Deities According to Function
Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Protector Deities Description (below)
- Buddhist Protector Deity Outline
- Buddhist Protector Deity Glossary
- Types of Protectors
- Deity According to Function
- Wrathful Appearance Page
- Wrathful Deities & Function
- Protector Deities: Traditions & Schools Outline
- Bibliography: Protector Deities
The designation of 'Protector Deity' is common within the Buddhist and Bon religions of the Tibetan and Himalayan regions. The term is one designation in a rather fluid yet elaborate set of religious hierarchies in the various pantheons.
There are two types of Protector Deity, 1. worldly and 2. beyond worldly. The latter is typically called wisdom or enlightened protector, meaning that they are beyond samsara or worldly existence. How this actually works is for example the Buddhist protector deity Mahakala - Mahakala is a wrathful form of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara. In various other forms Mahakala can be an emanation of Akshobhya Buddha or any number of other Buddhas. The three main Anuttarayoga Tantra deities of Hevajra, Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja each have a specific Mahakala associated with the particular tantra such as: Panjara Mahakala - Panjarnata Tantra (Hevajra), Chaturmukha Mahakala - Guhyasamaja Tantra and the Chaturbhuja Mahakala associated with the various Chakrasamvara Tantras.
Worldly protectors are not enlightened and not considered completely reliable. There is a bias in Buddhism to treat all, or almost all, protectors coming from India to be wisdom protectors. The exception here are the Four Guardian Kings and what are considered the traditional Hindu Gods, often referred to in the Tantras as worldly gods, or protectors. They are regarded as the most important of the worldly or mundane gods.
Numerous mountain gods and indigenous Tibetan and Himalayan deities have been incorporated into the Tantric Buddhist pantheon as worldly deities with the function of a protector. The job of those gods are to safe-guard Buddhism in general, those indigenous regions, specific monasteries or religious traditions. Sometimes local gods are even selected as protectors for a specific text as in the Nyingma Tradition and the practice of uncovering hidden 'treasure texts.'
Jeff Watt 5-2008 [updated 5-2017, 1-2020]
(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).