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Page history last edited by elias.dequiroz@colorado.edu 11 years, 8 months ago

Vajradhara- Bearer of the Thunderbolt!!

Vajradhara (Sanskrit: वज्रधार Vajradhāra, Tibetan: རྡོ་རྗེ་འཆང་། rdo rje 'chang (Dorje Chang); Chinese: 多杰羌佛; Javanese: Kabajradharan; Japanese: 執金剛神; English: Diamond-holder)


       The Bearer of the thunderbolt, Vajradhara, is said to be the primordial (or Adi) Buddha in certain schools of Tibetan Buddhism.  However, some schools still view Samantabhadra as the Adi Buddha.  In either case, we see that the two Buddha’s are metaphysically equivalent.  Vajradhara is considered to be the dharmakaya Buddha, who embodies ultimate emptiness, and is also considered to be supreme essence of all male Buddha’s.  Often times Vajradhara is portrayed as dark blue; in Buddhist culture, this dark blue symbolizes pureness, and healing in the case of the Buddha of medicine.  In Vajradhara’s case, his shade of blue represents the historical realization of enlightenment.  More specifically, Vajradhara is considered to have a “pure enlightenment”, or the highest level of enlightenment of a Buddha.  We hope that in the sections below, you will get a better understanding of Vajradhara and see the different ways he is depicted in paintings and sculptures.


The Myths and Origins of Vajradhara Buddha


            In many Buddhist schools, especially in the four Tibetan schools of Buddhism, they consider Vajradhara to be the dharmakaya and the origin of these schools.  He is the realization of the “ultimate state of enlightenment”.  He does not judge, does not discriminate, and is supposed to benefit all beings.  As stated earlier, there is much debate and confusion between Buddhist schools as to whether it is Vajradhara or Samanabhadra who is the Adi Buddha.  The main difference between the two lies in the thangka paintings and sculptures that each is represented in.  Focusing on Vajradhara, we see that he is typically adorned with ornaments and garments which symbolize his “capacity to ceaselessly benefit and fulfill the needs of all living beings through the means of sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya emanations” (kagyu).  A good way of understanding Vajradhara is using the Sun as a metaphor for him.  On Earth, we receive the light from the sun and not the sun itself.  Thus, we do not receive Vajradhara on Earth, however, we can see the emanation of Vajradhara represented by Shakyamuni Buddha.  Shakyamuni Buddha is said to be a karmic manifestation or emanation of enlightenment.

            In the Buddhist world, some believe that there is no physical form to Vajradhara, and that he is more of a being who exists in a heavenly realm and that he is beyond conception.  If this is the case, then why do we see him depicted in human form?  Some speculate that the paintings and sculptures of Vajradhara are simply there to help students understand his enlightened aspect.  He is portrayed as dark blue, often times with a bell and vajra which symbolizes his indestructibility.  In the following pictures, you will see Vajradhara in such positions as the diamond mudra, and also the meditation mudra. 



     Vajradhara is the highest deity of the Buddhist Pantheon.  The Buddhist Pantheon is considered to be the supreme essence of all Buddha’s. Vajradhara can be depicted in two forms. The first form is the single form. When Vajradhara is represented this way he is adorned with fancy clothing, jewelry, and ornaments. The single Vajradhara is sitting in meditations with a bell (ghanta) in his left hand and the vajra in his right hand. His hands are then crossed in the diamond position, in front of his heart. The second form, yabyum, is essentially the same as the single form, but his Saki locks Vajradhara in a close embrace. His body is thought to be invisible from all Buddha’s, however it is obvious that he contains the noble look of a Bodhisattva—this being a crown, ornaments, and seated in the diamond position.  

     In the picture to the left is one instance of Vajradhara sitting with his hands in the diamond mudra.  This mudra (the Anjali Mudra) symbolizes offering and devotion.  To be in the diamond mudra, one must bring their hands up to chest level, palms touch palms, and fingers touching fingers.  We can see that the hands are crossed, and the right thumb is covering the left thumb.  In Buddhist culture, the crossing of the two hands represents to co-existence of the two worlds, the Diamond world and the matrix world.  The two worlds describe the two aspects of the one cosmic world.  Also, the diamond world is about adapting to the traditional Karma Kagyu to fit in the western culture.  It deals with elimination unattainable or unnecessary Tibetan ways, while maintaining the strong tradition, culture, and structure of Buddhism.  This mudra is understood as a gesture of adoration (or giving homage) to a superior.  One way to use this mudra is for veneration when the hands are held at face level.


       The Vajra  and Bell


     To the left is an image of the vajra that we have been talking about.  Vajra translates to "thunderbolt" or "diamond" which is where Vajradhara gets his name.  The vajra (left), symbolizes the active male aspect of enlightenment often equated with skillful means, compassion or bliss. In ritual, the vajra is paired with the bell (right), which is meant to represent the feminine principle of wisdom. Compassion and wisdom leads to the attainment of enlightenment.  In most Vajradhara paintings, one could see the Buddha in the diamond mudra holding these two objects in his hands.  Also, the vajra represents the indestructibility of Vajradhara.  As stated, it generally translates to "diamond".  In nature, the only thing that can destroy a diamond is another diamond. 








The Great Vajradhara of Dorje Dzong


     This image of this Vajradhara thangka can be found in the main shrine room at the Boulder Shambhala Center. It was commissioned by Trungpa Rinpoche and represents the spread of Buddhadharma in the West. However this thangka is not only important because it embodies a great deal of history and legacy signifying the transmission the Dharma in the West. Thankgas and rupas are assumed to embody the energy it depicts and therefore this represents the energy of Vajardhara, the primordial Buddha.  Like most representations of Vajarhara, he is blue in color with his hands folded across the heart in the mudra of non-duality. By using the experience of non-duality in relationship with one’s consort, it is believed in Tibetan Buddhism, this will lead to rapid development of the mind. Specifically to this thangka, it is blessed on the back with the permanent great seal of the 16th Karmapa, in the form of his actual handprint in gold leaf. This blessing is described as unusual and elaborate. Normally a thangka is blessed by only three symbols; OM, AH, HUM, representing body, speech and mind, however this thangka also contains a blessing by Chogyam Trungpa:


The hundred-family mandala actualization

Is the illusory dance of the wisdom of That,

The dharmakaya which is free from the complexities

of departing and changing,

The vajra holder, vajra primordial brilliance,

May you alone always remain in this representation:

Please grant the coemergent siddhis.




     This thangka also received a blessing by His Holiness the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa who signed his name on the thangka.  Once again this picture portrays Vajradhara as dark blue in color and also is adorned with many ornaments and garments.  These garments and ornaments represent the preciousness of benefiting all living beings while the dark blue represents his ceaseless activity to benefit all living beings (Kagyu).  One difference that we noticed is that this representation does not depict him with the Vajra that we talked about earlier. 








Vajradhara Buddha


1400 – 1499


The primordial Buddha is depicted with his hands folded across his heart, his hands are in the position of non-duality, holding the vajra and ghanta with his thumb, middle and ring finger, common to most illustrations of Vajradhara. He is adorned with gold jewels, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets and a girdle. He is seated in vajra posture with his legs interlocked. On the bottom of either side of him are grey elephants holding up a small boy, while along the side of Vajradhara, a blue antelope is again holding a small child on his back.


Along the sides of the throne, two bodhisattva figures, Maitreya and Manjushri stand tall holding a water flask and wheel and a sword and book, respectively. They are both standing on a red lotus blossom in the gesture of Dharma Teaching. Above them are mediational deities Chakrasamvara and Hayagriva. Below the bodhisattvas are four smaller figures with there hands in the mudra of meditation. The rest of the ninety-one figures around the central figure represent famous mahasiddhas of India.


On the back of the picture, there is a drawing of stupa containing verses of blessing.

Similar to the thangka of The Great Vajradhara of Dorje Dzong, the letters Om, Ah, Hum representing the purified body, speech and mind, surround the image on the back of the painting.


      Below is a picture of Dorje beads.  These Tibetan beads are frequently used by Buddhists to help attain enlightenment.  It is often said that they provide a connection to Vajradhara when trying to attain enlightenment.  Looking back on what we have said earlier, this is a nice parellel; Vajradhara is said to have a "pure enlightenment" which is why the beads that help people attain enlightenment have this connetion to him.  They are also said to assist in control and increase concentration which are two key factors in attaining enlightenment.  It almost seems as if these beads are a subtle type of veneration towards Vajradhara since they are supposed to provide a connection to him.

Dorje Dzi Beads




     To the left is a sculpture of Vajradhara in embrace with his shakti, or consort, in his tantric aspect known as yab-yum (which we touched on earlier)- a position of sexual union. Vajradhara represents the original Buddha, the one absolute power which creates itself, with no beginning and no end. This sculpture represents the union of the male, representing compassion, with the female, representing wisdom, and this marriage leading to enlightenment- the fundamental concept of Buddhism. As you can see in the sculpture, Vajradhara is in the meditation mudra and wearing a crown on his head.  This meditation mudra is mostly found on seated images, however there are some standing as well.  To make this mudra, one must place both hands in the lap, the right on top of the left, with palms turned upward and thumbs touching to form a circle.  This mudra symbolizes the Buddha in a state of meditation, hence, meditation mudra.   







Vajradhara in Meditation Mudra


Prayer to Vajradhara the primordial Buddha—Indestructible Blue Light

--From Nature Buddha.com

I am Vajradhara who grasps the balance of the worlds 
I am the principle of judgment, 
of order, of organization in the universe 
My music is the rising and setting of the sun, 
the music of the spheres, 
the sound of the judge's gavel and the executioner's sword 
I maintain things as they should be I am the essence of the Law I am the primordial Buddha for those 
Who value the celestial order Who follow the institutions and the pathways trod by the founders Who obey the teachings as they have been handed down I am the origin of the universe for monks and nuns And those who walk the sure and slow pathways to the heavens I ease their way, and treat them fairly I protect them from the forces of chaos and disorder.

For those on the fast path, I am the gatekeeper to the Void I hold the keys which open the bright Mandalay The labyrinths of minds, both personal and universal Through my bhairavas, 
I work with karma, and concentration, and insight Through my bhairavis, 
I work with emanation, and manifestation, and creativity I direct the traffic on the roads of spirit.

I am the appeals court judge of Karma When guilt and innocence are clouded, 
I enter I hold high the vajra, 
and the lightning of truth shoots forth All confusion is clarified in the brilliance of divine lightning. My emanations guide the souls to their appropriate fates.

In initiations, I guide the novices to the right paths For their personalities, desires, and past deeds I keep them from harm, until they are ready to fight The fight of their lives, against their own darker emotions.

Then I give an ally, who looks at first like the enemy a bhairava in wrathful form, who looks like an attacker but is really a defender. The novice will learn the narrow path of the spirit and how to tell reality from illusion. His earthly guru will teach morality, 
philosophy, and concentration His bhairava will lead him inwards, walking with him on the road to the Great Emptiness.

Earthly teachers give exercises, which demonstrate the illusory nature of all things Barajas teach directly, by dissolving name and form Traditions and lineages teach their favorite deities and mantras My emanations strip off personalities Like peeling a fruit.

I am the Buddha of beginnings and endings. I greet the novice, 
and set him on his path And I bid him farewell as he steps into Emptiness The great Vajra balances the worlds and the weight of Justice is upon my shoulders.

     This prayer above is one way of venerating Vajradhara.  From the first part of the prayer, we see that it has a cosmological context to it.  It states that Vajradhara is the "origin of the universe".  It also explains how he is a benefit to all beings which is represented by the line "...and treat them fairly I protect them from the forces of chaos and disorder".  Vajradhara is much like the embodiment of enlightenment and represents the enlightenment that lives within each person. 




Eastern Tibet 1700-1799, Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton; Karma, Kagyu and Buddhist Lineages

     This image is the first of eleven paintings in a set that depict Vajradhara with the Eighty-four Mahasiddha. In this image there are only four Mahasiddha, Luipa, Virupa, Lilapa and Dombi Heruka. At the top center is an unidentified Buddha performing the gesture of teaching with his two hands at his heart, while embracing a consort. They are sitting on a moon disc and colorful lotus throne, resting ontop of green and blue clouds floating in the sky. (close-up below)



In the center is a blue Vajradhara and his red consort Bhagavani. Vajradhara is holding a vajra and a bell crossed at the heart, while Bhagavani is holding a curved knife and skullcup. They sit on an elaborate throne decorated with elephants, snow lions, makara sea creatures and a red garuda bird. They both are decorated with rich clothes, jewels and silks. (close up below)


Luipa is at the top left. His appearance is one of a typical yogi- partially naked, pale skin and matted hair.

He is seated on deerskin in a relaxed posture eating entrails of a predatory fish that had been thrown away. This symbolizes his abandonment of societies notions of what is wholesome and unwholesome, acceptable and unacceptable. On either side of Luipa, there is a man offering fish and a woman offering a gold vase of spiritual attainments. (close up below)


Virupa is at the top right. He is dark and partially naked, sitting in a relaxed posture with his right arm raised and the hand in a wrathful gesture aimed at the sun. His left hand is holding a black deer horn, which is used as a drinking cup. There is a large blue jar of alcohol sitting in front and a barmaid offers up a large cup of libation.

King Lilapa is the middle left seated in a relaxed posture atop a regal throne, richly decorated and wearing a crown. A minister, treasurer, musicians and servants perform various tasks, as well as a yogi figure in front(close up below)



Dombhi Heruka is the middle right, riding on the back of a pregnant tigress, he embraces his naked consort. He wears a hood of six sna

kes and in his right hand holds a seventh snake he uses as a whip. Below, five figures pay homage. This scene is meant to depict the life story of Dombi Heruka. (close up below)

At the bottom are two deity figures: Achala at the bottom left and Chaturbhuja Mahakala at the bottom right. Achala is the blue meditational deity with consort Mamaki. He is kneeling on a sun disc and lotus seat, and his right hand is upraised holding a sword, while the left holds a lasso. Colorful flames surround the couple. (close up to the right)











Chaturbhuja is the four armed form of Mahakala, known as the fiercely wrathful protector and the Great Black One. Chaturbhuia has one face and four arms;

in the first pair, he holds a curved knife and skullcup at the heart, and an upraised sword and trident in the other pair of hands. The light blue consort holds a double sided drum and a skullcup. They are seated in a posture with their legs laying on top of two human corpses, above a sun disc and lotus seat, surrounded by flames of awareness.











     To the left we can see a stone carving or Vajradhara from around 1300-1399 in China.  This is just one more representation of the Buddha and, once again, he is holding the Bell and Vajra in his hands.  There is a theme of Vajradhara sitting cross-legged with arms crossed while holding these two objects.  When he is not holding these objects, he can often be seen resting in the diamond mudra that we explained earlier. 











In Conclusion,

     Vajradhara is considered to be the primordial Buddha (Adi Buddha) in most Buddhist schools.  Although some schools believe that Samamtabhadra is the Adi Buddha, in either case, we must realize that they are metaphysically equivalent.  There is some argument as to whether or not Vajradhara is represented in human form, however, most of the thangkas and sculptures we see represent him in human form.  By representing him in this form, adorning him with ornaments, a bell and vajra, and also depicting him as dark blue and color, we can get a good representation of who he is and what he stands for.  He is the Buddha of pure enlightenment and is here to help others attain enlightenment.  He is a benefit to all living beings which can be represented in most of the the pictures we have shown. 

     As for the veneration of Vajradhara, it is clear that there are many forms of it.  Many people venerate the thangkas of Vajradhara as well as the statues of him.  Also, we see that by venerating other Buddhas, it can also provide the same blessings as if one were to venerate Vajradhara.  Above, we also have shown different mantras or prayers about Vajradhara which are also used for veneration. 

     Hopefully by reading this presentation on Vajradhara, you have learned about who he is and how other Buddhists view him.  If you would like more detailed information of Vajradhara, we suggest you visit the website below.  This picture below documents who Vajradhara is, different forms he can take, and many other aspects of this Adi Buddha.  Thank you for reading through our page, we hope that you liked it and learned something new from it!



by clicking on the red link below, you are able to access the page above and click on each section. Once you click on each section, it will link you to the more in depth explanation/definitions.


Sources Used:












Page By: Eli DeQuiroz, Hilary Peterson, Anne Buonanno, and Casey Helmig

Comments (3)

adrienne.brunjes@... said

at 9:10 pm on Apr 12, 2010

Great page, everyone! You gave great information on who he is and his impact on Buddhism. The description of the traditional depictions of him were great and I especially liked the prayer you included and the information about the beads-it made your page different. Repetition is good because it helps get important points across but a few things seemed to be mentioned in excess, so just watch out for that along with a few proofreading things. 5/5

Jeff Gary said

at 2:26 pm on Apr 16, 2010

Nice page, excellent layout (font, color, etc.) I really like the graph at the end. 5/5

Henry said

at 10:59 am on Apr 18, 2010

Informative page. A nice variety of images and I especially appreciated that you addressed some of the ritual objects such as the beads, dorje, and bell. My only suggestions for improvement are, a final edit of the material (there are a few spelling mistakes and a couple awkward sentences) and I would recommend cutting the first reference to the yabyum since it does not provide the reader with much relevant information. Were you unable to find any myths surrounding this figure? A final point is that the authors use lots of technical language, it would be useful to the readers to define more of the terms immediately.
Overall-good job!
Grade: 4.0

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