In Vajrayana Buddhism, a Wisdom King (Sanskrit vidyarāja, Jp. 明王 myō-ō) is the third type of deity after Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The Sanskit name literally “king of knowledge”, while the Chinese characters mean “bright king”, leading to wide array of alternative English names including Guardian King, Radiant King, etc.
The female counterparts of Wisdom Kings are known as Wisdom Queens (Jp. 明妃 myōhi), although the distinction is often ignored.
On a general level, the Wisdom Kings are viewed as the guardians of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. In particular, the Five Wisdom Kings are the protectors of the Five Wisdom Buddhas.
According to the esoteric doctrine of the Three Wheels, whereas Buddhas represent pure concepts and bodhisattvas teach through compassion, Wisdom Kings are the embodiment of the wheel of injunction and teach through fear, shocking nonbelievers into faith.
Wisdom Kings are usually represented as wrathful deities, often with many faces, many arms and even many legs. They hold weapons in their hands and are sometimes adorned with skulls, snakes or animal skins and wreathed in flames.
A notable exception is Mahamayuri (Jp. Kujaku), the “Peacock Wisdom Queen”, who is usually presented with a peaceful expression. She is easily identifiable as she usually rides a peacock.
List of Wisdom Kings
- Five Wisdom Kings
- Acala (Fudo myō-ō)
- Ragaraja (Aizen)
- Mahamayuri (Kujaku)
- Hayagriva (the horse-headed wrathful manifestation of Avalokitesvara)
- Dharmapala and Lokapala, the Protectors in Tibetan Buddhism