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Protective deities

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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To protect the Buddhist religion and its-institutions against adversaries, as well as to preserve the integrity of jts teachings is a task assigned,. in accordance with precepts common to the various sects of Tibetan Buddhism, to an important group of deities, best known under the name chos skyong (Skt.Dharmapala, dvarapala)), Protectors of the religious .

 Other appellations frequently given to the gods and goddesses of this particular group, are bstan srung ma, "guardians of the Buddhist doctrine", or simply srung ma, "guardians" - though under the latter term, in more colloquial usage, sometimes also harmful, non-Buddhist spirits are understood -.and dam can, "those bound by an oath", a title given primarily to originally non-Buddhist deities who were later subdued and compelled to assume the position of Protectors of the Buddhist religion.

 In accordance with the duties they have to fulfill, the Dharmapalas are usually depicted in a fierce aspect, brandishing weapons and crushing the human or supernatural enemies of Buddhism under their feet. The group of Protectors and guardian deities, which comprises some of the best-known gods and goddesses of the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, is considered to be divided into two main branches: firstly the powerful, high-ranking deities, known as the "iig rten las ,das pa'l srung ma, i.e. the gods and goddesses who have passed beyond the six spheres of existence; to this group belong "all the protective deities of the eighth, ninth and tenth rank, as my Tibetan informants exptained it.

 Secondly those deities who are still residing within the spheres inhabited by animated beings and taking an active part in the religious life of Tibet, most of them assuming from time to time possession of mediums who act then as their mouthpieces. These gods and goddesses, known as the PROTECTIVE DElTIES "jig rten pa'i snmg ma or "jig rten ma 'das pa'i srung ma, are also frequently called dregs pa, "the haughty ones", an expression derived from the fact that most of the deities of this class are depicted with a haughty-fierce facial expression. The by far greater part of deities belonging to the two above mentioned branches, is recognized and worshiped by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, only a smaller number of gods and goddesses being claimed to be special Protectors of the precepts of one or the other sect.

 Thus Pe luu, a well known ancient god of the branch styled "jig rten pa'i srung ma, occupies a prominent position in the religious systems of all Buddhist schools of Tibet, while on the other hand rDo rje shugs /dan, another important god of the same branch, is apparently recognized only by the dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa sects, especially the fonner claiming that he is a powerful guardian and protector of their doctrine against any detrimental influence coming from the side of the old rNying mapa school: The "jig rten las ,das pa'i srung ma and the jig rten pa'i srung ma are sometimes collectively addressed as the phyi nang gsang ba'i chos skyong;

 in this case, the "jig rten pa'i snmg ma are identical to the phyi ba'i chos skyong while the higher-ranking Dharmapalas who stand already outside the wordly sphere, correspond to the nang and the gsang btii chos skyong. Another classification unites both the jig rten las 'das pa'i srung ma and the jig rten pti I srung ma under the term dkar phyogs skyong. hai srung ma, "guardians, protecting the white quarter", standing in opposition to the nag phyogs gi bdud, "the bdud-devils of the black quarter".


The latter term refers to the protective deities of the pre-Buddhist Bon. faith - known as the bon skyong or bon srung]], who are classified into eight groups, known collectively as the bon skyong srung ma sde brgyad -, further many of the ancient local deities classified under the vague term yullha, "country gods", and al~o those spirits of the dead who are said to have failed to find another Rebirth and have turned into malevolent roaming demons.Rigs dzin brgyud kyi srung ma is a more general term, denoting all the guardian deities of the Buddhist creed, while the expression slob dpon brgyud kyi srung ma is an appellation referring particularly to the protective divinities of the religious preceptors ..

A more rarely encountered expression specifies the guardian deities as the dben gnas gnyan gyi srung ma. Also the following three term;. Apparently refering to various orders of legendary descent, are rarely used: phyi rabs brgyud kyi srung ma, dmu rabs brgyud kyi sfung ma and gtsug rabs brgyud kyi srung RUJ. Several other terms, which can be applied to both the protective deities PLATE I Rin po che· Dar mdo sprul sku of the dGe lugs pa sect.