Inclusion of Bhagwan Shiva in Buddhism - Shri Lal Raghudev Ram Singh

Vedic deities are commonly seen in Buddhism (Mainly Mahayana and Vajrayana tradition) where deities like Ganesha, Shakti , Yama, Indra, Brahma..etc are accepted as sub-deities.  In the early Buddhist scriptures [Theravada] only Indra and Brahma appear mostly ;rest are less frequent. As a result of the rise of Vaishnavism and Shaivism, Vishnu and Shiva’s Inclusion in Buddhism can be seen as an attempt to assimilate Vaishnavism and Shaivism. We already seen how Bhagwan Vishnu is placed in Buddhism, Today we look assimilation of Shiva in Buddhism.

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Shiva: Emanation of Avlokiteshwara

In Avalokitesvara-guna-karanda-vyuha Sutra (Karanda-vyuha Sutra),it is stated that shiva originated from forehead of Avlokiteshwara

The bhagwan Buddha said-

“Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva gave birth to the sun and the moon from his eyes, gave birth to the Great unrestricted God Mahesvara from his forehead, gave birth to the Brahma heaven God from his shoulder, gave birth to Narayana from his heart,gave birth to the Great eloquence God (Sarasvati) from his teeth, gave birth to the god of wind from his mouth, gave birth to the god of earth from his navel, and gave birth to the god of water from his stomach.”

Avlokiteshwara after creating Maheshwara said Following words to Maheshwara-

‘At the Dharma ending age in the future[Kaliyuga],in the realms of sentient beings, there will be some living beings attaching to the erroneous views, saying that you are the great dominator from the beginningless of time and can create all sentient beings. At that time, those living beings, who have lost the Way of Bodhi, are ignorant and perplexed, they will say that: The universe is a vast body, and the earth is his throne. All realms and sentient beings, were born from this body.’

This is clear cut indication ,which shows that how Buddhist tried to assimilate Shaivism into their pantheon.And here shaivas are compared as ignorant beings who thinks that shiva is supreme but actually he is emanation of Avlokiteshwara,this was stand taken by Mahayanist.

Further motive behind the incarnation of Avlokiteshwara as a shiva is cleared by buddha. He emphasizes that Avlokiteshwara takes different forms to speak Dharma to different peoples in following way –

The Bhagavan said: 

‘There are infinite sentient beings. They constantly suffer from birth, death and transmigration and have no rest. In order to save and ferry those sentient beings and make them achieve the Bodhi Way, this Avalokitesvara manifests different incarnations to speak Dharmas for different types of sentient beings.’

“For those who should be ferried through the body of Mahesvara, he appears in a Mahesvara body and speaks Dharmas for them.”

In same Sutra after assimilation of Shiva & Vishnu ,the Practices by shaivas,vaishnavas,& other practices of worshipping gods including Jain Tirthankaras are declared as less important & Not way for liberation,And infact its stated that themselves (shiva & other gods) are seeking liberation.Many times shiva is shown as subordinate deity to buddha; This status of shiva & shavism is stated in following fashion in same sutra 

“Suppose there are virtuous persons, in order to seek liberation, they pay homage to and practice various non-Buddhist dharmas in many places. They may worship Sakra-devanam-indra(God of the 33 heavens), or worship laymen, or worship green-robe people, or worship God of the sun, or worship Mahesvara(The Greatest god of three-realms), or worship the Narayana God; and they may stay among Garudas or naked-heretics(Nirgrantha/Jains). They love those places, but they cannot be liberated from ignorance and falsehood. They only have the name of cultivating but moil in vain. In fact, all heavenly beings, including the Great-Brahma God, Sakra-devanam-indra, Narayana God, Mahesvara, Gods of suns, Gods of moons, Gods of wind, Gods of water, Gods of fire, Yama dharma king, the four great heavenly kings, are constantly seeking for my Six-Words-Great-Enlightening-King, because if they get my Six-Words-Great-Enlightening-King, they will all be liberated.”

 In famous Saddharmapundarika-Sütra (Lotus Sutra) Maheshwara– is one of form taken by Bodhisattvas to preach Dharma for different sentient beings

In sutra,Bodhisattva Akṣayamati asked: 

“How does Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara wander through this sahāworld? How does he teach the Dharma for the sake of sentient beings? What Of his power of skillful means?”

Then Buddha replied as follows – 

“O son of a virtuous family! If there is any land where sentient beings are to be saved by the form of a buddha, Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara teaches the Dharma by changing himself into the form of a buddha. To those who are to be saved by the form of a pratyekabuddha, he teaches the Dharma by changing himself into the form of a pratyekabuddha. To those who are to be saved by the form of a śrāvaka,he teaches the Dharma by changing himself into the form of a śrāvaka. To Those who are to be saved by the form of Brahma, he teaches the Dharma by changing himself into the form of Brahma. To those who are to be saved by the form of Śakra, he teaches Dharma by changing himself into the form of Śakra. To those who are to be saved by the form of Īśvara, he teaches the Dharma by changing himself into the form of Īśvara. To those who are to be saved in the form of Maheśvara, he teaches the Dharma by changing himself into the form of Maheśvara. To those who are to be saved by the form of the great commander of the devas, he teaches the Dharma by changing himself into the form of the great commander of the devas.”

Buddha stated same to Boddhisatva padmshri as follows- 

” O Padmaśrī! You think that the body of Bodhisattva Gadgadasvara exists only here; however, this bodhisattva manifests himself in various bodies. He has thus taught this sutra in many places for the sake of the sentient beings. Sometimes he has appeared in the form of Brahma. Sometimes he has appeared in the form of Śakra. Sometimes he has appeared in the form of Īśvara. Sometimes he has appeared in the form of Maheśvara. Sometimes he has appeared in the form of the great commander of the devas…

Maheshwara is also seen as a subordinate deity and he prostrates several times to Buddha along with other demi-gods,this theme is also seen at various places in lotus Sutra.

Shiva: Future Buddha

In the same(Karandavyuha) Sutra, Shiva bows down to Avlokiteshwara and requests vyakarana (buddhahood prediction)& said strotram in praises of Avlokiteshwara as follows. 

“नमो अवलोकितेश्वराय महेश्वराय पद्मधाराय पद्मासनाय पद्मप्रियाय शुभपद्महस्ताय पद्माश्रिये परिवृताय जगदाश्ववाशनकराय पृथ्वीवरलोचनकराय प्रह्लादवनकराय”

Then Avlokiteshwara predicts that Maheshwara- will be future buddha “bhasmeshwar”in vivrita world.

Mahakala: Prototype of Shiva

In Mahayan & Vajrayana tantric literature there are several descriptions of the ferocious Hindu god, Mahākāla. Common function of Mahākāla is as a protection deity ( dharmapala) .He is also a meditational deity in tantras. He exhibits different Forms one face with two, four or six arms, or eight faces with sixteen arms.  He is one of the many terrifying deities of Buddhism, with a garment of snakes, dog teeth, jewelry belly and tiger skins. There are Six Principal Categories of Mahākāla.There also exist 75 forms of Mahākāla.

Panjarnata, Chaturbhuja, Chaturmukha, Shadbhuja, Bhagavan, Raudrantika

Some forms of Mahakal are described below.

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In Sadhanamala, pp585, Iconography of 2 armed Mahākāla is described as – 

“The worshipper should conceive himself as Sri Mahākāla Bhattāra- ka who is two-armed and one-faced and has blue colour. He is three eyed, has fiery radiance, and carries the Kartri and the Kapāla in his right and left hands respectively. He bears five skulls on his brown hair which rises up on his head and is decorated with a chain of severed heads. He looks terrible with bare fangs, and is decked in ornaments of serpents and a sacred thread made out of a snake. He is short and from his mouth trickles forth blood. Thus quickly meditating.”


When four-armed he resembles the two-armed one in all details except in the number of arms and the symbols he displays in his hands. Here he carries the Kartri and the Kapāla in the first or the principal pair of hands, and the sword and the Khatvānga in the second pair.


When the six-armed form of Mahākāla resembles the two-armed variety already described, with the difference that here he has six arms carrying six different symbols. In his six hands he exhibits the Kartri, the rosary and the Damaru in the right and the Kapāla, the Sūla and the Vajrapāśa in the left.


When sixteen-armed, he is eight-faced and is represented in yab-yum in the embrace of his Sakti, and what is really strange, he is also four legged. The Sadhana describes his form in the following words:

“The worshipper should conceive himself as sixteen-armed Mahākāla with eight faces, twenty-four eyes, four legs, and sixteen arms. He carries in his (seven) right hands the Kartri, the Vajra, the elephant hide, the Mudgara, the Triśūla, the sword and the staff of Yama, and in the (seven) left hands the Kapāla full of blood, elephant-hide, the bell,the goad, the white chowrie, the Damaru and the human head. The two remaining hands are engaged in embracing the Prajñā. He is short and blue in complexion, utters laughing sounds, such as hā hā, hi hi, he he, and looks terribly fierce. He is the essence of the Three Kāyas, bears the images of the five Dhyāni Buddhas on his crown, is decked in garlands of heads as ornaments, and is more awe-inspiring than Awe itself.”

Nilakantha: Form of Avlokiteshwara

Conception of this form of Avlokiteshwara is described in Sadhanamala has been modelled on the Hindu deity Siva. The reason why the name Nilakantha (Blue-throat) has been given to Šiva. (particular form of Lokeśvara) because shiva holds poison (halahal) in his throat.

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Sadhanamala pp85-86 describe him as follows:

“The worshipper should think of himself as the god Nilakantha, who is yellow in colour and whose Jațāmukuța is adorned with the crescent and the effigy of Amitābha. He sits in the Vajraparyanka attitude on a red lotus, on which is spread the skin of black deer. He exhibits the Samādhi mudrā with his two hands carrying the Kapāla (bowl) filled with a variety of gems. His sacred thread is made of the deer-skin (eņeya-carma). He wears the tiger-skin, and bears no ornaments (on his person). His throat shows the blue pill (of poison). The two sides of the god are occupied by two cobras with jewels on their hoods and tails entwined with each other. They look towards the god. Thus mediating.”

Shiva in Tantric literature

~Ishana (Shiva) as one of the Ten Gods in the retinue of the Medicine Buddha Mandala

~Along this Rudra& Maheshwara appears in various Mandala,in which Rudra along with shakti is placed at various places described in Nispannayogāvalī .

~Shiva is sometimes found under the feet of such deities as Hevajra and Kalachakra.

~He appear in subordinate role in various Buddhist Strotras

~In Mañjuśrīmulakalpa, Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī takes form as Shiva & impart knowledge of shaiva tantra to shaivas

~In Ārya-mañjuśrīnāmāṣṭottaraśataka-stotram,10 Mañjuśrī is called as Vishnu and Shiva 

“You are Vishnu . You’re Shiva”

~ In Vishwaroop form of Swayambhunath , Shiva also present emanating from him

Iconography of Maheshwara

In Niṣpannayogāvalī ,the iconography of Maheshwara is described in following manner,

“वृषभेमहेश्वरस्थित:शशिकांतांकितजटामुक्तस्चतुर्भुज:शिरसि केताञ्जल त्रिशूल कपालाभृत”

“Maheśvara sits on the Bull, and is white in colour. His crown of matted hair is beautified by the moon. He is four-armed. With the two principal hands he displays the Añjali over the head, and with the two others he carries the Trisula and the Kapāla”

In various Chinese Buddhist collections this sculpture of Maheshwara is seen.


Indian Buddhist iconography by Benoytosh B


BDK English Tripitaka Series THE LOTUS SUTRA (Taishō Volume 9, Number 262)

Translated from the Chinese of Kumārajiva by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama

Karanda-vyuha Sutra (Tripitaka No. 1050) Translated during the Song Dynasty by Kustana Tripitaka Master TinSeekJoy

AryaMañjuśrī kalpa

All buddhist Strotras

Photos from TLP-II (Chinese Buddhist collection)


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