Dharmapalas – Defenders of the Justice
A dharmapāla is a type of wrathful god in Buddhism.
Table of Contents
- 1 - The meaning of Dharmapalas
- 2 - The iconography of Dharmapālas
- 3 - Forms & manifestations of Dharmapalas
- 3.1 - Vajrapani
- 3.2 - Mahakala
- 3.3 - Garuda
- 3.4 - Yamantaka
- 3.5 - Wrathful deities
- 3.6 - Yama
- 3.7 - Ekajati
- 3.8 - Dharmapala
- 3.9 - Palden Lhamo
- 3.10 - Wisdom King
- 3.11 - Acala
- 3.12 - Begtse
- 3.13 - Rahu
- 3.14 - Gyalpo spirits
- 3.15 - Hayagriva (Buddhism)
- 3.16 - Pehar Gyalpo
- 3.17 - Ucchusma
- 3.18 - Four Heavenly Kings
- 3.19 - Twenty-Four Protective Deities
- 3.20 - Vaiśravaṇa
- 3.21 - Āṭavaka
- 3.22 - Citipati (Buddhism)
- 3.23 - Lokapala
- 3.24 - Garanshin
- 3.25 - Eight Legions
- 3.26 - Myōken
- 3.27 - Ten Rākṣasīs
- 3.28 - Miyolangsangma
- 3.29 - Achi Chokyi Drolma
- 3.30 - Gohō dōji
- 3.31 - Eight Great Yakṣa Generals
- 3.32 - Yama (Buddhism)
The meaning of Dharmapalas
The name means “dharma protector” in Sanskrit, and the dharmapālas are also known as the Defenders of the Justice (Dharma), or the Guardians of the Law.
There are two kinds of dharmapala, Worldly Guardians (lokapala) and Wisdom Protectors (jnanapala).
Only Wisdom Protectors are enlightened beings.
The iconography of Dharmapālas
In Vajrayana iconography and thangka depictions, dharmapala are fearsome beings, often with many heads, many hands, or many feet.
Dharmapala often have blue, black or red skin, and a fierce expression with protruding fangs.
Although dharmapala have a terrifying appearance, they only act in a wrathful way for the benefit of sentient beings.
Forms & manifestations of Dharmapalas
The devotional worship of dharmapālas in the Tibetan tradition is traceable to early 8th-century.
There are many different dharmapalas in Tibetan Buddhism.
Each school has its own principle dharmapalas and most monasteries have a dedicated dharmapāla which was originally comparable to a genius loci.
This is a list of Dharmapalas commonly used for the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.
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.
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.
For the national airline of Indonesia, see Garuda Indonesia, for the giant wasp, see Megalara garuda
Yamantaka literally means ‘The Destroyer of Yama, the Lord of Death’, is a wrathful form of Manjushri.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Vaiśravaṇa (Sanskrit) or Vessavaṇa, is one of the Four Heavenly Kings, and is considered an important figure in Japanese Buddhism.
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.
Lokapala is worldly protector or guardian; in Buddhism, a lesser deity that has not yet reached complete enlightenment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.