Mahakala: The Great Black One

mahakala_th46The legendary history of Mahakala was written by Khedrup Khyungpopa, founder of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, in the eleventh century. He says that the reason for the special powers and effectiveness of Mahakala goes back to Avalokiteshvara’s vow to remain in the mortal world and not reach Buddhahood until all sentient beings were enlightened. After helping hundreds of thousands of people for countless years to reach enlightenment, Avalokiteshvara saw no decrease in suffering, but rather an increase in defilements. He then became discouraged. As soon as he had that thought, his head immediately split into a thousand pieces. Amitabha, one of the five transcendent Buddhas, put the pieces back together and made eleven heads, telling Avalokiteshvara to make the same promise again but to keep it better. Accordingly out of Avalokiteshvara’s eleven faces, ten are peaceful, but one is wrathful, representing Mahakala.

Avalokiteshvara, saddened, fell unconscious for seven days, after which he thought that the world’s suffering souls needed results in a hurry without excessive effort. He then wished to turn himself into a wrathful deity in order to defeat more rapidly and effectively the obstacles to the happiness of others. With this thought the letter HUM in dark blue color came out of his heart. That Hum became Mahakala. It is not without significance that in the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, the syllable Hum invokes energetic powers.

The birth of Mahakala was followed by an earthquake and with one voice the Buddhas in the heaven declared that he would have the power to grant all wishes if the wishes were honest and good.

Mahakala was the personal tutelary deity for the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. His terrifying imagery ultimately derives from the angry form of the Hindu god Shiva, known as Bhairava. In Tibetan iconography he typically has one head with three bulging eyes. His eyebrows are like small flames, and his beard is made of hook-like shapes. He can have two to six arms.

The essential nature of Mahakala in the Tibetan pantheon can be gauged from the fact that he is worshipped as the Protector of the tent. Because of the nomadic nature of the Tibetan people, much of their life is spent in arduous and hazardous travel, complicated by the generally hostile environment they live in. During their sojourns, they use the Tent as a temporary abode, making it a very important part of their lives. He is also unquestionably the most vital Dharampala, since every monastery, no matter what the order, has a shrine devoted to this deity.


Karmapa’s Wisdom on Visualization

His Holiness The 17th Karmapa spoke of how when we express devotion to a visualization or painting of a deity, that deity is not external to us; we are honoring that deity within our own heart.

The wisdom of Manjushri, the compassion of Chenrezig, the protection of Mahakala, the Love of Tara are all qualities of our own being.

11133800_10152829309812634_214562115081789784_nAs we go to Tara, our Mother tonight, as we climb upon Her lap, and let Her Arms hold us as we sleep, we know that love, that protection is coming from our own hearts.

Then when we rise in the morning, we are able to hold other beings in that same spacious embrace of Her great Wisdom and Compassion.

Karmapa Chenno!
Om Tare Tutare Ture Soha!

Source: from my good friend Amrita Nadi on her Facebook page.

Mahakala Vision and Information

My friend Robert sent me a message this morning, offering me a vision of Mahakala for my family. This moved me to tears.


Though I am not attaching Robert’s words here, I did want to take a moment and preserve his message here in another way.

I found this great summary:

This chant was written by the Vidyadhara in 1975 at the Boston Dharmadhatu.

mahakala (San; “great black one”): A dharmapala predicted by the Buddha, Four-Armed Mahakala is a particular protector of the madhyamaka teachings and of the Chakrasamvara tantra. He was also a special protector of Surmang. His symbolism is based on vajra anger and compassion. As described in The Myth of Freedom, his four arms represent the four karmas:

One left arm holds a skull cup of amrita, the intoxicating nectar of the gods, which is a means of pacifying.

One right arm holds a hooked knife, a symbol of enriching.

The second right arm holds a sword, which is a way of magnetizing or gathering together energies. The sword need not strike; just by its being waved, the energies are rallied.

The remaining left arm holds the trident which destroys or subdues. Its three prongs cut through the root kleshas of passion, aggression, and ignorance with one thrust.

Mount Malaya: This may refer to a mountain on the island of Sri Lanka, said to be the dwelling place of Vajrapani, the Lord of Secret.

blood lake Koka: At the foot of Mount Malaya lies a lake which includes an island by this name.

charnel ground: The charnel ground, an open field filled with corpses and beasts of prey, is a potent symbol in vajrayana. It represents the ground from which all phenomena are born and die, the basis of both samsara and nirvana.

Rudra or Matram Rudra (San.): Originally a Hindu deity, an emanation of Shiva. In the vajrayana, Rudra is the personification of ultimate ego, the opposite of buddhahood. Rudra’s corpse (confused ego) is scattered on the charnel ground, from which mahakala (enlightened energy) arises.

samaya (San.): A vajrayana vow of commitment, binding the student’s total experience, to the path of meditation. Samaya is the bond that links together the student, the teacher, and the teachings.

SAMAYA JAH: A mantra that invokes the presence of the deity; it is also a confirmation of the deity’s presence.

vajra (Tib. dorje): Adamantine, indestructible. In general, the “vajra” indicates what is beyond arising and ceasing, hence indestructible. Here, it indicates the uncompromising quality of the Four-Armed Mahakala.

sword: A sword generally represents the sharp double edge of prajna or intellect, which cuts through the concepts of self and phenomena in one stroke. The sword does not need to strike; energies are gathered just by its being waved.

khatvanga (San.): A staff, usually surmounted by a vajra or a trident and ornamented with three heads.

Raven-Headed One (San. Kaka-mukha, “Raven Faced”): An action protector, a servant of Four- Armed Mahakala, whose nature is the masculine aspect of destruction. Like a raven, he preys upon and consumes whatever endangers the teachings. He holds a hooked knife and a skull cup.

Künga Namgyal: The fourth Trungpa Tulku, who spent six years in retreat at Dorje Khyung Dzong. He bound Four-Armed Mahakala as a protector of Surmang monastery.

Dorje Khyung Dzong (Tib. “Vajra Garuda Fortress”): A cave and retreat center near the Surmang monastery of Dütsi-tel, used for meditation retreat.

four karmas: Four enlightened styles of activity for working with situations; four stages or levels of taming ego completely. These are pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying:

pacifying: The activity of feeling the ground very softly and cooling it out; subduing psycho-logical imbalance or physical sickness.

enriching: The activity of feeling further the texture of the situation and bringing it to full expression; extending your influence over others; generously spreading your rich and dignified quality all over.

magnetizing: The activity of bringing the elements of a situation together, provoking it into ferment; also, attracting power and relationships which give control of situations.

destroying: The activity of penetrating confusion and annihilating obstacles. When there is a strong self-justifying pseudo-logic, compassion may demand razing a situation in order to clear the ground.

Practice Lineage: This is an epithet applied to the Kagyü lineage, which emphasizes a strong allegiance to meditation practice. It can also be applied to the Nyingma lineage.

OM MAHAKALAYA DEVA-RAKSHA SAMAYA HO BALIM TE KHAHI: This can be translated as “OM (homage to) Mahakala, O protector of devas, (keep) the samaya. Eat this food offering.”