The Hand of Buddha
The Hand of Buddha defeats the three poisons : Vajrapani (literally, “Vajra Hand”) — Guardian of Shakyamuni Himself; Vajrapani, the power of the mind to overcome obstacles such as pride, anger, hate and jealousy.
“And at that moment Vajrapani holding up a huge iron club, flaming, ablaze and glowing, up in the sky just above Ambattha was thinking, “If this young man does not answer a proper question put to him by the Blessed Lord by the third time of asking, I’ll split his head into seven pieces!” The Lord saw Vajrapani, and so did Ambattha. And at the sight, Ambattha was terrified and unnerved, his hairs stood on end, and he sought protection, shelter, and safety from the Lord. Crouching down close to the Lord.”
This ancient teaching [full Sutta at the end of this feature] predates Mahayana Sutra. In the Mahayana Sutras, Vajrapani becomes even more prominent as the veritable “indestructible hand of the Buddha.” Vajrapani — which can translate as “Indestructible Hand” — is one of the three great Bodhisattvas, each of them representing the three important qualities of Enlightenment:
Vajrapani is the “indestructible power of the Buddha” — helping us overcome the delusions, poisons and attachments that prevent our progress
Avalokiteshvara is the “compassion of the Buddha” — helping us overcome ego and clinging, understanding our “Oneness” with all beings
Manjushri is the “wisdom of the Buddha” — helping us discern truth, and overcome the illusions that keep us trapped.
The Hand of the Buddha?
Vajrapani can literally translate as “Vajra Hand” and Vajrapani is likewise considered the “Hand of Buddha” — much like “the Hand of the King” in the Game of Thrones. As the Hand, he symbolizes strength and power of Buddha (Enlightened Mind) to overcome all obstacles. “Vajra” literally translates as “indestructible diamond”, and “Pani” means hand, so one translation of Vajrapani is Indestructible Hand. Another, less interesting translation is “Thunderbolt in hand.” In essence, they mean similar things, since Vajrapani wields this indestructible force in his hand, for the Dharma. I like the Game of Thrones connotations of the former translation.
The Lord of Secrets
Vajrapani, who belongs the Vajra Family of Akshobhya Buddha, is also often called Guhyapati (“Lord of Secrets”) in the context of Vajrayana, the “secret mantra” path. The secret element is more about “looking inward” and the tantric methods of understanding the true nature of reality — tantric insight into truth — than the idea of keeping esoteric secrets.
“Within you alone” speaks to our own will-power (Vajrapani’s power within us) — that allows us to remove the obstacles to wisdom and compassion. Without that protective power of Vajrapani, it is difficult for ordinary sentient beings to overcome the many obstacles to progress.
Vajrapani manifests in our lives daily (hopefully.) Even that voice in our mind, telling us to get up and meditate — instead of watching television — is Vajrapani at work. (Buddha’s Hand slapping us up the back of the head, metaphorically.) Or, that feeling of guilt when you walk past a homeless person without helping — that’s Vajrapani sternly reminding us to be compassionate. It is Vajrapani who cracks the metaphorical whip in his “hand” (not to beat a metaphor to death) — to keep us working on the foundation practices, to sit each day, or, to practice metta compassion meditation each day. He’s hovering over our head with the “huge iron club, flaming, ablaze and glowing.”
Like Vajrasattva, his main attribute is the vajra — both an attribute of his name and one he symbolically holds. The vajra is the most staggeringly powerful instrument of the “deities”, whether you view them as symbolic or real. [For a story on vajra (dorje) and bell see >>]
It is the “weapon” of Indra, the thunderbolt, similar to Zeus’s bolt and Thor’s hammer. In myth, Thor could control even the great beast Jormungandr. Zeus could destroy any being, including a god, with his bolts. In classical 2nd century Gandhara art, influenced by the Greeks, Vajrapani is depicted as Zeus. (At the time, Alexander the Great’s Greek Empire touched northern India, influencing art and culture in the area.) Vajrapani a protector, not a bully
It is Vajrapani power that strips away our pride — as he did for the Brahmin in the Pali Sutta Ambattha. It is Vajrapani that embodies the power needed to overcome all the afflictive emotions. It is Vajrapani that gives us the will to progress even against the heavy weight of our vast harmful past karmas (past damaging deeds.) It is Vajrapani that symbolizes the discipline needed to practice each day.
It may seem that Vajrapani is a bully — the way he threatened the Brahmin, helping him overcome his pride — but it requires the strength of a protector, angry fierce power, to give us the discipline to overcome pride, greed, anger, hate and all the poisons. For this reason, millions of people around the world chant the peaceful mantra of Vajrapani every day — together with the other great Bodhisattvas. Even the peaceful form of Vajrapani is indestructibly irresistible.
Despite his power, Vajrapani is a Bodhisattva and has a peaceful aspect that anyone may appreciate, meditate on or practice. The mantra is a recommended daily chant, with or without any empowerment. Especially when faced with obstacles, many teachers instruct their students to recite Vajrapani’s mantra.
Many Buddhist students, for life, will chant the Mantras of the Three Great Bodhisattvas — as a way to keep strength, compassion and wisdom present in our present moment. The Three Bodhisattvas, of course, are: Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri:
Vajrapani: Om Vajrapani Hum (In Tibetan “Om Benza Pani Hung”)
Avalokiteshvara: Om Mani Padme Hum (In Tibetan “Om Mani Peme Hung”)
Oṃ A Ra Pa Tza Na Dhīḥ (Tza is generally pronounced “cha” and when transliterated from Sanskrit is written “ca”.)
“Then said the Buddha, “You have been blessed as both Bodhisattva and Wrathful Deity by all the Buddhas in the past. The Buddhas to come will also bless you in both of these two forms. Now, I shall also bless you. You shall become the master of all the great devas. You should amancipate all sentient beings from Samsara and from miseries.”
The mantra of Vajrapani is a very straight-forward one, easy, yet powerful: Om Vajrapani Hum. Om symbolizes many things, including the Five Buddhas the Five Wisdoms. Vajrapani (Thunderbolt holder, diamond-scepter holder, or Vajra Hand) is homage to the great Vajrapani. HUM is the word that “Destroys all suffering.”
” If the disciple renders one obeisance to Vajrapani, he attains more merits than he would have secured through rendering numerous obeisances to myriads of Buddhas as many as the total grains of sands in ninety-two million Ganges Rivers… If he relies on Vajrapani as his Yidam Buddha and recites the Mantra, he will surely be protected by Vajrapani from all hindrances. No demons can hurt him, all illness will be cured, his merits will be increased and prosperity augmented. All his wishes will be fulfilled. Thus, the benefits of practicing this ritual are beyond description, nothing can afflict those who practice it. The practitioner of this ritual will also accomplish all the four activities — Pacifying, Enriching, Magnetizing and Wrathful. He will encounter no obstacles. Therefore, one should always rely on Vajrapani, take him as one’s shelter and refuge. Also, those who have chronic diseases will be cured through reciting the Mantra of Vajrapani.”
Wrathful Vajrapani: unbridled power
Unbridled is probably the wrong word, but the sense of overwhelming power defines the even more wrathful forms of Vajrapani, standing in an ocean of flames, hair standing on end, face transformed by wild fury.
Wrathful Vajrapani are normally permission-based practices, due to their boundless power. Empowerment and teaching-guidance is needed to practice these forms. Wrathful practices are important in senior practice, as they are transformative. They ferocious style of meditation is aimed at transforming anger, hate and strong emotions into Enlightened characteristics. [For a detailed story on Wrathful deities,
From the Tantra of One-Hundred-and-Eight Praisings
“The numerous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were much pleased. Thereupon they blessed Vajrapani and named him the Thunderbolt-Holder, the Master of the Cosmos, and handed him the thunderbolt as the symbol of initiation. Then Vajrapani said to the Buddha, “O my Lord Bhaghavan! I am the protector of all Buddhas in the three times; I was the protector of the seven Buddhas in the past; I am the protector of the present Buddha and will be the protector of the nine-hundred-and-ninety-two3 Buddhas in the future. I shall be their protectors until all of the one thousand Buddhas in this Kalpa have completed their missions. I shall protect them from all hindrances. I have besought the Buddhas in the past to preach the Dharma, and shall beseech the Buddhas in the future to preach the Dharma; also I shall beseech all the present Buddhas to preach the Dharma. I pray you, the Perfect One, grant me your blessings.”
Vajrapani is honoured in early Pali Sutta as the “Protector of Buddha.” In Mahayana Sutra, he is one of the three great Bodhisattvas. In Vajrayana, Vajrapani is those, but also a fully Enlightened Buddha, a Protector, and a Yidam (Meditational Deity.)
In the West (Vajrayana): he is practised variously as a Bodhisattva, Buddha or Yidamk, dependilng on tradition.
In Cambodia: he is one of the three main deities of three monasteries (dating to 953 AD) who honour Buddha, Prajnaparamita, and Vajrapani.
In India: in the early period, Vajrapnai was mostly a protector of Shakyamuni, not yet thought of as a Bodhisattva, but already the Hand of the Buddha.
In Nepal, he takes a different forms, and is an important deity.
In Tibet, Vajrapani has vast significance. He can appear peaceful and wrathful, in many forms. He can be Enlightened Buddha, Bodhisattva and Protector all at the same time. Although there are many protectors in Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrapani is synonymous with power.
In Japan, He is known as Shukongoshin (the “head vajra-wielding god”).
In Gandhara (Central Asia) , he is fused somewhat with Herakles (Roman Hercules) due to Greek influence after Alexander the Great’s invasion. He is associated also with Indra (and Zeus by the Greeks.)