Dharma Protectors

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Dharma Protectors

Postby bunny » Sun Aug 26, 2012 12:58 pm

I have seen Dharma Protectors being mentioned on this forum and I would like some information that I read on the internet verified please.

One source stated that Hindu gods and their re-incarnations have been "absorbed" by Buddhism as Dharma Protectors. Is this correct?
Another said that every Buddhist has his/her own personal Dharma Protector. Again is this correct?
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Indrajala » Sun Aug 26, 2012 4:32 pm

bunny wrote:I have seen Dharma Protectors being mentioned on this forum and I would like some information that I read on the internet verified please.

One source stated that Hindu gods and their re-incarnations have been "absorbed" by Buddhism as Dharma Protectors. Is this correct?
Another said that every Buddhist has his/her own personal Dharma Protector. Again is this correct?


A lot of indigenous deities are absorbed into Buddhism for various reasons.

Not everyone has their own Dharma Protector / Guardian, though it is often said that benevolent deities can and do look after practitioners.
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby wukong » Sun Aug 26, 2012 4:51 pm

Hi bunny. Me again. I think I pretty much said something similar on your learning more thread, but hey...

I would say most Asian Buddhists have dharma protectors (although the term 'dharma protector' is mostly a Tibetan one). In Asia Buddhists feel it is very important not to ignore the local deities and spirits, especially the ones who will get annoyed with you if you upset them. Some Buddhists will have their own personal protector but mostly they share them with others. For example, a village will have its own individual spirits compared to the village a few miles away. In china and japan Buddhists worship their ancestors who then become guardians of the family. Also, I think that in Sri Lanka I have seen chapels dedicated to vishnu, inside Buddhist temples, since he is the patron deity of that island.

Westerners tend to be a bit more reticent about deities for a few reasons, as far as I can tell. I find that the biggest reason is that they come to buddhism wanting it to be nothing like Christianity, therefore the idea of deity worship sets off alarm bells.

Also, many westerners' first encounter with Buddhism is entirely intellectual. Ie. They discover Buddhism through books rather than established communities and so their understanding is often informed by the textual tradition or philosophic. I have come across people who's main inspiration was the Japanese zen writer TD suzuki, who mostly wrote about the philosophical and meditative aspect of Buddhism. They were then shocked when they saw how devotional zen is.

I'm all for devotional Buddhism but I wouldn't be surprised that if one of the defining features of Buddhism as it develops in the west over the next couple hundred years is a de-emphasis on devotionalism.

But getting back to dharma protectors.... in the Tibetan traditions these are spirits who specifically protect an aspect of Buddhist life such as a monastery or even one's meditation practice, depending on how enlightened they are believed to be. But there are then other Tibetan deities whom Tibetans will worship who have nothing to do with dharma. Doesn't make them any less Buddhist. I'm not really sure if traditions outside Tibetan has this kind of dharma protector but they certainly go in for deity and local spirit worship in a big way.

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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Blue Garuda » Sun Aug 26, 2012 4:58 pm

The dating of the first appearance of Hindu and Buddhist Tantric Deities is often imprecise, but you can't assume Hindu deities came first. Others are also shared.

Dharmapalas, as far as I know, have never been drawn from Hindu deities.

In the Tibetan Vajrayana there may be rare possibilities, suCH as perhaps Mahakala, but it depends on the level of initiation a practitioner receives whether he regards the being as a deity or dharmapala.

Practitioners may take the Dharmapala attached to their Lama's monastery, or be guided by their Lama - it is rarely an individual choice.

Just to clarify, Dharmapalas are not objects of Refuge and are not worshipped. Thier role is connected to Dharma, not to protecting local crops etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharmapala
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Nemo » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:40 pm

Absorbed makes it sound like they were not active participants or are perhaps imagined beings.

Many Protectors are very old. Some like Jambala even took teachings from the previous Buddha of this world cycle. A great many took teachings directly from the Buddha and were even given prophecies from him on when they would become Buddhas themselves. Many like Ganesh do not play favourites and help Buddhists and non-Buddhists without partiality which really seems to annoy some people. We get into this discussion from time to time. Many Westerners believe the Protectors to be imaginary or merely symbolic aspects of their own mind. That kind of gets on my nerves.

Don't get me started about Shri Ganesha again, lol
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby dharmagoat » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:49 pm

Nemo wrote:Many Westerners believe the Protectors to be imaginary or merely symbolic aspects of their own mind. That kind of gets on my nerves.

Why does it get on your nerves?
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Nemo » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:52 pm

It like a blind man telling you there is no such thing as colours. That they are merely a symbolic experience of ones own consciousness. True on one level, but not even close on another.
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby dharmagoat » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:55 pm

dharmagoat wrote:
Nemo wrote:Many Westerners believe the Protectors to be imaginary or merely symbolic aspects of their own mind. That kind of gets on my nerves.

Why does it get on your nerves?

Nemo wrote:It like a blind man telling you there is no such thing as colours. That they are merely a symbolic experience of ones own consciousness. True on one level, but not even close on another.

Nemo wrote:Why can't ones experiences from thousands of hours of meditation be considered empirical evidence? The Buddha gave all the necessary tools to find out for yourself. Faith is for the foolish.

Now, what if one's experiences from thousands of hours of meditation reveal the Protectors to be imaginary or merely symbolic aspects of their own mind?
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Wesley1982 » Mon Aug 27, 2012 12:46 am

Who like Tibetan Dharma Master... ;)
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby conebeckham » Mon Aug 27, 2012 12:54 am

Some Dharmapalas are, in fact, enlightened. Others are not.

Mahakala forms, and Mahakalis, and some other forms, are certainly known to be fully-enlightened. Ekadzati, for instance.

To make things even more complex, some appear as "mundane" but are in fact fully-enlightened.

Most dharma protectors are specific to a given lineage, or a terma cycle, etc.
If you are not involved in deity recitations, there's no need to worry about any of this.
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby bunny » Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:44 am

Thank you all for your replies. Still a bit confused but I'm getting there :)

I'll just be an observor in this thread for the moment and read the wonderful and insightful replies.
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby conebeckham » Mon Aug 27, 2012 5:06 pm

Bunny, it's a vast subject.

With Dharma Protectors, there are basically two levels--mundane, and suprmundane.

The Supramundane Protectors are Buddhas--they are fully enlightened, but appear in wrathful form, and serve to remove obstacles. the various Mahakalas and Mahakalis are the chief ones in this category.

The mundane protectors could be local spirits, or even deities/Gods--I don't know about Hindu Deities, but certainly there are Tibetan "gods" who were subjugated by Guru Rinpoche or other great masters, and who are "samaya-bound"--they have pledged to protect the Dharma and practitioners. However, any sort of relationship with these types of protectors requires a pretty experienced practitioner, able to command such beings. For most of us, it's better to respect them, and leave them be.

Different lineages, and monasteries, have their own specific relationships with various protectors, both mundane and supramundane. In Tibetan culture, mundane beings--the local deities, land-owner spirits, nagas, etc., would be "attached" to specific places. For supramundane protectors, it's common that a given Terma cycle, or practice transmission, would have it's own protector or protectors. These protectors are said to have a relationship to the lineage holders. for the Sakyapas, the "Lord of the Tent" (Panjaranatha Mahakala) and the four-faced Mahakala are the main ones. For Karmapa's disciples, it's Dorje Bernakchen (The Black-cloaked one) and Palden Lhamo, Mahakali. Shangpa Kagyu's protector is Six-Armed Mahakala, and this practice has spread to all lineages. Nyingma lineages have a variety of Mahakalas--Mahakala Ma-ning, the genderless one, and Lekden, are fairly common. The forms of Mahakala and Mahakali are too numerous to list.

Normally, for Vajrayana Buddhists, a protector "practice" would be part of one's daily recitations, and for most of us, we would view the protectors as "external," as forces outside ourselves, able to help remove obstacles. The recitation would usually be a sort of "praise" and "offerings," with requests to perform activities. These are called "Sol Kha" in Tibetan, and are often relatively short, and can be inserted into one's daily practice recitations.

For more experienced practitioners, the "praises" and "offerings" may also include "commands," as well as full "sadhanas"- practices relating to guru yoga, purification, and wrathful activity, and for some practitioners, there is the possibility to generate oneself as the protector, to manifest as the Dharmapala. These are advanced practices.
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby bunny » Mon Aug 27, 2012 5:21 pm

Thank you for your in-depth reply conebeckham :)
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Jeff » Mon Aug 27, 2012 5:24 pm

bunny wrote:Thank you all for your replies. Still a bit confused but I'm getting there :)

I'll just be an observor in this thread for the moment and read the wonderful and insightful replies.


The concept is basically the same as the western concept of Angels (or guardian angels). As I am sure you are aware, all traditions have some similar concept.

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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby bunny » Mon Aug 27, 2012 5:32 pm

Ah okay thank you Jeff :) Yes I had a Christian upbringing until I was 10. Northern Ireland/Ireland as a whole was (still is) very Christian.
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Jeff » Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:09 pm

bunny wrote:Ah okay thank you Jeff :) Yes I had a Christian upbringing until I was 10. Northern Ireland/Ireland as a whole was (still is) very Christian.


Very cool. I started my path from a Christian perspective too. Ever spent any time with gnostic Christianity?

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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby bunny » Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:22 pm

No Jeff, I was raised strict Church Of Ireland (Protestant). I left that faith when I was 10 and spent 5 years searching for a path. Which I found when I was 15. See my introductory thread if you want to know more.
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Kaji » Tue Aug 28, 2012 5:22 am

Thanks for the informative and interesting posts.

I'd just like to add that the culture of Dharma protectors may well vary across cultures and schools/traditions of Buddhism and other religions. In Chinese history there was this great general who was brutally killed. After many years he in the form of a ghost met a monk and, taking refuge to the Triple Gems, devoted himself to be a Bodhisattva Dharma protector - Samghārama Bodhisattva.
Namas triya-dhvikānāṃ sarva tathāgatānām!
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Re: Dharma Protectors

Postby Jikan » Tue Aug 28, 2012 9:46 pm

Wesley1982 wrote:Who like Tibetan Dharma Master... ;)


Hi Wesley,

I don't understand your post here, or see how it is on topic. Would you please explain your meaning a bit?
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