Five Wisdom Buddhas
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Five Wisdom Buddhas
Cloth with painting of the Buddhas
'The Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya', Tibetan thangka, late 13th century, Honolulu Museum of Art. The background consists of multiple images of the Five Buddhas.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, the Five Tath?gatas (pañcatath?gata) or Five Wisdom Tath?gatas (Chinese: ?; pinyin: W?zhì Rúlái), the Five Great Buddhas and the Five Jinas (Sanskrit for "conqueror" or "victor"), are emanations and representations of the five qualities of the Adi-Buddha or "first Buddha" Vairocana or Vajradhara, which is associated with the Dharmak?ya.[1]

They are also sometimes called the "dhyani-buddhas", a term first recorded in English by Brian Houghton Hodgson, a British Resident in Nepal,[2] in the early 19th century, and is unattested in any surviving traditional primary sources.[3] These five Buddhas are a common subject of Vajrayana mandalas.

These five Buddhas feature prominently in various Buddhist Tantras and are the primary object of realization and meditation in Shingon Buddhism, a school of Vajarayana Buddhism founded in Japan by K?kai.


Diamond Realm mandala composed of 81 buddhas, Japan, Kamakura period

The Five Wisdom Buddhas are a development of the Buddhist Tantras, and later became associated with the trikaya or "three body" theory of Buddhahood. While in the Tattvasa?graha Tantra there are only four Buddha families, the full Diamond Realm mandala with five Buddhas first appears in the Vajrasekhara Sutra.[4] The Vajrasekhara also mentions a sixth Buddha, Vajradhara, "a Buddha (or principle) seen as the source, in some sense, of the five Buddhas."[5]

The Five Buddhas are aspects of the dharmakaya "dharma-body", which embodies the principle of enlightenment in Buddhism.

Initially, two Buddhas appeared to represent wisdom and compassion: Akshobhya and Amit?bha. A further distinction embodied the aspects of power, or activity, and the aspect of beauty, or spiritual riches. In the Golden Light Sutra, an early Mahayana text, the figures are named Dundubishvara and Ratnaketu, but over time their names changed to become Amoghasiddhi, and Ratnasambhava. The central figure came to be called Vairocana.

When these Buddhas are represented in mandalas, they may not always have the same colour or be related to the same directions. In particular, Akshobhya and Vairocana may be switched. When represented in a Vairocana mandala, the Buddhas are arranged like this:

Amoghasiddhi (North)
Amit?bha (West) Vairocana (Principal deity/meditator) Akshobhya (East)
Ratnasambhava (South)


There is an expansive number of associations with each element of the mandala, so that the mandala becomes a cipher and mnemonic visual thinking instrument and concept map; a vehicle for understanding and decoding the whole of the Dharma. Some of the associations include:

Family/Buddha Colour Element -> Symbolism Cardinality -> Wisdom -> Attachments -> Gestures Means -> Maladaptation to Stress Season Wisdom
Buddha/Vairocana white space -> wheel center -> all accommodating -> r?pa -> Teaching the Dharma Turning the Wheel of Dharma -> ignorance n/a , Hokkai taish? chi: The wisdom of the essence of the dharma-realm meditation mudra.[6]
Karma/Amoghasiddhi green air, wind -> double vajra north -> all accomplishing -> mental formation, concept -> fearlessness protect, destroy -> envy, jealousy summer ?, J?shosa chi: The wisdom of perfect practice.
Padma/Amit?bha red fire -> lotus west -> inquisitive -> perception -> meditation magnetize, subjugate -> selfishness spring ?, My?kanza chi: The wisdom of observation.
Ratna/Ratnasambhava gold/yellow earth -> jewel south -> equanimous -> feeling -> giving enrich, increase -> pride, greed autumn ?, By?d?sh? chi: The wisdom of equanimity.
Vajra/Akshobhya blue water -> sceptre, vajra east -> nondualist -> vijñ?na -> humility pacify -> aggression winter ?, Daienky? chi: The wisdom of reflection.

The five Tath?gathas are protected by five Wisdom Kings, and in Japan are frequently depicted together in the Mandala of the Two Realms and are in the Shurangama Mantra revealed in the ra?gama S?tra. They each are often depicted with consorts, and preside over their own pure lands. In East Asia, the aspiration to be reborn in a pure land is the central point of Pure Land Buddhism. Although all five Buddhas have pure lands, it appears that only Sukhavati of Amit?bha, and to a much lesser extent Abhirati of Akshobhya (where great masters like Vimalakirti and Milarepa are said to dwell) attracted aspirants.

Buddha (Skt) Consort Dhyani Bodhisattva Pure land B?ja
Vairocana Dharmadhatvishvari Samantabhadra central pure land Akanistha Ghanavyuha [Vam]]
Akshobhya Locan? Vajrapani eastern pure land Abhirati Hum
Amit?bha Pandara [7] Avalokite?vara western pure land Sukhavati Hrih
Ratnasa?bhava Mamaki [8] Ratnapani southern pure land Shrimat Tram
Amoghasiddhi Green Tara[9][10] Vi?vap?ni northern pure land Prakuta [es] Ah

See also


  1. ^ Williams, Wynne, Tribe; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, page 210.
  2. ^ Bogle (1999) pp. xxxiv-xxxv
  3. ^ Saunders, E Dale, "A Note on ?akti and Dhy?nibuddha," History of Religions 1 (1962): pp. 300-06.
  4. ^ Williams, Wynne, Tribe; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, page 210.
  5. ^ Williams, Wynne, Tribe; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, page 210.
  6. ^ Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. (2004). JAANUS / hokkai jouin ?. Available: Last accessed 27 Nov 2013.
  7. ^ "Pandara The Shakti of Amitabha". Retrieved .
  8. ^ "Mamaki The Shakti of Aksobhya". Retrieved .
  9. ^ "chart of the Five Buddhas and their associations". 2012-12-21. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Symbolism of the five Dhyani Buddhas Archived March 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine


  • Bogle, George; Markham, Clements Robert; and Manning, Thomas (1999) Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa ISBN 81-206-1366-X
  • Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism. Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4

External links

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