Mahakala, The Dharma Protector
Although adherents of the Formalistic School of Thought of Buddhism would like to think that the practices have a stoic element to them by their very nature, as was purportedly espoused by Buddha, this couldn't be further from the reality. The six-armed Mahakala, also known as the "swift-acting Lord of Spotless Awareness," is the form of Mahakala that is most esteemed among the other variations.
Mahakala is the primary defender of the Shangpa and Kagyu traditions and is seen as a vindictive emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Buddha never made the implication that stoicism was a prerequisite to adhering to his teachings. Buddha possessed the incredibly human trait of allowing one's feelings and emotions to guide their actions. It achieves the right balance between thoughts and emotions and recognizes that most reactions are situational rather than contradicting logic.
Similar to humans, some deities seem serene, while others have a faint frown on their faces. They are intended to resonate with the practitioner, who is also a human, and mirror the Buddha's own range of feelings. Humans also experience a wide range of thinking and behavioral states. Therefore, in addition to a serene Buddha, a vengeful god is necessary to lead the practitioner and shield them from the results of their misdeeds. The Great Black One, Mahakala, is such a vindictive deity. Mahakala represents both the supernatural protection we require from our own minds and our enlightened fury. He emanates from the powerful Avalokiteshvara.
The Shangpa Kagyu Tradition
The Shangpa Kagyu, which has a different origin from the more well-known Dagpo Kagyu schools, is referred to as the "hidden lineage" of the Kagyu school of Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism. Khyungpo Naljor, who would later become the founder of the lineage, received the teachings from Niguma (Naropa's sister) and Sukhasiddhi, two of Tilopa's students, at the beginning of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition. The name derives from the Shangpa valley, where he built a significant monastery honoring this custom. In contrast to other lineages, the Shangpa Kagyu tradition is more guarded when it comes to its esoteric teachings.
The Dharmapala pantheon of angry gods is revered by adherents of this particular school, as is well known. The Dharmapalas are the guardians of the Dharma, with Mahakala being the most powerful of the group's eight members. The Shangpa Kagyu tradition and its practitioners are still under the special protection of the Six-armed Protector today. The six-Armed Mahakala, also known as the "swift-acting lord of spotless awareness," is the form of Mahakala that is most esteemed among the other variations. He is the primary defender of the Shangpa and Kagyu traditions and is seen as a vindictive emanation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
The Deity Mahakala: The Compassionate Avalokiteshvara
Given his position as the ultimate Dharmapala, Mahakala has a somewhat fearsome visage. His hair is standing straight and on fire, and his eyes are burning with wrath. He adopts a commanding posture, and the god as a whole exudes a strong presence.
He represents Avalokiteshvara, the personification of all-pervasive compassion, despite his fearsome aspect. According to popular belief, Avalokiteshvara determined that a wrathful form would be more appropriate to achieve his ever-so-compassionate purposes when he saw that in this age of darkness, his peaceful ways would not be enough to subjugate the degenerate beings and safeguard them from wandering astray.
He then radiated the HUM sound in a deep blue hue, changing into the divinely vengeful Mahakala. Amitabha and the "Ten Buddhas of the Ten Directions'' applauded Avalokiteshvara's resolve to take on this form for the benefit of others and foretold that he would go on to serve as an unstoppable dharma protector in all realms. Mahakala appears in every world where enlightened individuals do in order to fulfill the prophecy and shows how to accomplish spiritual enlightenment.
The Iconography of the Six-Armed Mahakala
Among his numerous incarnations, Mahakala is best known for his six-armed form. The colors of this form—blue and black—are meant to represent his immutable Dharmakaya nature. The deity is depicted in the iconography with three eyes over his face with one on his forehead, which represents the past, present, and future, showing the comprehension of time. The five skulls that make up the crown on his head stand in for the five deadly delusions of anger, want, ignorance, envy, and pride. In the end, these illusions become the pearls of wisdom of the five Buddha families.
The Alignment and Functions of the Six Arms Attributes
Being a guardian deity, Mahakala uses his six hands to hold various ritual objects in order to perform his protective duties. The left hand is holding a skull cup to demonstrate his conquest of evildoers, while the first right hand is holding a curved knife to break the ego attachment. This pairing of the blade and the cup symbolizes the unbreakable bond between bliss and emptiness and is the tantric union of method and wisdom.
The damaru and rosary of skulls in the other right hands represent his continual work for the good of beings and his authority over all classes of Dakinis, respectively. The damaru is also known to provide the sound that awakens us from our ignorance. Both the trident, which represents his control over the three spheres of reality, and the lasso, which he uses to bind people who breach their oaths, are held in the remaining left hands. The lasso is that which restrains the whims of the perplexed mind, and the trident is that which destroys the three root misconceptions.
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Like specific deities, Mahakala's iconography depicts him with his left leg extended. His achievements for the good of others and himself are represented by the bowed right leg. He also steps on another deity, an elephant-headed one that represents his destruction and dispersal of formidable impediments, in a manner similar to other wrathful deities. Mahakala's dominance over the trampled deity illustrates the enlightened transformation of such a worldly trait. The elephant-headed quality of the trampled deity can signify money and otherworldly ambitions.
Mahakala assumes his position on a sun disc, signifying his illuminating of the ignorance's nighttime. This disc's placement on a lotus flower illustrates his unblemished purity. Through the pores on his body, his potent actions in consuming all neurotic states of thought are visible. He carries an elephant skin while wearing a loincloth made of tigerskin and is adorned with a snake necklace. These three qualities stand for Mahakala's purging of pride, rage, and desire. By way of intricate imagery, it is possible to perceive that Mahakala possesses all the traits of a fully enlightened Buddha in his other decorations.