Tibetan Buddhist deities – The Vajrayana Pantheon
Table of Contents
- 1 - Mahayana Buddhists venerate numerous Buddhas such as bodhisattvas, Tulkus and living reincarnations of bodhisattvas called emanations.
- 2 - The eight great Bodhisattvas
- 3 - Female Bodhisattvas
- 4 - Reincarnations of bodhisattvas
- 5 - Glossary of Tibetan Buddhist deities
- 5.1 - Vajrapani
- 5.2 - Dakini
- 5.3 - Mahakala
- 5.4 - Heruka
- 5.5 - Vajrayogini
- 5.6 - Hevajra
- 5.7 - Wrathful deities
- 5.8 - Jambhala
- 5.9 - Garuda
- 5.10 - Yamantaka
- 5.11 - Vajravārāhī
- 5.12 - Yeshe Tsogyal
- 5.13 - Yama
- 5.14 - Ekajati
- 5.15 - Dharmapala
- 5.16 - Vajrakilaya
- 5.17 - Vasudhara
- 5.18 - Nairatmya
- 5.19 - Palden Lhamo
- 5.20 - Wisdom King
- 5.21 - Cakrasamvara
- 5.22 - Samantabhadrī (tutelary)
- 5.23 - Simhamukha
- 5.24 - Mandāravā
- 5.25 - Acala
- 5.26 - Machig Labdrön
- 5.27 - Kurukullā
- 5.28 - Rakta Yamari
- 5.29 - Parnashavari
- 5.30 - Begtse
- 5.31 - Hayagriva (Buddhism)
- 5.32 - Gyalpo spirits
- 5.33 - Rahu
- 5.34 - Ucchusma
- 5.35 - Shmashana Adhipati
- 5.36 - Niguma
- 5.37 - Pehar Gyalpo
- 5.38 - Yogambara
- 5.39 - Four Heavenly Kings
- 5.40 - Tare Lhamo
- 5.41 - Usnisavijaya
- 5.42 - Narodakini
- 5.43 - Sukhasiddhi
- 5.44 - Āṭavaka
- 5.45 - Citipati (Buddhism)
- 5.46 - Eight Legions
- 5.47 - Garanshin
- 5.48 - Kuṇḍali
- 5.49 - Lokapala
- 5.50 - Achi Chokyi Drolma
- 5.51 - Vaiśravaṇa
- 5.52 - Ushnishasitatapattra
- 5.53 - Myōken
- 5.54 - Twenty-Four Protective Deities
- 5.55 - Gohō dōji
- 5.56 - Eight Great Yakṣa Generals
- 5.57 - Yama (Buddhism)
- 5.58 - Tenma goddesses
- 5.59 - Ten Rākṣasīs
- 5.60 - Miyolangsangma
Mahayana Buddhists venerate numerous Buddhas such as bodhisattvas, Tulkus and living reincarnations of bodhisattvas called emanations.
The eight great Bodhisattvas
In Tibetan Buddhism, following the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition, the major bodhisattvas are known as the “eight great bodhisattvas”:
Each is associated with a different consort, direction, aggregate (or, aspect of the personality), emotion, element, color, symbol, and mount.
Other female Bodhisattvas include Vasudhara and Cundi.
Several female Buddhas are also recognized, such as Tara, the most popular female Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism, who comes in many forms and colors.
Other female Buddha figures include Vajrayogini, Nairatmya, and Kurukullā.
Reincarnations of bodhisattvas
Followers of Tibetan Buddhism consider reborn tulkus such as the Dalai Lamas and the Karmapas to be emanations of bodhisattvas.
Some historical figures are also seen as Buddhas, such as the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna and the figure of Padmasambhava.
Glossary of Tibetan Buddhist deities
This is a list of Tibetan Buddhist deities commonly used for diverse practices.
Vajrapāṇi is one of the earliest-appearing bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. He is the protector and guide of Gautama Buddha and rose to symbolize the Buddha’s power.
The concept of the ḍākinī differs depending on the context and the tradition.
A ḍākinī in Hinduism is a demon and in Buddhism is a type of female spirit.
In Japan it is difficult to trace the exact origins of the Japanese Dakiniten cult but it flourished mainly via the network of Inari worship and vice versa.
Mahakala is a deity common to Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. According to Hinduism, Mahakala is a manifestation of Shiva and is the consort of Hindu Goddess Kali and most prominently appears in Kalikula sect of Shaktism. Mahākāla also appears as a protector deity known as a dharmapala in Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly most Tibetan traditions (Citipati), in Tangmi and in Shingon. He is known as Dàhēitiān and Daaih’hāktīn (大黑天) in Mandarin and Cantonese, Daeheukcheon (대흑천) in Korean and Daikokuten (大黒天) in Japanese. In Sikhism, Mahākāla is referred to as Kal, who is the governor of Maya.
Heruka, is the name of a category of wrathful deities, enlightened beings in Vajrayana Buddhism that adopt a fierce countenance to benefit sentient beings. In East Asia, these are called Wisdom Kings.
Vajrayoginī is a Tantric Buddhist female Buddha and a ḍākiṇī. Vajrayoginī’s essence is “great passion” (maharaga), a transcendent passion that is free of selfishness and illusion — she intensely works for the well-being of others and for the destruction of ego clinging. She is seen as being ideally suited for people with strong passions, providing the way to transform those passions into enlightened virtues.
Hevajra is one of the main yidams in Tantric, or Vajrayana Buddhism. Hevajra’s consort is Nairātmyā.
Hevajra has four forms described in the Hevajra Tantra and the Samputa Tantra which are Kaya Hevajra, Vak Hevajra, Citta Hevajra and Hrdaya Hevajra.
In Buddhism, wrathful deities or fierce deities are the fierce, wrathful or forceful forms of enlightened Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or Devas. Because of their power to destroy the obstacles to enlightenment, they are also termed krodha-vighnantaka, “Wrathful onlookers on destroying obstacles”. Wrathful deities are a notable feature of the iconography of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. These types of deities first appeared in India during the late 6th century with its main source being the Yaksha imagery and became a central feature of Indian Tantric Buddhism by the late 10th or early 11th century.
Jambhala is the god of wealth.
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Yamantaka literally means ‘The Destroyer of Yama, the Lord of Death’, is a wrathful form of Manjushri.
Vajravarahi is a wrathful form of Vajrayogini associated particularly with the Cakrasamvara Tantra, where she is paired in yab-yum with the Heruka Cakrasamvara.
Yeshe Tsogyal (also known as “Victorious Ocean of Wisdom”, “Wisdom Lake Queen”, was the Mother of Tibetan Buddhism. Some sources regard her as a wife of Trisong Detsen, emperor of Tibet. Her main karmamudrā consort was Padmasambhava, a founder-figure of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. She is known to have revealed terma with Padmasambhava and was also the main scribe for these terma. Later, Yeshe Tsogyal also hid many of Padmasambhava’s terma on her own, under the instructions of Padmasambhava for future generations.
Yama or Yamarāja is a god of death, the south direction, and the underworld, belonging to an early stratum of Rigvedic Hindu deities. In Sanskrit, his name can be interpreted to mean “twin”. In the Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrianism, he is called “Yima”.
Ekajaṭī or Ekajaṭā,, also known as Māhacīnatārā, is one of the 21 Taras. Ekajati is, along with Palden Lhamo deity, one of the most powerful and fierce goddesses of Vajrayana Buddhist mythology.
According to Tibetan legends, her right eye was pierced by the tantric master Padmasambhava so that she could much more effectively help him subjugate Tibetan demons.
Dharmapala is Buddhist protectors, deities that are entrusted with the role of protection for both the religion and the followers.
There are two classes, enlightened protectors (jnanapala) and worldly protectors (lokapala).
Vajrakilaya or Vajrakumara — the wrathful heruka Vajrakilaya is the yidam deity who embodies the enlightened activity of all the buddhas and whose practice is famous for being the most powerful for removing obstacles, destroying the forces hostile to compassion and purifying the spiritual pollution so prevalent in this age. Vajrakilaya is one of the eight deities of Kagyé.
Vasudhārā, whose name means “stream of gems” in Sanskrit, is the Buddhist bodhisattva of wealth, prosperity, and abundance. She is popular in many Buddhist countries and is a subject in Buddhist legends and art. Originally an Indian bodhisattva, her popularity has spread to southern Buddhist countries. Her popularity, however, peaks in Nepal where she has a strong following among the Buddhist Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and is thus a central figure in Newar Buddhism. She is named Shiskar Apa in Lahul and Spiti. She is related to Hindu great goddess Lakshmi, and her Sanskrit name Vasundhara indicates she is the source of the eight “bountiful Vasus.” Therefore, according to the epic Mahabharat, she is the bounty that is the waters of the river Ganges—the goddess, Ganga whose origin is the snows of the Himalayas.
Nairātmyā or Dagmema is a yoginī, the consort of Hevajra in the Hevajra-tantra. The name means “she who has no self (ātman)”. Nair-ātmyā is the feminine form of nairātmya which comes from nirātman ; nairātmya means “of nirātman”, and in the feminine form, nairātmyā, “she who has no self”. Nair-ātmyā, the no-self female, that is, she who has no self. She is an embodiment of the Buddhist philosophical concept of anātman.
Palden Lhamo or Panden Lhamo or Remati is a protecting Dharmapala of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. She is the wrathful deity considered to be the principal protectress of Tibet.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, a Wisdom King is a type of deity in Buddhism and classed as the third after buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Japanese statuary. The Sanskrit name literally translates to “knowledge king”, thus the Chinese character “明”, meaning “knowledgeable”, or “bright” is used, leading to wide array of alternative English names, including “Radiant King”, “Guardian King”, etc. In Tibetan Buddhism, they are known as Herukas.
The Cakrasaṃvara Tantra is an influential Buddhist Tantra. It is roughly dated to the late eight or early ninth century by David B. Gray. The full title in the Sanskrit manuscript used by Gray’s translation is: Great King of Yoginī Tantras called the Śrī Cakrasaṃvara (Śrīcakrasaṃvara-nāma-mahayoginī-tantra-rāja). The text is also called the Discourse of Śrī Heruka (Śrīherukābhidhāna) and the Samvara Light (Laghusaṃvara).
Samantabhadri is a dakini and female Buddha from the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition.
She is the consort and female counterpart of Samantabhadra, known amongst some Tibetan Buddhists as the ‘Primordial Buddha’. Samantabhadri herself is known as the ‘primordial Mother Buddha’.
Samantabhadri is the dharmakaya dakini aspect of the Trikaya, or three bodies of a Buddha. As such, Samantabhadri represents the aspect of Buddhahood in whom delusion and conceptual thought have never arisen.
As font or wellspring of the aspects of the divine feminine she may be understood as the ‘Great Mother’. Seen differently, Samantabhadri is an aspect of Prajnaparamita.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Siṃhamukhā or Siṃhavaktra, also known as the Lion Face Dakini or Lion-headed Dakini, is a wisdom dakini of the Dzogchen tradition. She is represented as a fierce dakini with the head of a snow lion. Her mouth is depicted with a roar, symbolizing untamed fury and jubilant laughter. Her roar disperses discursive thoughts. She is naked, symbolizing that she herself is completely free of discursive thought.
Mandarava was, along with Yeshe Tsogyal, one of the two principal consorts of great 8th century Indian tantric teacher Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), a founder-figure of Tibetan Buddhism, described as a ‘second Buddha’ by many practitioners. Mandarava is considered to be a female guru-deity in Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana.
Acala is a dharmapala primarily revered in Vajrayana Buddhism. He is seen as a protective deity particularly in Shingon traditions of Japan where he is known as Fudō Myō-ō, in Tangmi traditions of China and Taiwan as Búdòng Míngwáng, in Nepal and Tibet as Caṇḍaroṣaṇa, and elsewhere.
Machig Labdrön, or Singular Mother Torch from Lab”, 1055-1149) was a renowned 11th-century Tibetan tantric Buddhist practitioner, teacher and yogini who originated several Tibetan lineages of the Vajrayana practice of Chöd.
Kurukulla is a female deity of the Lotus family, associated with the activity of magnetization or enchantment.
She is usually depicted as red in colour, in dancing posture and holding a flowery bow and arrow.
She is also one of the Twenty-One Taras mentioned in the ancient Tara tantras.
Rakta Yamari is an emanation of the meditational deity and bodhisattva of wisdom Manjushri or Yamantaka.
Yamari deities have two forms: red (rakta) and black (krishna), and are part of the Anuttarayoga Class of Tantric Buddhism.
Parnashavari also spelt as Paranasavari is a Hindu deity adopted as Buddhist deity of diseases, worship of which is believed to offer effective protection against out-breaks of epidemics.
Parnasabari is also depicted in some images of the Pala period found in Dhaka, as a main goddess and escorted by Hindu deities Jvarasura and Shitala.
Both of these escorts are disease related Hindu deities.
In India, the Kurkihar hoard contains seven bronze images of Parnasabari belonging to 10th- 12th century AD.
In Buddhism, Parnasabari is depicted as an attendant of the Buddhist deity of same name, Tara also considered a female aspect of Avalokiteshvara.
In Tibetan Buddhism Beg-tse or Jamsaran is a dharmapala and the lord of war, in origin a pre-Buddhist war god of the Mongols.
In Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, Hayagrīva is an important deity who originated as a yaksha attendant of Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin Bodhisattva in India.
Appearing in the Vedas as two separate deities, he was assimilated into the ritual worship of early Buddhism and eventually was identified as a Wisdom King in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Gyalpo spirits are one of the eight classes of haughty gods and spirits in Tibetan mythology and religion. Gyalpo, a word which simply means “king” in the Tibetic languages, in Tibetan mythology is used to refer to the Four Heavenly Kings and especially to a class of spirits, both Buddhist and Bon, who may be either malevolent spirits or oath-bound as dharmapalas.
Rāhu is one of the nine major celestial bodies (navagraha) in Hindu texts. Unlike most of the others, Rahu is a shadow entity, one that causes eclipses and is the king of meteors. Rahu represents the ascension of the moon in its precessional orbit around the earth. Rahu is the north lunar node (ascending) and it along with Ketu is a “shadow planet” that causes eclipses. Rahu has no physical shape. It is an imaginary planet but considering the importance of Rahu in astrology, it has been allocated the status of the planet by Rishis
Ucchuṣma is a vidyaraja in the Vajrayana sect of Buddhism. He is also known by various other names such as Burning Impurity Kongo, Jusoku Kongo (受触金剛) and Kazu Kongo (火頭金剛).
Shmashana Adhipati is a name given to a deity either male or female and also together as a consort, who rules smashan. The Shamashana Adhiapati literally translates to Lord of Shmashana. The name Shmashan Adhipathi is given to different deities in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism.
Niguma is considered one of the most important and influential yoginis and Vajrayana teachers of the 10th or 11th century in India. She was a dakini, and one of the two female founders of the Shangpa Kagyu school of Vajrayana Buddhism, along with dakini Sukhasiddhi. Her birth name was Shrijnana. Like many of the mahasiddhas and Tantric practitioners of the time, Niguma was known by several names both during her lifetime and afterwards. She was called Yogini Vimalashri, or Vajradhara Niguma, or Jñana (wisdom) Dakini Adorned with Bone (ornaments), or The Sister referring to her purported relationship to the great Buddhist teacher and adept Naropa. She was also sometimes called Nigupta, which is explained by the historical Buddhist scholar Taranatha as follows: “The name Nigu accords with the Indian language, which is Nigupta, and is said to mean ‘truly secret’ or ‘truly hidden.’ In fact, it is the code-language of the dakinis of timeless awareness.”
According to Tibetan Buddhist myth, Gyalpo Pehar is a spirit belonging to the gyalpo class. When Padmasambhava arrived in Tibet in the eighth century, he subdued all gyalpo spirits and put them under control of Gyalpo Pehar, who promised not to harm any sentient beings and was made the chief guardian spirit of Samye during the reign of Trisong Deutsen. Pehar is the leader of a band of five gyalpo spirits and would later become the protector deity of Nechung Monastery in the 17th century under the auspices of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
Yogambara, is a tutelary deity in Tibetan Buddhism belonging to the Wisdom-mother class of the Anuttarayoga tantra.
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.
Tāre Lhamo, a.k.a. Tāre Dechen Gyalmo, was a Tibetan Buddhist master, visionary, and treasure revealer who gained renown in eastern Tibet. She was especially praised for her life-saving miracles during the hardships of the Cultural Revolution and for extending the life-span of many masters. It was said that her activities to benefit others swelled like a lake in spring.
Uṣṇīṣavijayā is a buddha of longevity in Buddhism. She wears an image of Vairocana in her headdress.
With Amitayus and Sitatara, she constitutes the three Buddhas of long life.
She is one of the more well-known Buddhist divinities in Nepal, Tibet, and Mongolia.
Nāroḍākinī is a deity in Vajrayana Buddhism similar to Vajrayogini who no longer appears in the active pantheon despite her importance in late Indian Buddhism.
Sukhasiddhi was an Indian teacher of Vajrayana Buddhism and master of meditation. She was born in west Kashmir to a large, poor family. She is mother of three sons and three daughters. Once she gave a beggar the only food in the house and was expelled from home.
Āṭavaka is a popular figure in Buddhism. He is a yakṣa and regarded as a Wisdom King in esoteric tradition.
Citipati(Sanskrit: चितिपति) is a protector deity or supernatural being in Tibetan Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism of India. It is formed of two skeletal deities, one male and the other female, both dancing wildly with their limbs intertwined inside a halo of flames representing change. The Citipati is said to be one of the seventy-five forms of Mahakala. Their symbol is meant to represent both the eternal dance of death as well as perfect awareness. They are invoked as ‘wrathful deities’, benevolent protectors or fierce beings of demonic appearance. The dance of the Citipati is commemorated twice annually in Tibet.
The Eight Legions are a group of Buddhist deities whose function is to protect the Dharma. These beings are common among the audience addressed by the Buddha in Mahāyāna sūtras, making appearances in such scriptures as the Lotus Sutra and the Golden Light Sutra.
Garanshin, are the guardian deities of the Buddhist temple (Sangharama), equivalent to the Taoism “realm master deity”, and is also the Buddhist Dharmapala. It is dedicated to protecting the monastery area and the four disciples.
Kundali or Amritakundalin, also known in Chinese as Juntuli Mingwang and in Japanese as Gundari Myōō (軍荼利明王), is a wrathful deity and dharmapala in East Asian Esoteric Buddhism.
Lokapala is worldly protector or guardian; in Buddhism, a lesser deity that has not yet reached complete enlightenment.
Achi Chokyi Drolma
Achi Chökyi Drolma is the Dharma Protector (Dharmapāla) of the Drikung Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Achi Chokyi Drolma is the grandmother of Jigten Sumgön, the founder of Drikung Kagyu. She also appears as a protector in the Karma Kagyu refuge tree as Achi Chodron and is a dharmapāla and dakini in the life story of the Nyingma tertön Tsasum Lingpa.
Vaiśravaṇa (Sanskrit) or Vessavaṇa, is one of the Four Heavenly Kings, and is considered an important figure in Japanese Buddhism.
Thousand-Armed Ushnishasitatapattra is a special form of the goddess Tara (Buddhism), a female form of the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara.
Her iconography is probably the most complex in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon.
The goddess has as many heads and legs as she has arms. She tramples on both human beings and animals.
Pressed under her feet, they symbolize egocentric existence, while the function of her umbrella is to protect all beings from all fears.
Myōken Bosatsu or Sonsei-Ō, is a bodhisattva (bosatsu), who is the deification of the North Star. It is mainly associated with the Nichiren, Shingon and Tendai temples.
Twenty-Four Protective Deities
The Twenty-Four Protective Deities or the Twenty-Four Devas, sometimes reduced to the Twenty Protective Deities or the Twenty Devas, are a group of dharmapalas in Chinese Buddhism who are venerated as defenders of the Buddhist dharma. The group consists of devas, naga kings, vajra-holders and other beings, mostly borrowed from Hinduism with some borrowed from Taoism.
A gohō dōji (護法童子) is a type of guardian spirit from Japanese Buddhist folklore devoted to serving followers of the dharma. In classic stories from medieval collections such as the Uji Shui Monogatari, it is generally depicted as a young boy wearing a collar of swords, with a large sword in one hand and a noose in the other. It flies through the air by riding a Wheel of Dharma.
Eight Great Yakṣa Generals
The Eight Great Yakṣa Generals, or simply the Eight Yakṣa Generals are guardian deities in Buddhism. They are retainers of Vaiśravaṇa, guardian of the north and king of the yakṣas.
In East Asian and Buddhist mythology, Yama is a dharmapala said to judge the dead and preside over the Narakas and the cycle of afterlife saṃsāra.
The Tenma goddesses are twelve guardian deities in Tibetan Buddhism. In hierarchy, they fall under Palden Lhamo, one of the eight Dharmapala deities. Other times, they are part of the retinue of the Bönpo goddess, Sidpa Gyalmo. Formerly, the 12 Tenma were said to have been local protectors of Tibet before the spread of Buddhism until they came to Padmasambhava’s Asura Cave in the Pharping region of Nepal while Padmasambhava was subduing many deities and spirits. Some stories say that the goddesses were hostile to the spread of Buddhism during this time while others said that they refused to give their life essence to Padmasambhava and wanted to keep protecting Tibet. Either ways, Padmasabhava defeated them and bound them to an oath to protect the dharma.
The Ten Rākṣasīs (十羅刹女), sometimes translated as the misnomer ten demon daughters or ten demonesses are a group of rākṣasīs who take on the role of tutelary deities in Mahayana Buddhism.
Miyolangsangma is the Tibetan Buddhist goddess who lives at the top of Chomolungma. She is one of the five long-life sisters and her virtue is Inexhaustible Giving. She started out as a malevolent demoness and was converted by a great Buddhist. Now she is the Goddess of inexhaustible giving and of Everest and the Khumbu area in general. She rides a golden tigress, and hands out the jewels of wishes to those deserving. Many climbers of Chomolungma beseech her favor at the traditional stupa in which a Buddhist monk prays for them and they go through certain ceremonies.