Practical Guide to Akshobhya Buddha and Vajra Family with Sadhana: Purifying Practices and Wisdom Insights For Modern Buddhists

Feature Contents
    Akshobhya with vajra
    Akshobhya Buddha holding the Vajra symbol. He is Buddha of the East who transforms anger with the Wisdom of Reflection.

    Why is Akshobhya Buddha the very face of peace? Why is the focus of the Vajra family of Akshobhya Buddha the poison of Anger? Which wisdom is central to Amoghasiddhi Buddha family of the Vajra? Why is the family blue, and what is the significance of the great Vajra? We answer these questions and more and end with the mantras, practices and a Puja visualization of Akshobhya Buddha.

    The Unshakable Buddha

    Akshyobhya Buddha’s name means, literally, “The Unshakable Buddha.” One of Akshobhya’s great vows is to never become angry until reaching enlightenment.

    “Now that I have become a bodhisattva, I will never allow myself to get angry at any living being.”

    Akshobhya or Vajra Family practice is ideal for people who have a temper, or anger issues, or deal with the anger of others. If anger is the reason you find yourself locked in a poisonous cycle, trapping you in suffering, then, practices of the Vajra family, is often recommended by teachers of all schools.

    The great Lama Yeshe strongly advocated Vajrapani Bodhisattva’s, the Bodhisattva of the Vajra family, as a practice in this age to calm anger and increase our confidence and strength.

    Akshobhya Buddha with Vajra 2
    Screenshot

     

    Appearance Reflects His Vow

    Reflecting this vow, his face is serene and blue, like cool, refreshing water. He is seated on a lotus throne in unshakable vajra posture. His  right hand touches the earth,  bhumisparsha mudra, the very same gesture Shakyamuni used to indicate that mother earth was his witness, and signifying his unshakable vow. His left hand is in the mudra of meditative equipoise on his lap, often with the indestructable vajra in his hand.

    His throne and animal is the “unshakable” elephant.

    Buddha Weekly Black Tara Elephant Buddhism
    Blue Tara, who is of the Vajra family on an elephant, the symbol of the Vajra family.

    Our Vajra Vow

    Just as he made a vow to us to be unshakable, we likewise make a vow to him each time we renew our Bodhisattva and Tantra and Vajrayana Vows when we say:

    I shall uphold purely

    The vajra, bell and mudra of

    The great, supreme Vajra family,

    And I shall uphold purely the Master commitment.

     

    Vajra
    The symbol of the Vajra family.

     

    This means that we likewise promise to be unshakable in our commitment to the Dharma.

    His wisdom, reflecting his unshakable nature, is Mirror-Like Wisdom. This is described as “seeing phenomena as they truly are” — the nature of Shunyata, symbolized by the elemental metaphor of water.

    He is in the East of the Five Buddhas Mandala (athough in some specialized practices he might be in the center of the mandala).

    Buddha Weekly five buddha collage Buddhism
    The Five Dhyani Buddhas, also called Five Wisdom Buddhas, Five Conquerors, Five Jinas. In the center of the galactic mandala is White Vairochana. In front in the east is Blue Akshobhya, to the left in the south is Yellow Ratnasambhava, in the west is Red Amitabha Buddha, in the north is Green Amoghasiddhi.

     

     

    Names

    Sanskrit अक्षोभ्य

    Akṣobhya

    Chinese 阿閦佛

    (Pinyin: Āchù Fó)

    Japanese 阿閦仏あしゅくぶつ

    (romaji: Ashuku Butsu)

    Khmer អសុភ្យ

    (a-sop),

    អសុភ្យពុទ្ធ

    Korean 아촉불

    (RR: Achog Bul)

    Mongolian ᠬᠥᠳᠡᠯᠦᠰᠢ ᠦᠭᠡᠢ

    Хөдөлшгүй

    SASM/GNC: Ködelüsi ügei

    Thai พระอักโษภยพุทธะ

    Tibetan མི་བསྐྱོད་པ་

    Wylie: mi bskyod pa

    THL: mikyöpa. Mitrugpa

    Vietnamese A Súc Phật

    Water cools anger
    Water is symbolic of the eastern Buddha family. Water cools anger, like a “splash of water.” Water is also symbolic of emptiness.

    Blue and Watery

    Characterized by a serene blue, draws parallels with water and purification, the symbolic color and element of the Unshakable Buddha. Venerable Tulku Yeshi Gyatso Rinpoche the color blue[4]:

    “Why is his color blue? The blue represents the Dharmadhatu, which contains the five distinguishing features or aspects: body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities of all the Buddhas.” 

     

    Hum
    The Blue of the Vajra family and the seed syllable Hum symbolize Shunyata, the true nature of reality.

     

    Blue Symbolizes Shunyata

    Blue is symbolic of emptiness, with the metaphor of the great ocean. In the Buddhist metaphor, we are each a “drop of water” which appears distinct, but its ultimate reality is “water” and when the water drops gather they become a stream, and stream joins a river and river flows into the seas where all waters on earth are ultimately of one essence.

    The blue as a color serves as a reminder of the healing properties and medicinal qualities traditionally found with water, another reason for the metaphor. Blue, in Buddhism, represents the cooling of anger, like splashing cool water on an angry person to startle him, then cool him off. Water is also synonymous with tranquility. Among the most popular of sounds for meditation is the sound of a gentle waterfall or flowing stream.

     

    Buddha Weekly Buddhist monk meditating at waterfall dreamstime xxl 155900227 Buddhism

     

    Water is the source of life. We arose from the oceans. Water can be both serene, the trickle of a stream, and vast and angry, like the tempestuous ocean. It’s power is tidal — just as the Vajra family is considered the most potent of powerful forces.

    To transform our anger into wisdom of mirror-like wisdom, the discernment of reality as it truly is. Like the moon, reflected in water,  Akshobhya Buddha’s Vajra family show us that what we think we are, and the emotions that seem to arise, are nothing but reflections with no essence — that we are part of a great force, the tidal force of the metaphorical ocean.

     

    Vajra and Elephant
    Vajra and the elephant are the two icons of the Vajra family of Akshobhya. Elephants, like Akshobhya, represent “Unshakable resolve.”

     

    Vajra – Diamond Sceptre

    Another great symbol for the Akshobhya family is their iconic and powerful vajra, often called the diamond scepter, not because it’s made of diamond, but because, like a diamond, it is indestructable. Why is it indestructable? Because the true essence is indestructable. Why is it indestructable? Because it symbolizes Buddha Nature.

    Like that, we too, are indestructable or immortal because our essence has never died and never will die. Our true essence, our Buddha Nature, is indestructable. This becomes clear, as we practice Akshobhya Buddha’s clarity practices.

    Dharani of Akshobhya Buddha

    NAMO RATNA TRAYĀYA OṂ KAṂKANI KAṂKANI ROCHANI ROCHANI TROṬANI TROṬANI TRĀSANI TRĀSANI PRATIHANA PRATIHANA SARVA KARMA PARAMPARĀṆI ME SVĀHĀ

    aksobhya Siddham Sanskrit mantra
    Akshobhya’s mantra in Siddham Sanskrit script.

    Name Mantra of Akshobhya Buddha

    oṃ akṣobhya hūṃ

    hum uchen Tibetan bija
    Tibetan script bija of Hum

    Family Seed Syllable

    Hum

    hum siddham sanskrit bija
    Hum seed syllable of the Vajra family in Siddham Sanskrit script.

    Family Summary

    Position in mandala east
    Color blue
    Family Vajra
    Mudra earth touching
    Wisdom Mirrorlike Wisdom
    Emblem vajra
    Consort/prajñā Locanā

    Akshobhya and Lochana
    Akshobhya and Lochana.

    Mirror-like Wisdom and the Magic City in Lotus Sutra

    Aksobhya’s wisdom is Mirrorlike Wisdom which overcomes the poison of anger.  Just as we think we see true reflections in a mirror, mirror-like wisdom helps us understand that ultimately what we think is relatively real is ultimately not as it seems. If we touch the reflection of the moon in the water, the ripples we create makes it dissapear. In this metaphor, if our mind is busy or stressed, we cannot see.

    Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Zen Master taught the concept this way:

    “The mind is like a sheet of water, calmly reflecting the reality as it is. When the water is still, it can hold the image of the reality exactly as it is, with no distortion”.

    This metaphor also arises from the old superstitions that mirrors would not reflect evil or illusory beings. In western lore, like the vampire who cannot be seen reflected in a mirror.

     

    small fantasy city dreamstime s 310659665
    In chapter 7 of the Lotus Sutra, Buddha tells the story of Akshobhya using expedient means to manifest a magical city to save some weary travellers on a dangerous road. The dangerous road represents Samsara, and the city represents “expedient teaching means” of the Buddha.

     

    The Magic City in Lotus Sutra

    In The Parable of the Magic City in the Lotus Sutra chapter 7, Shakyamuni Buddha tells the story of Akshobhya Buddha.

    In this exalted chapter, the Buddha is teaching the true nature of things and the error of dualistic thinking. This is, in fact, a wonderful parable illustrating the Mirror-Like wisdom of Akshobhya Buddha. In the Parable, Akshobhya Buddha is the “leader” of the people trying to reach the city. He tells the story:

    “There is a road, five hundred yojanas long, steep, dangerous and bad, an uninhabited and terrifying place. A large group of people wish to travel this road to reach a cache of precious jewels.

    Among them, there is a guide, intelligent, wise and clear-headed, who knows the road well, both its passable and impassable features, and who wishes to lead the group through this hardship.

    Midway, the group he is leading grows weary and wishes to turn back. They say to the guide, “we are exhausted and afraid. We cannot go forward. It’s too far. We want to turn back now.”

    Having had this thought, through his power, he manifests a spectacular city in the center of the dangerous road, three hundred yojanas in extent, and says to them,

    “Do not be afraid. Do not turn back; Stay here now in this great city I have created just for you. If you go into this city, you will be happy and at peace. If you then wish to proceed to the jewel cache, you may do so.”

     

    fantasy magic city akshobhya small dreamstime s 288413038
    The magical city.

    Then the exhausted group rejoiced greatly, having gained what they had never had.

    “We have now escaped this bad road and gained happiness and peace.”

    Then the group went forward and entered the transformed city; thinking that they had already been saved, they felt happy and at peace.

    At that time, the guide, knowing that they were rested and no longer weary, made the city disappear, saying to them,

    “All of you, come, let us go. The jewel cache is near. The great city was merely something I created from transformation to give you a rest.”

    Shakyamuni finished the story of the illusory city of Akshobhya this way. He said to the monks:

    “Bhikshus, the Thus Come One is also like this. He now acts as a great guide for all of you.

    He knows that living beings should leave and cross over the evil road of the torments of birth and death which is so steep, difficult and long. He shall respond to and save them.”

    The parable acts as a poignant reminder of the transient nature of our experiences and the value of spiritual enlightenment above worldly illusions, underpinning the importance of Akshobhya’s Mirrorlike Wisdom in assisting our navigation through life.

    Their leader, who was Buddha Akshobhya, had this thought; “How pitiful they are. How can they renounce the great and precious treasure and wish to turn back?”

    This unique wisdom offers us the invaluable tool of self-examination and awareness needed to transform and purify negative emotions, echoing the teachings of Mirror-Like Wisdom.

    Transforming the Poison of Anger

    “As Akshobhya, we acknowledge the hidden treasures of our anger… We are together, discovering that peace is not the absence of turmoil but the capacity to meet adversity with an open heart; we are learning to cultivate peace, not by eliminating aggression, but by seeing that it does not bind us, that we are not compelled to act it out.” — Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher, nun, and prolific author.

    Akshobhya’s Mirror-Like wisdom is an unshakable fortitude born of calm reflection, a quality from which Akshobhya derives his name.

    Akshobhya cultivates inner serenity amidst a world of constant change and unpredictability, not in resistance to it. He shows us that our anger is only illusory, and how we can transform it into Wisdom.

    Anger and the Wrathful Deities

    It is this association with transforming “anger” — and the expedient described in the Lotus Sutra in the story of the magic city — that gives rise to the powerful wrathful forms of Buddhas. Many of the ferocious aspects of enlightenment are blue, like Akshobhya. This is because, as Akshobhya’s parable demonstrated, even if we think something is real, it is ultimately empty. The city was refuge, until Akshobhya transformed it back into the road. Likewise, the ferocious, wrathful Buddhas transform from Emptiness.

    As stated in the Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Akshobhya can manifest any form, expediently, like he created the magic city, but ultimately, it’s nature is Empty of self-arising reality.

    This symbolizes that, despite their wrathful, furious appearance, these wrathful Buddhas who arise from the Vajra nature are both expedient means, and real in terms of our limited conceptual understandings.

    Vajra Family Blue for Emptiness and Water

    They are blue, to connote Emptiness, and the cooling nature of Mirror-Like Wisdom. This is symbolized by water.  In the metaphor of the ocean in Buddhism, Buddhat teaches that a drop of water appears to be a “drop of water” until it becomes rain, then joins the stream, then joins the ocean. It’s ultimate nature is greater than the “drop of water.”

    Vajra Family: Mirror-Like Wisdom and the Purification of Reflection

    The term ‘mirror-like’ refers to the ability to see reality as it is, without distortion. It is the wisdom that provides clarity and forestalls the mind’s tendency to ‘color’ perceptions with personal biases, fears, and desires. Akshobhya’s mirror-like wisdom emblematically manifests in the ability to differentiate between reality and illusion, offering an unwavering gaze at the nature of existence[2].

    Purification, at its core, revolves around releasing ourselves from these distorted perceptions — it is about cleansing the ‘mirror’ of the mind, enabling a fresher, cleaner reflection of reality. The practice adopted by the Vajra Family harnesses the purification power of self-reflection, where one contemplates their actions and motivations, aiming to eliminate harmful behavior and nurture positive habits[3].

    Incorporating this approach into your everyday life can be transformative. Self-reflection fosters a deeper understanding of oneself and the world, paving the way for improved emotional health, well-being, and ultimately, spiritual liberation.[4]

    So, as you immerse yourself in the teachings and practices of the Vajra Family, anticipate a stimulating journey that explores the depths of mirror-like wisdom, and invites you to embark on a path of purification through the power of reflection.

    Lochana: The Wisdom Mother of the Vajra Family

    Lochana, also referred to as Akashadhāteshvarī, is the wisdom consort or the spiritual partner of Akshobhya Buddha. She embodies the mirror-like wisdom aspect of Vajra family, embodying clear, unceasing awareness.

    Lochana’s name itself exemplifies her role. ‘Lochana’ means ‘The Eye’ or ‘Seer’, signifying the power of visual understanding and wisdom. She is recognized as an enlightened being who mirrors the immense purity of the universe. Her wisdom transcends ordinary understanding and provides a glimpse into the unsullied reality.

    In visual depictions, Lochana is often color-coordinated with Akshobhya, daughter of the nadir, adorned in royal-blue attire reflecting the purification virtues of the Vajra family. She places her right hand in the Bhumisparsa mudra (the earth touching gesture), while her left-hand cradles a vajra-topped lotus, encompassing the traditional representation of mirror-like wisdom.

    Lochana’s role is vital to the understanding and spiritual practice within the Vajra family. Meditating on Lochana supports nurturing a tranquil mind and enhancing wisdom. Engaging with Lochana’s symbolic characteristics can assist in liberating oneself from negative emotions and deep-seated ignorance, leading towards the path of enlightenment.

    The Dynamic Symbol of the Family: Diamond Vajra

    The vajra, or diamond sceptre, is a potent emblem for the Vajra family. It symbolizes the unyielding nature of their commitment to wisdom and compassion, and their ability to cut through ignorance to attain enlightenment. Etymologically, ‘vajra’ in Sanskrit denotes both ‘thunderbolt’ and ‘diamond,’ extending its symbolism to embody the formidable power of the enlightened mind and the durability of wisdom that can’t be destroyed.

    The vajra in the context of the Vajra Buddha Family is normally either five or nine pronged. When five pronged it is five prongs on each end, with one side representing the five Buddhas and the other end representing the five Mothers. It is the ultimate symbol of Power and Wisdom in Vajrayana Buddhism.

    In Vajrayana practice, the vajra often finds utility as a ritual implement, held in the right hand to symbolize method, while a bell in the left hand stands for wisdom. The vajra and bell together symbolize the inseparability of compassion and wisdom, culminating in the path towards enlightenment.  See our in-depth feature on the Bell and Vajra here>>

    The Impactful Role of Vajrapani in the Vajra Family

    Steeped in Buddhist lore and recognized for his immense power and relentless dedication to the Dharma, Vajrapani stands as a venerated figure within the spiritual framework of the Vajra family. As a Bodhisattva, his role extends beyond mere symbolism, serving as a beacon of strength, martial ferocity and spiritual enlightenment.

    Vajrapani, artistically depicted wielding the Vajra, encapsulates an embodiment of power that transcends mortal understanding. The Vajra, a diamond sceptre, symbolizes indestructible strength and the immutable truth of the Buddha’s teachings. Through Vajrapani, the Vajra transforms from a static symbol into a dynamic, spiritual force.

    Vajrapani’s representation, clothed in warrior’s armor, and enflamed with spiritual intensity, captures the unyielding fight against delusions and the fundamental ignorance that binds all beings to the cycle of Samsara. Despite his wrathful appearance, his goal is ultimately benevolent, aiming to break the chains of delusion and free sentient beings from their suffering.

    As a part of the Vajra family, Vajrapani embodies the mirror-like wisdom of this Buddha clan, the Providence of purification and reflection. His fierce dedication to slicing through delusion mirrors the unyielding nature of Akshobhya Buddha’s teachings, and his unwavering commitment to the enlightenment of all sentient beings reflects the compassionate heart of this Buddhist dynasty.

    Buddhist practitioners who follow the Vajrapani path often engage in intense spiritual practices. They make use of visualizations and meditations centered on Vajrapani’s iconic image, focusing on the elements of strength, tenacity, and unyielding resolve that he represents. This process helps practitioners develop their own inner strength, equipping them to handle the challenges of life and spiritual pursuit.

    See our in-depth documentary video on Vajrapani here>>

    A Daily Practice of Buddha Akṣobhya

    by Karma Chakmé

     NOTE: THE TEXT HERE IS CHANGED FROM KARMA CHAKME’s TEXT TO SAY “I visualize Bhagavan Akshobhya in front of me” to make this a frontal generation. If you have empowerment and instruction you can state this as written by Kamra Chakme “I visualize myself as Bhagavan Akshobya.”

    རང་ཉིད་བཅོམ་ལྡན་མི་འཁྲུགས་པ། །

    rangnyi chomden mitrukpa

    I visualize  the Bhagavān Akṣobhya in front of me,  (as written it is “I visualize myself as Bhagava Akshobya — which you may recite and visualize if you have empowerment.)

    སྤྲུལ་སྐུའི་ཆ་ལུགས་མཚན་དཔེ་རྫོགས། །

    tulkü chaluk tsenpé dzok

    Complete with the major and minor marks and in nirmāṇakāya garb,

    གླང་པོའི་ཁྲི་ལ་བཞུགས་པར་བསྒོམ། །

    langpö tri la zhukpar gom

    And seated upon a throne supported by elephants.

    ཐུགས་ཀར་ཟླ་སྟེང་ཧཱུྃ་མཐིང་མཐར། །

    tukkar da teng hung ting tar

    At his heart, upon a moon-disc, is a blue hūṃ,

    གཟུངས་ཀྱིས་གཡས་སུ་བསྐོར་བ་ལས། །

    zung kyi yé su korwa lé

    Around which the mantra rotates to the right,

    འོད་ཟེར་མཐིང་ཁ་རབ་འཕྲོས་པས། །

    özer tingkha rab tröpé

    Sending out powerful rays of deep blue light.

    ཚེ་འདས་ཐོགས་དྲངས་འགྲོ་ཀུན་གྱི། །

    tsedé tok drang dro kün gyi

    Through this, I visualize, the karmic obscurations

    ལས་ཀྱི་སྒྲིབ་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་ནི། །

    lé kyi dribpa tamché ni

    Of all sentient beings, especially of those who have passed away,

    བ་མོར་ཉི་ཟེར་ཕོག་ལྟར་བསྒོམ། །

    bamor nyizer pok tar gom

    Disappear entirely, just like frost in sunlight!

    ན་མོ་རཏྣ་ཏྲ་ཡ་ཡཱ། ཨོཾ་ཀཾ་ཀ་ནི་ཀཾ་ཀ་ནི། རོ་ཙ་ནི་རོ་ཙ་ནི། ཏྲོ་ཊ་ནི་ཏྲོ་ཊ་ནི། ཏྲཱ་ས་ནི་ཏྲཱ་ས་ནི། པྲ་ཏི་ཧ་ན་པྲ་ཏི་ཧ་ན། སརྦ་ཀརྨ་པ་རཾ་པ་ར་ཎི་མེ་སརྦ་སཏྭཱ་ནཱཉྩ་སྭཱ་ཧཱ།

    namo ratna trayaya | om kamkani kamkani | rotsani rotsani | trotani trotani | trasani trasani | tratihana tratihana | sarwa karma paramparanimé sarwa satananytsa soha

    namo ratnatrayayā | oṃ kaṃkani kaṃkani | rocani rocani | troṭani troṭani | trāsani trāsani | pratihana pratihana | sarva karma paraṃpāraṇime sarva satvānāñca svāhā

     

    ཨ་རཱ་གས་སྦྱར་བའོ༎ ༎

    Composed by Arāga.

    NOTES

    [1] Mikyopa, T. (2003). Akshobhya, The Mirror to Our Souls. Vajrayna.

    [2] Kamalashila’s Bhavanakrama (stages of meditation, 9th century). (n.d.). Vajrayana.

    [3] Sutras, V. (n.d.). Visualization Sutras. Vajrayana.

    [4] Ven Tulku Yeshi Gyatso Rinpoche https://www.sakya.org/2010/12/dharma-lecture-the-vajrapani-practice/

    [5] The Dharani that Thoroughly Purifies Karmic Obscurations is a Sutra that contains the dharani mantra

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    Lee Kane

    Author | Buddha Weekly

    Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
    Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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