Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra, 19th century
Pigments on cloth
28 x 20 ½ in.


Tantric deities are the focus of esoteric religious practices (tantras) that aim to radically transform conventional understandings of reality. Numerous forms of these deities, described in religious texts also called tantras, personify various enlightened qualities and can appear peaceful or wrathful. Tantric deities can have multiple heads, arms, and legs, symbolizing their various abilities. They often hold implements in their hands, which help to identify them.
Here, the important deity Guhyasamaja Akshobhyavajra appears with his consort. He is surrounded by a number of worldly protectors, Buddhas, deities, and historical teachers, who appear as figures depicted within several registers.
Traditionally, Guhyasamaja is represented having dark blue color, three heads, and six arms, and in union with his consort. With his numerous hands, he holds several attributes significant to Buddhist teaching, including a vajra (or scepter) and a bell, symbolizing the union of method and wisdom, and a jewel and a sword (in his right hand); a lotus and wheel (in his left). Guhyasamaja has a simultaneously semi-peaceful and semi-wrathful expression, and each of his three faces is adorned with a third eye of wisdom. It’s important to remember that while some deities might appear fierce, or even frightening in their appearance, they are not intended to be perceived as evil or demon-like. Instead, wrathful beings serve to counter our negative emotions and afflictions, to protect, and to help overcome and cut through obstacles. In this light, we might better understand that Guhysamaja’s three different faces are interpreted as symbolizing transmuted anger, ignorance, and attachment.

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