Religious Beliefs

Do Buddhists believe in angels?

Buddhist popular belief inherited and retained many of the different types of celestial and semi-divine beings that populated Hindu myth. Nearly all Hindu deities have their personal attendants. In addition, a variety of other spiritual presences fill the heavenly and earthly realms. Artists often depict these characters as floating gracefully, but they generally lack the wings most people associate with angels. A class of being called apsaras (Sanskrit for “moving in water”) are the most numerous of these denizens of the intermediate realm. Early Buddhist artists sometimes depicted apsaras as devotees worshipping the Buddha’s footprints or gathered around the tree of enlightenment. Another group, called the gandharvas, were Hindu demigods who entertained the deities as musicians and dancers. Buddhist tradition retained them in that capacity.

The classic angelic function of guardianship and protection resides in other classes of beings regarded as gods in some sects. Lokapalas (“World Guardians”) are those who stand watch over the four quarters of the universe. Many Buddhist temples depict them as muscular, heavily armed gatekeepers. The dharmapalas (“Guardians of the Teaching”) are a band of fearsome deities whose task is to guard believers (especially in Vajrayana). As a kind of personal deity assigned to each individual, these protectors can take on either benevolent or angry form, depending on whether they are dealing with a believer or with an enemy of the faith.


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