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The Vajrayana

In the Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism, karmic merits, continuously collected in the course of many existences, leads to a life in which enlightenment can be attained. The Vajrayana or »Vehicle of Diamonds« offers a path which can lead to enlightenment within one life. A fundamental change of consciousness, obtained through yogic methods and rituals shall lead to insights which are far beyond discursive thinking.

A crucial role is played by the principles of »method« (upaya*) and »wisdom«(prajna*). Method refers in this case to the realisation of salvation, the practice of »active compassion« (bodhicitta). Wisdom stands for the immediate insight in the true nature of reality.


Both principles, wisdom and method, are of equal importance and condition each other. Wisdom teaches that the nature of the self is basically empty and, therefore, that actions related to the self must be meaningless. This leads to the active turning to all living beings in the »Great Compassion« with the aim to release them from misery. This compassion – also the method – in turn leads to wisdom.

Meditation and ritualistic actions aim at a mystical unification of these two principles, which find symbolic expressions in different ways. In iconography, male deities stand for method and female ones for wisdom. In the practice of rituals, the diamond sceptre (vajra*) symbolises method and the bell wisdom. With their unification the human being obtains the insight that all dualities derive from Relative Truth and that, in Absolute Truth, subject and object, internal and external world, nirvana and samsara* are one and empty.

It is only those who experience this insight in meditation that attain enlightenment.

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It is the aim of tantric practice to lift duality. In iconography, this is represented by the unification of a male and a female deity; in the ritual, by specific hand movements with a diamond sceptre in the right and a bell in the left hand.

Diamond sceptre (vajra* in Sanskrit , dorje in Tibetan), brass; L: 14 cm., B: 4,5 cm.; loan from a private collection
Used as a ritual tool in tantric rites, the vajra symbolises the »method« (upaya*), acting selflessly for the good of all living beings. In rituals it is held in the right hand as the male principle. In the left hand, the lama holds a bell (drilbu) as symbol of eh female principle of wisdom. Specific gestures of the hands symbolise the unification of method and wisdom and the lifting of the opposites in the insight of the emptiness of all appearances. This state of lifting the mode of thinking in dualities is visualised in the spherically shaped centre.

Bell and vajra are amongst the most important ritual instrument of the Vajrayana Buddhism.