top of page

Introduction to Vajrapani:

Clarifying Our Relationship to Power


Rob Preece


In Tibetan buddhism, three particular deities are often seen as the expression of three primary aspects of a buddha’s quality. The first is Avalokiteshvara, known in Tibetan as Chenrezig, the buddha of compassion. The second is Manjushri, said to be the buddha of wisdom, and the third is Vajrapani, said to be the power of the enlightened mind. These three form a triad of manifestations of the fully evolved aspects of a buddha’s compassion, wisdom and power. Because they are also seen as manifestations of the qualities of a bodhisattva, they are sometimes described as the three bodhisattvas. As such we could also see them as three different aspects of the awakening mind of bodhicitta and of how that is embodied in a bodhisattva’s life.

However we choose to view them – whether as buddhas or bodhisattvas ­– in the Tibetan tradition much is said and written about the first two, Chenrezig and Manjushri, but less about Vajrapani. There is no obvious reason for the lesser emphasis on Vajrapani, though it may be a reflection of a tendency within the Buddhist world to speak a lot about compassion and wisdom but less about power. This may also reflect a tendency for power, and its place within Tibetan Buddhism, to not be fully acknowledged. 

Vajrapani is a rather more mysterious deity than the other two. He is referred to as the “Lord of the Secret” because he is often seen as the one that introduced the secrets and mystery of tantra. He is sometimes said to be the one that initiated certain tantras and is seen as an emanation of Vajradhara, the “primordial buddha” who is the source of all the tantras. 

Vajrapani began to emerge within the Buddhist world at the time of the Buddha; there are tales of him being like a protector. It is said that, on an occasion when one of the Buddha’s followers was being particularly problematic, Vajrapani appeared as a kind of assertive or even threatening presence. The name Vajrapani is often translated as the “holder of the vajra”, but he was also known as the “vajra hand” of the Buddha, which has a different sense. It is as though Vajrapani embodies the tough side of the Buddha that would not take any nonsense. As Buddhism evolved and the tantric tradition grew, Vajrapani came to embody what is seen as the power of the awakened mind, or the power to be effective in liberating others from suffering. 

While there is a peaceful aspect of Vajrapani, where he is depicted seated in a relaxed manner and deep blue in colour, we most often see him in his wrathful aspect. It is this wrathful aspect that I wish to particularly explore here, where he embodies something important to our Western psychological understanding. As a wrathful deity he can evoke the presence of the shadow as well as all of our ambivalence about power and how we may have experienced it in our life. Vajrapani can be the “god in our diseases”, as Jung might say, when we are not in a good relationship to our innate power. We have seen this manifest time and again within political and spiritual movements. Power is an all-too-apparent factor in politics. In religious traditions it is also present but often hidden behind the face of benign spiritual correctness. We see this expressed in the power of spiritual authority in all religions, in spiritual institutional structures and in the power granted to spiritual leaders. 

Buddhism is no exception. It has this underlying presence of power, but I feel it does not always deal with this power honestly and openly. Because power holds such an ambiguous place in most spiritual traditions, it can easily become hidden and en-shadowed. Power can then live within the shadow, personally as well as collectively. This means that as Vajrapani comes into our experience he will often be associated with an aspect of our psychological nature that has become part of the shadow. This does not make whatever emerges bad or negative. But it may mean we may not be particularly comfortable with it, because we are often afraid of our personal power.

We could see the deity Vajrapani as one that will not tolerate the abuse of power, and he demands that we wake up and face ourselves. In this respect he is like a protector that unmasks our deception or denial around power. We must wake up and take responsibility for it, otherwise we can all too easily be caught in its unconscious influence. Patriarchal traditions are seldom good at acknowledging the degree to which they rely upon our fear of challenging power and authority to sustain their order and control. Empowerment and the potential for disempowerment are all part of that dynamic. 

In this book I wish to explore the nature of Vajrapani and his importance in Buddhist life. I will begin to describe the archetypal and psychological implications of all that this deity touches within us. He embodies a potentially dark presence in our shadow but also the road to the redemption of this aspect of our being. We bring the “dark god” back into the temple and honour him as the one that awakens the natural potency of our energy and helps us transform and integrate it. Vajrapani’s strong and muscular form shows us the need for our energy to be embodied and grounded in a healthy way so that it becomes channelled and transformed. As a healing deity he restores and replenishes what may be depleted in our energy-body through the impact of our lives. He heals those psychological places where we are wounded and need to become whole again, especially when we have lost relationship to our innate power to be effective in our lives. Vajrapani embodies a way of being with our power so that we can bring it into our lives skilfully and effectively. 

In the chapters that follow, I want to describe many different ways in which, from a psychological perspective, we can understand the qualities that Vajrapani brings into our experience. I want to look at how Vajrapani can help us heal aspects of our nature that have been wounded in our life. I will explore how we learn to work with the natural potency of our energy and how a poor relationship to our power hinders our capacity to be effective in how we engage with our life. In our experience of the Dharma we may be uncomfortable with the idea that the qualities of a bodhisattva also include a relationship to our innate power. We may appreciate the need for wisdom and compassion in our Buddhist life – but without a relationship to our power we can remain ineffectual and impotent rather than truly helping others. Vajrapani is a natural expression of the power of the awakened and the awakening mind and, as such, embodies a significant and necessary aspect of a bodhisattva’s way of life. A monk friend once said that Chenrezig is deeply aware of the suffering of others, and Manjushri understands what may overcome it. Vajrapani says, “So let’s get on with it.” 



Vajrapani cover copy 3.jpg
bottom of page