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Kagyé (Wyl. bka' brgyad) - The term Kagyé refers to the eight (gyé) sets of teachings or transmissions (ka) entrusted to the eight vidyadharas of India.

Among the eight deities of the Kagyé, there are five wisdom deities who represent the enlightened body (ku), speech (sung), mind (tuk), qualities (yönten) and activity (trinlé) of all the buddhas and three semi-worldly or worldly deities.

The Deities of Kagyé

Yamantaka (body)

The deity representing the enlightened body is known as Mañjushri Body or Yamantaka. Although usually Mañjushri represents enlightened speech, here in the Kagyé he represents enlightened body. Having the nature of Mañjushri this deity appears in wrathful form and is known as Yamantaka. This is the same as the yidam deity known as Vajrabhairava (Tib. Jikché), on which the followers of the Riwo Ganden tradition (i.e. the Gelugpas) meditate.

Hayagriva (speech)

Hayagriva is a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. Generally, Avalokiteshvara embodies the compassion of all the buddhas, and so he is connected with the enlightened mind, but in his manifestation as Hayagriva he represents enlightened speech.

Yangdak (mind)

Vajrasattva is the peaceful form. The wrathful manifestation of Vajrasattva is Yangdak Heruka. He is similar to the deity known as Chakrasamvara (Tib. Demchok), who is practised in the Gelug tradition, and all the deities of the Mother Tantras are included in the practice of Yangdak.

Chemchok (qualities)

Generally, Chemchok is the chief of the mandala, but here in the Kagyé, Chemchok is the deity who embodies all the buddhas’ enlightened qualities.

Vajrakilaya (activity)

The deity representating enlightened activity is Vajrakilaya. In peaceful form, he is Vajrasattva, in semi-wrathful form he is Vajra Vidharana (Tib. Dorje Namjom), in wrathful form he is Vajrapani, and in extremely wrathful form he is Vajrakilaya.

These five are wisdom deities.

The Three Worldly Deities

Then there is a deity who is in-between (literally ‘on the border’) the wisdom and the worldly deities and neither male nor female: Mamo Bötong.

Jikten Chötö and Möpa Drakngak are worldly deities. They are both the manifestation of Vajrapani, but they appear in the form of worldly deities.

--From a teaching by Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche, Lerab Ling, 12th August 1992

The Mandala of Kagyé

Within the general Kagyé cycle, the central deity is Chemchok Heruka. He appears in the centre of the mandala, while the other Kagyé deities appear in the four cardinal and four intermediate directions.

Chemchok Heruka has twenty-one heads and forty-two hands. The two principal hands hold Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri. His twenty hands on the right side hold the five buddhas of the five families, the eight bodhisattvas, the four male gatekeepers as well as three of the six munis – those who emanate in the three higher realms. And the twenty left hands hold the five buddha consorts, the eight female bodhisattvas, the four female gatekeepers and the three munis who emanate in the three lower realms. The deities in the right hands are all male and the deities in the left hands, with the exception of the three munis, are all female. These forty-two deities are the peaceful deities of the mandala of the hundred peaceful and wrathful deities.

The consort of Chemchok is Namshyalma (Wyl. gnam zhal ma). She has nine heads and eighteen hands. Her main central hands hold a vajra and skull-cup (kapala). The eight hands on her right hold the wrathful manifestations of the eight bodhisattvas, known as the eight gaurima and then the eight on the left hold the wrathful emanations of the eight female bodhisattvas known as the eight singhama.

In total, there are 725 deities in the mandala of Kagyé:

  • Centre - Chemchok (36)
  • East - Yangdak (58)
  • South - Yamantaka (59)
  • West - Hayagriva (58)
  • North - Vajrakilaya (74)
  • South East - Mamo Bötong (70)
  • South West - Lama Rigdzin (22)
  • North West - Drekpa Kundul (32)
  • North East - Topden Nakpo (20)
  • Drekpa Kundul is the chief figure in the mandala of Jikten Chötö
  • Topden Nakpo is the chief figure in the mandala of Möpa Drakngak

Chemchok, the deity embodying enlightened qualities is an emanation of Samantabhadra, and is therefore the chief of the mandala and appears in the centre. Lama Rigdzin therefore takes the place of Chemchok in the south west, making nine main deities in total.

There are 406 main deities and retinues. To these are added five sets of sixty messengers (ponya) representing body, speech, mind, qualities and qualities. This gives 706. With the twelve tenma of Tibet and the seven mothers there are 725 deities.

The Eight Vidyadharas and the Kagyé

According to Dudjom Rinpoche:
Master Deity Casket
Vimalamitra Chemchok gold
Humkara Yangdak silver
Mañjushrimitra Yamantaka iron
Nagarjuna Hayagriva copper
Padmasambhava Vajrakilaya turquoise
Dhanasamskrita Mamo Bötong rhinoceros horn
Rambuguhya Jikten Chötö agate
Shantigarbha Möpa Drakngak Zi stone

It is said that unlike the other vidyadharas, who each received only one of the eight practices, Guru Rinpoche received a practice related to all eight Kagyé deities. In this practice Chemchok Heruka appears as the central deity surrounded by the other eight deities in the four cardinal directions and four intermediate directions. For example, Yangdak Heruka is in the east, Yamantaka in the south, Hayagriva in the west, and Vajrakilaya in the north. Lama Rigdzin, whose practice arose specifically for Guru Rinpoche, appears in the south-west, because the central place is taken by Chemchok Heruka.

Not only did Guru Rinpoche receive this cycle of teachings focusing on all eight Kagyé deities, he also received empowerments, oral transmissions and instructions from each of the eight vidyadharas individually.[1]

Kagyé in Tibet

Within the context of Kyépa Mahayoga, Guru Rinpoche taught the eight great sadhana teachings, or Kagyé. These teachings were divided into general and particular. 'General' refers to the Kagyé as a whole, and 'particular' refers to each cycle of the Kagyé deities individually. One cycle is related to Yamantaka, another related to Hayagriva, and so on.

The general cycle was entrusted to King Trisong Detsen after Guru Rinpoche had given him the empowerment. These teachings were later revealed as termas by three of Trisong Detsen's own incarnations: Nyangrel Nyima Özer, Guru Chöwang and Rigdzin Gödem. They revealed termas known as the three Kagyé collections (Tib. Kagyé Nam Sum), which are ultimately based on the general Kagyé teachings that King Trisong Detsen received from Guru Rinpoche. Nyang-rel Nyima Özer revealed what is known as Kagyé Deshek Düpa, Guru Chöwang revealed the Kagyé Sangwa Yongdzok and Rigdzin Gödem revealed the Kagyé Rangshar.

Alternative Translations

  • Eight Herukas
  • Eight Logos
  • Eight Pronouncements
  • Eight Proclamations
  • Eight Sadhana Teachings
  • Eight Transmitted Precepts

Further Reading

  • Garje Khamtrul Jamyang Dhondup, 'The Eight Practice-Instructions of Sugatas in the Nyingma Lineage' in Tibet Journal, Vol. XV No. 2, Summer 1990


  1. Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche, Vajrakilaya teachings, Dzogchen Beara, Oct.2000