Regarded as important as the enlightenment aspect of Tibetan religious life, and the Dharmapalas
play a significant role in aiding devotees with earthly matters. The local divinities that were the most powerful beings in the pre- Buddhist period in Tibet play a fundamental role in the daily lives of the people, particularly with regard to their mundane concerns.
These local gods and goddesses are known to have the ability to protect and to harm if angered. For example, they not only have the capacity to bring prosperity and wealth, but if not placated appropriately, they can inflict harm in the form of disease or other calamities. To insure safe everyday existence, it is important and necessary to keep a good relationship with the local deities, who protect the individual, family, village, and even the state against the malevolent spirits.
The Mundane Practice
Members of the laity maintain a workable relationship with these deities through regular offerings as well as regular rituals performed by Lamas. Such a relationship insures good fortune and auspiciousness and avoids the potential for serious mishaps. It is noteworthy that the two aspects of Tantric practices cannot be under- stood separately. Through the practice on the mundane level, by attaining wealth and long life, and by destroying enemies and evil forces, one may gain the resources to practice the Dharma in order to reach the final goal. In other words, the mundane practice is the basis for the super- mundane attainment.
Dharmapalas in Art In Tantric Buddhist art, the benefactors and Dharmapalas are usually fierce and angry, their wrath generated toward the negativities to be overcome. They resemble some Buddhist sculptures
. While their ferocious appearances may raise a feeling of horror, their forceful anger should not be read as personifications of evil or demonic forces. Their awesome, frightening, and powerful appearances are meant to destroy the hindrances of the faithful. In the practitioners' eyes, they are truly friends, helpers, and benefactors.
How the Dharmapalas Appear
Characteristic of this typology, they wear the distinctive ornaments and garments of wrathful deities, such as the five-skull crown, a garland of severed heads, and animal- or human-skins. The five-skull crowns and the bone ornaments indicate the deities' esoteric attainment.
The figures frequently also have multiple heads and hands, brandish weapons, and trample on the enemies of Buddhism. Some protective deities, like Begtse and various mountain gods, are also shown as warriors and wear armor and military costumes. Mountain deities are frequently depicted riding lions or horses and holding banners of victory.
In a sadhana to Mahakala, "Great Black One," the deity is not only referred to as the protector of the Three Treasures of Buddhism, but also as the father and mother of Buddhist practitioners. Tibetan texts further discuss an event that highlights the Dharmapala's wrathful nature as actually being compassionate and beneficial. Hayagriva, another important Dharmapala is also a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara's fierce com- passion. A terma text of the horse-protection ritual in Mustang, Nepal, notes;
"Through the power of compassion, this deity liberates sentient beings and removes all enemies and obstacles of the [eightfold] path."
In this way, Dharmapalas truly serve as manifestations of compassion, and both their wrathful attitudes and the symbolic weapons they hold are directed against the obstacles of Buddhism, allowing spiritual advancement. The strength and energy issuing forth from wrathful deities embody the power that is necessary for cutting through all hindrances and obstacles in order to reach the ultimate religious goal.