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Buddhist Worldly Protector: Dorje Legpa (History, Narrative & Myth)

Dorje Legpa Main Page

Like other important Nyingma protectors, there is a wealth of treasure literature on Dorje Lekpa's (Skt. Vajra Sadhu) origins and characteristics, much of it contradictory. However, the following essay will attempt to collate the various myths of Dorje Lekpa, based on the terma sources quoted in the 1734 "Biographies of the Ocean of Oath-Bound Protectors," written by Lelung Zhepe Dorje (1697-1740). According to Lelung's sources, Dorje Lekpa is an emanation of Padma Heruka, the king of the tsen spirits, and ruler over heaven and earth in the western direction. In one telling of his immediately preceding life, Dorje Lekpa was a lay follower of the Buddha Dipankara, named Shritala. However, Shritala fell from the path of righteousness when he stole a neighbor's goat. He took the goat to a charnel ground where he killed and ate it, and dressed himself in its skin. Living in the charnel grounds, Shritala began to murder men and have licentious sex with many different women there. One day, however, he happened to eat the poisoned flesh of a deer, and died.

According to another telling of the origin myth, in his previous life Dorje Lekpa was Putapa, son of brahmin parents. He became a monk at twelve, and is said to have completed his monastic training in just three years. Then, at age eighteen, he is said to have completely abandoned his home and gone to dwell in ascetic retreat in the charnel ground Cool Grove in a hut made of kusha grass. Gradually a rumor spread about Putapa that he was engaging in improper practices, and he became known as Siddha of Evil Mantras. The local king heard these rumors and feared the practice of evil mantras would undermine his rule, so he sent his ministers to kill Putapa. The minister went to Cool Grove and questioned the ascetic, but Putapa denied practicing evil mantras and swore he dwelt in wholesome discipline only. Nevertheless, the ministers burned him alive inside his grass hut. Before he died, Putapa swore to be reborn as the son of a yaksha demon, to have immense power in the world, to be able to cast down lightning and hail, and to have power over the life-breath of all living beings.

Right after this, to the northwest of Mount Meru, a mu demon who was the embodiment of hatred, and a female mara who was the embodiment of lust, had sex. Seven months later on the first day of the last winter month of a tiger year, the mother produced an iron placental sack which fell at the base of a poison tree. When the mu father picked it up and looked inside, he saw a single child made out of iron, who immediately flew up to Mount Meru and reduced the four continents of our world system to ash. He bound the gods and demons who lived on Meru under his power. The lords of the mu, za, naga, and tsen demons all offered him their life essence. With these four as his retinue, the iron child began harming all living beings. Angered that they could not control him, the parents prayed that he would be enslaved by an "even greater power....from the realm of space." And so he apparently was, though no specific subjugating deity is mentioned in this account.

In another version of the myth of Dorje Lekpa's birth, Shri Heruka, in the form of a rakshasa, and Krodhishvari, in the form of a rakshasi, produced five daughters. The eldest of these mated with the king of the maras, and from their union was born Dorje Lekpa on the seventeenth day of the twelfth month. His mother urged him to eat the hearts of tigers, goats, and cats, and to protect the teachings of Shri Heruka. Because the boy had a birthmark in the shape of a vajra at his heart, he was determined to be part of the Vajra Buddha Family, and consequently received empowerment by Vajrapani. It is said that he was enthroned as the great yaksha that has power over our world system until the teachings of 5,000 buddhas disappear.

In yet another version of the myth, the "Ten Chapter Tantra of Dorje Lekpa Garwa Nagpo," the deity's parents were a cat-headed rakshasa and a monkey-headed female mara. They lived in a cube-shaped stone castle in a city of yamas in India. It was surrounded by swirling dust storms, whirling sword-blades, blazing fire, lightening, thunder, and hail. The rakshasa and mara lived there, eating the flesh and blood of sentient beings and having sex. From their union came five children. The main one was born with the head of a wolf and he had four siblings that had the teeth of tigers, lions, and jackals, claws like vulture talons, and the horns of scorpions. They were black demons of the charnel ground that attacked the life-force of all living things.

One day, the wolf-headed demon killed a goat that belonged to the sage Tramena. Tramena went to the Buddha and told him that there was a terrible hungry ghost that was preying on the beings of the three worlds, and needed to be subdued, which he promptly was by Vajrapani. Another source asserts that Dorje Lekpa manifested as an iron hawk to kill beings in the sky, an iron wolf to kill those on earth, and a solitary iron man who caused much injury and violence. This being angered Hayagriva who promptly split his head into pieces, before resurrecting and empowering him as the lord of the gods and demons who arise from the eight classes of consciousness.

Also, according to the "Ten Chapter Tantra," Dorje Lekpa took on different deity forms in each of the different realms of rebirth. He was born first as "All-Joyful" the king of the wealth gods. Then he was born as an asura lord of death who had a rat's head, took cat hearts as offerings, and made weapons, called Garwa Nagpo, or "Black Ironsmith." He was also born as the son of the King of Lanka, and named "Tiger Tamer," who took tiger hearts as offerings. Born as animal, he was called "Blue Iron Wolf," a wolf who killed flocks of goats to eat. As this deity he received goat hearts as offerings. As a hungry ghost, he was a tsen who lived in a maroon-colored castle in a rocky crag.

In general, Dorje Lekpa is said to have a retinue of 360 demons of various types and classes. He is often said to be either a minion or different form of Pehar. The Twelve Tenma Goddesses are his lovers.

Cameron Bailey, June 5th, 2015

Works Cited:

Sle lung Rje drung Bzhad pa'i rdo rje. Dam can bstan srung rgya mtsho'i rnam par thar pa cha shas tsam brjod pa sngon med legs bshad. Beijing: Nationalities Languages