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Buddhist Deities

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 This section of our site focuses on the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist Pantheon. Each of the deities here represents a unique spiritual personality or essence. The principal beings are the five Dhyani Buddhas- the esoteric meditation Buddhas of the five colors found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and other sources. Contrary to popular belief, these deities are not Buddhist Gods, but rather different aspects of the one God. Among these are several teachers or gurus, who have attained notoriety and importance, and as such are venerated.

Like the Hindu Deities, these are meant to express particular aspects of the Infinite, and are are used as devotional images helping the seeker visualize, concentrate on, and thus in time attain, that aspect of the Infinite in him or herself.

The essence of each being is:

    First, of a spiritual personality describing his or her essential nature

    Second, of an actor describing his or her role in the Vajrayana tradition, and the spiritual environment in which action takes place

    Third, of a spiritual guide giving advice to the seeker

The purpose is to introduce the spiritual seeker to elements of the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition outside the bounds of a particular lineage or school. When a Tibetan monk or nun is initiated into a Vajrayana lineage, he or she is often given a Yidam who serves as a spiritual guide, protector, and a focus of meditation. The practitioner meditates on the deity to forge a strong link with this inner guide and teacher. One of the beings listed below is often chosen as a Yidam or guide for the initiate.

One function of these guides is to inspire creativity, for they can serve as muses. However, their traditional role is that of a guide to the spiritual traveler who seeks knowledge of and access to the many inner worlds one may encounter during meditation. This kind of visionary experience is a stepping-stone to the ultimate Buddhist goal of liberation from suffering (enlightenment).

The contemplative images here can serve as maps describing the geography of the inner spiritual worlds. They can also familiarize the reader with the values and ideals of Buddhism and the Tibetan tradition.

We hope that the material presented here will encourage an interest in Tibetan Buddhist meditation and visualization, and make the infinite realms of the Spirit more accessible to the seeker.

Enjoy the journey!

The Five Dhyani Buddhas
(Tibetan: Gyalwa Rig.Nga)

The five Dhyani buddhas represent the basic mandala in ourselves, our environment and in the cosmos. All deities belong to one of these buddha families. Through their tantric practice negative energies and attitudes are transformed into enlightened wisdoms.

    The white father Vairocana transforms anger

    The blue father Aksobhya transforms ignorance and stupidity

    The yellow father Ratnasambhava transforms pride

    The red father Amitabha transforms passion

    The green father Amoghasiddhi transforms jealousy

In the top centre sits Vajradhara, flanked by Gedun Drukpa, the first Dalai Lama (left) and his disciple Panchen Zangpo Tashi (right).
In the bottom corner are two of the great stupas, on the left Budhgaya (India) and on the right Borobudur (Indonesia).

Buddhist Deities

    Akashagarbha (Tibetan: Namkhai Nyingpo) Matrix of the Sky
    Akashagarbha is the principal Bodhisattva of the Jewel family. He is associated with the Eastern wisdom through the dawning of light from that direction. He wears a white robe and holds a lotus with a large sword shedding that light in his left hand. He is known for his generosity and meritorious acts. As Namkhai Nyingpo, Akashagarbha appears as a female deity.

Akashagarbha (Tibetan: Namkhai Nyingpo) Matrix of the Sky
or Womb-of-Space

At Kharchu in Lhodrak in the Glorious Cavern
You accomplished the Immaculate Mind directly,
And with consummate skill of the Mind you rode the sun's rays:
Homage to Namkhai Nyingpo.

Akshobya is the second of the Transcendental Buddhas. He originates from the blue seed syllable HUM and represents the primordial cosmic element of consciousness; immutable and imperturbable. The path to enlightenment through the Vajra family is one of breaking free of constraints and obstacles, transmuting negativity, and is generally more dynamic and proactive. He sits in the earth touching mudra with his left hand resting on his lap face up and his right hand resting on the right knee with the tip of the middle finger touching the earth with palm drawn inwardly as he faces the East. He is often depicted with his consort Lochana who expresses the mirror-like primordial wisdom.

Amitaba (Tibetan: Opame) Buddha of Infinite Light.
He is the fourth and most ancient of the five Transcendental Buddhas that embody the five primordial wisdoms meditation. He presides over the Buddha realm Sukavati (Tibetan: Dewachen), a Pure Land which is the expression of his own field of pure expression and nothing else. Amitaba is the Lord of the Padma or Lotus family and is the pure expression of the wisdom of discriminating awareness, which transmutes the poison of attachment and desire. He and the other Lotus family members support the gradual unfolding of one’s spiritual petals into enlightenment. Amitaba is red in color, sits in the full-lotus posture with his two hands resting on his lap in the mudra of meditative equipoise. He is most often depicted in thangkas flanked by two eminent bodhisattvas, Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and Vajrapani, the Bodhisattva of Power. It is the special vow of Amitaba that to benefit beings who are caught in the realm of their own confusion and suffering, that if they remember his name with faith at the time of their death they will take rebirth in Sukatavi. Through this they will achieve enlightenment and not again fall into a realm of suffering. This is due to the power of the merit of Buddha Amitaba’s virtuous activities accumulated throughout his countless lives as a bodhisattva. Because of this, meditation upon Amitaba is widespread and very popular. He is the particular focus of the faith of the Pureland Schools of Buddhism and of the meditative training of Powas or Transference of Consciousness that enables one to transfer their consciousness into the field of pure perception of Sukhavati, the Realm of Great Bliss at the time of their death. In some mandalas, Amitaba is depicted in union with his Wisdom Consort Gokarmo, who embodies the pure element of fire.

Amitayus (Tibetan: Tsepagme) Buddha of Limitless Life
Amitayus is the reflexive form of Amitaba and is the embodiment of infinite life and therefore the focus of the life practices that remove the possibility of untimely or premature death. He brings about a healing of sicknesses, degeneration and imbalances in the five elements of the body due to karma, excess and unclean living. He is known as the Buddha of long life. He is often red but sometimes white in color. His two hands rest in his lap in the mudra of equanimity with the palms facing each other holding the Vase of Life, that is filled with the nectar of immortality. It is only in the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet and Japan that Amitayus and Amitaba are considered different deities.

Amogasiddhi (Tibetan: Donyo Drupa) Buddha of Unfailing Accomplishment
The Buddha Amogasiddhi is the fifth of the Transcendental Buddhas that embody the five primordial wisdoms. He is the Lord of the Karma family and embodies the wisdom of all-accomplished activity that transmutes the poison of jealousy. His recognition symbol is the double dorje (visvavajra), representing his wisdom of all-accomplishing activity. His attributes are power and energy that is both subtle and often hidden. Amogasiddhi is the Supreme Siddhi—the magic power of enlightenment. In this way the inner and outer world, and the visible and invisible are united as the body becomes spirit and the spirit embodies. He is green in color, his left hand rests in his lap in the mudra of equipoise and his right hand is held at chest level facing outwards in the mudra of granting protection. He is often depicted in union with is Wisdom Consort Damtsig Drolma, Green Tara, who embodies the pure element of air.

Avalokitesvara (Tibetan: Chenrezi/Chenrezig) Bodhisattva of Glancing Eyes.
Avalokitesvara is the embodiment of the compassion of all of the Buddhas and is regarded by the Tibetan people as the guardian of the country. Avalokitesvara is most often depicted white in color but sometimes red, symbolizing his passionate concern for beings. He is one of the eight Bodhisattvas and one of the two chief Bodhisattvas of Amitaba. He is one of the Three Protectors of Beings, that of the Padma or Lotus family. Through his sharing of mankind’s misery, he positions himself to help those in distress and is considered a savior. In a sitting position, he is most often seen in two-armed and four-armed embodiments. In his two-armed form, he usually sits in the full lotus posture. The two arms represent his unfailing skillful means and wisdom. His four-armed form, sitting in the full lotus posture represents the four boundless qualities of a bodhisattva: equanimity, love, compassion and joy. His thousand-armed form is depicted standing and has eleven heads with three levels diminishing in size as they face outward and to either side, representing his all-penetrating gaze. Upon these nine heads is the wrathful head of the Bodhisattva of Power, Vajrapani, whose unfailing dynamic strength and power assist Avalokitesvara in the benefit of beings. Vajrapani’s head is crowned with that of Buddha Amitaba, the Lord of the Lotus Family of whom Avalokitesvara is an emanation. The 1,000 arms represent the appearance of 1,000 Buddhas during this Eon of Light, whose compassion will guide beings from the darkness of ignorance and delusion into the light of Great Awakening. The eyes on his 1,000 hands symbolize his all-seeing compassionate gaze upon every being in existence throughout the past, present and future. He symbolizes infinite compassion (Karuna) for his refusal of accepting nirvana, which he considers selfish and instead choosing to reincarnate so he can help mankind. The Dalai Lama and the Karmapa are considered the living manifestations of Avalokitesvara.

Chakrasamvara (Tibetan: Khorlo Demchok) Chakra of Supreme Bliss
Chakrasamvara is regarded as the most important Yidam or meditational deity of Vajrayana Buddhism, the highest Tantric yidam. Chakrasamvara is the primary Yidam of the Kagyu tradition that finds its origin in the meditation of the 84 Mahasiddhis of India. It passed to Tibet from the great siddha Naropa, to his disciple Marpa, to Milarepa and this spread throughout the various meditative traditions of the Geluk and Sakya. His body is blue in color with four faces, each looking in one of the four cardinal directions and twelve arms. He is often depicted in his more simple one-faced, two-armed form. He is in union with his Wisdom Consort Vajravarahi. She is as simple as he is complex. She holds a skullcap in her left hand and a vajra chopper (drigug) in her right, both behind his back. Their embrace symbolizes the union of wisdom and skillful means. They symbolize the sameness in the distinctions of relative truth and the non-distinctions of absolute truth. Unity and diversity are one.

Dorje Drolo Crazy Wisdom Vajra
Dorje Drolo is a wrathful manifestation of Padmasambava and a subduer of demons. Guru Padma arose in the wrathful form of Dorje Drolo in the famous Tagstang or Tiger’s Nest Cave in Bhutan in order to subdue the negative and demonic forces of these degenerate times. Ferocious in expression, amidst a mass of primordial wisdom fire, he stands upon the back of a pregnant tigress who is the wrathful form of his Wisdom Consort of enlightened activity, Tashi Kye Dren, whose ferocity is unpredictable and wild. Dressed in a robe of brocade, his body is purple in color and he wears a garland of severed heads representing the cutting of the 52 levels of dualistic mind-concepts. In his right hand he holds a vajra aloft emitting lightening bolts, and in his left a kila-purba that severs the three poisons that are the source of all suffering. The ferocious expression he wears while riding a tigress makes for a menacing figure. His body is dark brown and surrounded by a halo of flames.

Ekajati (Tibetan: Tsechikma or Ralchikma) Single plaited Mother
(Also known as Ngag Sungma, Mother Protectress of Mantra)
Ekajati is the supreme protectress of Ati Great Perfection Teaching, Dzogchen. She is a guardian of the tantric path and protects it from those who are unworthy. She removes obstacles to the life and accomplishment of those who do practice on the Secret Mantra path. She is a guardian of mantras who keeps them from those who are unworthy of using them and ensures those who have been empowered to use them, do so for appropriate purposes. She is wrathful and can assume a number of different forms and colors and the personal protector of the Dalai Lama. She is wrathful and can assume a number of different forms and colors. She can hold various implements and weapons. She wears a wreath of severed heads, usually has one eye in the middle of her forehead, one fang and one breast. She is nearly naked and menacing as she stands amidst a mass of wisdom fire. Ekajti is the highest of protectors. She guides those whom she protects upon the single path of unity of the innate Buddha nature. This is symbolized by the single open eye of wisdom upon her forehead, while her two eyes are sunken and dried, symbolizing the exhaustion of dualistic perception; by the single plait of hair that flows straight upward, symbolizing the single unified path of the Ati Great Perfection; by her single tooth of the realization of the single nature of all. that pierces the aorta of dualistic demonic forces; and by her single breast that nutures the pure practioner upon the spiritual attainments of the single essence of ultimate truth.

Gampopa was trained as a physician who devoted himself to the Dharma after the death of his wife. He became the heart son of Milarepa and was the root guru of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. It is his synthesis of the traditions of Dharma teachings melded with the experiential meditative teaching of Milarepa that formed the Kagyu tradition, as we know it today. He wrote the "Jewel Ornament of Liberation" and is usually depicted wearing robes and a red hat, which has become synonymous with the Kagyu School.

Geysar of Ling is considered to be an incarnation of Guru Rimpoche, incarnating to protect and propagate the dharma during the darks times after the persecution of the dharma by the evil King Lang Dharma, and before the reviving of the dharma once again to Tibet. This formed the scholastic and meditative traditions of the Sarma of new schools, as opposed to the original influx of teachings during the time of King Trisong Detsun, Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambava) and Shantirakshita, which became known as the Nyingma tradition. Amidst a mass of wisdom light, Geysar is depicted wearing the armor of a warrior of that period, riding a horse, holding a spear aloft in his right hand and a lasso in his left. He is most often propitiated as a protector of the dharma, but is also meditated upon as the guru. The epic tales of his heroic deeds are very popular and he is a national hero whose battles against enemies of Tibet and Mongolia have become synonymous with the defending and spreading of the Dharma itself. In this way, he is very similar to the western legends of King Arthur.

Green Tara is the gentle and heartfelt Bodhisattva Tara, born from the tears of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. She offers us a hand to lift us up to a mountain of enlightenment qualities. Tara belongs to the Karma family of unobstructed compassionate activity, symbolized by her green color and is the Wisdom Consort of the Transcendental Buddha Amogasiddhi. In a previous eon, in the presence of the Buddha Nga Dra, the beat of the Drum, she took the vow to only incarnate in a female form to ceaselessly protect beings from the fears of samsaric life and to guide them upon the path of enlightenment. She is known as the Swift One, due to her immediate response to those who request her aid. She is none other than the mothers of the Buddhas of the past, present and future; the Great Mother, the Prajnaparamita, the matrix of ultimate truth itself, Shunyata. She sits on a lotus flower with her left leg resting on her right thigh and her right leg steps down gracefully out in front of her. Her left hand is held in front of her heart with palm outward, thumb and ring finger touching so the other three fingers point upwards in the mudra of granting refuge. Her right hand rests on her right knee with the palm facing upward in the mudra of generosity.