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Vajrapani (vaj-ra-pāṇi, Sanskrit: वज्रपानीमम), whose name literally means one with lightning in his hand, is one of the three main protective bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. He is a symbol of the power of Buddha and is often shown in a wrathful form to the Buddha’s left. He is the protector of the Buddha and is often depicted in pictures and idols with a thunderbolt, or lightning bolt in his hand. He is often portrayed as the remover of obstacles, and is prayed to in times of illnesses and when there is a need for some kind of strength.




Vajrapani in India


Iconographically, Vajrapani was first represented in India as the Hindu deity, Indra, the King of the demigods, and Lord of the Rains and War. The similarity of the two, in their roles or protection and control of weather, as well as their lightning bolt weapons created a connection to Vajrapani in India.[1]   









This painting, dating back to the 2nd and 1st century B.C.E in India, is one of the descriptions of Vajrapani in the Ajanta Caves. The carved caves, located in Maharashtra India, are famous for housing many of the oldest paintings and sculptures of Buddhist art.  Vajrapani, who stands on the left of the Buddha’s image in the caves, is holding a Vitraka Mudra,the hand gesture that symbolizes Debate, or Teaching [2] in this image, and is dressed in the attire typical to deities in Hinduism.










This 8th-9th century stone image of the standing Vajrapani hails from the Northern state of Bihar in India. The image is surrounded by Pali script, and is holding a lightning weapon in his right hand. The snake like jewelry on Vajrapani’s arms in this depiction may represent the nagas, or snakes, who became associated with the Bodhisattva after he was to said to save them from the wrath of the eagle-god, Garuda, from both Hindu and Buddhism mythology. [3]











Although Vajrapani is often depicted in a wrathful form, he is occasionally shown in a peaceful form, and with dark blue colored skin, a similarity that Vajrapani has to several Hindu Gods.  In this particular painting from Northern India, Vajrapani holds a vajra, or thunderbolt weapon, in his right hand- almost as a warning gesture to those evoke his displeasure. [3]




Vajrapani in Tibet




Vajrapani (Tibetan: chag na dor je) is seen in all schools of Tibetan Buddhism and there are many myths about the powerful ways Vajrapani would protect and promote Buddha's teaching. It is said that on one occasion Shakyamuni Buddha was seated at the base of a hill to preform a sermon. Buddha's jealous cousin Devadatta rolled a large boulder down the hill in attempt to kill the Buddha. Just as the boulder was about to hit the Buddha, Vajrapani jumped in front of it and split the boulder into two pieces which each fell harmlessly to the sides. After seeing his power, Buddha entrusted Vajrapani with the protection of the tantras. As protector of the tantric teachings, Vajrapani is sometimes referred to as the "Lord of the Secret". [4]












In this Thangka image, Vajrapani is shown in his wrathful form. He is standing in a warrior stance to show his strength and determination. He is shown in a halo of flames which signifies transformation. His blue skin is the color of a thunder cloud, and his bodhisattva crown is made of skulls. He wears an animal skin around his waist to show his fearlessness. In his right hand, Vajrapani is holding a lightening bolt and in his left he's holding a lasso. Vajrapani uses the lasso to catch his enemies and the lightening bolt to smite them. His three eyes shows his ability to comprehend the past, present, and future. [5]










This bronze sculpture of Vajrapani from the 18th century shows the bodhisattva sitting on a lotus pedestal. He is holding a lightening bolt in his right hand, in front of his chest. In another right hand he is holding the Buddha to show that he will protect him. It is very unusual to see Vajrapani depicted with so many arms as he is usually seen with only two.





Vajrapani in China






Tang Dynasty Painting of Vajrapani


Vajrapani, or Jingang Shou (金剛手) in Chinese, is the protector of the Shaolin Monastery in Henan.  This is largely at odds with the rest of Chinese temples where a Daoist deity, Guangong, is venerated as their protector.  Vajrapani’s story of origin as the Shaolin protector comes from a story about the invasion of the Red Turbans.  The story goes that bandits invaded the monastery, and a lowly kitchen worker, barefoot and unkempt, took up a fire poker against the invading bandits.  This simple laborer leapt into the kitchen fires, and then when he leapt back out, he had transformed into a fearsome staff-wielding deity.  Then, transforming to such an enormous size that he straddled the holy Mt Song and the Imperial Fort five miles away, he was able to drive back the invaders with his gigantic staff.  This led to a transformation in the image of Vajrapani in the Shaolin Temple.  Before, Vajrapani had been depicted as a vajra carrying deity, but later Shaolin depictions show him bearing a staff, such as is used by Shaolin monks.  The image of the staff wielding deity holds specific meaning for China, due to another famous staff wielding figure appearing in literature around the same time; Sun Wukong.  Many comparisons have been made to the image of the gigantic, staff-wielding Vajrapani protecting the temple, and the powerful, staff-wielding Monkey King from Journey to the West.


In Shaolin traditions, Vajrapani is not considered to be a standalone Bodhisattva, however.  Instead, he is thought to be an aspect of the bodhisattva Guanyin due to a passage in the Lotus Sutra which states that Guanyin will take whatever form is conducive to spreading the dharma.  Later, Vajrapani was further confused with the Kimnaras, due to the similarity of their Chinese names, and so in later times, they started to refer to Vajrapani as Kimnara.


Vajrapani seems largely at odds with Buddhist ideology in general, but even more so in China where he is the inspiration for the meat-eating warrior monks of Shaolin.  This is justified, however, with the theory that the monks work to defend the dharma and protect others from the sins that they would commit.  This justification has allowed the monks to take up arms and maintain their status as monks.[6]












This bronze sculpture (image on left), dating from the Liao dynasty, shows a vajra wielding Guanyin, or Vajrapani.  In two of her many hands, we see both the vajra and the bell of Tantric tradition which denotes that this particular form is Vajrapani.






As a counterpoint, we see a staff wielding Vajrapani in this image to the right.  He has his left foot on Mt Song, and his right is on the mountain of the Imperial Fort.  Below him we can see the invaders, to his side is the Shaolin Monastery, and above him we can see Guanyin acting through Vajrapani.








Vajrapani in Greco-Buddhism


From the fourth century BCE to the fifth century CE, there was a mixing of Greek culture and Buddhism in the Gandhara Kingdom, or present day Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India (including Jamnu and Kashmir).[7]







This stone carving depicts the Buddha with his protector, Vajrapani. It is from the Gandhara Kingdom, made around the second century CE . The Buddha looks like an ordinary anthropomorphic carving, but what is interesting is Vajrapani. He resembles a Greek carving of Heracles. But, looking closer, one sees the diamond club in hand, which suggests that the man is not Heracles, but Vajrapani. Buddhist in the Gandhara Kingdom used Hellenistic influences, representing Vajrapani as Heracles. As Mahayana Buddhism spread, so did the Hellenistic influence on Vajrapani, eventually reaching Japan.[7]









This is another stone carving from Gandhara with Vajrapani and the Buddha, dating from the second century CE. Again, we know the Herculean figure is Vajrapani because he holds the diamond club. Vajrapani is also holding a flywhisk, which also signifies Vajrapani protecting the Buddha, even from something as small as a fly. [7]





Vajrapani in Japan




In Japan, Vajrapani is emanated through the Niō Guardians. The Niō Guardians, according to Japanese tradition, travelled with the Buddha as his protectors. At Buddhist temples in Japan, China and Korea, Niō Guardians are placed at an entrance to protect the temple. The two figures are called Agyō and Ungyō in Japanese, representing power and strength, and like the Greco-Buddhist carving from above, are heavily influenced by Heracles.















































Agyō (阿形) , the left figure, also called Naraen Kongō (那羅延金剛), represents power in action. This is shown in the arms being ready to fight. In addition he is holding a vajra-pani. His open mouth making the cosmic sound "ah", which means the beginning or birth.[8]



Ungyō (吽形), the right figure, also called Misshaku Kongō (密遮金剛), represents potential might. This is shown with his arms down, waiting. In addition, he is often shown bared fisted or holding a sword. His closed mouth makes the cosmic sound “un”, which means end or death.[8]



It is important for the statues to show so much power and strength because, it is said, that the Niō Guardians would resort to physical force to protect Buddhist values and beliefs from evil. The Niō Guardians strength is shown through the details on the statues, highly defined muscles and even veins are common. Another sign of the power and strength of the Niō Guardians is there size. At the Todai Temple in Nara Japan, the two statues above are at the Great South Gate, each approximately 28 feet tall, carved out of wood in 1203 by an artist by the name of Unkei.[8]



Myth of Kongō Rikishi


“According to a Japanese story, there once was a king who had two wives. His first wife bore a thousand children who all decided to become monks and follow the Buddha's law. His second wife had only two sons. The youngest was named Non-o and helped his monk brothers with their worship. The eldest, Kongō Rikishi  (金剛力士), however, had a much more aggressive personality. He vowed to protect the Buddha and his worshipers by fighting against evil and ignorance. Kongō Rikishi was the first of the heavenly kings, called Niō Niō (or Kongō). The second is called Shukongōshin (執金剛神).”[8]


Kongō Rikishi is another name for Agyō, the overt strength or power in action Niō Guardian. The power and aggression of Kongō Rikishi's vow shows that he is a manifestation of Vajrapani and all his power. Kongō Rikishi is also taking on a similar role as a protector. 






Buddhists will recite Vajrapani's mantra while meditating to help them gain access to his powerful energy. It is also recommended to recite for protection. Vajrapani's mantra is simply his name said in between Om and Hum.[9] The Youtube video below is an audio of a spiritual leader named Kelsang Gyatso reciting the mantra.


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According to the Tantra of the Supreme Origination of Vajrapani: "If the disciple renders one obeisance to Vajrapani, he attains more merits than he would have secured through rendering numerous obeisances to myriads of Buddhas as many as the total grains of sands in ninety-two million Ganges Rivers... If he relies on Vajrapani as his Yidam Buddha and recites the Mantra, he will surely be protected by Vajrapani from all hindrances. No demons can hurt him, all illness will be cured, his merits will be increased and prosperity augmented. All his wishes will be fulfilled. Thus, the benefits of practicing this ritual are beyond description, nothing can afflict those who practice it."  The text goes on to explain the prayers one would say to feel like they are a vajrapani themself. One of these prayers is:


"O Lord Vajrapani

 Manifesting in a form with braided hair…

 Through the power of speech of Lord Vajrapani,

 May I attain the blessing and prosperity." [10]



[1] http://www.khandro.net/deities_bodhisattvas.htm

[2] http://www.buddhanet.net/mudras.htm

[3] http://www.khandro.net/deities_bodhisattvas.htm 

[4] http://www.chantamantra.com/index.php/articles/62-chinese-manifestations-of-tibetan-buddhas-vajrapani

[5] http://www.hinkyimport.com/tk000019.html

[6] http://books.google.com/

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajrapani

[8] http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/nio.shtml

[9] http://www.wildmind.org/mantras/figures/vajrapani

[10] http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/ettt/ettt07.htm




Group Members: Andrew Fenton, Deborah Krause, Amy Sereda, Sushupta Srinidhi

Comments (21)

patricia melero said

at 7:57 pm on Apr 5, 2010

Great start to the iconography of each image, it is clear to understand. Perhaps enlarge the font size and add a bit more color. Begin your page by introducing the significance of Vajrapani in a bit more depth ....3

sushupta.srinidhi@... said

at 8:52 pm on Apr 6, 2010

Thanks for the suggestions...but you should save the grading for later. We aren't remotely done yet.

Amber Carlson said

at 3:58 pm on Apr 9, 2010

Nice page! I especially liked the section on Vajrapani in China--the story was interesting to read and helped bring the images to life. That said, it might be helpful if you guys included more background information and gave more explanation of why Vajrapani differs so much between each of the different areas. You put a lot of energy into analyzing the images, which was cool, but more context might be helpful.

jenny.lee@... said

at 3:23 pm on Apr 10, 2010

It would be quite nice to have someone to remove obstacles. Great layout and good job describing the images.

Brent Goebel said

at 7:46 pm on Apr 10, 2010

Great layout and organization of Vajrapani in different parts of the world. The separate is well shown not only by the lines, but also by switching colors in font. It really blended well together. The video at the end is a great way to end it.

Marnie said

at 10:51 pm on Apr 10, 2010

I really like all the iconography on your page! Also, I liked that you gave information about each rendition of Vajrapani and that you gave how to say his name. Nice job overall...4

spilot said

at 9:41 am on Apr 11, 2010

Very comprehensive and easy to follow. I thoroughly enjoyed your site.

Cory said

at 3:19 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Very informative, good job. I liked how you gave information about the Vajrapani in different places (India, Tibet, Japan, etc)

samantha.feld@... said

at 4:00 pm on Apr 11, 2010

I liked the YouTube video of the spiritual leader reciting the mantra. Videos are a good way to show examples. I also liked that you discussed Vajrapani in terms of the different countries, it gave a comprehensive understanding of him.

Jenifer Miller said

at 4:14 pm on Apr 11, 2010

This was one of the most well laid out and comprehensive page I've seen yet. I loved that the different regions were compared with each other and all laid out in the same way. Super impressive!

Melissa Hagan said

at 1:37 pm on Apr 12, 2010

I really liked the layout of your page. I also enjoyed reading about and comparing Vajrapani in the different locations.

jessica.townsend@... said

at 2:52 pm on Apr 12, 2010

I agree with the comments about the page layout; it was clear, concise, and well though out. I really enjoyed the beginning definition at the top of the page. It was an excellent way to convey enough information to create interest.

Matt McQuown said

at 4:11 pm on Apr 12, 2010

A thousand children!!!
It is interesting to see the use of anger in what is essentially an effort to abolish it. It is like fighting fire with fire in a way, demonstrating the use of afflictions to combat those same afflictions; to wage war on ingnorance for example.

daisukesugita said

at 7:10 pm on Apr 12, 2010

This web offers the great use of the images and pictures in order to grab the attenstion for the readers. I really liked the descriptions in the section of Vajrapani in Japan. Actually I've seen many of these in diffrent temples in Japan and the descriptions of them you wrote has great amount of infomation. Great job.

Andrew Hepler said

at 7:47 pm on Apr 12, 2010

Good job, he looks as if he could protect more that just the Buddha. If I am ill, I know who to ask for help.

abigail.worsnop@... said

at 8:58 pm on Apr 12, 2010

I like how Vajrapani images were chosen from each country in which he is prevalent. I think this shows the true variety of imagery and veneration that is so prevalent in Buddhism.

nicholas.heyward@... said

at 7:52 pm on Apr 13, 2010

I did not know there where so many different depictions of vajrapani... Excellent images of each buddhas from all different countries. Good format as well I liked the clear breaks in between different buddhas and the variety of images showing Vajrapani as wrathful and peaceful protector. overall well done. 4

kimberly.nagata@... said

at 9:11 pm on Apr 13, 2010

I really enjoyed the page layout as well as the its structure. The images were nicely chosen and formatted for each section. It was interesting to read about Vajrapani and his different cultural origins

Noel.Smith@Colorado.EDU said

at 11:50 am on Apr 14, 2010

Great images, nice way of explaining Vajrapani function as a bodhisattva. Overall looks relly good.

logan.loeb@colorado.edu said

at 4:50 pm on Apr 16, 2010

I really liked learning about this bodhisattva. Great page layout very easy to follow. I liked learning about the different cultural origins.

Henry said

at 2:42 pm on Apr 17, 2010

Thorough post! An excellent analysis of a great variety of images from different cultural settings. All the elements of the assignment were met except for the ritual aspect, which is somewhat lacking. What is listed under ritual has more to do with mantra recitation and edification through meditative focus. It would be useful to address the particularities of ritual practice associated with Vajrapani. That is my main critique, otherwise, well done.
Grade: 4.5

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