depression, spirituality

Embracing Darkness With The Buddha Of The North

For a few weeks, I’ve been mulling over which Buddhist figure should be the centrepiece of my shrine. I initially thought of Green Tara – the Buddha of compassion – who has been a familiar figure for me my whole life. Growing up, my Dad had a small Green Tara tapestry hanging in our home, so she is a Buddhist figure I was have always been aware of.

And quite recently, in the candle-lit shrine room at the Dhanakosa Buddhist Centre, I was fortunate enough to sit for a Green Tara invocation during a meditation where her story of creation was told. Looking up at the large tapestry in that room, it felt like coming full circle. A good twenty years after first being acquainted with her, I was finally being told her story and felt her beauty and compassion flow into my heart. It’s said that when the Buddha’s tears met the suffering of the earth, Green Tara – the Buddha of compassion – was born.

Green Tara
Art by Soyolmaa Davaakhuu taken from The Yogini Project

I resonate with her because she’s female and because she has the balance of softness and self-protection. She has one hand and one foot reaching down into the world – ready and available to help all those who may need it – and the other foot is crossed in the meditative posture, while her left hand is held back slightly. During her invocation, we were told that this represents the balance between helping others and also helping and caring for herself. Tara does not overextend herself, she is in perfect harmony.

At my last Buddhist sangha, I was introduced to Amoghasiddhi – the Buddha of the north. Like Tara, he is also dark green in colour and he is associated with the sky at midnight, which relates to the north becoming darker towards the winter months. The woman leading the sangha joked that he’s “not exactly the Hallowe’en Buddha — but he’s not far off!” 😂 He is associated with fearlessness and unobstructed success and action, absolute wisdom and the ability to integrate the shadow aspect into a “powerful whole”. Upon hearing his story and visualisation, I knew that Amoghasiddhi was going to be the one to grace my shrine.

Artwork taken from

He resonates with me in so many ways. His qualities of unobstructed success and action brought to mind my struggles to maintain creative flow and energy with my music. His bravery and fearlessness in the face of absolute darkness hit home with my repeated episodes of depression. And his association with the north, the midnight sky, well, I’m from Shetland originally and the winter months there are dark. It is 60° north of the equator, closer to Norway than to London. I have been fortunate enough to have seen the northern lights twice.

This reminds me of a song I started writing a while ago and never finished:

“Cold nights in the dark were the start of my sombre tendencies,
Orange streetlights glowing in the dark, filled me with melancholy.
Artic winds with the spray of the sea of grey, made me grit my teeth,
I’ve been cold to the bone for the longest, hiding in my sleeves.”

So that was a bit self-indulgent (you mean, like the rest of your blog?) but it’s so relevant to Amoghasiddhi – I could’ve done with a figure like him to lean on growing up. A pal to sit with in the cold darkness of Shetland winters.

“The mantra of Amoghasiddhi is a simple and beautiful one (as I suppose all mantras are): “OM AMOGHASIDDHI AH HUM.”   To see the words written is not to hear the sweet sounds as they move from your ear to saturate your mind. Imagine the soughing of tall evergreens against the stars of a clear and moonless night. Add the rhythmic hum of waves sliding on the deserted evening beach, and then the long reverberation of a cymbal or bowl singing one low steady note. Imagine something like that.” – excerpt from the Vajra Bell

“…waves sliding on the deserted evening beach” – you cannot get more Shetland than that if you tried. As well as having a specific imagery, colour and time of day, Amoghasiddhi also has his own animal, which is half-man, half-bird (naturally).

“Lama Govinda says of this half-man, half bird that it symbolizes “man in transition towards a new dimension of consciousness… the transition from human to the superhuman state, which takes place in the mysterious darkness of the night, invisible to the eye.” – excerpt from the Vajra Bell

I’ve found so much beautiful literature about Amoghsiddhi. He is a truly striking and inpsiring Buddhist figure.

Amoghasiddhi is the reaching into the dark, he is the midnight sun, shone bravely into all of you, the deepest, darkest urges, shadow, anger, greed, pride, all the parts we learn to hide at a very young age. He reaches the parts other buddhas don’t reach. Since total integration is necessary for progress along the path, Amoghasiddhi’s unearthly power and energy is like enlisting the help of a supershrink, a superhero of psychotherapy and personal growth. A Buddha. He is confidence, faith, change, and the certainty that as sure as day follows night, practice has its effects.” – excerpt from The Way Of Sunshine

Speaking of the midnight sun, I couldn’t think of a more fitting and beautiful piece of music to encompass that imagery than a song by a friend of mine:

Anyway, endless pieces of beautiful art aside, the thing I like about this Buddhist figure the most is that he is not necessarily this bright, shining, summery ideal of life without struggle – he is the fearless yet grounded facing towards the darkness. Not even facing towards it – sitting in it. The mudra of his right hand in front of the heart, palm facing outwards, represents a dispelling of fear. But, to my interpretation, there is no denial here. It is the acknowledgement of an inner resilience and unshakability in the face of the darkness. An inner faith and willingness to fully integrate the shadow aspect of the world and of ourselves – which relates directly to the kind of work I’ve been doing in counselling for the past 8 months.

His natural association with the dark night of the soul resonates with my relatively new attitude of attempted acceptance towards my depressive tendencies, which I explored more in-depth in my last post.

Soon will be Hallowe’en, when representations and symbols of demons and fear will come to the fore to be celebrated. And soon the clocks will go back as the days become shorter and the darkness stretches out in front of us. Maybe as we’re going about our daily lives, feeling cold and resentful of this all-engulfing darkness, we could look towards the dark, starry sky, feeling into the kind of beautiful stillness which is only possible at this time of year; and know that we are firmly in Amoghasiddhi’s realm – protected by his undying fearlessness and willingness and determination to utilise this vast darkness as a catalyst for positive change.

Thanks for reading. ❤

– SMUT. ❤ xxxx

Cover art by @caffeinated.artist

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