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Most Popular Buddhist Gods: A Friendly Guide to Divine Figures

Buddhism is often considered a non-theistic religion, as it does not revolve around the worship of a singular supreme deity or gods like some other religions. However, it does include an array of divine beings that are venerated in various contexts. Some popular Buddhist gods are Maitreya, Vairocana, and Shakyamuni Buddha, and they each have their own unique stories and myths.

Initially, Buddhist divine beings were mainly Indian figures such as devas, asuras, and yakshas. As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, other local spirits and gods, like the Burmese nats and Japanese kami, became a part of the tradition. These deities are venerated alongside Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who are enlightened beings helping others achieve enlightenment.

The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, is central to the Buddhist religion. Other well-known Buddhas include Amitabha Buddha and Medicine Buddha. These divine beings, along with the variety of local spirits and gods, contribute to the rich tapestry of Buddhist religious practice and serve as guides and sources of inspiration for many practitioners.

The Concept of Deities in Buddhism

Buddhism, unlike many religions, does not revolve around the worship of a singular supreme deity or gods. Instead, it emphasizes the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha. However, there are divine beings within Buddhism, which can be categorized into various types.

Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to remain in the world to help others achieve enlightenment. These figures possess unique characteristics and qualities, making them revered in different ways. Some of the most famous Bodhisattvas include Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.

Moving onto Vedic Devas and Yakshas, these Indian figures were early inclusions into the Buddhist pantheon. Examples of these deities include Indra, the god of thunder, and Brahma, the god of creation. Over time, other Asian spirits and local gods were also embraced by Buddhism, expanding the list of deities.

In the Vajrayana tradition, deities are experienced more like archetypal symbols than supernatural creatures. For instance, practitioners of Buddhist tantra might visualize themselves as a specific deity during meditation, embodying the deity’s qualities. It is worth noting that Vajrayana is based on Mahayana Buddhist teaching, in which no phenomena have objective or independent existence.

The following table summarizes some popular Buddhist deities:

Deity Category Attribute
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva Compassion
Manjushri Bodhisattva Wisdom
Indra Vedic Deva Thunder
Brahma Vedic Deva Creation
Vairocana Vajrayana Cosmic Buddha, Enlightened Mind

These deities hold an essential place in Buddhism, allowing practitioners to focus on specific qualities and attributes as they progress along the path to enlightenment.

The Historical Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama

Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, was born in the Shaka clan. His life can be described through a series of remarkable events. These events include a miraculous birth, a precocious childhood, and a princely upbringing1.

The Buddha is considered a man and not a god in Theravada Buddhism. He is seen as a teacher whose primary mission was to help end people’s suffering through his teachings2. In this tradition, Siddhartha Gautama is the only Buddha of our current era and is generally not viewed as accessible or as existing in some higher plane of existence3.

Here are some key symbols and concepts associated with Buddhism:

  • Lotus flower: Represents purity and enlightenment.
  • Eight-spoked dharma wheel: Symbolizes the Buddha’s teachings and the Eightfold Path.
  • Bodhi tree: The tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment4.



Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who listens to the world’s cries and comes to their aid. He is venerated as the most universally acknowledged bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism and also appears in Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism. In some regions, such as China and Japan, Avalokiteshvara is sometimes considered feminine; however, no canonical text supports this distinction.


Manjushri is the Bodhisattva associated with wisdom and deep understanding. As a spiritually advanced bodhisattva, Manjushri is widely venerated across the Mahayana Buddhist world and is believed to possess great magical power. This power is used to help all living beings in their quest for enlightenment and spiritual growth.


Maitreya is often considered the future Buddha, as he is expected to achieve complete enlightenment and succeed the current Buddha, Shakyamuni. Notable across various Buddhist traditions, Maitreya’s arrival is said to bring a time of great peace, understanding, and unity. As one of the 19 most important Buddhist deities, Maitreya holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Buddhists around the world.

Female Deities


Tara is a powerful and popular female deity in the Buddhist pantheon. Her name means “star” in Sanskrit, and she is believed to guide followers on their spiritual path like a guiding star. Often considered a bodhisattva in some Northern Buddhist traditions, Tara is typically depicted with grace and serenity and is known for her ability to alleviate suffering and protect devotees from physical and spiritual dangers.


Prajnaparamita, meaning “Perfection of Wisdom” in Sanskrit, is another influential female deity in Buddhism. She embodies the understanding and insight that all phenomena are intrinsically empty and interconnected. Prajnaparamita is often depicted in a golden-yellow color, symbolizing the wealth of wisdom she represents. As the personification of transcendent wisdom, she plays a vital role in the development of Mahayana Buddhism and its emphasis on the importance of cultivating compassion and wisdom for the benefit of all beings.

Protectors of the Dharma


Mahakala is a revered Dharmapāla, or “Protector of the Dharma,” in Buddhism. Often presented with a wrathful appearance, he is considered a manifestation of the compassionate bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. In Hinduism, however, Mahakala represents a fierce form of Lord Shiva and is the consort of the goddess Mahākālī.

As a protector, Mahakala is frequently depicted with terrifying iconography and utilized in the Mahayana and tantric traditions of Buddhism 3. The wrathful demeanor symbolizes his fierce dedication to defending and safeguarding Buddhist followers from enemies and dangers.


Yamantaka, another key Dharmapāla in Buddhism, is often portrayed as the conqueror of death. He serves as a wrathful manifestation of the bodhisattva of wisdom, Manjushri. This fierce, powerful deity is particularly revered within the Vajrayana tradition.

  • Yamantaka’s purpose is to vanquish Yama, the god of death.
  • This symbolizes the triumph of wisdom over ignorance and the cycle of rebirth.

By overcoming death and ignorance, Yamantaka helps Buddhists attain enlightenments and progress on their spiritual path, thereby fulfilling his role as a protector and guardian of the Buddhist Dharma.

Wealth Deities


Jambhala, also known as Dzambhala, Dzambala, Zambala, and Jambala, is considered the God of Fortune and Wealth in Buddhism. A member of the Jewel Family, Jambhala is sometimes associated with the Hindu deity, Kubera. Furthermore, Jambhala is believed to be an emanation of Avalokitesvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.


Vasudhara, the Buddhist goddess of abundance, fertility, and wealth, is another significant wealth deity. She is typically depicted with six arms, each holding different symbols that represent her powers. These symbols include a book, indicating knowledge, a sheaf of grain, representing fertility, and a treasure vase, symbolizing wealth. In some regions, Vasudhara is considered to be the consort of Jambhala, connecting the two wealth deities.

Creation and Destruction


In Buddhist cosmology, Brahma is one of the prominent gods associated with creation. He is known as one of the Brahma devas (high gods) who reside in the higher celestial realms. Brahma has multiple faces and is often depicted with four faces, symbolizing the four cardinal points.

In contrast to many other belief systems, Buddhism does not attribute the creation of the universe or the world to any one deity. Instead, it teaches a cyclical view of existence, with worlds forming and dissolving through the natural process of samsara. Consequently, Brahma’s role in creation should be understood within this broader symbolic context.


Although Buddhists do not have a specific god devoted to destruction like Hinduism’s Shiva in his Rudra aspect, there are deities and beings associated with destructive forces. Chief among these are the Yama (death gods) and Mara (the demon who represents temptation and death).

Yama is often depicted holding a wheel of life representing the cycle of birth and death. On the other hand, Mara embodies the force of delusion and ignorance that keeps beings trapped in the cycle of samsara. Thus, rather than associating one god explicitly with destruction, Buddhism presents a view where destructive forces are instead tied to the realities of existence and suffering.

Local and Regional Deities

Palden Lhamo

Palden Lhamo is a popular female deity in Tibetan Buddhism. She is considered the fierce and powerful dharmapala (protector of the dharma) and is often depicted riding a wild mule through a sea of blood while wearing a garland of skulls. Her wrathful nature serves to protect the Buddhist teachings and faithful practitioners, making her an important figure in the local pantheon.

Tsiu Marpo

Tsiu Marpo, also known as Tsiu Mar, is another popular deity in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He is a warrior god who is believed to have been a war general in ancient Tibet before being converted to Buddhism. Tsiu Marpo now serves as a guardian deity, dedicated to protecting the dharma and its practitioners. He is often depicted wearing armor, holding a flag, and riding a red horse, symbolizing his warrior past and his continued role as a fearless protector of Buddhist teachings.


  1. The Historical Buddha (article) | Buddhism | Khan Academy

  2. » The historical Buddha – Smarthistory

  3. Buddhist deities – Wikipedia 2

  4. Buddhism – Founder, Beliefs & Origin | HISTORY