In Vajrayana Buddhism, a dharmapāla (Tibetan chos-kyong) is a type of wrathful deity. The name means "Dharma-defender" in Sanskrit, and the dharmapālas are also known as the Defenders of the Law (Dharma), or the Protectors of the Law, in English.

In Vajrayana iconography and thangka depictions, dharmapālas are fearsome beings, often with many heads, many hands, or many feet. Dharmapālas often have blue, black or red skin, and a fierce expression with protruding fangs. Though dharmapālas have a terrifying appearance and countenance, they are all bodhisattvas or buddhas, meaning that they are embodiments of compassion that act in a wrathful way for the benefit of sentient beings.

In Tibet, the eight principal Dharmapalas are:

The practice of relying upon dharmapālas began in ancient India as part of the Buddhist tantra tradition, and spread to Tibet and Japan.

In Tibet, most monasteries have a dedicated dharmapāla which was originally comparable to a genius loci. The many forms of Mahakala, for example, are emanations of Avalokiteshvara (sometimes related to the Hindu god Shiva). Kalarupa and Yamantaka are considered emanations of the Buddha of Wisdom (Manjushri); and Shri Devi (Tib. Palden Lhamo).

The main functions of a dharmapāla are to avert the inner and outer obstacles that prevent practitioners from attaining spiritual realizations, as well as to foster the necessary conditions for their practice. Dharmapāla can be Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or Dharmarajas (Damchen in Tibetan). Only the dharmapālas that have realized shunyata are seen as an object of Buddhist refuge.

The Damchen were originally Tibetan mountain-spirits who were bound under oath to protect the Dharma by Padmasambhava and other Buddhist saints during the period of transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet.

In Japan, the dharmapāla Yamantaka (Daiitoku) is classified as a Wisdom King. Some other dharmapālas, notably Mahakala (Daikoku), belong to the fourth hierarchy of deities (tenbu).

Related deities

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are two other classes of defender, the lokapālas and s. Papiya, Guan Yu and Hachiman are also known as defenders.


Search another word or see dharmapalaon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature