The Five Buddha Families is a Buddhist tantric classification of the enlightened state. The pure enlightened nature of the five aggregates of sentient beings (form, sensations, perceptions, mental activity and consciousness) represent the five male buddhas abiding in union with their consorts who symbolize the five primordial wisdoms which represent the pure enlightened nature of the five negative emotions — anger, pride, passion, envy and ignorance.

The five buddha families are called Vajra, Ratna, Padma, Karma and Buddha. The Vajra family is represented by Buddha Akshobhya in union with his consort Buddhalochana who symbolizes the mirror-like primordial wisdom. Its colour is white and the symbol is a vajra scepter.

The Ratna family is represented by Buddha Ratnasambhava in union with his consort Mamaki who symbolizes the primordial wisdom of equanimity. Its colour is yellow and the symbol is a jewel. 

The Padma family is represented by Buddha Amitabha who abides in union with his consort Pandavarasini who symbolizes the primordial discriminating-awareness wisdom. Its colour is red and the symbol is a lotus. 

The Karma family is represented by Buddha Amogasiddhi abiding in union with his consort Samayatara who symbolizes the primordial all-accomplishing wisdom. Its colour is green and the symbol is a sword. 

The Buddha family is represented by Buddha Vairochana abiding in union with his consort Dhatvishvari who symbolizes the primordial wisdom of absolute space. Its colour is blue and the symbol is a wheel and the symbol is a wheel. 

In tantric iconography, the five buddha families are arrayed in the center and the cardinal points of a mandala. The mandala of the five buddha families represents their wisdom or enlightened aspect. Traditionally, the buddha family is in the center, vajra is in the east, ratna is in the south, padma is in the west, and the last family, karma, is in the north.

By relating with all the different people we encounter, we are actually relating with different styles of enlightenment. The buddha families associated with a person describes his of her fundamental style, that person’s intrinsic perspective or stance in perceiving the world and working with it. Each family is associated with both neurotic and enlightened style. The neurotic expression of any buddha family can be transmuted into its wisdom represented by each of the five wisdom dakinis.

The Vajra Family, Dakini Buddhalochana

It’s a family of sharpness, crystallization and indestructibility. In the ordinary world it’s like a sharp, cutting, biting-cold winter. Intellectually vajra is very sharp. This intellect also has a sense of constant openness and perspective. The neurotic expression of vajra is associated with anger and intellectual fixation. If we become fixated on a particular logic, the sharpness of vajra can become rigidity. Vajra is also associated with the element of water. Cloudy, turbulent water symbolizes the defensive and aggressive nature of anger, while clear water suggests the sharp, precise, clear reflectiveness of vajra wisdom. The vajra wisdom is traditionally called the mirror-like wisdom, which evokes this image of a calm pond or reflecting pool.

The Ratna Family, Dakini Mamaki

Ratna is a personal and real sense of expanding ourselves and enriching our environment. It is expansion, enrichment, plentifulness. In the neurotic sense, the richness of ratna manifests as being completely fat, or extraordinary ostentatious, beyond the limits of our sanity. We expand constantly, open heedlessly, and indulge ourselves to the level of insanity. It is like swimming in a dense lake of honey and butter. In the positive expression of the ratna family, we feel very rich and plentiful and we extend ourselves to our world personally, directly, emotionally, psychologically, even spiritually. The enlightened expression of ratna is the wisdom of equanimity, because ratna can include everything in its expansive environment. Thus ratna is associated with the element of earth. That lazy setlling down and making ourselves at home, and inviting other people to come in and rest as well, is ratna.

The Padma Family, Dakini Pandavarasini

The symbol of the enlightened padma family is lotus, which grows and blooms in the mud, yet still  comes out pure and clean, virginal and clear. Padma neurosis is connected with passion, a grasping quality and a desire to possess. We are completely wrapped up in desire and want only to seduce the world, without concern for real communication. A person with padma neurosis speaks gently, and he or she is seemingly sexy, kind, magnificent, and completely accommodating. Such padma seduction sometimes becomes excessive and sometimes becomes compassionate, depending on how we work with it. Padma is connected to the element of fire. In the confused state fire does not distinguish among the things it grasps, burns and destroys. But in the awakened state, the heat of passion is transmuted into the warmth of compassion. When padma neurosis is transmuted it becomes fantastically precise and aware. Everything is seen in its own distinct way, with its own particular qualities and characteristics. That’s why the wisdom of padma is called discriminating-awareness wisdom. we constantly experience a sense of magnetization and spontaneous hospitality.

The Karma Family, Dakini Samayatara

In this case karma means “action”. The neurotic quality of action or activity is connected with jealousy, comparison, and envy.  We would like to make everything very efficient, pure, and absolutely clean. However, if we do achieve cleanliness, then that cleanliness itself becomes a further problem: we feel insecure because there is nothing to administer, nothing to work on. Karma is connected with the element of wind. The wind never blows in all directions, but it blows in one direction at a time. This is the one-way view of resentment and envy, which picks on one little fault or virtue and blows it out of proportion. The enlightened aspect of karma is called the wisdom of all-accomplishing action. With this wisdom the quality of resentment falls away but the quality of energy, fulfillment of action, and openness remain. In other words, the active aspect of wind is retained so that our energetic activity touches everything in its path. We see the possibilities inherent in situations and automatically take the appropriate course. Action fulfills its purpose.

The Buddha Family, Dakini Dhatvishvari

This family is associated with the element of space. It is the environment or oxygen that makes it possible for the other principles to function. It has a sedate, solid quality. Persons in this family have a strong contemplative experience, and they are highly meditative. Buddha neurosis is the quality of being spaced-out rather than spacious. Its often associated with an unwillingness to express ourselves. We want to stay in our little corner, and we also feel we are the best person of all. When the ignoring quality of buddha neurosis is transmuted into wisdom, it becomes an environment of all-pervasive spaciousness. This enlightened aspect is called the wisdom of all-encompassing space. In itself it might still have a somewhat desolate and empty quality, but at the same time, it is a quality of completely open potential. It can accommodate anything. It is spacious and vast like sky.

Source: “Journey Without Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha” by Chogyam Trungpa.

Thangka of the Five Wisdom Dakinis of the Chod Lineage by Lama Gyurme Rabgye.