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The Practice of the Bonpo Deity Walchen Gekhod, also known as Zhang-Zhung Meri - Iconography of Zhang-zhung Meri
Article Index
The Practice of the Bonpo Deity Walchen Gekhod, also known as Zhang-Zhung Meri
Four Classes of Bönpo Tantras
Gekhöd and Meri
Iconography of Zhang-zhung Meri
Iconography of Zhang-zhung Meri 2
The Mantra Recitation for Meri
The Texts for Zhang-zhung Meri
Outline of the Sadhana Text
The Practice of Sadhana
Notes:
All Pages

Iconography of Zhang-zhung Meri

The generating  of  the  visualization of  the  meditation deity Zhang¬-zhung  Meri by the mind of  the practitioner of sadhana, or what is generally known as the Generation Process, or  Kyerim (bskyed-rim), is found in both brief and expanded forms in the  texts. The extant thangkas of  Meri do not necessarily agree in every detail with the descriptions  found in these texts. According  to the text of  the intermediate length sadhana, Meri originated thus: “From  the yellow fires of  the golden mountain which  signifies gnosis or wisdom (ye-shes) and  from  the  emanations  of  billowing bluish smoke, turquoise in color, which signify  compassion  (thugs-rje), there arises a terrifying  gigantic  form, huge of  body and limb.”  Thus, the manifesta¬tion of  Gekhöd  Meri originates from the unification of  ye-shes (primal awareness, gnosis, or wisdom), symbolized by the raging fires of  the golden volcano, and of  thugs-rje (compassion, or energy), symbolized by  the turquoise smoke issuing from this  volcano. Accordingly, in the Bönpo tradition, Discriminating Wisdom  and  Universal Compassion are the two coefficients of  the enlightenment of  a Buddha.  In the sadhana text, the colossal image of  Meri appears suddenly appesars in space consequent upon the sounding the invocative syllable BSWO (pronounced  “swo…”). In old ritual texts this syllable was employed to summon the presence of the deities. Nevertheless, the proper bija mantra, or reddsih-golden seed syllable of  Meri, is HRI, which is sounded when transforming oneself into Meri. Moreover, one particularity in the Bönpo Higher Tantras, in terms of the self-generation process of visualization (bdag-bskyed), is that that the practitioner first transforms oneself into the peaceful form associated with the meditation deity, in this case, the Shen Sangwa Düpa (gshen gsang-ba ‘dus-pa), before transforming oneself into the wrathful aspect of the deity. This peaceful figure then melts into light and becomes the golden seed-syllable HRI, which in turn instantly transforms into the awe-inspiring form of Walchen Gekhöd Meri. Therefore, the peaceful and the wrathful forms of the meditation deity are inseparable.

The  colour of  Meri's  body,  as  well as his armour, is golden. Meri is closely connected  with  that  metal, as well as with the element fire. In ancient  times Zhang-zhung, or  Western Tibet, was well  known as a rich source of  gold. This is cited in the Geography of the Greek writer Ptolemy, for example. Gigantic in body,  Meri has nine heads, eighteen  arms, and six  legs.  His right  face is  white in colour and he wears a helmet of molten bronze on this head, while his left  face is  red and on this head  he wears a copper  helmet.  The middle face is dark azure blue like the storm clouds and on this head he wears an iron helmet. These three  faces are all wrathful in aspect, like that of a terrifying, cannibalistic Rakshasa demons (srin-po).  In Tantric symbolism, the colours of these three faces represent the colours of the three principal psychic channels in the middle of the body of the practitioner, namely, white on the right, red on the left, and blue for the central channel. Then, above these three principal heads, there are stacked  six  auxilliary heads in the aspect of animals and birds. On the right there are the reddish-yellow garuda  (khyung), the blue raven  (khwa), and the yellow owl  ('ug-pa),  and on the left there are the  striped tiger  (stag), the ash-grey elephant  (glang-chen),  and  the  dark yellow bear  (dred-mo). The  usual form of  Gekhöd in terms of  his iconography is also  multi-headed and multi-limbed,  but he does not  wear  armour or helmets. Above Meri's  several heads,  there  soars a  great golden Garuda bird  (bya  khyung)  with turquoise  eyes  and  with  talons  and  beak of  iron. Gekhöd, as well as the country  of  Zhang-zhung itself,  has always  been  closely  associated  with the Garuda, which signifies the element  fire, as wello as the lightning flashing  across  the  heavens. According to the myth, one of' the first emanations of Gekhöd in our world  was that of the Garuda. In addition, his throat, hands, joints, and so on, are decorated with white striped snakes because Gekhöd-Meri, like the Garuda, has power over the Nagas (klu), or serpentine water spirits, which are chthonic in nature.

The  first  two of  his  eighteen  arms  are held  before his chest. In his right hands, he  holds the hook of  compassion to attract  and rescue  beings, a  lasso of  snakes  to guide  beings,  a copper staff or walking stick, an axe with a garuda  head, a spear with a banner  attached,  a  bow and arrow  made of  meteorite iron, a golden  flaming tso (btswo), or  magical  missile (resembling a golden  pyramid  surrounded  by  flames),  a  crystal  hammer, and  flayed  human  skins  belonging  to  evil  doers,  both  male  and female  (these  actually being the flayed  skins of  Theurong spirits). In his left  hands, Meri holds  a  golden  battle-axe with  an enlarged  blade, a noose of  water, a noose of  a mass of fire, a  noose of  wind, a miniature image of  Mount  Meru (ri-rab), a container of  boiling poisonous  wine,  a white conch shell, a hammer made of meteorite iron, and a white antelope horn made of crystal. As arm ornaments and wrist ornaments, he also wears yellow striped  snakes

As said already, he wears  armour of gold,  but his upper body is partly wrapped in the  flayed  skin of  a Düd (bdud) demon, and  also the flayed  back¬skins of  Gyalpo (rgyal-po),  Gongpo ('gong-po), and Damsi  (dam-sri) evil spirits.  About his lower  body  he wears  a  skirt  made of  the  flayed skin of  a Chüd  demoness  and  also the flayed  skin of  a northern  nomad herdsman who was an evil-doer. All of  these are tied  together with a belt of one thousand black snakes. He wears an apron of lion and  tiger  skins,  as  well  as  a  bandelier of  eighty-one dried  skulls and  a  rosary of  lightning bolts  across  his  chest.  His six legs are stiding forward aggressively like a champion warrior (gyad) and  his feet  are adorned  with red striped  snakes.  [9]

While in the heavens,  he rides upon the swiftly soaring Garuda bird which moves  like  light¬ning, in the lower atmosphere he rides upon a nine-headed camel which is a king of the winds, and on the surface of the earth he rides upon a reddish-brown curly-haired  billy goat. These creatures are also visualized as above his throne and as forming part of his seat. When he resides  among his retinue, amidst the thunderous waves of a vast sea of blood, his immense form striding majestically about on top of a throne made of nine gigantic human  skulls, supported by nine tiger skulls. Before him there are  arrayed  the five races of  the worldly  Mamo goddesses.  These  Mamos  (Skt.  matrika), all of them being female witches  who are black in colour, are among the fiercest of  all  spirit entities inhabiting the wilds of nature. These Mamo goddesses have  promised  to obey and to do his bidding, both in their nocturnal  gatherings and in general, having  taken these vows before the sage  Sangwa Düpa in a previous age.

In the center of a typical thangka, there will be found the majestic figure of Zhang-zhung Meri striding forward with the great golden Garuda soaring over his many heads. Moreover, in most thangkas the three principal spiritual aspects of Gekhod Meri are depicted, which are known as the Three Lord Protectors, or Gönpo Namsum (mgon-po rnam gsum). They are as follows:

1. The tutelary wisdom deity Atimuwer (a-ti mu-wer ye-shes yi-dam lha) is depicted as sitting in the sky above the various heads of the mountainous figure of Gekhöd-Meri and the soaring Garuda. He is peaceful in aspect, white in color, sitting in meditation posture, and attired as a great prince in rich silks and costly jewels. Even though he has all the symbolic ornaments of the Sambhogakaya, nevertheless, he is said to represent the Dharmakaya manifestation of Gekhöd-Meri. His visualization is generated from sounding the white seed-syllable A.

2. Kuji Mangke (ku-byi mang-ke rdzu-'phrul rdzogs-pa'i sku) is said to represent the Sambhogakaya (rdzogs-sku) manifestation of Gekhöd-Meri. According to Yongdzin Rinpoche, there exist two figures with this name who should not be confused. Dzutrul Kuji Mangke, “the magical apparition Kuji Mangke,” is the Sambhogakaya manifesta¬tion, whereas Lha-bu Kuji Mangke, “the son of the gods,” according to the Srid-pa mdzod-phug, was a Rishi or  sage  that  lived  in Trayatrimsha, the realm of  the Thirty-¬three Gods on the summit of  Mount Meru. In  Bönpo thangkas, this magical apparition Kuji Mangke, also attired as a great prince in rich silks and jewels, being turquoise or bluish-green in colour, is shown sitting in union with his consort inside the heart center of Meri. His visualization is generated with the bluish-green seed-syllable OM.

3. Walchen Gekhöd Meri (dbal-chen ge-khod me-ri), who represents the Nirmanakaya (sprul-sku) aspect of the Deity, the exceedingly wrathful principal figure (gtso-bo) in the center of the thangka. He is generated from the reddish-golden seed-syllable HRI.