itself is nirvana. On the relative level, the compassion, loving-kindness, and
wisdom of Vajrakilaya and realized beings are always with samsara. The
crocodile mouth symbolizes the compassion of the bodhisattvas and realized
beings; they never release themselves from samsara, and they never
leave others behind. The crocodile mouth symbolizes compassion as the
connecting point between nirvana and samsara.
The area below the handle symbolizes the three realms: the highest
and most expansive is the realm of the formless gods, next is the realm of
the gods of form, and lowest and smallest is the desire realm, which contains
both gods and humans. The human area is smaller than the gods’
area. The higher the realm, the more expansive it is. This also applies to
the phurba state.
The way to transform the deluded state of samsara into the undeluded
state of nirvana is symbolized by the three blades of the dagger. The threesided
dagger has many symbolic meanings. For instance, the nature of
samsara is none other than the pure land of the three kayas. By understanding
the supreme nature of Vajrakilaya, the three realms can be transmuted
into the three kayas.
In terms of the view, the three blades symbolize the qualities of the
three doors of liberation: not having characteristics, being beyond expectations,
and having the nature of emptiness. This is the basic view of the continuous
supreme awareness. The cause or basis has no characteristics, and
the fruition or result is beyond expectations, so their identity or nature is
emptiness. As they are without characteristics or expectations, cause and
effect are both within emptiness. The entire universe is always based on
The three blades also symbolize the way to perform activities. When
the phurba is used, it is always handled as an act of compassion. There are
three types of compassion: compassion that focuses on sentient beings,
compassion that focuses on the ignorance of sentient beings, and compassion
with no focus or reference point—which can also be viewed as
loving-kindness, compassion, and bodhichitta. Guru Padma sambhava
taught that loving-kindness, compassion, and bodhichitta are the mind of
the buddhas. Bodhichitta is free from delusion, but deluded beings like us
can use bodhichitta to invoke supreme wisdom.
Every aspect of this symbolism is meant to show us that samsara and
nirvana are one single state. There is not one part to reject and another part
to accept. In the Mahayana sutras, Buddha Shakyamuni taught the importance
of realizing the equality of samsara and nirvana. The Buddha
Maitreya summarized this in the Abhisamayalamkara (Ornament of Vivid
Realization)57 by stating that samsara and nirvana are totally equal. And in
terms of the pith instructions, the great master Saraha sang in one of his
songs, “Samsara and nirvana are equal. That is Mahamudra, the great seal.”
Whenever you see a symbolic substantial phurba, it is a reminder of
your view, your meditation, and your realization, not just an interesting
piece of sculpture.
In the tantras, the symbolic substantial phurba is commonly called the
tsenma dze kyi phurba. But some tantras also refer to the substantial
phurba as the sipa phurba. Sipa means “possible” or “existence.” The sipa
phurba is the phurba of all possible existence. It has also been translated as
The phurba teachings are very vast, profound, and secret, and have
many divisions. Although Vajrakilaya is wrathful, the existing phurba or
sipa phurba can be used for different activities. There are four main types
of activity: pacifying, increasing or enriching, magnetizing or overpowering,
and subjugating. Sometimes phurbas are particularly dedicated to
accomplishing the pacifying activity. These phurbas are usually white in
color, and made of conch shell, crystal, or silver. Phurbas used specifically
for increasing are yellow in color and made of metals such as gold. Red
phurbas, which are used for magnetizing or overpowering, are made of
copper or other red metals. Phurbas used for the purpose of subjugation
are dark and made of a meteorite or iron, or very hard wood from thorny
trees. Phurbas have various styles, materials, and purposes.
Substantial symbolic phurbas have specific measurements according
to their different purposes. The measurements are based on the width of
the fingers. They are two fingers long, four fingers long, six fingers long,
and so on, up to sixteen fingers long. Each size has different purposes
and different instructions.
Some substantial symbolic phurbas were discovered as terma objects.
Most of these phurbas are made of meteorite, and when you look at the
terma phurbas, you can see fabric imprints and fingerprints on them.
History says that Guru Padma sambhava asked the dharmapala Dorje
Legpa (Vajrasadhu in Sanskrit) to make these phurbas for him. Dorje
Legpa was a famous blacksmith. Guru Padma sambhava wanted them to be
made very quickly, so these phurbas are rather rough. When Dorje Legpa
made them, he pounded them on his thigh. He was wearing a woolen
chuba, and you can see the fabric patterns from his chuba on the phurbas.
As soon as he finished the phurbas, he gave them to Guru Rinpoche, who
would hold them and bless each of them. The fingerprints seen on these
phurbas are those of Guru Padma sambhava.
The terma phurbas are very famous and very blessed. It is known that
if you keep one on your body it will protect you from obstacles, even
from bullets. This is not just a fairy tale. People experienced this when the
Chinese Communists invaded Tibet, and this happened previously many
times as well.
Meditation on oneself as Vajrakilaya is also the tsenma dze kyi phurba.
All these aspects are included in the substantial symbolic phurba.