The Prayer Hall serves as a place for Dharma assembly, refuge ceremony, offering ritual, as well as contemplative and devotional practices. It is an indoor sacred space that provides a comprehensive experience encountering the manifestation of the most important holy beings in Buddhist and Tangmi history. The sacred altar of the Vajra Master, Jinke Xuanlei is also within this space. Statues, sculptures, paintings and ritual objects in our Prayer Hall serve as the physical representations of Buddhas, deities, and the Sino Esoteric Buddhism lineage holders. The general Buddhist followers and Tangmi disciples come to this space for devotional practices, prayer and offering rituals, and meditation through engagement with these physical representations.
At the center of the Prayer hall sit three colossal Buddha statues. The term Buddha literally means enlightened one. A Buddha is someone who has awakened from ignorance and sees things as they really are, who is therefore completely free from all mental afflictions.
Among these three Buddha statues, the middle one represents the Historical Buddha, Śākyamuni, or Siddhārtha Gautama. He was born during the 5th century BCE to King Śuddhodana of Shakya Clan in Northern India. After he attained Enlightenment, Siddhārtha Gautama became known as Śākyamuni Buddha (釋迦牟尼佛), meaning “Sage of the Shakya Clan.”
The conception and birth of the Buddha are miraculous. It is said that while the Queen Maha Maya, Buddha's birth mother, was asleep in her palace under a full moon, she was visited by a white elephant in her dreams which entered her right side. This is the miraculous conception that resulted in the birth of the future Buddha.
The young Siddhārtha Gautama grew up in wealth in the palace environment where he was expected to be the next king of the Shakyas. During his childhood, his father, the king, consulted a fortune telling master and learnt about Siddhārtha’s fate becoming a sage one day. Therefore, the king tried everything to prevented Siddhārtha from coming into contact with any religious or spiritual path as well as shielding him from experiencing and witnessing the suffering of the world, out of the concern that Siddhārtha might be affected and choose the ascetic path, which is the main spiritual path of the day.
As a young prince, Siddhārtha was fully educated and mastered the arts and sciences of his day, including the art of war and various physical training. When he reached the age of sixteen, he married Yashodhara and continued to live the comfortable royal lifestyle. Yet, in his late twenties, Siddhārtha is said to have encountered the “four signs” during excursions from the palace which altered his life forever. These signs were: an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a practicing yogin. Through them he realized the impermanence of all things in the material world, including one’s health and life. He came to a firm belief that one must leave the suffering world of Saṃsāra, which means the cycle of rebirth and suffering, by finding and following the right spiritual path.
At the age of twenty-nine, after the birth of his son Rahula, Siddhārtha left the palace and kingdom behind as a homeless, wandering yogi to engage himself in the ascetic path under the guidance of two ascetic teachers, Arada Kalama and Rudraka Ramaputra. However, when Siddhārtha realized that he was not reaching his goal, which is ultimate liberation, through the ascetic way of life, he left the ascetic community and began to seek enlightenment on his own through meditation. After six years of hardship and practicing near the Nairanjana River, he began to travel and gradually arrived at Bodhgaya, where he sat under the Bodhi-tree, vowing not to come out of his meditation until he reached his goal of enlightenment.
After forty-nine days, at the age of thirty-five, Siddhārtha came out of his meditation after overcoming all the temptations and disturbances made by Maras and attaining complete enlightenment. At this point, Siddhārtha has become a buddha, a fully awakened one, and there would be no further rebirth in the samsaric realms for him.
After he left the bodhi-tree, Buddha remained silent for seven weeks before he began to share what he had achieved which is beyond ordinary knowledge and experience. He used this period of time to develop a path of practice so that unawakened beings could realize enlightenment for themselves.
In Mahayana Buddhism, Buddha’s teaching of the Dharma is described as the turning of the Dharma Wheel. Buddha delivered his first discourse in Deer Park in Benares on the Four Noble Truths, which would be the foundation of all the teachings he gave in his life. This discourse is known as the first turning of the Dharma Wheel. During this time, Buddha’s five ascetic companions became his first disciples and formed the sangha. Five hundred years later at Vulture Peak Mountain, the second turning of the Dharma Wheel took place. Buddha taught the concept of śūnyatā with the tenet being that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence and self-nature. The third turning of the Dharma Wheel arose not long after the second turning. It was a series of teachings on various subjects that took place during a period of many years at a variety of places. The main focus of the third turning is Buddha Nature, which Buddha taught that all sentient beings possess, therefore all beings may realize enlightenment.
Through these teachings that provide a systematic path, Buddha shared with the world the way that leads all sentient beings to attain ultimate awakening and liberation from saṃsāra.
Bhaiṣajyaguru, Medicine Buddha of the East
The colossal Buddha statue on the right represents Bhaiṣajyaguru, Medicine Buddha of the East (東方藥師佛).
Often being rendered and depicted as a radiant and serene future, the Medicine Buddha holds a special place in the hearts of practitioners seeking physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
Medicine Buddha is the master who has limitless therapeutic knowledge. He attained buddhahood upon fulfilling his vows to help all sentient beings eradicate pain, disease, and disabilities of all kinds. While he was still a bodhisattva, Bhaiṣajyaguru made twelve vows, two of which were to do with physical and mental healing. He promised to help eradicate pain, disease, and disabilities of all kinds as well as promoting good health and optimal flourishing. Upon fulfilling these vows he became a Buddha presiding over the realm known as "Pure Lapis Lazuli" in the eastern realm. This story is recorded in the oldest Medicine Buddha sutra that we know of, which dates from the 7th century.
The significance of the Medicine Buddha lies not only in his ability to alleviate physical ailments but also in his capacity to heal the deeper afflictions of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. His compassionate presence and teachings offer solace and guidance to all who seek relief from the challenges of life.
READ MORE about Bhaiṣajyaguru on Page ‘Medicine Buddha Altar & Meditation Garden’
Buddha Amitābha of the West
One of the Five Tathāgatas, the five primordial buddhas, Amitābha (西方阿彌陀佛) is the Buddha residing in his land of Sukhāvatī, the Land of Bliss or Western Pure Land. As recounted in the Infinite Life Sūtra (Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra), he came into existence in very very ancient times as a former king who renounced his throne after having come into contact with Buddhist teachings through the buddha Lokeśvararāja, the 54th Buddha in the history of existence. After becoming a Buddha, he created by his merit a buddha-field (buddhakṣetra) — the Pure Land. This is a realm existing in the primordial universe outside of ordinary reality, a world free of affliction and suffering.
Within the six realms of samsara, living beings take rebirth in cyclic existence with past, present, and future lives. In Buddhist practices, Amitābha’s blessing can guide people through the journey entering the Western Pure Land in the afterlife. Buddhists pray that through their spiritual practice and endeavor, they will be reborn in Amitābha's Buddhafield. Amitābha is also frequently invoked for his blessing for longevity and prevention of untimely death due to diseases or accidents.
The Five Tathāgatas (五方佛), or the Five Wisdom Buddhas’s blessings benefit all destined living beings in joyful cultivation for the attainment of enlightenment. They embody the sacred wisdom of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The Buddhas in this mandala all have their own manifestation:
Mahāvairocana at the center embodies the wisdom of suchness, the wisdom of the essence of the dharma-realm meditation mudra (Sanskrit: tathatā-jñāna, the bare non-conceptualizing awareness of emptiness).
Akṣobhya in the east embodies the wisdom of reflection (Sanskrit: Ādarśa-jñāna, Mirror-like Awareness).
Ratnasambhava in the south embodies the wisdom of equanimity (Sanskrit: Samatā-jñāna, Awareness of Sameness).
Amitābha in the west embodies the wisdom of observation (Sanskrit: Pratyavekṣaṇa-jñāna, the wisdom of Investigative Awareness).
Amoghasiddhi in the north embodies the wisdom of perfect practice or action (Sanskrit: Kṛty-anuṣṭhāna-jñāna the wisdom of Accomplishing Activities).
In representations of the Five Buddhas, such as sculpture, the mandala presents each buddha facing a different direction while in paintings, each buddha is painted with a different color. The Buddhas each have unique mudras and symbols, embodying different cosmic elements and qualities of a higher mind.
Vairocana Buddha (大日如來), also known as the “Great Illuminator” or “Radiant One,” is a central figure in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Vairocana is considered one of the Five Dhyani Buddhas, representing the wisdom aspect of enlightenment.
Vairocana is often depicted as a white or golden buddha seated in a meditative posture, radiating a serene and compassionate presence. He is associated with the realization of the ultimate truth and the transcendence of dualistic perception.
As the embodiment of the Dharmakaya, the ultimate nature of reality, Vairocana is believed to encompass all Buddhas and serve as their universal essence. He represents the fundamental unity of all things and the interdependence of phenomena.
Vairocana’s teachings emphasize the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena and the interconnectedness of all beings. Devotion to Vairocana Buddha involves meditating on his form, reciting his mantra, and contemplating his qualities to cultivate wisdom and insight.
Nāgārjuna (龍樹菩薩) was an Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist scholar and philosopher from the 2nd century CE. He is the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism and widely considered to be the common lineage holder for all eight Chinese Buddhist schools. He is one of the most important figures across all Buddhist traditions.
During the 1st to 3rd century, India was divided into various political states while the Buddhist community was divided into various Buddhist schools and had spread throughout India and parts of China. As recorded in traditional hagiographical sources, Nāgārjuna was an advisor to a king in the 2nd century. Knowing that the king was always ready for war and conquering other lands and people, Nāgārjuna first enlisted in the army and became the most outstanding general in the army who contributed to victory in many wars. In this way he caught the attention from the king who wanted to reward Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna refused to accept any reward which led to the king getting curious about him. When they met at the court, he introduced himself as someone who was enlightened and omniscient but the king did not believe him. Nāgārjuna told the king that he could answer any questions that the king had. So the king asked what was happening in heaven at that moment. Nāgārjuna replied that beings in heaven were fighting with the Asuras. The king and the court did not take his answer seriously as they thought it was unprovable. Nāgārjuna then immediately activated the heaven eyes or the third eyes of all the people present with his supernatural ability so that they became able to see the gods were actually fighting the demigods (Asuras). Convinced by what they experienced, the king and people there realized that Nāgārjuna actually had attained spiritual enlightenment. The king then became a devoted follower and helped the spread of Dharma during his reign.
The Western Pure Land Trinity
The Western Pure Land Trinity (西方三聖), also known as the Three Saints of the Pure Land, consists of Amitabha Buddha, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, and Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva.
Amitabha Buddha (阿彌陀佛) is the central figure of the Western Pure Land tradition. He is considered the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life. Amitabha created a pure land called Sukhavati, or the Western Pure Land, where beings can be reborn and attain enlightenment easily. Devotees recite his name, "Namo Amitabha Buddha," with the aspiration to be reborn in his pure land.
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (觀音菩薩), also known as Guanyin or Kannon, is known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Avalokitesvara embodies the compassionate aspect of Amitabha's enlightenment. It is believed that Avalokitesvara assists sentient beings by hearing their cries and providing aid and guidance on their spiritual journey.
Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva (大勢至菩薩), also known as Da Shi Zhi in Chinese, represents the Bodhisattva of Great Strength or Power. Mahasthamaprapta complements Avalokitesvara's compassion with wisdom and spiritual power. This Bodhisattva helps beings overcome obstacles and gain strength in their pursuit of enlightenment.
Together, Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, and Mahasthamaprapta form a trinity that symbolizes the three essential qualities needed for the attainment of enlightenment in the Pure Land tradition: Amitabha's vow and grace, Avalokitesvara's compassionate guidance, and Mahasthamaprapta's wisdom and strength. Devotees often rely on this trinity for inspiration and guidance on their spiritual path.
In Buddhism, Maitreya (彌勒) is considered to be the future Buddha who will appear on Earth to teach and guide humanity to enlightenment. He is believed to embody the qualities of Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha. According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya presently resides in the Tuṣita Heaven, where he awaits the appropriate time to descend to Earth as the future Buddha with the aim to reinstate the Dharma and reintroduce true teachings of Buddhism to the world.
Maitreya is regarded as one of the most important bodhisattvas, or enlightened beings, known as Maitreya Bodhisattva, around whom a group of followers formed and developed during the 3rd century. The coming of Maitreya will be associated with a number of signs and prophecies. His arrival will signify the end of the middle time.
Avalokiteśvara, also known as Guanyin (觀音) in Chinese Buddhism, is one of the most widely revered bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. As a bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara embodies the compassionate nature of all enlightened beings and is revered as the embodiment of compassion itself.
The name Avalokiteśvara is derived from Sanskrit and it translates to “the one who hears the cries of the world.” This signifies the bodhisattva's compassionate response to the suffering and calls for help from all beings. Avalokiteśvara manifests and appears in many different forms. The Thousand-Armed Avalokiteśvara, one of the common representations, symbolizes his/her ability to see and help countless beings simultaneously. The thousand arms represent the bodhisattva’s capacity to skillfully assist others, while the eyes on the palms of the hands represent the vigilance and compassion that encompass all realms of existence.
Devotion to Avalokiteśvara is a central practice for Buddhist practitioners to continuously seek inspiration and guidance in cultivating compassion and wisdom and extending help to all sentient beings. To invoke Avalokiteśvara and receive the blessings of compassion and wisdom: chant or recite the mantra associated with Avalokiteśvara: Om Mani Padme Hum.
Mañjuśrī (文殊菩薩)is a prominent bodhisattva in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Revered as the embodiment of transcendent wisdom, Mañjuśrī holds a significant place in Buddhist practice and iconography. The name "Mañjuśrī" translates to "Gentle Glory" or "Gentle Splendor," emphasizing the compassionate nature of wisdom. Mañjuśrī’s wisdom is not just intellectual knowledge, but a profound understanding of the nature of reality that leads to liberation from suffering.
As a bodhisattva, Mañjuśrī exemplifies the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. He is regarded as a guide and a source of inspiration on the path to awakening. Mañjuśrī’s wisdom is often associated with the Prajnaparamita teachings, which emphasize the transcendent wisdom of emptiness and the interdependent nature of all phenomena.
Mañjuśrī is usually depicted as a youthful figure, often portrayed in a seated or standing posture, holding a sword in one hand and a text or a lotus flower in the other. The sword symbolizes the ability to cut through ignorance and delusion, while the text or lotus represents the pristine wisdom that dispels darkness and illuminates the path to enlightenment. This sculpture shows the bodhisattva in a peaceful form. Mañjuśrī holds a ruyi, a symbol of good fortune, blessings, and harmony, sitting in the half-lotus position with the left leg tucked inwards on the seat and the right leg hanging down to touch the ground. This pose is known as the “royal ease” or “lalitasana” pose, which conveys a sense of ease and relaxation and symbolizes the Bodhisattva’s engagement with the World. The leg hanging down indicates the Bodhisattva’s willingness to engage and interact with the world of sentient beings. It signifies his active involvement in alleviating suffering and guiding others on the path to ultimate liberation. Moreover, this pose also expresses the Bodhisattva’s equanimity and unwavering stability amidst the changing circumstances of existence. It represents the ability to remain balanced and undisturbed by the fluctuations of the external world.
In traditional Buddhist iconography, Mañjuśrī is often depicted riding or accompanied by a lion. The lion represents the fearless and majestic nature of enlightened wisdom. Its courageous and regal demeanor reflects the fearlessness and strength needed to cut through ignorance and delusion on the path to enlightenment. Mañjuśrī riding a lion also signifies the importance of mastery over one’s own mental states and the subduing of distractions and afflictive emotions.
Devotees of Mañjuśrī seek his blessings and guidance to develop wisdom, clarity of mind, and insight. Practices dedicated to Manjushri may involve reciting his mantra, meditating on his form, studying the teachings of wisdom, and cultivating the qualities he represents.
Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra (普賢菩薩) are often paired together, symbolizing the inseparable nature of wisdom and compassionate action in the Bodhisattva path. Samantabhadra represents transcendent wisdom and insight while Samantabhadra embodies skillful means or compassionate action. Together, they signify the harmonious integration of wisdom and skillful means, emphasizing that true enlightenment encompasses both aspects.
The name “Samantabhadra” translates to “Universal Worthy” or “Ever Excellent.” It signifies the expansive and boundless nature of Samantabhadra’s virtues and aspirations. Samantabhadra is often depicted in a regal posture, seated on an elephant.
Samantabhadra is renowned for making immense vows to benefit all sentient beings. These vows include practicing virtue, making offerings to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, repenting past wrongdoings, rejoicing in the merits of others, and encouraging all beings to follow the path of awakening. Samantabhadra’s vow reflects an all-encompassing commitment to the welfare and liberation of all sentient beings.
Samantabhadra embodies skillful means, upaya in Sanskrit, or expedient means which is the ability to adapt teachings and actions according to the needs and capacities of individuals. This skillfulness enables Samantabhadra to guide and uplift beings through various compassionate methods, leading them towards awakening. His animal vehicle, elephant, is also seen as a symbol of overcoming obstacles and challenges. By being seated on an elephant, Samantabhadra signifies his ability to traverse through difficulties, dispel hindrances, and assist beings in overcoming their own obstacles on the spiritual path.
Samantabhadra also represents primordial wisdom, which transcends conceptual understanding and encompasses the ultimate nature of reality. This wisdom is inseparable from the boundless compassion of Samantabhadra, emphasizing the integration of wisdom and compassion in the Bodhisattva path.
Samantabhadra encourages the cultivation of virtues and the observance of moral precepts as a foundation for spiritual practice. Engaging in virtuous actions, practicing generosity, and upholding ethical conduct are considered essential in following the path exemplified by Samantabhadra.
Overall, Samantabhadra represents the ideal of an awakened being who selflessly works for the welfare of all sentient beings. His teachings and example inspire practitioners to cultivate virtues, embrace compassion, and make vows that encompass the vastness of universal awakening.
Kṣitigarbha, also known as Dìzàng (地藏) in Chinese, is a revered bodhisattva associated with compassion and the alleviation of suffering. Kṣitigarbha’s name translates to “Earth Treasury,” reflecting the bodhisattva’s vow to assist beings in the realms of suffering and provide support for their liberation.
One of the significant aspects of Kṣitigarbha’s practice is the vow to help beings in the hell realm or the realms of suffering. According to belief, Kṣitigarbha voluntarily chose to remain in the hell realms until the hell realms are emptied and all sentient beings there are liberated, vowing not to achieve Buddhahood until then. This compassionate commitment to assist those in the depths of suffering has made Kṣitigarbha a symbol of hope and refuge for those going through challenging times.
Depictions of Kṣitigarbha often show the bodhisattva as a monk with serene expression, adorned in traditional monastic robes and holding a staff or a jewel. The bodhisattva is accompanied by a dog name Diting (諦聽), a divine mythical creature and the steed of bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha. Diting is depicted as a loyal and protective companion of Kṣitigarbha, accompanying the bodhisattva on his grand mission. The name means listening or hearing, indicating the animal’s ability to hear cries from suffering beings from all directions and to communicate them to Kṣitigarbha through their minds.
Kṣitigarbha is also regarded as a guardian of travelers, especially guiding those who journey through dangerous or difficult terrains. As a protector, Kṣitigarbha is believed to offer support and guidance to those facing obstacles and uncertainties on their paths.
Devotion to Kṣitigarbha involves various practices, including recitation of mantras, sutras, and the offering of prayers and rituals. Pilgrimages to Kṣitigarbha temples and the creation of statues or images of Kṣitigarbha are common ways of votive practice to seek blessings.
The teachings and images of Kṣitigarbha serve as a reminder of the bodhisattva’s compassionate presence and the aspiration to alleviate suffering in the world. Through the practice of Kṣitigarbha, practitioners seek solace, courage, and the inspiration to cultivate compassion in their own lives.
Pādanakṣipa (步擲金剛明王) is one of the Eight Wisdom Kings in Vajrayana corresponding to the eight main bodhisattvas. He is the wrathful manifestation of Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of meditation and practice.
Pādanakṣipa holds a diamond umbrella in his right hand, and a vajra in his left hand. His entire body is in the colors of emptiness with fire and flames. Pādanakṣipa’s animal vehicle is a mythical creature known as the “six-tusked elephant” or the “elephant with six tusks.” The elephant is depicted as a majestic and powerful creature, sometimes adorned with jewels or carrying sacred objects. It symbolizes strength, wisdom, and the ability to traverse various realms to provide aid and support to beings in need. In Buddhism, elephants are associated with wisdom, steadiness, and the ability to endure hardships. As Pādanakṣipa navigates the various realms of cyclic existence to help sentient beings, the six-tusked elephant represents the wisdom king’s unwavering commitment and compassionate efforts.
Ucchuṣma (大穢跡明王, Pinyin: Huìjì Jīngāng) is a prominent deity in Vajrayana Buddhism. Ucchuṣma is a wrathful deity who embodies the power of wisdom and purification. According to the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, Shakyamuni Buddha asked the bodhisattvas and arhats to present their methods of understanding the ultimate truth. The eighteenth person to present his character was Ucchuṣma. The Sūtra states:
Ucchuṣma came before the Buddha, put his palms together, bowed at the Buddha’s feet, and said to the Buddha, "I can still remember how many kalpas ago I was filled with excessive greed and desire. There was a Buddha in the world named King of Emptiness. He said that people with too much desire turn into a raging mass of fire. He taught me to contemplate the coolness and warmth throughout my entire body. A spiritual light coalesced inside and transformed my thoughts of excessive lust into the fire of wisdom. After that, when any of the Buddhas summoned me, they used the name 'fire-head.' From the strength of the fire-light samādhi, I accomplished Arhatship. I made a great vow that when each of the Buddhas accomplishes the way, I will be a powerful knight and in person subdue the demons' hatred. The Buddha asks about perfect penetration. I used attentive contemplation of the effects of heat in my body and mind, until it became unobstructed and penetrating and all my outflows were consumed. I produced a blazing brilliance and ascended to enlightenment. This is the foremost method."1
In artistic representations, Ucchuṣma’s red and blue hair represent fire and flames. These elements of heat represent the power of transformation, burning away impurities and purifying one’s body, speech, and mind. The fiery aspect of Ucchuṣma’s energy is seen as a catalyst for change and the swift accomplishment of spiritual goals. Another source that shows his power of purification is Ucchuṣma Vajrapāla Sūtra, in which it states that Ucchuṣma is the Vajra manifestation of Shakyamuni Buddha. Legend has it that when Shakyamuni was about to enter into Nirvana, all heavenly beings came to pay respect to Buddha except for one Brahma King. The heavenly gods then went to his palace and tried to persuade him to attend the Dharma assembly. However, upon reaching his palace, the heavenly beings found themselves trapped in the defiled and filthy energy and forces cast by the king who possesses some supernatural powers. When Shakyamuni Buddha learnt about this, he employed his Original Wisdom and Light of Perpetual Joy from his dharma body. In an instant, Ucchuṣma appeared from amidst the revolving radiance of Buddha’s heart, and his presence cleared up the defiled energy that trapped the heavenly beings. Ucchuṣma is thus known as the “Filth-Eliminating Vajrapāla.”
Ucchuṣma’s attainment of enlightenment is attributed to the culmination of immense spiritual practices and realization of the ultimate truth. He is believed to purify negative karma, protect from harm, and grant swift accomplishment of one’s aspiration. Buddhist devotees practice his meditation and recite mantras to invoke his transformative power. By connecting Ucchuṣma’s enlightened energy, practitioners seek to overcome ignorance, delusion, and hindrances on their spiritual path.
Note: 1. The Surangama Sutra with Commentary - Volume 5 - Explained by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua p.94
The Vajra sculpture holds great significance in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The Vajra is a ritual object and symbol that represents several aspects and qualities. In Buddhism, the Vajra symbolizes indestructibility, power, and the unshakable nature of enlightenment. It is often associated with the diamond-like clarity of wisdom and the ability to cut through ignorance and delusion. The Vajra is seen as a spiritual weapon that destroys obstacles and leads to liberation.
The Vajra is typically depicted as a small handled object with a cylindrical body and two, three, or five prongs. Its prongs are symmetrically arranged and coverage at a central hub or sphere. The prongs may be adorned with additional symbols, such as lotus petals, flames, or spiritual figures.
The Vajra is also associated with the thunderbolt, symbolizing the unstoppable force and lightning-like clarity of spiritual awakening. It represents the union of method (skillful means, upaya in Sanskrit) and wisdom, emphasizing the inseparability of compassion and insight on the path to enlightenment.
In ritual ceremonies, Vajra sculptures are used as sacred objects and held by practitioners or used to bless and consecrate offerings, statues, or ritual spaces. The Vajra’s symbolic power is believed to enhance the practitioner’s connection with enlightened qualities and aid in the purification of negative energies.
Overall, the Vajra sculpture holds deep symbolism related to enlightenment, spiritual power, clarity, and the transformation of obstacles on the path to awakening.
This Vajra sculpture is in a specific form known as the Karma Vajra (羯磨金剛杵). It consists of two interlocking vajras, forming a crossed or intertwined pattern. The vajras in the symbol are rendered in a symmetrical and balanced manner. The prongs of the vajras are decorated with small dragon heads. Dragon symbolizes wisdom, power, and the transformative energy of enlightenment. Possessing the capability of flight, dragons represent the ability to transcend limitations and manifest enlightened qualities. At the top of the Karma Vajra sits twelve Wisdom King heads and one Buddha head. The twelve Wisdom King heads symbolize the destruction of the twelve kinds of karma. (What are the twelve kinds of karma?) Below the intertwined vajras shows the guardian mythical animal Makara that symbolizes protection, abundance, and auspiciousness. Makara is also associated with water, representing the purification of defilements and the flow of spiritual realization. The base of the Karma Vajra is decorated with Garuda, a legendary bird-like creature. Garuda symbolizes immense power and strength, fearlessness, protection and guardianship, liberation, and overcoming ignorance.
The two vajras represent the inseparable nature of compassion and wisdom in Buddhist practice. The vertical vajra represents wisdom and symbolizes the pristine, clear, and luminous nature of enlightened awareness. It represents insight, understanding, and the wisdom that cuts through ignorance and delusion. The horizontal vajra represents skillful means, compassionate action and skillful means employed to benefit beings. It symbolizes the active expression of compassion, loving-kindness, and the various methods and practices used to help oneself and others on the path.
The Karma Vajra, with its intertwined vajras, signifies the indivisibility and interdependence of wisdom and compassion. It emphasizes that these two aspects are not separate or contradictory, but rather complementary and necessary for spiritual realization and the alleviation of suffering. For practitioners, it is important to cultivate the harmonious integration of wisdom and compassion.