Symbolism of the Vajra and Bell
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Courtesy of Himalayan Art Resources
On the Symbolism of the Vajra and Bell
by Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpé Nyima
The vajra and bell, which a mantra practitioner must never be without, are highly significant, as they symbolize all the stages of mantra practice.
The vajra represents the aspect of appearance. It is therefore a sign of the ultimate key point of the path of unsurpassable mantra, the so-called primordial wisdom of great bliss as the method. Its rounded hub signifies the primordial wisdom of meditative equipoise upon emptiness, dharmatā or suchness, which is free from dualistic perception. This primordial wisdom has the character of bringing freedom—and being free—from all stains at the time of the path and fruition, and its essence cannot possibly become defiled. The vajra’s five upper and lower prongs represent the five wisdoms and the true nature of the five objects. It features the faces of sea-monsters (makara), which symbolize the embrace of great compassion, and garlands of jewels, which signify that this wisdom uninterruptedly fulfils the wishes of beings to be trained. In addition, its five upper and lower prongs and their decoration with eight lotus petals and garlands of jewels symbolize the buddhas of the five families together with their consorts, the male and female bodhisattvas, and the enlightened activity of taming beings, as the expression of this same primordial wisdom.
The bell symbolizes the wisdom that realizes dharmatā or emptiness. The face of Dhātvīśvarī represents directly seeing the nature of all phenomena through the primordial wisdom of great bliss. Its garland of vajras signifies the meditative equipoise in which the enlightened mind of the victorious ones never departs from dharmatā. Its vase symbolizes that all the qualities of the paths and stages are complete within primordial wisdom. Its sea-monster faces signify that this primordial wisdom has the character of great compassion, and the garlands and pendants of jewels symbolize the uninterruptedness of the enlightened activity that is the expression of wisdom. Know too that such features as the lotus petals and five prongs at the top signify this primordial wisdom’s manifestation as deities, including the five female buddhas and eight female bodhisattvas.
There is still further symbolism, but this will serve as a foundation.
May virtue abound!
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2022.
Tibetan Edition Used
'jigs med bstan pa'i nyi ma. rdo grub chen ’jigs med bstan pa’i nyi ma’i gsung 'bum. 7 vols. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003. (BDRC W25007). Vol. 7: 409-410
The original text is untitled; this title has been added by the translator ↩