five buddha family

The Principle of Five Buddha Family

The core of Vajrayana Buddhism is complex. There lies the principle of the Five Enlightened Buddha Families. It is more commonly but erroneously known as the Five Dhyani Buddhas. The conceptual assembly of the Five Buddha Families was first revealed in Manjushrimulakalpa and the Guhyasamaja Tantra. It probably dated from around the sixth or seventh century AD. The five Buddhas are namely:
1. Vairochana
2. Amoghasiddhi
3. Ratnasambhava
4. Akshobhya
5. Amitabha 

The Geometric Mandala of Five Buddha

The Five Buddha Families form the basis of the geometric mandala. They take the central point and the four cardinal directions. They become the embodied emanations of their perfected qualities. The mandala's axis of orientation followed the sun's path. The east is at the bottom (facing the viewer), and west at the top.

What do the Five Buddhas Symbolize?

The Five Buddhas represent the purified manifestations. They are the five aggregates, elements, wisdom, senses, and sensory perceptions. The five aggregates or 'heaps' (skandha) comprise the components of all sentient beings.
Namely: form (body), feeling (sensation), perception (discrimination), motivation (conditioning), and consciousness. Each of the Five Buddhas was assigned a direction, a consort, a progeny of bodhisattvas and deities, a color, an animal throne, a specific mudra, and a symbolic emblem or attribute.
To this list were added a vast array of pentad qualities. The five tastes, sounds, precious substances, times of the day, internal and external elements, and the five seasons (spring, summer, rainy season, autumn, and winter). Essentially, the Five Buddhas represent the transmutation of the five poisons or delusions into the five transcendent wisdoms. Ignorance, desire, anger, jealousy, and pride, into the all-encompassing, discriminating, mirror-like, all-accomplishing, and equanimous.

Iconographic Placement of the Five Buddhas:

The Five Buddhas are represented on different animal thrones.
In different Tantric traditions, the placement of the Five Buddhas is not constant. Their respective directions and their specific animal thrones are open to some variation.
The position of Vairochana and Akshobhya is interchangeable. It is between the center and the eastern direction.
The dragon throne of Vairochana is interchangeable with a lion throne.
And the lion throne of Ratnasambhava is interchangeable with a horse throne.

The attributes and qualities of the Five Buddha Families may seem definitive. 

Akshobhya and Vairochana frequently interchange their central and eastern positions. Most of the yoga tantras have the peaceful white form of Vairochana at their center. Whilst many of the anuttarayoga tantras have blue Akshobhya at their center.

Similarly one can deduce that blue Akshobhya associate with the delusion of anger. And white Vairochana with the delusion of ignorance. Each of the colored directional faces of deities is associated with one of the delusions. And also, with the elements and directions.

The white face of a deity symbolizes the transmutation of ignorance.

The blue or black face shows that of anger.

The red face represents passion, attachment, or desire.

The yellow face, that of pride, and the green face, that of envy or jealousy.

We have similar figures of speech in our proverbial comparisons. Like, turning 'black with anger', blushing 'red with embarrassment or lust, becoming green with envy,' 'yellow with swollen pride: a blank with ignorance.

However, the earliest tantra such as Guhyasamaja and Hevajra Tantras reveal a very precise geographical configuration. It is in the directional placement and animal thrones of the Five Buddhas.
5 buddha thangka

Image Source by Enlightenment thangka

Arrangements according to the Kalachakra Tantra 

The later Kalachakra Tantra (circa tenth century AD) is different. The colors, directions, and qualities of the Five Buddha Families assume different arrangements. This Tantra has assigned all these various attributes to each of the Five Buddhas.

1. Akshobhya: Lord of the Vajra Family

At the center is blue Akshobhya, Lord of the Vajra Family.
It represents the element of space and the aggregate of consciousness. There is also the delusion of anger, and the all-encompassing wisdom of space. His emblem is the Vajra, and he is supported on an elephant throne.
In ancient India, it was the exclusive privilege of a king to be carried on an elephant. Thus, the throne of an Indian king is specifically the elephant. The elephant is the insignia of India symbolizes royalty and supremacy. The elephant represents the heartlands of Buddhist India. They were Vajrasana or Bodh Gaya to be more precise, as this was the cradle of Buddhism.

2. Ratnasambhava: Lord of the Ratna Family

To the south is yellow Ratnasambhava, Lord of the Ratna (jewel) Family.
It represents the element of earth and the aggregate of feeling. It also includes the delusion of pride, and the wisdom of equanimity of earth. His emblem is the jewel, and he is supported on a lion throne. The lion represents Sri Lanka or Ceylon, which lay to the south of India. Its ancient name was Singhala, literally meaning 'the country of the lions.' And its lion throne was the throne of its kings.

3. Amitabha: Lord of the Padma Family

To the west is red Amitabha, Lord of the Padma (lotus) Family. It represents the element of fire and the aggregate of perception. It also shows the delusion of attachment and the discriminating wisdom of fire. His emblem is the lotus, and a peacock throne supports him. The peacock representatives Persia or Iran with its fabled and legendary 'peacock throne.' It survived until the recent deposition of the Shah of Iran.
 amitabha buddha

4. Amoghasiddhi: Lord of the Karma Family 

To the north is green Amoghasiddhi, Lord of the Karma (activity) Family. It represents the element of air and the aggregate of compositional factors. As well as the delusion of jealousy, and the all-accomplishing wisdom of air. His emblem is the crossed Vajra, and the Garuda throne supports him. The Himalayan ranges to the north associate with the garuda. And to be specific, with the ancient Bon legends of the 'horned eagle' of Tibet.

5. Vairochana: Lord of the Tathagata Family

To the east is white Vairochana, Lord of the Tathagata (Buddha) Family. It represents the element water and the aggregate of form. As well as the delusion of ignorance, and the mirror-like wisdom of water. His emblem is the wheel, and a dragon throne supports him. To the east of India lay the vast land of China. It has the ancient dragon throne of the imperial emperors. 

Five Buddha and the Female Consort:

Each of the Five Buddhas is the Lord of a Family '(kula). It consists of a female consort and Bodhisattva as 'spiritual sons or sambhogakaya offspring.

1. Blue Akshobhya, as Lord of the Vajra Family, has as his female consort the goddess Mamaki. She can extinguish hatred, and as his Bodhisattva, the wrathful blue Vajrapani.

From Akshobhya descends a large pantheon of blue wrathful deities.They are described as bearing the seal or image of Akshobhya on the crown of their heads. Heruka, Hevajra, Yamari, Vajrakila, Buddhakapala and Mahiamaya are all emanations of Akshobhya. aksobhya buddha

2. White Vairochana, as Lord of the Tathagata (Buddha) Family, has Locharia. She can extinguish ignorance. She is his consort and Akashagarbha or Samantabhadra as his Bodhisattva.

From Vairochana descend many major goddesses, such as Ushnishavijaya, Marichi, Sitatapatra, and Vajravarahi.

3. Yellow Ratnasambhava is Lord of the Ratna (jewel) Family. He has as his consort Vajradhatvishvari. She can extinguish pride. And Ratnapani or Kshitigarbha as his Bodhisattva.

From Ratnasambhava descend the wealth god Jambhala. And also goddesses such as Vasudhara, and certain forms of Tara.

4. Red Amitabha is Lord of the Padma (lotus) Family. He has as his consort Pandara, 'she who can extinguish desire.' And Padmapani or Avalokiteshvara as his Bodhisattva.

From Amitabha descend the many forms of Avalokiteshvara. And deities such as Hayagriva, Kurukulla, Mahabala, and Bhrikuti.

5. Green Amoghasiddhi is Lord of the Karma (activity) Family. He has Green Tara as his consort and Vishvapani as his Bodhisattva. From Amoghasiddhi descend goddesses Khadiravani Tara, Arya Tara, Sita Tara, Mahamayuri, and Parnashavari.

Pattern of the Buddha Families

A coherent principle of emanations; the linear descent of deities is definitive and categorized. However, a far more intricate pattern of the Buddha Families emerges when we look into their historical origins. Originally there were only Three Buddha Family.

  • of Ignorance (Tathagata),
  • of Desire (Padma),
  • and Anger (Vajra)
The Three Buddha Family

These correspond to the three primal poisons of ignorance, desire, and aversion. They are symbolized by the pig, cockerel, and snake depicted at the central hub of the early wheel of life painting.

This trinity was symbolically related to the trinities of the 'three gates' (body, speech, and mind). And the three directions (zenith, center, and nadir). As well as the three psychic centers (crown, throat, and heart). And to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. They represent creation, preservation, and destruction. A significant vestige of the three original Buddha Families survives in the importance placed on the Three great Bodhisattva : Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani. They are collectively known as the 'Lords of the Three Families, although they are Bodhisattva and not Buddha.

  • Red- yellow Manjushri's sword of wisdom cuts through the veil of ignorance. He is the Lord of the Tathagata (Buddha) Family of ignorance or delusion.
  • White Avalokiteshvara's lotus represents the transmutation of passion into compassion. He is the Lord of the Padma (lotus) Family of desire or attachment.
  • Black-blue Vajrapani's wrathful demeanor represents the transmutation of hatred into power or energy. He is the Lord of the Vajra Family of aversion and anger Buddhism.
three bodhisattva

Systems of Categorization:

There are systems for categorizing phenomena, qualities, and attributes. Early Mahayana Buddhism developed a threefold division. It consisted of the two Hinayana or lesser vehicle paths of the shraakus (devoted listeners) and pratyeka buddhas (solitary realizers). And the third greater path vehicle 'of the Bodhisattva or enlightened spiritual heroes '- the Mahayana. These correspond to the 'three scopes.' The aspirations of individuals on a path of the lesser, middle, and great scope of spiritual aspiration.

A similar categorization is applied to the Lords of the Three Families (kulas). It defines the Vajra family as a smaller scope. The Lotus family is the middle scope. And the Tathagata family as the highest scope.

This spiritual hierarchy is illustrated by depicting Manjushri above Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani. The three bodhisattvas form a trinity of the Buddha's qualities of wisdom, compassion, and power. Early Vajrayana Buddhism expanded this original group of three into four, five, and finally six. Placing Vajradhara or Vajrasattva above the central position as the sixth 'over-lord' of all Five Buddha Families. The addition of the other two poisons of pride and jealousy created a five fold system. It lies in the center with four cardinal directions.

The principle of the Five Buddha Families finds its clearest expression in the layout of the geometrical mandala. In Nepal, they also assumed vivid expression in their sculptural representation at the four cardinal directions of the stupa. The fifth Buddha (Vairochana or Akshobhya) of the stupa's center is usually in the northeast inter cardinal direction.

The development of the Three Buddha Families into the Five Buddha Families may still retain some semblance of cohesion. However, the complexity is again compounded when we discover that there was not only one original group of Five Buddhas, but several.

1 comment

Jorge Bunchicoff

Jorge Bunchicoff

Good evening! I would like to know where I can see the prices and how are the shipments to USA.

All the best

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