Mahasiddha Main Page | HAR Main Glossary
- What are Mahasiddhas: Question 1
- What is 'Mahasiddha' in Buddhist Art: Question 2
Abhayadatta Shri: also known as Abhayakaragupta, an Indian scholar of the 12th century who is credited with writing down the biographies of eighty-four siddha in a text known as The History of the Eighty-four Mahasiddha (Tibetan Wylie: grub thob brgyad bcu tsa bzhi'i lo rgyus [Full Tibetan text in PDF format: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]).
Abhayadatta Shri System of Eighty-four Mahasiddha: the system of enumerating the names and stories, and based on that, depictions in art, of eighty-four mahasiddha according to the writings of Abhayadatta Shri. (Tibetan and Romanized Names List Pdf).
Abhayakaragupta: an alternate name for Abhayadatta Shri. He was also known as Vajrasana the Elder. Images of Abhayakara are well known from a Panchen Lama incarnation set of paintings.
Acharya (Sanskrit term [Skt.]): Buddhist religious title, usually monastic, applied to scholars and academics. It is the most common honorific title used for teachers such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, and others. The Tibetan word for acharya is lobpon.
Akanishta Realm (Skt.) (Tib. ogmin): the highest conceivable realm or heaven of the Buddhist cosmological system. It is on this level that the Buddhist purelands of Sukhavati (Amitabha Buddha), Abhirati (Akshobhya Buddha) and the Khechara pureland of Vajrayogini are found. Akanishta can be understood as a plane or realm of existence/consciousness where many purelands/buddhafields are located.
Anuttarayoga: (Tib. ) the fourth and highest classification of the four sets of Buddhist tantras. The three sub divisions are:  Method (Father),  Wisdom (Mother) and  Non-dual. The name Anuttarayoga is often shortened to Anuttara. The names of the three lower tantra sets in descending order are Yoga, Charya and Kriya. "Yoginitantras are in the secondary literature often called Anuttarayoga. But this is based on a mistaken back translation of the Tibetan translation (rnal byor bla med kyi rgyud) of what appears in Sanskrit texts only as Yogānuttara or Yoganiruttara (cf. SANDERSON 1994: 97-98, fn.1)." ( Isabelle Onians, "Tantric Buddhist Apologetics, or Antinomianism as a Norm," D.Phil. dissertation, Oxford, Trinity Term 2001. pg 70). (See Tantra Classification).
Asana (Skt.): (see posture).
Attribute: a symbolic object associated with a particular subject based on well-known examples and textual iconographic references. (See Tantric Siddha Appearance Attributes).
Avadhuta (awadhutipa, avadhutipa) (Skt.): a mendicant Buddhist yogi of India, without possessions, homeless and free of society. (See the Titles & Honorifics Glossary).
Avadhuti (Skt.): according to Tantric anatomy and yoga theory the avadhuti is the central vein of the body that parallels the spinal column, extending from the crown of the head to the base of the spine. Avadhutipa is also the name of, or epithet of, one or more Indian mahasiddha.
Bell (Skt.: ghanta): a bell, played in the left hand. The bell is a common ritual object and when paired with the vajra scepter which is held in the right hand, they together represent method and wisdom. Like the damaru drum, the dissipating sound of the bell represents emptiness.
Bodhisattva (Skt.) (Tib. ) : a heroic aspirant to enlightenment, idealized beings in the appearance of youthful heavenly gods, sixteen years of age, generally male and richly attired in silks and jewels. They represent the principal students of the Buddha according to the Mahayana literature (sutra) of Northern Buddhism, (see full definition).
Bodhgaya: the name for the geographic location where the historical Buddha reached enlightenment approximately 2500 years ago. It is located in the state if Bihar in Northern India. (also see Bodhgaya).
Bone Ornaments: (Tib. ) adorning the bodies of those siddha having Buddhist Tantric Siddha Appearance. This kind of attire is prescribed in the Tantric texts and to be worn at the time of certain types of rituals. Described in literature and depicted in art, bone ornaments are only worn by semi-wrathful and wrathful Buddhist Tantric deities, daemons and spirits as well as those siddha that are emulating the appearance of the Tantric deities. It is these siddha only that are referred to as having Tantric Siddha Appearance.
Caste System: the caste system of India is mentioned frequently in the stories of the eighty-four siddha. It is common at the beginning of a siddha story to identify the person by place of origin and family caste. Caste: Brahmin (priest), Kshatriya (royalty, warrior), Vaishya (merchant/craftsman), Shudra (laborers), and finally the untouchables, the outcaste.
Cemetery: (see Charnel Ground).
Chakrasamvara (Tib. ): the principal meditation deity of the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantra. He is the principal Anuttarayoga Tantra of the wisdom (mother) classification. Many of the Indian mahasiddha are associated with this practice and from the various sets of eighty-four three are counted as the most important: Luipa, Krishnacharya and Ghantapa. In Tibetan this group of three is known as lu nag dril sum. (See Tantra Classification).
Charnel Ground: Indian cemeteries where bodies are deposited. The Tantric texts that describe wrathful deities also describe wrathful venues for their practice. Charnel grounds are the most fearsome and abhorrent places in India. Wrathful deities are therefore associated with charnel grounds and vice versa peaceful deities are associated with pleasant and beautiful surroundings. (See Eight Great Charnel Grounds).
Charya Tantra: The Charya Tantra Classification although following the Kriya system of Three Buddha Families, Tatagata, Padma and Vajra, has very few actual texts and very few deities and mandalas. Not all of the Tibetan Traditions agree on the text titles found under Charya. The Sakya Tradition includes The Manjushri Mulakalpa and Siddhaikavira Tantras as Charya. Most other schools classify those texts as Kriya Tantra. A deity such as Bhutadamara Vajrapani is found in both Charya and Anuttarayoga Tantras. In the Charya Tantras he is a main deity where as in the Anuttarayoga Tantras he performs the function of a supporting deity.
Commitments and Pledges (Skt. samaya): the basis of ongoing Tantric practice is the commitments and pledges, textually prescribed, that are made at the time of initiation between the student and the teacher.
Consort: male and female siddha are sometimes depicted with a consort. Sexual imagery and conjoined couples are commonplace in Tantric art of the Himalayas.
Daka (Skt.): the male equivalent of a dakini. The male daka are not nearly as important in Tantric literature as the female dakini.
Dakini (Skt.): female spirits, witches and sometimes deities. The word is commonly translated from the Tibetan khandroma as 'sky-goer,' thought to be someone that can fly through the air and possessed of special powers. A class of Buddhist tantric deities, Buddha emanations, are modeled after the dakini. In Tantric Buddhism the two terms yogini and dakini are used almost synonymously. (See Vajrayogini).
Damaru (Skt.): (see drum).
Deity: this word can mean any of the Hindu gods or any of the Buddhist deities, either worldly or emanations of the various Buddhas appearing as deities and gods.
Deity Yoga (Tib. ): the special meditation practice of Vajrayana Buddhism comprising two types of meditation - Generation Stage Yoga (Tib. kye rim gyi nal jor) and Perfection Stage Yoga (Tib. dzog rim gyi nal jor).
Dhanyakataka Stupa (Skt.): located in South India and associated with Amaravati this stupa is mentioned in numerous siddha stories and is considered the birth place of the Kalachakra Tantra and the Eight Heruka deities of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Doha (Skt.): songs and poems, the mahasiddha are often known for transmitting their teachings in the form of songs. There are numerous published compilations. The songs of the mahasiddha Saraha are the most famous.
Drum (Skt.: damaru): a double-sided hand drum made of wood played in the right hand by twisting the wrist and causing the two strikers to beat against the stretched drum skins usually made of hide or snake skin. The damaru is a common ritual object of India. In Tantric Buddhism the drum is often placed next to the two principal ritual objects, the vajra and bell. The dissipating sound of the drum represents emptiness. The drum is generally made of wood although ivory is popular with wealthy teachers and the nobility. Sometimes two human skullcaps are fashioned into a drum exclusively for wrathful Tantric practices. A large wooden version of the double-sided hand drum is used in the uniquely Tibetan Buddhist practice known as Cutting (Tib. Chod) popularized by the famous female Tantric practitioner Machig Labdron.
Eight Great Charnel Grounds: according to Tantric literature and the descriptions of wrathful deities and their environments, the eight charnel grounds surround the central palace and deity. There are several different sets of eight names and descriptions for the eight great charnel grounds depending on the Buddhist and Hindu Tantric literature consulted. These charnel grounds also have physical locations in India such as the Laughing charnel ground at Bodhgaya and the Cool Grove charnel ground close by, along with the Frightening charnel ground in the Black Hills of Bihar.
From the Hevajra Tantra literature: "In the east is the Gruesome charnel ground (chandograkatasi); south Frightful with Skulls (bhairavakapalika); west Adorned with a Blazing Garland (jvalamalalankara); north Dense Jungle (girigahvaronnati); north-east Fiercely Resounding (ugropanyasa); south-east Forest of the Lord (ishvaravana); south-west Dark and Terrible (bhairavandhakara); north-west Resounding with the Cries Kili Kili (Kilikilaghoshanadita). Furthermore, there are headless corpses, hanging corpses, lying corpses, stake-impaled corpses, heads, skeletons, jackals, crows, owls, vultures, and zombies making the sound, "phaim". There are also siddha with clear understanding, yaksha, raksha, preta, flesh eaters, lunatics, bhairava, daka, dakini, ponds, fires, stupa, and sadhaka. All of these fill the charnel grounds." (Konchog Lhundrub 1497-1557, written in 1551). (See painted example). (See Charnel Ground).
In the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantra the Eight Great Charnal grounds are: east Gruesome, north Dense Wild Thicket, west Blazing with [the Sound] Ur Ur, south Terrifying, south-east Marvelous Forest, south-west Interminably Gloomy, north-west Resounding with the Sound Kili Kili, north-east Wildly Laughing. These names are extracted from a Chakrasamvara ritual text composed by Chogyal Pagpa).
A common Nyingma list: east Cool Grove, south Perfected in Body, west Lotus Heap, north Lanka Heap, southeast Spontaneously Accomplished Heap, southwest Play of the Great Secret, northwest Pervasive Great Happiness, northeast World Heap.
Eight Mahasiddha: there are different groupings of the Eight Great Adepts that have been depicted in art over the last 1000 years. The earliest are found on metal Lotus Mandalas. In literature, an early description of each of the eight siddha was composed in verse by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361) naming and prioritizing them as: Nagarjuna, Indrabhuti, Dombi Heruka, Saraha, Ghantapa, Kukkuripa, Luipa, and Padmavajra. This grouping is also found in one known painting. Again later in the 18th century, Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne, based on Dolpopa, designed his own compositions illustrating his selection of the eight siddha and replacing Luipa with Lawapa. According to Situ the siddha are: Saraha, Indrabhuti, Nagarjuna, Padmavajra, Ghantapa, Dombi Heruka, Kukkuripa and Lawapa.
Eight Powers (Skt. siddhi): there are several different descriptions of the eight powers depending on the Buddhist and Hindu Tantric literature consulted.
Eighty-four Mahasiddha: referring to the various groupings of the famous mahasiddha of Buddhist India. (See Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Shri).
Empowerment (Tib. ) : a formal and often complex ritual initiation into a specific practice of Deity Yoga, requiring a mandala, and lasting anywhere from two to six hours. In some cases these initiations can span two or three days.
Enlightenment: this is an English term that has come to mean almost anything with reference to Eastern religion. In Buddhism there are specific levels, or degrees, of spiritual progress marking the spiritual path culminating in what is known as 'complete enlightenment.' Mahayana Buddhism posits thirteen levels, known as the 'thirteen grounds' (Skt. bhumi). The thirteenth level, called vajradhara bhumi (Skt.), is synonymous with 'complete buddhahood. These levels are clearly defined and described in the Mahayana Sutras. In the various Hindu religious traditions and schools the term enlightenment has many different meanings.
Feast: (Skt. ganapuja, ganachakra): collection or assembly, a gathering of foods and substances to be offered to the meditational deity and an assembled group of initiated Tantric practitioners, generally conducted on textually prescribed astrological dates based on the Indian, or Tibetan, lunar calendar.
Four Activities: sometimes described as powers, the Four Activities are special powers achieved through the practice of Tantric Buddhism. These powers are used to skillfully benefit all sentient beings: peaceful activities, increasing, powerful and wrathful. In art, these powers are associated with colours, white, yellow, red, and blue-black along with and physical appearance such as a smiling face or a fearsome face. The colour green is considered the combination of all the colours and activities.
Ganachakra: (see Feast).
Ganapuja: (see Feast).
Ghanta (Skt.): (see bell).
Guru (Skt.): religious teacher or preceptor in India and South Asia. For Vajrayana Buddhism the term is specifically used for a qualified Tantric teacher capable of giving initiations and guiding students along the Vajrayana path. The Root Guru ( ) is the individual from whom one has received a major Anuttarayoga empowerment containing all four sections. The Tibetan word lama is a translation of the Sanskrit word guru.
Guruyoga (Skt.): Guruyoga: in Tantric Buddhism, a meditation and devotional practice focusing on the spiritual teacher (guru) in an idealized form. These forms can be based on accepted traditional images or on revelation experiences of previous spiritual leaders. Paintings and sculpture depicting forms of idealized teachers are commonplace in Himalayan art.
Hagiography: an idealized biography intended for the faithful, uncritical and often relying on, and embellished by, oral tradition and the visions of later followers. Most of the stories of the eighty-four mahasiddhas are relegated to the genre of literature known as Hagiography.
Heroic Aspirant to Enlightenment: (see Bodhisattva).
Hevajra (Tib. ): the principal meditation deity of the Hevajra Tantra in Two Sections and the Hevajra Cycle of Tantras. (Tib. gye pa dor je gyu) the most important and profound of the non-dual anuttarayoga tantra according to the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. According to the Kagyu and Gelugpa Traditions the Hevajra belongs to the Wisdom (Mother) classification. (See Tantra Classification).
Incarnation Lineages of Tibetan Teachers: many Buddhist teachers trace their incarnation history back to the great mahasiddha of India. The Panchen Lama incarnation line includes Padmasambhava and Atisha. The famous Jonang Taranata includes the Mahasiddha Krishnacharya in an early birth. The 3rd Nenang Pawo includes the siddha Maitripa as a previous birth..
Indian Adept (Skt.: siddha): the Hindu and Buddhist Tantric practitioners of medieval India that have achieved some measurable degree of spiritual attainments along with special powers.
Indian Scholar (Skt.: acharya): a term referring to scholars in general (acharya) and to those engaged in debate and disputation. Many Indian Buddhist scholars are also mahasiddha, such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Shantideva, etc.
Initiation (Skt. ahisheka): an initiation is the formalised permission and introduction to the practice of Deity Yoga as taught in the Tantra literature of the Buddhists, Hindus and others. According to Vajrayana Buddhism there are three main types of initiation: 'empowerment' (Tib. wangkur), 'blessing' (Tib. jinlap) and 'permission' (Tib. jenang).
Kanpat Yogi: a split ear ascetic associated with the Nath (pronounced nat) Tradition of India.
Kapala (Skt.): (see skullcup).
Kapalika (Skt.): a skull bearer, generally referring to a follower of the Hindu Shiva that practices austere and fearsome forms of Hindu Tantra involving skull symbolism. This term is sometimes used with reference to Buddhist practitioners of the Hevajra Tantra where skull imagery is also common.
Khechara (Skt.): this term can be understood in two ways;  as a Buddhist pureland, like a heaven, associated with the deity Vajrayogini and  as a level of spiritual attainment which allows a spiritual aspirant to reach the pure spiritual or mental state of Khechara.
Kriya Tantra (Skt.): the name of a Buddhist classification of minor, or lower Tantra literature. These texts are considered to be the word of or inspiration from the Buddha Vajradhara. There are many different Kriya (Performance) Tantra divided according to the three Buddha Families; Vajra (Akshobhya), Wheel (Vairochana) and Lotus (Amitabha). These are further catagorized according to the Three Great Bodhisattva Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Avalokiteshvara, each with their own consorts, attendants and worldly deities. The vast majority of the deity subjects in Himalayan art arise from either the Kriya or Anuttarayoga Tantra literature. (See Tantra Classification).
Layperson Appearance: the second of the three catagories of mahasiddhas based on physical appearance as depicted in literature and art. Mahasiddha that maintain common occupations are depicted as such. A farmer such as Kotalipa is decribed in literature and depicted in art as a farmer. Lilapa is a king, Goraknath is a cowherder, Shavaripa is a hunter, Vinapa is a musician, etc.
Lineage of Teachers (Skt. guru sampradaya): the chronological enumeration of religious teachers belonging to a specific family line, academic line, or line of initiation and instruction. The mahasiddha make up the early lineage of teachers for most of the Buddhist religious traditions of the Himalayas, Tibet and Central Asia.
Mahamudra (Skt.): the highest of four levels of spiritual attainment according to the Buddhist Tantric system of initiation and teaching.
Mahasiddha (Skt.) (Tib. drubtob chenpo): great (maha) accomplished one (siddha), or great [spiritually] accomplished one, also known as an Indian adept, the principal Indian teachers of Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, or any great religious teacher that is credited with having special attainments and powers. (See full definition).
Mahasiddha Appearance: (Mahasiddha, Siddha and Tantric Siddha Appearance).
Mandala (Skt.) (Tib. ): a circular diagram, highly technical and precise, representing the entire universe, the container and contained, animate and inanimate. Mandalas are painted on cloth, on the ceilings of temples, as murals, fashioned from metal, wood or stone, sometimes from coloured threads and also meticulously created from coloured sand.
Mantra (Skt.): a series of sounds believed to embody the nature of a deity. The three doors of action are the body, voice and mind. It is through the actions of these three that good actions and bad actions are produced. Mantra recitation forms part of the Deity Yoga practiced by the Indian siddha. The most well know mantra is that of the deity Avalokiteshvara and the mantra om mani padme hum, an epithet of the deity meaning jewelled lotus. Written mantra are commonly found on the reverse of a painting placed there as a record of the painting having had a brief or lengthy sanctification blessing or ritual (Tib. rabne). (See an example on the back of a painting).
Monastic Appearance: the first of the three catagories of mahasiddha based on physical appearance as described in literature and depicted in art. Monastic siddha wear the robes of monks in standard fashion and are not individually distinguishable as siddha, or mahasiddha, except by a name inscription, context, or other attributes such as in the depictions of Acharya Nagarjuna where he is usually shown with a hood of naga serpents above his head. Nagarjuna is represented in all of the common lists of eighty-four siddha and charaterizes the Monastic Apparance.
Mudra (Skt.): hand gestures, a highly symbolic and ritualized sign language used both in religion and Indian dance. Mudra can also refer to a sexual consort of a practitioner of Anuttarayoga Tantra.
Nalanda: the largest Buddhist monastery in India and often referred to as a university. It is located in the present day north Indian state of Bihar and was founded in the 5th century C.E. and destroyed during the Moslem invasions the same year Oxford University opened in England. Many of the famous mahasiddha are associated with Nalanda monastery along with the two smaller monasteries of Somapuri and Vikramashila to the east. (Also see Nalanda).
Nath (Skt.): a famous tradition of Hindu Tantra and yoga practice. Tantric Buddhism of India and the Nath Cult share the names of many siddha in common. It is not clear in the historical records if these siddhas such as Jalandhara and Goraknath represent the same people in both traditions.
Nath Sampradaya (Skt.): the lineage of teachers enumerated in the Nath religious tradition.
Oddiyana (Skt.): a commonly mentioned kingdom of ancient India where many of the siddha are said to have come from, or went to study. This is also the legendary home of King Indrabhuti and the teacher Padmasambhava. It is likely that Oddiyana is the same place as the ancient city or kingdom of Kanchi (Kanchipuram) in present day Madras, on the Bay of Bengal in South India. In Tibetan literature Oddiyana is said to be in the west. The Italian scholar of the first part of the 20th century, G. Tucci, helped to popularize this theory and has researched the Swat Valley as a possible location for this western kingdom of Oddiyana.
Orgyan: (see Oddiyana).
Outcaste: (see Caste System).
Palde: a Buddhist writer of the 12th century mentioned in the colophon of a text enumerating a list of the Eighty-four Mahasiddha accompanied by brief physical descriptions of each. Althouigh sharing some names, this list is for the most part different from the two more common siddha lists of Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Shri. It is not yet known if there are any paintings or sculpture that have been created using the Palde descriptions.
Pandita (Skt.): a common Tibetan Buddhist term used to describe either an Indian scholar that assisted, along with a Tibetan scholar, in the translating of Sanskrit texts into the Tibetan language, or a Tibetan scholar that translates Sanskrit into Tibetan.
Pita (pitha): twenty-four or more Tantric sacred locations.
Pose, or posture (Skt. Asana):  a static physical body position, or  a posture that relates to yoga exercise, such as Hatha Yoga, or  a posture or physical movement that relates to a meditation technique or spiritual system, known as Yantra Yoga in Buddhist Tantra.
Powers: (see Eight Powers).
Sadhaka (Skt.): a practitioner of the Tantric and Yogic technique of sadhana meaning special methods.
Sadhana (Tib. drub tab): 'method of accomplishment,' a highly structured Indian technical text focusing on Deity Yoga using various meditation and recitation techniques. A sadhana is the most basic tool for practicing the Two Stages of Yoga - Generation (Tib. kyerim) and Perfection (Tib. dzogrim).
Sahaja (Skt.): referring to the great bliss and mental clarity attained through Tantric practice.
Samadhi (Skt.): a state of mental concentration. There are many different types and levels of samadhi.
Samaya (Skt.): (see commitments and pledges).
Shrisena (Palde): a Buddhist writer of the 12th century mentioned in the colophon of a text enumerating a list of the Eighty-four Mahasiddha accompanied by brief physical descriptions of each. Althouigh sharing some names, this list is for the most part different from the two more common siddha lists of Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Shri. It is not yet known if there are any paintings or sculpture that have been created using the Palde descriptions.
Siddha (Skt.): accomplished one, a follower of a Tantric religious system and someone that has subsequently acquired measurable spiritual results and special powers called siddhi.
Siddhacharya (Skt.): a teacher (acharya) that is an accomplished one in the Tantric system.
Siddhi (Skt.): the powers that are achieved through the techniques taught in the Tantras. (See Eight Powers).
Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne (1700-1774): was particularly important in the development of Tibetan art and the creation of a new painting style based at Palpung Monastery. Situ Panchen commissioned new compositions based on Jonang iconography for depicting both the eighty-four great siddha and the eight great siddha.
Skullcup (Skt. kapala): the top of a skull, referring to a bowl made from the top of the human skull and used for specific ritual services related to the wrathful deities of Anuttarayoga Tantra. The skull represents emptiness, the body without a soul - egolessness.
Somapuri: a Buddhist monastery in Bengal, India (8th to 11th century), present day Bangladesh.
Tantra (Skt.): continuum, a genre of Hindu and Buddhist religious literature. The Tantras are technical manuals presenting the path to reaching enlightenment, or union with God, using expedient methods and techniques.
Tantra Classification: in Vajrayana Buddhism there are different ways of enumerating, cataloguing and catagorizing the many different texts in Tantra literature. Several different systems made their way to the Himalayas and Tibet. At the present time there are two systems in use, the Nyingma and the Sarma. (Full explanation).
Tantric Siddha Appearance: the third of the three catagories of mahasiddha based on physical appearance as depicted in literature and art. Common characteristics are disheveled appearance, unshorn facial hair, dressed in bone ornaments and often depicted in contrived and contorted postures, commonly holding a skullcup, sometimes accompanied by a consort. It is only the Tantric siddhas that have Mahasiddha Appearance. (See Virupa example).
Tantric Siddha Appearance Attributes: bone ornaments, earrings, skullcup, tiger skin skirt, vajra and bell, curved knife, katvanga staff, a mat of deer skin, tiger skin or human skin.
Tantrika (Skt.): a follower of the spiritual practices taught in the Indian religious literature known as Tantra.
Two Stages (Tib. ): the divisions of Buddhist Detiy Yoga. The two special forms of meditation unique to the Vajrayana Tradition: Generation Stage (Tib. kyerim) and Perfection Stage (Tib. dzogrim). These are also called the Two Stages of Yoga, Generation Stage Yoga and Perfection Stage Yoga.
Vajra (Skt.) (Tib. ) (English: the best stone):  from the Vedic literature, the scepter of the Hindu god Indra namely a lightening bolt,  from the Puranic literature, a weapon made from the bones of a rishi, and  a word representing Tantric Buddhism - Vajrayana. As a Buddhist scepter it is a small object made of metal generally having five or nine prongs at each end that bend inward to form two rounded shapes. As a Buddhist ritual object it is typically accompanied by a bell (Skt.: ghanta. Tib. dril bu) with a half-vajra handle. The vajra and bell together represent method and wisdom.
Vajradhara, Buddha (Skt.) (Tib. ) (English: the Vajra Holder, Enlightened One). The primordial buddha, personification of the dharmakaya - truth body of enlightenment and progenitor of the Vajrayana system of Buddhism. The New (Tib. sarma) Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, beginning in the 10th century, believe that Vajradhara is the secret, or inner, form of Shakyamuni Buddha and the combined essence of all the buddhas of the ten directions and three periods of time gathered as one. It is from Vajradhara that such meditational deities, based in Tantric literature, as Guhyasamaja, Shri Hevajra and Chakrasamvara arise. According to the Nyingmapa School, Vajradhara is an activity emanation of Buddha Samantabhadra. A common theme in Himalayan painting is to place the Buddha Vajradhara as the central subject and to surround him with the Eighty-four Indian Adepts (mahasiddha). Described in the Five Stages and Thirteen Grounds of the (Mahayana) bodhisattva path of practice, the thirteenth ground is called vajradhara bhumi. The last three grounds constitute full buddhahood, also known as complete enlightenment.
Vajrasana (Skt.): there were three famous abbots of Bodhgaya Monastery (Vajrasana Vihara) known by the name Vajrasana and referred to as the elder, the middling, or the younger. An 11th century Sanskrit text, in four-line verse, praises each of the eighty-four mahasiddha. This text, the Praise to the Eighty-four Mahasiddha, names a Vajrasana as the author in the colophon. This author is likely to be the elder, or middling of the three. There is a curious irregularity with the Vajrasana enumeration of the mahasiddhas. Even though the title and the colophon state cleary that it is a verse Praise to the Eighty-four Mahasiddha there are in fact eighty-five mahasiddha named in eighty-five four line metered verses. This anomaly remains unexplained.
Vajrasana System of Mahasiddha: the system refers to the names listed and their order along with their representation in art as derived from the 11th century Sanskrit text Praise to the Eighty-four Mahasiddha. There are only two popular systems for representing the eighty-four mahasiddha in art, the Abbot Vajrasana and the scholar Abhayadatta Shri, also known as Abhayakaragupta.
Vajrayana (Skt.): Tantric Buddhism, the form of Northern Buddhism that relies primarily on the Tantra, technical manuals said to have been taught by the Buddha, and believed to offer complete enlightenment in one, seven or twenty-one lifetimes.
Vikramashila: the name of a Buddhist monastery in Bengal, India (8th to 11th century). (Also see Vikramashila).
Yantra (Skt.): diagram, device, also referring to active yogic postures in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Yoga (Skt.): an ancient philosophical system of India included under the broad designation of Hinduism. Yoga is also a form of gentle physical training, Hatha Yoga, associated with Hindu and Buddhist Tantra. Yoga also refers to the two types of meditation practice in Tantric Buddhism, Generation Stage and Perfection Stage. Yantra Yoga refers to the physically aggressive training in Tantric Buddhism and Karma Yoga refers to the path using esoteric sexual practices as a path to enlightenment.
Yoga/Yogi Appearance: spiritual aspirants clad in simple garments, often without any jewelery, high seats or attendants. The yogi represent the abandonment of a worldly life and the embracing of an ascetic lifestyle as a means to discipline the mind and reach enlightenment. The early models for this appearance in literature and art are the descriptions and depictions of the rishi, ascetic, often forest recluse practitioners, of the Indian Vedic tradition of early Hinduism. Some Himalayan examples of this appearance are Milarepa (Tib. ) Rechungpa (Tib. ) and Tangtong Gyalpo (Tib. ).
Yoga Tantra: a class of Buddhist Tantra. There are six principle Tantras belonging to the Yoga Classification.
Yogi (Skt.): a male practitioner of yoga, Hindu or Buddhist, and a practitioner of physical yoga.
Yogini (Skt.): a female practitioner of yoga, Hindu or Buddhist, and a practitioner of physical yoga. In Buddhist Tantra a Yogini can also be a deity, a Buddha emanation in a female goddess form. In Tantric Buddhism the two terms yogini and dakini are used almost anonymously. (See Vajrayogini and Dakini).
[Jeff Watt, December 2005, updated 4-2019]