Jennifer’s Body: The Thunderbolt

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Thunderbolt

Thanks to modern science, we now know how and why lightning flashes across the sky. It requires that a specific set of conditions be in place. Most frequently, it’s the collision between of two masses of air – one warm, the other cold – that creates the turbulence and upheaval of a storm.

These masses of air carry moisture, what we call clouds: water caught up in the heavens. Depending upon their temperature, they carry moisture differently: some are fine like a mist; some are filled with ice; others are laden with water, ready to burst. The more saturated they become, the more they take on darker colors.

When water-filled clouds collide – one mass slamming into another – an electrical charge is produced: ice crystals develop a positive charge while warmer water becomes negative. When turbulence separates them, a polarity is created, each mass carrying an opposite charge, increasing the likelihood of a lightning strike.

When the charge carried by a cloud becomes unbearable, that’s when it seeks to undo the tension, ever on alert for an opposite that’ll help provide relief. When an inverse is found, that’s when a streak of lightning pierces the gap, a massive discharge of electricity crossing the sky.

All brought about by a collision of clouds in the heavens,
a crucial difference in their temperature, and
the state of the water they carry.

L'Origine (by Emy Blesio)

Even though they possessed a different language, the ancients clearly understood all of this. And more. The Gods of Thunder the world over – like Indra, Thor and Zeus – is evidence of this.

They’re usually considered “father” or “master” of the pantheon of gods, which means they wield a power unavailable to the others. This power is symbolized by the thunderbolt, not because they’re the cause or source of lightning, but because they’ve learned how to harness its awesome force.

According to legend, Indra used the thunderbolt against the monster who obstructed the waters. The monster was called Vritra, meaning “storm cloud” and “foe.” Their battle lasted an entire year, and was brought to an end only after Indra struck the thunderbolt between the shoulders of his enemy, the backside of his heart.

The waters that were once trapped in a cave were released and allowed to flow. So crucial was this achievement, no longer did Indra have any other enemies to fight: by reversing the power of the thundercloud against itself, he gained an eternal and perfect victory.

According to the Rig Veda, Sarasvati accomplished the exact same feat.

Vajra-Yudha

Artistic portrayals vary in their depiction of Indra’s weapon. Sometimes it looks like what we’d expect: bright like a laser burning through the sky. At other times, however, it looks quite different, leaving one to wonder what this “thunderbolt” is all about.

The ancient texts provide an important clue, telling us that it was made of bone:

So powerful was the monster, no ordinary weapon could defeat him. After all, he was the first-born dragon created to avenge the tragedy that befell his older brother, creating a binary system of defense that worked by hoarding the waters.

According to legend, only the bones of the sage Dadhichi could defeat the monster. He had lived all alone in the forest ever since Shiva and Shakti were separated. But Indra had slighted the sage before: would the holy man now accede to Indra’s highly unusual request? Luckily, the sage consented, saying it would be much better than his body rotting in the ground.

So, using the sacred art of Yoga, he sacrificed his life for Indra’s endeavor. Once the sacrifice was completed, the Vajra was then constructed from his spine.

Peaceful vs. Wrathful Vajras

Vajrayana draws upon the same tradition, one of three Buddhist paths to enlightenment: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Of these three, Vajrayana is considered esoteric since the transmission of teachings can only be understood within the context of the sacred student-teacher relationship.

In Tibet, the thunderbolt is known as Dorje (“lord of stones”), a variant of Vajra (“hard or mighty”), emphasizing what cannot be cut or broken. In Tibetan Buddhism, this symbolizes the impenetrable, imperishable, immovable, indivisible and indestructible nature of ultimate reality: the Enlightenment of Buddhahood.

The Vajra is the quintessential ritual implement and symbol of Vajrayana, also known as the Diamond Path or the Thunderbolt Way. It’s most common form has five-prongs; when represented in two-dimensions, it has three.

The sphere at the Vajra’s center represents primordial reality, the origin of all of creation. Microcosmically, it represents the heart. Two lotuses blossom from here, one pointing to the noumenal world above (nirvana), the other pointing to the phenomenal world below (samsara).

The prongs that emerge from these lotuses can be open or closed. Vajras with prongs that are open are “wrathful,” signifying the capacity to destroy all negativity and illusion. Vajras with prongs merged together are “peaceful,” telling us that the skillful means necessary for attaining enlightenment have been perfected.

Makaras

The prongs are depicted as water-monsters (Makaras) that emerge from each lotus and the (hidden) moon contained within. Their tongues, fully extended, create an arc that joins with the others to form a point. It’s almost as if their hunger was responsible for giving the Vajra its distinctive shape.

The four prongs that curve outwards represent the four cardinal directions.

They also symbolize the defeat of the four maras (tempters or evil ones). In this way, the four prongs become the four doors of liberation, symbolically understood as the four elements that have become purified: earth, water, fire, and air. The fifth prong, which serves as Vajra’s axis, represents the purified element of space.

Taken together, these prongs indicate the five poisons (below) that are transmuted into the five wisdoms (above). They also represent the five sensory perceptions and the five organs of sensation, crucial for the process of transmutation.

According to convention, the Five Wisdoms are represented by the Five Buddha Families, qualities of the Enlightened One.

Five Buddha Families

Each of the five elements is afflicted by a certain attachment and poison. For example, Fire is afflicted by the attachment of perception and its poison is desire; Earth is afflicted by the attachment of pride and its poison is feeling.

As the main ritual implement in the Thunderbolt Way, the Vajra represents Upaya (“skillful means”), the method by which malas are transmuted. It’s not so different from the advice “start where you are,” except in this case the starting point refers to an element, its attachments and its poisons.

Because there are five elements – and five attachments and poisons – the method for each will be different. There’s no one-size-fits-all here, no advice that’s relevant to every Buddha Family. As a result, the “truth” takes on a different guise depending upon the element in question. (In other words: it’s relative.)

The empowerment ritual, which is likened to a coronation ceremony, seals the student-teacher relationship. Once the student has been initiated, the teacher will provide guidance as it relates to the four karmas or enlightened activities: pacifying hunger, conflict and disease; magnetizing power to increase control over one’s path; destroying obstacles and confusion; and increasing longevity and merit.

With the teacher’s assistance, Malas are transmuted into Wisdom, for example: the attachment and poison of Fire becomes discriminating wisdom or the wisdom of individuality, while the attachment and poison of Earth becomes the wisdom of equanimity or the wisdom of sameness.

Vajra Vajrasattva Ghanda

The Vajra is always held in the right hand in religious ceremonies and sacred art. The Ghanda (Bell), Vajra’s companion, is always held in the left. The pairing of the two is significant, and not merely because one is “male” and the other “female.” The important point is their complementarity, why they belong together: Vajra represents skillful means, while the Bell represents wisdom.

In addition, Vajra represents the practitioner’s personal or tutelary deity (Yidam). According to Vajrayana, enlightenment is not possible without it.

Each Yidam is associated with a cardinal direction and represents a strong karmic tie for the practitioner. The personal deity is also seen as the very embodiment of truth. They may appear in peaceful or wrathful form, depending upon the needs of the aspirant, for their ultimate purpose is to teach (tutelary).

Meditation begins with the practice of visualization during the generation stage (also known as the three samadhis), in which an image of the deity is generated in his or her absence. This practice reaches fruition when the seed syllable of the deity is recognized and then assumed as one’s own: the practitioner “becomes” the deity.

During the completion stage, the visualizations of the deity are undone since they’re no longer needed. This process of dissolution is accomplished using the energies of the subtle body, directed in a specific sequence through its mystic vortices and channels.

Vajra-Ghanta

Vajra’s ritual companion, the Bell, is also known as Vajra-Gantha or Drilbu. It’s considered “female,” which is reflected in the Bell’s appearance. With a woman’s head (above) and a skirt (below), the bell presents an archetypal depiction of the Goddess Prajna-Paramita, the Perfection of Wisdom.

The Goddess symbolizes the sixth perfection of wisdom beyond the Five. As such, the Bell stands for the culminating wisdom, specifically, the wisdom of emptiness, which is represented by the “sound” created when the Bell is struck.

The Bell is composed of two halves. The hollow casing or “mouth” (below) is formed by a lotus that faces down. The stem of the lotus moves in the opposite direction to the vase (symbolizing the nectar of accomplishment) the head of the Goddess, and her Crown (above).

The Goddess’s hair is tied into a bun. This symbolizes the binding together of all perspectives into a single (non-dual) reality. Her crown is decorated with five wisdom jewels, emblematic of the Vajra that forms the pinnacle at the top of her head.

Vajra-Ghanta Close-Up........Vajra-Ghanda Inside

The pivot or link between these two halves is the “base” of the Bell’s hollow.

The clapper or hammer is attached to the inside of the Bell’s mouth. This hidden place is also marked with an inscription known as the “source of phenomena”  (Dharmodaya). It’s also known as the cosmic cervix or womb, represented by the two triangles of origination: the source of all creation and its realities.

This represents the mandala or yantra of the Goddess, the instrument or machine that is either controlled or controlling.

The “female” wisdom of emptiness is the culminating (sixth) wisdom, “free from [the polarity of] permanence and non-existence.” This polarity represents the struggle between affirmation and annihilation. When the polarity is overcome, it brings a freedom in which anything is possible: no longer stuck between a preordained fate or the threat of non-existence.

On the external surface of the Bell are eight Makaras with strings of pearls hanging from their gaping mouths. They’re called the “Faces of Glory.” They also represent the great cremation grounds (the principle of reversal).

Vajrayogini

The Diamond female yogi of Vajrayana is Vajrayogini. She represents complete Buddhahood in female form, which makes her the highest Yidam of the yoga tantra way. In her sacred portraits, she’s depicted as a beautiful Sixteen year-old girl. Her nakedness symbolizes her complete freedom, unfettered by negative emotions or karma, nor controlled by another deity.

Her iconography in this portrait is quite specific, signaling the different qualities that makes her the Dakini of All Buddhas and the Absolute Trikaya.

Her stance – leaning leftward with her left knee bent – indicates her affiliation with the Mother Tantras that emphasize the triumph over ignorance and the wisdom of emptiness. (The Father Tantras emphasize compassion.) Her face and her mouth convey sexual bliss tinged with a hint of anger.

In her right hand (below) she holds a cleaver with a Vajra handle, symbolizing her ability to cut through the illusions and obstacles of her followers. The hand which holds the cleaver is formed in the threatening or banishing gesture. This signifies her supreme ability to ward off evil and lift beings out of the world of suffering.

In her right hand (above) she holds a skullcap filled with blood that she’s drinking. This represents the clear light of bliss. While her head is turned upward, her right eye is directed down toward samsara, signaling her willingness to assist those who seek her help.

Vajrayogini close up

While completely naked, she wears ornaments made of bone, like the skullcap from which she drinks. These include her earrings, the five wisdom “jewels” on her head, and her necklace of fifty-one skulls. All of these signal her victory over delusions and negative emotions, all of them forever banished, completely and forever dead.

The tantric staff (khatvanga) she carries on her left shoulder is the secret symbol of her consort Heruka. At its top is a Vajra and three heads: one freshly severed, one rotting, the other a white skull. These represent the three Buddhas of the past, present, and future. They also stand for the three kayas: nirmanakaya (freshly severed), sambhogakaya (rotting), and dharmakaya (dried skull).

The Khatvanga is derived from the staff of Indian Shaivite yogins known as Kapalikas (“skull bearers”), an outcaste sect of the left-hand path dedicated to shakti or goddess worship. The staff, said to represent Mount Meru, is sealed at the bottom by a half vajra. The pot of nectar, crossed vajra and the three heads symbolize the five purified elements, with the crowning vajra representing the “sixth” wisdom of emptiness.

Kalaratri and Bhairava

Vajrayogini stands upon black Bhairava (left foot) and his consort red Kalaratri (right foot). They symbolize what the goddess has surmounted, but also the lessons she’s able to teach.

Bhairava is black like a thundercloud, lying in the prone position, turned towards the ground. His color signals a mixture of ignorance and hate. Vajrayogini’s foot is placed on his forehead (ignorance) which she bends backwards until it touches his back between the shoulders at the level of the heart (hate).

It’s almost as if, in this gesture, she’s teaching him how to recalibrate the relationship between head and heart, clearing his negative emotions and the delusions that fill his mind. She’s also turning his head around so he’s no longer looking at the ground below.

His consort, Kalaratri, is a deep red , and lies on her back facing the sky. Her color signals overpowering desire and lust. Vajrayogini’s foot is placed on her breast, at the level of the heart, signaling her ability to destroy passionate attachments, and her ability to destroy the negative karmas associated with sexual desire.

Dharmodaya

The intersecting triangles that form the base of the lotus upon which she stands is the Dharmadaya, the cosmic womb. These triangles are the two-dimensional representation of its three-dimensional form (trihedron): three planes intersecting to form an inverted pyramid, where the “top” remains completely open, signifying the wisdom of emptiness.

The circle (cervix) of fire represents the same achievement. While at first (below), the flames are associated with samsara and the searing pain of burning off attachments, the flames transform into the internal fire (tummo, tejas) that gives birth to exalted wisdom, depicted in this portrait in the shape of a womb.

If one of the figures on the ground (under her feet) is an earlier version of herself (which she is), then this signals nothing other than her self-transformation, her achievement of Buddhahood.

This is why Vajrayogini is considered the Essence of all Buddhas, and why Vajrayana is considered the path of complete discipline, complete surrender, and complete liberation: Vajrayogini is the One who bears the cleaver that cuts through our delusions and attachments, and it is her threatening mudra that wards off the evil spirits who would otherwise undermine our adherence to the sacred path.

Learning to recognize the wisdom already in her possession is the culmination of the Thunderbolt Way.

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~ by mistified on March 13, 2014.

One Response to “Jennifer’s Body: The Thunderbolt”

  1. Came here seeking exposition on Dharmodaya. Great content!

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