Hayagriva, the Wrathful Heruka, is the “Incredible Hulk” emanation of Amitabha. As the Heruka of Amitabha’s Lotus Family, he is Chief among the Wrathful emanations, representing Dharma and Speech in its ferocious form — signified by the screaming (neighing) horse head bursting out of his fiery red hair.
The brave practitioner who meditates on this this monstrously beautiful emanation can overcome obstacles quickly, and understand His cry of Wisdom (Dharma.) Hayagriva is also famous for very effective healing practices. [For a praise to Hayagriva see below. Hayagriva practice, though, normally requires teacher guidance and empowerment. Honoring and praising Hayagriva is fine for all people.]
Speech the Most Important Jewel
Of the three Jewels, it is often said by teachers that the most important is the Speech Jewel, the Dharma. The Buddha Jewel is our example, and the Sangha Jewel is our support, but it is the Dharma that points us to the path of Liberation and Enlightenment. Even if Buddha is gone beyond, and Sangha is not available to help us, the Dharma can always guide us.
This makes the Enlightened Deities of Speech the most important for day-to-day practice. For this reason, Amtibabha is the most most beloved Buddha after Shakyamuni Himself. Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) — an emanation of Amitabha — is the best-known of the Compassionate family of the Lotus. The compassionate Ones, the Lotus Family, represents Speech in Kriya, Yoga and Anuttarayoga Tantras.
Where “ordinary” pacifying speech and compassion are insufficient to the goal — the goal of Enlightenment, or removing the obstacles to Liberation — then normally a Vajrayana Buddhist turns to the Heruka or Wrathful emanations. A devotee of Amitabha, or Dharma, would seek out mighty Hayagriva.
Hayagriva — the Heruka of Speech
Symbolism is crucial in Vajrayana visualized meditations. Even so, many wonder why Hayagriva appears to have a green horse head bursting out of his wrathful fiery hair — the horse screaming with mouth wide open. A horses roar, the challenge of the stallion protecting his herd, is a terrible sound, piercing in intensity, carrying for miles in all directions.
The green represents “wind” and “action” — as with Green Tara. The ferocious horse scream is the penultimate symbolic roar of Dharma, carried on the winds to benefit all beings. Hayagriva is the ultimate “activity of the power of speech and Dharma.” Hayagriva is the Heruka emanation of Amitabha (and Chenrezig) and, as such, represents the most powerful aspect of speech or Dharma.
Why is Speech so Important?
Hayagriva’s Sanskrit “seed” syllable is Hrih, the same as Amitabha. At a sophisticated level of understanding, this single syllable Hrih is Hayagriva Himself. The seed syllable itself is also symbolic of the awesome power of sound, words, mantras, syllables, speech.
A single seed syllable, or a meaningful mantra, or a sutra or tantra text is often said to have the greatest impact in Buddhist practice. In this way, the three major emanations of Dharma Speech — Amitabha, Chenrezig and Hayagriva — are critical to Vajrayana practice. And, for those facing “obstacles” of any kind — afflictive emotions such as anger, illness such as cancer, poverty, or any issue that interferes with dedication to practice — Hayagriva is certainly the “go-to” Heruka.
All the key important aspects of Amitabha are “intensified” to its most wrathful level — Amitabha transformed into the Hulk-lilke version of Himself. All the symbols of Amitabha are still there: compassion, fire element, red, West, Lotus family (two-armed Hayagriva holds a red lotus), the aggregate of distinguishing (recognition), deep awareness of individualities, the Pure Land of Sukhavati (Western Paradise). And, importantly, as “Speech”, Hayagriva upholds the teachings of the sutra vehicles and the classes of tantra — perhaps in a more ferocious manner.
What is a Heruka?
Herukas — variously described as “Vira Heros”, “Wrathful Ones”, or even “Blood Drinkers” (due to complex symbolism associated with Charnel Grounds) — are the highest and fiercest emanations of Enlightened Deities. A Heruka should not be confused with “Heruka” as one of the names of Chakrasamvara (especially in Geulg School, He is often just called Heruka). A Heruka is normally a wrathful emanation of an important Buddha.
As wrathful emanations, they tend to take on the “activity” of the emanating Buddha. For example, Yamantaka, is the Heruka of Manjushri, who represents both “wisdom” and “body.” Hayagriva is the Heruka of Amitabha, who represents both “compassion” and “speech.” In other words, “Hulked-up Amitabha.” Vajrakilaya is Heruka emanation of Vajrasattva, and so on.
Hayagriva’s Terrifyingly Beautiful Appearance
As a Highest Yoga Tantra deity, Hayagriva appears often in YabYum, or in union with a consort representing wisdom. As an all-important Heruka of Dharma Speech, his consort is equally important, the Queen of the Dakinis Herself, Vajrayogini (usually appearing as Vajravarahi with the sow’s head). Vajrayogini appears blue in this union.
Hayagriva, as Amitabha, is a beautiful ruby red, representing not only fire, but the Padma family. Although he is “hulked up” and massive, with bristling muscles and gigantic form, and regardless of fangs and fiery hair, he is very beautiful in the ferociously masculine sense. Vajrayogini (varahi) is, as always, sensuous and stunningly beautiful, but with a slightly wrathful face. If he is the metaphorical Incredible Hulk, then she might be the irresistible vampire queen (in appearance).
There are different forms, notably, two-armed and six armed, and one-horse head versus three-horse heads. Both Nyingma and Gelugpa have three-horse head versions (in thee Gelugpa lineage, the six-armed Hayagriva has three horse heads). The two-armed emanation typically displays one face, and therefore also one horse head. The two-armed Hayagriva is usually in union with Vajrayogini (Varahi).
The symbolism of the two animals in important. Haygriva has a green horse, signifying fierce action speech. Vajravarahi (Vajrayogini) has a sows head, signifying wisdom (the sow’s head symbolically represents “triumph over ignorance.”) In other words, the ferocious compassion of Hayagriva (Horse: ferocious Dharma speech to liberate us) in union with the wisdom of Vajravarahi (Sow: triumph over ignorance.)
In the two-armed Gelugpa meditational deities, Hayagriva YabYum Vajrayogini (Vajra Varahi), ruby red Hayagriva holds a fiery red Lotus in his right hand, and nectar in a skullcup in his left. The fiery lotus is a most important symbol of the Padma (Lotus) Buddha Family of Amitabha. Lapis lazuli blue Vajrayogini carries her normal implements, flaying knife and skullcup. The symbolism of these wrathful implements has been covered previously. (For a story on wrathful deities, see this popular Buddha Weely Story>>)
Hayagriva ceremony for the long-life of the Dalai Lama at Sera Jey Monastic University:
Why the Horse?
The scream of the horse is piercing, ferocious, terrifying. A stallion’s roar can terrify a pack of wolves. Horses are also symbolic of WIND — in this context Lung (Tibetan), Prana (Sanskrit) and Chi (Chinese).
It is also said that Shakyamuni was born in the Asian year of the Horse.
Horses also represent swift fulfilment of wishes, both because of their association with Windhorse (usually visualized with the wish-fulfilling jewel on his back) and because in ancient times the horse was the symbol of wealth. A household would guard their horses above all other assets. Horses meant survival, prosperity, safety, happiness. The loss of a horse was treated as seriously as the loss of any other family member. The horse, in Tibet and Nepal, are the most sacred of sentient beings.
A Praise of Hayagriva
This is adapted from an old translated praise, but does not include any secret practices that require empowerment.
NOTE: Namo, namas translation — نمس नमस् namas, s.m. (often used as an interjection; and changeable in comp. to नमः nama, and नमो namo), Bowing, bending, making a bow;—a bow, salutation, reverential salutation, paying honour (by gesture or words); adoration, obeisance (performed by joining the palms and inclining the head;—often used in connection with the name of a deity.
Namo Haygriva, Wrathful Activity of the Padma Family!
Namo Hayagriva, Voice of Hrih, most Powerful of Sounds!
Namo Hayagriva, Most Wrathful and Beautiful Deity, Who Cuts All Root Poisons of Ignorance, Desire and Hatred!
Namo Lord Hayagriva, precious horse deity!
Namo Horse-Headed Hayagriva and Consort Vajra Varahi!
Namo Hayagriva! You are the wisdom body, speech and mind of all the buddhas of the ten directions,
The kingly Hayagriva, the Lord of Secrets,
Foremost among the wrathful.
The very thought of you crushes obstructing forces
To you I offer homage and praise!
Namo Hayagriva—fiercest manifestation of Avaolokiteshvara!
Namo Hayagriva—whose Voice is the cry of wisdom, the very syllable HRIH!
Namo Hayagriva—the very embodiment of the speech of all Buddhas!
Namo Hayagriva—who protects the wealth of the household and all horses!
Namo Hayagriva—who Embodies wealth, power and spiritual attainment!
Namo Hayagriva—Whose HRIH neigh frightens away all demons!
Namo Hayagriva—By Whose power Guru Rinpoche subdued powerful spirits and worldly deities!
Namo Hayagriva—whose horse voice cuts through all illusion!
Namo Hayagriva—who cures all illnesses!
Namo Hayagriva—lord of the horses sacred to Shakyamuni Buddha, Conqueror born in the year of the horse!
Namo Hayagriva—who subdues all nagas, snakes and sea spirits!
Namo Hayagriva—protector of the Dharma and of all wisdom!
Namo Hayagriva! Fiercest Avaolokiteshvara, cry out for us now, we implore you! Let your HRIH terrify and chase away all demons and evil! Let your HRIH protect our wealth and bring us prosperity, Lord Hayagriva! We pray to you to cure our illnesses by the very sound of your mighty HRIH! We ask you to cut through illusion and help us—and all beings—towards enlightenment.
The Eight Herukas
In the Nyingma Mahayoga tradition, there are the eight Enlightened Herukas, who are wrathful emanations of the major Enlightened deities.
First, the three of Body, Speech and Mind:
- Hayagriva (Pema Sung, Padma Gsung) or the Wrathful Amitabha, Buddha of Compassion and Speech
- Yamantaka (Jampal Shinje) the wrathful Majushri, Buddha of Wisdom and Body
- Vishuddha Sri Samyak (Yangdak Thuk) wrathful Vajrapani, Buddha of Power and Mind
Then, the remaining five are:
- Vajrakilaya Vajrakumara (Dorje Phurba) wrathful Vajrasattva, Buddha of Purification
- Vajramrita (Dutsi Yonten) wrathful Samantabadhra, Buddha of Enlightened qualities
- Matarah (Mamo Botong) wrathful Akasagarbha, deity of calling and dispatching
- Kokastotrapuja-natha (Jigten Chotod), wrathful Ksitigarbha, deity of wordly offering and praise
- Vajramantrabhiru (Mopa Dragnak) wrathful Maitreya, deity of wrathful mantras.