In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the Five Tathāgatas (Sanskrit: pañcatathāgata; (Chinese: 五方佛; pinyin: Wǔfāngfó) or Five Wisdom Tathāgatas (Chinese: 五智如来; pinyin: Wǔzhì Rúlái), the Five Great Buddhas and the Five Jinas (Sanskrit for "conqueror" or "victor"), are five Buddhas which are often venerated together. Various sources provide different names for these Buddhas, though the most common today are: Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Vairocana, Amitābha, and Amoghasiddhi.
They are sometimes seen as emanations and representations of the five qualities of the Adi-Buddha or "first Buddha", which is associated with the Dharmakāya. Some sources also include this "first Buddha" as a sixth Buddha along with the five.
These five Buddhas are a common subject of Vajrayana mandalas and they feature prominently in various Buddhist Tantras. The Five Tathagathas are the primary object of realization and meditation in Shingon Buddhism, a school of Vajarayana Buddhism founded in Japan by Kūkai.
In Chinese Buddhism, veneration of the five Buddhas have dispersed from Chinese Esoteric Buddhism into the other Chinese Buddhist traditions like Chan and Tiantai. They are regularly enshrined in many Chinese Buddhist temples and regularly invoked in prayers and chants such as the "Praise to the Five Buddhas" (Chinese: 禮讚五方佛; Pinyin: Lǐzàn Wǔfāngfó).
They are also sometimes called the "dhyani-buddhas", a term first recorded in English by Brian Houghton Hodgson, a British Resident in Nepal, in the early 19th century, and is unattested in any surviving traditional primary sources.
The Five Wisdom Buddhas are a development of the Buddhist Tantras, and later became associated with the trikaya or "three body" theory of Buddhahood. While in the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra there are only four Buddha families, the full Diamond Realm mandala with five Buddhas first appears in the Vajrasekhara Sutra.
The Five Buddhas are aspects of the dharmakaya "dharma-body", which embodies the principle of enlightenment in Buddhism.
Initially, two Buddhas appeared to represent wisdom and compassion: Akshobhya and Amitābha. A further distinction embodied the aspects of power, or activity, and the aspect of beauty, or spiritual riches. In the Golden Light Sutra, an early Mahayana text, the figures are named Dundubishvara and Ratnaketu, but over time their names changed to become Amoghasiddhi, and Ratnasambhava. The central figure came to be called Vairocana.
When these Buddhas are represented in mandalas, they may not always have the same colour or be related to the same directions. In particular, Akshobhya and Vairocana may be switched. When represented in a Vairocana mandala, the Buddhas are arranged like this:
|Amitābha (West)||Vairocana (Principal deity/meditator)||Akshobhya (East)|
The Five Families or Divisions and their qualities
There is an expansive number of associations with each element of the five Buddhas mandala, so that the mandala becomes a cipher and mnemonic visual thinking instrument and concept map; a vehicle for understanding and decoding the whole of the Dharma. Each Buddha Family or Division has numerous symbols, secondary figures (like bodhisattvas, protectors, etc.), powers and aspects.
Some of the associations include:
|Family (Kula)||Buddha||Colour ← Element → Symbolism||Cardinality → Wisdom → Attachments → Gestures||Means → Maladaptation to Stress||Season||Wisdom|
|Buddha Family||Vairocana||white ← space → wheel||center → all accommodating → rūpa → Teaching the Dharma||Turning the Wheel of Dharma → ignorance, delusion||n/a||法界体性智: The wisdom of the essence of the dharma-realm meditation mudra.|
|Karma Family||Amoghasiddhi||green ← air, wind → viśvavajra||north → all accomplishing → mental formation, concept → fearlessness||protect, destroy → envy, jealousy||summer||成所作智: The wisdom of perfect practice.|
|Padma (Lotus) Family||Amitābha||red ← fire → lotus||west → inquisitive → perception → meditation||magnetize, subjugate → selfishness, attachment||spring||妙観察智: The wisdom of observation.|
|Ratna (Jewel) Family||Ratnasambhava||gold/yellow ← earth → jewel||south → equanimous → feeling → giving||enrich, increase → pride, greed||autumn||平等性智: The wisdom of equanimity.|
|Vajra Family||Akṣobhya||blue ← water → sceptre, vajra||east → nondualist → vijñāna → humility||pacify → aggression||winter||大円鏡智: The wisdom of reflection.|
The five Tathāgathas are protected by five Wisdom Kings, and in China and Japan are frequently depicted together in the Mandala of the Two Realms. In the Śūraṅgama santra revealed in the Śūraṅgama sutra, an especially influential dharani in the Chinese Chan tradition, the five Tathāgathas are mentioned as the hosts of the five divisions which controls the vast demon armies of the five directions.
- In the East is the Vajra Division, hosted by Akṣobhya
- In the South, the Jewel-creating Division, hosted by Ratnasaṃbhava
- In the center, the Buddha Division, hosted by Vairocana
- In the West, the Lotus Division, hosted by Amitābha
- In the North, the Karma Division, hosted by Amoghasiddhi
In East Asia, they each are also often depicted with consorts, and preside over their own pure lands, with the aspiration to be reborn into a pure land being the central point of Pure Land Buddhism. Although all five Buddhas have pure lands, it appears that only Sukhavati of Amitābha, and to a much lesser extent Abhirati of Akshobhya (where great masters like Vimalakirti and Milarepa are said to dwell) attracted aspirants.
|Buddha (Skt)||Consort||Bodhisattva||Pure land||Bīja|
|Amitābha||Pandara ||Avalokiteśvara||Sukhāvatī (West)||Hrih|
|Ratnasaṃbhava||Mamaki ||Ratnapani||Śrīmat (South)||Tram|
|Amoghasiddhi||Green Tara||Viśvapāni||Karmaprasiddhi or Prakuṭā (North)||Ah|
The famous Kamakura Daibutsu, a depiction of Amitabha
Japanese Painting of Mahavairocana, Heian period, 12th century
Painting of the Five Buddhas, circa the 6th year under Injo of Joseon Dynasty (1628), Korea
Himalayan Buddha Amitayus in His Pure Land, 2nd half of the 18th century
Amoghasiddhi Thangka, Central Tibet circa 1200 –50.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dhyāni Buddha.|
- Five Dhyani Buddhas - chart of the Five Buddhas and their associations.
- StudyBuddhism.com - The Five Buddha-Families and Five Dhyani Buddhas
- Five Dhyani Buddhas Mandala - Thangka painting of the Five Buddhas.
- Symbolism of the five Dhyani Buddhas
- Color Symbolism In Buddhist Art
- Mark Schumacher: Godai Nyorai (Japanese) - Five Buddha of Wisdom Five Buddha of Meditation Five Jina | Five Tathagatas
- The Five Buddha Families - From Journey Without Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha by Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala.org (archived 2007)
- 5 Dhyani Buddhas - 5 Dhyani Buddhas detailed with table