Kubera - I Am Not Kubera! Confused Visual Subjects
Subjects & Topics:
- Kubera Explanation (below)
- Confused Visual Subjects
- Confusions, Conflicts & Controversies
Video: Kubera, Who Am I?
Is there a god named Kubera? Who is the God Kubera in Tantric Buddhism and why are so many deities, so quickly and commonly, identified as Kubera?
The sculpture on the right is not Kubera - it is Vaishravana Riding a Lion!
Kubera is a name for a God of Wealth in Indian Buddhist literature. He is also closely associated with Vaishravana, the God of the North, who inhabits the Northern slopes of Mount Sumeru in Pali and Sanskrit Mahayana literature.
Unfortunately, almost all figures identified as Kubera in Tibetan and Himalayan art are not accurate. The name Kubera has come to be used as a category of deity, a designation for all deities that have a certain appearance but have not necessarily been precisely identified. How the word Kubera is being used in the West actually has a more proper designation and definition in Tibetan Art. That designation is King Appearance which is one of the traditional figurative forms in Tibetan art. It is also prominent in the modern system of the Eleven Figurative Forms.
The name Kubera is not found as the name of a prominent figure or deity in the Tantric literature. He can however be found as a minor or secondary figure in some mandalas.
The deities that are commonly misidentified as Kubera are:
- Twelve Yaksha Generals of the Medicine Buddha Mandala
The figure most commonly misidentified is Vaishravana Riding a Lion, or in a more simplified form without armor and possibly without the lion. In Mahayana literature Vaishravana and Kubera are names that are found together and used as synonyms for the King of the Northern Direction, one of the Four Guardian Kings, and yes there is a close relationship - in the Mahayana Sutras.
Jambhala in his yellow coloured form is also commonly misidentified. In the Tantric literature Jambhala originates from very different texts and origin narratives than the Vaishravana that was just discussed. Jambhala certainly has the plump torso, crown and similar ornaments. He also holds a mongoose in the left hand. This single attribute of the mongoose in the left hand is often reason enough to misidentify any figure, sculpture or painting, as Kubera, if it is the only characteristic which is looked for in basing an identification.
Jambhala has a number of different forms beginning with the basic yellow and then white, green, red and black. Not all of the forms of Jambhala are mistaken for Kubera - only the forms that have the King Appearance which is a standard model for wealth deities - is he consistently misidentified.
Aparajita is a figure that is common to early paintings from the 12th to 14th century. Aparajita shares the King Appearance with the two figures of Vaishravana and Jambhala. In early paintings he is not always easy to identify by name and because of that he can easily be included under the broad identification of Kubera. In the more recent centuries he has taken on the more standard look of a wealth deity following the King Appearance in iconography.
The Twelve Yaksha Kings are represented in painting only in conjunction with the Medicine Buddha and the presentation of all fifty-one deities of the mandala. They never appear as individual figures, or worshiped with a separate liturgy or practices. The compliment of deities can appear in a singled painted composition or each of the fifty-one figures can be individually painted in a separate composition and then fastened together at the top and hung as a set of paintings. As sculpture, each of the fifty-one is created individually.
The Twelve Yaksha generals all have a similar, almost identical, appearance. With sculptural representations the only differences between them are in the single attribute held in the right hand. Otherwise, their general appearance, crown, ornaments, dress and sitting postures are the same. The most identifiable common characteristic is a mongoose held in the left hand of all twelve Generals. This mongoose is a shared attribute with many other wealth deities such as the common forms of Vaishravana and Jambhala, along with the Eight Horsemen of the Vaishravana Riding a Lion group of deities.
Kubera as a Minor Retinue Figure in Tantric Art: Kubera can be found in Tantric art in a number of different roles. In the Vaishravana Riding a Lion liturgy and iconography there is a retinue of Eight Horsemen. One of these horsemen is named Kubera. In the eight and sixteen deity mandalas of Yellow Jambhala and Yellow Vasudhara, a goddess of wealth, Kubera can again be found as a retinue figure. In the Yoga Tantras such as the Dharmadhatu Vagishvara, from the Namasangiti Tantra, Kubera is again found among the Indian worldly gods in the outer circle. Vaishravana as an Indian worldly god is also found in this same outer mandala circle. If Vaishravana and Kubera were always the same individual then certainly he would most likely not appear twice in the same mandala, and in the same outer ring, both in close proximity to each other.
Who is Kubera?
1. Kubera is a character from the Pali and Sanskrit Mahayana Sutras.
2. Kubera is a name that is used as a synonym in some Mahayana literature (Sanskrit, Prakrit) for Vaishravana, the Guardian King of the North.
3. Kubera is the name of a minor retinue figure that appears in many different mandalas of the Kriya and Yoga Classes.
Jeff Watt 11-2012 [updated 5-2017]