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The Dance of the Conquerer of Death (Shinje Yab Yum)

Shinje - his Sanskrit name is Vajrabhaivara, »The Varja-Terrifyer« - counts as one of the protective dieties of the highest tantric class. He is a wrathful manifestation of Bodhisattva* Manjusri*, the embodiment of wisdom. This wrathful form is based on compassion and destroys the weak, as well as the karmic hurdles that block the way to enlightenment. Vajrabhaivara conquered the god of death Yama. Therefore, he is also called Yamataka - »The Tamer of Yama«.

The god of death, known from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, rules the various hells and judges over the dead on their way between death and rebirth. He too once gave an oath to protect Buddhism. For many visitors, the meanings of Yamataka and Yama merge into the single persona of the dancing figure. For them, the conquerer of death is dancing. Many here envision what they will see in their journey between death and rebirth.


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The two dancers show the male (yab) and the female (yum) aspects of Shinje. Both sexual aspects encircle one another. Herein, one that is initiated into the world of tantric belief, sees the mythical merging of the male principle of »active realization« (upaya*) and the female principle of »contemplative wisdom« (prajna*).

In the melting together of this bipolarity, that only exists in the human mind, lies the enlightenment and the departure from the cycle of rebirth. Once this goal is reached, man shall never again stand before the judge of the dead, who in one sense is dancing here physically, while in the other sense he is giving an exact portrayal of the way out from the cycle of rebirths.

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The dance shows the wrathful appearance of Bodhisattva* Manjusri* as ruler over the god of death.
Photograph by Christian Schicklgruber