There was once a yogi who lived in isolation in a cave in the mountains where he practiced meditation with determination. One day, while sitting in profound samadhi and just about to achieve the Awakened State that is called Enlightenment, two cattle thieves dragging their prize of a dead water buffalo just happened to find the cave. Thinking they were alone, they began to butcher the meat by first removing the head from the rest of the carcase.
When they noticed the ascetic, who would certainly be able to identify them to authorities, they smoothly and swiftly beheaded him, too. The siddha, in a fury that his objective -- so near in that lifetime -- had been thwarted, reached out and grabbed the closer of the heads lying there, and with a twist of his wrist, installed the missing part. It happened to be that of the bull.
Thus, his prior spiritual attainment combined with his anger, frustration and animal fury to cause him to take on the form of the most ferocious of the devas, Lord Yama, god of Death (Chinese: Yen-Lo-Wang.) Having assumed this form he not only slaughtered the two cattle rustlers, but went on a rampage that threatened the population for miles around.
In desperation, followers of the Buddha-dharma appealed to the Great Bodhisattva, Manjushri, for help. Jampel Yang (as Manjusri is known in Tibetan,) having both wisdom and compassion, as well as superior knowledge, used like to conquer like. He assumed a fierce bull-headed form himself and put an end to the furious and mindless predation of that particular version of Yama, the Lord of Death.
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As the manifestation of Manjushri, he is shown as black or midnight blue (Karma Kagyu form).
Yamantaka (Defeater of Death) is one of the Drag-ched -- eight Dharmapalas, Protectors of the Teaching of the buddhas. [<link to Nitin Kumar's newsletter, Feb. 2001.] (The other 7are Mahakala, Kubera, Hayagriva, Palden Lhamo, Yama, and Begtse.)
Though they are
terrifying in appearance they are all bodhisattvas -- embodiments of compassion
that can manifest out of Emptiness to act in an extremely wrathful way for the
sake of sentient beings.
"Old School" Form
In the Nyingma Longchen Nyinthig tradition, Jampel Shinje is also known as Dugri Mebar. This is an aspect of Yamantaka practiced by Padmasambhava, according to 19th-century terton, Sa-Sum Lingpa. He transmitted it to Padgyal Lingpa, " . . . who was thereby able to annihilate all outer, inner and secret demons without exception." It went from him down to Tsewang Seetar Rinpoche, who is the head of Sangye Teng Monastery of Eastern Bhutan, where it is the central practice. (Tsewang Seetar was recognized by the late Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse, not only as the successor to Padgyal Lingpa, but as the rebirth of Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, heart disciple of Padmasambhava.