What Is Daruma Doll And How To Use It?

The true story behind the insanely scary yet cute souvenir

Many of you have seen Daruma, this scary yet cute traditional Japanese doll, which in Japan has become a symbol of perseverance and luck. But outside Japan, not many people know of its history, or what hides behind its goofy look and how it can be used as a talisman.

The Daruma has been modeled after Bodhidharma, a monk said to be the founder of Zen Buddhism. He seems to have lived between the 5th and 6th centuries CE, although his origins are shrouded in mystery. Most of the accounts documenting his life are mixed with legends. During his travels, Bodhidharma stopped for a time in a Shaolin monastery in China, founding the famous homonymous martial art. He then continued his journey until he decided to settle in a cave and meditate.

The monk became a wall-gazer. The legend goes that he meditated, eyes to a wall, in a seated position for nine years, without breaks, and without closing his eyes, except once, after seven years. He was so furious at himself for what he perceived as lack of discipline, that he sliced his own eyelids off, so to prevent himself from ever sleeping again. As the eyelids touched the ground, they sprouted green tea plants. This legend is one of the reasons behind Buddhist monks often drinking green tea to stay awake.

On top of self-mutilation, the legend says that Bodhidharma suffered the loss of his arms and legs as they fell off his body, as a consequence of his long immobility. 

Art and folklore depicting Bodhidharma show him almost exclusively displaying these characteristics, which is why the Daruma dolls, in all its aspects, symbolise Bodhidharma’s position and features. Everything about the Daruma’s design has deep roots and meaning, down to the smallest details, making this doll much more profound in symbolism, than a simple household item.

How to Use a Daruma Doll

No matter if you are a believer, the figure has a mix of supernatural and psychological powers when it comes to setting and staying on track with goal realisations. So how it works?

Upon purchase, the doll is missing its eyes. You think of a clear goal you want to reach, and then paint one eye in one of the blank white circles, asking for help to god. Each time you look at it, the doll will keep reminding you of your goal until you reach it. Once done, you would then paint the second eye, giving the god its eyesight back as a thank you for helping you.

You need to remember that Daruma rewards sacrifice and unwavering force of will.

If you want to follow the traditional ways, then one year after purchasing the Daruma, you should return it to the temple from where you obtained it and burn it, regardless of whether you succeeded in what you wished for. There is even a ceremony called daruma kuyo or dondoyaki in several temples across Japan, during which huge piles of Daruma are burnt at the same time (but these are not the only occasions during which you can burn them).

So.... what's your wish?

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