TIBETAN BUDDHIST TEXTS
Mahakala The Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of the Bible is the Kangyur. Dealing with the historical Buddha, it consists of 108 volumes, each with about a 1000 pages. Thirteen of the volumes deal with monastic discipline and conduct. There are an additional 208 volumes of commentary (the Tengyur).
Tibetan prayer books and manuscripts are written on bark paper pressed between lacquered silk and bound in silk brocade. The inscriptions are often written in Sanskrit and the pages are printed with woodblocks. Some volumes weigh 50 pounds. Before bark paper was introduced, Tibetans wrote on the smooth shoulder bones of a goats.
Many monks spend a good portion of their time printing Buddhist texts and hanging the paper on trees to dry. Often, the monks don't know what the prints say. Homeowners like to buy inscription to hang over their doors to keep thieves and demons away.
Among the 200,000 hardwood printing blocks at the Balong Lamasery in Sichuan are texts on astronomy, geography, music, medicine and Buddhist classics. Balong also contains the world's only copy of the history of Indian Buddhism.
Texts are still printed the traditional way at the Dege Printing House in Dege, Sichuan. Built between 1729 and 1750, this three-story wooden structure stores 80 percent of the Tibetan literary culture, and produces a wide range texts for monasteries, libraries, study centers and Tibetan colleges, which people from all over Tibet come to pick up. More than 210,000 hand-craved wooden blocks, some of which were carved in the 16th century, are stored there. The Dege Printing House is regarded as a sacred site. Pilgrims seek it out and walk clockwise around it with prayer wheels in their hand.
About 100 monks work there. All the work is done by hand. There are no machines or even electric lighting. Blocks made in the 17th and 18th century are still used to make texts that have as many as 30,050 pages ( making four copies of this text takes three weeks). Describing the work done at the Monastery, Peter Hessler wrote in the New York Times, "One of the workers spreads the bright red ink on a wood block while the other presses the paper. They work quickly, printing a page every four seconds."
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources on Tibetan Buddhism: ; Religion Facts religionfacts.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; View on Buddhism (click Tibetan Buddhism stuff on left) viewonbuddhism.org ; Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center tbrc.org ; Tibetan Buddhist archives sacred-texts.com ; Buddha.net list of Tibetan Buddhism sources buddhanet.net ; Books on Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism kotan.org and wisdompubs.org ; Book: Tibetan Buddhism by L. Austine Waddell. On Buddhism: Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu ; Guide to Buddhism buddhanet.net Buddhist Studies Virtual Library on Buddhism ciolek.com/WWWVL ; Buddhism Library buddhism.lib.ntu.edu. ; Buddhism in China Buddhist Studies buddhanet.net ; Wikipedia article on Buddhism in China Wikipedia ; Bibliography hua.umf.maine.edu/
Links in this Website: BUDDHISM IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HISTORY OF BUDDHISM IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HISTORY OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN BUDDHISM SECTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN BUDDHISM TEXT, BELIEFS, GODS, SYMBOLS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN BUDDHIST OBJECTS, RITUALS AND TEMPLES Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN MONKS AND LAMAS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN MONASTERIES AND PILGRIMS Factsanddetails.com/China ; BON RELIGION, CATHOLICS AND ASTROLOGY IN TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; RELIGIOUS REPRESSION IN TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMAS Factsanddetails.com/China ; PRESENT DALAI LAMA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMA’S CURRENT LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMA AND POLITICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; PANCHEN LAMAS AND LAMA CONTROVERSIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; KARMAPA LAMA Factsanddetails.com/China
Tibetan History: Tibetan History Timeline haiweitrails.com ; Friends of Tibet friends-of-tibet.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; History of Nations site historyofnations.net ; Chinese Government site on Tibetan History xinhuanet.com ; Book: Tibetan Civilization by Rolf Alfred Stein. Robert Thurman, a friend of the Dalai Lama and professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University, is regarded the preeminent scholar on Tibet in the United States. Tibet Under China: Tibet China Conflict PDF file eastwestcenter.org ; Tibet and China, Two Distinct Views Chinese Government’s Take on Tibetan History ; index-china.com; Book: The Dragon in the Land of Snows by Tsering Shakya (Random House, 1998) is a first rate book on the history of Tibet under Chinese occupation. Links in this Website: TIBETAN HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBET UNDER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Good Websites and Sources on Tibet: Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in Exile) www.tibet.com ; Chinese Government Tibet website eng.tibet.cn/ Wikipedia Wikipedia Tibetan Resources phayul.com ; Open Directory dmoz.org/Regional/Asia/China/Tibet/ ; Snow Lion Publications (books on Tibet) snowlionpub.com ; Photos Tibet Photo Gallery Tibet Gallery Terra Nomada Terra Nomada ; Tibetan Cultural Sites: Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture tibetanculture.org ; Tibet Trip tibettrip.com ; Tibetan Cultural Region Directory kotan.org ; Tibetan Studies and Tibet Research: Tibetan Resources on The Web (Columbia University C.V. Starr East Asian Library ) columbia.edu ; Tibetan and Himalayan Libray thlib.org Digital Himalaya ; digitalhimalaya.com ; Tibetan Studies Maps WWW Virtual Library ciolek.com/WWWVL-TibetanStudies ; Center for Research of Tibet case.edu ; Center for Advanced Tibetan Studies amnyemachen.org ; Tibetan Studies resources blog tibetan-studies-resources.blogspot.com ; News, Electronic Journals ciolek.com/WWWVLPages
Tibetan Buddhist Beliefs
Sakaymuni Tibetan Buddhism is far less philosophical and pacifist and far more earthy and superstitious than many people think. Tibetan Buddhists believe in gods and spirits, multiple heavens and horrible hells and many things that most people would describe as magic and mystical. Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation, although not in the sense of an irreducible self passing from body to body. They describe a dying candle lighting a new one; one’s essence passes on.
Tibetan Buddhists believed that the power of Buddha can experienced through statues and other images of Buddha. They also believe many different aspects of Buddha are reincarnated over and over as human beings.
Tibetan Buddhism encourages lamas to counsel students individually while Chinese Buddhism puts more emphasis on teaching monks in groups in monasteries.
The Dalai Lama often argues that Tibetan Buddhism is pragmatic and universal. He told Smithsonian magazine: "Buddhism is not theotic. It is heavily dependent on logic and reason. However, we also accept the value of nirvana. So there is a common language between persons of strong faith and Buddhism. I believe that the different religions, different philosophies, different systems and ideologies were all meant for human benefit.”
“While the ultimate goal of Buddhism is nirvana, our immediate goal is worldly benefit. As Buddhists, we have a deep interest in society, community. Our continual investigations for the worldly benefit of Man rely on observation and logic...If scientific reasoning proves something different from our scriptures, we accept the proof rather than scriptures. The human mind is the real creator."
Tibetans consider snow-cover mountains to be holy sites, life-giving forces. Shambala is Tibetan Buddhism’s earthly paradise where there is no war and no suffering, where people live in peace and harmony through meditation and self-discipline. It is said to be beyond the Himalayas at the base a crystal mountains, where people have been untouched by the corrupting influences of the outside word. The Shambala story is reportedly one of inspirations for the Shangri la utopia conceived by James Hilton in his book Lost Horizon .
Tibetan Buddhism and Tantrism
Tantric God Tara Tantrism is sometimes regarded as one of the three major sects of Buddhism along with Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. Originally from India, it is a highly ritualistic religion that combines beliefs in magic and esoteric philosophy and emphasizes mystic symbols, sacred chants, and other esoteric devotional techniques. It is usually associated with Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism.
Tantric Buddhism is often called Vajrayana ("thunderbolt vehicle"). In Tibet, it is heavily influenced by the ancient Bon religion,which used shaman to dispel demons and appease the gods, and incorporates a number of mudras ("ritual postures"), mantras ("sacred speech"), yantras ("sacred art") and secret initiation rites. Most of the ritual objects and images of deities used in Tibetan Buddhism are derived from Tantrism. The techniques are generally not written down but passed orally from master to student.
Tantrism emerged around A.D. 600 and was based on texts known as Tantras. It put forth the idea that all human states and conditions, even one traditionally regarded as polluting,, were connected and things such as desire and wrath could be viewed as being on the same plane with love and righteousness.
Tantrism is seen by some as a complex union of Hinduism and Buddhism: incorporating different offshoots of each religion with folk religious beliefs and combing Hindu gods with Buddhist theology. One religious text described Tantrism as “Buddhist and Hindu hierarchies converted to create rigid social organizational patterns” that merge “erotic Hindu ideas....static and authoritative Buddhist teachings...Hindu patterns of individual paths to enlightenment” and “Buddhist notions of the power of many.”
Tantric Buddhists believe that anyone willing to pursue a regimen of ritual-intensive discipline can reach enlightenment now, and in the process benefit all other creatures, which is the ultimate goal. To achieve enlightenment special tools are needed. These include items that can be touched, held or worn . These tools are not intended to be art works that are mediated upon. Rather they are seen as objects that contact turns into a two-way power sources, with devotees injecting the objects with power and that objects returning the power with an extra punch to the devotee. The power exchange goes back and forth in a way that is referred to as the “Circle of Bliss.”
According to followers of Buddhist Tantrism the Buddha left behind some special esoteric techniques, known as Tantra (Gyu), to a small group of his disciples with the understanding that if these techniques were followed they could achieve nirvana (enlightenment) and become a bodhisattvas much more quickly than if they followed conventional methods.The techniques often involve identification with a tutelary deity through deep meditation and recitation of deity’s mantra, the most well-known of which is “om mani padem hum,” the mantra of Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara). The process is enhanced by the use of yogic techniques that may include sexual acts. Masters of Tantric methods can not only visualize a deity in all its forms but can visualize it in a three-dimensional mandala world and absorb its terma (“reveled” words or writings).
Tantric objects include bells to wake up slumbering minds, prayer wheels and mandalas. New York Times Art critic Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times, “the function and meaning of mandalas and other their such objects can be fully explained only in an interpretive calculus of prodigious complexity, one ultimately accessible only to initiates.”
Describing a 15th century mandala made by Newar artists at a Tibetan monastery, art critic Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times, “it offers a labyrinthine, circles-within-squared topographic charts of heaven and hell, bristling with tiny sprits and monsters. A Tantric teacher, a guru, who knows the image, with its pitfalls and high places, will lead the committed student on a pilgrims progress to the mandala’s center...There twin deities, male and female, are locked in an amorous embrace. The male is named Chakrasamvara, the female, Vajravarahi. Their intertwined bodies are the ‘The Circle of Bliss.’ Separately they represent the forces of wisdom and compassion; enlightenment is their union.”
The Kalachakra is an 11-day Tibetan Buddhist ritual. One such ritual for world peace presided over by the Dalai Lama drew 10,000 people to Washington in July 2011.
Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote: “The word kalachakra means cycles of time, and the Kalachakra system presents three such cycles – external, internal and alternative. The external and internal cycles deal with time as we normally know it, while the alternative cycles are practices for gaining liberation from these two. The structures of the external and internal cycles are analogous, similar to the parallel between macrocosm and microcosm discussed in Western philosophy. This means that the same laws that govern a universe also pertain to atoms, the body and our experience of life. The practices of the alternative cycles also follow this structure so as to allow us to engage with and surmount these forces in an efficient manner. Such mimicking is, in fact, one of the distinguishing features of the anuttarayoga tantra method. [Source: The Berzin Archives, Dr. Alexander Berzin]
Time, in Buddhism, is defined as a measurement of change. For example, a month is the measurement of change involved either externally in the moon circling the earth or internally in a woman going from one menstruation to the next. Such changes are cyclical in that the pattern repeats, although the events of each cycle are not completely identical. Normally the passage of time exercises a debilitating effect. As we age, our sight, hearing, memory and physical strength gradually weaken and eventually we die.
In short, the external and internal cycles of time delineate samsara – uncontrollably recurring rebirth, fraught with problems and difficulties. These cycles are driven by impulses of energy, known in the Kalachakra system as "winds of karma." Karma is a force intimately connected with mind and arises due to confusion about reality. Karmic potentials, in fact, give rise to a broad array of impulses that affect our lives. Within this context, individual karmic potentials, at the appropriate juncture in each being's internal cycles – namely after each death – give rise to the impulse to take rebirth in a specific environment with a particular body.
Liberation from Cycles of Time
The alternative cycles of time entail a graded series of meditative practices of anuttarayoga tantra, Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote. They serve not only as an alternative to the external and internal cycles, but as a way to gain liberation from them. The possibility of gaining liberation from time, however, does not imply that time does not actually exist or that someone can live and benefit others outside of time. Time, as a measurement of change, also occurs as a measure of the cycles of actions of a Buddha. Liberation from time means ridding ourselves of the confusion, and its instincts, that repeatedly give rise to the impulses, or karma, that render us at the mercy of the ravages of time. Once free, we are no longer adversely affected by external winter darkness, eclipses, wars and so on that periodically recur. Nor are we restricted by the type of body that is under the control of periodic biological forces, such as hunger, sexual urges, tiredness or aging. As a result of the full understanding of reality, it becomes possible, instead, to generate cycles of forms that benefit others beyond any limitations imposed by time.
The process begins with the Kalachakra initiation. Properly empowered, we engage in generation and then complete stage meditation practice in the form of the Buddha-figure called Kalachakra. Through these two stages, we access and utilize the subtlest level of our mind to see reality. Remaining continually focused on reality with it eliminates forever confusion and its instincts, thus bringing liberation from the external and internal cycles of time. This is possible because our basis tantra, our individual clear light mind, underlies each moment of experience and, like time, it has no end. Once our subtlest mind is freed from the deepest cause giving rise to the impulses of energy that perpetuate cycles of time and bondage to them, it gives rise, instead, to the bodies of a Buddha, in the form of Kalachakra.
Since Shambhala plays a prominent role in the Kalachakra system, most people are curious to know what Shambhala actually is and where it is located, Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote. It is undoubtedly from a distortion of the name "Shambhala" that the Western romantic writer James Hilton has derived the myth of Shangri-la – a hidden paradise on Earth. Although there may be a place in this world representative of Shambhala, that is not the actual fabled land. Shambhala cannot be found on this planet or even in some distant world. It is, however, a human realm in which everything is conducive for spiritual practice, particularly of Kalachakra.
Meditation masters have written guidebooks, in both Sanskrit and Tibetan, for reaching Shambhala. They describe the journey as a physical one only up to a certain point. The sojourner must subsequently repeat millions of mantras and other special practices in order to arrive at the final goal. The journey to Shambhala, then, is primarily a spiritual one. The aim of receiving Kalachakra initiation is not to reach or be reborn in Shambhala, but, like all other mahayana, or "vast vehicle" Buddhist practices, is to gain enlightenment here and now for the benefit of all. The empowerment plants the seeds enabling us to reach this goal and helps purify some of the grosser internal obstacles that would prevent its attainment.
Before entering tantric practice, we need to understand that at least the grossest levels of our projections do not refer to anything real. No one is a born loser and no relation is doomed to failure. Such understanding comes from an outlook on reality, or "correct view" of voidness, corresponding to at least one of the mahayana systems of philosophical tenets Buddha taught – chittamatra or one of the several madhyamaka ones. According to these systems, not only ourselves, but everything is devoid of existing in fantasized ways. The particular systems differ primarily according to the level of subtlety of fantasy they address.
As further preparation for tantra, faith and confidence are needed in the tantric methods in general, and particularly in those of its highest class, anuttarayoga, as constituting the most efficient and effective means for attaining enlightenment. Anyone having this confident belief, the frame of mind of the three principal paths and a background in lam-rim is called a "proper vessel" for receiving the Kalachakra empowerment. We must judge for ourselves if we are sufficiently prepared.
The initiation process spans several days, with the first day being a preparation ceremony, followed by usually two or three days of actual empowerment, Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote. The most important part of the initial procedures is taking refuge and the bodhisattva and tantric vows. Without all three, we cannot actually receive empowerment, although we may witness it and derive great benefit. The empowerment itself involves a complex procedure of imagining ourselves transforming into a series of special forms, entering the mandala of the Buddha-figure Kalachakra, and experiencing in it a sequence of purifications and the awakening and enhancing of potentials for future success in the practice. The mandala is an enormous multistoried palace, in and around which are 722 figures, including a principal couple in the center. The master conferring the empowerment simultaneously appears as all these figures, not just as the central one. Thus, throughout the process we visualize ourselves, our teacher and our surroundings in a very special way.
The steps of the initiation are extremely intricate and, without familiarity, the visualizations involved can be quite perplexing. But if, as a proper vessel, we take the vows with full sincerity and at least feel, with strong faith, that all the visualizations are actually occurring, we can be confident that we are receiving the empowerment. With this basis secured, the next step is seeking further instruction and then trying, as sincerely as possible, to travel the full path to enlightenment as presented in the Kalachakra Tantra.
Tibetan Gods, Spirits and Buddhas
Maitreya The pantheon of gods in Tibetan Buddhism is derived mainly from Hinduism, Indian Buddhism and the Bon religion. In many cases characteristics of gods from all three faiths are merged into a single god. A Buddhist god, for example, may have been derived from Hinduism and given characteristics of a Bon religion spirit. Moreover, the gods are intended to show the many sides of enlightenment: a particular god may have a wrathful, vengeful side as well as a peaceful and beneficent side.
Himalayan Buddhists recognize several thousand gods and demons, many of which, like their Hindu counterparts, take on many forms. Each village and sect has its own pantheon of gods, spirits and demons. Rivalries between different groups and sects are often based on which gods are given the greatest importance. Many monasteries contain Tara figures that are said to have miraculously materialized out of thin air.
There are many general protector gods called "dharmapalas" and personal meditation deities called "yidams" (which can either be male herakas or female dakinis). Protector deities have both wrathful and benign manifestations. Their expression of rage or passion pack a great amount of energy. High mountains are believed to be dwelling places for a number of gods. Tibetans shout "Victory to the gods" as a greeting to these deities when they are in mountains. Sometimes deities are pictured at the center of mandala representations of the worlds the inhabit.
A number of historical figures are treated with same reverence as gods. See Guru Rinpoche, Tsongkhapa, the 5th Dalai Lama. King Songtsen Gampo, King Trisong Detsen and Milarepa.
A typical deity such as Sambara has a consort, Vajravarahi, and an escort of 12 dakinis, deities who represent female wisdom. Demons are believed to be responsible for a number of ills and misfortunes. The Mustangese recognize 416 demons of land, sky, fire and water. These demons are believed to cause 1,080 known diseases and five forms of violent death.
Dipamkara Buddhists tend to look upon gods in a different way than Westerners. Tibetan gods, one religious scholar wrote, represent "mental states evoked in meditation and ritual, a means of training the mind toward a more accurate appreciation of the human condition."
Present, Past and Future Buddha Images
Sakya Thukpa (Sakaymuni) is the historical Buddha, who lived in Nepal in the 5th century B.C. He has blue hair and a halo of enlightenment around his head. He is always depicted in a sitting position, with his legs crossed in the lotus position and has 32 marks on his body, including a dot between his eyes, the Wheel of Law on the soles of his feet, and bump on the top of his head. Manifesting the “witness” mudra, he holds a begging bowl in his left hand and touches the earth with his right hand. He is often flanked by two bodhisattvas. [The name before the parenthesis is Tibetan, the name in parenthesis is Sanskrit]
Marmedze (Dipamkara) is the Past Buddha. He preceded the historical Buddha and spent 100,000 years on earth. His hands are pictured in the “protection” mudra and he is often pictured with the Present and Future Buddha.
Jampa (Maitreya) is the Future Buddha. He is currently in the form of a bodhisattva and is waiting for his chance to return to earth, 4000 years after the death of Sakaymuni. He is usually seated, with a scarf around his waist, his legs hanging down and his hands by his chest in the turning of the Wheel of Law
Other Tibetan Buddha Images
Amitabha Opagme (Amitabha) is the Buddha of Infinite Light. He resides in the “pure land of the west,” where he looks after people on their journey to nirvana, and is regarded as the original being from which the Panchen Lama was reincarnated. He is red. His hands are held together on his lap with a begging bowl in the “meditation” mudra.
Dhyani Buddhas, or the five Contemplation Buddhas—Amitabha (red), Vairocana, Akshobhya (white), Ratnasambhava (yellow) and Amoghasiddhi (green) —are major focuses of meditation. Also known as the five Jinas (eminent ones), or dhyani-Buddha, they control the different regions of paradise where Buddhists may be reborn. Each is a different color and has different symbols and mudras associated with it.
Tsepame (Amitayus) is the Buddha of Longevity. Like Opagme, he is red and his hands are pictured in the “meditation” mudra, but he holds a vase containing the nectar of immortality. The Medicine Buddha (Menlha) holds a medicine bowl in his left hand and herbs in his right hand. He is often depicted in a group of eight Buddhas.
These Buddhas have different manifestations. The many-headed Hevajra is a wrathful manifestation of Akshobhya (the Imperturbable Buddha). Symbolizing the transformation of the poisons such as anger, he is often depicted in an embrace with his consort Nairatmya. Their passionate embrace represents the enlightened state that come from the union of wisdom and compassion. Hevajra is often shown stomping his own image, showing the defeat of egoism.
Avalokiteshvara Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara) is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. One of the most important Buddhist deities, he protects Tibetan monasteries from fires and earthquakes and is regarded as the reincarnation source of the Dalai Lama. His name means “he who gazes upon the world with suffering in his eyes.” He is often pictures with four arms, a white body, sitting on a lotus flower with a deer skin draped over his left shoulder and rosary beads and lotus held next to his heart.
There is a 11-headed, 1000-armed version of Chenresig. His multiple heads is the result of an explosion that occurred while trying to solve too many difficult problems. One head belongs to Opagme (Amitabha). Another belongs to the mean-spirited Chana Dorje (Vajrapani). At the end of each hand is an eye. The main arms hold a bow and arrow, lotus, rosary, vase, wheel and staff.
Chenresig can take male of female forms. In the Yellow Sect he is associated with Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, who can take 36 forms including that of a mustached man.
Other Tibetan Buddhist Bodhisattva Images
Jampelyang (Manjushri) is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. He is regarded as the first divine teacher of Buddhist thought and is sort of a patron saint for school children. In his right hand is a flaming sword that cuts ignorance. His left, in the “teaching” mudra, cradles a half-opened lotus blossom. He is often yellow and has blue hair or a crown.
Drolma (Tara) is a female bodhisattva with 21 different manifestations. Known as the saviouress, she was born from a tear of compassion shed by Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara)and considered a female version of Chenresig and a protectress of the Tibetan people. She symbolizes purity and fertility and is believed to be able to fulfill wishes.
Drolma is often picturesdin a longevity triad with the red Tsepame (Amitayus) and the three-faced, eight-armed female Namgyelma (Vijaya). In her green manifestation Drolma sits in a half lotus position on a lotus flower. In her white manifestation she sits in a the full lotus position and has seven eyes, including ones on her forehead, both palms, and both soles of her feet.
Tibetan Protector Deities
Guardian King Dhritarastra Chokyoing (Lokpalas) are the Four Guardian Kings. Often found at the entrance hallway of monasteries and believed to be Mongolian in origin, they protect the four cardinal directions. The eastern king is white and carries a lute. The southern king is blue and carries a sword. The western king is red and carries a thunderbolt. The northern king is yellow and carries a banner of victory and a jewel-spitting mongoose. He is regarded as the god of wealth and is depicted riding a snow lion.
Dorje Jigje (Yamantaka) is the most well-known protector of the Yellow Hat sect. Known as the destroyer of Yama, the Lord of Death, he is a blue, beastly-looking creature with eight heads, one of which is the head of a bull, and strings of skulls around his waist and neck. He holds a flaying knife and a skull cup in his eight to 36 arms. With his 16 feet he stomps on eight Hindu gods, eight mammals and eight birds. Dorje Jigje punishes evil people to a life in hell, helps guide good people to a better rebirth and crushes earthly passions that block enlightenment. Yamanataka is so horrible that no one should look at his image, especially women. Statues of him are often covered.
Yamantaka Nagpo Chenpo (Mahakala) is wrathful Tantric god and a manifestation of Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara). Associated with the Hindu god Shiva, he is blue and has fanged teeth, a crown fo skulls, and carries a trident and skull cup. He comes in various forms, with two to six arms and is regarded as the protector of tents by nomads. Nangpo Chenpo means the Great Black One .
Tamdrin (Hahagriva) is another wrathful manifestation of Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara). Associated with the Hindu god Vishnu, he is red with a white face on the right and green gace on the left and has a horse’s head in his hair, a crown of skulls, a tiger skin around his waist and a garland of 52 chopped off heads. On his back are the wings of Garuda. In his six hands are a lotus, club sword, skull cup, snare and ax. Under his four legs a sun disc and corpses. Tandrin in red and Dorje in blue often serve as guardian gods at the entrance of temples.
More Tibetan Buddhist Protector Deities
Chan Dorje (Vajrapani) is the wrathful Bodhisattva of Energy. He is blue with a tiger skin around his waist and snake around his neck. In his right hand is a thunderbolt, the symbol of the Tantric faith. Chan Dorje means “thunderbolt in hand.”
Demchok (Chakrasamvara) is a meditational deity with a blue body, 12 arms, four faces, and a crescent moon in his topnot. In his hands are a thunderbolt, a bell, a elephant skin, an axe, a hooked knife, a trident, a skull, a hand drum, a skull cup, a lasso and head of Brahma. He wears a tiger skin and has a garland with 52 severed heads around his neck.
Palden Lhamo (Shri devi) is the guardian of Lhasa, the Dalai Lama an the Yellow Hat sect. An angry manifestation of Tara The female counterpart of Nagpo Chenpo (Mahakala), she is blue, wears tiger skin and human skin clothes and has earrings made of a snake and a lion and carries a skull cup full of blood in her left hand and a club in her right hand. A moon is in her hair; the sun is her stomach; and a corpse is in her mouth.
See Dorje Shugden, Sects
Tibetan Buddhist Symbols
Symbols from Tibetan Buddhism include: 1) the white elephant, an auspicious symbol associated with royalty and wealth; 2) the precious jewel, also known as ju-I ("as your desire"), representing wealth sufficient enough to satisfy a man's needs and desires. 3) Swastikas that point clockwise are Buddhist; those that point counter-clockwise are Bon.
Wind horse The Four Harmonious Brothers are often found painted on the walls of entrances to monasteries. Symbolizing harmony with nature, they are comprised of a bird on top of rabbit which is on top of a monkey on an elephant. The sun and moon and ying-and-yang-like motifs are painted on houses. They symbolize the complementary opposites: wisdom and compassion.
The wind horse (longa) is the main symbol found on prayer flags. It is famed for its ability to run like the wind. On his back he carries the Three Jewels of Buddhism—the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. The Kalachakra seal is likened with Kalachakra meditation deity and is also associated with the Dalai Lama. The queen, the minister and the general are common symbols that are indispensable aids to the king.
Tibetans consider the peacock to be an auspicious bird. The movement of its tail is associated with the way men tie their robes around their waists Tibetan dance movements have names such as “The peacocks wingspread” and “the drinking peacock.”
The most auspicious number to Tibetan Buddhists is 108. It is the number of books in the Tibetan Buddhist scripture, the number of beads in prayer necklace and the number of braids in a woman's traditional hair do. Praying 108 times is regarded as particularly meritorious because it ”disturbs passions” of “mankind’s delusions” cited in Buddhist scripture. The number 108 is auspicious because it is a product of 9 x 4 x 3, with 9, 4 and 3 being auspicious numbers.
Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism
Eight Auspicious Symbols The Eight Auspicious Symbols are associated with gifts made to Buddha upon his enlightenment. The first four are: 1) the Precious Parasol (symbolizing protective powers of the Buddhist doctrine, it is usually placed over Buddha images to protect them from evil spirits); 2) the White Conch Shell (symbolizing the propagation of the Buddhist doctrine, blown to signal prayer time and celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment and the potential of all humans for enlightenment); 3) the Golden Fishes (representing abundance, felicity and liberation from the Wheel of Life); and 4) the Lotus Flower (symbolizing purity and compassion of Buddha because it is a beautiful thing that rises from muddy waters).
The other Eight Auspicious Symbols are: 5) the Banner of Victory (marking the victory of Buddhist wisdom over ignorance and the expulsion of all worries); 6) the Knot of Eternity (representing the eternal, intertwined passage of time, harmony, love and unity); 7) the Vase of Great Treasures (containing the jewels of enlightenment, the water of eternity and votive offerings to the deities); and 8) the Wheel of Law (representing the Eightfold Path to salvation and the movement of Buddhist laws). Also known as the Wheel of Dharma, the Wheel of Law turns 12 times, three times for each of the Four Noble Truths.
Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life
The walls or entrances of Buddhist monasteries and pagodas are often decorated with "Wheels of Life," paintings representing principals of Buddhism. They are complex, image-filled paintings that aim to show viewers how desire imprisons us in a world of suffering and rebirth and that the mind is only a delusion.
The three cardinal sins—passion and delusion (represented by a cock), hatred (a snake), and greed and stupidity (a pig)—are often situated at the center of the wheel. The wheel is turned by Yama, the Lord of Death, who represents the limitations of existence. At the bottom of the wheel are hot and cold hells and a scale used to measure good and bad karma one has accumulated in one’s lifetime.
In the ring outside the center are the 8 or 12 karma formations, which contain the victims of bad karma (black background) on the left and the beneficiaries of good karma (white background) on the right. In the next ring are the six spheres of existence; then the twelve links in the chain of causation, culminating in the search for truth; and finally in the outer most ring are symbols depicting impermanence or death.
Wheel of life
The six spheres of existence are; 1) the realm of the gods, a transitory place where happiness rises above suffering; 2) the realm of the asuras (jealous gods), where creatures of all sorts fight over fruit on the wishing tree and have to be reminded by Buddha to stay on the path; 3) the realm of the pretas (the hungry ghosts), the home of grotesque figures who have given into greed and can’t eat because their throats are too narrow; 4) the hells, where creatures with cold hearts and anger live in misery; 5) the realm of the animals, a place of ignorance, lethargy and apathy; and 6) the realm of the humans, characterized by birth, old age, disease, sickness and death.
The twelve links in the chain of causation features: 1) a blind woman (symbolizing ignorance); 2) a potter (unconscious of will); 3) a monkey (consciousness); 4) men in a boat (self-consciousness); 5) house (the five senses); 6) lovers (attachment); 7) a man with an arrow in his eye (feeling); 9) people drinking (desire); 10) a figure grasping fruit from a tree (greed); 11) pregnancy (birth); and 12) a man with a corpse (death).
The wheel of law or the wheel of Dharma represents Dharma, the cosmos and the concept of karma. The central wheel is symbolic of Buddha’s teachings which set the wheel of dharma in motion.
Image Sources: Kalachakranet.org and Simha.com except Texts, Wason collection, and Wheel of Life, Library of Congress.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated October 2011