VIDEO: Palden Lhamo Shri Devi is the Terrifying Protector Aspect of Tara, Supreme Dharma Protector Mother

Palden Lhamo Shri Devi is that wrathful parent we need when we’re in danger.

As a child, who did you go to for protection: the parent who let you do anything and smiled while you did it, or the parent who yanked you back from the brink with a stern voice and scowl. When all is right with the world, we go to the smiling parent. When we are in danger, we need our wrathful parent.

Video: Full Palden Lhamo documentary with tea offering demonstrated

 

VIDEO TIMES FOR CONTENT

00:00 Introduction — the Stern Parent Protector Palden Lhamo
00:55 Palden Lhamo, as Wrathful Tara or Sarasvati
01:33 Venerable Zasep Rinpoche on Palden Lhamo
02:18 What Protectors do in Tibetan Buddhism
04:00 How important is Palden Lhamo Practice?
05:13 Teacher Vesantara: “The One Who Crushes the Hosts of Passions.”
05:28 Palden Lhamo’s Gruesome Origin Story and Legend
08:44 Ferocious Appearance, Iconography, and Symbolism
09:53 Tea Offering Praise Verse Describing Palden Lhamo
11:17 Outer, Inner and Secret Symbolism of Palden Lhamo
13:10 Lion-Faced Dakini and Makara-Faced Dakini Attendants
14:19 Full Tea Offering demonstrated including Refuge, Dedication, and Praises (with lyrics)


 

Buddha Weekly Palden Lhamo is an emanation of Vajra Sarasvati who emantes from Tara Buddhism

Palden Lhamo is an emanation of Vajra Sarasvati, who is an emanation of White Tara in Tibetan Buddhism.

Buddhism’s Ferocious Mother Protector

In Tibetan Buddhism, Palden Lhamo Shri Devi is that ferocious mother protector. Also known as Shridevi, she is the enraged, dark emanation of Vajra Sarasvati — who is an emanation of Tara. She is like the no-nonsense, stern mother, who can pull you back from danger with awesome motherly strength.

 

Buddha Weekly Palden Lhamo is the ferocious motherly protector Buddhism

Palden Lhamo is analogous to the “furious and protective” mother who can lift a car off a trapped child.

 

Palden Lhamo Shri Devi is the unrestrainable, bulked-up mother who can lift a car off of a trapped child — the awesome power of a furious mother. You could think of Tara as the “nice mother” supportive and protective, with embracing arms, and Palden Lhamo as the same mother, but super wrathful, enraged, and awesome in Her power; nothing, absolutely nothing, can stand against Her. You can also think of Palden Lhamo as the fierce aspect of wisdom, as the wrathful emanation of Vajra Sarasvati.

According to Venerable Zasep Rinpoche, from his book Source of All Protectors:

“Palden Lhamo, meaning Glorious Goddess, is a fierce Dharma protector of Tibet. She has many names and takes many forms. Palden Lhamo is an emanation of Tara and Sarasvati. On an ultimate level, Palden Lhamo is a fully enlightened being. On a worldly level, in order to subdue and convert rough and difficult beings, she became a wrathful and fearsome goddess. She has different names and different emanations.”

 

Buddha Weekly Venerable Zasep Rinpoche with cover Source of All Protectors Buddhism

Venerable Zasep Rinpoche with the book cover of Source of All Protectors.

 

It may seem odd to consider both White Tara, and dark Palden Lhamo as Mothers — emanations of the same being. Yet, mothers can be ferocious when they need to be.

Rob Preece, in The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra,(* affiliate link) describes her ferocious mother aspect this way:

“She is a ferocious-looking crone, a wild and terrible demoness, riding a mule across an ocean of blood… Thus, as in all deities, a dual nature is evident; light and dark, upper world and underworld, peaceful and wrathful. The forces of the Shadow are not inherently demonic and terrible. Light and dark, good and evil, creation and destruction are relative dualities that have no ultimate true nature.”

Against who is her ferocious power directed? Not just against the dangers of our world, but against our own ignorance:

Preece explains:

It is this ignorance and stupidity that … wrathful deities are directed against. No nonsense, no bull— that’s Palden Lhamo. In Her primary function as a Dharma protector, she protects us — from ourselves. In Tibetan Buddhism, Dharma Protectors serve an important function in cutting ignorance, anger, obstacles, and even dangerous situations.

 

Buddha Weekly Palden Lhamo Supreme Dharma Protector Buddhism

Palden Lhamo’s appearance is an iconographical treat, combining all the wrathful symbols of Tibetan Buddhism in one Supreme Mother Protector.

 

This is symbolically reinforced by Her Ghoulish appearance, horrifying enough to send even the most terrifying demon yelping for cover. “She is almost naked, and her body is wreathed in snakes and adorned with bone ornaments and a necklace of skulls. In her left hand, she bears a brimming skull cup. In her right hand, she holds aloft a black skull-topped staff… Flames roar and black storm clouds swirl around her…”

 

Buddha Weekly Palden Lhamo is an emanation of White Tara Buddhism

Palden Lhamo’s practice is extremely important in Tibetan Buddhism in most of the schools and lineages. She is a ferocious emanation of White Tara — both protective mothers, but one peaceful, the other enraged and protective.

 

How important is Palden Lhamo Practice in Tibetan Buddhism?

How important is Palden Lhamo practice in Tibetan Buddhism? Venerable Losang Samtem explains:

“There are so many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are constantly willing to help all living beings overcome suffering… The most important and powerful protector deity in Buddhist history is Panden Lhamo. Even though these Enlightened beings, including Panden Lhamo, are always willing to help, it is necessary for us to cultivate the potential within ourselves. We need to be open to receive the blessings of these deities.”

 

Buddha Weekly Lion Face Tsaklis Buddhism

Lion-Face Dakini is one of Palden Lhamo’s attendants. Palden Lhamo is like the ferocious lioness protecting you, her cub.

 

Palden Lhamo and You: a Lion and Her Cub

How ferocious is Palden Lhamo’s protection? Think of a wrathful lioness mother, protecting her cubs — now multiply that wrathful protection infinitely. Palden Lhamo’s wrath and power is on your side. You are her cub.

According to teacher and author Vessantara in Female Deities of Buddhism (Amazon affiliate link>>):

 “Not only can Shridevi control dark external forces; She is capable of pacifying all those hindering inner forces that bind us to the ‘wheel of fire’ of mundane existence. Hence she is also known in Tibet as the one who overpowers and crushes the hosts of the passions — Paldan Makzor Gyalmo.

 

Buddha Weekly Palden Lhamo is the ferocious wrathful motherly protector supreme in Tibetan Buddhism Buddhism

Wrathful Palden Lhamo is the wrathful motherly protector in Buddhism.

 

Palden Lhamo’s origin story and Hayagriva

What is her origin story? As can be expected of a wrathful protector, her story is gruesome, and brimming with symbolism. Ultimately, Palden Lhamo took a vow as the incomparable Dharma Protectress from Hayagriva. Prior to that she was a goddess and helped various Buddhas. Yet earlier than that, there is a terrible origin legend, which gave rise to many of her symbols, including that of the mule she rides in her most common images.

As quoted from Venerable Zasep Rinpoche in his book Source of All Protectors:

There is a frightful Tibetan legend of Palden Lhamo. She was married to evil Yama, the King of Lanka. He had a nasty character and was known to have caused widespread slaughter among his subjects. One of his main wishes was to expel Buddhism from his kingdom. He became a foe of the Dharma.

Palden Lhamo, his wife, vowed to convert him into a supporter of Buddhism to make him a gentler and kinder king, and to establish virtuous communities. She worked tirelessly to change the ways of her bloodthirsty husband.

Palden Lhamo realized her son was even worse than his father. He had developed so much hate and was a destroyer of Buddhism. She thought that if her son did destroy Buddhism he would create so much unwholesome karma and he would take a hellish rebirth.

 

Buddha Weekly Legend of Palden Lhamo and the evil Cannibal King Buddhism

In the origin legend of Palden Lhamo, in a much earlier life before she became a goddess and later an Enlightened Protector, she was married to an evil cannibal king — who was determined to wipe out Buddhism.

 

Continuing this gruesome story, while the evil cannibal king was away on a hunting trip, she murdered her son to prevent his cannibalism — knowing she herself would be destined to go to the hell realms. She skinned him and used his skin as a saddle blanket. When the king returned to his palace and found out what his wife had done, he raged and screamed and shot arrows at her as she fled the city. He missed her and struck her mule instead — which gave rise to a wisdom eye on her mule’s hindquarters — an important part of her future iconography. As a result of her deeds, she was born into the hell realms herself. When she was finally released from the hell realms, she stole a bag of diseases from the hell guards — to prevent these malicious diseases from being unleashed in our world.

Later, Lord Buddha appeared to her and told her to take an oath to become a Dharma protector. She was shocked but also moved by Buddha’s faith in her. She took the oath and became a sworn Dharma protector, now riding her mule with a wisdom eye on his hindquarters, her bag of diseases, and bag of Dice, symbolizing her ability to see the future. In other stories, she gave her heartfelt service to Hayagriva and also to Vajrapani. Various gods offered her gifts. As always, these gruesome stories serve to illustrate symbolic concepts.

 

Buddha Weekly palden lhamo the goddess of divination tk43 1 Buddhism

 

Ferocious Appearance of Palden Lhamo

It can take some effort to unpack the extensive symbolism of Palden Lhamo. Every element of her iconography has profound significance. Her appearance, at first, does not seem to inspire devotion or love from her followers. Snakes for horse reins, and a bag of diseases. A human skin for a saddle — and no less than her own son. A demonic, wrathful face, black and ferocious.

In her tea offering praise, she is described this way:

“Fierce maker, Fierce Being, Her reality is ferocious

Chief Lady of the retinue of the fierce,

Her symbolic body a glistening dark black!

I bow to the all-terrifying Mother Goddess!

I Fiercely pray, make me free of diseases, demons, foes and obstructions!”

 

Buddha Weekly Palden Lhamo queen of the end of war by Jampay Dorje Ben Christian Buddhism

Stunning image of Palden Lhamo, the Queen of the End of War by Jampay Dorje (Ben Christian). She is flanked by blue Makaravaka on the left; and red Simhavakra on the right. Ben Christian’s Visit his art site here>>

 

Thinking of Her cannibal-demon face — with the garland of fifty blood-dripping decapitated heads hanging around Her neck — love is probably the last thing that jumps to mind. Your hands probably shake as you make a tea offering to this ferocious persona. Yet, like the stern parent, with wildly glaring eyes, she’s there to keep you on track, to keep you practicing, to keep you focused on Enlightenment.

Her snarling ghoulish face — in some ways more memorable and easily visualized than the lovely face of Her lighter emanation White Tara — is there to caution you: do your practice, get to work, help all beings, bring compassion to the world. Stop wasting time with video games!

 

Buddha Weekly palden lhamo stunning Buddhism

 

The symbolism of Palden Lhamo

 

Every detail of Palden Lhamo’s appear­ance and accouterments is symbolic on three levels: outer, inner, and secret. The outer level is related in her history as the woman warrior who fought the demon king of Lanka. The inner level consists of symbolic meanings related to the path to liberation. On the secret level, taught only to initiates, every detail becomes signifi­cant as an element in the mystical practice of internal Tantric yoga.

 

Robert Warren Clark in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, describes the symbolism of Palden Lhamo this way:

Palden Lhamo has one face and two arms. On the inner level of symbolism, she holds in her mouth the demon of mental afflictions. She bites down on this demon with her sharp fangs of mindfulness, cir­cumspection, heedfulness, and diligence. Her red hair rising upward represents the blazing fire of perfect wisdom (jnana) that incinerates all worldly conceptions (vikalpa), which are the underlying causes of all misery. She wears the five-skull crown showing that she has extinguished the five poisons (greed, anger, ignorance, pride, and jealousy). The third eye of wis­dom is wide open in the middle of her forehead. The Tantric symbol of the sun of wisdom marks her navel, and the moon of compassion marks her crown. The peacock-feather parasol of ultimate attainment rises above her head. A long necklace of fifty severed heads is strung on a wire representing intestines. The fifty heads correspond to the fifty worldly states of mind that must be cut off.

 

Buddha Weekly Dakini Ben Christians painting of Makara Faced Dakini attendant of Palden Lhamo Buddhism

Painting of Makara-Faced Dakini Makaravaktra, who is an attendant of Palden Lhamo and who rescues us from dangers of the underworld. Painting Ben Christian. Visit his art site here>>

 

Two Famous Attendants: Lion-Faced Dakini and Makara-Faced Dakini

Palden Lhamo’s retinue is “so large that the description of it would fill a whole iconographical book.” It includes four Queens of the Seasons, five Goddesses of Long Life, and a retinue of female protectresses known as Mahakali.

 

Buddha Weekly Dakini Lion Faced Simhavaktra Attendant of Palden Lhamo Ben Christian art Buddhism

Dakini-Faced Dakini Simhavaktra is an attendant of Palden Lhamo, who protects us from dangers of the upper world (Painting Ben Christian. Visit his art site here>>)

 

Palden Lhamo has hundreds in her vast entourage, but her most famous attendants are Lion-Faced Dakini Simhavaktra and Dragon-faced or Makara-faced Dakini Makaravaktra. Lion-Faced Dakini, especially, is a wrathful protector practice popular in Tibetan Buddhism. These two are dakinis who protect followers of Buddha from dangers. Makaravaktra protects against dangers from the underworld and Simhavaktra against dangers of the upper world.

 

Buddha Weekly First verse of Tea offering to Palden Lhamo Buddhism

The first verse of the Tea Offering to Palden Lhamo. Fill the bowl with grains and pour tea while reciting and visualizing Palden Lhamo in front of you.

 

Bringing Palden Lhamo’s Blessings: Tea Offering!

The best way to connect with the Glorious Goddess Palden Lhamo is to start with a regular tea offering, praise and prayer. As you do this, do not visualize yourself as the Goddess. Visualize yourself as your own Yidam meditational deity. Palden Lhamo appears in front of you.

The following short tea offering to the Glorious Goddess Palden Lhamo, does not require initiation. The full Sadhana, of course,  DOES require initiation. If you do have Empowerment or permission, it is, of course, best to do the full tea ceremony per your tradition.

 

Buddha Weekly Second verse of the Tea Offering Palden Lhamo Buddhism

The second verse of the Tea offering to Palden Lhamo Shri Devi.

 

Tea Offering.

Prepare very strong tea, and put out a cup, usually on a deep plate or bowl. More formally, you can use a Serkyem, as shown in our demonstration. In the bowl you add some grains. Fill the cup or bowl with tea. Recite the praise, and with the last line in each verse, pour a little more tea so that it overflows (symbolizing abundance.). If that is too difficult, simply pour out the tea, then recite the verses. Make sure to “take refuge in the Three Jewels first” and “Dedicate the Merit” at the end.

Refuge and Bodhichitta

I go for refuge until I am enlightened

To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly.

By my merit from giving and other perfections,

May I become a Buddha in order to benefit all sentient beings. (3x)

Bless the Tea

Before you pour, bless the tea symbolically by saying the mantra representing the body, speech, and mind of the Buddhas: Om Ah Hum. Om Ah Hum. Om Ah Hum.

Now, pour the tea as you chant, imagining the hot tea represents your active offering to Palden Lhamo, her entire entourage, and all the Enlightened Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Protectors.   In the verses,  “doctrine of the guide” refers to the Buddha’s Dharma.

We use hot tea to symbolize activity since we are imagining we are encouraging the Enlightened helping activity of the entourage. “Skilled in Siddhi powers” means she has the power to help us. “Ruler of the desire realm” refers to our world. The phrase “entrusted actions” refers to the activities of a sword Dharma protector to help sentient beings.

Visualize that they receive the blessings and are pleased with you.  Chant along with us now. The second and third verses are repeated three times.

Prayer and Requests

O gurus and yidams who send a rain of all that is desired,

Mistress of the desire realm and host of Dharma protectors and guardians,

Please accept this libation having the five desirable qualities

And bestow the activities that will accomplish all desired aims.

 

Supreme Dharma protector guarding the doctrine of the guide,

Who protects yogis as she would her child and is skilled in siddhi powers:

To the ruler of the desire realm, the glorious goddess Pälden Lhamo,

I request and make offerings; please perform the entrusted actions. (3x)  (Pour tea.)

 

Though not disturbed from the state of ultimate peace,

You arose in a fierce form to subdue enemies of the doctrine.

To the sole mother, queen of the three existences,

I request and make offerings; please perform the entrusted actions. (3x)  (Pour tea.)

 

Dedication of Merit

By this virtue, may I quickly

Attain the state of a Guru-Buddha

And lead every living being, without exception,

Into that enlightened state.

May the precious bodhicitta

Not yet born arise and grow.

May that born have no decline

But increase more and more.

Dedication of Merit.

By this virtue, may I quickly

Attain the state of a Guru-Buddha

And lead every living being, without exception,

Into that enlightened state.

May the precious bodhichitta

Not yet born arise and grow.

May that born have no decline

But increase more and more.

Buddha Weekly Third verse of Tea offering Palden Lhamo Buddhism

Third verse of the tea offering to Palden Lhamo Shri Devi.

Event: Empowerment Palden Lhamo March 19, 2022

The description on Palden Lhamo from Venerable Zasep Rinpoche:

“Palden Lhamo, also known as Shridevi, the wrathful emanation of Vajra Sarasvati, Tara and Vajrayogini – She is no-nonsense stern mother. You could think of Tara as the “nice mother” — supportive and protective, with embracing arms — and Palden Lhamo as the same mother, but super wrathful, enraged, and awesome in Her power; nothing, absolutely, can stand against Her. 

You can also think of Palden Lhamo as the fierce aspect of wisdom. Palden Lhamo has one face and two arms. On the inner level of symbolism, she holds in her mouth the demon of mental afflictions. She bites down on this demon with her sharp fangs of mindfulness, circumspection, heedfulness, and diligence. Her red hair rising upward represents the blazing fire of perfect wisdom (jnana) that incinerates all worldly conceptions (vikalpa), which are the underlying causes of all misery. She wears the five-skull crown showing that she has extinguished the five poisons (greed, anger, ignorance, pride, and jealousy). The third eye of wisdom is wide open in the middle of her forehead. The Tantric symbol of the sun of wisdom marks her navel, and the moon of compassion marks her crown. The peacock-feather parasol of ultimate attainment rises above her head. A long necklace of fifty severed heads is strung on a wire representing intestines. The fifty heads correspond to the fifty worldly states of mind that must be cut off.”

Palden Lhamo is the protectress of all Tibetans and Mongolian Buddhists. Her blessings emanate fast upon your requests and she is most popular Dharma protectress 

“JHO! Your mind knows everything in essence and in detail;

You never leave the sphere of emptiness, but out of compassion

You tame enemies and obstacles, every method at your command.

I praise you, conquering female with a glorious body, speech and mind!”

Love and Blessings
Zasep Rinpoche 

  • No prerequisite, all welcome!
  • Commitments: Registrants will take Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows, take Rinpoche as one of your Gurus and no specific mantra count, you choose.
  • Date: March 19th, 2022 (Saturday)
  • Time: 3:30pm-5:30pm PDT** Pacific Daylight Savings Time (Nelson B.C. time)
  • Venue: Zoom
  • Suggested donation: $30-$60 CDN (sliding scale) collected at GFTW https://gadenforthewest.org/support/ Please choose “empowerment” in the drop-down menu and “Rinpoche Donation” at the same link.
  • Registration via Eventbrite
  • Zoom link, sadhana and photo will be linked on your registration receipt. Please read it all the way to the bottom to find this information.
  • For other information, contact Gaden for the West>>

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Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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