Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Vajrapani Main Page (Peaceful & Wrathful)

Vajrapani Masterworks

- Art History

- Iconography

- Religious Context

Vajrapani, Bodhisattva (Tibetan: chag na dor je. English: the Vajra Holder): one of the eight heart-sons of the Buddha Shakyamuni according to Mahayana Buddhism.

In the Sutra tradition of Mahayana Buddhism the bodhisattva Vajrapani is regarded as one of the Eight Heart-sons of Shakyamuni Buddha and portrayed in a peaceful appearance. In the tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, Vajrapani is more typically shown in a wrathful form and known as Guhyapati - 'the Lord of Secrets.' He is the said to be the main recipient, holder, and protector of all the Tantra texts, literature, and teachings received from the Buddha Shakyamuni (in the appearance of Vajradhara Buddha).

Tibetan: Sangdag Chagna Dorje (g.sang bdag phyag na rdo rje)

Sanskrit: Vajrapani Tibetan: chag na dor je

There are Three Main Topics & Divisions:
1. Non-iconic (narrative based): a student of the Buddha from Mahayana literature
2. Iconic (meditational deity): based on the Tantra (Vajrayana) literature
3. Similar & Related Forms: related forms and forms that look like Vajrapani

From the model of the Lower Tantras Vajrapani symbolizes the body of all buddhas of the ten directions and three times and represents enlightened activity. The bodhisattva Manjushri represents mind and Avalokiteshvara that of speech. In Tantric practice Vajrapani is a meditational deity, and considered a Buddha, with numerous forms found in all of the four levels of Tantra classification and popular in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism - new and old.

The two wrathful forms of Vajrapani known as the Sutra Tradition (do lug) and the Nilambhara (dro zang lug), each with one face and two hands, do not have skull crowns or wrathful ornaments such as the fifty freshly severed heads. They do however wear the eight races of nagas depicted as snakes - bracelets, anklets, etc. Mahachakra Vajrapani is sometimes depicted with a skull crown and at other times shown with a jeweled crown. Almost all of the other wrathful forms of Vajrapani have the same fearsome regalia as typical of wrathful Tantric deities such as Vajrabhairava, Vajrakila, Mahakala and the like. The various forms of Vajrapani as a meditational deity are derived from the textual sources of the early Tantras.

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Jeff Watt 2-1999 [updated 4-2011, 6-2013, 12-2019]