- Bodhisatva (Avalokiteshvasa)
- the Avatars of Vishnu
- Guardian kings
- the Mandala, Dhyanibuddhas, Aksobhya
- Devi, the Mother Goddess
- the Taras
The APSARAS, according to Hindu mythology, are heavenly nymphs
who were originally associated with water and later with the countryside. According
to the great epic, the Ramayana, their origin can be traced to the churning
of the ocean. When the Apasaras emerged from the water, neither the gods
nor the ASURAS wanted to marry them, so they belonged to everyone and were known
as the “Daughters of Joy” .
The Apsaras are charming and beautiful dancers, and are said to be fond of games of chance. However, according to one tradition, they can also cause madness. They are sometimes said to live in fig trees and banana plants.
BODHISATTVAS are “enlightenment
begins” who are destined to become Buddha. They put off the moment when they
will enter nirvana and escape the cycle of death and rebirth, in order that
they may help others along the long part to enlightenment. Bodhisattva are thus
living symbols of compassion.
According to Mahayana, or “Great Vehicle” Buddhism, human beings are some times able to enter paradise by means of a bodhisattva’s merits and spiritual power rather than through their own, provided that they call on the bodhisattva in faith.
BODHISATTVAS ARE FUTURE BUDDHA. They have such compassion for humanity that they take a vow to attain enlightenment, not just for their personal liberation but to show others the path they have found. In Mahayana Buddhism, this means that, even though they have reached the threshold of nirvana, they delay their own freedom and resolve to stay in the world to help outers. For them, their own achievement of nirvana is not their only goal. They perceive further stages of enlightenment to be attained on the route to becoming a Buddha. Celestial bodhisattvas, such as Manjushri and Avalokiteshvara, are very near to becoming Buddha themselves, and they act as mediators between the Buddha and mortals. They are not monks, but lay figures who are often portrayed as princes, wearing elaborate jewelry and a five-leaved crown. The bodhisattva Maitreya is the Buddha of the future, a benevolent character who will arrive on earth in about 30,000 years, when the Buddhism of the present age has expired.
Bodhisattvas are usually shown robed as Princes, wearing five-leaved crowns. AVALOKITESHVARA and MANJUSHRI are tow of the best known bodhisattvas.
AVALOITESHVASA is the most popular BODHISATTVA OR “buddha-to be” of Mahayana or “Great Vehicle” Buddhism. His name is translated as “Lord of Compassionate Sight” or “Lord Who Looks From On High”. The Bodhisattva of the present age, Avalokiteshvara is said to have emanated from the great Buddha AMITABHA. Although his residence is in Amitabha’s paradise, he remains in this world in order to attend to the salvation of humans and animals. He is usually represented as a handsome man, with several heads and arms.
According to one myth, when Avalokiteshvara was looking down on the suffering in the world, his head burst open in pain. Amitabha put the pieces back together as nine new heads. Then, because Avalokiteshvara wanted to help all creatures, he grew 1000 arms, and in the palm of each hand was an eye: “From his eyes were derived the sun and the moon, from his forehead, Mahesvara, from his shoulders, BRAHMA and other gods, from his heart, Narayana, form his things, SARASVATI, from his mouth, the winds, from his feet, the earth, from his belly, VARUNA.”
Avalokiteshvara helps everyone who asks for his assistance. He visits hell to take cooling drinks to those suffering the heat the damned, and he preaches the Buddhist law to beings incarnated as insects or worms. He is also said to protect people from natural disasters and to bless children. Moreover, the bodhisattva is said to have converted the female ogres of Sri Lanka and to have been given the task of converting Tibet to Buddhism.
In Tibet, his name is Pyan-rasgzigs or CHENREZIG. In China, Avalokiteshvara developed into the goddess Kuan Yin, or Guanyin, and in Japan into the god, or sometimes goddess, Kwannon.
of VISHNU are his incarnations on earth in order to help humankind
in moments of great crisis. It is generally accepted that Vishnu has ten avatars,
although their number varies, and their identities are also flexible. Usually,
the incarnations are said to consist of Matsya, KURMA, Varaha, NARASIMHA,
Vamana, Parashurama, RAMA, KRISHNA, GAUTAMA BUDDHA and
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BRAHMA, according to Hindu
mythology, was the creator and director of the universe. He was the father of
gods and humans alike, and in classical Indian thought, he forms a trinity with
VISHNU and SHIVA. The three gods are collectively known
as the Trimurti. Vishnu and Shiva represent opposing forces and Brahma, the
all-inclusive deity, represents their balancing force.
Brahma was also the personalized form of Brahman. Originally, this term referred to the sacred power inherent within a sacrifice, but it came to refer to the power, known as the “Absolute”, which lay behind all creation.
While the god Brahma meditated, he produced all the material elements of the universe and the concepts that enabled human beings to understand them. In each day of Brahma’s existence, the universe is created, and in each night, it is reabsorbed. Within each of these cycles, there is four successive ages, or YUGAS, beginning with the Krita Yuga, or golden age, and ending with the Kali Yuga, the present age of conflict and despair.
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is the Hindu god of wisdom and literature, and the son of PARVATI, the wife of the great god SHIVA. He is portrayed with the head of an elephant and a potbelly, a symbol both of his greed and his ability to dispense success. He has four arms but only one tusk. An extremely popular deity, he is invoked at the outset of new undertakings. He is regarded as the patron of business, and business people hold ceremonies in his honor. He was traditionally the first scribe of the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He was said to have been so keen to write it down that he tore off one of his tusks to use as a pen.
One myth tells how, when Shiva was away from home, Parvati grew bored and lonely. She decided to make herself a baby and created Ganesha, either from the rubbings of her own body, from dew and dust, or from clay. She later ordered the child to stand guard outside the entrance to her rooms. When Shiva returned home and tried to see his wife, Ganesha, not realizing who he was, barred his entrance, where upon Shiva knocked his head off Parvati was distraught and demanded that her son be brought back to life. The first head Shiva could find was that of an elephant. Parvati was delighted. Ganesha subsequently looked after the ganas, Shiva’ attendants.
According to another myth, Parvati invited the god Sani, the planet Saturn, to visit her son. However, she had forgotten how dangerous the god could be and when he looked at Ganesha, the child’s head burst into flames. BRAHMA told Parvati to repair her child with whatever she could find, which turned out to be the head of the elephant, AIRAVATA.
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GARUDA, according to Hindu
mythology, was the prince of birds and the son of the sage KASYAPA. According
to one account of Garuda’s birth, Kasyapa had two beautiful wives, Kadru and
Vinata. The sage promised to provide both wives withheirs. Kadru chose to give
birth to 1,000 splendid serpents, whereas Vinata asked for only two sons. However,
Vinata requested that her sons’ strength and prowess should surpass that of
Eventually, Kadru laid 1,000 eggs and Vinata laid tow. After 500 years, 1,000 serpents emerged from Kadru’s eggs. However, Vinata’s tow sons failed to appear. Impatient, Vinata broke open one of her eggs to find and embryo with only the upper half-developed. The embryo became Aruna, the red glow of dawn. Aruna cursed his mother and ascended into the sky, where he remains to this day. Another 500 years passed and Vinata’s remaining egg finally broke open to reveal Garuda.
Another tale tells how, in order to free herself from a curse, Vinata was forced to acquire AMRITA, the elixir of immortality and to give it to her nephews, the 1,000 serpents. Vinata asked Garuda to seize the drink from the gods and, after a mighty struggle, he succeeded in doing so. He put the drink down in front of the serpents, but said that they must purify themselves before drinking it. While they were busy performing their ablutions, INDRA retrieved the Amrita, as had been previously arranged with Garuda.
Garuda was a devotee of VISHNU, the preserver of the universe, and he was chose by the god to be his mount. He appeared whenever summoned by Vishnu’s thought, and fought with him against demons and demonic serpents. Garuda is depicted with the head, wings and claws of an eagle. In Buddhism, garudas are divine bird-like creatures.
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TIRTHANKARAS / Jainism
JAINISM IS AN INDIAN RELIGION and philosophy, which offers an austere path to enlightenment. Much of its mythology was inherited from Hinduism, including huge numbers of gods, and ideas on the structure of the universe, but Janis differ from Hindus in that they do not believe in the idea of creation, considering that time is cyclic. Jain ascetics attempt to conduct their lives following five vows: to injure no living thing (because everything has a soul); to speak the truth; to take only what is given; to be chaste; and to achieve detachment from places, people and things. Their examples in following this discipline are 24 tirthankaras, or “spiritual teachers”, who have appeared in the present cycle of time. A tirtha is a ford or crossing-place, or a sacred place, person or path, which enables believers to cross over into, liberation from an endless round of rebirth: for Jains, the tirthankaras were the builders of the ford.
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THE GUARDIAN KINGS, according
to Buddhist belief, guard the four quarters of the world and protect the Buddhist
law. They are said to live on the mythical Mount MERU, at the gates of
the paradise of INDRA, the protector of Buddhism. The Guardian Kings
are acolytes of the BODHISATTVA AVALOKITESHVARA.
they were regarded as benevolent, but they developed into menacing warriors.
They are usually shown wearing armor and helmets or crowns. The kings are said
to have assisted at the birth of GAUTAMA BUDDHA and to have held up the
hooves of his horse when he left the palace of his father for the outside world.
In Indian art, they are usually shown riding elephants, whereas in Tantrism
they are often shown trampling demons.
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is the monkey god of Hindu mythology. He is regarded as the patron of learning and is the son of VAYU, god of the winds. According to one myth, Hanuman once tried to snatch the sun from the sky, thinking it was something to eat. To prevent the catastrophe, the war god INDRA threw his thunderbolt at the monkey, smashing his jaw. In the great Hindu epic the Ramayana, Hanuman is the minister of the monkey king Sugriva and the loyal companion of RAMA, the famous AVATAR or incarnation of VISHANU, the preserve of the universe. Hanuman assisted Rama when the hero was locked in battle with the demon king RAVANA, who had run off with Rama’s wife, SITA. It was Hanuman who discovered Sita’s whereabouts, on the island of LANKA, Ramvan’s kingdom.
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HEVAJRA is a YIDAM, or tutelary
god, worshipped in Mongolia, Cambodia, Thailand and Tibet, He is usually represented
with four legs and eight heads; his body is blue, and his heads are different
colors. He is sometimes shown alone, but often in Yab-Yum, the posture of embrace,
with his SHAKTI or corresponding female energy.
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INDRA one of the chief deities
of Indian mythology, is a god of storms and war. He appears in the Rig-Veda
– the ancient hymns forming part of the Veda, the sacred knowledge of Hinduism
– as the king of the gods. Indra is red or gold in color, and is large, fierce
and warlike. In his right had he carries a thunderbolt, which he uses either
to slay his enemies or to revive those killed in battle. He is said to ride
through the heavens in a chariot, often said to be the sun. In later times,
he was frequently depicted on the elephant, AIRAVATA.
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KALI the “Black One”, is the
terrifying aspect of the great mother goddess and SHAKTI of SHIVA. The personification
of death and destruction, she is said to spring from the forehead of DURGA,
another aspect of the goddess, when she becomes angry. Kali is usually depicted
with blood-red eyes, four arms and with her tongue lolling out of her mouth
in search of blood. She is naked, but for a girdle of severed heads or hands,
a necklace of skulls sand a tiger skin. Like Shiva, Kali has a third eye in
her forehead. In one hand she holds a weapon, in another the severed head of
a giant, while her remaining two hand, in contrast, are raised in blessing.
Her devotees regard her as loving mother goddess who can destroy death as well
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KRISHNA According to
Hindu mythology, is an AVATAR of VISHNU, the preserver of the
universe. He is traditionally referred to as the only complete avatar. A divine
hero, krishna is said to have been miraculously born in the town of Mathura
in northern India. The gods wanted to destroy the evil oppressor King Kamsa,
and so Vishnu decided to be born as the eighth son of the king’s sister Devaki.
According to none story, Vishnu plucked out two of his hairs, one black, one
white. The black hair became Krishna and the white hair BALARAMA, Krishna’s
older brother. Krishna’s name means the “Dark One”.
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NAGAS, according to Hindu belief, are semi-divine
but powerful serpents that guard the treasures of the earth. They are often
associated with fertility but can occasionally prove dangerous. Whereas some
nagas are depicted with several heads, others are represented as human beings.
The naga Vasuki was used as a rope in the myth of the churning of the ocean
and was afterwards worn by SHIVA as a girdle that had the power to dispel
demons. When the great god VISHNU is resting, he sleeps on the naga known
as Sesha, or Ananta. Seshas’s hoods shade the god, but his yawns cause earthquakes.
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THE MOTHER GODDESS
DEVI, OR MAHADEVI (“THE GREAT GODDESS”), is a composite figure who includes various aspects of the female deity in a series of contrasting incarnations. In the earliest Indian cultures, the mother goddess was Shakti, the source of all energy in the universe, the creative force who brought fertility to the earth. Some of her manifestations were associated with natural forces, such as Ushas, the dawn, and Ganga, the river. Later she was subsumed in the patriarchal Hindu creation myth as the on sort of Shiva. In this role she continued to appear in a variety of incarnations. Some were benign, such as Sati and Parvati, both of whom were loving and caring, but others were terrifying, such as the warrior goddesses Durga and Kali. Although she lost her autonomy in her new role as consort, she was still the creative force. While Shiva embodied potency, Shakti was the energy needed to release his power.
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means “Force”, “Power” or “Energy”. In Buddhism, shaktis, who are female, embody the active energy of the male deities with whom they are often shown in a sexual embrace known as Yab-Yum. The five main shaktis correspond to the five male DHYANIBUDDHAS or the “Great Buddha of Wisdom”: Vajradharisvari corresponds to RATNASAMBHAVA, Pandara corresponds to AMITABHA and Tara to AMOGHASIDDHI. When in Yab-Yum, these shaktis may hold a cup made from a skull. In Hinduism, Shakti is regarded as the creative force of SHIVA and is worshipped under many names, including PARVATI, Uma, DURGA and KALI. Shaktism is an aspect of Tantrism. Shakras worship Shakti and revere her as the life force and the energy that maintains the universe. As a means towards experiencing the supreme really. Shaktas use sexual practices, including those shown in the Kamasutra, the manual of erotic art. However, in some sects, these practices are meditated upon rather than actually performed.
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the Mandalas, Aksobhya
FIVE GREAT MYSTIC BUDDHAS appear together in the “Mandala of the Five Jinas”, and are therefore known collectively as Dhyanibuddhas, or “Meditation Buddhas”. They are said to have arisen from the Adibuddha, or “Primeval Buddha”. Jinas, or spiritual conquerors, are those who have overcome the perpetual cycle of rebirth and human suffering. As subjects for meditation, they each represent a different aspect of the enlightened consciousness. Mandala is the Sanskrit word for a circle: a mandala is both a symbolic picture of the universe and as aid to meditation, helping the onlooker to achieve different states of mind. For ritual purposes, the mandala is traced on the ground using colored powers, which are brushed, away afterwards. It may also be a picture of a three-dimensional object, such as a sculpture or even a building. Mandalas can also be visualized during meditation-they do not have exist physically.
AKSOBHYA, the “Immovable”, was a monk who took an oath that he would never again feel anger or revulsion. His adherence to his vow eventually resulted in his attainment of enlightenment. He is the Buddha of the eastern paradise, Abhirati, where the virtuous are reborn into a land without evil or suffering and where they can quickly achieve nirvana. He touches the earth with his hand to symbolize his enlightenment.
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is one of the principal Hindu deities who, together with VISHNU and BRAHMA, forms the Trimurti, or triad of great gods. He is believed to have developed from RUDRA, a minor deity who appears in the Rig-Veda, the collection of ancient Hindu hymns dating from between 1500 and 900 BC. It seems that the god grew in stature after absorbing some of the characteristics of an ancient fertility god sometimes referred to as “proto-Shiva”. Representations of this god, sitting in the position of a yogi and associated with animals and plants, have been ascribed to the Indus Valley culture, which dates from before 1500 BC. Shiva can be kind and protective, but he is also terrifying and is found in such places as battlefields and cremation grounds. He is offer shown decorated with a string of skulls. Although he is a god of creation, he is also the god of time and thus the great destroyer. He is a fertility god, but his also as ascetic who has conquered his desires and lives on Mount Kailasa in the high Himalayas, deep in the meditation which deeps the word in existence.
Although Shiva brings death, he also conquers death as well as disease and is invoked to cure sickness. He is sometimes depicted as half-male, half-female. The conflicting qualities and attributes found within the god are intended to symbolize a deity within whom all opposites are reconciled. Even Shiva’s nave, which means “Auspicious”, is intended to reconcile and propitiate the dark aspect of his character, which caused him to be known as the “destroyer”.
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is one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most popular deities. Her name means both “She Who Delivers” and “Star”. She is regarded as an emanation of the BODHISATTVA AVALOKITESHVARA and is said to have been born from a lotus floating in one of his tears in order to help him in his work. According to another account, Tara was born in a beam of blue light, which shone from one of Avalokiteshvara’s eyes. She embodies the feminine aspect of compassion and incorporates the essence of the goddess. As a result, her name is sometimes applied to other female deities.
The earliest representations of the goddess date from the sixth century AD, when Tara came to be regarded as the SHAKTI, or sometimes the wife, of Avalokiteshvara. In Tibet, where her cult spread widely in the 11th century, it was said that the goddess was reincarnated in every virtuous woman. Since then she has been worshipped widely as a personal deity. There are 21 different forms of Tara, each of which has its own color, posture and attributes, and they all can appear to be either peaceful or wrathful.
The most common forms are Green Tara and White Tara. In Tibet, the White Tara is often said to be a form of the Green Tara. She is believed to be a form of SARASVATI, the wife of BRAHMA. The Green Tara, said to be the original Tara, holds a blue lotus in each hand to signify her compassion. The consorts of the seventh-century Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo are said to have been embodiments of these two Taras. When red, yellow or blue, Tara is said to be in a menacing mood, whereas when green or white she is said to be gentle and loving. Tibetan Buddhists believe that their ancestors are Avalokiteshvara in the form of a monkey and Tara in the form of a rock ogress.
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VISHNU is one of the most important gods of Hinduism
and the most widely worshipped Together with SHIVA and BRAHMA, he belongs to
the triad of great gods known as the Trimurit. The preserver of the world, Vishnu
is majestic and at times terrifying. One the whole, however he is a benevolent
deity and far less frightening than Shiva. Vishnu’s devotees, the Vaishnavas,
regard him as the supreme god: one of his many epithets is the “Highest God”.
Brahman, the Hindu concept of the “Absolute” or supreme reality, is sometimes
depicted as Vishnu.
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