VAJRAPANI

Vajrapani- He with a diamond scepter in Hand-is the embodiment of all the buddhas’ infinite power and is the first meditational deity in this series to be represented in wrathful form. As befits a figure symbolizing enlightened power or energy, Vajrapani is shown in Plate8 in a standing, active posture rather than in the accustomed seated meditation pose. He is deep-blue in color and wears a tiger-skin cloth, emblematic of fearlessness, wrapped around his waist. Both his hand are in the threatening mudra used for overcoming hindrances, and in his right hand he holds a vajra, or diamond-hard scepter. Just as the Olympian Zeus brandishes a thunderbolt as a symbol of his might, Vajrapani wields a vajra symbolic of the enlightened power of full spiritual awakening.

He is adorned not only with jeweled ornaments but also with snakes of anger, which he controls by the superior force of his compassion. He strides atop a sun disc and displays a wrathful expression, baring four fangs. His eyebrows, mustache and beard are shaped like flames and his long, flowing hair streams upwards violently. Vajrapani is endowed with a third eye of wisdom in the center of his all the pores of his powerful body. The artist has set off this fierce-looking figure dramatically by placing him in a Himalayan setting amidst Snow Mountains.

In front of Vajrapani is an eight-spoked wheel of dharma standing for the eightfold path of Buddha’s teachings. The wheel also indicates that the dharma of enlightened beings is not static but moves from one culture to another, skillfully adopting new forms to express the eternal truths of the suffering nature of cyclic existence and the paths leading from recurring misery to true liberation and enlightenment.

Buddhahood brings to fruition the three essential qualities of compassion, wisdom and power, the last of which is also referred to as skillful means. The necessity of cultivating all three to fulfill one’s altruistic intention to benefit others is illustrated by the following analogy. Suppose that we were to witness an accident in which a young boy falls into a river and is in danger of drowning. Even if the child is not ours it is very easy to develop compassion for him because there effortlessly arises in us the heartfelt wish that he be rescued as quickly as possible. We may also have a clear understanding of what caused the danger and what must be done to save the boy from it, and this understanding itself is a form of wisdom. But if we are crippled or weakened by disease or hindered in any other way, all our compassion and wisdom will be no avail; there is not way we can be of any help to the boy.

Because each individual has his or her own predispositions, karmic obscurations and so forth, no one method-no matter how profound-well work best for everyone. The truly skillful guide, therefore, sometimes has to resort to unorthodox means to tame the minds of others, as when Shakyamuni gave lam-chung the menial task of sweeping the temple floor as his sole spiritual practice. In another example, Buddha once told a monk who was having trouble with his practices that, instead if sitting in the traditional cross-legged position, he should lie down when meditating. With his clairvoyance he saw that this particular disciple still had strong imprints left over from previous lives as a cow and that reclining position would therefore be more suitable for him. Finally, mention can be made of a contemporary master who was asked why he told some of disciples to do one things while he told others to do exactly the opposite. He replied, “When I see someone going too far over to the left I say, ‘go to the right,’ And when I see someone too far over to the right I say, ‘go to the left.’ Whether I say ‘left’ or ‘right’ I am in fact trying to guide all of them down the center of the same path.” All of these examples demonstrate the skillful means Vajrapani represents.

As for the bodhisattva disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha named Vajrapani, many stories are told of the powerful means he used to promote and protect the teachings. On one famous occasion Shakyamuni was seated at Vultures’ Peak near Rajagriha, the site where he delivered the perfection of Wisdom sutras. At that time his jealous cousin Devadatta rolled a large boulder down the hill in an attempt to assassinate him. Just as the huge stone was about to crush Buddha, Vajrapani used his immense powers to split it in tow so that pieces of the boulder fell harmlessly to either side. In recognition of Vajrapani’s powerful abilities, Shakyamuni entrusted him with the protection of the tantras, those powerful Vajrayana teachings capable of guiding qualified disciples to full enlightenment in even one short lifetime. As protector of these precious and exoteric tantic teachings, Vajrapani is sometimes referred to by the title ” Lord of the Secret.”