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In Vajrayana Buddhism, a dharmapāla (Wylie: chos skyong) is a type of wrathful deity. The name means "Dharma-defender" in Sanskrit, and the dharmapālas are also known as the Defenders of the Law (Dharma), or the Protectors of the Law, in English.
In Vajrayana iconography and thangka depictions, dharmapālas are fearsome beings, often with many heads, many hands, or many feet. Dharmapālas often have blue, black or red skin, and a fierce expression with protruding fangs. Though dharmapālas have a terrifying appearance and countenance, they are all bodhisattvas or buddhas, meaning that they are embodiments of compassion that act in a wrathful way for the benefit of sentient beings.
In Tibet, principal Dharmapalas include:
- Mahakala (Tib. Nagpo Chenpo)
- Yama (Tib. Shinje)
- Yamantaka (Tib. Shinje Shed)
- Hayagriva (Tib. Tamdrin)
- Vaisravana (Tib. Kubera)
- Shri Devi (Tib. Palden Lhamo)
- Ekajaṭī (Tib. ral chig ma)
- Rāhula (Tib. gza)
- Vajrasādhu (Tib. Dorje Legpa)
- Tshangs Pa Dkarpo
- Maharakta (Tib. tsog gi dag po, mar chen)
- Kurukulla (Tib. rig che ma)
- Takkiraja (Tib. du pai gyal po)
- Prana Atma (Tib. Begtse)
In Tibet, most monasteries have a dedicated dharmapāla which was originally comparable to a genius loci. The many forms of Mahakala, for example, are emanations of Avalokiteshvara. Kalarupa, Yamantaka and Shri Devi (Tib. Palden Lhamo) are considered by practitioners to be emanations of the Buddha of Wisdom (Manjushri).
The main functions of a dharmapāla are said to be to avert the inner and outer obstacles that prevent spiritual practitioners from attaining spiritual realizations, as well as to foster the necessary conditions for their practice.
Tangmi and Shingon Buddhism
In Japanese Shingon Buddhism, a descendent of Tangmi ("Tang Dynasty Esoterica" in ancient China), the dharmapāla Yamantaka (Daiitoku) is classified as a Wisdom King. Some other dharmapālas, notably Mahakala (Daikoku), belong to the fourth hierarchy of deities (tenbu).
- Heart Jewel: The Essential Practices of Kadampa Buddhism, pages 71-3, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1997) ISBN 978-0-948006-56-2
- [°Ò²þÃ¹ GIALABA ]
- Kalsang, Ladrang (1996). The Guardian Deities of Tibet Delhi: Winsome Books. (Third Reprint 2003) ISBN 81-88043-04-4.
- Linrothe, Rob (1999). Ruthless Compassion: Wrathful Deities in Early Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhist Art London: Serindia Publications. ISBN 0-906026-51-2.
- De Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Rene (1956). Oracles and Demons of Tibet. Oxford University Press. Reprint Delhi: Books Faith, 1996 - ISBN 81-7303-039-1. Reprint Delhi: Paljor Publications, 2002 - ISBN 81-86230-12-2.
- Buddhist Protectors - outline page at Himalayan Art Resources