About Vajra and Bell, Buddhist Ritual Tools


Vajra in the original Sanskrit translates both as “adamantine” and “thunderbolt”. A Buddhist ritual object resembling a small scepter, it symbolizes the eternal quality of a diamond – an extremely durable substance that cuts but cannot be cut – and the overwhelming force of the thunderbolt. In non-material terms, these qualities represent the resolute spirit and great power.

The vajra is accompanied by a ghanta or bell in Tantric and Vajrayana Buddhist rituals. The vajra represents compassion, here a male principle; the bell symbolizes the feminine principle of wisdom. Vajra and ghanta can be seen in the hands of several Buddhist deities. Enlightenment can be accomplished only when wisdom and compassion unite. In another interpretation, vajra represents the mind and ghanta the body. The sound of the bell is the Buddha’s speech.

The vajra has a central sphere representing sunyata, the limitless void of the universe. From this emerge two sixteen-petaled lotus blossoms, one denoting samsara, the material world and the other, nirvana, a sphere that lies beyond human consciousness. The periphery of each lotus features five prongs consisting of sets of two, four or eight mythical creatures, whose tongues unite at a point. Each set represents negative qualities from the material world (“poisons”) and their opposing, superior qualities or “wisdoms”, associated with spiritually enlightened beings. Thus, the poison of delusion is analogous to the wisdom of reality; likewise, the mirror-image of pride is equanimity. The five wisdoms are linked to five Buddhas – Amitabha, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Vairocana and Amogasiddhi.

A vajra with closed prongs is a benign object held by compassionate deities. In the hands of wrathful deities, the prongs are open; it becomes a symbol of righteous anger, wielded against injustice.