The Rise of Yamantaka, Destroyer of the Lord of Death

Introducing Yamantaka, and a story of how the legend of such a wrathful figure came into being.

There was once a powerful yogi who went into an abandoned cave to pursue his practices of deep meditative absorption. He was seated in a Vajra posture as his consciousness was soaring higher, far beyond the mundane worldly existence.

As the night fell, a band of poachers hurried into the cave, driving before them a water buffalo which they had stolen. They immediately slaughtered the buffalo and were about to devour on their ill-gotten prey. Suddenly, by the light of their fire they saw the yogi's silent form seated in the shadow. Fearful of what would happen to them if this witness to their misdeeds were left alive, they cut off the yogi's head, and returned to their feast.

Soon thereafter, yogi returned to his consciousness and re-entered his body, only to discover that it was headless!

He felt around the floor of the cave uncontrollably, and started searching for something to place upon his shoulders. But all he could find was the buffalo's severed head, left by the poachers. So he put that on. Then, furious and wild with anger at what had befallen him, he set out to wreak his revenge on the poachers who had so cruelly disfigured him. With his psychic powers he not only destroyed them but vented his boundless fury on whomever he met. Soon he became the scourge of the countryside, a hideous monster who left behind him a gruesome trail of destruction-a veritable Lord of Death.

In hopes of putting an end to this carnage, a group of holy men decided to make prayers and offerings to Manjushri, asking for his help to protect them all from the deformed yogi's rage. Out of his great compassion, Manjushri responded to their prayers. He manifested himself as Vajrabhairava, the Diamond Terrifier, otherwise known as Yamantaka, Destroyer of the Lord of Death. Realizing that only an extremely wrathful emanation would be suitable for overcoming such a powerful force. The central face of this wrathful manifestation took on the aspect of an enraged buffalo to match the fury of the yogi.

But it was crowned with the head of Manjushri himself, symbolizing Yamantaka's fully enlightened nature.

In this wrathful form of Yamantaka, Manjushri completely subdued the yogi and converted him from a malevolent force into a protector of dharma practitioners. Such that, he is invoked by followers of Yamantaka's tantric path and given the name Dharmaraja, King of the Dharma. 


"The vast space and this mother earth
Are entirely filled, with neither let nor hindrance,
By the hosts of deities related to the Opponent of Yama,
The mere recollection of whom subdues all demons and
interferers and effortlessly fulfills all wishes of the mind.
By this practice which releases a rain of flowers that pervades the sky
With the sound of a song endowed with the fidelity of Brahma,
You are maintained in everlasting glory.
As ecstatic joy arises in you through knowing this,
We shall proclaim this melodious song of good fortune"

(From the verses of auspiciousness recited at the close of Yamantaka’s sadhana)

Thus, the most wrathful form of Manjushri, Yamantaka is the embodiment of total wrath. His anger is so terrific that it may consume even himself. He crushes many evil spirits under his feet.

  • He has many faces, so that he can look in all directions. It signifies the omnipresence of his anger.
  • He has many arms and legs, therefore, nobody can escape from his fury.
  • He has the wisdom of equanimity and thus treads equally on all aspects of ego. His consort feeds and reinforces his countless vengeance.

Source: Images of Enlightenment by Andy Weber and Jonathan Landaw

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