The vajra and the bell, the harmony of means on the path to enlightenment

- through Fabrice Groult

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Among all the ritual objects of Buddhism, especially in the Vajrayana (the diamond vehicle), the vajra associated with the bell is certainly one of the most symbolic.

The vajra is the symbol of lightning energy, interpreted as that which destroys obstacles on the Path. Perceived as a precious diamond, it is also symbolically the supreme weapon which cuts through the clarity of its absolute truth the veil of illusions and defilements of the practitioner, to lead him to the complete Awakening of a Buddha. Finally, it also expresses the indestructible and unalterable character of the true nature of the spirit.

The bell, meanwhile, symbolizes sound, the creative verb, knowledge, the feminine principle and embodies wisdom, the emptiness that must be achieved - have you noticed that the handle contains the face of a female divinity which refers precisely to the knowledge of emptiness? This is the reason why, in Tibetan Buddhism, the bell, which therefore corresponds to the awakening of the state of ignorance and the vajra which corresponds to the weapon which destroys this ignorance, form a pair since these two stages, destruction and enlightenment, are linked and therefore inseparable.

lightning and diamond

The Sanskrit term vajra, or dorje in Tibetan, Kongo in Japanese, is generally translated as "lightning" or even as "diamond", because the vajra and all that is adorned with its qualities, is indeed hard like diamond, adamantine (1), indestructible, indivisible. The symbol is very old and, dare we say, universal, since it is found in Asia as well as in the West, and even among Native Americans. Many spiritual traditions thus display gods wielding lightning: Indra in Hinduism, Zeus in Greek mythology, Thor among the Vikings; many Tibetan deities, peaceful or wrathful, are represented holding a vajra in their hands, and unsurprisingly, it is found particularly among those whose name begins with vajra, or dorje: Vajrasattva, Vajrapani or Dorje Drolo, the wrathful emanation of Padmasambhava. In Japan, it is mainly used in the Shingon school of Buddhism, where according to tradition the founder of this school, the monk Kobo Daishi, launched a vajra from the Chinese shores where he was to study Buddhism, formulating the wish to found his school where he would be found. The tree in which his vajra stuck is nowadays celebrated under the name of "sanko no matsu" (the pine of the three-branched vajra), and the temple he founded is called Kongobu-ji, the " Diamond Peak Temple”.

The vajra, a representation of emptiness

From a relatively simple aspect, the symbolism of the different parts of a vajra is nonetheless very rich. Most have five branches at each end (four peripheral and one central), but some have seven or nine. Also called flames or points, they evoke the five aggregates that make up every human being, or the five Buddhas (masculine upwards, feminine downwards), or even the five so-called superior wisdoms and the five poisons (ignorance, anger, pride, desire and jealousy). Sometimes, five branches are represented coming out of the mouth of fantastic creatures, the makaras, and then indicate the liberation from the cycle of existences.

When the vajra is held vertically, the central sphere expresses emptiness, and is framed on both sides by an eight-petalled lotus flower expressing the sixteen modalities of emptiness (in particular that everything is by nature interdependent and therefore empty of its own existence), but other explanations exist… Thus positioned, the two parts that frame it respectively represent samsara and nirvana.

The union of the vajra and the bell is a reminder on the path to enlightenment and expresses a fundamental principle: it is important to harmonize in oneself the masculine and the feminine, the energy and the emptiness, the qualities of the heart and wisdom.

In the True Word school, the use of the vajra is very codified and gradual: novices begin with the one-pointed vajra, symbol of the single and non-dual teaching, and the five-pointed vajra is reserved for more advanced monks. having received certain initiations. However, it is the three-pointed vajra that is most commonly used, it symbolizes the unification of the three gates (body, speech, mind) and their transformation into three vajras according to the teaching of the three mysteries.

When in tantric rituals, the vajra is associated with the bell, they then represent complementary principles on the Way: the vajra represents the masculine principle, the six perfections (generosity, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom), and is held in the right hand. The bell represents the feminine, wisdom in the form of understanding emptiness, and is held in the left hand.

The vajra is a symbol Very important. It manifests outwardly the treasure we all possess within ourselves, the energy and unalterable nature of spirit. The union of the vajra and the bell in rituals and practices is a reminder on the path to enlightenment and expresses a fundamental principle: it is important to harmonize in oneself the masculine and the feminine, the energy and the emptiness, the qualities of the heart and wisdom.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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