Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Vajrasattva, Heruka

Vajrasattva Iconography

Subjects, Topics & Styles:
- Description (below)
- Purification Deities
- Masterworks
- Confusions: Vajrapani, Vajradhara, White Chakrasamvara
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- Vajrasattva Introduction
- Vajrapani & Vajrasattva Confusions

Vajrasattva with Consort, Heruka (Tibetan: dor je sem pa yab yum. English: Vajra Hero, Father-Mother): a Vajrayana meditational deity generally related to the process of Anuttarayoga initiation and empowerment rituals (wang kur, abhisheka) and a meditational deity specifically used for the purification of sins and defilements within the practice systems of major Tantric cycles such as Guhyasamaja, Hevajra and Chakrasamvara.

In the New (Sarma) Schools of Tibetan Buddhism Vajrasattva with consort arises from the class of Anuttarayoga Tantra. In the Chakrasamvara cycle of Tantras Vajrasattva is specifically taught in the Abhidhanottara Tantra, 25th chapter, and is known as Heruka Vajrasattva. This form of the deity embraces the consort with the two hands across the back. In the Nyingma tradition Vajrasattva holds the vajra at the upper back of the consort and the bell at her lower left backside. Both jewel ornaments and bone ornaments are described in the liturgy.

"...the bhagavan Vajrasattva Shri Heruka, with a body white in colour, one face, two hands holding a vajra and bell embracing the Mother. Adorned with six bone ornaments, seated with the legs in vajra posture, with the Lord of the Family as a crown - the same in appearance. In the lap is the Mother Vajragarvi, with a body white in colour, holding a curved knife and skullcup, adorned with five bone ornaments, in union." (Sakya liturgy).

The name of the female consort can vary between Tantra systems depending on the Tantra source literature and the specific description.

Depictions of Vajrasattva in sculpture and painting are commonly confused with the similar deities Vajradhara, Vajrapani, Vajravidarana, the Five Symbolic Buddhas in Sambhogakaya form, and others. In a number of Yoga Tantra examples the form of Vajrapani, in the Sarvadurgati Parishodhana Tantra system, appears exactly the same as the typical 'Solitary Hero' Vajrasattva. A sculpture of the primordial Buddha Vajradhara has the exact same physical iconographic appearance as Heruka Vajrasattva - also depicted with the two hands holding a vajra and bell crossed in embrace holding the consort. In paintings the Heruka Vajrasattva would be painted white while the Vajradhara form always appears blue in colour. In physical appearance Vajrasattva and Vajravidarana are only different because Vajrasattva holds a single vajra scepter while Vajravidarana holds a double vajra scepter. Vajravidarana can also appear in either a white, green or blue form.

Jeff Watt 8-2012 [updated 5-2017]