The Vajra is the quintessential symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism, which derives its name from the vajra itself. The Sanskrit term vajra means 'the hard or mighty one', and its Tibetan equivalent dorje means an indestructible hardness and brilliance like the diamond, which cannot be cut or broken. The vajra essentially symbolizes the impenetrable, immovable, immutable, indivisible, and indestructible state of enlightenment or Buddhahood. The form of the vajra as a scepter or a weapon appears to have its origin in the single or double trident, which arose as a symbol of the thunderbolt or lightning in many ancient civilizations of the Near and Middle East. Parallels are postulated with the meteoric hammer of the Teutonic sky-god Thor, the thunderbolt and scepter of the Greek sky-god Zeus, and the three thunderbolts of the Roman god Jupiter. As a hurled weapon the indestructible thunderbolt blazed like a meteoric fireball across the heavens, in a maelstrom of thunder, fire and lightning.
In ancient India, the vajra, as a thunderbolt, became the chief weapon of the Vedic sky-god Indra. It controlled the forces of thunder and lightning, breaking open the monsoon storm clouds, bringing the welcome rains to the parched plains of an Indian summer. According to legend, Indra's thunderbolt was fashioned from the bones of the great Rishi Dadhichi, who was decapitated by Indra in sacrifice. Dadhichi's 'indestructible' skull-bones gave Indra the most powerful of weapons. By its energy he slew innumerable of his enemy demons. In mythological descriptions, Indra's thunderbolt or vajra is shaped either like a circular discus with a hole at its center, or in the form of a cross with transverse bladed bars. The Rigveda, the most ancient text in the world, identifies the vajra as a notched metal club with a thousand prongs. What is significant is that all these descriptions identify the vajra as having open prongs, unlike the Buddhist one, which has closed prongs. According to a Buddhist legend, Shakyamuni took the vajra weapon from Indra and forced its wrathful open prongs together, thus forming a peaceful Buddhist scepter with closed prongs. The Buddhist vajra hence absorbed the unbreakable and indestructible power of the thunderbolt. The Buddhist vajra may be represented with one to nine prongs. It is designed with a central shaft that is pointed at each end. The middle section consists of two lotuses from which may spring, at each end, for example, six prongs of the dorje. Together with the projecting and pointed central shaft, each end thus becomes seven pronged. The outside six prongs face inwards towards the central prong. Each of these outside prongs arise from the heads of makaras (mythical crocodiles), which face outwards. The mouths of the makaras are wide open and the prongs emanate from the mouth like tongues of flame.
The vajra is generally two-sided but the vishvavajra or the double thunderbolt has four heads representing the four dhyani Buddhas of the four directions namely, Amoghasiddhi for north, Akshobhya, who presides over the east, Ratnasambhava, lord of the south, and Amitabha who reigns over the west. It is the emblem of the crossed vajra that is inscribed upon the metal base that is used to seal deity statues after they have been consecrated. The vajra is indeed the most important ritual implement and symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism. It is so important that many of the Vajrayana deities have the word vajra prefixed to their names, two of them being Vajradhara and Vajrasattva. When used in ritual, the vajra is paired with the bell. It represents the masculine principle and is held in the right hand, the bell, held in the left hand, represents the female principle. More on this follows.
GHANTA (THE BELL):
The bell is the most common and indispensable musical instrument in tantric Buddhist ritual. Gods and apotheosized lamas alike hold this popular symbol, along with the thunderbolt in their hands. The bell has an elemental function and its sound, like those made by the trumpet and the drum, is regarded as auspicious; it is said to drive away evil spirits. Like the church bell, the Buddhist hand bell sends the message to evil spirits that they must stay away from the consecrated area where the ritual is being performed.
As already mentioned, in ritual the bell is paired with the vajra. The vajra represents the compassion of the Buddha, the masculine principle; and the bell represents wisdom, the female principle. To achieve enlightenment, those two principles must be combined. The bell is visualized as the Buddha's body, the vajra is visualized as his mind, and the sound of the bell is visualized as Buddha's speech in teaching of the dharma.
USE OF VAJRA GHANTA:
The use of the bell and vajra differs according to the ritual performed or the sadhana chanted. The vajra can be used for visualization or evocation of deities; ringing the bell can be used to request protection or other actions from a deity, or it can represent the teaching of dharma, and can also be a sound offering. As one example of their use, during meditation on the deity Vajrasattva, the vajra is placed on the chest of the practitioner, meaning that Vajrasattva is brought to the meditator, and they become one and inseparable. Ringing the bell then represents the sound of Buddha teaching the dharma and symbolizes the attainment of wisdom and the understanding of emptiness. While chanting, the vajra is held in the right hand, which faces down, and the bell is held in the left hand, which usually faces up, and they are moved in graceful gestures. Sometimes the hands are held with the wrists crossed over each other, against the chest. This represents the union of the male and female principles.
The Bell and Vajra are probably the most identifiable tantric ritual items to Tibetan rituals. The Bell is known as Ghanta in Sanskrit or Dril-bu to Tibetans. It symbolizes female energy in the form of Wisdom expressed as "going beyond wisdom." The vajra is also known as Dorje in Tibetan, where it symbolizes male energy in the form of Method expressed as "compassion." They are inseparable companion pieces, with the bell held in the left hand and the vajra in the right. Used together, they can activate energy and clear a space of negative energies. The bell is used as a sonic focus for meditation, a cadence factor for mantra recitation, or a signal when the spirit of the Buddha has entered the ceremony. The vajra is added to all kinds of ritual implements to potentate them.
The Crossed Vajra, or Vishvavajra in Hindu, is known to Tibetans as the Double Dorje. It represents the principle of absolute stability. The thrones of high lamas are usually decorated on the front with the image of the crossed vajra. This emblem represents the indestructible reality of the Buddha's mind as the unshakable throne of enlightenment. Tibetans regard the double dorje as the symbol of that which is un impenetrable. It is used to adorn temple doors or entranceways as a Guardian. The symbol of the crossed vajra is often placed under the meditation cushion when a practitioner is on retreat. Like the vajra, the crossed vajra is forged with meteorite or "sky metal" to infuse the "void ness of space" into its alchemy.
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