Ushnishavijaya (Namgyalma)

Tibetan: གཙུག་གཏོར་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་མ། Namgyal-ma
Sanskrit: Ushnishavijaya (Uṣṇīṣavijayā)

“Ushnishavijaya (pronounced oosh NEE shah vee jay YAH), “Victorious Queen of Crowning Light,” is an effulgent white goddess who bestows long life and grants rebirth in a Buddha paradise. She arose from the brilliant rays of light that crown Shakyamuni Buddha. The flamelike crown of light (uṣṇīṣa) is a sign of spiritual mastery, a result of the Buddha’s attainment of infinite knowledge, awareness, and vision…This crown of glory after which Ushnishavijaya is named is invisible to ordinary sight and hence signaled in artistic representations by a diadem, turban, or topknot…As an emblem of the supreme spiritual state, the ushnisha symbolizes the all-vanquishing power of omniscience, which grants victory even over death. Ushnishavijaya personifies this victorious force.

A widely circulated story of the origins of Ushnishavijaya takes place in Trayastrimsa Heaven, where Shakyamuni Buddha had sojourned to deliver a sermon before an assembly of gods and goddesses. The divine inhabitants of this heavenly realm enjoy a lengthy life space and cavort in a lighthearted manner, oblivious to the possibility of their eventual death. During Shakyamuni’s visit, a carefree young god was distressed by the news, imparted by a voice in the sky, that he was doomed to die in seven days and undergo seven rebirths. Aghast, he consulted Indra, sovereign of the gods, who used his clairvoyant vision to confirm that the godling was indeed destined soon to die and to be reborn as a dog, fox, monkey, snake, vulture, crow, and blind man.

Disturbed by his vision, Indra prostrated before Shakyamuni, spread offerings at his feet, and implored him for release from this form of suffering. The Buddha emanated brilliant rays from his crown of light, purifying all the words throughout the billion-world universe, and reabsorbed the cleansing radiance. He commenced to teach the practice of Ushnishavijaya, whose name most literally means ‘Victorious Queen of the Crown of Light.’ Yama, the lord of death and gatekeeper of the afterlife, promised to protect those who do the practice of Ushnishavijaya. The godling recited the dharani of Ushnishavijaya, enjoying a long life, and never again took a lower rebirth.

This simple and concise narrative articulates Ushnishavijaya’s primary function, a role that has endured throughout her history. According to Buddhist belief, a person’s life span comes to an end when the causal conditions sustaining that life are exhausted. However, Ushnishavijaya has the power both to prevent untimely death and to extend a life that has reached its natural end… Ushnishavijaya prolongs life through karmic purification rather than divine intervention… [Her] mantra extends life by cleansing the life stream of karmic factors that bring about death, namely, the residue of lifetimes of nonvirtuous behavior and delusion…

Ushnishavijaya has remained important in the Tibetan pantheon as a major longlife deity. Her practice falls within the Action Tantra class,  which features ritual invocation rather than contemplative and yogic disciplines. She is a member of popular triad of longevity divinities known as the ‘Long-Life Trinity,’ along with Amitayus and White Tara. Any of the three may be cast as the primary figure. Thus, Ushnishavijaya appears as the main figure in some liturgies and artistic representations. The three deities share the role of bestowing long life, but each has a specialization. The esoteric yoga of Amitayus is performed to attain rebirth in Sukhavati. White Tara figures in a healing practice for curing an array of physical and psychic ailments. Ushnishavijaya is an emergency reserve system to be used when a person is seriously ill or approaching the end of life through old age. She is also invoked to prevent rebirth in the three lower realms and to assure rebirth as a human being, god, or demigod or in a Buddha-land such as Sukhavati.”

~ from “Buddhist Goddesses of India” by Miranda Shaw

Namgyalma is also regarded as one of the twenty-one Taras.

“This particular Tara is renowned as the Tara of long life, with the ability to strengthen the life force, life energy, and vitality of all sentient beings. She is also renowned for protecting beings from ngen dro, that is, falling to take rebirth in unfavorable situations or lower realms…

Why is she called the Tara of the Top Knot, or Ushnishavijaya? There is a legend that at one time, when Buddha Shakyamuni was teaching, Tara manifested right upon his crown chakra and spontaneously taught the Tara Practice. Thus, she is named Ushnisha Tara.”

~ from “Tara’s Enlightened Activity” by Khenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal