Tibetan Handbell-Dorje Symbolism

There is deep Buddhist symbolism contained within the designs of the bell and dorje. Each side of the center section of the dorje (vajra) is engraved with an eight-petaled lotus. Four curved outer prongs surround a central prong, all meeting just below the tip. Each curved outer prong emerges from the mouth of a makara, or sea monster.

The dorje originated as the thunderbolt of Indra, the Indian god of weather. It was brought to Tibet in the 8th c. by Padma Sambhava, the Indian founder of Lamaism, and was used as a weapon to vanquish demons. As a symbol of Indra, the thunderbolt was a flat, double trident, and evolved into its current form under Buddhism. The Sanskrit word vajra or Tibetan word dorje means diamond, or that which is adamantine, indestructible and unchangeable. It symbolizes the immovable, fixed, indestructible state of tatha-ta, the enlightened mind of the Buddha, where the experience and reality of the Absolute cannot be destroyed or even scratched.

The handle of the handbell (ghanta) is in the form of the goddess Dharma, or Prajna, "Supreme Wisdom", with a half dorje on top. The body of the bell has the following decoration:

  • shoulder: eight Tibetan syllables of lam, bam, mam, tsum, pam, bhrim, tam and mam, each in a petal of an eight-petaled lotus
  • below shoulder: 16 horizontal dorjes above eight monster masks connected with draped garlands, with a single vertical dorje between each mask
  • base: 45 vertical dorjes
  • inside dome: the Tibetan mantra Om Ah Hum and an eight-petaled lotus
  • clapper: attached by a thong and strikes the lower edge of the bell

The handbell and dorje are used together. The dorje is considered masculine and signifies compassion or method, while the bell is feminine and signifies wisdom or the void. Though seemingly separate they are one. By using this vajra method, which is compassion for all sentient beings, one attains the indestructible, unchanging state of "two in one" wisdom. The lama, holding the bell in his left hand and the dorje in his right, tries to attain this mystic union with his ritualistic gestures.