Four Great Kings

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Four Great Kings (Skt. Catur Mahārāja; Tib. རྒྱལ་ཆེན་སྡེ་བཞི་, Gyalchen Dé Shyi, Wyl. rgyal chen sde bzhi) or Guardians of the Universe (Skt. Lokapāla; Tib. འཇིག་རྟེན་སྐྱོང་བ་, Jikten Kyongwa, Wyl. 'jig rten skyong ba) — four gods or deities who live on the lower slopes (fourth level) of Mount Meru in the Heaven of the Four Great Kings and guard the four cardinal directions. Each of them are leaders of a semi-divine class of beings living in their realm.

As a result of wishes made during the time of the previous Buddha—Kashyapa—the Four Guardian Kings were reborn in the time of Shakyamuni Buddha and received teachings from him. Each uphold and teach the Dharma in their own realms, as well as—three times a month—surveying the four directions, protecting all who uphold the Buddha’s teachings. Always ready to protect the Dharma, they are surrounded by fire which represents the dynamism of their spiritual wisdom.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, representations of the Four Great Kings are placed at the four directions of a closed retreat in order to set the boundaries of the retreat and guard the practitioner(s) from obstacles. They are also often found near the entrances of a temple or monastery.

The Four Great Kings are:

  1. Dhritarashtra (Tib. Yulkhor Sung), 'Defender of the Area' in the east;
  2. Virudhaka (Tib. Pak Kyepo), 'Noble Birth' in the south;
  3. Virupaksha (Tib. Chen Mi Zang), 'Ugly Eyes' in the west; and
  4. Vaishravana (Tib. Namtösé), 'Son of He who has Heard Many Things' in the north.

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