The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Kurukulla - Dakini of Magic and Enchantment
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But whether she had eight arms or four arms, she is generally known as the Uddiyana Kurukulla.
Most modern scholars believe this indicates that Kurukulla was originally a tribal goddess, much like the Hindu goddess Durga had been in India, who later, because of her popularity, became associated with the Buddhist great goddess Tara.
Kurukulla appears to have become popular originally, and she remains so even among the Tibetans today, because of her association with the magical function of enchantment (dbang gi ‘phrin-las) or the bewitching of people in order to bring them under one’s power (dbang du bsdud).
She is depicted as a voluptuous and seductive nude sixteen year old girl.
Among the attributes she holds in her four hands, four arms being her most common manifestation, are the flower-entwined bow and arrow, reminiscent of the Western Eros and Cupid, although as the goddess of witchcraft, she is more akin to Diana.
It may appear strange and ironic to us that Buddhism, originally the religion of celibate monks, should give birth to this attractive and seductive sex goddess. Buddhism as a spiritual path is ultimately concerned with enlightenment and liberation from Samsara.
Sadhana or deity invocation is a meditation and ritual practice where the practitioner in meditation assumes the aspect or form of the deity, who is regarded as a manifestation of the enlightened awareness of the Buddha, and then invokes the spiritual powers and wisdom and capacities of that particular deity as an aid to realizing liberation and enlightenment.
The meditation image of the deity visualized by the practitioner in sadhana, being an archetype or manifestation of enlightened awareness, and this radiant image opens a channel and acts as a receptacle for receiving the grace or blessings of the Buddha for a specific purpose.
In the same way, Christians might have visions of angels that might make the grace of God manifest, but in Buddhism there are both male and female meditation deities, and Kurukulla is certainly an example of the latter.
The psychic powers developed through sadhana practice are known as ordinary attainments or siddhis (thun-mong gi dngos-grub), although to us Westerners, with our historical conditioning, psychic powers hardly seem very ordinary.
But in Catholic countries, one is quite familiar with such practices as lighting candles while praying to the Holy Virgin or the Saints for help with worldly matters and not just the salvation of one’s soul after death.
To our Western consciousness, such actions appear miraculous, even supernatural, but in the Buddhist view, psychic manifestations are part of the natural order. There is nothing supernatural about them.
- 1. White magic or Shantika-karma (zhi-ba’i ‘phrin-las) has the function of calming and pacifying conditions and healing. White Tara is an example of a deity that specifically has this white function.
- 2. Yellow Magic or Paushtika-karma (rgyas-pa’i phrin-las) has the function of increasing wealth, prosperity, abundance, merit, knowledge, and so on. Vasundahara and Jambhala are examples of deities with these functions. Hence they are yellow in color.
- 3. Red Magic or Vashya-karma (dbang gi phrin-las) has the function of bringing people under one’s power, of enchanting, bewitching, attracting, subjugating, magnetizing them. This is the primary function of Kurukulla and hence her red color.
- 4. Black Magic or Raudra-karma (drag-po’i phrin-las) has the function of destroying evil and obstructions to the spiritual path. This is the specific function of many wrathful manifestations such as the Dakini Simhamukha who is dark blue in color.
These four functions are allotted to the four gates of the mandala palace, namely,
But generally, in the West, there is a prejudice against magic, especially in Protestant Christian cultures, which makes it difficult for people to understand the ancient Indian and the Tibetan approach to these matters.
Magic principally relates to our dimension of energy, and this energy, according to the traditional way of thinking, is intermediate between the mental and the physical, just as the soul is intermediate between the spirit and the flesh.
the intention of the Buddhist practitioner in practicing magic is always compassionate and aims at preventing evil acts, to help others and alleviate suffering, whereas the Western understanding of black magic involves the deliberated attempt to harm and injure.
But where we find sadhana or theurgy, that is, high magic, we also find low magic or goetia, that is, common witchcraft. In the Tibetan view, these practices are not necessarily black, no more sinister than finding lucky numbers for betting on the horses, or making love potions or amulets for protection, and so on.
Just as Tara in her usual green form may be called upon by Buddhists to protect them from various dangers and threats, in particular the eight great terrors and the sixteen fears, so in her red form as Kurukulla, she may be called upon to exercise her powers of enchantment and bewitchment to bring under her power (dbang du bsdud) those evil spirits, demons, and humans who work against the welfare of humanity and its spiritual evolution.
In Tibet, Kurukulla was also called upon when commencing the building of a new monastery, when undertaking a new business or enterprise, when going into court in order to win a law case, and other such activities, because she can subdue and subjugate the demonic and the human forces that stand in one’s way.
- 1. amulets for enchanting and bringing others under one’s power,
- 2. spells to frighten away poisonous snakes,
- 3. methods for a dissatisfied wife to subjugate her husband,
- 4. amulets for protection from evil spirits and bad luck,
- 5. spells for acquiring wealth and gaining power,
- 6. the use of cowrie shells in divination and ritual,
- 7. divinations to find a treasure,
- 8. methods for walking on water,
- 9. methods to avoid getting gray hair,
- 10. cures for frigidity and impotence.
- 1. Khadga-siddhi (ral-gri), the power to be invincible in battle with a sword (khadga);
- 2. Anjana-siddhi (mig-rtsi), the power to remove ordinary lack of sight by using a magical ointment that enables the user to see Devas, Nagas, and other spirits;
- 3. Padalepa-siddhi (rkang-pa’i byug-pa), the power to be swift of foot by using a magical ointment that, when applied to the feet, allows the user to run with incredible swiftness;
- 4. Antardhana-siddhi (mi snang-bar ‘gyur-ba), the power to become invisible;
- 5. Rasayana-siddhi (bcud-len), the power of rejuvenation and long life through obtaining the elixir of life by way of an alchemical process;
- 6. Khechara-siddhi (mkha’-spyod), the power to levitate or to fly through the sky;
- 7. Bhuchara-siddhi (zhing-spyod), the power to move freely through the earth, mountains, and solid walls; and
- 8. Patala-siddhi (sa-‘og), the power to have command over the spirits of the underworld (patala).
The above were not the usual concerns of monks.
here the Tibetan practitioner would invoke Kurukulla. However, the Buddhist Goddess of Witchcraft, is not our familiar stereotype of the witch as an old crone in a pointed hat and a wart on her hooked nose, but she is a beautiful naked sixteen year old girl.
The Symbolic Interpretation of Her Iconography
In her other two hands she holds the hook that attracts and summons them into her presence and the noose by which she binds them to her will.
The ornaments of human bone she wears signify the five perfections, whereas she herself embodies the sixth perfection, that of wisdom. She wears a necklace of fifty freshly severed human heads dripping blood because she vanquishes the fifty negative emotions.
Kurukulla in the Nyingmapa Tradition
Indeed, in the Tangyur there are found a number of sadhana texts for Kurukulla besides that composed by king Indrabhuti. In them her name is usually not translated into Tibetan, but given in the variant form Ku-ru-ku-lle.
She holds in her right hand a vase filled with amrita nectar and in her left hand before her heart the stem of a lotus and on the blossom itself by her ear is a miniature bow and arrow. In this guise she is specifically called Red Tara (sgrol-ma dmar-mo).
Moreover, it is interesting that in many Nyingmapa Terma texts, including Chogyur Lingpa and Dudjom Lingpa, the Hindu god Mahadeva (or Shiva) and his consort Uma are closely associated with Kurukulla as guardian deities (srung-ma)
Kurukulla in the Sakyapa Tradition
But Kurukulla is also very popular among the Newer Tantric schools. In particular, she is counted as one among “the Three Red Ones” (dmar-po skor gsum) of the Sakyapa school and she is included among the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, which the Sakyapas had received from India and Nepal.
These teachings are called Golden Dharmas (gser chos), not only because they represent very precious teachings, but because in those days (11th century) Tibetan students had to pay a lot of gold for the teachings obtained from Indian masters. Tibet was famous for its rich gold deposits.
But for the Sakyapas, the source par excellence for the practice of Kurukulla is in the Shri Hevajra Mahatantraraja, according to the tradition of Lalitavajra, and coming to them from the Mahasiddha Virupa and the Tibetan translator Drogmi (‘Brog-mi ye-shes, 993-1050).
“Now I shall explain the sadhana for Kurukulla by means of which all beings may be brought into subjugation. Previously, this had been explained extensively in the twelve parts (of the larger version of the Tantra), but here it is condensed in brief.
With one hundred thousand recitations of her mantra, one brings kings (under one’s power), with ten thousand recitations the masses of ordinary people of the world, with ten million recitations cattle and the Yakshas (earth spirits),
She is mentioned in two other places in the second chapter of Part I (v. 19 and v. 26) and here her mantra is given, together with the action mantras that may be appended to it for specific magical purposes.
Her other right hand holds an iron hook that summons and her other left hand holds the stem of an utpala flower that forms a noose. She displays her fangs; she has three eyes and round breasts, being like a maiden sixteen years of age.
She is adorned with ornaments of human bone and has a tiger skin across her thighs. She stands in ardhaparyanka dance position, with her left leg extended, upon a human corpse whose face shows to her left, amidst red rays of light and blazing masses of fire.
Her first two hands make the gesture of Trailokyavijaya-mudra or “victory over the three worlds”, while her other right hands hold the iron hook, an arrow, and make the gesture of supreme generosity, varada-mudra. Her other left hands hold the noose, the bow, and the red lotus.
She adorns her body with serpents who are the great Naga kings: Ananta is her hair ribbon, Vasuki is her necklace, Takshaka is her ear rings, Karkotaka is her sacred thread, Padma is her girdle, Mahapadma is her anklet, and so on.
In the mandala of the wealth god, the red Jambhala, she appears in her usual four-armed form and in the mandala of the four-armed Mahakala (Ye-shes mgon-po phyag-bzhi-pa) according to the system of Shantigupta, she appears in the southwest in a red two-armed form.
By JOHN MYRDHIN REYNOLDS