Buddhist Deities are the divine beings that are worshipped in various ritual and popular contexts by Buddhist. Earlier they were mainly enlightened Buddhas and Indian deities but as Buddhism was spread to other areas and country, other Asian spirits and local gods were also included in the Buddhist Deities. For example, Saraswoti, a Hindu Deva is considered to be Bodhisattvas by many Japanese Buddhists. Hence, the Buddhist Deities includes Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Yidam, Devas, and Yaksha.
Buddhist Deities: Buddhas
Various branch of Buddhism has varied views regarding the Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, the historical Buddha Sakyamuni is the only Buddha of our current era. However, there is a list of acknowledged past Buddhas.
In Mahayana Buddhism, there are several Buddhas apart from the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. They believe that all the fully awakened being are the Buddhas.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, there are primarily five Buddhas- Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi. Each of these Buddhas is associated with a different consort, direction, aggregate, emotion, element, color, symbol, and mount. Apart from these Buddhas, Medicine Buddha and Nageshvara Raja are also Buddhas in Vajrayana tradition. There are also female Buddhas that are venerated. They are Tara, Vajrayogini, Nairatmya, and Kurukulla. Vajrayana tradition also views the Adhi-Buddha, the first-Buddha to attain Buddhahood.
Buddhist Deities: Bodhisattvas
Bodhisattva is any being that has aroused bodhicitta and is working towards attaining full enlightenment and Buddhahood. Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions venerate Bodhisattvas while Theravadan doesn't. The most venerated Bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara while the female Bodhisattvas is Prajnaparamita.
There are mainly eight Bodhisattvas in Vajrayana Buddhism. They are - Ksitigarbha, Vajrapani, Akasagarbha, Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, Nivaranaviskhambhin,Samantabhadra, Manjushri.
Apart from these Candraprabha, Suryaprabha, Vajrasattva is also considered Bodhisattvas.
Buddhists Deities: Yidam
The Yidam or Ishta-devata is a personal meditation deity. Even though the term Ishta-devata is used in many popular books on Buddhist Tantra, this term has not been attested in any Buddhist tantric text in Sanskrit. It is believed that the Tibetan version of the term, Yidam is said to be a contraction of Tib. Yid-Kyi-dam-tshing is the state of being indestructibly bonded with the inherently pure and liberated nature of mind.
Devas are the divine beings. They have very long lives and experience much less suffering than humans. But they are not immortal or immune from suffering. There are devas which do not have a physical form. The devas venerated by Buddhists are Brahma, Sarasvati, Laksmi, Sakra, Harati, Patiini, Saman and Ganesha.
The Yaksha is the nature spirits, usually benevolent. They are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots. They were first worshipped in India even before the Vedic period. First, they were adopted by the Hinduism and later on by Buddhism. In Buddhism, it is believed that they reside deep within the Earth under the Himalayas where they guard the wealth of the Earth. For Hinduism and Buddhism, The Yaksha is ruled over by Kubera, the Lord of wealth.
In Burma, there exists the popular worship of nature spirits called Nats which are worshiped alongside Buddhism. The Burmese spirit world has thirty-seven nats. Most of these are spirits of those who have died a violent death. Most of them are appeased out of fear. These spirits are capable of punishing but this doesn’t mean that the spirit does not reward the people. The people who have given up the animistic worship, when experience a spell of bad luck, the astrologers can make them revert back to their traditional worship to appease spirits who still want their offerings. Hence, there are shrines for them and the locals offer these shrine frequently.
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