One of the Buddha’s first disciples (rakan) who fell from grace and is usually not allowed into the hallowed company. Some say he came from a long line of physicians. He was unfortunately addicted to drink, and the Buddha had to warn him several times against his weakness.

In one version of his myth, the Buddha was asked by a wealthy merchant for help. The merchant and his household had been plagued by demons. Being busy, the Buddha sent one of his senior disciples, Binzuru, to attend to the matter. Binzuru carried out the exorcism, and the evil was banished. The grateful merchant then prepared a feast for the disciple. After many entreaties by his host, Binzuru finally succumbed to an offer of a small cup of wine. Not able to stop, he soon drank too much, and the evil demons were released. The Buddha was very annoyed and dismissed Binzuru from his company. Binzuru, still the devoted disciple, would stand outside the hall where the Buddha lectured, to follow the lesson. When the Buddha was about to die, he summoned Binzuru and told the former disciple that he was aware of his devotion and he was therefore forgiven, but that Binzuru could never enter nirvana: He was bound to serve the people forever.

In another version of the myth, the first disciples, sixteen in number, were meditating. Binzuru (who seems to have been a more earthy figure than most), commented casually on the beauty of a passing maiden. As a consequence he
was banished from the fellowship of the disciples. Forgiven on the Buddha’s deathbed, he was nonetheless condemned to minister to those unable to attain enlightenment rather than enter nirvana.

Statues of Binzuru are commonly found outside temple buildings. They may be painted red or made of red wood. (For those who prefer the drink story, many people experience a flush when drinking alcohol, and a red face in Japan signifies someone given to drink.) All the statues of Binzuru are polished and shiny from the hands of believers. One rubs the saint’s body at the spot of one’s own pain, and the affliction goes away.

The myth of Binzuru is part of the vast body of myth and belief that anchors Japanese Buddhism to the here and now. Although the esoteric and soteriological elements of Buddhism are not concerned with bodily afflictions and illness, this is clearly a concern of anyone living in the world. As a consequence, many myths attach to particularly “mundane” or merciful figures to help ease personal affliction. Kannon, Jizπ, and the saint Kπbπ Daishi are examples, along with Binzuru, of Buddhist figures whose main attraction for the average Japanese person
is the help they give in the mundane world. Binzuru is at one extreme of these figures: a popular, non saintly figure nonetheless attached deeply to Buddhism.

At the other end of the continuum is Kannon, a divine figure attached directly to the Buddha’s mercy. The Daishi is somewhere in-between.


  • Frank, Bernard. 1991. Le pantheon bouddhique au Japon. Paris: Collections d’Emile Guimet. Reunion des musées nationaux.
  • Statler, Oliver. 1984. Japanese Pilgrimage. London: Picador.


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