In vajrayana Buddhism, Guru are of paramount importance. In fact, it is due to Gurus starting from the time of Buddha Shakyamuni right upto present time, that the entire lineage of dharma teachings being preserved and practised. In theravada tradtion shakyamuni Buddha is also called Shasta I.e Guru of all devas and Men. But in the Vajrayana tradition, Gurus like Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, Tsong Khapa, Virupa and Many others are also considered to be the representatives of the enlightenment which Buddha Shakyamuni realized. Later on in Vajrayana tradition also the images of the gurus were used to visualize to actualize the mind of Buddha. Some gurus are also considered to be the emanated bodies I.e reincarnated Nirmanakaya of some Buddha and Bodhisattva like Amitabha, Manjushree, or Avalokiteshvara.
In Vajrayana tradition, all the Buddhas are called gurus. However especially five transcendental Buddhas (skt. Pancabuddha) who represents the essence of five primordial defilements such as lust, hatred, delusion, pride, and jealosy are mainly dealt here. When one realizes the essence of these five delusions one achieves five wisdom, Essence of lust is symbolized by Buddha Amitabha and is known as discriminating Buddhas. Essence of delusion (skt. Moha) is symbolized by Buddha Vairocana and is known as all pervasive wisdom. Essence of anger is symbolized by buddha Akshobhaya and is called Mirror like wisdom. Essence of pride is symbolized by Buddha Amoghsiddhi and is known as all accomplishing wisdom. Thus primordial purity of these five defilements which obscure our mind is represented by pancabuddha.
These five Buddhas are not the subdivision of Buddha Shakyamuni nor do they have consorts and children of their own as some Buddhist scholars understand. These forms of Pancabuddha are in fact the metaphorical ways of expression of non-dual wisdom and skill in means. As previously mentioned they are sambhogakaya Buddhas and can perform ceaseless activity for the benefit of all sentient beings.
In Mahayana Buddhist tradition Bodhisattvas are said to be of two kinds. One is Adi- Karmika Bodhisattvas who is beginner, who has not realized perfect enlightenment and still a learner. Firstly he or she develops enlightenment thought for the benefits of sentient beings and wishes for perfect enlightenment. Secondly there is a Bodhisattva who realizes emptiness face to face and attains the first Bodhisattva level. He is gradually progresses till the tenth Bodhisattva level through the practice of six perfection and Mahamudra.
Some of then even after attaining the level if Buddhahood, yet emanate forms and act like Bodhisattvas. As for example, Buddha like Avalokiteshvara, Manjushree, Vajrapani and some other high ranking Bodhisattvas emanate numerous forms to tame the sentient beings in the manner of beginner Bodhisattvas. Shakyamuni Buddha himself took three incalculable aeons to complete his career as Bodhisattva. Those who have attained first level up to the tenth level of Bodhisattva have enormous power to benefit others.
Eight high ranking bodhisattvas who are no less than Shakyamuni Buddha himself in wisdom, compassion, and powers, have been dealt with in the subsequent chapters. It is to be noted that Bodhisattvas can be a male or female. All female divinities of genre Tara and protrectress deities are Bodhisattvas who work for the benefit of sentient beings as male counterparts do.
Istadevata (Yida, Deities)
In vajrayana Buddhist tradition Istadevata (Yidam) is called mind bound deities. Because the nature of these deities is the same as the nature of mind. The practitioners in Vajrayana Buddhism visualize Istadevatas such as Hevajra, Cakrasamvara, Kalacakra and others during developing stages of meditation (Skt. Utpattikrama) as their Samatha and Vipassana practice. They are originated from the seed syllables which appear from non-dual state of mind, free of thought constructs or state of emptiness. They are not mere imaginations. They are the visualized forms of enlightened minds. They are all Sambhogakaya Buddha forms emanated from a true mind. These deities have however, nonreal existence as such. But they are the emanated forms of enlightened mind.
Practitioners who have affinity to these deities in one form or the other can develop their realization very quickly with these practices since these deities represent emotional inclination of the practitioners. Some practitioner like to have Avalokiteshvara the other may opt for Arya Tara. Some practitioner aggressive nature rather prefer wrathful deities to meditate or to identifies with. In all the Tantric Buddhist tradition these deities are visualized clearly with different colours, forms, faces, hands with different ornaments.
In tantric Buddhist tradition the practitioner takes refuge in Triple Gems which referred as the outer refuge. The objects of the inner refuge are said to be Gurus, Istadevas and Dakinis. Dakinis are obviously representatives of Sangha in the inner refuge. They are peaceful as well as wrathful. They wear bone ornaments. Some are in dancing posture. Some are even nude. These dakinis generally travel through empty space hence also called sky goers. They help the practitioners by eliminating obstacles and by guiding to realisation of the path to enlightenment. They are able to grant eight powers (skt. Astasiddhi) to all devoted practitioners. Some Dakini are animal faced like Simhavaktra (Lion-faced), Vajravarahi (sow-faced), Sardulamukha (tiger-faced) and many others. Vajrayogini is said to be Sarva-Buddha Dakini who confers Buddhahood to the practitioners. These Buddha Dakinis are said to be the representatives of wisdom or Prajnaparamita.
Dharmapalas (Protectors of Doctrine)
As the name suggests Dharmapalas are the divinities who help to protect the Buddha dharma from degeneration an they also act as defenders of Buddha’s doctrines. They are in general wrathful in appearance to terrify the sinners. In Nepal, Mahakala is considered to be the great wrathful Dharmapala whose image is installed in most of the Buddhist viharas and temples.
Actually, all divinities of direction starting from Yamantaka are Dharmapalas. These protector deities are also called lord of Knowledge (sky. Vidyadhara) indicating their status of high Bodhisattva level.
Dikpalas (The Deities of Direction)
Dikpalas or Lokpalas are the deities who correspond to deities found in Hindu tantric tradition. All the eight mother goddesses starting from Camunda, Brahmayani, Kaumari, Indrayani, Varahi, etc. are considered as protectress of the dharma in Buddhist tradition whereas in Hindu tradition whereas in Hindu tradition they are ultimate principle to be actualized.
In Buddhist tradition the deities of direction include deities like Yama, Varuna, Indra, Vayu, Agni and others who have taken the oath to protect the practitioners and sasana of the Buddha’s Doctrines. In Gunakarandavyuha sutra it is even said that Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara emanated these Lokpalas to defend the Buddha sasana.
Vajrayana Buddhism incorporates almost all the hindu deities as protectors of the dharma to eliminate obstacles on the path to enlightenment. The involvement of Hindu deities is not only limited to Vajrayana tradition but also in Theravada tradition in Sri Lanka where they use Indra the king of Devas as protector of Dharma.