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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