The perimeter beings of the Kālacakra maṇḍala


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The Kālacakra Tantra commentary, the Vimalaprabhā, tells us little about the perimeter beings of the maṇḍala. There are said to be 35,000,000 of them arranged around the palace, above the perimeter of wind. Abhayākaragupta gives some details in his Niṣpannayogāvalī, the companion text to the Vajrāvalī, naming a few of them:

The planets (such as Venus, depicted in the image above).

Dhruva – the Pole Star. A king who defeated in battle large numbers of yakṣas; blessed by Kubera and elevated to a place higher than all the planets.

Agastya (ri byi) – the star Canopus, named after a ṛiṣi of the same name (The Tibetan ri byi is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word ṛiṣi). He had crossed the Vindhya mountains and seen the star for the first time, around six to seven thousand years ago. The heliacal rising of Canopus is said to indicate the end of the rainy season in northern India and the purification of water supplies. A thousand years ago, the heliacal rising would have occured around 28 August. For seven days from the heliacal rising, water is said to possess eight special qualities: it is cool, sweet, light, soft, clear, pure, and neither upsets the stomach nor irritates the throat. Varāhamihira says of the star that it "looks like the special red tilaka-mark on the forehead of the lady-like southern direction [and] shines forth and delights the minds of men" (Pañcasiddhāntikā).

The 28 lunar mansions – the division of the ecliptic into 27 or 28 parts, similar to:

The 12 signs of the zodiac – the familar signs of the zodiac, Aries, etc.

The 16 lunar phases – the sixteen phases from new Moon up to full Moon. See also the Fifteen Nityas.

Indra, Tsangwa Monastery, Dzamthang.
The worldy protectors of the 10 directions – the list as given in the third chapter of the Vimalaprabhā is: Brahma (tshangs pa), Viṣṇu (khyab 'jug), Nairṛiti (bden bral), Vāyu (rlung lha), Yama (gshin rje), Agni (me lha), Samudra (rgya mtsho), Śaṅkara (bde byed), Indra (dbang po) and Yakṣa (gnod sbyin).

Nandi (dga' byed) – the bull that is the mount, companion and guardian of Śiva. Also considered to be a sage and teacher in his own right.

Mahākāla (nag po chen po) – the black protector.

Ghaṇṭākarṇa (dril bu'i rna ba can) – "bell-ears", a terrible rākṣasa created by Śiva. He was at first an enemy of Viṣṇu and wore bells on his ears so that he would not even hear Viṣṇu's name. Eventually achieved salvation through performing austerities (tapas, dka' thub) and became a devotee of Viṣṇu.

Hāriti ('phrog ma) – there are many variations on the story of Hāriti. According to the main Buddhist legend, she lived at the time of the Buddha with her 500 children. However, in order to feed her children, she would steal the children of others as food. Distraught parents seek the Buddha's help, and he has one of Hāriti's children kidnapped. In a terrible state at the loss of her child, she turns to the Buddha for help. He returns her child, explaining to her the suffering she has caused to others. She repents, converts to Buddhism and became the protectoress of children. She is also sometimes associated with protection from smallpox.

Bhṛiṅgī (nyam chung) – a devotee of Śiva. who was cursed by Śiva's consort, Pārvatī, after he upset her. As a result, his legs became too weak to support him. In order to help him, Śiva gave him a third leg and he came to be known as the Mahāṛiṣi with three legs.

Large numbers of:

    field protectors (zhing skyong, kṣetrapāla) – originally protectors of agricultural fields, but later of land in general.

    messengers (pho nya, dūtī) – more than just messengers, also servants and functionaries of the gods.

    and siddhas (grub pa) – human practitioners.

In the Jonang tradition, these are considered to be so numerous that they are not usually represented in the maṇḍala in any specified form. However, they can be represented, and if this is done, they are placed in the outer half of the perimeter of wind – the inner half is taken up by the charnel grounds. Out of the total of 35 million beings, one would place as many as appropriate, choosing them from the normal lists, such as given below, and giving them various forms, colours and hand-emblems.

However, there are two traditions in which a specific number of these beings are represented, with, in the usual case, three of them representing a collection of beings.

Gelug and Sakya traditions

The main tradition of this is used in the Gelug and Sakya schools, and originally comes from Buton, given in his work dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i phyi'i khor yug gi lha 'god tshul. This includes eighty-eight deities represented around the border between the fire and wind perimeters, eleven between each of the wheels of the pracaṇḍā goddesses. These are normally represented by their seeds, although many maṇḍalas in which these deities are depicted also show their forms. When the seeds are drawn, this is nearly always done in old Rañjana (decorative/ornamental) script, as in the images given below. (These are taken from a maṇḍala painted under the direction of Ven. Jhado Rinpoche. Image courtesy of Ricky Swaczy, Northern Shambhala, Italy)

The following list is based on the original work by Buton, the Kālacakra sādhana by Kalzang Gyatso, the 7th Dalai Lama (bcom ldan 'das dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i sku gsung thugs yongs su rdzogs pa'i dkyil 'khor gyi sgrub thabs mkhas grub zhal lung), a text on the arrangement of deities in the maṇḍala by Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama (bcom ldan 'das dang po'i sangs rgyas dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i sku gsung thugs yongs su rdzogs pa'i rdul tshon gyi dkyil 'khor 'dri skabs lha tshogs rnams 'god tshul gsal bar bkod pa 'khri shing yongs 'du'i dga' tshal), and also a Sakya text by Jamyang Loter Wangpo (dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i dkyil 'khor gyi cho ga spangs rtogs kyi yon tan kun nas 'byung ba). There are many minor variations between these texts (and painted maṇḍalas), and the majority of the seeds are intended to be the initial letters of the Sanskrit names of the deities concerned (although nearly all of the names are only given in Tibetan). Most of the inconsistencies in these texts in this respect have been resolved, although a couple still remain. In this list, and the one further down used in the Karma-Kagyu tradition, question marks indicate lingering uncertainties. The lunar mansions are indicated by LM. The list starts from the east, and continues clockwise:

Between east and south-east:

1.iṃyellowIndra (dbang po)
2.caṃblackCandra, Moon (zla ba)
3.reṃlight yellow  Revatī (LM) (nam gru)
4.uṃyellowUttarabhādrapāda (LM) (khrums smad)
5.mīṃredMīna, Pisces (nya)
6.sūṃblackSūrya, Sun (nyi ma)
7.aṃredAgni (me lha)
8.dūṃgreenDūtī (pho nya mo)
9.pūṃgreenPūrvabhādrapāda (LM) (khrums stod)
10. śaṃyellowŚatabhṛiṣā (LM) (mon gru)
11.kuṃblackKumbha, Aquarius (bum pa)

Between south-east and south:

1.aṃgreenSixth lunar day (tshes drug)
2.eblackSeventh lunar day (tshes bdun)
3.arredEighth lunar day (tshes brgyad)
4.owhiteNinth lunar day (tshes dgu)
5.alyellowTenth lunar day (tshes bcu)
6.dhaṃ  black ?Dhaniṣṭhā (LM) (mon gre)
7.aṃlight blueAbhijit (LM) (byi bzhin)
8.śraṃlight yellow  Śravaṇa (LM) (gro bzhin)
9.maṃgreenMakara, Capricorn (chu srin)
10. kṣeṃgreenKṣetrapāla (zhing skyong)
11.aṃblueAgastya, Canopus (ri byi)

Between south and south-west:

1.yaṃredYama (gshin rje)
2.buṃredBudha, Mercury (lhag pa)
3.uṃwhiteUttarāṣāḍhā (LM) (chu smad)
4.pūṃblackPūrvāṣāḍhā (LM) (chu stod)
5.mūṃyellowMūla (LM) (snrubs)
6.dham  greenDhanu, Sagittarius (gzhu)
7.hāṃyellow  Hārītī ('phrog ma)
8.maṃredMaṅgala, Mars (mig dmar)
9.naiṃblackNairṛiti (bden bral)
10. jyeṃyellowJyeṣṭha (LM) (snron)
11.bṛiṃblackBṛiścaka, Scorpio (sdig pa)

Between south-west and west:

1.aṃgreenAnurādhā (LM) (lha mtshams)
2.aṃblueSixteenth phase (cha bcu drug pa)
3.naṃblackNandi, Nandikeśvara (dga' byed)
4.maṃblackMahākāla (nag po chen po)
5.ghaṃblackGhaṇṭākarṇa (dril bu'i rna ba can)
6.bhṛiṃ  blackBhṛiṅgi (bhriṃ gi ṇe)
7.biṃblackViśākhā (LM) (sa ga)
8.śvāṃyellow  Svātī (LM) (sa ri)
9.tuṃredTulā, Libra (srang)
10. piṃblueViṣṇu (khyab 'jug)
11.kāṃblueKālāgni (dus me)

Between west and north-west:

1.vaṃwhiteVaruṇa (chu lha)
2.keṃyellowKetu, comet (du ba mjug ring)
3.siṃblackSiddha (grub pa)
4.ciṃgreenCitrā (LM) (nag pa)
5.haṃ  whiteHastā (LM) (me bzhi)
6.uṃgreenUttaraphalgunī (LM) (dbo)
7.kaṃwhiteKanyā, Virgo (bu mo)
8.vāṃblackVāyu (rlung lha)
9.śaṃyellowŚani, Saturn (spen pa)
10. pūṃyellow-greenPūrvaphalgunī (LM) (bre)
11.siṃgolden-yellow  Siṃha, Leo (seng ge)

Between north-west and north:

1.maṃyellowMaghā (LM) (mchu)
2.hagreenEleventh lunar day (tshes bcu gcig)
3.yablackTwelfth lunar day (tshes bcu gnyis)
4.raredThirteenth lunar day (tshes bcu gsum)
5.vawhiteFourteenth lunar day (tshes bcu bzhi)
6.layellowFifteenth lunar day (tshes bco lnga)
7.dhruṃ  greenDhruva, Pole star (brtan pa)
8.aṃwhiteAśleṣā (LM) (skag)
9.puṃlight blue  Puṣya (LM) (rgyal)
10. kaṃblueKarkaṭa, Cancer (karka ṭa)
11.yaṃyellowYakṣa (gnod sbyin)

Between north and north-east:

1.śuṃwhiteŚukra, Venus (pa sangs)
2.puṃyellowPunarvasu (LM) (nabs so)
3.āṃyellowĀrdrā (LM) (lag)
4.miṃblueMithuna, Gemini ('khrig pa)
5.bṛiṃwhiteBṛihaspati, Jupiter (phur pa)
6.iṃwhiteRudra (drag po)
7.mṛiṃblackMṛigaśiras (LM) (mgo)
8.roṃlight red  Rohiṇī (LM) (snar ma)
9.bṛiṃyellowVṛiṣa, Taurus (glang)
10. bhūṃ  greenBhūta ('byung po pho)
11.bhūṃgreenBhūtā ('byung po mo)

Between north-east and east:

1.agreenFirst lunar day (tshes gcig)
2.iblackSecond lunar day (tshes gnyis)
3.ṛiredThird lunar day (tshes gsum)
4.uwhiteFourth lunar day (tshes bzhi)
5.ḷiyellowFifth lunar day (tshes lnga)
6.kṛiṃlight blueKṛittikā (LM) (smin drug)
7.bhaṃ  green, yellow-green?  Bharaṇī (LM) (bra nye)
8.aṃwhiteAśvinī (LM) (tha skar)
9.meṃwhiteMeṣa, Aries (lug)
10. rāṃgreenRāhu (sgra gcan)
11.braṃgreenBrahma (tshangs pa)

Buton explains much of his reasoning behind this arrangement. The planets are arranged in directions similar to those in which they are located in the Kālacakra protective sphere meditation. (They also closely match the positions they are given in the Vajrāvalī.) The signs of the zodiac and the lunar mansions are placed around the perimeter in positions relative to their positions around the ecliptic, with the beginning of the ecliptic positioned in the east. This means that the first sign from the east in an anti-clockwise direction is Aries, the next Taurus, and so on. The lunar mansions are arranged similarly.

He places the sixteen lunar phases in groups according to their classifications: the first group of five associated with tamas are placed towards the east, the second group associated with rajas in the south, and the third group associated with sattva in the north. The sixteenth is in the west. He states that he has placed the phases associated with the elements of space and awareness in positions that are compatible with the positions of similarly classified deities in the mind palacae. However, his comments do not quite match the actual placing of those deities, and there seems to be at least one mistake in the current version of this little text. He also mentions that deities such as Viṣṇu are placed in positions similar to those they occupy in the body palace.

Karma Kagyu tradition

The placing of the deities in the other main tradition is not explained in this way. This tradition is the one coming from the translator Tsami, passing through the Karma Kagyu school. In this method, instead of 88 deities around the perimeter, there are 112, 14 between each of the wheels of pracaṇḍā goddesses in the charnel grounds.

A somewhat similar logic has been applied to the placing of these deities as with Buton's method. The planets are certainly arranged similarly, but the zodiac signs and lunar mansions are placed more according to their categorization as deities, and placed in the appropriate directions.

Between east and south-east:

1:kṣeṃblackKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:puṃyellow  Punarvasu (LM) (nabs so)
3:khaṃ  blackkhadga, sword realization, (ral gri grub pa)
4:bṛiṃblackBṛiścaka, Scorpio (sdig pa'i khyim)
5:eblackSeventh lunar day (tshes bdun)
6:uṃgreenUttaraphalgunī (LM) (dbo)
7:haṃwhiteHastā (LM) (me bzhi)
8:sūṃblackSūrya, Sun (nyi ma)
9:saṃblackVāyukṛitsna, Totality of wind (zad par rlung)
10: ciṃgreenCitrā (LM) (nag pa)
11:yablackTwelfth lunar day (tshes bcu gnyis)
12:śvāṃorangeSvātī (LM) (sa ri)
13:aṃblackrealization of inexhaustible treasure (gter grub pa)
14:bāṃblackVāyu (rlung lha)

Between south-east and south:

1:kṣeṃblackKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:naṃblackNandi (dga' byed1)
3:maṃblackMahākāla (nag po chen po)
4:agreenSixth lunar day (tshes drug)
5:dhaṃgreenDhanu, Sagitarrius (gzhu khyim)
6:dhruṃ  greenDhruva, Polaris, Pole star (brtan pa)
7:rāṃgreen  Rāhu (sgra gcan)
8:ṛiredThird lunar day (tshes gsum)
9:kṛiṃblueKṛittikā (LM) (smin drug)
10: puṃbluePuṣya (LM) (rgyal)
11:mīṃredMīna, Pisces (nya)
12:saṃredTejaḥkṛitsna, Totality of fire (zad par me)
13:yaṃredYama (gshin rje)
14:buṃredBudha, Mercury (lhag pa)

Between south and south-west:

1:kṣeṃredKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:maṃyellowMaghā (LM) (mchu)
3:pāṃredPādukā, running realization (rkang mgyogs)
4:tuṃredTulā, Libra (srang khyim)
5:arredEighth lunar day (tshes brgyad)
6:pūṃyellow-green  Pūrvaphalgunī (LM) (bre, gre)
7:biṃblackViśākhā (LM) (sa ga)
8:maṃredMaṅgala, Mars (mig dmar)
9:saṃredTejaḥkṛitsna, Totality of fire (zad par me)
10: pūṃgreenPūrvabhādrapāda (LM) (khrums stod)
11:rared Thirteenth lunar day (tshes bcu gsum)
12:bhaṃ  greenBharaṇī (LM) (bra nye)
13:roṃredRocana, invisibility realization ?
14:aṃredAgni (me lha)

Between south-west and west:

1:kṣeṃredKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:ghaṃblackGhaṇṭākarṇa (dril bu'i rna ba can)
3:ḍāṃ  greenḌākinī (mkha' 'gro)
4:hagreenEleventh lunar day (tshes bcu gcig)
5:kaṃblueKarkaṭa, Cancer (karkaṭa)
6:biṃblueViṣṇu (khyab 'jug)
7:saṃblueŚūnyakṛitsna, Totality of emptiness (zad par stong pa)
8:ḷiyellowFifth lunar day (tshes lnga)
9:āṃyellowĀrdrā (LM) (lag)
10: aṃwhiteAśleṣā (LM) (skag)
11:bṛiṃyellow  Vṛiṣa, Taurus (glang khyim)
12:saṃyellowPṛithvīkṛitsna, Totality of earth (zad par sa)
13:iṃyellowIndra (dbang po)
14:keṃyellowKetu, comet (du ba mjug rings)

Between west and north-west:

1:kṣeṃ  yellowKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:mūṃyellowMūla (LM) (snrubs)
3:aṃyellowEye-medicine realization (mig sman)
4:siṃyellowSiṃha, Leo (seng ge'i khyim)
5:alyellowTenth lunar day (tshes bcu)
6:pūṃblackPūrvāṣāḍhā (LM) (chu stod)
7:śaṃyellowŚatabhṛiṣā (LM) (mon gru)
8:śaṃyellowŚani, Saturn (spen pa)
9:saṃyellowPṛithvīkṛitsna, Totality of Earth (zad par sa)
10: uṃyellowUttarabhādrapāda (LM) (khrums smad)
11:layellowFifteenth lunar day (tshes bco lnga)
12:reṃlight yellow  Revatī (LM) (nam gru)
13:guṃyellowPill realization (ril bu grub)
14:yaṃyellowYakṣa (gnod sbyin)

Between north-west and north:

1:kṣeṃ  yellowKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:bhṛiṃyellow  Bhṛiṅgi (bhṛiṅgi ṇi)
3:hāṃyellowHārītī ('phrog ma)
4:aṃblueSixteenth phase (tshes bcu drug)
5:miṃblueMithuna, Gemini ('khrig pa)
6:aṃblueAgastya, Canopus (ri byi)
7:kāṃblueKālāgni (dus me)
8:uwhiteFourth lunar day (tshes bzhi)
9:roṃredRohiṇī (LM) (snar ma)
10: aṃgreenAnurādhā (LM) (lha mtshams)
11:meṃwhiteMeṣa, Aries (lug)
12:saṃwhiteToyakṛitsna, Totality of water (zad par chu)
13:saṃwhiteSamudra (= Varuṇa) (rgya mtsho)
14:śuṃwhiteŚukra, Venus (pa sangs)

Between north and north-east:

1:kṣeṃ  whiteKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:jyeṃyellowJyeṣṭha (LM) (snron)
3:aṃwhiteNectar realization ('bras grub)
4:kaṃwhiteKanyā, Virgo (bu mo)
5:owhiteNinth lunar day (tshes dgu)
6:uṃwhiteUttarāṣāḍhā (LM) (chu smad)
7:aṃblueAbhijit (LM) (byi bzhin)
8:bṛiṃwhiteBṛihaspati, Jupiter (phur bu)
9:saṃwhiteToyakṛitsna, Totality of water (zad par chu)
10: śraṃlight yellow  Śravaṇa (LM) (gro bzhin)
11:vawhiteFourteenth lunar day (tshes bcu bzhi)
12:dhaṃblackDhaniṣṭhā (LM) (mon gre)
13:raṃwhiteAlchemical realization (bcud len)
14:iṃwhiteRudra (drag po, dbang phyug)

Between north-east and east:

1:kṣeṃ  whiteKṣetrapāla, Land-protector (zhing skyong)
2:dūṃgreen  Dūta, Messenger (pho nya) (original text: hūṃ ?}
3:dūṃ ?greenDūtī, Messenger, female (pho nya mo, texts: duṃ, dūṃ)
4:agreenFirst lunar day (tshes gcig)
5:maṃgreenMakara, Capricorn (chu srin)
6:braṃgreenBrahma (tshangs pa)
7:saṃgreenŚūnyakṛitsna, Totality of emptiness (zad par stong pa)
8:iblackSecond lunar day (tshes gnyis)
9:aṃwhiteAśvinī (LM) (tha skar)
10: mṛiṃblackMṛigaśiras (LM) (mgo)
11:kuṃblackKumbha, Aquarius (bum pa)
12:saṃ ?blackVāyukṛitsna, Totality of wind (zad par rlung)
13:naiṃblackNairṛiti (bden bral)
14:caṃblackCandra, Moon (zla ba)

The above list is compiled from just two texts: one, the sādhanā text by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (bcom ldan 'das dpal dus kyi 'khor lo'i sgrub dkyil phan bde kun stsol) and the other on maṇḍala drawing by the 14th Karmapa, Thegchok Dorje (rgyud sde rgya mtsho'i dkyil 'khor gyi thig rtsa dang dri bya tshon gyi dbye ba sogs go bder bkod pa). Unfortunately, both of these give incomplete lists. The first gives seed characters and deity descriptions, but only gives their approximate positioning and leaves out three deities; the second gives a full list with clear positions, but no seeds or colours, and truncates some of the names so that they read the same. For the ten kṛitsna deities of the elements, Mikyo Dorje only lists four pairs, and Thegchok Dorje only identifies the element for one of the ten – all the others are just given as kṛitsna (zad par). Mikyo Dorje also leaves out Ḍākinī. For these reasons there are some assumptions in the above list, notably with the seed and colour of Ḍākinī and the positions of most of the kṛitsna. At the time of writing, no third text that might clarify these assumptions and confirm other details has become available.

    E. Henning.
    Last updated 13 July 2015
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