Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Three Lords of the World

Three Lords Masterworks

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
--- Manjushri
--- Avalokita
--- Vajrapani
- Kriya Tantra
- Tantra Classification
- Medium:
--- Painting
--- Sculpture
--- Book Covers
- Confusions: sequence of figures
- Others...

- Three Bodhisattva Lords
- Bodhisattva: Three Definitions

The Three Lords of the World constitute the second level of deity classification according to the Kriya Tantra system. The top level of classification are the Three Buddhas: Shakyamuni, Amitabha, and Akshobhya who are the heads of the Three Buddha Families - Tatagata, Padma and Vajra. In the Kriya system there are as many as eight levels of deity classification for each of the Three Families: 1. Buddha of the Family, 2. Lord of the Family, 3. Mother of the Family, 4. Ushnisha of the Family, 5. Wrathful Deity of the Family, 6. Messengers of the Family, 7. Bodhisattvas of the Family, and 8. Nagas & Yakshas of the Family.

The Three Lords of the World (Bodhisattva):
Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani.

"... [for the mandala] the east is white, south blue, west red, north green and middle yellow. ... At the center is Arya Manjushri, the colour of fresh saffron, one face and two hands. The right [hand] holds aloft a wisdom sword. The left [hand] holds an utpala supporting the text of the Prajnaparamita. With the hair tied up in five tufts, [he] is seated in vajra posture.

In the south, on a lotus, is Lokeshvara, white, with the right hand in the [gesture] of generosity and the left holding a white lotus. Seated in a posture with the right leg pendant and the left drawn in.

In the north is Guhyapati [Vajrapani], blue, the right [hand] holds a vajra to the heart and the left a bell supported at the hip, seated in sattva posture." (Gyu de kun tu, volume 1, pages 64-65).

Lineage of Teachers: Raja Maha Vajradhara, Guhyapati Vajrapani, Raja Indrabhuti, Madyima, Mrityu, Acharya Nagarjuna, Acharya Nagabodhi, Kache Jnana Vajra, Lochung Dragjor Sherab, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), (etc.).

Note that the Three Lords: Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani are not protector deities. In many non-Tibetan publications it is common to see the Three Lords mistakenly referred to as Protectors. The confusion is based on the Tibetan word 'gonpo' meaning 'lord' which is also used as a term for the class of Mahakala deities and others. The confusion also arises from Tibetan and Himalayan folk culture where a cairn is located at the entrance to a village and referred to as the shrine of the 'Gonpo Sum' - Three Lords (protectors). The village shrines most likely predate Buddhism and were originally unrelated to the Three Lords of Tantric Buddhism.

Jeff Watt 4-2006 [updated 6-2013, 9-2017]

Source Text:

Toh 806. Tantra of the Procedures Common to All Maṇḍalas. དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་སྤྱིའི་ཆོ་གའི་རྒྱུད། · dkyil 'khor spyi'i cho ga'i rgyud. sarvamaṇḍala­sāmānyavidhīnāṃ guhyatantram. (54 pages, Degé Kangyur).