A Potted Guide to Who’s Who in the Divine
Guanyin is the bodhisattva associated with compassion as venerated by East Asian Buddhists, usually as a female. The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin which means "Observing the Sounds (or Cries) of the World". She is also sometimes referred to as Guanyin Pusa (simplified Chinese: 观音菩萨; traditional Chinese: 觀音菩薩; pinyin: Guānyīn Púsà; Wade–Giles: Kuan-yin Pu-sah; literally "Bodhisattva Guanyin"). Some Buddhists believe that when one of their adherents departs from this world, they are placed by Guanyin in the heart of a lotus then sent to the western pure land of Sukhāvatī.
It is generally accepted among east Asian adherents that Guanyin originated as the Sanskrit Avalokiteśvara (अवलोकितेश्वर). Commonly known in English as the Mercy Goddess or Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin is also revered by Chinese Taoists (sometimes called Daoists) as an Immortal. However, in Taoist mythology, Guanyin has other origination stories which are not directly related to Avalokiteśvara.
Tara is a tantric meditation deity whose practice is used by practitioners of the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism to develop certain inner qualities and understand outer, inner and secret teachings about compassion and emptiness. Tara is actually the generic name for a set of Buddhas or bodhisattvas of similar aspect. These may more properly be understood as different aspects of the same quality, as bodhisattvas are often considered metaphoric for Buddhist virtues.
The most widely known forms of Tārā are:
- Green Tārā, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity
- White Tārā, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity; also known as The Wish-fulfilling Wheel, or Cintachakra
- Red Tārā, of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things
- Black Tārā, associated with power
- Yellow Tārā, associated with wealth and prosperity
- Blue Tārā, associated with transmutation of anger
- Cittamani Tārā, a form of Tārā widely practiced at the level of Highest Yoga Tantra in the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, portrayed as green and often conflated with Green Tārā
- Khadiravani Tārā (Tārā of the acacia forest), who appeared to Nagarjuna in the Khadiravani forest of South India and who is sometimes referred to as the "22nd Tārā."
Kālī is represented as the consort of Lord Shiva, on whose body she is often seen standing. She is associated with many other Hindu goddesses like Durga, Bhadrakali, Sati, Rudrani, Parvati and Chamunda. She is the foremost among the Dasa Mahavidyas, ten fierce Tantric goddesses.
Amitābha (Sanskrit: अमिताभ, Amitābha (wordstem), Sanskrit pronunciation: [əmɪˈt̪aːbʱə]) is a celestial buddha described in the scriptures of the Mahāyāna school of Buddhism. Amitābha is the principal buddha in the Pure Land sect, a branch of Buddhism practiced mainly in East Asia, while in Vajrayana Amitābha is known for his longevity attribute and the aggregate of distinguishing (recognition) and the deep awareness of individualities. According to these scriptures, Amitābha possesses infinite merits resulting from good deeds over countless past lives as a bodhisattva named Dharmakāra. "Amitābha" is translatable as "Infinite Light," hence Amitābha is often called "The Buddha of Infinite Light."
Shiva is one in whom the Universe 'sleeps' in a boundless void after destruction, before re-birth and during its existence. Shiva is therefore "eternal and purest". Thus Shiva is The Reality. Shiva is therefore also The Consciousness (frees from the bonds of mortal desires); Shiva is The Bliss (roots out sin and fear); Shiva is Auspicious (makes the earth religious and an abode of safety and peace).
Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power, he lives a life of a sage at Mount Kailash. In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Shiva is the Supreme God and has five important works: creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer, and revealer (to bless). In the Smarta tradition, he is regarded as one of the five primary forms of God. Followers of Hinduism who focus their worship upon Shiva are called Shaivites or Shaivas (Sanskrit Śaiva). Shaivism, along with Vaiṣṇava traditions that focus on Vishnu and Śākta traditions that focus on the goddess Shakti, is one of the most influential denominations in Hinduism.
VishnuSanskrit विष्णु Viṣṇu) is a popular Hindu god, venerated as the Supreme Being in the Vaishnava sect. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God.
Yab yumTibetan literally, "father-mother") is a common symbol in the Buddhist art of India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet representing the male deity in sexual union with his female consort. Often the male deity is sitting in lotus position while his consort is sitting in his lap.
The symbolism is associated with Anuttarayoga tantra and, while there are various interpretations of the symbolism in the twilight language, the male figure is usually linked to compassion (karuṇā) and skillful means (upāya-kauśalya), while the female partner to 'insight' (prajñā).
The symbolism of union and sexual polarity is a central teaching in Tantric Buddhism, especially in Tibet. The union is realised by the practitioner as a mystical experience within one's own body.
Yab-yum is generally understood to represent the primordial (or mystical) union of wisdom and compassion. In Buddhism the masculine form is active, representing the compassion and skillful means (upaya ) that have to be developed in order to reach enlightenment. The feminine form is passive and represents wisdom (prajna), which is also necessary to enlightenment. United, the figures symbolize the union necessary to overcome the veils of Maya, the false duality of object and subject.
Yab-yum may also be represented through the aniconic signification of yantra and mandala.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the same ideas are to be found concerning the bell and the dorje, which, like the yab-yum, symbolize the dualism that must be exceeded. The sacred Tantric practice leads to rapid development of mind by using the experience of bliss, non-duality, and ecstasy while in communion with one's consort.