Who are the Five Great Wisdom Buddhas and Why Are They So Important? How to Visualize and Practice the Five Dhyani Buddhas

Feature Contents
    Five Dhyani Buddhas beautiful horizontal
    Five Dhyani Buddhas.

    Who are the five Great Conquering Buddhas and what are their five Wisdoms? Why are they so important in daily Mahayana Buddhist practice? How are they different from Shakyamuni Buddha, who was born into our world?

    In this feature we’ll introduce the important Five Buddha Mandala, and the symbolism and mantras of the five Buddhas. In other presentations we’ll explore each Buddha family one-by-one, with their practices and mantras.

     

    Buddha Weekly Mapping the Mind with the Five Buddhas Buddhism
    A mandala can be thought of as a map for the mind to explore.

     

    The Five Wisdoms and Five Buddhas

    The Five Buddhas are often called the Buddhas of the Five Wisdoms or the Buddhas of the Five Directions. This map-like language is not accidental.

    The mind universe of this mandala exists first in our minds. Before you think “how small is that?” remember that the average human brain has 100 billion neurons and around 100 trillion synapses. The Milky Way galaxy, our home galaxy, is roughly 100,000 light-years across and only has a mass of 100 billion solar masses — mirroring the number of neurons in our brain.

    The mind map is a vast expanse, and it is in the mind we meet the Five Buddhas.

    Aside from the wonder of the experience, why undertake the journey to meet the Five Wisdom Buddhas? Like our minds mirror our galaxy, the five Buddhas mirror the five wisdoms that are the essence of Buddhist practice.

     

    Buddha Weekly Five Dhayni Buddhas Buddhism
    The Five Conquerors of the five directions. Each manifests to help us conquer the five afflictions, the five poisons: anger, attachment, ignorance, pride and jealousy.

     

    Shakyamuni Taught Remedies for the Five Poisons

    Shakyamuni Gautama Buddha, born in five sixty-three BC, awoke to the true nature of reality and the true nature of suffering. He gave us remedies for the five poisons that keep us trapped in Samsara, preserved in Sacred Sutras. These poisons, sometimes thought of as inner demons, are anger, attachment, pride, jealousy, and ignorance.

    He taught us that we can all become Awakened or Buddha by teaching various skillful means, beginning with the four noble truths and the eightfold path.

    He also taught us how to transform these five poisons into the Five Wisdoms. One of these methods is meditating on the mandala of the Five Wisdom Buddhas. Each has various methods, practices, mantras, praises, and each specializes in one poison, remedied by one wisdom.

    Buddha Weekly Five Buddha Families Buddhism
    One version of the mandala of the Five Buddhas. One way of thinking of a visualized mandala is as a map of the mind.

    Five Great Wisdoms

    The remedies can be summarized as the five great Wisdoms. One way Shakyamuni taught us to relate to the Wisdoms is by practicing the Five Buddhas through building a relationship with meditation and practice.

    These Five Buddhas are often called the Dhyani Buddhas, or Cosmic Buddhas or the Five Conquerors.

     

    Buddha Weekly Akasadhatvisvari White Tara and Vairochana Buddhism
    Prajna Buddha Akasadhatvisvari White Tara with Compassion Buddha Vairochana. In most mandalas they are the in center, although in specialized practices, they move to the East.

     

    Buddha Family: Remedy for Delusions

    For example, people who remain trapped in Samsara due to negative karmic actions arising from the poison of delusion and ignorance, would turn to Vairochana Buddha in the center of the great mandala, who helps us with his Wisdom of Dharmadatu, or the mind purified of obscurations. He helps us see things as they truly are.

     

    Buddha Weekly Green Tara and Amoghasiddhi Buddhism
    Green Tara Prajna Wisdom Buddha of the North with Compassion Male Buddha Amoghasiddhi. They are symbolically shown in union to express that Wisdom Activity and Compassion Activity are always in union.
    Karma Family: Remedy for Jealousy

    If our issue was Jealousy, always envying others and generating negative karmic actions, then we might turn to Amoghasiddhi in the North, whose All-Accomplishing Wisdom and activity can help us.

     

    Buddha Weekly Locana and Akshobhya Buddhism
    Locana Prajna Mother Buddha with Abshokya Buddha in the East of most mandalas. In some specialized practices they are in the center and White Tara and Vairochana move to the east (in that case.)

     

    Vajra Family: Remedy for Anger

    Or, if we were dealing with issues of anger, if that is the poison that persistently arises in our samsaric life as it does for many people, then we would turn to Akshobhya Buddha in the east. He helps us with Mirror-Like Wisdom.

     

    Buddha Weekly Mamaki and Ratnasambhava Buddhism
    Mamaki with Ratnasambhava in the south of the mandala.

     

    Jewel Family: Remedy for Pride

    On the other hand, if our main issue is the poison of pride, always guarding our reputation or hoarding selfishly, then we might be advised to turn to Ratnasambhava in the south, and his golden wisdom of Equality and Equanimity.

     

    Buddha Weekly Amitabha beautiful Buddhism
    A popular visualization of Amitabha, with symbolic attributes, such as red skin, begging bowl and lotus flowers. Amibtabha is the head of the “Lotus” family, the compassion of the Buddhas.

     

    Lotus Family: Remdy for Desires

    Lastly, and to many of us the most important, are the inner demons or poison of desires or attachments, always wanting this and that and never satisfied. For desires and attachments, then the eternally popular Amitabha Buddha in the West is the main practice recommended, with his Wisdom of Discernment.

    Map of the Mind Universe: Mandala

    The significance of the Map of the Mind Universe of the Five Buddhas is extraordinarily profound. It invites us to be the explorer, to be the adventurer who goes on a journey to meet the great Wisdom Buddhas in our own minds.

    We have no need to journey out into the vastness of our galaxy, when our mind mirrors the spectacular spaciousness of this cosmos.

     

    Buddha Weekly Buddha and cosmos dreamstime l 246037690 Buddhism

     

    We, the seekers of wisdom, who strive for the release from the five poisons can journey in the mind to meet the Five Buddhas and their entourage. These journeys can help end our suffering.

    In this metaphorical journey, it is helpful to have a map, in Buddhism known as a mandala. Our coordinates on the map are the symbolism of each Buddha and their mantras.

     

    Buddha Weekly the 5 dhyani buddhas Buddhism
    The Five Wisdom Buddhas: centre Vairochana, top Amitabha, right Amoghasiddhi, bottom Akshobya, left Ratnasambhava. The positions can vary from school to school or based on specific tantras or teachings.

     

    In this feature, we’ll navigate the map and its symbolism and introduce the Five Buddhas. In other presentations we’ll explore the five Buddhas one-by-one.

    Where does the map point? The mandala is a map of the five wisdoms, the five Buddhas, the five Buddha families with entourages, each with their own Wisdom to teach us.

     

    Buddha Weekly Kalachakra mandala Buddhism
    Mandalas can be simple or complex, but they are important symbols with “coordinates” to the Purelands of the Buddhas. (This particular mandala is Kalachakra).

     

    Symbolism are the Map Coordinates

    What are the coordinates on this metaphorical map? They are profound and sacred symbols.

    There is a reason that mandalas are so important to Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. They are meant to be visualized, expressing a multi-dimensional map of the universe in the context of the Buddhas and the Pure Lands.

    The language of the mind is not words. Symbols, colours, and images are the universal language of all minds, as Carl Jung pointed out in his analysis of dreams. Dreams are visual. The mind recalls memories in images. The eminent Carl Jung explained the universal language of symbols:

    “Every psychological expression is a symbol if we assume that it states or signifies something more and other than itself which eludes our present knowledge.”

    Buddha Weekly ETH BIB Jung Carl Gustav 1875 1961 Portrait Portr 14163 cropped Buddhism
    Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) Wiki Commons

     

    Since most Buddhist practice is mind work, such as sitting meditation, watching the breath, visualizing the Buddha, or intricate deity practices, the symbols, images, and colors become essential rather than arbitrary.

    They express the unknowable in a way the mind can explore comfortably. For this we need the language of symbols.

     

    Buddha Weekly Buddha Nature Video Zasep Tulku Rinpoche Buddhism
    Every being has Buddha Nature. By removing our obstructions and overcoming the “poisons” that afflict us, we can see our true nature and awaken.

     

    All Beings have Buddha Nature

    Doctor Alexander Berzin, noted Buddhist teacher, explains:

    “Buddha-family traits, refer to aspects of Buddha-nature that all of us have, even worms. In general, Buddha-nature factors allow for or account for everyone being able to become a Buddha.”

    Does this mean the Five Buddhas are imaginary? Not at all. We use imagination to visualize, not to fantasize. In the context of the Buddhist universe, the Five Celestial Buddhas are real, considered Sambhogakaya aspects of the Buddha.

    They manifest in these enjoyment body aspects to teach us a particular wisdom, to offer a particular practice, and to help us meditate to overcome a particular poison, just as they’ve helped countless beings before us.

     

    Buddha Weekly Buddha Follower and Amitabha receving her offerings Buddhism
    In dreams anything is possible, even flying into space and visualizing — in an intensely realistic way — encountering Buddhas. It is said the great Yogis recieved teachings in the pure land by leaving their bodies and travelling to the Pure Lands. Likewise, we visualize Buddhas to help us communicate. Visual symbols resonate at the subconscious and conscious level.

    Visualization is Communicating Visually

    We visualize not to be fantastical, but to connect with their real essence. Our minds prefer to communicate visually.

    For example, if a Buddha manifests as red, such as Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, it is for a reason. In the language of the mind, which transcends modern associations, the universal associations of red are fire, warmth, love, setting sun, and energy.

     

    Buddha Weekly Magnetizing Deities Wangdu Amitabha Vajradharma Hayagriva Chenrezig Buddhism 1
    Entourage and emanations of the Padma Family: (rom a Wang Du Thangka) the red magnetizing deities (left to right) Chenrezig (Padmapani), Amitabha (top) wrathful Hayagriva (right) and Vajradharma (bottom.) The symbolism of “red” is power, compassion, energy, warmth, love, like the kiss of the settings sun.

     

    In most of the world, red takes on even greater energetic significance with the magnetizing effect of good luck, celebration, compassion, happiness, and long life. This is why, for example, Amitabha’s Family are called Magnetizing or empowering Buddhas.

    Amitabha’s red color communicates so much.

    Five Universes to Explore: The Five Purelands

    We will explore each of the galaxies of the Five Wisdom Buddhas in future presentations but we’ll summarize here for some helpful context and include their mantras.

    • Each Buddha family has a Father Buddha representing Compassion and a Mother Buddha representing Wisdom.
    • Each, have a mantra representing the essence of wisdom and a seed syllable. Each Buddha Family has a Pureland, which is the purity and manifestation of that wisdom and compassion in the pure, spacious mind of Buddha.
    • Each has a color representing an activity, a Wisdom that focuses on a poison, an aggregate or personality called a skandha, a direction on the mandala, and an emblematic symbol.

    Although they can all appear in various forms for specialized needs, which we’ll cover in future presentations, the main form is a peaceful form, appearing as a monk or bhikkhu, seated in lotus posture.

     

    Five Dyani Buddhas 2
    The Five Buddhas with Vairochana in the center. If they are portrayed in a directional mandala, Vairochana is usually still in the center.

     

    Center: Buddha Family of Vairocahana

    In the center of the mandala is the Buddha Family of Vairochana Buddha, who is white in color, with his hands in the Dharma chakra, or Wheel turning mudra.

    The Wisdom Mother Buddha is White Tara or Akasha Dhatvishvari. The White Color represents Pacifying activity, helping to pacify and calm our minds, diseases, purify our delusions, negative karma, doubts and fears.

    The seed syllable is Om. The Bodhisattva of the White Budddha Family is Samantabhadra.

    Together, the Buddha Family of Vairochana, helps us with the poison of ignorance or delusion with the Wisdom of Dharmadatu, the understanding of ultimate reality.

    Vairochana’s Buddha Family symbol is the eight-spoked wheel, the Dharmachakra. As the Wisdom of the Dharmadatu, the Buddha family is associated with the element of space.

    His sacred animal is usually the white Snow Lion which is often depicted on his throne. His pureland is Akanishta-Ghanavyuha .

    His seed mantra is:

    Om Vairochana Hum

    Buddha Weekly Amitabha Pureland Sukhavati Buddhism
    A traditional image of Sukhavati, the Western Pureland of Amitabha Buddha.

    West: Padma Family of Amitabha

    In the west of the mandala is the Padma Family of Amitabha Buddha, who is red in color with his hands in the mudra of meditation. Amitabha is the Buddha of Dharma Speech, symbolized by red.

    The red color also represents empowering and attracting or magnetizing activity, helping to attract auspicious factors to help us overcome our obstacles. Red is also a protective color. His seed syllable is Hrih.

     

    Buddha Weekly Pandaravarasi West Prajna Mother Bruno Letzia SIddartha Tarot Buddhism
    Pandara Vasini is the Prajna Wisdom Mother of the West with her Compassion Male Buddha Amitabha. They preside over the famous Sukhavati Pureland.

     

    The Wisdom Mother is Pandara.

    The Bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara also called Guan Shi Yin or Chenrezig.

     

    Buddha Weekly Pandaravasini and Amitabha Buddhism
    Pandara Vasini with Amitabha Buddha in the West.

     

    Together, the Padma or Lotus Family of Amitabha helps us with the poison of desire and attachment, cutting through with the Wisdom of Discernment, or correct perception.

    Amitabha’s Padma Family symbol is the lotus, a symbol of purity and compassion. As the Wisdom of the Discernment, the Padma Family are associated with the element of fire.

     

    Buddha Weekly Buddha teaching the Dragon King Buddhism
    Buddha and the dragon.

     

    His sacred animals are usually the peacock and dragon. His glorious Pureland in the west is the most famous of Purelands, called Sukhavati, or the Happy Realm.

    His mantra  is:

    Om Amitabha Hrih

    He has many other mantras, including:

    Om Ami Deva Hrih   (in Tibetan Om Ami Dewa Hrih)

     

    Buddha Weekly Green Tara and Amoghasiddhi Buddhism
    Green Tara Prajna Wisdom Buddha of the North with Compassion Male Buddha Amoghasiddhi. They are symbolically shown in union to express that Wisdom Activity and Compassion Activity are always in union.

    North: Karma Family of Amoghasiddhi

    Turning clockwise around the mandala, next is the Karma Family of Amoghasiddhi Buddha in the North. He is green in color, symbolizing windy activity, with his hands in the mudra of fearlessness.

    The green color represents all activities, the windy hurricane force of wisdom and compassion blowing into our lives. His seed syllable is ah.

     

    Buddha Weekly Green Tara with Dharma Wheel and Parosol symbols as offerings Buddhism
    Two of the Eight Auspicious Signs displayed in front of Green Tara as an offering and Dharma objects representing the Noble Eightfold Path as the Dharma Wheel and protection as the parosol.

     

    The Wisdom Mother Buddha is Glorious Green Tara. The Bodhisattva of the Karma family is Vishvapani.

    Together, the Karma or Activity Family of Amoghasiddhi helps us with the poison of jealousy or envy, cutting through with All Accomplishing Wisdom.

     

    Buddha Weekly double vajra with elemental colours Buddhism
    The mandala symplified in the form of a double vajra

     

    Amoghasiddhi’s Karma Family symbol is the double vajra, also called a vishva vajra, a symbol of the entire mandala of five Buddhas. This represents their activity in all realms, as Amoghasiddhi and Tara together are the activity of all the Buddhas.

    The Karma Family are associated with the element of wind and air.

     

    Buddha Weekly Multicoloured Garuda Buddhism Buddhism
    King Garuda, the activity of the Buddhas is always swooping, diving, in action against all that afflicts us.

     

    The sacred animals are usually the garuda and the windhorse. The Karma family pureland in the north is Karma prasiddhi or Prakuta.

    His mantra  is:

    Om Amoghasiddhi Ah Hum

    Buddha Weekly Locana and Akshobhya Buddhism
    Locana Prajna Mother Buddha with Abshokya Buddha in the East of most mandalas. In some specialized practices they are in the center and White Tara and Vairochana move to the east (in that case.)

    East: Vajra Family of Akshobhya

    Going clockwise, in the east is the Vajra Family of Akshobhya Buddha. He is blue in color, symbolizing water and purity, with his right hand in the mudra of earth touching and a vajra in his left hand.

    The blue color represents the coolness of water, which is why its often associated with medicine and healing and also the cooling of wrath or calming of anger.

     

    Buddha Weekly Vajrapani peaceful with vajra Buddhism
    Vajrapani’s peaceful form is approachable to all Buddhist practitioners, as is his mantra.

     

    Blue is often the color visualized to help cool our anger, like a splash of cool water. Blue is the color of the activity of transforming wrath. Blue is also symbolic of a mirror or reflection, the Vajra family’s Mirror-Like Wisdom. Wrathful deities are often blue to symbolize “cooling your anger.”

     

    Buddha Weekly Locana Blue Prajna of the East Siddartha Tarot Bruno Letzia Buddhism
    Locana, the blue Prajna Mother of the East, Co-Equal Buddha with Akshobya. This beautiful card is illustrated by Bruno Letzia in his Tarot deck Siddartha Tarot.

     

    The Wisdom Mother of the Vajra Family is Lochana. The Bodhisattva is the great and powerful Vajrapani.

    Together, the Vajra Family of Akshobhya helps our anger, with Mirror-like Wisdom, or the wisdom of reflection.

    Akshobhya’s Vajra Family symbol is the powerful vajra.

     

    Buddha Weekly Buddhist Monks being followed by an elephant Buddhism
    Buddhist monks and an elephant

     

    His sacred animal is the elephant and sometimes the snow lion. His glorious pureland in the east is Abhirati.

    His mantra three times is:

    Om Akshobhya Hum

    Buddha Weekly Ratnasambhava Buddha Buddhism

    South: Ratna Family of Ratnasambhava

    Finally, in the south is the Ratna or Jewel Family of Ratnasambhava Buddha. He is yellow or gold in color, symbolizing earth, with his right hand in the mudra of giving and a wish-granting jewel in the other.

    The yellow color represents the activity of enriching, generosity, prosperity and auspiciousness and the earth. It also represents rootedness and renunciation. His seed syllable is Tram.

     

    Buddha Weekly Mamaki South Prajna Yellow Bruno Letzia Siddartha Tarot Buddhism
    Mamaki, the Prajna Wisdom Mother of the South.

     

    The Ratna Family Wisdom Mother is Mamaki. The Bodhisattva is Ratnapani.

    The Ratna or Jewel Family of Ratnasambhava helps us overcome the poison of Pride and Arrogance with the Wisdom of Equality and Equanimity.

    Ratnasambhava’s Jewel Family symbol is the wish-granting jewel.

    The Ratna Family are associated with the element of earth. Their activity is auspiciousness and enriching. The skandha or personality of the family is feeling.

     

    Buddha Weekly Tak Seng Chung Druk Tiger Snow Lion Garuda Dragon Four Dignities Buddhism
    The Four Dignities in Tibetan Buddhism. These are also sacred animals attributed to the Buddha Families, with Tiger in the South with Ratnasambhava, Dragon n the West with Amitabha, Garuda in the North with Amoghasiddhi, Snow Lion in the center with Vairochana.

    The sacred animals are the horse and the tiger. The Ratna family’s glorious Pureland in the south is Shrimat

    His mantra three times is:

    Om Ratnasambhava Tram

     

    Buddha Weekly Prostrating to Chenrezig and Buddha is part of Nyung Nye Two Day Retreat practice for purification dreamstime xxl 141088228 Buddhism
    Prostrations are fundamental in any practice of Wisdom Buddhas. It helps us overcome pride. If you are unable to prostrate fully, as pictured, you can do partial prostrations.

    Practicing the Five Buddhas: A Short Practice

    The Five Wisdom Buddhas can be both a collective daily practice, or we can focus on one Buddha.

    To practice the Five Buddhas, we prostrate and take refuge in the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. When we do this we know that Buddha means all Buddhas, Dharma means all Buddha Dharmas and Sangha means the Supreme Sangha of Bodhisattvas and disciples.

    We visualize our field of merit, the five Buddhas with White Vairochana in the center of the mandala, Red Amitabha in the west, Green Amoghasiddhi in the North, Blue Akshobya in the East, and Yellow Ratnasambhava in the south.

    Usually we say something like:

    “I Take Refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Supreme Sangha until I achieve Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

    Buddha Weekly Tibetan praying prostrating Buddhism
    Taking refuge in the Three Jewels Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is a Foundation Practice of all traditions.

     

     

    We say this three times, while prostrating each time.

    We then either make mental visualized offerings or real visualized offerings, confess our shortcomings and promise to refrain from future negative karma.

    We chant the five mantras while visualizing the five purifying lights emanating from the five Buddhas: White from Vairochana, Red from Amitabha, Green from Amoghasiddhi, Blue from Akshobya, and Yellow from Ratnasambhava. The light fills the entire universe, blessing all beings. The light then returns into our own hearts, blessing us and purifying us of all negativities.

    We then dedicate the merit for all sentient beings usually by saying something like: “I dedicate the merit of this practice to the cause for Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

    Practicing Individually

    They are also individual practices. Our teacher might give us a particular Buddha — or the Bodhisattva or mother of the family as our Yidam or core practice. This is normally chosen based on our main obstacles.

    If our main obstacles are attachment and clinging, our teacher may recommend Amitabha Buddha, Avalokiteshvara, Kurukulla, or other “red forms.”

    If our main obstacles are anger-related, our teacher might recommend Akshobhya Buddha, Vajrapani, Black or Blue Tara, or other “blue” forms.

    If our main obstacles are Jealousy, envying our neighbors, craving what isn’t ours or selfishness, we might find ourselves practicing Amoghasiddhi or Green Tara.

    If our main obstacles related to Pride and arrogance, we would likely be drawn to practices of Ratnasambhava, Yellow Tara, Vasudhara or other Yellow forms.

    For obstacles relating to Delusions and Ignorance we might practice Vairochana, Vajrasattva, White Tara or other White forms.

    We can practice them all, as a group mandala visualization with mantras, or focus on one family, depending on our needs.

    Even if we focus on one Buddha in our practice, it is meritorious to Take Refuge and chant the mantras of all five Buddhas daily.

    Watch for the other featuresin this series on the Five Wisdom Buddhas. May all beings benefit. We dedicate the merit of this presentation to the cause for Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

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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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