Rahula Main Page | Protector Deities: Traditions & Schools
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Subjects & Topics:
- Rahula Definition (below)
- Rahula Outline Page
- Rahula Retinue Figures
- Rahula: History, Narrative & Myth
- Nyingma Worldly Protectors
- Nyingma Protectors Outline Page
- Protector Deities: Traditions & Schools
- Confusions: Elder Rahula (arhat/sthavira), Nagaraksha
Types: There are numerous forms of Rahula in a single aspect or with various numbers of retinue deities, or mounts.
- Rahula, single figure
- Rahula, red, riding a dragon (Dudul Dorje)
- Rahula, Five Deity
- Rahula, Thirteen Deity
- Rahula, Fifteen Deity
- Rahula (Indian God)
- Rahula (Buddhist mandalas)
The name Rahula belongs to three important figures in Buddhist iconography. The (1) first use is as the proper name for the biological son, Rahula, of Gautama - Shakyamuni Buddha. The (2) second use of the name is for the Indian cosmological deity Rahu, the deification of the phenomenon of an eclipse. The (3) third use of Rahula is for the horrific Nyingma protector deity, wrathful, with nine heads and a giant face on the belly. It is likely that the depiction of this Buddhist protector is a Tibetan creation and not linked to any Sanskrit literature or Indian religious tradition. Aside from these three uses of the name there were also numerous Indian pandits and siddhas with the name Rahula, Rahula Bhadra, Rahula Gupta, etc. (See the Rahula Outline Page).
Rahula (Tibetan: kyab jug): is one of the 'Three Treasure Protectors' of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan protector deity is based on the Indian deity Rahula, an ancient Indian god, a demi-god, of the cosmos, related to the eclipse of the sun, moon and other planets. In the ancient tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (Nyingma) Rahula became popular as a protector of the 'revealed treasure' teachings (terma). In Buddhist depictions he is portrayed with the lower body of a coiled serpent spirit (naga) and the upper body with four arms, nine heads, adorned with a thousand eyes. In the middle of the stomach is one large wrathful face. The face in the stomach, belly, is actually the face and head of Rahula. The nine stacked heads depicted above are the nine planets that Rahula has eclipsed, or rather literally swallowed, eaten and now symbolically appear on top of his own face and insatiable mouth. At the crown of the stack of all the heads is the head of a black raven.
"From a fierce E [syllable] in a realm equal to space, the Lord arises out of wrathful activity, smoky, with nine heads, four hands and a thousand blazing eyes; homage to the Great Rahula - Protector of the Teachings." (Nyingma liturgical verse).
There are numerous forms of the protector Rahula. Generally he will always have the nine heads and naga lower body. Sometimes the faces are all black in colour and at other times the faces can appear in different colours depending on the specific 'Revealed Treasure' literature describing a special form. There are also differences in the retinue figures again depending on the Terton (Revealer) and the descriptive literature.
In painted compositions it is common for the deity Vajrapani in wrathful form to appear at the top center or to the side. Vajrapani is represented there as a kind of seal or a reminder to the worldly deity that he or she is still being watched and monitored by an enlightened power. In the Nyingma tradition the protector Rahula is considered extremely ferocious and terrifying. He is believed to cause the physical affliction of strokes on those practitioners that do not perform the rituals correctly or if they are done in an untimely manner.
Although sometimes found in various Kagyu Schools and occasionally in the Gelug especially when associated with a particular Nyingma 'Terma' adopted by that tradition. Generally speaking the protector deity Rahula remains essentially a Nyingma Tradition practice associated with the Revealed Treasure Tradition and not commonly found in most of the other Tibetan Buddhist Schools. Rahula in the Nyingma form is almost unheard of in the Sakya Tradition and related schools.
Jeff Watt 1-2010 [updated 5-2017]