As we ponder our New Year’s resolutions many people in Japan aren observing a Buddhist tradition. They begin by buying a papier mâché figure known as a daruma or dharma doll that will serve as a reminder of goals and wishes for the year.
Daruma or Dharma dolls are colorful figures said to look like Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk from India who founded Zen Buddhism, a religion that spread to Japan from India in the 6th century. They are thought to bring good luck for one year.
It is considered important to keep the doll in an upright position at all times. They are legless and usually weighted and rounded on the bottom to maintain this position.
Why this form? One legend is that Bodhidharma sat and meditated for so long that his legs no longer functioned. Some say his legs fell off.
The dolls typically have two round blank eyes. On New Year’s Day, one eye is colored in after a wish is made or a goal is set. The remaining blank eye is a reminder of that wish or goal. Once it is fulfilled, the other eye is colored in.
The following New Year’s Day the dolls are brought to temples in Japan for the burning ceremony known as Daruma Kuyoa. A new doll is purchased and the tradition is begins again.