Dear Students and Friends,
Palden Lhamo is one of my favourite Dharmapalas. When I was young, I used to run to Rashi Gempil Ling temple, which was a temple close to my house in New Jersey, and make hundreds of prostrations to a thangka of Palden Lhamo. I thought to share alitle about Her here.
Palden Lhamo is a wrathful deity who is also the principal protectress of Tibet. She is the only female Dharmapala that make up the eight primary Dharmapalas along with Kalarupa, Mahakala, Vaishravara, Begste, Hayagriva, Yamantaka, etc. Through the 1st Dalai Lama’s (Gendun Drup) visions, Palden Lhamo promised Gendun Drup “that she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas”. She has kept her promised and been the personal Dharmapala (principal protector) for all 14 incarnations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She is worshipped throughout Tibet and in many major monasteries. She is said to be quick.
Do read below on how this great and powerful protectoress arose as a Dharmapala for the sake of Dharma and Dharma practitioners alike. Reading about the history of enlightened beings will help us very much by inspiring us to emulate their holy actions and to practice the Dharma with more sincerity, urgency and devotion.
Through her vision, holy Palden Lhamo saw that her son would grow up to be an evil king. She ended his life to prevent him from defiling the Dharma and to accumulate more negative karma. Although in today’s age, we do not face such drastic and difficult choices to adhere to for our Dharma practice, however many still find it difficult to give up many of their mundane attachments to better and advance their spiritual practice for the benefit of others. What is giving up one’s time, comfort, personal preferences, ego, stubbornness, laziness, money… and so much more qualities that pull us away from Dharma compared to killing one’s own flesh and blood? Although it seems violent, it is all symbolic. Remember that please.
Do read about Palden Lhamo’s history below and let me know how you feel.
Palden Lhamo, also known as Shri Devi in Sanskrit, is a Dharma Protector of the Gelug tradition. She is a wrathful deity and the principle protectress of Tibet. Dharmapalas have one particular function, which is to protect the Buddha’s teachings from being diluted or distorted; thus they are called Dharma Protectors.
Palden Lhamo was married to the king of the dudpos named Shinje, who was the king of Lanka (an ancient island fortress). When she married King Shinje, she vowed to make him favorable towards Buddhism, or she would put an end to the whole dynasty.
For many years, she tried to change the king’s evil ways of murdering his subjects, but he remained as vile as he was. To make things worse, their son was being raised to be the ultimate destroyer of Buddhism. After exhausting all ways to change her husband’s evil ways, she gave an ultimatum that she would kill their son.
One day while the king was away, she killed her son, drank his blood with his skull and ate his flesh. She then rode away on a horse with her son’s flayed skin. As she was riding away, her furious husband shot a poisonous arrow towards her but it pierced the mount she was riding in. The queen then removed the poisonous arrow and said “May the wound of my mount become an eye large enough to watch over the twenty-four regions, and may I myself be the one to extirpate the lineage of the malignant kings of lanka!” Thus Palden Lhamo’s mount has a third eye on the horse’s left rump.
Palden Lhamo’s form is similar to a fierce female ogress, with teeth and fangs jutting out of her mouth. The presence of her three eyes symbolizes her ability to see into the past, present and future without obstruction. The dark blue of her body represents her attaining great bliss, the realization of emptiness.
On her right hand she holds a skull cup representing the destruction of obstacles. The skull cup filled with blood represents great bliss. She carries a human-skin bag full of diseases that she collects from those who invoke her. Her legs are in a semi-relaxed posture and chains connect one ankle to the other.
Palden Lhamo represents a wrathful form. Her holy face is outlined by wild orange-brown, or reddish-like hair, with nine peacock feathers floating above. She exposes her ferocious teeth which gnaw on a human corpse while she strike an intimidating stare with her three blood-shot eyes.
Her magnificent body is covered with ashes, fat, and blood; and she is surrounded by a halo of flames, depicting her presence in a charnel field. Her raised right hand carries a sandalwood club topped with a vajra, a weapon used to watch over the oath-bound, ensuring their dedication and integrity in upholding the Buddha Dharma.
Her left hand is raised to the level of her chest, where she carries a blood-filled skull of a child born out of incestuous union. She sits on the back of a khyang, an un-trainable mule that acknowledges Palden Lhamo’s loud and fearful shrieks that resemble the sound of thunder.
On her navel is a small sun disc and above her head a crescent moon. She is usually depicted adorned in a black silk scarf that blows around and behind her, along with a human skin that is used as a shawl. Her upper cloths is made of black fabric and her lower garment consists of a tiger skin held by a belt of intertwined snakes.
Her neck is decorated with a long necklace of freshly decapitated human heads, the five skull crown, and the other five bone ornaments of many Heruka class deities depicted around the goddess’ wrists and ankles. These carved human bone ornaments represents the necessity to release one’s attachments towards physical existence, and that the six perfections is required to attain enlightenment.
The reins on Palden Lhamo’s mule are made of venomous snakes. It wraps around her human skin saddle. The snakes dangling from her mount hold a pouch that contains a black and white pair of dice used to determine karmic fate and also a magic ball of string made of rolled up weapons. This shows that those who receive her initiation opens a gateway to divinatory power. A red tablet used to cast spells is tied to her mount or tucked into her belt with a sack full of diseases collected by Palden Lhamo from all those who invoke her and releases it when evil is committed.
On the hind quarter of her mule is a single eye, which was formed from the wound of Palden Lhamo’s former husband’s arrow. After her unsuccessful quest to change her people’s cannibalistic practices, she followed through her vow to kill her son and used his skin as a saddle.
Below Palden Lhamo are two female animal-headed female attendants; Makarakurti and Simhavaktra. Makarakurti, the “makara-headed” dakini to Palden Lhamo’s right is dark blue in color and dressed in a human skin. She holds Palden Lhamo’s mule rein with her left hand and a snare in her right. Simhavaktra, the “lion-headed” wisdom dakini is to Palden Lhamo’s left, is red and holds a noose and kapala.
Palden Lhamo functions as the “chief guardian goddess” of the dharmapalas in Tibetan Buddhism. She is the only female Dharmapala that make up the eight primary Dharmapalas along with Kalarupa, Mahakala, Vaishravana, Begste, Hayagriva, Yamantaka, etc.
In the Buddhist context, Palden Lhamo may also be a form of Mahakala, thus a distant form of Avalokiteshvara. She is often illustrated amongst a retinue of Mahakala forms. She is known to take at least eleven different forms and thus known as a transformative Bodhisattva for her ability to take any form in order to aid sentient beings into the path of enlightenment. In addition to this, she is frequently surrounded by many subsidiary deities and attendants.
Palden Lhamo’s image indicates her function as a personal deity or a yidam, which is given to a person by his or her guru; and is to be consulted throughout one’s entire life. Thus, Palden Lhamo will guide, protect and focus specific energies of the practitioner in his or her path to enlightenment.
Palden Lhamo’s practice today
It was said that Palden Lhamo is the female guardian of a sacred lake called Lhamo Latso. She promised Gendun Drup (now known as the 1st Dalai Lama) in one of his visions that she would protect the incarnation lineage of the Dalai Lama. Ever since the 2nd Dalai Lama’s time, the Regents and high Lamas have gone to that lake to seek her guidance in finding the next incarnation through visions while meditating there. Many go to Lhamo Latso as a pilgrimage point. Many also go there to consult Pelden Hlamo and to the worthy, She will manifest visions in the lake foretelling the future.
She is also the personal protector of all 14 incarnations of the Dalai Lama. Her practice is well known throughout all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Being a fully enlightened Dharma protector, propitiating her and making offerings to her is extremely beneficial to overcome our spiritual and worldly obstacles.
Palden Lhamo’s mantra can be recited even without initiation:
JO RAMO JO RAMO JO JO RAMO TUNJO KALA RACHENMO RAMO AJA DAJA TUNJO RULU RULU HUNG JO HUNG
This is my favorite depiction of Pelden Hlamo. This is the thangka in the temple in New Jersey where I grew up called Rashi Gempil Ling. I use to sit in front of this sacred thangka for hours chanting Her mantra. The monk at the temple said, a few persons have heard sounds of mules breathing and kicking coming out of the picture on several occasions. The mule is the mount Pelden Hlamo rides on from one part of samsara to another.
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