Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Protector Deities Main Page (All Religions)

Protector Deities Main Page | Protector Deities: Traditions & Schools Outline

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Protector Deities Definition (below)
- Buddhist Protector Deities Outline
- Buddhist Protector Deity Glossary
- Buddhist Wisdom Protectors
- Buddhist Worldly Protectors
- Four Guardian Kings
- Bon Religion Protectors
- Nyingma Protectors
- Sakya Protectors
- Marpa Kagyu Protectors
- Shangpa Kagyu
- Jonang Protectors
- Gelug Protectors
- Wrathful Appearance Page
- Wrathful Deities & Function
- Protectors That Are Not Wrathful
- Wrathful Deities That Are Not Protectors
- Wisdom Protectors That Can Also Be Ishtadevata
- Worldly Deities Considered By Some To Be Wisdom Deities
- Mountain Gods & Local Deities
- Bibliography: Protector Deities
- Confusions
- Others...

The designation of 'Protector Deity' is common within the Buddhist and Bon religions of the Tibet 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 trustworthy. 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.

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. Their job is to safe-guard Buddhism in general, regions, specific monasteries or religious traditions or even a specific text as in the Nyingma Tradition.

The six images below are only examples of the various types of Protectors.

Jeff Watt 5-2008 [updated 5-2017]