Dharma protector of the Drikung Kagyu tradition
- Achi Chökyi Drolma (Tib. A-chi Chos-kyi sGrol-ma) is a female
Dharma protector whose practice was introduced by Drikung ('Bri-gung) Achi, the matriarch
of the Drikung hereditary lineage. She is white-coloured and is usually portrayed
seated and riding a snow lion, the legendary white animal of Tibet; she may also be shown
standing (see right). Unusually, for a Dharma protector, Achi Chökyi Drolma's
aspect is not wrathful, but peaceful. NEW See
Achi Chökyi Drolma - Chief
Protectress of the Glorious Drigung Kagyu for the story of her origins, an image of the
deity, and a description
of her iconography.
- Dorje Yudrönma is said to be one of Tibet's chief protectors.
She holds an arrow with the five colours in her right hand and a white silver
mirror in her left. The lifestory of the Longchen Nyingthig yogi Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu
(from the Dzogchen
Lineage of Nyoshul Khenpo) relates that an emanation of this deity appeared and
offered him food once when he was suffering hardship and poverty. Dorje Yudrönma is
associated with a divination practice which uses a mirror. The Art of Tibet site
includes a good thangka of Dorje
Dharma protector - protectress of mantras
- Ekajati is a female dharma protector especially popular in
Nyingma, where she is also considered a protectress of Dzog Chen. She is cognate to Palden
Lhamo. The Nyingma
form of Ekajati (whose name literally means 'One Plait' or 'One Braid') has one tuft
of hair, one eye, one mouth, one breast -- and sometimes only one leg! -- to demonstrate
her singleminded devotion to Dharma. Whenever a Nyingma refuge tree or series of
protectors is portrayed, Ekajati is usualy the dark-red central figure in the bottom row
(see the thangka
of Dharma protectors of the Nyingma tradition from the Chagdud Gompa site); however,
she may be depicted as dark-blue or black, rather than red. In the Sarma (New Translation) schools Ekajati is regarded as the
mother of Mahakala and Mahakali (Palden Lhamo). NEW Chopa.com has a particularly lovely thangka of Ekajati.
Yidam - wrathful Black Tara
- Ekajati is also the name of a wrathful form of Green Tara
known as Black Tara. She is depicted in seated posture holding a curved knife and
skullcup. This form is often shown in a triumvirate with Avalokiteshvara and Green
Tara. This unidentified thangka
from Andrew Stinson's thangka website also depicts Ekajati.
- Kakasya is a guardian goddess with the face of a crow:
one of the bird-headed goddesses associated with the mandalas of various tutelary, or
personal, deities. The Asian Art Museum
included a delightful statue of Kakasya in its Mongolia exhibit.
Bodhisattva of compassion
female Bodhisattva is variously known in China as Kuan Yin (or Kwan Yin, Quan Yin, Guanyin
or Koon Yum), in Japan as Kannon or Shokanzeon Bosatsu, and in Korea as Kwanseum Bosal or
Kwan Um. She is regarded as being identical to the (male) Tibetan deity Avalokiteshvara
(Tib. Chenrezig), but also has much in common with the female Tibetan deity Tara.
NEW sites dedicated to Kuan Yin:
NEW articles on Kuan Yin:
NEW images of the bodhisattva:
Yidam - deity of power
- Kurukulla is an energetic dancing red figure with one face and
four arms, two of which hold a bow and arrow made of flowers. Her practice helps
generate energy and power. JBL Statues sell a statuette of Kurukulla, although
their equation of Kurukulla with the Hindu goddess Kali is incorrect. The FPMT
centre in Boston is named after her (Kurukulla Center
for Tibetan Buddhist Studies) and includes a nice thangka of the deity. There
are several thangkas available online:
- In Geluk tradition Kurukulla is sometimes also referred to as Red
Tara [presumably because of her appearance]; but this name can also refer to a
completely separate yidam. In the Hevajra Tantra, Kurukulla is a semi-wrathful female power deity,
red, in essence Hevajra, and unrelated to Tara.
- The Asian Art Museum of San
Francisco included a Mongolia
online exhibit which described a statue of Lamanteri thusly: "Lamanteri is
the Mongolian name for this wrathful form of the goddess Tara depicted with the
third eye and four pairs of hands."
Painting by Duccio Ceglie
(courtesy of peacenvironment.net)
Historical figure and yidam - the founder of Chöd
- The eleventh-century Tibetan founder of the chöd (cutting)
Labdrön is usually depicted in deified form as a peaceful white dancing figure with
three eyes, playing a damaru (two-sided drum) with her right hand and holding a bell with
her left. (She is also depicted in seated form on Miya Shimada's
Chöd Club site.) Thangka #349 on the Art of Tibet
site depicts Machig Labdrön's life story, and thangka #223 shows her at the centre
of a Nyingma chöd lineage tree. Alex Clarke's Chaos/Chös page includes a depiction of Machig; and
although it is iconographically incorrect (e.g. the image's proportions are incorrect; she
should be white, not pink; etc.), I include it here because it is an intriguing example of
what may become the wave of the future: computer-generated deity images.
There is also a short article about Machig Labdrön in Polish (Maczik Labdryn) on
this Polish Buddhist site. NEW
Aro gTér includes
a particularly lovely line
drawing of Machig with accompanying article.
Other depictions of Tröma on the Web include solitary Tröma
(Chagdud Gompa), Tröma Five
Deity (Art of Tibet), and Tröma Nine Deity
- Machig Labdrön and the Foundations of Chöd by
Jérôme Edou (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1995)
- A Study of the Profound Path of gCod: The Mahayana Buddhist
Meditation Tradition of Tibets Great Woman Saint Machig Labdrön - a Ph.D.
dissertation by Carol D. Savvas (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1990)
- Women of Wisdom by Tsultrim Allione (London: Arkana,
1984 / New York: Arkana, 1986) - includes the life story of Machig Labdrön
- Mahamaya was the mother of the historical
Shakyamuni Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama -- this name means 'Great Illusion.' See also Mayadevi.
There is also a male anuttarayoga deity
named Mahamaya who is not to be confused with the Buddha's mother; this practice is found
in all the Sarma (New Translation) schools and was originally made famous by Marpa; it is
also found in the 'Five Deity Tantra' practice of the Shangpa Kagyu.
Yidam and historical figure - long-life deity
- An Indian-born princess who became the spiritual consort of
Padmasambhava, founder of Buddhism in Tibet (his second consort was the Tibetan-born Yeshe
Tsogyel -- see below). She appears in deified form as a yidam of long life, wearing
the ornaments of a bodhisattva. Her right hand holds an arrow (a symbol of Dzogchen)
adorned with banners and a melong (a round mirror, representing the clear,
reflecting nature of mind). Mandarava sits in the manner of Tara, with right foot
extended, to show her willingness to help sentient beings.
Yidam - goddess of the sun
Marici (pron. Marichi) is
a red-coloured female yidam associated with the sun and with dawn;
her name in Tibetan is Öser Chenma, i.e.
[goddess of] Great Light. Her mantra is traditionally used as protection by
travellers. Marici has an orange-coloured body (the colour of the sun at dawn), and
three faces, eight arms and two legs. Of the three faces, the first (central) is orange
and smiling, her right face is red, and her left is the face of a white boar: each has
three eyes. Her first right hand holds a vajra at the heart in the mudra of teaching, the
second holds a vajra axe, the third holds an arrow with the tip pointing downwards, and
the fourth, in the mudra of generosity, holds a (sewing) needle. Her first left hand, in
the mudra of teaching, holds the stem of a plant (tree?) whose crown is at the level of
her left ear (next to the boar's face). Her second left hand holds a bow, the third holds
a thread (?), and the fourth holds a noose ending in a loop and hook. Marici's right leg
is extended in the manner of Tara, while the left is tucked in. She is dressed in the
royal robes of a bodhisattva: five-pointed crown surmounting each face, jewels, silks and
so forth. Marici rides a throne/chariot drawn along by seven white boars.
Historical figure - mother of Sakyamuni Buddha
- Queen Mayadevi (also Maya or Mahamaya) was the
historical mother of Sakyamuni Buddha. She died not long after his birth, but is
believed to have been reborn in one of the heavens where he later manifested and taught
her the Dharma so that she too became enlightened. She is traditionally depicted
just as she was about to (painlessly) give birth, standing and holding the branch of a
tree in her right hand.
- This dark-blue figure appears as both a single yidam and also
in union with her consort, the Highest Yoga Tantra male yidam Hevajra. The name means
'No-Self' in Sanskrit. This was also the name of the wife of Marpa (whose main
practice was Hevajra) -- the founder of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
Lineage guru and historical figure - lineage dakini
- This woman was a formidable mahasiddha, variously
described as the sister or consort of Naropa. She founded the practice known as The
Six Yogas of Niguma (see Glenn Mullin's text The Six Yogas of Sister Niguma, which
includes a vigorous line drawing of Niguma).
Lhamo (Sri Devi)
Dharma protector - wrathful protectress of Tibet
- Palden Lhamo (whose name translates as
"Glorious Goddess") is the only female dharma protector common to all four
schools of Tibetan Buddhism. She is very wrathful, and rides her mule through a sea
of blood, surrounded by wisdom fire. She is dark blue and has one face with three
eyes; she wears a sun at her navel and a moon at her crown, and over her is a peacock
umbrella (a traditional symbol of protection). She is variously depicted, but her
most common forms are two-armed and four-armed. There is also a system of divination
by dice associated with her. She is sometimes considered cognate to Sarasvati
or Tara, but is at the same time a wrathful form of the peaceful goddess Sri Devi.
Guru and yidam - Mother of all the Buddhas
embodies the bliss/emptiness that gives rise to all phenomena -- hence her honorofic title
as Mother of all the Buddhas. She usually appears as a tranquil seated figure
clothed in silks; her body is gold in colour, and she has one face and four arms.
Her first two arms are held in meditation posture in her lap, while the other right hand
holds a nine-spoked vajra (thunderbolt sceptre symbolising compassion/bliss) and the left,
the text of the Heart
Sutra which is the essential wisdom-text on the emptiness of phenomena.
There are other forms of the deity, as at right: her first two hands in prayer mudra
at the heart, second right hand holding a mala [rosary] and second left hand
holding a text.
Her name means 'Perfection of Wisdom'; in Tibetan she is also
known as Yum Chenmo, or 'Great Mother'. She is closely associated with chöd
practice (see Machig Labdrön). Natalie R. Marsh offers an essay
on the iconography of Prajnaparamita (along with an accompanying
thangka image). From the Mirrors of the
Guru and yidam - Primordial Mother of all the Buddhas
- Samantabhadri (Kuntuzangmo in Tibetan) is the consort and
female counterpart of Samantabhadra/Kuntuzangpo, the primordial Buddha of the older
schools of Tibetan Buddhism. They are usually shown in sexual union (yab/yum
in Tibetan), the blue male figure and white female figure embracing each other in lotus
position. Samantabhadri is sometimes shown alone, in which case she is seated in
lotus posture with her hands in meditation posture in her lap. Samantabhadri is
always shown naked (as is her consort) to demonstrate the unadorned nature of Absolute
Truth, the emptiness of all phenomena. She is in some senses an analogue of Prajnaparamita.
A near equivalent of the New Translation schools is the dark-blue
Vajradhatu-ishvari, shown in union with consort Vajradhara as the yab-yum Vajradhara /
Yidam - goddess of learning and the arts
- As the goddess of learning and the arts, Sarasvati (also
spelled Saraswati) is in many ways a counterpart to Manjushri, the male Bodhisattva
of discriminating wisdom, and is sometimes his consort. Sarasvati is a peaceful
yidam who holds a vina (a sitar-like lute) on her lap; she also sometimes holds a
text. There is also a Hindu
deity named Sarasvati with near-identical attributes. She is sometimes
associated with Palden Lhamo, who may be regarded as Sarasvati in wrathful
form. The most popular form of Sarasvati is white-coloured, with one face, two eyes,
and two arms; however, there are many other forms including the white four-handed
Sarasvati and the red Vajra Sarasvati.
Yidam - lion-headed Dakini
- Simhamukha (Tib. Seng-gdong-ma or Seng-dong-chen) is a
wrathful dancing dark-blue figure similar to Vajravarahi in appearance and
ornaments, holding a curved knife in her right hand and a skullcup in her left, except
that she also has the face of a lion -- hence her name in Tibetan and Sanskrit (meaning
"lion-face"). Her practice was founded by a woman, Jetsun[ma]
Lochen. Simhamukha's practice is found in
the Sarma (New Translation) schools is associated with the Chakrasamvara Tantra.
Examples of her iconography on the Web are a statue on the Dharmaware
website, and two glorious images on the Art of Tibet site: thangkas 424 and 419.
Guru and historical figure - lineage Dakini
- This mahasiddha belongs to the mother lineage of chöd.
Her name means 'good or blissful siddhi' (a Sanskrit word meaning a
miraculous accomplishment, which can be either mundane, e.g. healing, flying, etc., or
supramundane, i.e. the siddhi of full Enlightenment). She compiled her own six yogas
(see also Niguma) which she gave to Khyungpo Naljor, the founder of Shangpa Kagyu.
Yidam - beloved Saviouress
- Also known as Drolma (Tibetan), Tara embodies the
compassionate activity of all the Buddhas (her name means "the liberator" or
"she who saves"). She is pictured with one face, two arms and a
green-coloured body. Her right hand is outstretched in the mudra (sacred
gesture) of generosity, and her left holds the stem of a blue lotus which blossoms at her
Books devoted to Tara include:
- In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress by Martin
Willson (London: Wisdom Publications, 1986)
- The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet by Stephan
Beyer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973) -- a study of Tibetan beliefs and
practices concerning Tara
- Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna by
China Galland (New York: Viking, 1990)
- Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan
Yin by John Blofeld (Boulder: Shambhala, 1978) -- a study of Avalokiteshvara, the
Bodhisattva of Compassion, in the female forms of Kuan Yin (Chinese) and Tara (Tibetan).
This form of Tara, Green Tara, is the most common one; but
Tara also appears in other forms, such as White Tara, Red Tara and the Twenty-One
Taras. In the Gelukpa school there is also a Highest Yoga Tantra form of Tara
known as Cittamani Tara (as well as a Highest Yoga Tantra form of the Twenty-One Taras
practice). See the Praises
and Requests to the Twenty-One Taras on the Osel Shen Phen Ling site for an example of
a kriya-tantra sadhana (meditation text), as well as NEW the
entry on Tara for a more scholastic look at the deity.
Yidam of bountifulness
- Red Tara is a special practice of Tara
practised in both the Nyingma and Sakya schools. She is depicted in much the same
way as Green Tara (seated with right leg slightly extended, left hand held to the heart
with an utpala flower blooming by her left ear, and right hand making the gesture of
generosity), except that her body is ruby-red, she possesses a third eye, and her right
hand holds a long-life vase. There are lovely thangka reproductions of this deity
and amongst her mandala deities)
on the Chagdud Gompa site, which also offers a photo of a Red Tara statue with
the bow-and-arrow attributes of Kurukulla (to whom she can be
related). See also the Art of Tibet site (e.g. thangka 331). Red Tara can also be either one of several out of the various sets
of twenty-one Taras, or in the lower tantras (Kriya or Carya).
Yidam - she who grants long life and wisdom
- Also known as Drolkar (Tibetan) or Sitatara (Sanskrit), Tara
embodies the compassionate activity of all the Buddhas (her name means "the
liberator" or "one who saves"). White Tara is especially
associated with long life and wisdom. Unlike the green form of this deity, White
Tara has seven eyes -- one in each hand and foot, and a third eye on her face -- to show
that she sees and responds to suffering throughout the universe; and she sits in full
Dharma protector - goddess of the mountain
- Tseringma is the foremost of the Five Long-Life Deities --
formerly mountain-guardian spirits -- who plagued the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa during
his cave retreats. They were converted to Buddhism and Tseringma became his consort.
She is a white figure shown riding a snow lion and carrying a long-life vase in her
hand. Thangka 433 on the Art
of Tibet website depicts Tseringma and her sisters.
Yidam - goddess of the glorious white umbrella
- This white-coloured deity, a form of Tara, is a female
counterpart of the thousand-armed
form of Avalokiteshvara. She has one thousand faces, arms and legs; each face
has three eyes, and she has one eye in the palm of each hand and the sole of each foot,
showing that she watches and protects sentient beings. Her central faces are white
(as is her body); her right faces are yellow, the faces at the rear of her body are red,
and the left faces green; there is also a "tier" of blue faces at the top of her
head. Her right hands hold wheels of the Dharma (dharmachakra) and her left
hands hold arrows; one of her other left hands also holds aloft a white parasol which also
symbolises her protection.
There is a lovely thangka of Ushnisha-sitatapatra
(#429) on the Art of Tibet site. Robert Chung's website also includes an illustrated
text] of this deity.
Yidam - the long-life deity
- Ushnisha-vijaya (Tib. Namgyalma or Namgyelma) is a peaceful
white deity and an emanation of Vairochana Buddha. She has three faces, ten eyes and
eight hands. Her right hands hold a lasso, bow, and vase with the nectar of
immortality; her fourth right hand bears an eye in the palm and is in the mudra
(posture) of generosity. Her left hands hold a miniature Buddha image, a double
(crossed) vajra, and an arrow; the fourth left hand is held in meditation posture in her
Ushnisha-vijaya is often shown in a triumvirate with the
other two principal long-life deities, red (male) Amitayus and White Tara (see
above). Robert Chung's Namgyelma page
includes a picture and her two mantras.
Yidam - the queen of Dakinis
Vajrayogini (Tib. Dorje Naljorma, Adamantine Female
Practitioner) is the principal female yidam of Highest Yoga Tantra of the New Translation
schools of Tibetan Buddhism. She is a slightly wrathful red female figure shown
holding a curved knife in her right hand, a skullcup in her left and a khatvanga
(trident or staff) in her left elbow. The Naro form of Vajrayogini, most commonly
seen in the Sakya and Geluk traditions, is shown standing with her face turned upwards and
to the left, with the skullcup held up to her mouth and the curved knife pointing to the
The Vajravarahi form of Vajrayogini, generally more
frequent in Kagyu, is shown in dancing pose with the right leg bent; this form holds the
curved knife up in the air and the skullcup to her heart. Vajravarahi, whose name
means Adamantine Sow, is usually shown with a small sow's head, representing triumph over
ignorance, emerging over her right ear. In either form of this deity she may be
visualised as a solitary yidam or in union with her consort dark-blue Heruka Chakrasamvara, a principal
mother-tantra deity of Highest Yoga Tantra.
Good pictures on the Web include:
Yidam, guru and historical figure - mother of Tibetan Buddhism
- This remarkable female hermit-saint, the Tibetan consort of
Padmasambhava, is sometimes shown in Nirmanakaya form -- the 'emanation body' a Buddha
takes so as to be visible to ordinary beings -- as a woman in everyday Tibetan clothes,
seated and holding curved knife and skullcup. She is also shown in deified form as
the Queen of Great Bliss (Tib., Dechen Gyalmo) as a red standing figure with a damaru
(double-sided drum) raised in her right hand and a curved knife held to the ground with
Yeshe Tsogyal's sacred biography may be read in Kevin
Dowman's Sky Dancer: the secret life and songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel (London:
Arkana, 1989) and Tarthang Tulku's Mother of Knowledge: The Enlightenment of Ye-shes
mTsho-rgyal (Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1983). The meditation practice of
Dechen Gyalmo, Queen of Great Bliss, is discussed in Anne C. Klein's Meeting the Great Bliss Queen:
Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self, which has a lovely cover
illustration of the deity.