Lokapalas – The Heavenly Kings and protector spirits
Lokapāla means “guardian of the world” in Sanskrit and Pāli.
The term has different uses depending on whether it is found in a Hindu or Buddhist context.
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Lokapalas in Hindu & Buddhist context
In Hinduism, lokapāla refers to the Guardians of the Directions associated with the eight, nine and ten cardinal directions.
In Buddhism, lokapāla refers to the Four Heavenly Kings, and to other protector spirits.
Lokapāla is one of two broad categories of Dharmapāla (protectors of the Buddhist religion) – the other category being Wisdom Protectors.
The Four Heraldic Animals
In China, each Lokapala is additionally associated with a specific direction and the Four Heraldic Animals of Chinese astronomy/astrology, as well as playing a more secular role in rural communities ensuring favorable weather for crops and peace throughout the land.
Easily identified by their armor and boots, each Lokapala has his own magic weapon and associations.
The indigenous Tibetan deities
In Tibetan Buddhism, many of these worldly protector deities are indigenous Tibetan deities, mountain gods, demons, spirits or ghosts that have been subjugated by Padmasambhava or other great adepts and oath bound to protect a monastery, geographic region, particular tradition or as guardians of Buddhism in general.
These worldly protectors are invoked and propitiated to aid the monastery or Buddhist practitioner materially and to remove obstacles to practice.
However, since they are considered to be Samsaric beings, they are not worshiped or considered as objects of refuge.
Forms & manifesations of Lokapalas
This is the list of Lokapalas commonly used for the practice of Buddhism.
A kumbhāṇḍa (Sanskrit) or kumbhaṇḍa (Pāli) is one of a group of dwarfish, misshapen spirits among the lesser deities of Buddhist mythology.
Four Heavenly Kings
The Four Heavenly Kings are four Buddhist gods, which originates from the Indian version of Lokapalas, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world. In Chinese mythology, they are known collectively as the “Fēng Tiáo Yǔ Shùn” or “Sì Dà Tiānwáng”. In the ancient language Sanskrit they are called the “Chaturmahārāja” (चतुर्महाराज), or “Chaturmahārājikādeva”: “Four Great Heavenly Kings”. The Hall of the Heavenly Kings is a standard component of Chinese Buddhist temples.
Vaiśravaṇa (Sanskrit) or Vessavaṇa, is one of the Four Heavenly Kings, and is considered an important figure in Japanese Buddhism.
Dhṛtarāṣṭra is a major deity in Buddhism and one of the Four Heavenly Kings. His name means “Upholder of the Nation.”
Virūḍhaka (Heavenly King)
Virūḍhaka is a major deity in Buddhism. He is one of the Four Heavenly Kings and a dharmapala.
Virūpākṣa is a major deity in Buddhism. He is one of the Four Heavenly Kings and a dharmapala.