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Zhitro (Tibetan; Wylie: zhi khro, alternate phonetic transcription: shitro, xitro) or Karling Zhitro (kar gling zhi khro) is a Bonpo practice as well as a tantric practice in Tibetan Buddhism, primarily in the Nyingma, or 'Ancient School'. The sadhana, or practice text, is part of a group of bardo teachings which are believed to have originated with Padmasambhava in the 8th Century and were rediscovered as terma, or 'treasure teachings' in the 14th Century by the terton Karma Lingpa. The Zhitro mandala teachings were found in the same terma collection as the Bardo Thodol, a text well-known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Nomenclature, orthography, etymology

Alternate orthographies: Xitro, Shitro, Zhi-khro.


The Dzogchen practice of Zhitro involves viewing the body as a mandala of both peaceful and wrathful deities, the inclusivity promoting awareness in the practitioner of the universality of Buddha-nature. As a subtle body practice utilising yogic practices to manipulate the lung, or subtle-winds, of the body, this is a completion stage practice of the Inner Tantras. The Lion's Roar Tantric Glossary[1] describes the Zhitro mandala practice:

Zhi-khro is a practice of Tibetan Buddhism involving visualizing the body as a composite of the 108 peaceful and wrathful deities. In the practice, the deities are first visualized in mandalas of 58 peaceful and 42 wrathful deites centered in the heart, throat and crown chakra, and then in all the channels and nadis of the body.

Shugchang, et al. (2000) define and frame the Zhi-khro teachings in relation to the Inner Tantras, Anuyoga, Atiyoga, Guhyagarbha Tantra, rigpa, shunyata, non-duality, kye-rim, dzog-rim and bardo:

The zhi-khro, which translates as the peaceful and wrathful deities, is considered part of the inner tantra. It is actually a condensed teaching based upon the essential meaning of the Guhyagarbha Tantra combined with the views expressed in the anu and ati yoga teachings. Many great masters have said that the zhi-khro teachings are the inner tantra of the inner tantra. In this case we're not making distinctions among the various inner tantras, nor between the creation and completion stages, but joining them all together. This is the union of rigpa and emptiness, the oneness of birth, death, and life experiences. There is no basis for discriminating because all are aspects of one true nature. Nothing is rejected or exclusively accepted. This teaching is known as the one that unifies everything into a single state.[2]

Gyatso (2006) relates how Zhitro was received by Yeshe Tsogyal through the wang of a Vidyadhara through the Bardo of trance:

After succeeding in a variety of feats, including beheading a tiger, she gains access to an elaborate palace where she receives esoteric initiations from several vidyādharas and buddhas. She returns to Chingpu and after a year is robbed by seven bandits whom she then converts to Buddhist practice. She proceeds with the bandits on a magic carpet to the place Oḍḍiyāna where they all receive peaceful and wrathful deity practice (zhitro) initiations from a vidyādhara, who gives her the secret name Kharchen Za and cavorts in bliss with her.[3]

Cross-cultural correlates and possible antecedents

In the Hindu religion, the term śraddhā denotes the ritual that one performs to pay homage to one’s deceased ancestors (Pitri), and especially to one’s deceased parents, either on the anniversary of their death or during the dark fortnight called Pitri Paksha (which usually falls in September or October). Though Zhitro is not ancestor worship per se it is a spiritual practice that involves former relatives, preceptors and ancestors. A comparative analysis of Zhitro, Shraddha, Chöd and Sutric Buddhist charnel ground meditations would be informative.

See also


  1. Lion's Roar Tantric Glossary
  2. Shugchang, Padma (editor); Sherab, Khenchen Palden & Dongyal, Khenpo Tse Wang (2000). A Modern Commentary on Karma Lingpa's Zhi-Khro: teachings on the peaceful and wrathful deities. Padma Gochen Ling. Source: Zhikhro (accessed: December 27, 2007)
  3. Gyatso, Janet (2006). A Partial Genealogy of the Lifestory of Yeshé Tsogyel. Harvard University. JIATS, no. 2 (August 2006), THDL #T2719, 27 pp. Source: A Partial Genealogy of the Lifestory of Yeshé Tsogyel (accessed: November 16, 2007)

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