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Female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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Female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas according to Tibetan Buddhist tradition. (Female Bodhisattvas)

The enlightened women or female figures named below all come from Vajrayana or "Tibetan" Buddhism, the school of Mahayana which originated in India and later moved to Tibet and the other Himalayan countries.

Hence, most figures are identified first by their Sanskrit name, with the alternate Tibetan form appearing in parentheses.

When it is the other way about, e.g. Achi Chökyi Drolma, Machig Labdrön and Palden Lhamo, it is because their practices developed or were practised principally in Tibet.

I have also indicated the type of deity each is, i.e.

    a yidam -- an enlightened meditational deity who embodies the union of wisdom and compassion, yet is not separate from the meditator

    a guru -- usually the founder or holder of a lineage; a fully realized being whom one identifies wholly with one's spiritual guide

    a Dharma protector -- usually portrayed as an enlightened being in wrathful form, a protector's primary function is to eliminate the spiritual obstacles hindering the practitioner

    a historical figure -- someone who lived as a female human being on this earth and can be placed historically according to tradition

Table of Contents

    Achi Chökyi Drolma - Dharma protector of the Drikung Kagyu tradition
    Dechen Gyalmo - yidam, guru and historical figure - see Yeshe Tsogyal
    Dorje Yudronma - Dharma protector
    Ekajati (Ralchigma) - Dharma protector - protectress of mantras
    Ekajati - yidam - wrathful Black Tara
    Kakasya - yidam
    Kuan Yin - Chinese bodhisattva of compassion
    Kurukulla - yidam - deity of power
    Lamanteri - wrathful yidam
    Machig Labdrön - historical figure and yidam - the founder of Chöd
    Magzor Gyalmo - Dharma protector - see Palden Lhamo
    Mahamaya - historical figure
    Mandarava - yidam and historical figure - long-life deity
    Marici - yidam - goddess of the sun
    Mayadevi - historical figure - mother of Sakyamuni Buddha
    Nairatmya - yidam
    Niguma - lineage guru and historical figure - lineage dakini
    Palden Lhamo (Sri Devi) - Dharma protector - wrathful protectress of Tibet
    Prajnaparamita (Yum Chenmo) - guru and yidam - Mother of all the Buddhas
    Samantabhadri (Kuntuzangmo) - guru and yidam - Primordial Mother of all the Buddhas
    Sarasvati - yidam - goddess of learning and the arts
    Simhamukha (Sengdongma) - yidam - lion-headed Dakini
    Sukkhasiddhi - guru and historical figure - lineage Dakini
    Tara Green (Drolma) - yidam - beloved Saviouress
    Tara Red - yidam of bountifulness
    Tara White (Drolkar) - yidam - she who grants long life and wisdom
    Troma Nagmo (Rudrani) - yidam - see Machig Labdrön
    Tseringma - Dharma protector - goddess of the mountain
    Ushnisha-sitatapatra - yidam - goddess of the glorious white umbrella
    Ushnisha-vijaya - yidam - the long-life deity
    Vajrayogini / Vajravarahi (Dorje Naljorma / Dorje Phagmo) - yidam - the queen of Dakinis
    Yeshe Tsogyal (Dechen Gyalmo) - yidam, guru and historical figure - mother of Tibetan Buddhism

Achi Chökyi Drolma

Dharma protector of the Drikung Kagyu tradition

    Achi Chökyi Drolma (Tib. A-chi Chos-kyi sGrol-ma) is a female Dharma protector whose practice was introduced by Drikung ('Bri-gung) Achi, the matriarch of the Drikung hereditary lineage.

She is white-coloured and is usually portrayed seated and riding a snow lion, the legendary white animal of Tibet; she may also be shown standing (see right).

Unusually, for a Dharma protector, Achi Chökyi Drolma's aspect is not wrathful, but peaceful.

Achi Chökyi Drolma - Chief Protectress of the Glorious Drigung Kagyu for the story of her origins, an image of the deity, and a description of her iconography.

Dorje Yudrönma

Dharma protector

    Dorje Yudrönma is said to be one of Tibet's chief protectors. She holds an arrow with the five colours in her right hand and a white silver mirror in her left.

The lifestory of the Longchen Nyingthig yogi Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu (from the Dzogchen Lineage of Nyoshul Khenpo) relates that an emanation of this deity appeared and offered him food once when he was suffering hardship and poverty.

Dorje Yudrönma is associated with a divination practice which uses a mirror. The Art of Tibet site includes a good thangka of Dorje Yudrönma.


Dharma protector - protectress of mantras

    Ekajati is a female dharma protector especially popular in Nyingma, where she is also considered a protectress of Dzog Chen.

She is cognate to Palden Lhamo.

The Nyingma form of Ekajati (whose name literally means 'One Plait' or 'One Braid') has one tuft of hair, one eye, one mouth, one breast -- and sometimes only one leg! -- to demonstrate her singleminded devotion to Dharma.

Whenever a Nyingma refuge tree or series of protectors is portrayed, Ekajati is usualy the dark-red central figure in the bottom row of Dharma protectors of the Nyingma tradition ; however, she may be depicted as dark-blue or black, rather than red.

In the Sarma (New Translation) schools Ekajati is regarded as the mother of Mahakala and Mahakali (Palden Lhamo).


Yidam - wrathful Black Tara

    Ekajati is also the name of a wrathful form of Green Tara known as Black Tara. She is depicted in seated posture holding a curved knife and skullcup. This form is often shown in a triumvirate with Avalokiteshvara and Green Tara.



    Kakasya is a guardian goddess with the face of a crow: one of the bird-headed goddesses associated with the mandalas of various tutelary, or personal, deities.

Kuan Yin Bodhisattva of compassion

This female Bodhisattva is variously known in China as Kuan Yin (or Kwan Yin, Quan Yin, Guanyin or Koon Yum), in Japan as Kannon or Shokanzeon Bosatsu, and in Korea as Kwanseum Bosal or Kwan Um.

She is regarded as being identical to the (male) Tibetan deity Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenrezig), but also has much in common with the female Tibetan deity Tara.

    Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy

Yidam - deity of power

    Kurukulla is an energetic dancing red figure with one face and four arms, two of which hold a bow and arrow made of flowers. Her practice helps generate energy and power.

    In Geluk tradition Kurukulla is sometimes also referred to as Red Tara [presumably because of her appearance; but this name can also refer to a completely separate yidam.

In the Hevajra Tantra, Kurukulla is a semi-wrathful female power deity, red, in essence Hevajra, and unrelated to Tara.


Wrathful yidam

    The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco included a Mongolia online exhibit which described a statue of Lamanteri thusly: "Lamanteri is the Mongolian name for this wrathful form of the goddess Tara depicted with the third eye and four pairs of hands."

Machig Labdrön

Historical figure and yidam - the founder of Chöd

    The eleventh-century Tibetan founder of the chöd (cutting) practice, Machig Labdrön is usually depicted in deified form as a peaceful white dancing figure with three eyes, playing a damaru (two-sided drum) with her right hand and holding a bell with her left.


Historical figure

    Mahamaya was the mother of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama -- this name means 'Great Illusion.' See also Mayadevi.

There is also a male anuttarayoga deity named Mahamaya ;(Mahamaya-tantra); who is not to be confused with the Buddha's mother; this practice is found in all the Sarma (New Translation) schools and was originally made famous by Marpa; it is also found in the 'Five Deity Tantra' practice of the Shangpa Kagyu.


Yidam and historical figure - long-life deity

    An Indian-born princess who became the spiritual consort of Padmasambhava, founder of Buddhism in Tibet (his second consort was the Tibetan-born Yeshe Tsogyel -- see below). She appears in deified form as a yidam of long life, wearing the ornaments of a bodhisattva.

Her right hand holds an arrow (a symbol of Dzogchen) adorned with banners and a melong (a round mirror, representing the clear, reflecting nature of mind). Mandarava sits in the manner of Tara, with right foot extended, to show her willingness to help sentient beings.


Yidam - goddess of the sun

    Marici (pron. Marichi) is a red-coloured female yidam associated with the sun and with dawn; her name in Tibetan is Öser Chenma, i.e. goddess of Great Light.

Her mantra is traditionally used as protection by travelers. Marici has an orange-coloured body (the colour of the sun at dawn), and three faces, eight arms and two legs.

Of the three faces, the first (central) is orange and smiling, her right face is red, and her left is the face of a white boar: each has three eyes.

Her first right hand holds a vajra at the heart in the mudra of teaching, the second holds a vajra axe, the third holds an arrow with the tip pointing downwards, and the fourth, in the mudra of generosity, holds a (sewing) needle.

Her first left hand, in the mudra of teaching, holds the stem of a plant (tree?) whose crown is at the level of her left ear (next to the boar's face).

Her second left hand holds a bow, the third holds a thread (?), and the fourth holds a noose ending in a loop and hook. Marici's right leg is extended in the manner of Tara, while the left is tucked in. She is dressed in the royal robes of a bodhisattva: five-pointed crown surmounting each face, jewels, silks and so forth. Marici rides a throne/chariot drawn along by seven white boars.


Historical figure - mother of Sakyamuni Buddha

    Queen Mayadevi (also Maya or Mahamaya) was the historical mother of Sakyamuni Buddha. She died not long after his birth, but is believed to have been reborn in one of the heavens where he later manifested and taught her the Dharma so that she too became enlightened. She is traditionally depicted just as she was about to (painlessly) give birth, standing and holding the branch of a tree in her right hand.



    This dark-blue figure appears as both a single yidam and also in union with her consort, the Highest Yoga Tantra male yidam Hevajra. The name means 'No-Self' in Sanskrit. This was also the name of the wife of Marpa (whose main practice was Hevajra) -- the founder of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.


Lineage guru and historical figure - lineage dakini

    This woman was a formidable mahasiddha, variously described as the sister or consort of Naropa. She founded the practice known as The Six Yogas of Niguma (see Glenn Mullin's text The Six Yogas of Sister Niguma.

Palden Lhamo (Sri Devi)

Dharma protector - wrathful protectress of Tibet

    Palden Lhamo (whose name translates as "Glorious Goddess") is the only female dharma protector common to all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

She is very wrathful, and rides her mule through a sea of blood, surrounded by wisdom fire.

She is dark blue and has one face with three eyes; she wears a sun at her navel and a moon at her crown, and over her is a peacock umbrella (a traditional symbol of protection).

She is variously depicted, but her most common forms are two-armed and four-armed.

There is also a system of divination by dice associated with her. She is sometimes considered cognate to Sarasvati or Tara, but is at the same time a wrathful form of the peaceful goddess Sri Devi.


Guru and yidam - Mother of all the Buddhas

    Prajnaparamita embodies the bliss/emptiness that gives rise to all phenomena -- hence her honorific title as Mother of all the Buddhas.

She usually appears as a tranquil seated figure clothed in silks; her body is gold in colour, and she has one face and four arms.

Her first two arms are held in meditation posture in her lap, while the other right hand holds a nine-spoked vajra (thunderbolt sceptre symbolizing compassion/bliss) and the left, the text of the Heart Sutra which is the essential wisdom-text on the emptiness of phenomena.

There are other forms of the deity, as at right: her first two hands in prayer mudra at the heart, second right hand holding a mala rosary and second left hand holding a text.

    Her name means 'Perfection of Wisdom'; in Tibetan she is also known as Yum Chenmo, or 'Great Mother'. She is closely associated with chöd practice (see Machig Labdrön).


Guru and yidam - Primordial Mother of all the Buddhas

    Samantabhadri (Kuntuzangmo in Tibetan) is the consort and female counterpart of Samantabhadra/Kuntuzangpo, the primordial Buddha of the older schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

They are usually shown in sexual union (yab yum in Tibetan), the blue male figure and white female figure embracing each other in lotus position.

Samantabhadri is sometimes shown alone, in which case she is seated in lotus posture with her hands in meditation posture in her lap.

Samantabhadri is always shown naked (as is her consort) to demonstrate the unadorned nature of Absolute Truth, the emptiness of all phenomena.

She is in some senses an analogue of Prajnaparamita.

A near equivalent of the New Translation schools is the dark-blue Vajradhatu-ishvari, shown in union with consort Vajradhara as the yab-yum Vajradhara / Vajradhatu-ishvari.


Yidam - goddess of learning and the arts

    As the goddess of learning and the arts, Sarasvati (also spelled Saraswati) is in many ways a counterpart to Manjushri, the {male Bodhisattva of discriminating wisdom, and is sometimes his consort.

Sarasvati is a peaceful yidam who holds a vina (a sitar-like lute) on her lap; she also sometimes holds a text.

There is also a Hindu deity named Sarasvati with near-identical attributes. She is sometimes associated with Palden Lhamo, who may be regarded as Sarasvati in wrathful form.

The most popular form of Sarasvati is white-coloured, with one face, two eyes, and two arms; however, there are many other forms including the white four-handed Sarasvati and the red Vajra Sarasvati.


Yidam - lion-headed Dakini Simhamukha (Tib. Seng-gdong-ma or Seng-dong-chen) is a wrathful dancing dark-blue figure similar to Vajravarahi in appearance and ornaments, holding a curved knife in her right hand and a skullcup in her left, except that she also has the face of a lion -- hence her name in Tibetan and Sanskrit (meaning "lion-face").

Her practice was founded by a woman, Jetsunma Lochen. Simhamukha's practice is found in the Sarma (New Translation) schools is associated with the Chakrasamvara Tantra.


Guru and historical figure - lineage Dakini

    This mahasiddha belongs to the mother lineage of chöd. Her name means 'good or blissful siddhi' (a Sanskrit word meaning a miraculous accomplishment, which can be either mundane, e.g. healing, flying, etc., or supramundane, i.e. the siddhi of full Enlightenment). She compiled her own six yogas (see also Niguma) which she gave to Khyungpo Naljor, the founder of Shangpa Kagyu.

Green Tara

Yidam - beloved Saviouress

    Also known as Drolma (Tibetan), Tara embodies the compassionate activity of all the Buddhas (her name means "the liberator" or "she who saves"). She is pictured with one face, two arms and a green-coloured body.

Her right hand is outstretched in the mudra (sacred gesture) of generosity, and her left holds the stem of a blue lotus which blossoms at her left ear.

    This form of Tara, Green Tara, is the most common one; but Tara also appears in other forms, such as White Tara, Red Tara and the Twenty-One Taras.

In the Gelukpa school there is also a Highest Yoga Tantra form of Tara known as Cittamani Tara (as well as a Highest Yoga Tantra form of the Twenty-One Taras practice).

Red Tara

Yidam of bountifulness

    Red Tara is a special practice of Tara practiced in both the Nyingma and Sakya schools.

She is depicted in much the same way as Green Tara (seated with right leg slightly extended, left hand held to the heart with an utpala flower blooming by her left ear, and right hand making the gesture of generosity), except that her body is ruby-red, she possesses a third eye, and her right hand holds a long-life vase. \

White Tara

Yidam - she who grants long life and wisdom

    Also known as Drolkar (Tibetan) or Sitatara (Sanskrit), Tara embodies the compassionate activity of all the Buddhas (her name means "the liberator" or "one who saves").

White Tara is especially associated with long life and wisdom. Unlike the green form of this deity, White Tara has seven eyes -- one in each hand and foot, and a third eye on her face -- to show that she sees and responds to suffering throughout the universe; and she sits in full lotus posture.


Dharma protector - goddess of the mountain

    Tseringma is the foremost of the Five Long-Life Deities -- formerly mountain-guardian spirits -- who plagued the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa during his cave retreats.

They were converted to Buddhism and Tseringma became his consort. She is a white figure shown riding a snow lion and carrying a long-life vase in her hand. Thangka 433 on the Art of Tibet website depicts Tseringma and her sisters.


Yidam - goddess of the glorious white umbrella

    This white-coloured deity, a form of Tara, is a female counterpart of the thousand-armed form of Avalokiteshvara. She has one thousand faces, arms and legs;

each face has three eyes, and she has one eye in the palm of each hand and the sole of each foot, showing that she watches and protects sentient beings.

Her central faces are white (as is her body); her right faces are yellow, the faces at the rear of her body are red, and the left faces green; there is also a "tier" of blue faces at the top of her head.

Her right hands hold wheels of the Dharma (dharmachakra) and her left hands hold arrows; one of her other left hands also holds aloft a white parasol which also symbolises her protection.


Yidam - the long-life deity

    Ushnisha-vijaya (Tib. Namgyalma or Namgyelma) is a peaceful white deity and an emanation of Vairochana Buddha. She has three faces, ten eyes and eight hands. Her right hands hold a lasso, bow, and vase with the nectar of immortality;

her fourth right hand bears an eye in the palm and is in the mudra (posture) of generosity. Her left hands hold a miniature Buddha image, a double (crossed) vajra, and an arrow; the fourth left hand is held in meditation posture in her lap.

    Ushnisha-vijaya is often shown in a triumvirate with the other two principal long-life deities, red (male) Amitayus and White Tara (see above).

Vajrayogini / Vajravarahi

Yidam - the queen of Dakinis

    Vajrayogini (Tib. Dorje Naljorma, Adamantine Female Practitioner) is the principal female yidam of Highest Yoga Tantra of the New Translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

She is a slightly wrathful red female figure shown holding a curved knife in her right hand, a skullcup in her left and a khatvanga (trident or staff) in her left elbow.

The Naro form of Vajrayogini, most commonly seen in the Sakya and Geluk traditions, is shown standing with her face turned upwards and to the left, with the skullcup held up to her mouth and the curved knife pointing to the ground.


    The Vajravarahi form of Vajrayogini, generally more frequent in Kagyu, is shown in dancing pose with the right leg bent;

this form holds the curved knife up in the air and the skullcup to her heart.

Vajravarahi, whose name means Adamantine Sow, is usually shown with a small sow's head, representing triumph over ignorance, emerging over her right ear.

In either form of this deity she may be visualised as a solitary yidam or in union with her consort dark-blue Heruka Chakrasamvara, a principal mother-tantra deity of Highest Yoga Tantra.

  Yeshe Tsogyal

Yidam, guru and historical figure - mother of Tibetan Buddhism

    This remarkable female hermit-saint, the Tibetan consort of Padmasambhava, is sometimes shown in Nirmanakaya form the 'emanation body' a Buddha takes so as to be visible to ordinary beings -- as a woman in everyday Tibetan clothes, seated and holding curved knife and skullcup.

She is also shown in deified form as the Queen of Great Bliss (Tib., Dechen Gyalmo) as a red standing figure with a damaru (double-sided drum) raised in her right hand and a curved knife held to the ground with her left.


Tara (Sanskrit: तारा, tārā; Tib. སྒྲོལ་མ, Dölma) or Ārya Tārā, also known as Jetsun Dölma (Tibetan language:rje btsun sgrol ma) in Tibetan Buddhism, is a female Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism who appears as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism.