H.E. Venerable Zasep Rinpoche explains wrathful deities:


“When you do wrathful deity practice, you… It gives you energy. You feel

like “I am strong” and “I am protected.” But before you do wrathful practice,

you start with lower tantras, the peaceful deities. And, every time you do

any of these practices, first you meditate on emptiness.”


He continues: “Of course, from a Western cultural background, wrathful deities can be misunderstood as demonic because of their appearance.

We have a praise to Yamantaka, that says, “Out of your compassion, you show your wrathful face.” When you pray to wrathful deities, you feel protected. You feel, He is my protector. He can protect me from obstructions and negative forces. He or She is like your warrior. It’s like martial arts self defense.

For example, I go to Mongolia every year. Many Mongolians have names like Yamantaka or Hayagriva. In the Mongolian cultural background, they like fierce names. They feel protected.” {Source, Interview on Buddha Weekly, part 3>>]











Lord of Pristine Awarness

In Tibet, Black Mahakala is often just refered to as “The Lord.” One of his names translates to English as: “The Lord of Pristine Awareness.” Every attribute in his visualization is symbolically meaningful.

“The Lord of Pristine Awareness has six hands and a body dark blue in colour. The first two hold a curved knife and skullcup, the middle two a human skull mala and trident, the lowest two a damaru drum and lasso. Adorned with a tiger skin, garland of heads, bones and snakes, and small bells on the hands and feet. Standing in a manner with the two legs together pressing down on Ganapati. With three eyes, bared fangs, eyebrows, beard and hair flowing upward with Akshobhya as a crown. Anointed with a sindhura drop on the forehead. Supported behind by a sandalwood tree, dwelling in the middle of a blazing mass of fire. On the [lower] left is Shri Devi, riding a mule, holding a stick and bag of disease. In front is yaksha Kshetrapala, reddish black, holding a curved knife and skullcup, riding a crazy black bear. At the right is Jinamitra, dark red, holding a hand drum and wheel. Behind [and above] is Takkiraja, black, holding a razor and blood filled skullcup. At the left is the lord of maras, Trakshe, holding a banner, and a skullcup to the heart, riding a black daemon horse with white hooves. He wears a long black silk cloak and boots. Outside of that sport the seventy-five great lords and an ocean of oath-bound ones together with retinue.”


































Symbolism of Black Mahakala

Mahakala is a manifestation of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. Although he appears wrathful, this is a symbolic appearance that conveys his power to overcome negativities, obstacles and provide conducive conditions for practice. In brief, the complex attributes of six-armed Mahakala are symbolic of:

  • Midnight blue or black symbolizes changeless Dharmakaya (all colours absorb into black.)

  • Three eyes convey that he sees the past, present and future.

  • The five-skull crown: transformation of the five poisons of anger, desire, ignorance, jealousy and pride — into the five wisdoms.

  • Six arms represent the attainment of the six perfections: generosity, patience, morality, diligence, meditation, and wisdom.

  • Rosary of skulls symbolize continuous activity on behalf of all sentient beings.

  • Damaru hand drum represents the sound of emptiness

  • The skullcup filled with blood symbolizes either/ both the subjugation of the maras (evil), or the transformation to the pristine nectar of wisdom.

  • The kartika or curved ritual knife stands for “cutting attachments” and clinging to “ego.”

  • The trident staff shows his power over the three kayas.

  • The lasso binds those who break their vows.

  • He stands on an elephant-headed deity, symbolizing the overcoming of obstacles (elephants represent pride) and also overcoming obtacles subconscious thoughts

  • He stands on a sun disc, symbolizing illumination from ignorance.

  • The lotus throne represents purity and the Lotus Family (Chenrezig and Amitabha are Lotus Family.)

  • The tiger skin represents the purification of desire.

  • The elephant skin stands for purification of pride.

  • Snakes represent the purification of anger.

Black Mahakala from a 16th century tangkha in the Rubin Museum.
A beautiful Black Mahakala tangkha in the Gelugpa tradition, 18th century, displayed in the Rubin Museum.