Five Tathāgatas

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the Five Tathāgatas (Sanskrit: pañcatathāgata; (Chinese: 五方佛; pinyin: Wǔfāngfó) or Five Wisdom Tathāgatas (Chinese: 五智如来; pinyin: Wǔzhì Rúlái), the Five Great Buddhas and the Five Jinas (Sanskrit for "conqueror" or "victor"), are emanations and representations of the five qualities of the Adi-Buddha or "first Buddha" Vairocana or Vajradhara, which is associated with the Dharmakāya.[1]

Cloth with painting of the Buddhas
'The Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya', Tibetan thangka, late 13th century, Honolulu Museum of Art. The background consists of multiple images of the Five Buddhas.

They are also sometimes called the "dhyani-buddhas", a term first recorded in English by Brian Houghton Hodgson, a British Resident in Nepal,[2] in the early 19th century, and is unattested in any surviving traditional primary sources.[3] These five Buddhas are a common subject of Vajrayana mandalas. These five Buddhas feature prominently in various Buddhist Tantras and are the primary object of realization and meditation in Shingon Buddhism, a school of Vajarayana Buddhism founded in Japan by Kūkai. In Chinese Buddhism, veneration of the five Buddhas have dispersed from Chinese Esoteric Buddhism into the other Chinese Buddhist traditions like Chan and Tiantai. They are regularly enshrined in many Chinese Buddhist temples and regularly invoked in prayers and chants such as the "Praise to the Five Buddhas" (Chinese: 禮讚五方佛; Pinyin: Lǐzàn Wǔfāngfó).[4]


Diamond Realm mandala composed of 81 buddhas, Japan, Kamakura period

The Five Wisdom Buddhas are a development of the Buddhist Tantras, and later became associated with the trikaya or "three body" theory of Buddhahood. While in the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra there are only four Buddha families, the full Diamond Realm mandala with five Buddhas first appears in the Vajrasekhara Sutra.[5] The Vajrasekhara also mentions a sixth Buddha, Vajradhara, "a Buddha (or principle) seen as the source, in some sense, of the five Buddhas."[6]

The Five Buddhas are aspects of the dharmakaya "dharma-body", which embodies the principle of enlightenment in Buddhism.

Initially, two Buddhas appeared to represent wisdom and compassion: Akshobhya and Amitābha. A further distinction embodied the aspects of power, or activity, and the aspect of beauty, or spiritual riches. In the Golden Light Sutra, an early Mahayana text, the figures are named Dundubishvara and Ratnaketu, but over time their names changed to become Amoghasiddhi, and Ratnasambhava. The central figure came to be called Vairocana.

When these Buddhas are represented in mandalas, they may not always have the same colour or be related to the same directions. In particular, Akshobhya and Vairocana may be switched. When represented in a Vairocana mandala, the Buddhas are arranged like this:

Amoghasiddhi (North)
Amitābha (West) Vairocana (Principal deity/meditator) Akshobhya (East)
Ratnasambhava (South)


There is an expansive number of associations with each element of the mandala, so that the mandala becomes a cipher and mnemonic visual thinking instrument and concept map; a vehicle for understanding and decoding the whole of the Dharma. Some of the associations include:

Family/Buddha Colour ← Element → Symbolism Cardinality → WisdomAttachmentsGestures Means → Maladaptation to Stress Season Wisdom
Buddha/Vairocana white ← spacewheel center → all accommodatingrūpaTeaching the Dharma Turning the Wheel of Dharma → ignorance n/a 法界体性智: The wisdom of the essence of the dharma-realm meditation mudra.[7]
Karma/Amoghasiddhi green ← air, winddouble vajra northall accomplishing → mental formation, concept → fearlessness protect, destroy → envy, jealousy summer 成所作智: The wisdom of perfect practice.
Padma/Amitābha red ← firelotus westinquisitive → perception → meditation magnetize, subjugate → selfishness spring 妙観察智: The wisdom of observation.
Ratna/Ratnasambhava gold/yellow ← earthjewel southequanimous → feeling → giving enrich, increase → pride, greed autumn 平等性智: The wisdom of equanimity.
Vajra/Akshobhya blue ← watersceptre, vajra eastnondualistvijñānahumility pacify → aggression winter 大円鏡智: The wisdom of reflection.

The five Tathāgathas are protected by five Wisdom Kings, and in China and Japan are frequently depicted together in the Mandala of the Two Realms. In the Śūraṅgama santra revealed in the Śūraṅgama sutra, an especially influential dharani in the Chinese Chan tradition, the five Tathāgathas are mentioned as the hosts of the five divisions which controls the vast demon armies of the five directions.[8]

  • In the East is the Vajra Division, hosted by Akṣobhya
  • In the South, the Jewel-creating Division, hosted by Ratnasaṃbhava
  • In the center, the Buddha Division, hosted by Vairocana
  • In the West, the Lotus Division, hosted by Amitābha
  • In the North, the Karma Division, hosted by Amoghasiddhi

In East Asia, they each are also often depicted with consorts, and preside over their own pure lands, with the aspiration to be reborn into a pure land being the central point of Pure Land Buddhism. Although all five Buddhas have pure lands, it appears that only Sukhavati of Amitābha, and to a much lesser extent Abhirati of Akshobhya (where great masters like Vimalakirti and Milarepa are said to dwell) attracted aspirants.

Buddha (Skt) Consort Dhyani Bodhisattva Pure land Bīja
Vairocana Dharmadhatvishvari Samantabhadra central pure land Akanistha Ghanavyuha Vam
Akshobhya Locanā Vajrapani eastern pure land Abhirati Hum
Amitābha Pandara [9] Avalokiteśvara western pure land Sukhavati Hrih
Ratnasaṃbhava Mamaki [10] Ratnapani southern pure land Shrimat Tram
Amoghasiddhi Green Tara[11][12] Viśvapāni northern pure land Prakuta [es] Ah

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Williams, Wynne, Tribe; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, page 210.
  2. ^ Bogle (1999) pp. xxxiv-xxxv
  3. ^ Saunders, E Dale, "A Note on Śakti and Dhyānibuddha," History of Religions 1 (1962): pp. 300-06.
  4. ^ "香光莊嚴". Retrieved 2021-05-12.
  5. ^ Williams, Wynne, Tribe; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, page 210.
  6. ^ Williams, Wynne, Tribe; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, page 210.
  7. ^ Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. (2004). JAANUS / hokkai jouin 法界定印. Available: Last accessed 27 Nov 2013.
  8. ^ The Śūraṅgama sūtra : a new translation. Hsüan Hua, Buddhist Text Translation Society. Ukiah, Calif.: Buddhist Text Translation Society. 2009. ISBN 978-0-88139-962-2. OCLC 300721049.CS1 maint: others (link)
  9. ^ "Pandara The Shakti of Amitabha". Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  10. ^ "Mamaki The Shakti of Aksobhya". Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  11. ^ "chart of the Five Buddhas and their associations". 2012-12-21. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  12. ^ Symbolism of the five Dhyani Buddhas Archived March 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine


  • Bogle, George; Markham, Clements Robert; and Manning, Thomas (1999) Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa ISBN 81-206-1366-X
  • Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism. Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4

External linksEdit