Sunday, October 2, 2011

Protectors in Theravada tradition

The fourth group of devas used are dakinis, dharmapalas and lokapalas. These deities correspond to the devas found in Hindu tantra, Mahakala/Kali etc: but they are used as protectors and clearer of obscurations on the path of enlightenment. So the 10 Mahavidyas (with the exception of Tara) are not givers of enlightenments, but rather helpers on the way who clear away obstacles to practice and enlightenment in Vajrayana. So even with the group of devas (which seem to converge and to a greater degree to Hindu dieties) their use is totally different. They are not even similar. But even Sri Lanka Theravada uses Indra as a Dharmapala (protector of dharma), so such use of Hindu deity is found in all Buddhist tradition.

My comment: In many Theravada Buddhist temples, there are statues of Devas around the main Buddha statue or outside the door leading to the shrine. These are their protectors. So, Theravada Buddhists should not feel shocked when Tibetan Buddhists perform smoke offering to deities such as Ganapathi or to the Naga Kings. These are practices to be regarded as "treats" to them so that they clear our obstacles to dharma practice. I think most Tibetan Buddhists are equally aware not to take refuge in them. I post here some pictures I took of statues of devas and devis (gods and goddesses with a small "g"; other religions may prefer the word "angels" instead) at a local Theravada temple. Notice the vajra pestle that the gods are holding. Click on the images to view enlarged version. These images belong to me.

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