Heruka is also a name for the Tantric deity Chakrasamvara, for which see.
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Heruka (Sanskrit; Tib.khrag 'thung), is the name of a category of wrathful deities, enlightened beings in Vajrayana Buddhism that adopt a fierce countenance to benefit sentient beings. Herukas represent the embodiment of indivisible bliss and emptiness. They appear as yidam or meditational deities in tantric sadhana, usually placed in a mandala and often accompanied by a yab-yum consort.
Derivation and meaning of the term
The name "Heruka" is made up of the prefix "he-" meaning "hey!" and "ruka", a rich term implying many levels of subtle meaning - richness, royalty, etc are implied by "ruka". It is linked to the Sanskrit word "Rc" which is where the name "Rgveda" comes from. The famous bodhisattva of the second chapter of the Mahayanasutra "Sovereign King of Golden Splendour" (suvarnabhasottamendraraja) is called "Ruciraketu" - "He Who Flys the Banner of Riches (ruchira)" - is a lay emanation of a Heruka.
The Sanskrit term Heruka was translated into both Chinese and Tibetan as "blood drinker," which scholar Ronald Davidson calls "curious," speculating that the nonliteral translation derived from an association the term has with cremation grounds and 'charnel grounds' (Sanskrit: śmāśāna) (which absorb the blood of the dead). Sanskrit terms for blood drinker include asrikpa, reflecting a Sanskrit word for blood (asrik), and raktapa, raktapayin, or rakshasa, derived from an alternate root term for blood (rakta). However, unlike the Chinese and Tibetan (Tratung, wylie: khrag 'thung) terms used to translate it, the Sanskrit term heruka does not mean blood drinker.
Eight Herukas of the Nyingma Mahayoga
The eight Herukas (Wylie: sgrub pa bka’ brgyad) of the Nyingma mahayoga tradition (and their corresponding sadhanas) are said to have been received by Padmakara from the Eight Vidyadharas (Tib. Rigdzin), or Eight Great Acharyas: Manjushrimitra, Nagarjuna, Vajrahumkara, Vimalamitra, Prabhahasti, Dhanasamskrita, Shintamgarbha and Guhyachandra. They were proficient in the practices of, respectively,
1) Yamantaka (Tib. Jampal Shinje, ’jam dpal sku) the wrathful Manjushri, the deity of body
2) Hayagriva (Tib. Pema Sung, padma gsung) the wrathful Amitabha, the deity of speech
3) Vishuddha/Sri Samyak (Tib. Yangdak Thuk, Wylie: yang dag thugs) the wrathful Vajrapani deity of mind
4) Vajramrita (Tib. Dudtsi Yonten, bdud rtsi yon tan) the wrathful Samantabhadra, the deity of enlightened qualities
5) Vajrakilaya/Vajrakumara (Tib. Dorje Phurba, phur ba ‘phrin las), the wrathful Vajrasattva, the deity of purification
6) Matarah (Tib. Mamo Botong, ma mo rbod gtong) the wrathful Akasagarbha, the deity of calling and dispatching
7) Lokastotrapuja-natha (Tib. Jigten Chotod, ’jig rten mchod bstod) the wrathful Ksitigarbha, the deity of worldly offering and praise
8) Vajramantrabhiru (Tib. Mopa Dragnak, mod pa drag sngags) the wrathful Maitreya, the deity of wrathful mantras
Padmasambhava is quoted in the Bardo Thodol (Antarabhavatantra - "Tibetan Book of the Dead"): "The crucial point is indeed that those who have meditated on the formal description of these Herukakaya ('bodies of Heruka'), and also made offerings and praise to them, or, at the very least, have simply seen their painted and sculpted images, may recognise the forms that arise here and attain moksha (liberation)."
- Khenchen Palden Rinpoche. The Dark Red Amulet: Oral Instructions on the Practice of Vajrakilaya. New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2009 ISBN 978-1559393119.