Tibetan Buddhism overwhelms first-timers with its various deities, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. There are many deities in Tibetan Buddhism. So, we have listed the 10 most important deities of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism is the dominant philosophy practice of Buddhism in Tibet. It is a form of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism that rose from the recent stage of Indian Buddhism.
In this era, Tibetan Buddhism has spread around the world and has gained many practitioners and followers. There are wide ranges of divine beings in Buddhism that get respect in different rituals and contexts.
Deities are the forms of Divine beings who are already enlightened Buddhas or bodhisattvas. Buddhas are great beings who are fully awakened and have full comprehension of the four noble truths.
As for bodhisattvas, they are beings that are on the path of Buddhahood or have awakened their mind. These people purposely don’t go to nirvana but choose to stay and help humanity.
You can read below about the 10 most important deities of Tibetan Buddhism.
We have listed the 10 most important deities of Tibetan Buddhism. These deities have played various roles in different sectors for centuries. Read below to know more about the 10 most important deities of Tibetan Buddhism:
Buddha Shakyamuni – The Historical Buddha
Buddha Shakyamuni is another name of Lord Gautam Buddha or the historical buddha. Lord Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. He got the title Shakyamuni for being the sage of Shakyas. As he was born into the Shakya clan.
Lord Buddha was born and raised in Kapilvastu, Lumbini a small town in Nepal. He was a great philosopher, meditator, spiritual teacher, and religious leader. He found enlightenment in India. He taught for about 45 years from the sixth century B.C.E.
Lord Siddhartha Gautam was born as the prince of the Shakya kingdom. He was later groomed to be the king according to his father’s wish. But at the age of 29, he learned about people experiencing suffering in life. He left his palace and gave up on the ornaments and garments to find the cause for the suffering.
He studied, meditated, and self-deprived for about six years. Finally, after many years of wait, he became an enlightened one. He understood his goal and started sharing his learning with his disciples and followers.
His teaching was purely based on his insight on suffering and the end to it. He taught people how one can get to the state of Nirvana. He traveled around places teaching and building a religious community.
Buddha Maitreya – The Future Buddha
Buddha Maitreya is known as the future Buddha who is residing in Tushita heaven presently. The word Maitreya is a Sanskrit word that means Friendship and gets derived from the noun.
He will visit earth in a later period and teach dharma to the people after completing enlightenment. He is the final earthly buddha who will lead humanity back to Buddhism.
Future Buddha is believed to be the successor of the Lord Gautam Buddha. The arrival of this buddha will occur when people no longer practice the teaching of the present Buddha.
Maitreya is also named Ajita in some Buddhist literature. People believe he will visit this world when most of the human beings in this realm will have forgotten about dharma.
He will learn bodhi in seven days and teach people about the ten virtuous and non-virtuous deeds. Buddha Maitreya’s arrival is yet to come at this age. It is written in the sutra that he will appear during Kalpa or era.
The sculpture of Maitreya is represented by holding a lotus, wheel of dharma, and ritual vase in both of his hands. The wheel of dharma on top of the lotus shows he gives importance to his mission of teaching and spreading dharma. And the ritual vase shows he will be born in a low caste family.
Avalokiteshvara – Bodhisattva of Compassion
Avalokiteshvara is also known as Padmapani who is the Bodhisattva of compassion. This bodhisattva is described and portrayed as either male or female in various cultures.
The meaning of Avalokiteshvara is “Lord who looks down with compassion”. This lord is the figure of infinite compassion and mercy. In Buddhist legend, this buddha is the most popular figure of them all.
Bodhisattvas are the beings that purposely don’t go to nirvana but stay back to help others find liberation. The Dalai Lama is one of the manifestations of Avalokitesvara. Throughout the years, Avalokiteshvara has undergone many transformations and adopted new qualities.
Avalokiteshvara is quite loved in the Buddhist world. As he postponed his Buddhahood to help every being on earth achieve release from suffering. He is the manifestation of the self-born eternal Buddha Amitabha.
He is a patron saint of Tibet who protects against shipwreck, fire, robbers, and wild beasts. He created the fourth world which is an actual universe. And also credited for introducing om mani Padme hum prayer to the Tibetan people.
There are a total of 108 different displays of Avalokiteshvara. Among them, the most common description is having eleven heads and one thousand arms. On each hand, you can see an eye of compassion. The most distinctive feature is the picture of Amitabha in his crown.
Manjushri – Bodhisattva of Wisdom
Manjushri is another Bodhisattva associated with wisdom and insight in Mahayana Buddhism. In Sanskrit, Manjushri means Gentle Glory. He is one of the oldest and significant bodhisattvas in Mahayana literature.
The statues, paintings, and sculptures of Manjushri can be seen holding a sword named Prajna Khadga. This is the sword of wisdom that cuts through the darkness of ignorance through its luminous rays.
He is often said to be the master of Seven Buddhas and the mother of Buddhas. He is assigned one of the highest places in the Buddhist pantheon. People worship Manjushri to get conferred with intelligence, wisdom, and retentive memory. Worshipping him also enables them to master sacred scriptures as well.
There is no actual timing on when he entered the pantheon but his name first occurred in Arya Manjushri Mula Kalpa. He is said to hail from China and lived on the mountain there. Being a great saint he had many followers and disciples which included King Dharmakara. Manjushri is also found in the books of Nepal.
According to Swayambhu Purana, Kathmandu was once a lake and Manjushri cut through the hills and made it a habitable place. Manjushri had visited Nepal on a pilgrimage when he saw a lotus flower in the middle of the lake emitting radiance.
Seeing that he cut in between the hills of Chovar to drain the lake. And later where the lotus was seen became the home of Swayambhunath Stupa. He was a great engineer and architect as well. The bodhisattva of wisdom is worshipped in all Buddhist countries.
Mahakala – The Guardian
Mahakala is also known as the guardian who is a protector deity in Vajrayana Buddhism. Not only in Tibetan tradition, but he is also worshipped in Hinduism and Sikhism.
The Hindu followers consider Mahakala the manifestation of Lord Shiva and the spouse of the goddess Mahakali. As for Sikhism, they refer to him as the governor of Maya (magic).
Mahakala and Kali are represented as the ultimate destructive power. They are not bound by any rules and regulations. And have the power to dissolve time and space into themselves. And also are responsible for killing evil and great demons that other god and goddess can not defeat. They can exist as a void in the universe.
According to Shakti Sangama Tantra, he is described as having four arms and three eyes. He is decorated with the garland of skulls beneath. And lays upon five corpses holding a drum, trident, sword, and scythe in hand.
In Buddhism, he is the fierce manifestation of the Avalokiteshvara and popular Tibetan Buddhist pantheon for being the guardian. His sculpture and paintings usually show him trampling a corpse. And holding a flaying knife in one hand and a blood-filled cup made of a skull in another. This signifies the defeat of all obstruction towards enlightenment.
Tara (Green and White) – Female Deity
In Tibetan Buddhism, Tara is also known as Jetsun Dolma who is an important figure for Buddhist followers. She is a bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism while considered a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Tara the female deity is known as the mother of Liberation. She represents the virtue of success in work and achievement. The Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism worships her to develop inner qualities and understand outer and secret teaching.
She is the deity of meditation and found in various forms. The green and white Tara are the most popular representation these days. There are about 10 green forms and 7 white forms.
White Tara has a fully open lotus that represents the day and Green Tara has a half-open lotus that represents the night. Green Tara is active while White Tara is serene. They showcase the relation similar to mother and daughter.
Green Tara gives protection from fear and eight obscurations i.e. pride, delusion, hatred, jealousy, wrong views, desire, evil spirits, and misery. She is associated with peace and enlightenment activity.
While White tara prevents illness and helps bring long life. Also known as the healing goddess. She motivates with compassion and shines as bright as the moon.
Padmasambhava – Guru Rinpoche
Padmasambhava is also popularly known as Guru Rinpoche. He was the 8th-century Buddhist master that arose from the northwest part of India. The Nyingma school venerated him as the “second Buddha”.
King Trisong Detsen of Tibet invited him and founded Tibetan Buddhism along with other masters and scholars. He also helped in constructing the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
The name Guru Rinpoche refers to the Precious master, a full awakened one who benefits all beings through his form, and primordial wisdom. In Tibet, he is credited with the ability to hide spiritual lessons.
He is said to be the manifestation of Amitabha by a few of the practitioners. And the founder of the tradition for the Nyingma school. He has eight different forms and the most common one is him sitting with a special hat with ear flaps turned up.
Palden Lhamo – Female Guardian
Palden Lhamo is another form of Shri Devi, a female deity in Buddhism. She has various other forms and is usually seen as a deity of wrath. She is the female guardian and wisdom protector.
She is one of the three wrathful gods in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Being the wrathful deity, she is the principal protector of Tibet. She appears as an independent figure in the retinue of Obstacle-removing Mahakala.
The name Palden Lhamo refers to the Glorious Goddess that features a wide range of female protectors and Dakinis. She is the wrathful manifestation of Saraswati.
Her wisdom and compassion can overcome any obstacle. She is the protector of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government. The second Dalai Lama gave her this job.
Her appearance is symbolic into three levels: inner, outer, and secret. On the outer level, she is a furious warrior who fought with the demon king of Lanka. On the inner level, she symbolizes the path of liberation.
And on the secret level, every element in the mystical practice of internal Tantric yoga becomes significant. Her appearance is described as deep blue in color with red hair and three eyes. She rides on a white mule who has an eye on its left rump.
Tsongkhapa – Founder of Religion
The name Tsongkhapa means the man from Onion valley. He was born in Amdo and is a popular teacher in Tibetan Buddhism. His activities helped to form the Gelug School. Tsongkhapa is a religious Tibetan philosopher and founder of Religion.
He is also known as Je Rinpoche who was the son of the tribal leader of Tibetan Longben. His father once served the Yuan Dynasty of China as an official. He was born into a nomadic family.
He also established the annual Tibetan prayer festival Monlam Prayer Festival. He served ten thousand monks at this festival and is seen as one of the four great deeds he has done.
Tsongkhapa is a Tibetan Lama who founded new Tibetan Buddhism known as Dge-lugs-pa. It means a Model of virtue. One of the common names for this religion is Yellow Hat.
To maintain chastity he enforced his disciples and followers to wear yellow robes and commit a rigorous routine. Slowly the sect gained influence over Mongolia. And later his successors were set as the ruler of Tibet under the title of Dalai Lama.
The painting of Tsongkhapa is mostly described wearing a yellow hat and making the gesture of Dharmachakra mudra. He has a sword and book on his left and right sides.
Vajrapani – Bodhisattva of Power
Vajrapani is one of the earliest bodhisattvas to appear in Mahayana Buddhism. He is known as the Bodhisattva of Power. Being the protector and guide of Gautam Buddha, he rose to symbolize the power of Buddha.
He not only has the power of Buddha but also the power of all five Tathagata. The Shaolin Monastery and Pure Land Buddhism worship him. In earlier legends, he was a minor deity who accompanied Lord Gautam Buddha in his journey. He was the one who helped Buddha escape from the palace.
He is the manifestation of Vajradhara and the master of Unfathomable Mysteries. He upholds truth even during the time of darkness and ignorance. Any bodhisattva on the path of Buddhahood is protected by Vajrapani.
They are invincible to any attack whether it be human or spiritual beings. He is one of the three protective deities that surround Lord Gautam Buddha. Vajrapani is usually painted as wearing a crown and tiger skin with a lasso on his left hand. He ties and captures the foe of Buddhism with it. His figures are mostly surrounded by flames.
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