Thursday, July 23, 2009

White Mahakala, Part 3 of 5

The practice of White Mahakala begins with the three acts of taking refuge, developing motive, and reciting the Four Immeasurables. These acts are called “preliminary,” simply because they are performed before visualizations, offerings, and so forth. This does not mean, in any fashion, that they are mere formalities to be quickly dispensed with before beginning real work. In many respects, these three acts are the heart of the practice. In my view, any deficiency, neglect, hesitation, or equivocation in these will render the rest of the practice ineffective.

We repeat each of the acts three times. Apart from any symbolism involved, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to deeply consider what we are doing and why we are doing it. We should use this time to ask ourselves if we really mean what we say: if the words we recite truly reflect our core beliefs.

If we find that we can act honestly, from pure motives and a genuinely compassionate heart, we proceed to visualize White Mahakala, believing that he is before us. Actually, White Mahakala is always available to us. He instantaneously appears from the emptiness that is no different from our own mind. However, in this instance, we decide that he comes before us, manifesting various probative attributes and particular characteristics.

His imagery is not just for the purpose of a pretty picture. His imagery is symbolic of certain qualities that we must contemplate in order for our practice to be meaningful: a kind of visual onomatopoeia, if we may say.

Although this imagery is rooted in the ancient culture of India, it reflects basic human concepts, and is thus still of benefit once we appreciate the underlying symbolism. Fundamentally, this is a way of expressing White Mahakala’s essence.

The six-armed White Mahakala is a deity of the wrathful class, and he bears accouterments usual to that class. These may be considered individually and collectively.

The chopper (gri gug) he holds aloft is used to sever and mince the life veins of enemies of the Dharma. The chopper also symbolizes severing conceptualization.

He holds the precious wish-fulfilling gem yid bzhin nor bu to his heart. This shines with lights of five colors, signifying the Five Buddha wisdoms.

The double-headed hand drum summons all the Buddhas of past, present, and future, filling them with bliss. If you like, you can say that White Mahakala is setting a certain rhythm, or energy. You can also say that his drum symbolizes relative and absolute bodhicitta.

The skull-cup (kapala) in his left hand contains a vase of jewels in a sea of nectar, symbolic of the wealth that arises from method. This is not necessarily material wealth; rather, the wealth arising from the union of wisdom and means.

We say this because he tramples on two Ganesh, who are each holding a mongoose, and these are typically considered evocative of material wealth.(*) He is saying, “Behold! I have a treasure that surpasses ordinary treasure!”

Nevertheless, the treasure vase in his skull-cup can also be considered emblematic of his ability to bestow material wealth.

The trident (rtse gsum) he holds symbolizes the destruction of the three poisons of desire, anger, and delusion.

The tangkhas usually depict an iron hook in his remaining hand, but the text quite clearly reads zhags pa, or noose. Both should be understood. The hook symbolizes clear understanding, whereas the noose symbolizes clear recollection. In the present instance, the symbolism may be of binding demons and preventing harm or, in the alternative, binding wisdom to the practitioner’s mind.

Taken collectively, the chopper and skull cup symbolize the union of wisdom and means, and the trident, drum, and skull cup symbolize White Mahakala’s body, speech, and mind.

He is attired in a tiger-hide loincloth (stag lpags kyi sham thabs), which symbolizes the transformation of ordinary anger into righteous wrath.

On his back, is a freshly flayed elephant-hide (glan po che’i pags pa), which symbolizes overcoming ignorance.

A crown of five skulls (thod skam gyi dbu rgyan) adorns him, each skull surmounted by a precious jewel set in gold(rin po che’i rtse phran). These symbolize the Five Buddhas.

(continues with part 4)

(*)a mongoose is used because, in ancient Central asia, people employed a mongoose skin as a purse to hold jewels and coins.

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4 reader comments:

Cliff said...

Most excellent commentary in parts 1-2-3. Thank you so much for sharing! I am grateful.

Rich said...

salutations,Thank you for taking the time to create this lesson on the white mahakala. It's direct and easy to understand. Seems as soon as i start to understand one group of buddha's or budhisattva's another pops up and makes the importence of his understanding known. Dont think it would be possible with out the help you and others have provided.

Unknown said...

There is a mantra that is similar to this:

om benza argham hren hren ah hung peh peh
om benza mahakala chen chensha pega neh vinayaka om peh peh
guru mahakala hari ni sa siddhi dza arya punya jnana dharma putren guru soha

Could your correct this?

Paul said...

Thank you. I'm wondering about the 50 severed skulls dripping with blood symbolizing the purification of speech. Is there any relationship between these 50 aspects and the 60 melodious tones of Manjushri's speech?