Who Does a Vajrasattva Statue Embody?
Vajrasattva is an integral and complex Buddhist deity in both Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. A Vajrasattva statue is believed to be the embodiment of the Buddha Vajradhara or Samantabhadra. Vajradhara and Samantabhadra are synonymous, both are believed to be the primordial Buddha, also known as primordial wisdom.
Indeed, primordial wisdom can be compared to an element such as gravity because it has always existed as the base component of the universe. Additionally, similar to gravity, the universe would fall apart without it. However, the power of wisdom does not have a scientific definition in contrast to gravity which is so well defined by western science.
Perhaps it is difficult to envision primordial wisdom using fundamental eye consciousness and perception? As a result, primordial wisdom is very powerful and also mysterious. A Vajrasattva statue is a special embodiment of this mysterious universal concept.
Additionally, Vajrasattva is perceived to have very effective powers for karma purification by Vajrayana Buddhists. The primordial Buddha takes the embodiment of Vajrasattva through the means of Sambhogakaya.
Vajrasattva Statue and “Sambhogakaya”
In Mahayana Buddhism, a Buddha is believed to have three bodies which they use to present themselves. These three bodies are called the “Trikaya”. In Sanskrit, the word “Trikaya” literally translates as “three bodies”. These three bodies are:
- Dharmakaya – This is known as the “truth” body and it is the embodiment of enlightenment. It knows no limits or boundaries.
- Sambhogakaya – This is described as a “clear light manifestation” or a “subtle body of limitless form”.
- Nirmanakaya – This is the physical human body of the Buddha as he would appear as a regular person.
The most versatile of these embodiments is Sambhogakaya and its use is not limited to the primordial Buddha.
What does a Vajrasattva statue really look like?
A Vajrasattva statue is a manifestation of one aspect of the Trikaya called Sambhogakaya. Therefore, the true nature of Vajrasattva might be difficult to conceptualize at first because of this esoteric description. If you could visualize a “body of bliss” or a “subtle body of limitless form” then you could see the true form of a Vajrasattva statue. Perhaps this may look like a rainbow to an unenlightened sentient being?
Furthermore, only Buddhas and high level bodhisattvas can take the form of Sambhogakaya. Again, try to picture a “body of bliss” or a “clear light manifestation”.
Buddhas and high level bodhisattvas take this form in their own pure lands to teach bodhisattvas by using visionary experiences. However, in theory, a Buddha of Bodhisattva can take any form necessary to reach their target audience.
Vajrasattva Statue Visualization Aid
The Buddha or Bodhisattva who has taken the form of Sambhogakaya has transformed into a concept and no longer has a physical body. This is because there is no need to take human form.
Visualization can be enhanced by understanding the Vajrasattva meaning. In Sanskrit, Vajra means both “diamond” or “thunderbolt”. Additionally, sattva in Sanskrit is an element of energy that is pure, wholesome and virtuous. When combined, the meaning of the deity would be translated as a diamond of indestructible virtue or character of unshakable virtue.
In the Pali Canon the Buddha taught his disciples that whoever sees the Dharma, sees him. This implies that using the human body to represent Buddhist values has become redundant for advanced practitioners. Gautama Buddha – “Whoever Sees The Dharma Sees Me“
Therefore, a Buddha or high level bodhisattva may not always use human form to personify a virtue. This is because it is not necessary to use human form to reach advanced practitioners. An advanced practitioner such as a Bodhisattva does not need to see a human body to perceive Buddhist virtue and receive the teachings.
However, a Buddha or Bodhisattva who appears in this manner is using a manifestation that their audience will best understand. Therefore, if a Buddha is trying to communicate with a small child, then they may appear as a small child. But if they are teaching Bodhisattvas then they can effectively appear as “bliss” or “clear light”.
In Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrasattva practice is used to purify karma, induce tranquility and also virtue. There is a 100 syllable mantra and a 6 syllable mantra. The Vajrasattva short mantra is simple and easy to remember. All you need to say is “Om Vajrasattva Hum”.
Since the shorter mantra includes the essential spiritual elements it is equally beneficial. At least that is what some lamas teach their followers. However, the longer mantra clearly takes much more effort and dedication.
During Vajrayana rituals centered around a Vajrasattva statue, the devotees are focused on purification of the 5 aggregates. It is through the 5 aggregates that all physical and material form are perceived by sentient beings. Therefore, their purification is believed to purify past unwholesome karma with the help of Vajrasattva. Ultimately, the aggregates can be eliminated resulting in “emptiness” or Nirvana.
As a Bodhisattva on the path to enlightenment, Vajrasattva declared his intense desire to assist sentient beings. However, the main objective was to assist those who had committed serious crimes or those who had broken their samaya vows.
The Vajrasattva mantra benefits those who recite his mantra, hear his name or think of him. If so, their karma will be purified. Furthermore, he declared that he would not accept enlightenment until he could effectively purify all unwholesome karma.
However, this is a bit ambiguous because Vajrasattva is an embodiment of primordial wisdom which is the primordial Buddha. So it sounds funny, but essentially he is an embodiment of a Buddha who is seeking to become a Buddha? Perplexing….
Is A Vajrasattva Statue also Vajrapani?
Vajrapani is sometimes called Vajrasattva in Mahayana Buddhism and often appears as wrathful deity. Although a Vajrasattva statue is a peaceful Sambhogakaya manifestation, he theoretically can take the form of the wrathful Vajrapani (Vajrapani can appear as peaceful, semi-wrathful or wrathful).
However, Vajrapani is the embodiment of the Buddha’s power and he acts as the guide and protector of the Buddha. Therefore, he is a completely different deity. Additionally, Vajrapani is often depicted alongside Avalokitesvara (Buddha’s compassion) and Manjushri (Buddha’s wisdom). Vajrapani is therefore unique and has his own identity.
Although as a Sambhogakaya “subtle body of limitless form” Vajrasattva has the power to take any kind of embodiment, including wrathful Vajrapani. Furthermore, in the Pali Canon it states that accomplished Bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara can take any form necessary to relieve the suffering of sentient beings.
Certainly, Buddhas would also have these transformative abilities. The Bodhisattva Vajrasattva simply gives form or conception to the versatile mechanism of Sambhogakaya.