At first glance, the Tibetan dorje symbol appears to be a weapon. But the dorje symbol is not a weapon, it is a ritual object. In Tibetan Buddhism, the dorje symbol is inseparable with the bell. In Tantric Buddhism, the bell represents the feminine, and the dorje represents the masculine, or the dorje represents a thunderbolt, and the bell represents a diamond. The bell can also represent the body, while the dorje represents the mind. In Buddhist ceremonies in Tibet, the bell and the dorje are always used together. The dorje can be used to strike the bell. When holding the dorje and bell together, the dorje is held in the right hand, and the bell is in the left hand.
The Tibetan Buddhist deity, Vajrasattva, is commonly shown holding the dorje in the right hand and the bell in the left hand. Other Buddhas who are pictured with the dorje are Vajrapani, and Padmasambhava. In Tibetan, dorje translates to ‘noble stone.’
The dorje symbol came to Tibetan Buddhism from Hinduism. In Sanskrit, dorje is called ‘vajra.’ Vajra means, ‘thunderbolt’ or ‘diamond,’ and the vajra is indestructible. The vajra is like a diamond, because it can destroy, but it cannot be destroyed. The vajra represents spiritual power. In Hinduism, the vajra is the weapon of Indra (the god of rain, lightning, and the sky). The vajra symbol also destroys ignorance. The vajra is the symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism, one of the three major branches of Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism is also known as the ‘Thunderbolt Way’ or the ‘Diamond Way.’
The vajra is often used as a tool in meditation. Practitioners can meditate on the vajra to achieve the ‘thunderbolt experience.’ The thunderbolt experience is a symbol of union of the relative and absolute truths. Relative truth is what we experience in everyday life, conversely, absolute truth is the timeless state of being unified with nature and everything around us. The bell and dorje symbol can also be meditated on, because we must balance both the masculine and feminine elements within us in order to reach enlightenment.
Each part of the dorje symbol has a certain meaning. The two spheres of the dorje joined together in the middle represent the two sides of the brain. This dual nature in the dorje itself can also represent the body, mind, or masculine, feminine, etc. Just as in other types of eastern philosophy and religion such as the yin yang symbol, this duality is represented in the dorje.
The spheres represents sunyata, the primordial nature of the universe. There are two sides of the dorje, and these represent two lotus flowers joined together, one side is for the phenomenal world (samsara), the other is for the noumenal world (nirvana). The three rings in the center of the dorje represent the spontaneous bliss of Buddha nature as emptiness, effortlessness, and signlessness. The eight upper petals represent the eight bodhisattvas, and the eight lower petals represent their consorts. Above the lotuses, there are three rings. These rings represent the six perfections, patience, generosity, discipline, effort, meditation, and wisdom.
The double dorje symbol is known as the vishvavajra. It is also known as the double cross. This symbol is made when two dorjes are mounted together. The double dorje symbol is often used as a stamp or a seal, and placed on the bottom of statues and pendants. When the dorje or the double dorje sign are worn as pendants, they remind the wearer of the indestructibility of knowledge.
In Hinduism, Indra’s thunderbolt has open prongs. There is a legend that Shakyamuni took the vajra weapon from Indra and pressed the prongs together to make the dorje into a peaceful instrument rather than a weapon.