By Richmond Lee
With additional help from Andy Lee (thanks bro!)
In the earliest concept art released for the game, Asura is depicted standing ragged with his body pierced by various weapons adorned with Vajras.
The Vajra is an iconic symbol of Buddism, but not as well known in the West.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Tibetan art, the Vajra prongs can be closed or open, representing peace and wrath alternatively.
There are countless depictions of Buddhist deities brandishing Vajras from every school of Buddhism.
Bonus Info – Siddham Script
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!
Vajras aren’t exclusively for demigods, some historical figures are also popularly portrayed holding Vajras.
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…
… 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!