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Holy Mountain Trading Company - Tantric Deities

Holy Mountain Trading Company - Tantric Deities

Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi

S hamvara has four faces and twelve arms. His first two arms are wrapped in passionate embrace around his consort, Vajravarahi. The first two hands, holding a vajra scepter and a bell, make the diamond HUM-sound gesture.
Several forms of Samvara are known. The Sadhanamala, a 12th-century manual of iconography, identifies this form as Chakrasamvara. In Tibet, Chakrasamvara is a deity particularly associated with the Kagyu Order, although he is important to the Geluk and Sakya as well. Paramasukha-Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi, Tibeto-Chinese, 17th century.
The name Shamvara, or Shambara, itself means Supreme Bliss, the bliss that is the fruit of tantric meditation. Similarly, Chakrasamvara, literally, "joined to the Wheel," may be interpreted as "joined to the wheel of wisdom and bliss." Equal to a Buddha, Samvara is beyond the extremes of samsara and nirvana. To signal this, his right foot presses down on the goddess called Night of Time, Kalaratri, who represents nirvana. His left foot rests on Bhairava, The Terrifier, who represents samsara.
Shamvara's hair is arranged in the coif of a yogi and is decorated with a lunar crescent, a reminder that he was first worshipped by the wandering ascetics of medieval India, and that although he is a thoroughly Buddhist deity, he shares some attributes with Shiva, the Hindu god of yogis. His name, for example, is related to Shamba (Fortunate), an epithet of Shiva. In Buddhist myth, Shamvara dwells atop Mount Meru -- Mount Kailash -- the traditional abode of Shiva.
Shamvara is a deity of the yidam class, which are personal deities of Buddhist meditation. A yidam is at once the embodiment of a philosophical view and a role model, for the meditator, of the Buddha he aspires to become. A yidam is a "pure appearance," a vision of purity. Tibetans say that rather than having an ordinary physical form, such a deity is a congerie of pure symbolic elements. The bell that Shamvara holds in his left hand, for example, symbolizes wisdom, and the vajra scepter that he wields in his right represents skillful method. In the poetical language of tantra, the god's bell is wisdom itself. Thus, the deity's attributes are of paramount importance: they are clues to his identity and to his function in meditation and ritual (translation from Snellgrove, 1987, p. 154):
His body is blue, indicating that he does not diverge from the (celestial) Dharma-sphere. Each face has three eyes, indicating that he sees the (whole) threefold world and that he knows the substance of the three times (past, present and future). He has twelve arms indicating that he comprehends the evolution and reversal of the twelvefold causal nexus and eliminates these twelve stages of transmigration.
Corresponding to the usual iconography of Chakrasamvara, this piece has twelve arms, each of which once held a characteristic implement. Some of these, however, were cast separately and are now missing.
The tantric text called Clarifying the Order of the Rite [sadhana] of the Circle of the Mandala of Sricakrasamvra, quoted above (translated by Dawn Samdup in Arthur Avalon, Tantric Texts, VII, as cited in Snellgrove, 1987, p. 154), explains the meaning of each implement. The first pair of hands holds, right and left, a vajra scepter and a bell, symbolizing the union of skillful means and wisdom. The second pair rends the elephant of illusion and stretches its hide out like a cape. The drum in the third right hand (missing) shows that Samvara's "voice resounds joyously." The third left hand holds the khatvanga staff that represents "the blissful Thought of Enlightenment." His fourth right hand brandishes the ax (missing) that "cuts off birth and death at the roots." The skull bowl of blood in his fourth left hand shows that he "has cut away discrimination between existence and nonexistence." His fifth right hand wields the vajra chopper that "cuts off the six defects, pride and the rest." The vajra lasso in his fifth left hand binds beings to wisdom from life to life. The trident (missing) in his sixth right hand signals that he has "overcome the evil of the threefold world." The severed head of the god Brahma dangles from his sixth left hand, showing that Samvara "avoids all illusion."

from Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet by Marylin M. Rhie and Robert A. F. Thurman; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and Harry M. Abrams, Inc. (1991).