Tattoos around the world have different reasons for being on people’s bodies. There is some civilization where the tattoo is considered a form of communication and describes various aspects of the person. Other cultures use tattoos as a symbol of different teachings. Tibetan tattoos represent visual proofs and testimonies of the teachings of the Buddha. Sacred stories learned, practiced, and mastered over time. The tattoos are used for describing one’s journey to enlightenment, filled with writing, lotuses, demons, and om symbols. There are three main parts of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana & Vajrayana. It has been debated that Vajrayana’s teachings come from Mahayana. Vajra is one of those interesting, strong, and meaningful symbols that made a great impact on the tattoo culture worldwide. But let’s start from the beginning.
Theravada: The School Of Elders
Theravada is the world’s oldest known Buddhist school. It is the primary form of Buddhism practiced in most Southeast Asia, including Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Its doctrines originate from the Pali Tipitaka or Pali Canon, and its essential teachings begin with the Four Noble Truths. Theravada highlights the direct insight gained through critical analysis and experience rather than blind faith. Theravada Buddhists desire to become arhat or fully awakened beings. Becoming an arhat requires great dedication. It’s usually only pursued by monks.
Mahayana: The Great Vehicle
Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, includes newer practices that encourage everyone towards Nirvana. It is mainly practiced in Nepal, Japan, China, Tibet, and Korea. In general, the two methods are balanced with each other. They are both founded on the Four Noble Truths and the practice of meditation. The primary and only differences between the two branches include the language, the path, and communication. Theravada is written in Pali, focuses on individual enlightenment, and is done primarily on silent meditation. Mahayana is in Sanskrit, focuses on the Bodhisattva path of encouraging and teaching others, and uses the chanting of mantras and sutras.
Vajrayana: The Way of the Diamond
Vajrayana Buddhism (also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Esoteric Buddhism, and the Diamond Vehicle) is primarily found in Tibet and Japan. It is used to combine the Mahayana ideals with a body of esoteric knowledge and tantric practice. The Vajrayana, literally meaning the “Diamond Vehicle” or the “Thunderbolt Vehicle,” represents itself a magical part of Mahayana Buddhism with a speedy path to enlightenment. According to the Vajrayana tradition, when the body and mind are in a very subtle state, advanced practitioners can transform. These transitional states are during meditation, dreaming, sex, and death. The practice Vajrayana consists of initiations obtained by a student from an appropriate guru. Teachers must give these teachings orally. There is also the use of specific rituals and symbols rooted in Vajrayana cosmology and beliefs.
Vajra as a Symbol
In the original Sanskrit, Vajra has two translations, and that is “adamantine” and “thunderbolt.” The Vajra represents a Buddhist ritual object resembling a small scepter that symbolizes the eternal quality of a diamond, which is a highly durable substance that he cannot cuts, as well as the overwhelming force of the thunderbolt. In non-material terms, these qualities symbolize the resolute spirit and high power. The Vajra stands for a symbolic ritual object that expresses both the characteristics of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (powerful, irresistible force).
The Vajra is the male doctrine that represents a method, while the Bell symbolizes the female principle representing compassion. Their interaction is what leads to enlightenment. The objects are often made of bronze, different sizes, and have three, five, or nine spokes, usually close in a lotus form. The number of spokes and the style they come together at the ends carry numerous symbolic meanings.
Vajra as a Tattoo
The tattoo design that includes this symbol has evolved slightly. Traditionally, the scepter has two ends with the two lotus flowers. These days, we can find two scepters crossing each other to double over. The vajra tattoo design is not a very common one, with only a few people who choose to have it on their skin.
Jahan Yousaf is a celebrity artist who has a modern and personalized version of the tattoo motif on her right forearm – the Vajra Brush, a work of art by Alex Grey. This tattoo represents a combination of multiple historical stories of creativity and knowledge. The artist explained that the meaning of the vajra paintbrush is “to awaken people to their essence through the light of powerful or higher vision. The Vajra is a divine device, a thunderbolt scepter owned by the Hindu god Indra and adopted by the Buddhist sages as a symbol of the diamond-like clarity and brilliance of the mind’s true nature.”