General Buddhism => General Buddhism => Topic started by: dsiluvu on July 06, 2012, 07:30:41 PM

Title: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: dsiluvu on July 06, 2012, 07:30:41 PM
I've always been asked this question by people and friends who are new to Tibetan Buddhism... Why are the Tibetan Buddhas so wrathful? Why are they not Peaceful??? Hence with whatever little knowledge I have based on what I've been taught I gave them the explanation with an example of a Mother who would turn ugly and "wrathful" to a very very naughty child of hers and this is due to her great love and compassion for her child to be good and SAFE. Hence it got me digging for more solid background and info... so here is some sharing... if you do have more... do share here x

Wrathful Deities

An enigmatic aspect of Tibetan Buddhist iconography is the presence of ferocious, terrifying forms known as the wrathful deities. Though these hideous, hair-raising images seem contradictory to Buddhist ideals, they are not personifications of evil or demonic forces.

Rather, the wrathful deities are benevolent gods who symbolize the tremendous effort it takes to vanquish evil, the violence that is a fundamental reality of the cosmos and the human mind and protect the faithful by instilling terror in evil spirits.

In Sanskrit, the wrathful deities are known as dharmapalas, which means "defender of the dharma." In Tibetan, they are drag-gshed, meaning "cruel, wrathful hangman."

The Eight Wrathful Deities

The most important category of wrathful deities is the group of eight dharampalas. The dharampalas, or defenders of Buddhism, are divinities with the rank of Bodhisattva who wage war without any mercy against the demons and enemies of Buddhism. These eight wrathful deities, which can be worshiped as a group of "Eight Terrible Ones" or individually, are:

Lha-mo (Tibetan: “Goddess”; Sanskrit: Sri-devi, or Kala-devi) - fierce goddess of the city of Lhasa and the only feminine wrathful deity

Tshangs-pa Dkar-po (Tibetan: “White Brahma”; Sanskrit: Sita-Brahma)

Beg-tse (Tibetan: “Hidden Sheet of Mail”)
Yama (Sanskrit; Tibetan: Gshin-rje) - the god of death, often shown gripping the Tibetan wheel of life
Kubera, or Vaisravana (Sanskrit; Tibetan: Rnam-thos-sras) - the god of wealth and the only wrathful deity who is never represented in a fierce form
Mahakala (Sanskrit: “Great Black One”; Tibetan: Mgon-po)
Hayagriva (Sanskrit: “Horse Neck”; Tibetan: Rta-mgrin)
Yamantaka (Sanskrit: “Conqueror of Yama, or Death”; Tibetan: Gshin-rje-gshed)

Can we add DORJE SHUGDEN here? Lol x (

History of the Wrathful Deities

Worship of the wrathful deities was initiated in the 8th century by the magician-saint Padmasambhava, who is said to have conquered the malevolent deities in Tibet and forced them to vow to protect Buddhists and the Buddhist faith. Many of the wrathful deities can be linked to Hinduism, Bon (the indigenous religion of Tibet), or folk deities. {2}

Wrathful Deities in Buddhist Worship and Devotion

Images of the wrathful deities are kept in the homes and temples of Tibetan Buddhists to protect them against evil influences and remind them to destroy passion and evil in themselves. In general Buddhist practice, sculptures and thangkas are intended as temporary dwellings for the spiritual beings into which Buddhism projects its analysis of the nature of the world. They are thus not just aesthetic objects but actual dwellings for the energies projected into them with the aid of mantras. The power of those energies Mahakala thangka can then be directed towards the Buddhist goal. The wrathful deities, though benevolent, are represented in visual arts as hideous and ferocious in order to instill terror in evil spirits which threaten the dharma.

Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: dsiluvu on July 06, 2012, 07:31:24 PM
Below is an interesting read about Wrathful practices...

Wrathful practice
Dorje Phurba: AroTer form

“Wrathful practice” is an approach within Tantric Buddhism that can dramatically accelerate your progress. However, it is only workable if you are willing to have Buddhist practice be the sole important thing in your life, under close supervision of a lama, after many years of preliminary practice. And, it comes with a steep price, and a serious risk.

Tantric Buddhism is the path of transformation. The practices of Tantra transform negative emotions into positive, enlightened ones. Usually in Tantra we wait for negative emotions to occur, and then apply transformative methods. If you are sufficiently committed, however, you can deliberately stir up negative emotions in order to transform them. This makes it possible to practice transformation as much as you want—rather than having to wait around for something bad to happen.

The most negative emotion is hatred. Wrathful practice is called “wrathful” because hatred is the emotion you most stir up and attempt to transform. As part of the method, you rely on a “wrathful yidam,” or visualized enraged deity. (Dorje Phurba, shown at the top of this page, is an example.) With this practice, hatred can be transformed into the clarity of enlightenment.

According to Tibetan Buddhism, destruction is one of the four functions of a Buddha. Wrathful practice gives you the clarity to know what must be destroyed, and the ferocity to destroy it.

Generally, Buddhist practice makes your life work better—and for many of us, that is the main motivation. Wrathful practice is likely to make your life worse—at least for several years. Part of the wrathful method is to abandon, or even actively destroy, any aspect of your life that interferes with your practice. Everything in life except practice can fall apart. That is what I called the “steep price.”

The “serious risk” is that you will fail in the transformation—and fail to see that you have failed. This danger is spoken of frequently in Tibetan texts—and this outcome is common. Wrathful yidam practice can produce extraordinary arrogance. That is based on the perception that “I have transformed myself into an enlightened, wrathful being.” (Properly, yidam practice is the perception that “the yidam is occurring.” It is non-personal.)

It is easy to persuade yourself that you have succeeded when you have not. Then you believe you have complete, clear understanding of Buddhism, you are qualified to say who or what needs to be destroyed, and you are just the one to do it. That makes you dangerous to others.

I think this explains some of the online forum participants who viciously attack Buddhist traditions they dislike. They show the signs of missing the mark in wrathful practice (perhaps due to inadequate supervision). They are arrogantly full of themselves, absolutely certain of their narrow beliefs, claim to have the only correct understanding of Buddhism, and are willing to violate ethical standards in attempts to destroy their religious enemies. They might style themselves “dharma cops,” but act as self-appointed vigilantes. I wonder who he is talking about here... are they the ones that hates Shugden practitioners and loves to put us down for our practice? (
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: Vajraprotector on July 06, 2012, 09:10:14 PM
Below I share some explanations of wrathful deities:

Yamantaka is one of a number of similar deities who embody wrathful chaaracteristics. They all appear in demonic forms, brandishing frightening weapons and surrounded by wisdom fire. When a practitioner evokes the presence of these deities, their power can be almost tangible, though the feeling is certainly benign and not evil. The ego may nevertheless feel quite threatened, sensing unconsciously that all these forces are directed towards its subjugation.

Most of the wrathful deity forms are manifestations of their peaceful conterparts: thus, Yamantaka is the manifestation of Manjushri, the BUddha of wisdom; Mahakala, of Chenrezig, the buddha of compassion; Hayagriva, of amitabha; and Vajrakilaya, of Vajrasattva. They demonstrate an important balance of the light and dark faces of the same deity.

The dark face of the Self, our wrathful Buddha nature, manifests in the wrathful deity, which in Tibetan Buddhism is viewed as the embodiment of enlightened activity, just as much as the bright face is. But, like the dark face of the Self, it can put us through the tearing and rending that demands we change and grow when necessary. The wrathful side of our Buddha nature makes us face ourselves in powerful, often terrifying ways. It pushes us beyond our fearful limitations, even initiating a breakdown to break through to a deeper level of understanding.

There are also female deities associated with the dark side of the feminine, such as Palden Lhamo, Ekajati, and various wrathful aspects of the goddess Tara. Ekajati is a wild demoness with one blind eye, one tooth, and one breast. Palden Lhamo, the female parallel to Yamantaka, is a manifestation of the peaceful goddess White Tara. She is a ferocious-looking crone, a wile and terrible demoness, riding a mule across an ocean of blood. She is the queen of witches and spirits, bringing them under her power. She scatters vile diseases on those who disregard her, or who act in ways that are malignant to the Dharma.

Thus, in all deities, a dual nature is evident; light and dark, upper world and underworld, peaceful and wrathful. The forces of the Shadow are not inherently demonic and terrible. Light and dark, good and evil, creation and destruction are relative dualities that have no ultimate true nature. They are not absolutes. It is our ignorance and lack of insight that seeks out one and fears the other.

From: The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra by Rob Preece
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: RedLantern on July 08, 2012, 04:57:18 PM

The first glimpse of wrathful dieties can cause uncertain judgement amongst practitioners such as a novice Western practitioner of Buddhist faith.It could perceive as invitation into occult paraphernalia.
Wrathful dieties are dark and terrifying.Their imaginery are composed to "scare"bad or negative influences.The manifestations of wrathful dieties are to serve and protect the Buddhist faith.Wrathful dieties are often the liberation of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
Most common question asked arewhy wrathful dieties black or other fierce hues.The hues represent the colors of the universe,black being the ultimate absence and true color of emptiness.Why do Hindu Gods want to become liberated through Buddhism?The answer is the Hindu God wants to attain liberation from samsara.
Are wrathful dieties demonic?  NO,not at all.
Are they compassionate?         YES,
Do they serve and protect the Buddhist faith?   YES
The first wrathful image I came across was Setrap.I stared and wondered.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: Big Uncle on July 11, 2012, 12:35:52 AM
I love wrathful deities and I think wrath in Tantra is a powerful method from which Bodhichitta and compassion can be expressed to gain a certain clarity of mind, swiftness and strength. Often touted to be like a compassionate mother who is in fits of rage because she's aggravated and worried for her only child who carelessly and mindlessly hurting himself/herself. Such imagery is often used to described some of the most horrific Tantric deities.

Some complex Tantric deities may even possess one or many faces expressing wrath, representing one of the moods of the deity. This also indicates that the delusion or emotion from which the accomplished Tantrika may express to effect a certain transformation in the practitioner. In fact, wrath is one of the main means from which a High Lama may purify the intentions, karma and to set things right for the faithful practitioner. However, such powerful action can only come into effect when the Lama has Bodhichitta so the results will always be beneficial.

Knowing the many enlightened activities of the Dalai Lama's previous lives, it is perhaps a safe conclusion that the Dorje Shugden ban is his wrathful action to prepare all Dorje Shugden Lamas and practitioners for the massive work they would be doing in the future. On the other hand, the Dalai Lama is doing this to ensure China's continuous support and propitiation of this powerful and effective protector deity.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: fruven on October 28, 2013, 05:27:47 PM
New information has revealed Tshangs-pa Dkar-po to be Setrap mentioned in the following post (
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: cookie on October 31, 2013, 11:42:05 AM
Dharma practitioners have to count their blessings for having the Wrathful Buddhas to assist in our path to Enlightment; especially in this degenerate times. Our obstacles and maras are countless in obstructiong us to practice the pure teachings. Wrath is so necessary to cut straight into these problems. Wrath is often used by highly attained Gurus to assist their students to overcome their mind delusions and karma. We are indeed very blessed to have such Gurus and Buddhas filled with wisdom and compassion to help clear the obstacles and guide us to enlightment.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: Midakpa on October 31, 2013, 02:41:06 PM
Wrathful deities or Dharmapalas in Tibetan Buddhism belong to the supramundane group of protective deities who are generally emanations of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. They appear in a wrathful form to subdue demons and evil spirits and their main task is to protect the Dharma and help Dharma practitioners in their practice by removing their obstacles. Worshippers who propitiate an enlightened Dharma protector will achieve enlightenment because of the deities' fully enlightened nature.

Some of these Dharmapalas take on a very wrathful aspect and there is a reason to do so. The legend of  Yamantaka is a good example of how such a fierce figure came about.

There was once a yogi who was meditating in a cave. During meditation he often sent his consciousness to other planes. One night, a group of poachers entered the cave driving a water buffalo they had stolen. They built a fire, slaughtered the buffalo and started to eat it. Suddenly, they caught sight of the yogi's body. Afraid of having a witness to their crime, they cut off his head and left the cave.

Soon after, the yogi's consciousness returned and reentered the body, only to discover there was no head! He searched frantically and could only find the buffalo's head. He put it on, and wild with anger, set out to take revenge on the poachers. With his psychic powers he killed them but continued to vent his anger on anyone who came his way. He soon became a menace and everyone was afraid of this hideous monster.

A group of holy men made offerings to Manjushri and beseeched him to protect the people from the yogi. Out of great compassion, Manjushri manifested as Vajrabhairava, the "Diamond Terrifier", also known as Yamantaka "Subduer of Yama". The central face of this emanation took on the aspect of an enraged buffalo to match the fury of the yogi but it was crowned with the head of Manjushri himself as a sign of Yamantaka's fully enlightened nature. In this form, Manjushri subdued the yogi and converted him into a protector of dharma practitioners and was given the name Dharmaraja or King of the Dharma.

Thus, it is important to understand that the wrathful appearance of Dharma protectors does not mean they are demonic in nature. On the contrary, it shows how Buddhas use their skillful means to transform destructive forces into aids along the spiritual path. In other words, enlightened wrath is used to overcome and transmute the delusion of anger itself.
(Jonathan Landaw and Andy Weber, "Images of Enlightenment", pp. 124-125)
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: Kim Hyun Jae on November 02, 2013, 10:36:22 AM
I see 2 sides of a coin, taking the example of a parent. If our child is naughty, we would display wrathful looks on our faces to teach them a lesson or to make a point to reason out with the child. If the child behaves, the parent would display loving kindness to him/her.

I see the logic even behind both enlightened and unenlightened beings. Their nature is the same. Only their motivation is the difference between these 2.

Enlightened beings show wrathfulness with care, love and compassion not expecting anything in return.
Unenlightened beings expects some favour in return for helping us.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: RedLantern on November 03, 2013, 01:44:36 PM
To a novice practitioner of the Buddhist faith,the first glimpse of wrathful deities can cause uncertain judgement amongst the practitioner.The manifestation of wrathful deities are to serve and protect the Buddhist faith.
These wrathful deities were really enlightened being who have taken o various wrathful form in order to serve as a negative example in directing the transmutation of your afflictions.They are symbols of great and limitless power,freedom from all shackles through strength and personal power.
They are not actually wrathful,they just use their wrathful form to show you the wrongness of those ways and direct  and direct you towards positive transmutation.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: Tenzin K on November 03, 2013, 02:31:47 PM
In Buddhism, wrathful deities are enlightened beings who take on wrathful forms in order to lead sentient beings to enlightenment. They are a notable feature of the iconography of Mahayana Buddhism and of Tibetan Buddhism, and other Vajrayana traditions in particular. A wrathful deity is often an alternative manifestation of a bodhisattva or other normally peaceful figure, making the representations of all human vices and atrocities. True to their name, in Tibetan art, wrathful deities are presented as fearsome, demonic beings adorned with human skulls and other bone ornaments.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: Rihanna on November 05, 2013, 08:05:59 AM
The wrathful deities actually are enlightened beings who take on wrathful forms to lead sentient being to enlightenment. The wrathful deities are often the alternative manifestation of a Bodhisattva or the normally peaceful figure, making the representations of all human vices and atrocities.

The evil look creates confusion why are evil figures worshiped as god in Buddhism. But actually they are the enlightened Bodhisattvas who take wrathful forms and are the guardian deities who use their power to protect Buddhism, Buddhist faith, and the Dharma and destroy the obstacles that come in the way of enlightenment and those obstacles are: ignorance, delusion, anger, pride, greed, sloth, doubt, karma and distraction. Their terrifying appearance is meant to frighten forces of evil. It is believed that in Buddhism, the enlightened beings take wrathful form only in order to lead sentient beings to enlightenment.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: maricisun on December 08, 2013, 10:43:24 AM
To my understanding and beliefs Wrathful Deities are actually Enlightened Beings who emanates in a wrathful form to suit individual needs. They are like a parent looking after their children and protecting them in a different manner. It a child did something that will cause harm to himself the parents will be wrathful to him to  teach him a lesson. But if the child is good the parents will be loving to him.  That is why we need Wrathful Deities to guide and look after us like our parents.   
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: Dondrup Shugden on January 26, 2015, 09:08:17 AM
In Tibetan Buddhism, many of the deities are wrathful especially the Protectors who help us to overcome our obstacles to continue our spiritual journey.

If we can visualise our Protector and know what each element of his form means, we gain great faith and love for our Protector. Such faith will generate purity for our Protector to be always with us to help on our path to spirituality.

This article give us clear explanations.  Please read.
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: kris on December 12, 2015, 11:27:48 AM
This is a very interesting question for me when I first encountered Vajrayana Buddhism, where wrathful protector practice is something very common. After reading up, I got my answers, which have already been covered by the replies above, so I am not going to repeat them.

When I come to think about it, it totally make sense because at times we really need some "fierce" energy to protect us, and to kick our butt for us to move forward, but we need to rely on fully enlightened deities because only fully enlightened ones can see past all our delusions.

By the way, what are your favourite wrathful deity? For me, it is Black Manjushri.. :)
Title: Re: Why are there Wrathful Deities?
Post by: gbds3jewels on December 13, 2015, 02:54:50 AM
Very often people abuse in the name of love. We use love and care as an excuse to act out on anger and hatred and whatever ugliness that is in us.

So was God being compassionate and loving in all those Bible tales eg when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Is that out of loving compassion to discipline His "children" who have sinned and strayed from the path?

Men has gone to war and kill in the name of God, citing the killings and wrathful methods as a must for the greater good. But it is just greed and lust for power.

Perhaps Buddha emanated wrath is okay because Buddha is not subject to wrath or any other emotions. But as human this is tricky. It's a fine balance when one resort to wrathful methods believing that the motivation is compassion.