Ushnishavijaya: A Victory Over Death

Ushnishavijaya with Amitayus and White Tara. From

Ushnishavijaya (Tib. Tsugtor Nampar Gyalma) is the Buddhist goddess of long life and purification. Her name means “Victorious Crown Protuberance” and it is related to the oval at the top of the head of the Buddha (Skt. ushnisha) which symbolises his attainment of enlightenment. She is often accompanied by Buddha Amitayus (Tib. Tsepagme) and White Tara (Tib. Dolkar). Together they are known as the three long-life deities (Tib. tse lha nam sum), a group formulated mainly in Tibetan Buddhism.

Ushnishavijaya is considered as an embodiment of Prajnaparamita, the Buddhist goddess of wisdom. As with Prajnaparamita and Tara, Ushnishavijaya is called the “Mother of all Buddhas.” As an embodiment of one of the group of the Twenty-one Taras, she is known as “Ushnishavijaya, who attained immortality” (Tib. Chime Tsedrub Tsugtor Nampar Gyalma).

According to Buddhist ideas, death arises as a result of the law of karma and ignorance as the root cause of negative actions. The Buddha’s path offers the opportunity to achieve a spiritual realization in which one can be free from the law of cause and effect and choose when and how to die, as well as the conditions in which to be reborn. This is the exact function of Ushnishavijaya: to help purify negative acts and delusions, to prevent untimely death and as the ultimate goal, and to facilitate the achievement of immortality.

According to Buddhist legends, the origin of the goddess is related to the Buddha Shakyamuni’s residence in the Trayatrimsa heaven, where he went to see his mother Mayadevi and to give Dharma teachings to the gods living there. Concerned about how one of them was suffering, the Vedic god Indra asked Buddha to save him from suffering. In response to this, the Awakened One radiated light from the crown of his head, which transformed into Ushnishavijaya and explained her practice.

The goddess embodies the notion of ushnisha as a sign of ultimate spiritual achievement and omniscience, which has the power to defeat death. Buddhists believe that thanks to the realization of the practice of Ushnishavijaya, they will not be reborn in the lower realms of samsara and will reach the paradise of eternal bliss (Skt. sukhavati, Tib. dewachen).

The iconographic form of Ushnishavijaya was preserved in Tibet during different historical periods. The white color of her body symbolizes the radiance that radiates from the crown of Buddha’s head. She has three faces (white, yellow, and blue) with different expressions showing the goddess’s ability to manifest in different aspects, according to the needs of the sentient beings. Each face has three very large eyes. She is depicted with eight hands. Her right hands hold a crossed vajra – a symbol of the indestructible power of enlightenment, Buddha’s figure (Shakyamuni or Amitabha) – a sign of her power to guide beings to the Buddhist paradise, and an arrow piercing the obstacles caused by the Lord of Death. The fourth right hand is in the gesture of generosity (Skt. varda mudra). In her left hand, she holds a bow, a lasso, with which she attracts everything that threatens life, and a pot with nectar of immortality (Skt. amrita kalasha). The fourth left hand is in the fearless gesture (Skt. abhaya mudra). The goddess is sitting in a lotus posture (Skt. padmasana) and sometimes she is depicted in a stupa which symbolizes ushnisha and Buddha’s enlightened mind.

In the Tibetan tradition, there are images of the goddess in union with her consort, Uhnishchakravartin (Tib. Tsugtor Khorlo Gyurwei Gyalpo), whose name means “the Universal monarch of ushnisha.”

Ushnishavijaya has an important role in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Her popularity is related to the beliefs in the supernatural power of the radiance emanating from Buddha’s crown as well as her victory over death.

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