From: (Hun Lye)
Newsgroups: soc.religion.eastern
Date: 30 Sep 1993 13:00:04 -0700

    The following is an attempt to try to explain the significance of
"protectors" in the context of Vajrayana Buddhism.  I have to 
confess with all honesty that my knowledge in this particular 
subject is extremely limited.  Books that I have read regarding 
"protectors" are usually very vague, brief and even confusing at 
times.  On top of that, I have not personally recieved any extensive 
teachings from the lineage teachers regarding this matter.  And very 
often, these traditional teachers do not venture into any 
sophisticated  psychological discourse on the significance of these 
"protectors" - with a few exceptions maybe.

    It is important to bear in mind that consistency is not something
that is given 100% attention to in Vajrayana.  By this I mean that
depending on different texts, sources, lineages and teachers, you 
will get slightly different classifications of things.  For example, 
generally it is said that there are five Buddha-families but 
occasionally you will get references to a sixth family with 
Vajrasattva as the lord (in the five family classification, 
Vajrasattva belongs to the Vajra family with Aksobhya as the lord).  
Apparently, this six family scheme is rather popular among the 
Vajrayana lineages in Nepal.  Anyway, back to the original point.  
Therefore, what I write here might not totally agree with what some 
others might have heard or read.  But basically, I think the idea 
should be the same - that is assuming I am on the right track. 

    In a particular tradition that I am familiar with, it is said 
that there are three kinds of protectors.  They are dharmapalas, 
lokapalas and ksetrapalas.  Respectively they translate to 
"dharma-protectors," "world(ly)-protectors" and "field-protectors."  
Dharma-protectors are those who are highly advanced on the Path.  
From Vajrayana's point of view, these beings are actually 
manifestations of the activities of the Buddhas.  Some of these 
beings are considered Buddhas while some are on different levels of 
the Bodhisattva path.  For example, Mahakala and Ekazati are both 
considered fully enlightened beings while someone like Dorje Lekpa 
is considered a tenth stage bodhisattva.  The worldly-protectors 
refer to beings who have pledged to protect the teachings and 
practitioners.  These include powerful worldly gods, local spirits, 
energies and other beings.  It is said that sometimes these beings 
do not even fully accept the teachings of the Buddha.  They are in 
other words as deluded as we are  - some of them more, others less.  
Field protectors are usually associated with very specific places or 
buildings. In Tibet, families live in the same place and house for 
hundred of years. As time passes, it is believed that there are 
certain protectors especially connected with that particular house, 
clan or family. Spiritually both the worldly and field protectors 
are much lower than the Dharma-protectors.  Both the worldly and 
field protectors are not particularly related to Dharma in the same 
way as Dhama-protectors are. 

    How should we relate to the protectors?  I remember reading His 
Holiness the Dalai Lama's response to a similiar question.  His 
Holiness advised that it is actually sufficient to regard the Triple 
Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) as protectors.  In his opinion, if 
one truly takes refuge in the Triple Gem they will be the best 
protectors one can have. He further explained that protectors are 
related to Vajrayana practice and only those who are deeply involved 
with Vajrayana practices should be concerned with the protectors.  I 
suspect that His Holiness' response in this case is spoken for the 
general audience and in no way indicates that he is not in favor of 
protector practices.  Other teachers also agree that if one really 
relies on the Triple Gem, protection is guaranteed.

    Very briefly, according to Vajrayana, protectors should never be
seen as something separate from oneself.  Protectors actually have 
two levels which we can relate with.  On the relative level, there 
are protectors like Mahakala, Palden Lhamo, Dorje Lekpa or Ekazati.  
There are numerous sadhanas (practices) associated with these 
protectors.  But ultimately, it is our own rigpa (the natural mind 
which is empty, spacious and open) that is the protector.  The 
sadhanas usually have a structure where the meditator visualizes him 
or herself as a particular protector. The meditator is reminded 
again and again that his or her own nature is never separate from 
the protectors'.  Some teachers further explain that in a way, these 
protectors are simply our own awareness and mindfulness. Because we 
are beings with both body and mind, it is easier in the beginning 
for us to focus on some being with a form - the various protectors.  
By meditating on their enlightened form - the various attributes and 
ornaments (these are related to different enlightened qualities and 
activities), one is to actualize these same enlightened qualities in 
oneself.  In a sense, we can say that the protectors are our own 
awareness and mindfulness appearing in enlightened forms.  With 
right awareness and mindfulness, we will be able to relate to things 
as they truly are (the wisdom aspect) and carry out the bodhisattva 
activities (the compassionate aspect).  Therefore, the effectiveness 
of these protectors are directly related to our own level of 
awareness and mindfulness.  I have also heard another teacher 
explaining that the law of karma is the real protector.  Here, he 
means that if one were to truly understand cause and effect, one 
will then abstain from performing any negative actions but instead 
only cultivate good.

    Perhaps on a more advance level, the Dharma-protectors are 
related to different forms and levels of energies.  These energies 
are said to be latent in us.  By relating to a particular protector, 
one learns how to channel up a particular energy and to deal with it 
in an enlightened way. Because energy is simply energy (with 
negative and positive potentials), there is always a chance of not 
knowing how to deal with a certain energy that has been aroused 
through  practice.  Or perhaps the means of arousing that energy is 
misused.  This is when it is believed that negative effects will 
occur.  This effect might not only affect the practitioner himself 
but might include other as well.  Therefore, some teachers are 
extremely cautious when it comes to protector practices.  In 
traditional language, protector's practice is something that one 
does only if one is certain that one can fulfill all the commitments 
(samaya or damtshig) related to that practice.  Unlike practices 
like Chenrezig meditation or Tara, it is said that when the 
protector practice is done wrongly or is not done consistently, the 
protectors will get extremely "wrathful."  These protectors are 
guardians of the different practices.  It is also said that 
protectors are there to make sure that the purity of the lineage is
protected.  And to do that, they guard the practices of the 
practitioners.  It is not uncommon to hear people saying that when 
they became lazy in their practice or got distracted, something 
mysterious or supernatural happened that pulled them back into the 
Path again!  And devout Tibetans will straightaway acknowledge the 
protectors for fulfilling their duties.  There are also stories of 
protectors who guard termas - hidden "treasures" (teachings, ritual 
objects etc, that have supposedly been hidden by masters like 
Padmasambhava to be retrived in latter days to benefit people).  
Some of these protectors are even believed to fiecely guard these 
termas so that if the wrong people get these termas, they might be
destroyed or the termas will simply vanish.  These protectors are 
usually not Dharma-protectors but some worldly protectors.

    Therefore, on the relative level, these protectors are treated
like independent beings who have pledged to protect the Dharma (but 
since the ultimate and relative can never be taken as distinct, one 
is always reminded of the ultimate protector - one's own natural 
mind).  Different lineages, teachers and practices  have different 
special protectors.  For example, Palden Lhamo and Dharmaraja is 
particularly associated with the Gelugpas.  For the Kagyupas, 
Mahakala is especially significant.  Different aspects of Mahakala 
(two-armed, four-armed, six-armed, female aspects) are practised by 
the Sakyas, Gelugs, Kagyus and Nyingmas.  In the Drikung-Kagyu (one 
of the major sects in the Kagyu school), Achi Chokyi Drolma is a 
protector intimately related to members of this lineage.  Milarepa 
himself is related to the five protector goddesses of Tibet - known 
as the Tseringmas.  Among the Nyingmapas, Ekazati, Rahula and Dorje 
Lekpa are protectors very closely related to Dzog-chen.  The famous 
deity of the Nechung oracle is the personal protector of the Dalai 
Lamas.  Various elaborate rituals and sadhanas are performed to 
these protectors in the lives of practitioners.  There are certain 
monasteries that have protector practices carried out 24 hours a day 
for 365 days a year.  If I am not mistaken, there are a group of 
monks specially charged with the task of performing protector 
practices for the welfare of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 
particular, and the live of the Dharma in general.

    So... if I have not totally confused my readers, I hope some of
you will at least get a faint idea of what protectors are.  If there 
is anyone out there that have further knowledge and experience that 
can be shared, do contribute!  Call me a conservative, but part of 
the problem with trying to explain protector practice is that I am 
not sure what I should write and what I shouldn't.  IMHO, protectors 
can be easily misunderstood.  They can be easily seen as spiritual 
policeman that are out there to get you if you misbehave.  And lots 
of supersitions can come up from this kind of understanding - this 
is the last thing that I am trying to do.  If I have to summarize 
the significance of protectors very briefly, in say one or two 
sentences, the following will be it:

"Protectors, like other Buddhas and dieties related to one's
practice, should NEVER be seen as separate from one's natural mind, 
one's rigpa. And to be mindful at all times of cause and effect is 
perhaps the most direct protector one can get."

Sarvam mangalam,

Hun Lye

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