Buddhas are sworn to helping all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment and thus free themselves from the yoke of suffering in samsara. In carrying out their commitment to sentient beings, Buddhas take many forms – as hell beings to help sentient beings born in hell, animals to guide beings born as animals, and even as inanimate objects like bridges, to help fortunate sentient beings in their quest for liberation.
The historical Buddha is an example of how Buddhas take human form to help us find a way permanently out of our suffering in samsara. But Buddhas can also take forms that are not flesh and blood. To help us along the path, Buddhas also take the form of ‘yidams” which are are meditational deities for one to focus one’s meditational practice upon to develop aspects of the enlightenment mind that one is on the path to achieving, such as compassion, wisdom, or loving kindness. As there are myriad aspects of enlightened mind, so there are literally thousands of yidams. Here is a selection of the common yidams practiced in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism:
Tara is the embodiment of all the Buddhas’ enlightened activities, appearing in a female form. Mother Tara is also sometimes known as “The Liberator” of all sentient beings. Mother Tara is known to the Chinese as “Duo Luo Guan Zi Zai Pu Sa” (Tara-Avalokiteshvara) or Avalokiteshvara of Mount Potalaka (Pu Tuo Shan) in China.
Mother Tara is able to free all sentient beings quickly from suffering and set them on the correct and complete path to enlightenment. Devotees and practitioners who pray and make offerings to Mother Tara with the motivation of benefiting all sentient beings, are also protected from all misfortunes and are able to gain favourable conditions such as good health, prosperity and fulfillment of one’s wishes.
There are 21 emanations or forms of Mother Tara. Green Tara is the Main Yidam among the 21 Taras. The Green Tara mantra, Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha, is therefore the root mantra of the 21 Taras. Diligent recitation of the Green Tara mantra can destroy the root cause of rebirth, and all hindrances and suffering caused by sickness, water, fire, weapons, armies, robbers, etc. Practising this mantra also increases one’s merit and wisdom, compassion, longevity and benevolent influence. All wishes and requests will be fulfilled and eventually one will be reborn in the Pure Land after death.
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, or Chenrezig in Tibetan, is also known in the female form of Guan Yin to the Chinese. He is the embodiment of all Buddhas’ compassion whose main activity is to liberate and protect sentient beings from sufferings of the six realms. All beings who recite his name or his mantra – Om Mani Padme Hum – will immediately be saved from dangers of natural disasters, animals, spirits, marauding armies, robbers, etc. He is also renowned for fulfilling the wishes of sentient beings such as enabling those who pray for child to obtain a child, bestowing good health to those who are sick, providing food and shelter to those who are poor, etc. Chenrezig has also vowed to guide his devotees at their times of death to the Pure Land of Bliss.
There are countless manifestations of Chenrezig, of which the well-known forms are the 1,000-Armed Chenrezig and the Four-Armed Chenrezig. Our guru, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, is believed to be a manifestation of the Thousand-Armed Chenrezig.
Manjushri Bodhisattva is the embodiment of the wisdom of the Buddhas of the 10 directions and three periods of time and is also known as the Prince of Dharma. He appears as a 16-year-old youth holding a flaming sword of wisdom in his right hand, symbolizing his ability to purify all ignorance of the mind, hence cutting off afflictions of greed, hatred and attachment which are the root causes of suffering of all sentient beings. His left hand holds a lotus upon which the Perfection of Wisdom text rests. This symbolizes the understanding and mastery of wisdom of emptiness which will enable sentient beings within samsara to be free from worldly suffering, like a lotus untainted by the mud from which it grows.
By praying and making offerings to Manjushri Bodhisattva, one is able to increase one’s wisdom, intelligence and logical thinking, and quickly cut-off root causes of suffering that one is experiencing. Manjushri is also venerated by many who aspire to excel in their studies and work.