Thangka Thought 02: Vajradhara

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Vajradhara (Tib. : Dorje Chang)

Literally the name ‘Vajradhara’ means ‘Bearer of the Diamond or Thunderbolt’. According to an ancient text, the Khasama-tantra, Vajradhara is the Adibuddha or Primordial Buddha, and the creator and bodhi (enlightenment) of all Buddhas.

The Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism regards him as the Adiguru or Supreme Guru. As principal deity of the Kagyupa he is viewed as the supreme essence of the five Wisdom Buddhas, namely Vairochana, Amitabha, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava and Amoghasiddhi. As the Absolute, he is beyond them. He transcends them, and yet is embodied in them. Vajradhara also occupies a prominent position in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

It is believed that in decadent times Vajradhara will appear as a spiritual guide or spiritual friend, and ultimately manifest in the form of a Buddha who works for the benefit of all sentient beings. Thus he is said to have appeared as Sakyamuni Buddha to reveal the sutras.

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  • Vajradhara is portrayed in princely garb, adorned with ornaments such as anklets, bracelets, armlets, necklaces, ear-rings and a diadem.
  • The five leaves of his diadem represent the five Wisdom Buddhas, thereby indicating that they emanated from him.
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  • In his right hand Vajradhara holds a gold vajra or dorje (diamond/thunderbolt scepter), while in his left he holds an upturned ghanta (bell with vajra handle).
  • The vajra represents compassion and method, while the ghanta signifies wisdom. Both method and wisdom need to be combined to attain Buddhahood.
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  • Representations of Vajradhara show him in the vajrahumkara mudra, with hands crossed at the wrists over his breast.
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  • Vajradhara sits in the vajra-paryanka asana (adamantine posture), with his right foot over the left thigh and his left foot over the right thigh.
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Description courtesy of INEB Executive Committee member Kishore Thukral

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