Buddha Akshobhya
Buddha Ratnasambhava
Amitabha Buddha
Amoghasiddhi Buddha
Buddha Vairochana
A short biograph of Chogyam Trungpa

Five Buddha Family

Some impression concerning the nature of the five buddha-family principles is essential to an understanding of tantric Buddhist art. Direct relationships with those five energies is the basis of tantric Buddhist practice.

The five buddha principles constitute the basic mandala with vajra in the east, ratna in the south, padma in the west, karma in the north and buddha or Tathagata in the center.

Vajra is associated with anger, which is transmuted into mirrorlike wisdom. In the cloudiness, possessiveness and aggression of anger, there are qualities of brilliance, lucidity, great energy.

Seeing these qualities clearly in the vajra yidam, the essence of anger is spontaneously transmuted into openness and precision. Transmutation is not performed deliberately but automatically follows upon clear insight.

Vajra is associated with the element of water. Cloudy, turbulent water symbolizes the defensive and aggressive nature of anger. Clear water suggests the sharp, precise, clear reflectiveness of mirrorlike wisdom. The color white, also associated with vajra, expresses both the all-pervading ice storm of anger and the brilliant reflectiveness of mirrorlike wisdom. Vajra’s direction is the east, which is connected with the dispassionate clarity of dawn. The symbol of the vajra family is the vajra (T.: Dorje; Tt.: rdo rje), the thunderbolt scepter which betokens indestructibility and precision.


The energy of ratna, when expressed neurotically, is pride or arrogance, which can be transmuted into the wisdom of equanimity. Ratna is connected with the element earth and is alive to the quality of solidity or substantiality. Taking this from the neurotic angel of samsara or ego, there is the constant anxiety of not being substantial enough; so one tries to build a tower of pride that will obviate all challenge. In the enlightened energy of the ratna yidam, one comes in contact with the quality of inexhaustible richness. Seeing this, pride is spontaneously transmuted into the wisdom of equanimity. The wisdom of equanimity, imbued with generosity, sees all situations equally as ornaments of basic being.

Ratna is associated with the warmth, full sunshine and lushness of the south. Its color yellow can express either the putrescence of pride of the richness and well-being of gold. The ratna family symbol is the jewel, which fulfills all wishes.


The energy of the padma family is associated with the element of fire. Distorted by ego, it expresses itself as passion. Passion can be transmuted into discriminating wisdom. A neurotic sense of insufficiency creates the ambition to possess particular aspects of the phenomenal world, to consume like flame their quality of otherness. Through experiencing a sense of total compassion in the padma yidam, passion is transmuted into an energy of enlightened relationship, which sees with warmth and clarity precisely what exists to be related to.

Padma is connected with the west and with the brilliant display of the colorful qualities of existence expressed in the sunset. Its color red evinces the seduction and heat of passion or the all-pervading warmth of compassion. The symbol of the padma family is the lotus of compassion, the purified form of passion.


Karma family energy manifests neurotically as jealousy and on the awakened level as all-accomplishing wisdom. It is the energy of the element of wind which is present everywhere, touching all corners of space. Therefore, in the neurotic manifestation, it is aware of all facets of situations as something it has to keep up with or that it is left out of. If, through relating with the karma yidam, ego’s reference point is overwhelmed, the same energy becomes active in every area of situations, doing whatever needs to be done and destroying all obstacles to the fulfillment of enlightenment.

Karma is connected with the cold, stormy energetic quality of the north. Its color is green, expressing either envy or the energy of all-pervading action. The karma family symbol is either a sword or a double vajra, both of which denote the fulfillment of all actions.

Buddha or Tathagata

The buddha energy is that which creates stupidity through the ability to play deaf, dumb and blind to anything that threatens the low-level stability created by ego. This same uncanny ability to be aware of everything in order to turn away from it can be stripped of the turning- away or ignoring function. Through the insight that comes from relating to the totally awakened form of the buddha yidam, ego’s game is exposed and stupidity transmutes into the wisdom of fundamental all-pervading awareness.

The buddha family’s color is the blue of its element space, which can either be just dull and blank or alive with the ubiquity of intelligence. A wheel is the symbol of the buddha family, indicating all-pervading rule.


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Essay © 1975 Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
copyright © 2003 Shelly and Donald Rubin Foundation