Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Guhyagarbha Tantra (Peaceful & Wrathful Deities)

Nyingma Tradition Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Guhyagarbha/Shitro/Bardo Deities
- Bardo Main Page
- Samantabhadra Buddha
- Heruka (Nyingma)
- Winged Deities
- Masterworks
- Confusions: Eight Pronouncement Heruka
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Videos:
- Samantabhadra Buddha
- Nyingma Heruka Deities (Part 1)
- Nyingma Heruka Deities (Part 2)
- Heruka (General)
- Bardo Thodal Paintings
- Bardo Deities
- The Tibetan Book of the Dead

In the Nyingma Tradition the Guhyagarbha Tantra (8th to 10th century) is considered the most important of all Tantras. In the Tibetan tradition there appears to be three different versions of the tantra identified as a twenty-two chapter, forty-six chapter and eighty-two chapter versions. It is said that the twenty-two chapter version is the most popular and the most commented on.

The Guhyagarbha describes two basic mandala configurations - one of forty-two peaceful deities and another of fifty-eight wrathful deities - combined they are the One Hundred Peaceful & Wrathful Deities. There is a clear organization and a structured hierarchy in the Tantra and two mandalas.

There is also a clear relationship between the deities of the Guhyagarbha Tantra and the various Tibetan Buddhist traditions of the Bardo Todal (Tibetan Book of the Dead). The forty-two peaceful and fifty-eight wrathful deities are the basis for the iconography depicting the subject of the 'Bardo' - Tibetan Book of the Dead. The 'Terton' Karma Lingpa, in the 14th century, is credited with the discovery of the 'treasure text' known as the Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo, a text intended to be read to the deceased with the wish to influence positively the subsequent rebirth.

It is very difficult to distinguish between paintings of the One Hundred Deities of the Guhyagarbha and the various later 'Revealed Treasure' traditions of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities of Karma Lingpa, Ratna Lingpa and others.

Jeff Watt, 3-2010 [updated 6-2017, 7-2022]

(The images below are both depictions of the Guhyagarbha deities and the various 'Revealed Treasure' tradition depictions of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities).