(from Sanskrit vajra, "thunderbolt" or "diamond" and , lit. "in the hand") is one of the earliest bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism. He is the protector and guide of the Buddha, and rose to symbolize the Buddha's power. Vajrapani was used extensively in Buddhist iconography as one of the three protective deities surrounding the Buddha. Each of them symbolizes one of the Buddha's virtues: Manjusri (the manifestation of all the Buddhas' wisdom), Avalokitesvara (the manifestation of all the Buddhas' compassion) and Vajrapani (the manifestation of all the Buddhas' power).
In Sanskrit, Vajrapani is known as and, in Tibetan, as Phyag na rdo rje (Chana Dorji). In Mongolian Ochirvaani (Очирваань) or Bazarvaani (Базарваань). In East Asia, Vajrapani is known by several names including Jīngāng shǒu púsà (金剛手菩薩) in Mandarin Chinese, pronounced in Japanese as Kongō shu bosatsu; in Korean as Geumgang su bosal (금강수보살); and in Vietnamese as Kim cương thủ bồ tát; Héyíluóhuányuèchā (和夷羅洹閱叉) in Mandarin Chinese, pronounced in Japanese as Wairaoneisa, in Korean as Hwairawonyeolcha (화이라원열차), and in Vietnamese as Hoà di la hoàn duyệt xoa; or Báshéluóbōnì (跋闍羅波膩) in Mandarin Chinese, pronounced in Japanese as Bajarahaji; in Korean as Balsarapani (발사라파니), and in Vietnamese as Bạt xà la ba nị.
On the popular level, Vajrapani, Holder of the Thunderbolt Scepter (symbolizing the power of compassion), is the Bodhisattva who represents the power of all the Buddhas, just as Avalokitesvara represents their great compassion, Manjushri their wisdom, and Tara their miraculous deeds. For the yogi, Vajrapani is a means of accomplishing fierce determination and symbolizes unrelenting effectiveness in the conquest of negativity. His taut posture is the active warrior pose (pratayalidha), based on an archer's stance but resembling the en garde position in Western fencing. His outstretched right hand brandishes a vajra and his left hand deftly holds a lasso - with which he binds demons. He wears a skull crown with his hair standing on end. His expression is wrathful and he has a third eye. Around his neck is a serpent necklace and his loin cloth is made up of the skin of a tiger, whose head can be seen on his right knee.
The Mantra is associated with Vajrapani. His Seed Syllable is .
The first representations of Vajrapani in India associated him with the Hindu God Indra. As Buddhism expanded in Central Asia, and fused with Hellenistic influences into Greco-Buddhism, the Greek hero Hercules was adopted to represent Vajrapani. He was then typically depicted as a hairy, muscular athlete, wielding a short "diamond" club. Mahayana Buddhism then further spread to China, Korea and Japan from the 6th century.
In Japan, Vajrapani is known as Shukongōshin (執金剛神, "Diamond rod-wielding God"), and has been the inspiration for the Niō (仁王, lit. Benevolent kings), the wrath-filled and muscular guardian god of the Buddha, standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples under the appearance of frightening wrestler-like statues.
Some suggest that the war deity Kartikeya, who bears the title Skanda is also a manifestation of Vajrapani, a Vajrayana bodhisattva who bears some relations to Skanda because they both wield vajras as weapons and are portrayed with flaming halos. He is also connected through Vajrapani through a theory to his connection to Greco-Buddhism, as Wei Tuo's image is reminiscent of the Heracles depiction of Vajrapani.