monasteries. Battabara was an Indian monk who attained enlightenment in the bath. He was entering the bath with seven other monks when he suddenly, being between pure and impure (one foot
in the water, one outside), experienced enlightenment. Battabara thus became the patron of bathing, and his figure (or a board with his name), usually carrying the stick used to stir the warm water, is kept in every bathroom in Zen monasteries.

The myth of Battabara illustrates two concerns of the Zen school. First, enlightenment can come to any individual at any time. Second, bathing is intrinsic to the Japanese lifestyle, and to religion in general, because it indicates the ability to free oneself from pollution (and thus, in Zen thinking, from the illusions of this world). Like all bosatsu, Battabara can lead the individual to enlightenment in this life.

References and further reading:

  • Frank, Bernard. 1991. Le pantheon bouddhique au Japon. Paris: Collections d’Emile Guimet. Reunion des musees nationaux.


Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi