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Inclusion Of Bhagwan Vishnu In Buddhism

Inclusion Of Bhagwan Vishnu In Buddhism

By Shri Lal Raghudev Ram Singh

Buddhism consists of various Hindu deities; most of the Vedic deities have been accepted in Buddhism from a different philosophical point of view. Many people do not know how Lord Vishnu has been included in Buddhism, what is his place in Buddhist texts, Let’s throw light on these points.

Vishnu as a Kshetra-Pala

bhagwan vishnu in budhhism

In Srilankan Theravada Buddhism,Vishnu is known as Uplavan,derived from ‘Utpala-Varn/Uppalavanna” [blue-coloured] .The Dīpavaṃsa and the Mahāvaṃsa, described early appearance of Upulvan as gaurdian deity.

The Buddha, about the time of his passing away [parinibbāna] declared that a Kṣatriya prince named Vijaya, leaving his homeland of Jambudīipa, and arriving in Sri Lanka, was going to be its king of Srilanka. Buddha further ordered Sakka(Indra) to protect Dhamma land and Indra said to Vishnu for protection (this shows that Vishnu is subordinate to Indra)thus,Vishnu is become protector of buddha-Land and worshipped as a Kshetra-Pala of Dhamma-shasanaland of Sri-lanka).

Mahavamsa ,chapter 7 verse5 describe this event as follows-

Tathāgatassa devindo vaco sutvā’va sādaro 

Devass’uppalavaṇṇ uppalavaṇṇassa laṅkā-rakkhaṃ samappayi

” When the lord of gods[Indra] heard the words of the Tathagata he from respect handed over the guardianship of Lanka to the god who is in colour like the lotus[Vishnu]” 

In the commentry on Mahavamsa- vamsatthappakasini says that king Vijaya worship Vishnu by offering bali ( sacrificial) to Uppalavanna

Uppalavannassa balikammakaranena avudhamathanadi attano

Upulvan is seen as Boddhisatva and worshipped by locals even now, there are many Ancient temple of Vishnu deviyo , some of them are -Devinuwara Upulvan Devalaya,Upulvan devalaya at kande Vihara,Upulvan devalaya at Lankatilaka Vihara..etc

Rama : Previous Birth of Buddha

In Dasaratha Jataka No. 461 (The Buddhist story of Rama), Buddha himself declared  that Rama was his one of  previous birth. 

Tada dasarathamahaaraaja suddhodanamahaaraaja ahosi, mata mahaamayadevi, sitaa raahulamaataa, bharato Anando, lakkhanno saariputto, parisaa buddhaparisa, ramapandito pana ahameva ahosinti.

“At that time the king Suddhodana was king Dasaratha, MahAmAyA was the mother, RAhulA’s mother was Sita, Ananda was Bharata, and I(buddha)myself was Rama pandita

Now it’s very clear that Rama is seen as previous life of Buddha in Theravada, now this understanding is expanded tradition of SE Asia ,where pre-existing hindu traditions camouflaged with Buddhist version, that’s why Rama was adopted by all SE country.( even after decline of  Hinduism in those countries) along with Rama, Vishnu shrines are are still visible in SE Asia due influence of Hindu kings ,and they are respected by Buddhists.

Vishnu as an Emanation of Avlokiteshwara

In Famous Avalokitesvara-guna-karanda-vyuha Sutra[ Karanda-vyuha Sutra] ,There is discription of different different form taken by Boddhisatva Avlokiteshwara , Vishnu is one of them.This Sutra is important sutra of Mahayan Buddhism and is source of famous Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.

From where Vishnu originated?

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.”

So, Narayana is seen as  Emanation of Avalokitesvara and came from his heart. [Hradyanarayan:],Vishnu is Bodhisattva, He was present in assembly when buddha teaches Dhamma in jetvana monastery along with other devas, Eight hundred million bodhisattva mahasattvas, Naga kings, Gandharva king ,kimnars,apsaras ,female nagas ,female kimnars,female Gandharvas.

Why Avlokiteshwara taken form of Vishnu ?

In Same Sutra Buddha explained that (avlokiteshwara) takes different forms to instruct Dharma and  then he explained purpose of his Narayan form that is to instruct Dhamma to followers of Vishnu. Buddha said

yena yena rupeNa vaineyAH sattvAh , tena tena rupeNa dharmaM deSayati

 nArAyaNavaineyAnAM sattvAnAM nArAyaNarUpeNa dharmaM deSayati 

“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 Narayana,he appears in a Narayana body and speaks Dharmas for them.”

There is also story of Vamana avtar of Narayana in same sutra ,but here king bali worship Avlokiteshwara for protection. After inclusion of Vishnu as an Emanation of Avlokiteshwara it was easy for Buddhist monk to use all the epithets of Vishnu for Avlokiteshwara .That’s why we see that in all buddhist strotra, Avlokiteshwara is praised by using epithets and attributes of Vishnu and Shiva.

Moving one step ahead, Aryaavalokiteshwara is further called as head of Vaishvana Dharma 

By calling Aryaavalokiteshwara as equivalent to Vishnu ,this is evident from śrīmadāryāvalokiteśvarabhaṭṭārkasya stotraṃ (Lokanatha Strotram) in following manner

viṣṇuśca vaiṣṇavamate varadharmaketuḥ

You (Aryaavalokiteshwara)are Vishnu for vaishnvites -leader of dharma”

 In Ratnamala Strotram verse5,He is referred as Narayana.


राजीवपाणिहृदयात् प्रतिनिःसृतोऽसौ।

नारायणोऽपि भुवनेश्वर एव तस्मात्

पुंसां त्वमेव परमोत्तम एव नान्यः

   “You are also Narayana– the lord of world ,Hence You (Avlokiteshwara) are greatest of all [no one else] “

Vishnu: Name of Tathagat buddha

Buddha explains that many people call him by different names, epithets but they are not realizing that they are names of one tathagat. He goes on telling his different names spoken by people, and interestingly Vishnu is also the name of Buddha.

This is very beautifully explained in Lankavatara Sutra,which is prominent text of Mahayan Buddhism buddha said-

I appear in this world of patience before ignorant people and where I am known by uncounted trillions of names. They address me by different names not realizing that they are all names of the one Tathágata. Some recognize me as Tathágata, some as the self-existent one, some as Gautama the Ascetic, some as Buddha. Then there are others who recognize me as Brahma, as Vishnu, as Ishvara; some see me as Sun, as Moon; some as a reincarnation of the ancient sages; some as one of “ten powers”; some as Rama, some as Indra, and some as Varuna”

In later verses, buddha explains that Vishnu and Maheshwar will explain about  creation of universe and all metaphysics (buddha is not Siddharth gotama here, he is the previous buddha).

Iconography of Vishnu

According to Tantric Buddhist text in many tantrik Mandalas Vishnu appear as independent minor god , Overall he was accepted as subordinate/minor deity in Buddhist pantheon of Tantrik culture.

In Niṣpannayogāvalī , iconography of Vishnu is described as follows-

There is four-armed Vishnu on Garuda, carrying Chakra,Shamkha ,Gada and Bow,he displays Anjali on his head”

 [गरुडे विष्णुचतुर्भुजश्चक्रशङ्खभृत्सव्यवामाभ्यां मूर्घ्नि..]

Dharmadhātuvāgīśvara Maṇḍala, Niṣpannayogāvalī ,Tantrayana , Vajrayana

 Vishnu is one of 5 principal gods which are placed in mandala[ durgatipratishodhan] .In ‘Bhutadamara mandala’ [ཕྱག་ན་རྡོ་རྗེ།]Vishnu  placed  in South quater of first circle of mandala along with other 7 deities.

In kalachakra mandala another Quarter occupied with  gods- goddesses.In this section / Vishnu is placed in left side East with Sri in all months of Magha. In kalachakra mandala Vayu corner of mandala is occupied by 8 Brahmani along with vishnu on swan.

Vishnu: Vehicle of Hari-Hari-Hari-Vahan-Lokeshwara

HARI-HARI-HARI-VAHANA-LOKESHWARA  is one of the 108 forms of Avalokitesvara.He is mentioned in Sadhanamala [Drugpa and Ngor]  along with 37 other forms.He carries rosary, stick,deer skin, kamandalu and his vahana is Vishnu and vahana of Vishnu is Garuda which is on lion .Lion,Garuda and vishnu all are represented as Hari ,hari,hari .

In Sadhanamala (Harihariharivahanodhavasahnam) his iconography is described as-

“Aryaavalokiteshwara sits on the shoulder of Vishnu who sits on Garuda below whom there is lion”

Story behind This form of Avlokiteshwara is found in’Swayambhu Purana’ – Bodhisattva Manjushri drained a lake called Naggarh , all Nagaraja especially the Takshakas were very angry.  The Bodhisattva Samantabhadra pacified all except Takshak.

He killed many people and animals He was suffering from leprosy due to this act of violence He repented his deeds by praying to Arya Avalokiteshwara to end his evil deeds and was cured of his disease due to his strong devotion to Lord Avalokiteshwara.

One day while he was leisurely sunbathing in a nearby river, a hungry Garuda saw him there. He stepped down and tried to devour the Takshak. Since Takshak was the king of serpents, he had great power  They started engaging in a brutal war.

He soon began to drag Garuda into the river and intended to kill him.  Garuda, called upon  Vishnu who immediately came there to save him As Vishnu was about to cut Takshaka’s head with his Sudarshanachakra ; Takshka, realizing his upcoming defeat, prayed to Avalokiteshwara 

Avalokiteshwar rushed to his lion’s vehicle, setting fire immediately Vishnu was embarrassed and tempted Lord Avalokiteshwara of mercy in front of him and immediately bowed and paid tribute to him before throwing away his Sudarshan Chakra

Thereafter Takshak and Garuda also withdrew from the battle and joined the worship of Avalokiteshvara , then Vishnu himself drove to Avalokiteshwara to be his vehicle.  Meanwhile, the lion also indicated himself to be Garuda’s vehicle Takshak also supported lion’s vehicle.

Vishnu:Form of Mañjuśrī

Mañjuśrī is Bodhisattva and diff. diff.philoshphical connotation are attached to him in Mahayan and Vajrayana and in chan & shingon Buddhism.However he is prominent figure in Tantric buddhism, and he is considered as source of Buddhist tantric texts and Knowledge. However in Tantric text it is said that Mañjuśrī takes different from and impart knowledge

He takes form of Vishnu, shiva. This again gives freedom to buddhist monk to use all epithets of Vishnu and Shiva for Mañjuśrī which is evident in Strotram related to him 

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

You are Vishnu [विष्णुस्त्वं]. You’re Shiva

In very important Buddhist tantric text Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa ,invocatory verses of Shiva ,Vishnu and Garuda found and it is described that Mañjuśrī had  taken form of Vishnu [विष्णुरूपेण देहिनाम्] and preached /revealed Vishnav Tantra .Similarly he had taken form of shiva and revealed Shaiv Tantras, and  form of Garuda to deliver Garuda Tantra

Point to be noted that, vaishnav,shaiv and Garuda are part of Hindu Tantra, so basically it’s an attempt to engulf hindu tantra within folds of Buddhist tantra .Among hindus Mañjuśrī is considered as one of forms of Shiva.

Vishnu as Minor Demigod

Vishnu is widely seen as a subordinate Deva in Buddhism.

Vishnu request may Dharani and pray to buddha several times [Ex. āryamahāmāyāvijayavāhinī nāma dhāraṇī] , there are strotram dedicated to buddha/Avalo which is believed to written by Vishnu Ex. Viṣṇukṛtam Śākyasiṁhastotram 

Look at other acknowledgement of  #Vishnu in Buddhist Strotras as a subordinate deity :-

place of Vishnu (विष्णु भूमि) in Caityavandanāstotram, verse-3

Vishnu as deity in āryatārāsragdharāstotram 30,

Lokeshwershatkam 59, Bhaktishatkam 3-5

In Buddhagaṇḍīstavaḥ 26  , interestingly ,Vishnu is referred as “bhagwan” 

In Vishwaroop form of Sambhonatha ,Vishnu is included as one of his own form 

” You are buddha , you are Bodhisattva, you are sravakas, you are Brahma, you are VISHNU, you are shiva … ” 

~Svayaṁbhūstavaḥ, verse no.2 

Worshipping Vishnu

In Stathagatosñisamsitatapatram Aparajitam pratyungiram DHARANI(SURANGAMA MANTRA) Vishnu is prayed as follows


 “Obeisance to Vishnu together with Lakshmi who worshipped by five mahamudras “

In Another Chinese version it is,recited in following fashion 




Chinese: Na mwo 

Pe chye pe di Nwo la ye Na ye Pan je mwo he 

san mwo two la Na mwo syi jye

li dwo ye

In its commentry, following beautiful words summarise the essence of whole article as follows-

“Vishnu as a spirit is manifestations of the Buddhas, we[Buddhists] people should not look down on them or assume a condescending attitude It’s for this reason that we who study the Buddhadharma should bow to all these spirits” 


The Mahavamsa , translated into english by Wilhem Geiger, PH: D Published for the pali text society

By Henry Frowde oxford university press, 

The Hindu Buddha and the Buddhist Visnu: Religious Transformations in Indian and Sri Lanka. University of Calgary

Karanda-vyuha Sutra (Tripitaka No. 1050) translated during song dynasty by Kustana Tripitaka Master Tin Seek Joy

AryaMañjuśrī kalpa

Indian Buddhist iconography by Benoytosh B



108 -Buddhist Strotras

About Shri Lal Raghudev Ram Singh

He is a student of applied mathematics Interested in Indian Knowledge Systems.
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1 thought on “Inclusion Of Bhagwan Vishnu In Buddhism

  1. […] 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 […]

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