Tibetan Art
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The Buddhas


  The five Dhyani-Buddhas (known as the meditation, or contemplation Buddhas) represent the intermediate kaya, the Sambhogakaya: this has been translated as the glorious, beatific, or enjoyment body (signifying the transcendent bliss of the Buddhas). The Dhyani-Buddhas represent the active principle or creative force of the primordial, self-created Buddha, who evolved or created them. (According to some schools of belief, they are not active themselves, but evolved a corresponding set of five Dhyani-Bodhisattvas, who are their active force -- the actual creators of the material world. And some schools consider Adi-buddha as the universal creator, of whom and from whom all things emanate.)

  According to some theories, each of the five Dhyani-Buddhas conceived of a different world cycle, for which his Dhyani-Bodhisattva was the actual creator, and for which his Manushi-Buddha or human teacher came to lead that cycle. Ours is the fourth cycle, established by Amitabha, with Avalokiteshvara as its actual creator, and Shakyamuni as its Manushi-Buddha.

There are five Dhyani-Buddha families. Each of the five Dhyani-Buddhas presides over a different point of the compass and thus they are also referred to as the directional Buddhas. This configuration is a key element in the design of mandalas, as shown in the diagram below. Each is also depicted in his own proper color, holding his own symbolic object, and in his own pose and with his own mudra (hand gesture). Each represents a different element, and a different aggregate (as in sensory, physical or mental faculty, or element of personality).

Whereas the Manushi-Buddha (in our age, Shakyamuni) is shown in the patched robes of a simple monk, without ornaments, the Dhyani-Buddhas are depicted wearing the dress and ornaments of an Indian prince, with earrings, bracelets, and fine shawls.

They are arranged in four corners, corresponding to the four points of the compass, with a presiding deity in the center. The usual set of five Dhyani-Buddhas are as follows: Akshobya in the east, Amitabha in the west, Ratnasambhava in the south, and Amoghasiddhi in the north, and Vairocana in the center. There is also a central or presiding Dhyani-Buddha, sometimes conceived of as a sixth Dhyani-Buddha, who may hover above the center: this can be either Vairocana or Vajrasattva, according to the particular sect. The diagram they form is usually that of a quincunx, turned on its side:

  Amoghasiddhi (north)

Amitabha (west)
Vairocana (center)
or Vajrasattva (white)

Akshobhya (east)
  Ratnasambhava (south)



Mortal beings, who are born into this world and leave it at death, can reach Buddhahood, being Buddhas in human manifestation; they are also known as Manushi-Buddhas. As with Shakyamuni, such beings are believed to have advanced through previous lives and incarnations to become Bodhisattvas, and upon their final achievement, supreme enlightenment, reach Buddhahood. In the threefold kaya classification, this is Nirmanakaya, which is translated as the emanation or transformation body -- Buddhas in human form, like Shakyamuni. Such a Buddha achieves nirvana and release from the cycle of birth and death. The Nirmanakaya may also be considered the mortal or human manifestations or emanations of the afore-mentioned Dhyani-Bodhisattvas.

Iconographically, a Manushi-Buddha is depicted in a robe patterned with large squares meant to represent patches -- the simplicity and poverty of a monk's dress -- and without ornaments. A Buddha is considered to have certain physical signs, and is depicted with long earlobes, a protuberance on top of the head, and a small mark in the center of the forehead, between the eyes.

"Tathagata" is a term frequently seen in reference to Buddha, although its precise designation varies somewhat. The Sanskrit word is interpreted as meaning "thus gone," as "so gone," or as "gone in that manner." It is thus taken to signify one who, having thus gone, will not come again, i.e, who will have no rebirths--hence, one who has attained supreme enlightenment. In general, it is one of the titles of the Buddha, and in particular, is often used as an epithet for Shakyamuni in his Nirmanakaya aspect. Some schools, however, apply the term to the Adi-buddha, or to the Dhyani-Buddhas.

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