Statues of Wrathful Deities

An enigmatic aspect of Tibetan Buddhist iconography is the presence of ferocious, terrifying forms known as the wrathful deities. Though these hideous, hair-raising images seem contradictory to Buddhist ideals, they are not personifications of evil or demonic forces. Rather, they are benevolent deities who symbolize the tremendous effort it takes to vanquish evil, the violence that is a fundamental reality of the cosmos and the human mind and protect the faithful by instilling terror in evil spirits. In Sanskrit, the wrathful deities are known as dharmapalas, which means "defender of the dharma." In Tibetan, they are drag-gshed, or "cruel, wrathful hangman."

Mahakala is a manifestation of the awakened mind. Appearing splendid yet frightening, Mahakala stands in the midst of a mountain of flames to symbolize that no enemy can stand this appearance aspect; the sharp chopper, which he holds aloft in one hand, symbolizes the cutting through of negative patterns, aggression, hatred, ignorance--any of the five poisons. Mahakala is standing on the corpse of two human bodies, symbolizing the death of negativities and the complete uprooting of negative patterns to such a point that, like a dead body, they will not come to life.

Jambhala is the King of the Yaksas and god of wealth. He is called Jambhala from the jambhara (lemon), which he carries in his right hand. In his left arm he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels. These jewels are being deposited in a blooming lotus flower in the waters below. He is shown corpulent and covered with jewels. His right foot is pendant and supported by a lotus flower on which is a conch shell. Jambhala is associated with generosity, richness and abundance and meditation on him is considered effective in eradicating poverty, both on the psychological and material level.

Other Wrathful Deities