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Gokoshima (Five-Pronged Vajra)

Asian Art

On View: Asian Galleries, Southwest, 2nd floor
A stylized representation of a lightning bolt, called a vajra, has long been an important emblem of power in Buddhist teachings and art. Vajras usually look like two-sided tridents, with prongs on both ends of a shaft, but their heads can have one, three, five, or six prongs. Esoteric Buddhism is called Vajrayana, or the “way of the vajra,” because the lightning bolt represents the active, forceful approach to enlightenment, one that cuts through ignorance and fear.

In esoteric Buddhist practice, initiated worshippers often hold a vajra and a hand bell, known in Sanskrit as a ghanta. The vajra symbolizes action or method, and the bell represents wisdom. Buddhists believe that these two complementary qualities must be combined and balanced in order to gain insight and progress toward enlightenment.
MEDIUM Gilt bronze
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 12th-14th century
    PERIOD Late Heian Period to Kamakura Period
    DIMENSIONS 1 3/4 × 1 3/4 × 7 5/8 in. (4.4 × 4.4 × 19.4 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Asian Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Asian Galleries, Southwest, 2nd floor
    EXHIBITIONS
    ACCESSION NUMBER 71.165
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Bernice and Robert Dickes
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Gokoshima (Five-Pronged Vajra), 12th-14th century. Gilt bronze, 1 3/4 × 1 3/4 × 7 5/8 in. (4.4 × 4.4 × 19.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Bernice and Robert Dickes, 71.165. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 71.165_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 71.165_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Vajra ritual object Double five-pronged vajra (go-ko) with three flames on each prong except central one. Central grip consists of two bands of bound lotus petals. Vajra is a Sanskrit term for a lightning bolt. It is carried as a weapon by various Hindu and Buddhist deities. In esoteric Buddhism, the vajra is a central emblem because the pure energy of lightning delivers a swift, powerful, and precise blow that shatters what it touches, much as enlightenment can deliver a swift, powerful, and precise blow that shatters ignorance and other forces of darkness. In ancient India, the vajra was depicted as a forked weapon. The more elaborate form shown here developed later in India and became the standard depiction of the vajra throughout Buddhist Asia. Condition: Good, except has been cleaned recently (patina removed)
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