How is Buddha different from Lord Shiva

Vajrapani: The general of esoteric Buddhism

Vajrapani The general of esoteric Buddhism

Gods can be de-contextualized and re-contextualized, but they always preserve traces of their former contexts, and these traces, when re-actualized, may affect their new status in surprising ways.1

Vajrapāṇi - Vajrapāṇi (skt.) वज्रपाणि "Vajrahand", Vajra bearer, Japanese Kongōshu 金剛 手; - (skt. "Der den vajravajra (skt.) वज्र "Thunderbolt", ritual instrument and symbol of tantristic / esoteric Buddhism, jap. Congo 金剛; - holds in hand ”) plays a central role in esoteric Buddhism in Tibet. He counts here together with Avalokiteshvara - Avalokiteśvara (skt.) अवलोकितेश्वर “Lord who perceives [the world] below”, Bodhisattva, Japanese Kannon 観 音 or Kanzeon 観 世 音; - (Japanese Kannon - Kannon 観 音 also Kanzeon 観 世 音, wtl. who hears the sound of the world; skt. Avalokiteśvara; Chinese guanyin; known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion; -) and Manjushri - Mañjuśrī (skt.) मञ्जुश्री Bodhisattva of wisdom, Japanese Monju 文殊; - (Japanese Monju) to the three most important Bodhisattvas - Bodhisattva (skt.) बोधिसत्त्व "Enlightened Being", jap. bosatsu 菩薩; - and is considered the most powerful protector of Buddhism. In this role he usually takes the form of an angry man yakshayakṣa (skt.) यक्ष supernatural being, spirit, demon, jap. yasha 夜叉; - -Demons2, in which other protective deities, e.g. Mahakala - Mahākāla (skt.) महाकाल "Great Black", esoteric deity, Japanese Makakara 摩訶 迦羅 or Daikoku; - can occur. While other wrathful protector deities have prevailed in Japan, both Tibetan and Japanese wrathful deities seem to refer to similar basic types of esoteric Buddhism (mikkyōmikkyō密 教 esoteric Buddhism, tantrism; wtl. secret teaching; Counterpart to kengyō; -) to go back.

Vajrapani (Bhutadamara) (Image: Himalayan Art). Vajrapani with four arms, three eyes. In the right, spread-away hand a vajra, in the left a rope, the other two arms to the mudra formed to ward off demons (cf. Gōsanze Mudra). Dances on the corpse of a demon (Aparajita) with also four arms and an elephant trunk.
1 Vajrapani on a Tibetan thangka, 18th century (detail)
Four arms, three eyes, dancing on a corpse with a vajra in hand

Demon-like deities like Vajrapani have predatory teeth and a third eye, their jewelry includes skulls and a loincloth made of tiger skin, they dance a kind of victory dance on the corpses of their slain opponents. Similar to the peaceful bodhisattvas, they differ from each other mainly in the attributes they hold in their hands or in certain paranormal body features, such as the color of the skin or the number of arms and legs. The vajravajra (skt.) वज्र "Thunderbolt", ritual instrument and symbol of tantristic / esoteric Buddhism, jap. Congo 金剛; - is Vajrapani's most typical attribute, to which he owes his name. A vajra (sometimes translated as "diamond" or "thunderbolt") serves as an important ritual object in esoteric Buddhism and is also considered a magical weapon.

What is a vajra?

  1. In the Vedas the scepter of Indra in the form of a thunderbolt.
  2. In Puranic (Hindu) literature a weapon made from the bones of a healer (rishi).
  3. Ritual instrument and symbol of tantristic / esoteric Buddhism, Vajrayana - Vajrayāna (skt.) वज्रयन "Vajra vehicle", Tantrism, esoteric Buddhism, jap. mikkyō 密 教 or Kongō-jō 金剛 乗; - (vehicle of vajra). Usually made of metal with five or nine (in Japan also one or three) inwardly curved prongs at both ends.

Definition according to Himalayan Art

The demonic protective deities of Tibetan Buddhism can largely be traced back to Indian origins and are also represented in other Buddhist regions - albeit mostly less prominently. When looking at it for the first time, the question arises how this iconography is related to the peaceful image of the usual Buddha - bukkyō仏 教 teachings of the Buddha, Buddhism; - and Bodhisattva - bosatsu菩薩 Bodhisattva, Buddhist salvation figure; - statues is to be reconciled. In this context, one very soon comes across explanations that see in such representations a metaphysical struggle against delusion and worldly desires and usually explain exactly how the crown with the five skulls won the victory over the "five poisons" (panca kleshavishapañca kleśaviṣa (skt.) पञ्चक्लेशविष “Five Poisons”, falsehood, pride, lust, jealousy and hatred; five passions (klesha) that bind people to this world; -) symbolizes. But why does the representation of violence or punishment take up more space than the representation of the reward? And why does this type of representation appear relatively late in Buddhism and mostly in connection with esoteric trends? With the following examples from the iconography of the "vajra-Trägers “an approach to these questions should be attempted.

Origin and earliest iconography

A frequently cited theory is that Vajrapani was originally derived from the Vedic thunderstorm and war god Indra - Indra (skt.) इन्द्र high Indian deity, comparable to Zeus / Jupiter, Japanese Taishaku-ten 帝釋 天; - who also developed a vajra as an emblem, and the name Vajrapani is one of his epithets. The vajra, which Indra holds in her hand, is by the way both a weapon and a royal scepter and is also interpreted as a “thunder stick”, as it is also used by Zeus and Thor.

But early depictions from Gandhara - Gandhāra (skt.) गन्धार Kingdom in today's Pakistan or city of the same name (also Purushapura, today Peshavar); after the Greek conquests under Alexander the great under the influence of the Hellenistic culture, later, in the 1st – 3rd centuries. Century C.E. Capital of the Buddhist Kushana Empire; early center of Buddhist art; - (1st to 3rd century in today's Pakistan), who portray Vajrapani in Graeco-Buddhist style, do not identify this figure as a king or ruler. He appears here as a kind of bodyguard in the entourage of Buddha Shakyamuni - Śākyamuni (skt.) शाक्यमुनि "The sage of the Shakya clan", Gautama Siddhartha, Japanese Shaka 釈 迦 or Shakamuni 釈 迦 牟尼; - in appearance. What is striking is the strong relationship with the Greek hero Heracles - Heracles (west) also Hercules, hero of ancient Greece, known for his extraordinary strength; -. The vajra in his hand resembles a club, which Herakles also likes to carry.

The warlike figures Heracles and Indra could both be responsible for the many violent aspects in the later development of the Vajrapani.

From peaceful bodhisattva to angry demon

At first, however, Vajrapani appears to have gone from being a Buddha's bodyguard to a Bodhisattva - Bodhisattva (skt.) बोधिसत्त्व "Enlightened Being", jap. bosatsu 菩薩; - to have worked up. As such, he is depicted in a peaceful androgynous form with a mild smile and relaxed features. Representations of this kind are likely to have been common in India in the seventh and eighth centuries, but occasionally appear later in Tibet. The only thing this iconographic form has in common with the angry Vajrapani is that vajra in his hand.

Even the peaceful Vajrapani is sometimes accompanied by a dwarf demon, who in technical terms is called krodhakrodha (skt.) क्रोध "Anger", wrathful deity, jap. funnuson 憤怒 尊; - -deity, i.e. the wrathful protective deity. This demon initially plays a similar role to the Bodhisattva Vajrapani as Vajrapani himself does to Buddha. The special iconographic elaboration of the wrathful-demonic Vajrapani with his threatening facial expressions and the characteristic dance on the corpses of his enemies only appears with the advent of tantrism - tantra (skt.) तन्त्र “tissue”, textbook of esoteric Buddhism (similar to sutra, but mostly with ritual content); - or esoteric Buddhism to be done.

Vajrapani (Image: Amico Library). Early example of a warlike Vajrapani with predatory teeth, snake chain, hair standing on end and bulging eyes. Here, however, not yet dancing, but in the half lotus position typical of peaceful Bodhisattvas.
Trailokyavijaya (Conqueror of the Three Worlds) (Image: Huntington Archive). Trailokyavijaya (Japanese Gōzanze) is an epithet of Vajrapani. It refers to the fact that Vajrapani defeated the god Shiva, the lord of the three worlds (world of gods, world of men, underworld). Shiva and his playmate Parvati (or Umā) are also the two corpses on which Trailokyavijaya dances. Vajrapani in this manifestation has four heads (the fourth facing backwards) and eight arms. Of his eight hands (which must have also held a vajra) only the innermost ones are preserved. They form the mudra (hand gesture) "defense against calamity", which can also be seen on Japanese illustrations by Gōzanze Myōō. (Dating from Linroth 1999, Ruthless Compassion, P. 196.)
11 Nalanda, India, 10th century
The warlike aspects of Vajrapani

The submission of Shiva by Vajrapani

Vajrapani's change from a peaceful Bodhisattva to a warlike “conqueror of the three worlds” is directly linked to a tantristic legend that he is the martial companion of the highest of all esoteric Buddhas, Mahavairocana - Mahāvairocana (skt.) महावैरोचन "Great Sun, Great Light", also Vairocana, Japanese Dainichi 大 日; - (Japanese Dainichi - Dainichi Nyorai 大 日 如 来 Buddha Vairocana, the "cosmic Buddha"; wtl. "Great Light" or "Great Sun"; -), identifies. In its earliest form, the legend can be found in a Chinese text from the eighth century:

... Then Vajrapani raised his vajra away from his heart and waving it, he surveyed the whole circle of the threefold world to its limits. He spoke: “Come my friends, to the teachings of the Tathagatas. Obey my command! " ... Then Maheshvara - Maheśvara (skt.) महेश्वर "Great Lord / God", epithet of Shiva, Japanese Daijizai-ten 大 自在 天; -, the lord of the whole threefold world in this worldly sphere, proud of his overlordship of the whole threefold world, appeared very wrathful and said:

“Listen you yaksha, I am Ishvara - īśvara (skt.) ईश्वर "Lord", King, God; -, Lord of the threefold world, creator, destroyer, Lord of all Spirits, God of Gods, Mighty God. So how should I carry out the order of a yaksha ...
Listen, you evil being, quickly enter the mandalamaṇḍala (skt.) मण्डल "Circle", schematic representation of the cosmic order, jap. mandara 曼荼羅; - and hold my pledge. ... ”

Then Maheshvara by the power of his overlordship of the threefold world and of his own knowledge, together with his whole company, manifested a fearful and wrathful and greatly terrifying form ... Then Vajrapani, waving his vajra and laughing, said:

“Approach you eater of corpses and human flesh, you who use the ashes of the funeral pyres as your food, as your couch, as your clothing, obey my command! ... ”

Then Vajrapani pronounced his own vajra-syllable: “Hum!” As soon as he pronounced this, all the great gods who belong to the threefold world, fell down on their faces, emitting miserable cries, and they went to Vajrapani for protection. The Great God himself remained motionless on the ground, ... 3

According to this legend, Vajrapani gets its name, "vajra-Bearer "after Mahavairocana him through a mantramantra (skt.) मन्त्र prayer formula, jap. shingon 真言; - (magic formula) transformed into a warlike monster. Mahavairocana surrenders to the transformed Vajrapani vajra-Scepter and declares him to be a general of Buddhist doctrine to the most powerful enemy of Buddhism, Shiva - Śiva (skt.) शिव "auspicious", Indian deity, also Maheshvara or Ishvara, Japanese Daijizai-ten 大 自在 天; - to submit. Vajrapani succeeds in defeating Shiva by intoning the mantra "Hum". While Shiva's entourage can be "converted" immediately, Shiva (together with his playmate Umā) stubbornly opposes the teachings of the Buddha and must therefore be killed by Vajrapani.4 This myth evidently arose from Buddhism's conflict with Shivaism. He is one of the fundamental legends of the origin of all esoteric Buddhism.

In the later development of esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Vajrapani rises alongside Avalokiteshvara - Avalokiteśvara (skt.) अवलोकितेश्वर “Lord who perceives [the world] below”, Bodhisattva, Japanese Kannon 観 音 or Kanzeon 観 世 音; - (Kannon - Kannon 観 音 also Kanzeon 観 世 音, wtl. who hears the sound of the world; skt. Avalokiteśvara; Chinese guanyin; known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion; -) and Mañjuśrī to the three most important Bodhisattvas. Together they stand for the compassion (Avalokiteśvara), the wisdom (Mañjuśrī) and the power (Vajrapani) of all Buddhas of the past, present and future.Although all three bodhisattvas have both wrathful and peaceful manifestations, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri are predominantly depicted as peaceful, while Vajrapani are predominantly depicted as angry. This is likely to have something to do with the aforementioned legend of the submission of Shiva. Different tantristic texts apparently varied both the legends and the names of Shiva's conquerors, so that ultimately a number of similar protective figures (Mahakala, etc.) emerged. There are even female protector deities, for example, as converted demons (Dakini - Dakini 荼 枳 尼 female Buddhist. Protective deity identified with Inari; skt. Dākinī; also: man-eating demon; -, Vajrayogini - Vajrayoginī (skt.) वज्रयोगिनी female Buddhist. Protective deity identified with Inari; also: man-eating demon; -) can be interpreted. The original models for all these figures, however, represent the enemies of Buddhism they fought (primarily Shiva). The attributes (weapons, etc.) of these enemies are incorporated into Buddhism and transferred to the victorious Buddhist figures. For example, many Buddhist protectors wear a loincloth made of tiger skin - originally an attribute of Shiva.

Vajrapani in Japan

In Japan the figure of Vajrapani is less prominent than in Tibetan Buddhism and has also been split up into several individual figures, each representing a certain level of development in Vajrapani iconography. In an iconographically early form, one encounters Vajrapani under the name Shukongō-jin - Shukongō-jin 執 金剛 神 skt. Vajrapani; Buddhist guardian figure; - (see figure below). This form has been documented in Japan since the eighth century and is closely related to the gatekeepers still common today (niōniō仁王 guardian figure, gatekeeper; -), also under designations such as kongoshukongoshu金剛 手 Vajra hand, skt. Vajrapani; see also Niō; - or kongo rikishikongo rikishi金剛 力士 Buddhist guardian figure, "Vajra power guy"; Synonym Niō; - are known. They are mostly single-pronged vajra armed. They too existed in the eighth century. Finds from the Thousand Buddha Caves in Dunhuang - Dunhuang (Chin.) 敦煌 oasis city on the Silk Road between the Tarim Basin and China; trading center mostly dominated by China, but temporarily also by Tibet; Buddhist center with extensive cave temples; - (Northwest China) prove that similar figures must have been well known in China at the time (fig. Right). As guardians of the temple gates, these early manifestations of Vajrapani still play a rather subordinate role. With a little imagination, one can still recognize the Hellenistic bodyguard of the Buddha in the form of Heracles.

Gosanze Myōō. Gōzanze Myōō (Skt. Trailokyavijaya) with four faces and eight arms, dancing on the bodies of Shiva and his playmate Parvati (Umā). Statue from the group of the "Five Great Myōō" (Godai Myōō) of the Tōji in Kyōto, which was created as a three-dimensional mandala and completed in 839 by order of Kūkai, together with other figures of esoteric Buddhism. S.a. Tōji kōbō-ichi (2011/10)
15 Gōzanze Myōō (Heian period)
Esoteric form of Vajrapani.

Although separated by many centuries, one notices an astonishing similarity in the iconographic details of these two representations. The picture on the right is taken from this Zūzō-shō, an iconographic manual that was made around 1140, but has only survived in later copies.

The fully developed esoteric form of Vajrapani is shown in Gōzanze Myōō - Gōzanze Myōō 降 三世 明王 skt. Trailokyavijaya, one of the Five Great Myōō; - (skt. Trailokyavijaya - Trailokyavijaya (skt.) त्रैलोक्यविजय "Conqueror of the three worlds", one of the Five Great Myōō, Japanese Gōzanze 降 三世; -, Conqueror of the Three Worlds), one of the Five Great Mantra-Kings. His name refers to the legend of the submission of Shiva mentioned above. This figure became known in Japan along with esoteric Buddhism in the early ninth century. The oldest Japanese representations are as old or older than comparable finds from India, which proves that the texts on which this representation is based spread across the entire world of Mahayana within two or three generations. Mahāyāna (skt.) महायान "large vehicle", Buddhist direction, jap. daijō bukkyō 大乗; - spread Buddhism. But this wrathful protective deity in Japan remains clearly behind Fudō Myōō in terms of status and significance - Fudō Myōō 不 動 明王 most prominent Japanese myōō (Mantra king), wtl. "The immovable"; - (skt. Acala - Acala (skt.) अचल "Immobile", nickname of the most important mantra king in Japan, Japanese Fudō 不 動; -) and is largely unknown today. Conversely, Acala / Fudō is far less prominent outside of Japan than Vajrapani. This shows that there are great regional differences within the various esoteric traditions of Buddhism, despite common basic texts.


If one assumes purely external characteristics, we find two basic types in Vajrapani's warlike iconography: On the one hand, the tall figures who sometimes wear armor, but are also often depicted almost naked with bulging muscles and veins. On the other hand, the stocky, fat-bellied dwarfs, which are often endowed with animal features such as predator teeth, usually have numerous arms and heads and mainly dance on the corpses of their enemies. The first type can possibly actually be traced back to the figure of the Hellenistic Heracles. The second is likely to go back to the Indian yaksha demons, who were originally enemies of Buddhism, but were then "converted" and converted into guardians without losing their fearsome characteristics. Vajrapani does not seem to be clearly assigned to any of these basic forms. Even its eponymous attribute, the vajra, can be traced back to the club of Heracles as well as to the "thunderbolt" of Indian mythology. Thus it seems as if two iconographic memories, one Hellenistic and one “Hindu”, are stored in the warlike figure of Vajarapani. While Vajrapani in Tibet is mostly the pot-bellied demon today, the Japanese Niō are more reminiscent of Heracles. Often there are also mixed forms, such as muscular but slender figures that assume the characteristic dance pose of the yakshas, ​​such as the Japanese gōzanze Myōō.

A revaluation of Vajrapani came relatively late in the development of Buddhist iconography, in connection with so-called esoteric or tantristic Buddhism. Only in this tradition do "wrathful" krodha- Deities have a similar or even higher status than peaceful Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In a study published in 2002, the Indologist Ronald Davidson - Ronald Davidson (West) American Indologist and religious scholar at Fairfield University in Connecticut; - the emergence of esoteric Buddhism primarily related to two factors: 1) the increasing militarization of India in the early Indian Middle Ages (6th - 8th centuries) and 2) the accompanying triumph of Shaivism, that is, that direction of "Hinduism", who sees Shiva as the supreme ruler of the world. In a politically highly changeable time with numerous military conflicts, this denomination succeeded in equipping Shiva with new martial aspects that were attractive to the warlords. In Davidson's view, Buddhism was forced to bring new deities into play against the competition of Shiva followers, who followed the teachings of Buddha - Buddha (skt.) बुद्ध "The Enlightened One", jap. butsu (hotoke) 仏 or Budda 仏 陀; - defended well.

Although esoteric Buddhism spread rapidly within the world of Mahayana, the new protective deities it brought with it are not equally popular everywhere. The different evaluations of the status of Vajrapani, Acala (Fudō) and other guardian gods suggest that there were and are different views as to which warrior figure deserves the highest status and what exactly their area of ​​responsibility should be. The art historian Rob Linrothe - Rob Linrothe (west.) 1951–; American art historian and professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; - tried the different forms of krodha-Divide iconography into historical phases of development that correlate with changes in theory and practice within esoteric Buddhism itself. With Linrothes model the differences between Japanese and Tibetan Vajrapani representations can be explained well, since Tibet was essentially shaped by late esoteric Buddhism, while in Japan the dominant influence of Kūkai - Kūkai 空 海 774–835, founder of Shingon Buddhism; Proper name Saeki Mao, honor name Kōbō Daishi; - and his school was able to sustainably push through an earlier phase of development and shape Japanese iconography to this day. So, interestingly, Japan represents an earlier stage of esoteric Buddhism than Tibet.

Regardless of these differences, it should be noted that these warlike figures found their way into most Buddhist regions. They were evidently needed especially in times of war, when Buddhist monks were also forced to defend property or life with weapons or to intervene actively in military conflicts. In Japan, too, martial protective deities arose, who were less intended to attract the faithful than to deter the enemies of Buddhism. They flourished in connection with esoteric Buddhism during the Japanese Middle Ages, when the country was politically fragmented and marked by civil wars. The fact that a pronounced aspect of violence found its way into iconography in numerous regions of the Buddhist world seems to be related to the experience of actual military violence.