Spiritual Objectives of the 4 Heavenly Kings
The Four Heavenly Kings have been a staple in Buddhist art for centuries, with two distinct visual forms: a royal representation in India and Southeast Asia and a warrior-like depiction in Central and East Asia. In Korea, the interpretation of these figures has been limited to their Sanskrit title, “Lokapala,” which translates to ‘guardians of the world.’
Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as The Historical Buddha, has invoked the aid of the Four Heavenly Kings in multiple Buddhist Sutras, including The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva and the Golden Light Sutra. In both scriptures, the presence of the Four Heavenly Kings is highly prominent as they are requested to help spread the teachings of the sutras.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Guardians of Buddhism
- 2 - 4 Heavenly Kings in China
- 3 - The North King: Vaishravana (Tib. Namtösé)
- 4 - The South King: Virudhaka (Tib. Pak Kyepo)
- 5 - The East King: Dhritarashtra (Tib. Yulkhor Sung)
- 6 - The West King: Virupaksha (Tib. Chen Mi Zang)
- 7 - Mantras of 4 Heavenly kings
- 8 - Homage to 4 Great Kings
Guardians of Buddhism
The Four Celestial Kings, also known as the Lokapalas, are believed to be guardians of Buddhism and reside on Mount Meru. They are responsible for protecting the four gates of Indra’s paradise, located at the four cardinal directions.
Dhrtarastra is the King of the Gandharvas and is white in color, holding a stringed instrument. He guards the East.
Virudhuka is the King of the Khumbanda, blue in color and wielding a sword. He stands guard over the South.
Virupaksa is the King of the Serpent Gods who guards the West and is depicted as red with a serpent and a gem in his hands.
The Four Directional Guardians are associated with wealth deities, who offer assistance to those who are promoting or preserving the dharma. If you are fortunate enough to receive aid from one of these deities, it is advisable to use most of the wealth for charitable causes or to further the spread of the dharma, as this will create good karma and virtuous deeds. If you choose to spend the wealth on indulgent pleasures, you will only be deepening your attachment to samsara.
4 Heavenly Kings in China
The Four Heavenly Kings are venerated figures in Buddhism, assigned to guard the four cardinal directions of the world: East, West, North, and South. In Chinese, they are known as “Fēng Tiáo Yǔ Shùn” (風調雨順), meaning “Good Climate.” In translations of Chinese scriptures, they are referred to as “Sì Dà Tiānwáng” (四大天王), which translates to “Four Great Heavenly Kings.” These celestial protectors preside over the domains of earth, water, fire, and wind.
The name of the 4 heavenly kings are listed below.
- Dhritarashtra (Tib. Yulkhor Sung)
- Virudhaka (Tib. Pak Kyepo)
- Virupaksha (Tib. Chen Mi Zang)
- Vaishravana (Tib. Namtösé)
The North King: Vaishravana (Tib. Namtösé)
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Vaiśravaṇa is the leader of the Four Heavenly Kings and is the main protector of the North. In Chinese, he is referred to as Duo Wen (多聞天王), and in Sanskrit, he is known as Vaiśravaṇa, which translates to “one who hears everything.”
This celestial being is sometimes compared to Bodhisattva Kuan Yin. He is known by many different names, such as Kubera, Namtose (Namthose), Vessavana, Thao Kuwen, Wetsawan, Wetsuwan, and Wéthawún Nat Min. He has power over water and rain, which symbolize both wealth and power.
As the guardian of the riches in the North, he is sometimes referred to as the Wealthy Deva King. He is seen as the provider of wealth and blessings for success, and his kingdom is said to be as beautiful as Sukhavati paradise in the west, with five princes and 28 messengers under his command. His kingdom is located north of Mount Sumeru and is adorned with precious stones.
Vaiśravaṇa is often associated with the colors yellow and green. His symbols, such as the umbrella, stupa, pagoda, and mongoose, are used to represent him. The umbrella symbolizes protecting one’s mind from impurities, representing the importance of generosity and carefulness in safeguarding both material and spiritual wealth. By invoking Vaisravana’s qualities, practitioners can maintain a balanced outlook on worldly matters while still being grounded in spiritual values.
The South King: Virudhaka (Tib. Pak Kyepo)
In Chinese, Zeng Zhang (增長天王) is the name given to the South King, while in Sanskrit, Virūḍhaka is used to refer to him. His title embodies the concept of “advancement,” signifying his part in promoting expansion.
Virūḍhaka, also known as Virūḷhaka, Thao Wirunhok, Virúlaka Nat Min, and Zēng Zhǎng Tiānwáng, is the ruler of the South and has dominion over the domain of wind. His emblematic weapon is a sword, held in his right hand. This blade serves two purposes – protecting the Dharma and symbolizing power over ignorance. It is a representation of knowledge, capable of cutting through ignorance and disjointed ideas.
Virudhaka, also known as the ‘Sprout’, is a protector of the south in Tibetan Buddhism. He wears the hard skin of a slain elephant-like monster as a helmet, giving the false impression that a horn is growing out of his head like a plant sprout.
He is the king of giants and gnomes and is associated with the color blue. He is responsible for fostering virtues and warding off harmful influences in the South, which is seen as an emblem of warmth and growth. People can be inspired by Virudhaka’s role as a guardian to develop their moral character and empathy.
To know more about Virudhaka please check our blog post King of the South.
The East King: Dhritarashtra (Tib. Yulkhor Sung)
The East King is known as Chi Guo (持國天王) in Chinese and Dhṛtarāṣṭra in Sanskrit, which translates to “supporting the country.” He is seen as the ruler of the East and the God of Music, and is revered for his ability to uphold the realm.
Dhritarashtra, known by various names such as Yul ‘khor bsrung, Dhrutharashṭa, Thao Thatarot, Daddáratá Nat Min, Chí Guó Tiānwáng, Jikoku-ten, Jiguk-cheonwang, and Yülkhorsung, is the guardian of the eastern world realm and lord of the Gandharvas, the celestial musicians who play to the gods.
He is said to use his lute to convert all sentient beings to Buddhism, promoting harmony and compassion. He is associated with the color white and is believed to rule over the Gandharvas, male nature spirits with exceptional musical abilities. They act as a bridge between gods and humans, often taking the form of birds or horses.
Dhritarashtra is a symbol of enlightenment, dispelling the darkness of ignorance with his vigilant attention. As people meditate, they are reminded of his commitment to promoting knowledge and understanding as they look towards the East.
To know more about Dhritarashtra please check our blog post King of the East.
The West King: Virupaksha (Tib. Chen Mi Zang)
Guang Mu (廣目天王) in Chinese and Virūpākṣa in Sanskrit are the names of the West King. His name translates to “wide seeing,” signifying his role as the ruler of the West and overseer of all that happens in the Dharma world.
He is often depicted with a snake or a red cord, which symbolizes the concept of constant change, just as a snake sheds its skin. This serves as a reminder to be more mindful when interacting with others, in order to maintain harmony.
Virupaksa, also known as Virūpakkha, Virūpaksha, Thao Wirupak, Virúpekka Nat Min, Guăng Mù Tiānwáng, Kōmoku-ten, and Gwangmok-cheonwang, is said to guard the West and protect us from danger.
He is believed to be the guardian of the Buddha relics and is depicted with deformed eyes, holding a small reliquary in his right hand and embracing a snake in his left.
This is symbolic of his role as Lord of the Nagas. As a mentor, Virupaksha encourages practitioners to reflect on the nature of reality and to embark on their own journeys of self-discovery.
Mantras of 4 Heavenly kings
The Four Heavenly Kings embody strong ethical values and their attentive attitude.
Vaisravana, the Northern Guardian, embodies benevolence which is like a refreshing breeze that brings in kindness and eliminates stagnation.
Chant the mantra of King Vaisravana for abundance and success.
OM VAISRAVANA YE SOHA
Virudhaka, the Lord of the South, is likened to the midday sun, radiating a compassionate warmth that nurtures all life.
Recite the mantra of King Virudhaka to achieve success and growth in life.
OM VIRUDHAKA KUMBHANDADHIPATA YE SOHA
For Peace and Harmony, recite the Mantra of King Dhrtarastra:
OM DHRTARASTRA RALAPRAVADHAHA SOHA
Virupaksa, the leader of the West, stands for equilibrium and guides living beings away from the perilous illusions.
For Good Health and Protection recite the Mantra of King Virupaksa:
OM VIRUPAKSA NAGA DHIPATA YE SOHA
The Four Heavenly Kings are divine beings who reside in the cosmic realm of Mount Sumeru and act as protectors of the world. They have the power to summon supernatural forces to guard those who follow the Dharma and serve under Sakra, the ruler of the Trayastrimsha Heaven. This heavenly realm is the closest to our world and is known as Jambvudpiva in Buddhist scriptures, making it a very important place.
Homage to 4 Great Kings
I pay homage to the Four Great Kings, Guardians of the Buddhadhamma and the earth.
May the merit I make today through practicing the precepts, cultivating the heart and any other skillful actions I undertake by thought speech or deed be dedicated to you.
I pray you to continue to protect the Triple Gem and save all beings on this earth from catastrophe.
May the blessings of the Triple Gem ever shine upon you until you attain the stainless bliss of Nibbana.