What is a Vajra?
The Vajra or Dorje (in Tibetan) is the symbol of the Vajrayana (diamond vehicle path) of Buddhism.
The Sanskrit language defines Vajra as the "hard or mighty one" while in Tibetan, Dorje refers to to the " lord of Stones", which is equivalent to the hardness and the radiance of the Diamond. Hence, it is profound symbol of the impenetrable, immovable and in-destructive state of the enlightened mind, the Vajra mind.
The peaceful deities hold a Vajra as a adamantine scepter while the wrathful ones hold them as a indestructible weapon. It also symbolizes the skillful means. When held together with the bell, they both refers to the perfect union of the wisdom and skillful means.
Types of Vajra in Vajrayana:
Vajras are mainly represented with one, two, three, four, five or nine progned on each sides. Among them the five and the nine pronged Vajras are the most common ones in Tibetan Vajrayana Tradition.
1. Single pointed Vajra:
They represents both the central channels as Mt Meru's central air and the union of all the duality such as wisdom and compassion, emptiness and bliss, relative and ultimate truths.
2. Three pointed Vajra:
They represent the trinity of the Three times (Past, Present and Future)
The Three Kayas of body (Sambhogkaya, Nirmanakaya and Dharmakaya
The Three gates (Body, Speech and Mind)
3. Five pointed Vajra:
They represent the Five Buddhas of the cosmic directions ( Vairochana, Amitabha, Ratnasambhava, Amoghasiddhi and Akshobhya) and the five kayas of the Anuttarayoga tantras.
4. Nine pointed Vajra:
They represent the five directional buddha and the four mothers (consorts of the four cardinal Buddhas namely Lochana, Mamaki, Pandara and Tara). They also represents the profound nine vehicles of the Vajrayana.
The Profound Anatomy of Vajra:
The central section of the Vajra consists of a central hub. It has a lotus and moon disc on either side. Sealed at both ends, it has a crown of five extending prongs. The five jina Buddhas are represented by the five pointed vajra.
It is rounded hub that represents the Dharmata. This sphere is sealed with the Syllable mantra HUM, its three component represents the freedom from causations, conceptual thoughts and reasonings. On each side of the hub are three rings, symbolizing the three bliss of Buddha Nature: emptiness, sign-lessness and effortlessness.
From the rings, arise an eight petalled lotus on each side. These 8 petals represent the eight bodhisattvas. Above them are the three pear like rings on each side. The total of such 6 rings represents the six perfections of Paramita. They are patience, generosity, discipline, effort, meditation and wisdom.
A full moon disc is crowned on the top of the rings of both sides, which symbolizes the absolute and the relative Bodhicitta.
The tapering prongs emerge from the base of the moon disc forming a round cluster as they curve inward. There is an axial square prong in the center. The outer curved prongs rise from the mouths of Makara and is depicted like the Vajra-tongues coming out from their wide open mouths.
These Makaras are the mythological sea creatures that reassembles the crocodile. They represent the four boundless states (compassion, love, sympathetic joy and equanimity).
The final tip of the Vajra of both ends are shaped like a tapering pyramid or a four faceted jewel. It also represent the Mount Meru as the axial center of the outer macrocosm and inner microcosm. The two twinning ends of a Vajra indicates the unity of the relative and absolute truth. It is symmetric in shape.
Depiction of Vajra in Thangka:
Iconographical presentation of Vajra is depicted in various stylistic forms as a hand attribute or worn as an crown ornaments by the deities.
The central hub is represented by a circle and the three rings are drawn as single solid segments on either side of the circle. the eight petalled lotus are portrayed as band of either three or five petals. The heads of Makara are drawn as the curved leaf shaped and the sharp prongs appear flat in this two dimensional art form.
The central axis is represent as a double sword lookalike, with a diamond shaped motif at the center.
5 pointed and 9 pointed Vajra in Thangka:
While depicting in thangka paintings, the five and nine pronged Vajra are represented in the same form. The only distinction made between them are with the closed and open ends. The Five pointed Vajra is depicted with closed ends while the nine pointed Vajra has its ends open, forming a shape of trident.
Mostly, a genuine 24K gold is used to paint the Vajra in thangka. In some cases of extremely wrathful deities, it is often depicted in deep blue color to reassemble the color of meteoric iron. View this Vajrakilaya Thangka in detail, click here.
The Crossed Vajra: VishvaVajra
The crossed or double Vajra underlays the foundation of the universe of mount Meru. It represent the principle of absolute stability, characterized by the solidity of the mother earth element.
The place in Bodhgaya where the Shakyamuni Buddha attained Enlightenment (Vajra-mind) is also known as Vajrasana (Vajra seat). His posture is widely known as Vajra posture (Vajraparyanka) where his legs are crossed against each other in contrast to the full lotus posture (Padmasana).
As of this time, we can see that most of the throne of our highly realized masters are decorated with a hanging silk in square shape that has this Crossed Vajra in center and the four Swastika signs on each corners. This represents the instructive and unshakable reality Shakyamuni's Vajra mind.
Similar emblems of VisvaVajra are used to mark the bottom seal of the statues, once they are consecrated by the masters.
Depiction of Visvavajra:
It is generally depicted in the five colors of the five Buddha mandala. The five colors represent the elements and qualities of these five directional Buddhas:
Central Hub: Blue
The four sets of prongs represent the four activities (Karma) of Buddha in four directions: pacifying, enriching, magnetizing and destroying. Hence, it is an emblem of the green Buddha, Amoghasiddhi of the North direction, as he is the head of the Karma family.
It is either represented as a five pronged Vajra in three dimension forms such as statues or as a flat 3 pronged Vajra in two dimensional form (thangka). These 12 spokes from the 3 pronged vajra represent the 12 links of Dependent Origination. These 12 link are represented by the outer circle of the wheel of life thangka.
Another symbolic meaning of these 12 spokes can be related with the 12 great deeds of Shakyamuni Buddha:1. His descent from the Tushita Heaven
2. His entry into his mother's womb
3. His Birth
4. Mastery in skill and arts
5. His marriage and birth of his child
6. The renunciation
7. Practicing Austerities
8. Meditation under the bodhi Tree
9. His conquest of the Evil Mara
10. Attainment of Enlightenment
11. Turning the Wheel of Dharma
12. The Final Parinirvana
Depiction of Buddhist Deities with Vajra:
Following are the depiction of various peaceful and wrathful deities of Vajrayana who holds different forms of Vajra as their attributes.
1. Namgyalma (Ushnisha Viajaya)
Vajrasattva and Vajradhara: