What is Vajra?

Tibetan Vajra: Exploring the Symbolism & Ritualistic Significance

The Vajra, also known as Dorje in Tibetan, is a significant Vajrayana Buddhism symbol representing the diamond vehicle path. Its Sanskrit name translates to "hard" or "mighty," while the Tibetan name refers to the "lord of stones," evoking the diamond's strength and radiance. As a symbol of the impenetrable, and indestructible state of the enlightened mind, the Vajra or Dorje represents the profound essence of the Vajra mind.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, the peaceful deities hold the Vajra as an adamantine sceptre, while the wrathful deities wield it as an indestructible weapon. The Vajra also symbolizes skilful means, and when held alongside the bell, they represent the perfect union of wisdom and skilful means.

Types of Vajra in Vajrayana:

Vajras are typically depicted with one, two, three, four, five, or nine prongs on each side. In Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, the five and nine-pronged Vajras are the most commonly used.

The Single-Pronged Vajra represents the union of duality, such as wisdom and compassion, emptiness and bliss, and relative and ultimate truths. It symbolizes the central channels, like the central air of Mount Meru.

The Three- Pronged Vajra represents the trinity of the three times (past, present, and future), the three kayas of the body (Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya, and Dharmakaya), and the three gates of body, speech, and mind.

The Five- Pronged Vajra represents the Five Buddhas of the cosmic directions (Vairochana, Amitabha, Ratnasambhava, Amoghasiddhi, and Akshobhya) and the five kayas of the Anuttarayoga tantras.

The Nine- Pronged Vajra represents the five directional Buddhas and the four mothers (consorts of the four cardinal Buddhas, namely Lochana, Mamaki, Pandara, and Tara). It also symbolizes the profound nine vehicles of the Vajrayana.

The Profound Anatomy of Tibetan Vajra:


The central section of the Vajra features a rounded hub with a lotus and moon disc on each side and a crown of five extending prongs. The five-pointed Vajra represents the five jina Buddhas.

The hub represents Dharmata and is sealed with the Syllable mantra HUM, which symbolizes freedom from causation, conceptual thoughts, and reasonings. Three rings on each side of the hub symbolize the three bliss of Buddha Nature: emptiness and effortlessness.

On each side of the hub is an eight-petaled lotus representing the eight bodhisattvas. Above them, there are three pear-like rings on each side, for a total of six rings representing Paramita's six perfections: patience, generosity, discipline, effort, meditation, and wisdom.

At the top of the rings on both sides of the Vajra is a full moon disc, symbolizing the absolute and relative Bodhicitta. The prongs of the Vajra taper inwards as they emerge from the base of the moon disc and form a cluster, with an axial square prong at the centre. The outer curved prongs rise from the mouths of the Makara, mythical sea creatures resembling crocodiles. The Makara symbolizes the four boundless states of compassion, love, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

At the final tip of both Vajra's ends is a tapering pyramid or four-faceted jewel shape. This shape represents Mount Meru as the axial center of the outer macrocosm and inner microcosm. The two twinning ends of the Vajra represent the unity of the relative and absolute truth, and the Vajra is symmetric in shape. 

 Depiction of Vajra in Thangka:


The depiction of the Vajra in iconography takes on various forms, such as being portrayed as a hand-held attribute or worn as a crown ornament by deities. In this art form, the central hub is represented by a circular shape, while the three rings are depicted as single solid segments on each side of the circle. The eight-petalled lotus is often shown as a band with either three or five petals. The heads of the Makara are depicted as curved, leaf-shaped forms, and the sharp prongs of the Vajra appear flat in this two-dimensional representation.

5 Pronged and 9 Pronged Vajra in Thangka:

When Vajra is depicted in thangka paintings, the five and nine-pronged forms are shown similarly, with the only difference being the open and closed ends. The five-pointed Vajra has closed ends, while the nine-pronged Vajra has open ends, forming a trident shape.

In thangka paintings, genuine 24K gold is often used to paint the Vajra. However, for highly wrathful deities, it may be depicted in a deep blue color, resembling the color of meteoric iron.

The Crossed Vajra: Vishvavajra

The double Vajra, also known as the crossed Vajra or the vajra-ghanta, is an important symbol in many Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, the double Vajra represents the principle of absolute stability and is said to underlie the foundation of the universe, including Mount Meru.

Double Vajra

The location in Bodhgaya where Shakyamuni Buddha achieved enlightenment, also known as Vajra-mind, is called Vajrasana or Vajra seat. The Buddha is depicted in a posture known as the Vajra posture (Vajraparyanka), where his legs are crossed against each other, as opposed to the entire lotus posture (Padmasana).

It is common to see the thrones of highly realized masters decorated with a hanging silk square featuring the crossed Vajra at its center and the four Swastika signs at each corner. This symbolizes the unwavering and unbreakable nature of Shakyamuni's Vajra mind.

Similarly, the emblem of the Visvavajra is used to mark the bottom seal of consecrated statues 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
  •  East: White
  •  South: Yellow
  •  West: Red
  •  North: Green

The Vajra, with its four sets of prongs, symbolizes the four Karma activities of the Buddha in the four directions: pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying. Therefore, it is associated with the green Buddha, Amoghasiddhi, who is the leader of the Karma family in the north.

The Vajra is depicted in three-dimensional forms, such as statues, and two-dimensional forms, such as thangkas. In its three-dimensional shape, it is represented as a five-pronged Vajra, while in its two-dimensional form, it is defined as a flat, three-pronged Vajra. The 12 spokes on the three-pronged Vajra represent the 12 links of Dependent Origination, depicted on the outer circle of the wheel of life thangka. 

Another symbolic meaning of these 12 spokes can be related to 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 of 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

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