5 Buddha Families


The Five Buddha Families

There are many methods for developing our mind to higher levels of consciousness.

One of the most profound is that of the ‘Five Buddha Families’: an old Buddhist system in order to understand the mind and its different aspects, and to work with that.

In recent years, the term ‘mindfulness’ has become so popular, and some contemporary guru’s pretend they have invented this, but the very first texts about this kind ‘mindfulness system’ of 5 Buddhas as you can call it, were found as early as the 6th century AD, when Buddhism was slowly introduced in Tibet.

This principle of the Five Buddha Families is central to Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, or Tantric Buddhism.

mandala-5-elements-by-carmen-mensinkBase of a Mandala

The Five Buddha Families also form the base of a Tibetan Mandala, such as the Mandala of the 5 Elements that you see on the right.

The names of the families are:

  • Buddha Family
  • Vajra Family
  • Ratna Family
  • Padma Family
  • Karma Family

The 5 Dhyani Buddhas

At the head of each family is a ‘Dhyani Buddha.’ The Sanskrit word dhyani means meditation, so that’s why in the Western world they are often called the ‘Five Wisdom Buddhas’ or the ‘Five Meditation Buddhas’.

The names of the 5 Buddhas are:

  • Vairochana
  • Akshobhya
  • Ratnasambhava
  • Amitahba
  • Amogasiddhi

The Buddha Family

The head of the Buddha family is Buddha Vairochana.

He is generally seen as a White Buddha, but in some traditions he is depicted Blue in color.

He holds his hands in the position of Dharma chakra; the Teaching Mudra.

The Vajra Family

The head of the Vajra family is Buddha Akshobhya.

He is generally seen as a Blue Buddha, but in some traditions he is depicted White in color.

His hands are in in the position of Bhumisparsha; the ‘Earth-Touching-Mudra’, just like Buddha Shakyamuni holds his hands.

The Ratna Family

The head of the Ratna family is Buddha Ratnasambhava.

He is a Yellow Buddha and his hands are

His right hand is in the Varada Mudra, with an open palm, named the Mudra of Supreme Generosity.’

The Padma Family

The head of the Padma family, or Lotus family, is Buddha Amitabha.

This Buddha is Red in color.

He keeps his hands in the Dhyani (Dhyana) Mudra; the Mudra of Meditation.’

Buddha Amitayus is an emanation of Amitabha.

The Karma Family

The head of the Karma family is Buddha Amogasiddhi.

This Buddha is Green in color.

His hands are in Abhaya Mudra; the Mudra of Fearlessness.

Aspects of enlightenment & the neurotic states of mind

Each of the Buddha families embodies one of the five different aspects of enlightenment. However, these aspects not only manifest themselves as enlightened energies, but also as the neurotic states of our mind, such as pride or arrogance, anger, jealousy, attachment, and ignorance.

The Buddha families therefore show us a complete picture of both the neurotic world of an on ego based existence as well as the purified, enlightened State of mind. What makes the difference is the path of awakening.

So instead of simply simply to denying or ignoring the negative energies within ourselves, it is better to be able to recognize them and then start to work with them, and to transform them into positive energies along the way.

Also for contemporary practitioners working with these five ‘wisdom energies’ can provide us with an understanding of who we are in essence: our personality, our emotions, and how we relate to others and the world in which we live.

5-buddha-family-flags-carmen-mensinkThe Buddha Flag Project

This Buddha Flag project was started by Carmen Mensink in collaboration with Museum for Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde Leiden, The Netherlands).

The project covers a series of 5 colored flags (each flag being 4.30 meter/ 14 feet long) with the Five Buddha-Families as a theme, that are painted along a number of years.

In 2015, the first flag was painted with many visitors (some joined for 5 minutes, other stayed an hour). It was the red flag of red Buddha Amitabha, in 2016 the second flag of blue Buddha Akshobhya and third, white flag of Buddha Amitabha are painted. In 2017 the remaining two flags of the 5 Buddha Families are painted to make the complete set.

The entire series of flags will be hung in front of the entrance of the museum, and used for special events.