The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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What are Gods & Deities in Tantric Buddhist Art?
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What are they exactly?
Who are they and where do they come from?
This is a big question in Tibetan Buddhism and subsequently it is important to understand. Deities make up a large percentage of the iconography in painting, sculpture and more importantly meditation practice.
Initially the most important point to learn is that the two English terms 'god' and 'deity' are commonly used interchangeably, both colloquially and in academic circles, with no real intended difference in meaning.
In general a god is a supernatural being or presence that lives outside of our normal daily reality that has the power to interact, for good or ill, in our personal reality through a spiritual connection, ritual, or cause and effect relationship.
Within Buddhism these Worldly Gods are understood as sentient beings that have powers and life circumstances that are different than that of normal humans but occupy and move through the Wheel of Existence - Samsara - just as humans do based on the laws of cause and effect.
Examples of Worldly Gods (lha) are Brahma, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva, along with all of the other less familiar Hindu characters. Included amongst those are the Guardians of the Four Directions, the local gods of the various Buddhist regions, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, inclusive of the many mountain and regional gods.
- - Brahma, yellow, holding a wheel, riding a goose.
- - Indra, white, holding a vajra, riding an elephant.
- - Agni, red, holding a fire pot, riding a goat.
- - Yama, blue, holding a stick, riding a buffalo.
- - Raksha, black-maroon, holding a sword, riding a zombie.
- - Varuna, white, holding a snake lasso, riding a makara.
- - Vayu Deva, smoky-coloured, holding a banner, riding a deer.
- - Yaksha, yellow, holding a mongoose, riding a horse.
- - Ishana, white, holding a trident, riding a buffalo.
- - Bhudevi, yellow, holding a vase, riding a sow.
Emanations originate generally from the Five Symbolic Buddhas (Vairochana, Amitabha, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava and Amoghasiddhi) or from the Tantric meditational forms of Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani.
The lists and sub-categories of deities can be long and sometimes over-lap. Next week we will look at some of the more common and well-known categories of Buddhist Tantric Deities such as Long-life, Power, and Deities of Protection.
- (1) Peaceful
- (2) Semi-peaceful/semi-wrathful
- (3) Wrathful Deities According to the Four Tantric Buddhist Activities:
- (1) Peaceful Activities
- (2) Increasing Activities
- (3) Powerful Activities
- (4) Wrathful Activities
- (1) Buddha
- (2) Meditational Deity:
- (3) Long-life
- (4) Wisdom
- (5) Power
- (6) Miscellaneous
- (7) Protectors:
- (8) Protector, Worldly:
- (9) Wealth Deity
- (10) Purification
Jeff Watt 5-2012