A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 3 – The Mighty Vajra

 

 

By Richmond Lee
With additional help from Andy Lee (thanks bro!)

Previous Entries:
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 1 – Buddhist Cyborgs and the story of the Asura
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts

Vajra (金剛)
In the earliest concept art released for the game, Asura is depicted standing ragged with his body pierced by various weapons adorned with Vajras.

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The Vajra is an iconic symbol of Buddism, but not as well known in the West.

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In Sanskrit it means both thunderbolt and diamond and bears their symbolic properties as an unbreakable weapon that slices through any substance with irresistible force.

The Vajra is first mentioned in Indian Vedic texts (originating from 1700 BCE, predating Buddhism!), where it was wielded by Indra, king of the devas, to fight against the Asura, Vritra (often described as a dragon or serpent) who had swallowed up all the life giving waters of the world.

A Tibetan representation of Vritra. As you can see, he is strongly associated with Dragons.

This Asura had a specific boon (a wish granted by a god) where he could not be killed by any weapon forged of metal or wood, making him impervious to all known weapons and allowing him to take over Indra’s kingdom. In the quest to defeat Vritra, the great sage Dadhichi willingly gave up his life so that the devas could craft the ultimate weapons from his bones. Thus Tvashtar, smith of the devas created the first Vajra from Dadhichi’s spine (some sources say his thigh bone or skull).  Wielding the Vajra, Indra struck down Vritra and restored water to the world.

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Awesome Hindu painting of Indra striking down Vritra with the Vajra (depicted here as a sword)

The Vajra is one of the most wide spread Buddhist symbols.  It appears regularly in Mahayana Buddhist art and is especially ubiquitous in Tibetan Buddhism, which falls under the Vajrayana School, which takes its name directly from the Vajra (“Vajrayana” literally means “The Thunderbolt Way”). Lightning strikes more frequently in the Himalayas than almost anywhere else on earth (second only to central Africa), so it makes sense that the Vajra would spring up as such an important symbol in this region of the world. The Vajra has become an important symbol in Buddhist and Hindu art the world over.

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Tibetan's have an awesome custom of forging Vajras out of iron from meteorites!

In Vedic and Hindu art, the Vajra is depicted in many different ways including as a club, a sword or even a discus with a hole in the center.  In Buddhist art (including that of India), the Vajra is very most often depicted as a hand held weapon that consists of a single handle with a trident on each side.  The trident tips are usually curved inward, representing the Buddha symbolically bending the prongs of this ultimate weapon to turn it into a peaceful scepter.

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In Tibetan art, the Vajra prongs can be closed or open, representing peace and wrath alternatively.

Open and closed prong Vajras

An excerpt from The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols by Robert Beer. You can purchase this wonderful book here: http://goo.gl/M5MHm

There are countless depictions of Buddhist deities brandishing Vajras from every school of Buddhism.

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An early Indian Buddhist stone sculpture

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A 12th Century Japanese Esoteric Buddhist scroll painting of Brahma (right) and Indra (left) by Takuma Shoga. Brahma is holding a trident with the tips bent inward (closed Vajra tip). Indra is depicted brandishing a single-pointed Vajra.

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Weituo, Kūkai (空海)

A beautiful modern oil painting of Weituo, a Buddhist Deity dressed in Chinese armor who guards the grave of the historical Buddha. Weituo's Vajra is usually depicted as a giant spike, not unlike the spears sticking out of Asura in the concept art. If anyone knows the name of the artist that painted this, please let me know!

**update**
The above painting is by Beijing based artist, Zhang Kan (张瞰) from the Nepal and China Collection (尼泊尔中华寺收藏).  It stands at 2 meters tall and is selling for 230,000 yuan ($36,415.44)! I’m glad this artist is doing well!

Nio Guardians (classic temple guardians) often brandish a single-pronged Vajra.

 

Vajras aren’t exclusively for demigods, some historical figures are also popularly portrayed holding Vajras.

Kūkai (空海), founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan is often portrayed brandishing a Vajra

 

Tying It All Back To The Game – The Eight Guardian Generals vs Vlitra
The very first boss in the game is a gargantuan serpentine monster named Vlitra, a reference to Vritra, the aforementioned serpent of Vedic mythology that the Vajra was originally created to defeat.

The Eight Guardian Generals are almost defeated by this terrible monster that destroys entire armadas of space ships with just a breath.  However, when all seems lost, Asura is revived and empowered by his daughter, the priestess Mithra.  In his charged up state, Asura sprouts extra arms and becomes…

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SIX-ARMED VAJRA ASURA!!!

… and handily defeats the unkillable beast Vlitra!

As soon as I saw this moment in the game (and in the first episode no less) I knew the creators of the game were really doing their homework and I wasn’t crazy for reading so much into it!

My hat’s off to Capcom and Cyberconnect2 for putting together such a rich, well researched, immaculately executed narrative!

Thanks for reading this latest installment of A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath.  Tune in next Wednesday for another installment!

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About Richmond

I am a professional game artist who wants everyone to love art as much as I do!
This entry was posted in Art History, Asura's Wrath, Buddhism, capcom, video games. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 3 – The Mighty Vajra

  1. don holland says:

    i woild likei wowould like to known what these are worth

  2. Dara says:

    Just want to say, this is so awesome! I love this game, so I want to read more!

  3. Keri Flens says:

    The term Hinduism also occurs sporadically in Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450), some 16th-18th century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts, including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata, usually to contrast Hindus with Yavanas or Mlecchas.^.,`

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  4. Alex says:

    Such a lovely article. I’m very interested in asian mythology, so thank you very much. I have one question only. I live in Russia and Asura’s Wrath has two deities with interesting names – Olga and Sergei. These two names are definitely russian (or slavic). So… Are they connected to mythology or it was a random choice of names?
    I will be very greatful for answer!

  5. zhangziyi says:

    You’re actually a just right webmaster. The website loading velocity is incredible. It kind of feels that you’re doing any unique trick. In addition, The contents are masterwork. you have performed a magnificent job in this subject!

  6. Pingback: A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 1 | Art-Eater

  7. Anthony Lopez says:

    Are you going to cover all of the 7 deities? I’m interested to get your perspective on them.

  8. Glenn says:

    It was one of those days when i lurk around in TVTropes.org, i find a tasty nugget of info about games i played or seen around gaming websites/game stores.

    I have an all-consuming interest (perhaps unhealthy/intellectual) in art, with a preference to japanese manga/animation/videogames (art & animation in general, as well.) While reading the tvtropes article about Asura’s Wrath, i stumbled across your website (via tvtropes) and your articles about buddhist influences in the design of the game. Not only did i discover lots of things that made Asura’s Wrath so unique, i found myself neck deep in your article about Darkstalkers & the 12 points of animation.

    Thanks to you, I’m compelled to read everything you posted here on your blog (unspeakably awesome, by the way), ’til my eyes go blind by looking at all the art featured here (your portfolio and the ones in your great articles).

    Danggit, now i gotta sharpen my pencil and scrounge up a sketchpad and start drawing something (XD. You may not have written something new these past months (just recently stumbled this site today), because of work or other issues, but pretty please, keep doing what you’re doing ! take your time and hope for the best ! 8D.

    Best of luck, Glenn (fan of art & animation, Japanese & Western).

  9. Pingback: GamezGeneration | GzG presents “M&M Weekly” #004 – Lieblingscharaktere

  10. Michael Murray says:

    Another place the Vajra shows up is the weapon that Deus weilds; the tips of his nunchucks bear the signature shape of Indra’s weapon (and also spew lightning, of course). Deus is an obvious stand-in for Indra. Deus is depicted in the game pretty much as Indra is described in the Vedas. Deus’ Ahab-Whale complex concerning Vritra/Vlitra is also an obvious connection to Indra (“only I can defeat Vlitra”). What disappointed me about the game was that there weren’t more obvious Vedic deities among the demigods. I’m fairly sure Asura is supposed to be a stand in for Rudra (married to Durga, always furious) who, like Asura, later becomes the Great Destroyer (in Rudra’s case, history transformed him into Shiva) who bears the powers of all the Deities in the final portions of the games (just as the Shaivites have elevated Rudra/Shiva to Mahadev). Yasha may be Vishnu, both concerned with order and preservation, who serves as a counterpart to Asura/Rudra’s destructive nature. But no obvious stand-in for Agni, or Brahma, or Yama (although the aged, creative Karlow and the large, violent Wyzen sort of reminded me of the latter two, respectively). The developers wanted the demigods to look human, so its sort of understandable, but how neat it would have been to see Deus with eyes covering his body, or Karlow with four faces. or an Agni proxy with numerous tongues.

  11. jacopo says:

    dear Richmond
    your guide is a really interesting interpretation of one of the most significant games i’ve ever played, i regrettably see that you stopped at part 3 while there could be still much more explanations of lot of the elements in the game (like the tyrannical figure of Chakravartin in the DLC true ending of the game… as well as the concept of mantra itself.)
    And I, as well as many of your readers, would really love to be enlightened a bit more about the meanings of lot of elements in Asura’s Wrath (because unluckily wikipedia is not enough).
    Anyway, thanks a lot again for your high quality work!! (hoping you will go on with this!!!)

  12. Ethan says:

    When is the next installment? These are great articles! I am really curious about the spider and what he becomes.

  13. lantis earth says:

    GREAT work, Richmond!
    The first minutes of the game are really amazing and while playing it I couldn’t know what was more impressive: the narrative, the Buddhism references or the huge scale of everything in the game.
    Having finished it in one sit, I was very pleased when I found your articles. They are very well done and have the ability to keep alive the awesome feeling of the game, and are also a good Buddhism lesson!
    Thanks from Brasil!

  14. xenoagito says:

    Where’s part 4? Nice article, very like this, because I love history of Hinduism and Buddhism in my country (Indonesia).

    • Andres says:

      Tashi Delek Deepak !I am writing at the reueqst of a friend from Que9bec city. He is looking for a Dzochen community. Is it possible for him to attend your meetings ? He has been practicing in the tibetan buddhism tradition for over ten years now. Would it be possible to have more information on your activities. He is planning to be in Toronto from Marsh 4 th to Marsh 7th. Do you have french speakingparticipants or does he need to be accompanied by someone who understands and speaks english? Do you have any requirements before allowing someone to attend one of your meditation session ?Thank you very much to give me more information. Thu-chi-cheAnne

  15. AIM says:

    Wonderful posts so far, and It’s really great to learn about all these cultures. Keep it up! :)

  16. Han says:

    Asura characters design and looks seems to be based on Northern Buddhism (Chinese, Japan and Korea).

    While the setting and theme is based on Southern Buddhism (Thailand, India and Burma).

    With other words, both North and South Buddhist style is mixed together just to make a great game!

    Don’t know if there is Tibetan Buddhism in the game though.

  17. Jenny says:

    Thank you so much for these articles! The art history student in me was so excited to see someone trace this game’s inspirations back to the historical sources.

    I’ve been doing research into Chinese and Indian Buddhist art styles for a project I’m working on (which is how I found your blog), but I’m looking for more resources. Do you think you’d ever be interested in putting together a “reading list” blogpost of the sources you’ve used so far plus any other books/websites you’d recommend for further research?

  18. Lateef says:

    Great work! I enjoyed learning more about the Vajra and its significance. Very nice read! I wish I grew up in a place with this art around. Its so beautiful!

  19. Andy says:

    The artist of that painting is 张瞰 (Zhang Kan), from Beijing. It’s from the 尼泊尔中华寺收藏 (Nepal & China) collection.

  20. Pingback: A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – Weapons – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts | Art-Eater

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