The Five Dhyani Buddhas

The five Dhyani Buddhas represent what Buddhas?

The Five Dhyani Buddhas are transcendent Buddhas visualized in tantric meditation. The five Buddhas are Aksobhya, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi, Ratnasaṃbhava and Vairocana. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the Adi-Buddha, the primordial and highest being, created the Dhyani Buddhas by his meditative powers. Often in Vajrayana art they are arranged in a Mandala, with Vairocana in the center.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, the Five Dhyani Buddhas also known as the Five Wisdom Tathagatas, the Five Great Buddhas and the Five Jinas (Sanskrit for “conqueror” or “victor”), are representations of the five qualities of the Buddha. The term “Dhyani-Buddha” is first recorded in English by the British Resident in Nepal, Brian Hodgson,in the early 19th century, and is unattested in any surviving traditional primary sources. These five Buddhas are a common subject of Vajrayana mandalas. These five Buddhas are the primary object of realization and meditation in Shingon Buddhism, a school of Vajarayana Buddhism founded in Japan by Kukai.

The Five Wisdom Buddhas are a later development, based on the East Asian Yogacara elaboration of concepts concerni ng the jnana of the Buddhas, of the Trikaya or “three body” theory of Buddhahood. Dhyani Buddhas are aspects of the Dharmakaya “Dharma-body”, which embodies the principle of enlightenment in Buddhism.
The Five Dhyani Buddhas are icons of Mahayana Buddhism. Each represents a different aspect of enlightened consciousness to aid in spiritual transformation.

• Akshobhya Buddha

Akshobhya was a monk who vowed never to feel anger or disgust at another being. He was immovable in keeping this vow, and after long striving he became a Buddha.

Akshobhya is a heavenly Buddha who reigns over the eastern paradise, Abhirati. (Note that the eastern paradise is understood to be a state of mind, not a physical place.) Those who fulfill Akshobhya’s vow are reborn in Abhirati and cannot fall back into lower states of consciousness.

In Buddhist iconography, Akshobhya usually is blue, sometimes gold. He is most often pictured touching the earth with his right hand. This is the earth-touching mudra, which is the gesture used by the historical Buddha when he asked the earth to bear witness to his enlightenment.

In his left hand Akshobhya holds a vajra, the symbol of shunyata — an absolute reality that is all things and beings, unmanifested. Akshobhya also is associated with the fifth skandha, consciousness. In Buddhist tantra, evoking Akshobhya in meditation helps overcome anger and hatred.

• Amitabha Buddha

Amitabha Buddha, who is also called Amita or Amida Buddha, probably is the best known of the Five Dhyani Buddhas. In particular, devotion to Amitabha is at the center of Pure Land Buddhism, one of the largest schools of Mahayana Buddhism in Asia.

In long-ago time, Amitabha was a king who renounced his kingdom to become a monk. Called Dharmakaya Bodhisattva, the monk practiced diligently for five eons and realized enlightenment and became a buddha.

Amitabha Buddha reigns over Sukhavati, the western paradise, also called the Pure Land. Those reborn in the Pure Land experience the joy of hearing Amitabha teach the dharma until they are ready to enter Nirvana.

Amitabha symbolizes mercy and wisdom. He is associated with the third skandha, that of perception. Tantric meditation on Amitabha is an antidote to desire. He is sometimes pictured in between the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. Amitabha’s hands are in a meditation mudra. His symbol is the lotus, representing gentleness and purity.

• Amoghasiddhi Buddha

In the Bardo Thodol — the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” — Amoghasiddhi Buddha appears to represent the accomplishment of all action. He holds a crossed vajra, also called a double dorje, representing accomplishment and fulfillment in all directions. He radiates a green light, which is the light of accomplishing wisdom.

Amoghasiddhi Buddha reigns in the north, and he is associated with the fourth skandha, volition or mental formations. Meditation on Amoghasiddhi Buddha vanquishes envy and jealousy.

• Ratnasambhava Buddha

Ratnasambhava Buddha represents richness. His yellow color symbolizes earth and fertility, and he holds a wish-fulfilling jewel. He reigns in the South and is associated with the second skandha, sensation. Meditation on Ratnasambhava Buddha vanquishes pride. He holds his hands in the wish-fulfilling mudra.

• Vairocana Buddha

Vairocana Buddha is sometimes called the primordial Buddha or supreme Buddha. He represents the wisdom of shunyata, “emptiness.” He is considered a personification of the dharmakaya — everything, unmanifested, free of characteristics and distinctions. When the Dhyani Buddhas are pictured together in a mandala, Vairocana is at the center.

Vairocana is white, representing all colors, and his his symbol is the Dharma wheel. His hand mudra represents the turning of the wheel. He is associated with the first skandha, form. Meditation on Vairocana vanquishes ignorance.
Initially, two Buddhas appeared to represent wisdom and compassion: Akshobhya and Amitabha. 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. Often in Vajrayana art they are arranged in a Mandala, with Vairocana in the center.

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. Click here if you will find more specific detail about Mandalas Map.