L.S.Cousins selwyn at NTLWORLD.COM
Tue Oct 31 08:05:00 UTC 2000

Stephen Hodge writes:

>As we have seen, "vajra" has two connotations: "lightning" and
>"diamond" and I believe it is used in Buddhism with both senses.  When
>thinking of it as a symbol, was it not first thought to be the weapon
>of choice of Indra rather like Thor's hammer ?

As the weapon of Indra it is of course very old, but the specifically
Buddhist use seems to derive from the Vajiruupama-sutta of the
Anguttara-nikaaya. Here the wisdom of stream-entry etc. is compared
to lightning (vijju) i.e. it is a momentary seeing. The wisdom of the
arahat is compared to the thunderbolt (of Indra) because that
shatters anything, just as the wisdom of the arahat shatters all
afflictions (kilesa). The idea is taken up from here in two passages
of the Abhidhamma-pi.taka. Otherwise the word vajira in this sense is
only found in a few verse texts: once each in Th, Dhp and Bv; around
half a dozen times in Ap. There are also four occurrences in the
paracanonical literature (Pe.t and Nett). I omit places where it is
found in reference to Indra or in names.

I have some doubt as to whether it was ever used in early literature
in the sense of diamond to refer to wisdom. I am not sure off hand as
to the situation in Mahaayaana literature.

In later Pali literature it is a little more frequent and is
sometimes extended to refer to insight knowledge i.e. to lower kinds
of wisdom also.

>  As an important
>element in its long journey to becoming a specifically tantric symbol,
>one should also consider the history of who already
>appears in sculpted representations in Gandhara style statuary --
>where he is sometimes depicted in the Hellenistic form of Herakles.
>Somewhat later, and thus giving rise to the early tantric three-buddha
>family scheme, one finds `Shaakyamuni flanked by paired
>with Avalokite`svara -- one with a vajra and the other with a lotus.
>The possible covert sexual symbolism here should be obvious :)

But this may simply be gender symbolism. The pairing is simply a
Mahaayaana development of the older pairing of the two chief
disciples, famous for wisdom and samaadhi / psychic capacities

>  > Appended questions: (1) Is "linga" spelt with
>>  overdot-'n'?

In this particular case it does not much matter because it is not
ambiguous i.e. n before g can only be a guttural n; so there is a
reasonable case for not using a diacritic in romanization. In other
cases (i.e. for other letters) it does matter.

>(2) What is a good way to transliterate
>>  the Sanskrit overdot-'n'?
>Many use `n for this purpose but others solutions exist.  One
>publisher said to me that they did not believe in using diacritics in
>their books because of the trouble and since the uninitiated general
>reader would not understand them while Sanskritists would know what
>was intended anyway -- a bit radical and not foolproof !

An excellent argument ! Since publishers can save money in this way
by misspelling Sanskrit, perhaps they have not realized that you can
do the same with English. Writing double vowels as single and
omitting h after c, s and t, as well as u after q, etc, etc. would
save publishers a packet. Those who know English would understand
anyway :-)

Lance Cousins

selwyn at

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