Three Vajras

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The Three Vajras, namely "body, speech and mind", are a formulation within Vajrayana Buddhism and Bon that hold the full experience of the śūnyatā "emptiness" of Buddha-nature, void of all qualities (Wylie : yon tan) and marks [1] (Wylie : mtshan dpe) and establish a sound experiential key upon the continuum of the path to enlightenment. The Three Vajras correspond to the trikaya and therefore also have correspondences to the Three Roots and other refuge formulas of Tibetan Buddhism. The Three Vajras are viewed in twilight language as a form of the Three Jewels, which imply purity of action, speech and thought.

Vajrayāna (वज्रयान), Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism are terms referring to the various Buddhist traditions of Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in medieval India and spread to Tibet, Bhutan, and East Asia. In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra is termed Vajrayāna, while in China it is generally known as Tángmì Hanmi 漢密 or Mìzōng (密宗, "Esoteric Sect"), in Pali it is known as Pyitsayãna (ပစ္စယာန), and in Japan it is known as Mikkyō.

Bon tibetan religion

Bon, also spelled Bön, is the native Tibetan folk religion. It is characterized by Animism, Shamanism and ancestor worship. Mystic rituals, spells, sacrifices for gods and spirits, and spirit manipulation are common elements in the native Tibetan traditions. It was the major religion in large parts of Tibet and some other parts of China until the 7th century. Many current traditions of Tibetan Buddhism were influenced by the native Bon religion.

Śūnyatā voidness, emptiness, a concept in Buddhism

Śūnyatā – pronounced in English as (shoon-ya-ta), translated most often as emptiness and sometimes voidness – is a Buddhist concept which has multiple meanings depending on its doctrinal context. It is either an ontological feature of reality, a meditative state, or a phenomenological analysis of experience.


The Three Vajras are often mentioned in Vajrayana discourse, particularly in relation to samaya, the vows undertaken between a practitioner and their guru during empowerment. The term is also used during Anuttarayoga Tantra practice.

The samaya, is a set of vows or precepts given to initiates of an esoteric Vajrayana Buddhist order as part of the abhiṣeka ceremony that creates a bond between the guru and disciple.

Guru is a Sanskrit term for a "teacher, guide, expert, or master" of certain knowledge or field. In pan-Indian traditions, guru is more than a teacher, in Sanskrit guru means the one who dispels the darkness and takes towards light, traditionally a reverential figure to the student, with the guru serving as a "counselor, who helps mold values, shares experiential knowledge as much as literal knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and who helps in the spiritual evolution of a student". A guru is also one's spiritual guide, who helps one to discover the same potentialities that the guru has already realized. In the Tagalog language, Indonesian and Malay the word means teacher.

Empowerment (Vajrayana)

An empowerment is a ritual in Vajrayana which initiates a student into a particular tantric deity practice. The Tibetan word for this is wang, which literally translates to power. The Sanskrit term for this is abhiseka which literally translates to sprinkling or bathing or anointing. A tantric practice is not considered effective or as effective until a qualified master has transmitted the corresponding power of the practice directly to the student. This may also refer to introducing the student to the mandala of the deity.

In Tendai and Shingon Buddhism of Japan, they are known as the Three Mysteries(三密,sanmitsu).

Tendai is a Mahayana Buddhist school established in Japan in the year 806 by a monk named Saicho also known as Dengyō Daishi. The Tendai school rose to prominence during the Heian Period of Japan, gradually eclipsing the powerful Hosso school and competing with the upcoming Shingon school to become the most influential at the Imperial court. However, political entanglements during the Genpei War led many disaffected monks to leave and in some cases to establish their own schools of Buddhism such as Jodo Shu, Nichiren Shu and Soto Zen. Destruction of the head temple Mount Hiei by warlord Oda Nobunaga further weakened Tendai's influence as well as the geographic shift of Japan's capital to Edo away from Kyoto.

Shingon Buddhism school of Buddhism in Japan

Shingon Buddhism is one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan and one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia, originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra.

Buddhism in Japan has been practiced since its official introduction in 552 CE according to the Nihon Shoki from Baekje, Korea, by Buddhist monks. Buddhism has had a major influence on the development of Japanese society and remains an influential aspect of the culture to this day.

Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

The Three Vajras is an English rendering of gsang ba gsum (Tibetan); which has variously been rendered as: Three Secrets, Three Mysteries, Three Seats, Three Doors and Three Gateways. Another Tibetan orthography that explicitly mentions Vajra (Tibetan: rdo-rje) is: rdo rje gsang ba gsum. The full Tibetan title may be rendered into English as 'the three secrets of the noble ones' (Tibetan: phags pa'i gsang ba gsum) which are: body (Tibetan: lus and sku); voice/speech (Tibetan: gsung) and mind (Tibetan: thugs). Another full title: sku gsung thugs mi zad pa rgyan gyi 'khor lo may be rendered as "Inexhaustible adornment wheel of Body, Speech and Mind" where the term 'khor lo is the Tibetan term for chakra (Sanskrit). [ citation needed ]

Chakra Subtle body psychic-energy centers in the esoteric traditions of Indian religions

Chakras are the various focal points in the subtle body used in a variety of ancient meditation practices, collectively denominated as Tantra, or the esoteric or inner traditions of Hinduism.

Vajra Body

The Vajra Body (Tibetan: rdo rje'i lus; sku rdo rje; ). In explicating the term rdo rje'i lus, the Dharma Dictionary states that it denotes: "The human body, the subtle channels of which resemble the structure of a vajra." [2]

Vajra Voice

The Vajra Speech/Voice (Tibetan: rdo rje'i gsung; gsung rdo rje). In elucidating the term, the Dharma Dictionary states that it denotes: 'vajra speech', 'vajra words'. [3]

Vajra Mind

The Vajra Mind (Tibetan: thugs rdo rje; Sanskrit: citta-vajra) is defined by the Dharma Dictionary as: mind vajra, vajra mind. [4]


The Three Vajras are often employed in tantric sādhanā at various stages during the visualization of the generation stage, refuge tree, guru yoga and iṣṭadevatā processes. The concept of the Three Vajras serves in the twilight language to convey polysemic meanings,[ citation needed ] aiding the practitioner to conflate and unify the mindstream of the iṣṭadevatā, the guru and the sādhaka in order for the practitioner to experience their own Buddha-nature.

Speaking for the Nyingma tradition, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche perceives an identity and relationship between Buddha-nature, dharmadhatu, dharmakāya, rigpa and the Three Vajras:

Dharmadhātu is adorned with Dharmakāya, which is endowed with Dharmadhātu Wisdom. This is a brief but very profound statement, because "Dharmadhātu" also refers to Sugatagarbha or Buddha-Nature. Buddha- Nature is all-encompassing... This Buddha-Nature is present just as the shining sun is present in the sky. It is indivisible from the Three Vajras [i.e. the Buddha's Body, Speech and Mind] of the awakened state, which do not perish or change.


Robert Beer (2003: p. 186) states:

The trinity of body, speech, and mind are known as the three gates, three receptacles or three vajras, and correspond to the western religious concept of righteous thought (mind), word (speech), and deed (body). The three vajras also correspond to the three kayas, with the aspect of body located at the crown (nirmanakaya), the aspect of speech at the throat (sambhogakaya), and the aspect of mind at the heart (dharmakaya)." [6]

The bīja corresponding to the Three Vajras are: a white om (enlightened body), a red ah (enlightened speech) and a blue hum (enlightened mind). [7]

Simmer-Brown (2001: p. 334) asserts that:

When informed by tantric views of embodiment, the physical body is understood as a sacred maṇḍala (Wylie: lus kyi dkyil). [8]

This explicates the semiotic rationale for the nomenclature of the somatic discipline called trul khor.

The triple continua of body-voice-mind are intimately related to the Dzogchen doctrine of "sound, light and rays" (Wylie : sgra 'od zer gsum) as a passage of the rgyud bu chung bcu gnyis kyi don bstan pa ('The Teaching on the Meaning of the Twelve Child Tantras') rendered into English by Rossi (1999: p. 65) states (Tibetan provided for probity):

From the Basis (of) all, empty (and) without cause,
sound, the dynamic potential of the Dimension, arises.
From the Awareness, empty (and) without cause,
light, the dynamic potential (of) Primordial Wisdom, appears.
From the inseparability, empty (and) without cause,
rays, the dynamic potential of the Essence, appear.
When sound, light and rays are taken (as) instrumental causes
(that) ignorance (turns into) the delusion of body, speech (and) mind;
the result (is) wandering in the circle (of) the three spheres. [9]
བྲས་བུ་ཁམས་གསུམ་འཁོར་བར་འཁྱམས༎ [9]

Barron et al. (1994, 2002: p. 159), renders from Tibetan into English, a terma "pure vision" (Wylie : dag snang) of Sri Singha by Dudjom Lingpa that describes the Dzogchen state of 'formal meditative equipoise' (Tibetan: nyam-par zhag-pa) which is the indivisible fulfillment of vipaśyanā and śamatha, Sri Singha states:

Just as water, which exists in a naturally free-flowing state, freezes into ice under the influence of a cold wind, so the ground of being exists in a naturally free state, with the entire spectrum of samsara established solely by the influence of perceiving in terms of identity.

Understanding this fundamental nature, you give up the three kinds of physical activity--good, bad, and neutral--and sit like a corpse in a charnal ground, with nothing needing to be done. You likewise give up the three kinds of verbal activity, remaining like a mute, as well as the three kinds of mental activity, resting without contrivance like the autumn sky free of the three polluting conditions. [10]

Kukkuraja's instruction to Garab Dorje

Kukkuraja's instruction to Garab Dorje entailed a teaching of the Three Vajras in relation to Vajrasattva, Atiyoga and Kulayaraja Tantra :

"Everything without exception is the Divine Body-Speech-Mind," he had said. "The Divine Body-Speech-Mind is all-encompassing. Thus know your ultimate identity to be Vajrasattva, the Divine Body-Speech-Mind." As the Tibetan text of the Kulaya-raja Sutra (Kun byed rgyal po'i mdo) states: "When everything is seen as the Great Self-identity (bdag nyid chen po), it is known as Atiyoga." [11]

Five fundamental aspects of an enlightened being

The Three Vajras are subsumed within the 'Five fundamental aspects of an enlightened being'. Namkhai Norbu et al. (2001: p. 176) lists the English rendering with the associated Tibetan language term:

The body (sku), voice (gsung), mind (thugs), qualities (yon tan) and activities (phrin las) represent the five fundamental aspects of an enlightened being. [12]

Emanation theory and the five fundamental aspects of an enlightened being

Mindstream emanation (Sanskrit: nirmana body, nirmanakaya; Tibetan: sprul-sku) theory is fundamentally related to the five fundamental aspects of an enlightened being:

See also

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  1. '32 major marks' (Sanskrit: dvātriṃśanmahāpuruṣalakṣaṇa), and the '80 minor marks' (Sanskrit: aśītyanuvyañjana) of a superior being, refer: Physical characteristics of the Buddha.
  2. Dharma Dictionary (2007). Source: (accessed: January 5, 2008)
  3. Dharma Dictionary (2007). Source: (accessed: January 5, 2008)
  4. Source: Dharma Dictionary (2007) (accessed: January 5, 2008)
  5. As It Is, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Rangjung Yeshe Books, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 32
  6. Beer, Robert (2003). The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Serindia Publications. ISBN   1-932476-03-2 Source: (accessed: December 7, 2007)
  7. Rinpoche, Pabongka (1997). Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment. Wisdom Books. p. 196.
  8. Simmer-Brown, Judith (2001). Dakini's Warm Breath: the Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston, USA: Shambhala. ISBN   1-57062-720-7 (alk. paper). p.334
  9. 1 2 Rossi, Donatella (1999). The philosophical view of the great perfection in the Tibetan Bon religion. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications. p. 65. ISBN   1-55939-129-4.
  10. Lingpa, Dudjom; Tulku, Chagdud; Norbu, Padma Drimed; Barron, Richard (Lama Chökyi Nyima, translator); Fairclough, Susanne (translator) (1994, 2002 revised). Buddhahood without meditation: a visionary account known as 'Refining one's perception' (Nang-jang) (English; Tibetan: ran bźin rdzogs pa chen po'i ranźal mnon du byed pa'i gdams pa zab gsan sñin po). Revised Edition. Junction City, CA, USA: Padma Publishing. ISBN   1-881847-33-0, p.159
  11. Dharma Fellowship (2005). Biographies: Pramodavajra, Regent of the Divine. Source: (accessed: November 15, 2007)
  12. Norbu, Namkhai (author, compiler); Clemente, Adriano (translated from Tibetan into Italian, edited and annotated); Lukianowicz, Andy (translated from Italian into English) (1999, 2001). The Precious Vase: Instructions on the Base of Santi Maha Sangha. Second revised edition. Shang Shung Edizioni.