The kīla (Sanskrit Devanagari: कील; IAST: kīla; Tibetan: ཕུར་བ, Wylie: phur ba, pronunciation between pur-ba and pur-pu, alt. transliterations and English orthorographies: phurpa, phurbu, purbha or phurpu)
is a three-sided peg, stake, knife, or nail like ritual implement traditionally associated with Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Bön, and Indian Vedic traditions. The kīla is associated with the meditational deity (Srkt:ishtadevata, Tib. yidam) Vajrakīla ( वज्रकील) or Vajrakīlaya (Tib. Dorje Phurba). according to the means for attainment Mahayoga class. Vajrakilaya is the Buddha's activity natural expression representation.
Most of what is known of the Indian kīla lore has come by way of Tibetan culture. Scholars such as F. A. Bischoff, Charles Hartman and Martin Boord have shown that the Tibetan literature widely asserts that the Sanskrit for their term phurba is kīlaya (with or without the long i).
This form would have been familiar to them in the simple salutation namo vajrakīlaya (homage to Vajrakīla) from which it could easily be assumed by those unfamiliar with the technicalities of Sanskrit that the name of the deity is Vajrakīlaya instead of Vajrakīla.
It should also be noted that the term (vajra)kīlaya is frequently found in Sanskrit texts (as well as in virtually every kīlamantra) legitimately used as the denominative verb 'to spike,' 'transfix,' 'nail down,' etc."
- it is possible, on the other hand, that the name Vajrakīlaya as favoured by the Tibetans could in fact have been the form that was actually used in the original Indic sources, and that there is no need to hypothesize a correct form "Vajrakīla".
hence Kīlaya might have started out as a deified imperative, in some ways comparable to the famous example of the deified vocative in the name Hevajra, and a not unheard of phenomenon in Sanskrit tantric literature.
Fabrication and components
The fabrication of kīla is quite diverse. Having pommel, handle, and blade, kīla are often segmented into suites of triunes on both the horizontal and vertical axes, though there are notable exceptions.
The pommel of the kīla often bears three faces of Vajrakīla, one joyful, one peaceful, one wrathful, but may bear the umbrella of the ashtamangala or mushroom cap, ishtadevata (like Hayagriva), snow lion, or stupa, among other possibilities.
The blade is usually composed of three triangular facets or faces, meeting at the tip.
These represent, respectively, the blade's power to transform the negative energies known as the "three poisons" or "root poisons" (Sanskrit: mula klesha) of attachment/craving/desire, delusion/ignorance/misconception, and aversion/fear/hate.
Chandra, et al. (1902: p. 37) in their Dictionary entry 'korkor' (Tibetan: ཀོར་ཀོར, Wylie: kor kor) "coiled" (English) relates that the text titled the 'Vaidūry Ngonpo' (Tibetan: བཻ་དཱུརྱ་སྔོན་པོ, Wylie: bai dUry sngon po) has the passage: ཐག་བ་ཕུར་བ་ལ་ཀོར་ཀོར་བྱམ "a string was wound round the (exorcist's) dagger (phurba)."
One of the principal methods of working with the kīla and to actualize its essence-quality is to pierce the earth with it; sheath it; or as is common with Himalayan shamanic traditions, to penetrate it vertically, point down into a basket, bowl or cache of rice (or other soft grain if the kīla is wooden).
The kīla, particularly those that are wooden are for shamanic healing, harmonizing and energy work and often have two nāgas (Sanskrit for snake, serpent and/or dragon, also refers to a class of supernatural entities or deities) entwined on the blade, reminiscent of the Staff of Asclepius and the Caduceus of Hermes.
As a tool of exorcism, the kīla may be employed to hold demons or thoughtforms in place (once they have been expelled from their human hosts, for example) in order that their mindstream may be re-directed and their inherent obscurations transmuted.
More esoterically, the kīla may serve to bind and pin down negative energies or obscurations from the mindstream of an entity, person or thoughtform, including the thoughtform generated by a group, project and so on, to administer purification.
He is embodied in the kīla as a means of destroying (in the sense of finalising and then freeing) violence, hatred, and aggression by tying them to the blade of the kīla and then transmuting them with its tip.
The pommel may be employed in blessings.
As Müller-Ebelling, et al. (2002: p. 55) states:
- The magic of the Magical Dagger comes from the effect that the material object has on the realm of the spirit.
- The sting of the scorpion's whip-like tail transfixes and poisons its prey, and in this respect it is identified with the wrathful activity of the ritual dagger or kīla.
Padmasambhava's biography relates how he received the siddhi of the kīla transmission at the great charnel ground of Rajgriha from a gigantic scorpion with nine heads, eighteen pincers and twenty-seven eyes.
Here, at Rajgriha, Padmasambhava is given the title of 'the scorpion guru', and in one of his eight forms as Guru Dragpo or Pema Drago ('wrathful lotus'), he is depicted with a scorpion in his left hand.
(Kerrigan, et al., 1998: p27) Mountains such as Amnye Machen, according to folklore were held to have been brought from other lands just for this purpose. Stupa (compare cairn) are a development of this tradition and akin to kīla.
(Kerrigan, et al., 1998: p27) states that:
- "Prayer flags and stone pillars throughout the country also pierce the land. Even the pegs of the nomads’ yak wool tents are thought of as sanctifying the ground that lies beneath...".
Traditions such as that of the kīla may be considered a human cultural universal in light of foundation stone rites and other comparable rites documented in the disciplines of anthropology and ethnography; e.g.,
Traditional lineage usage: anthology of case studies
In the Kathmandu Valley, the kīla is still in usage by shamans, magicians, tantrikas and lamas of different ethnic backgrounds. The kīla is used particularly intensively by the Tamang, Gurung and Newari Tibeto-Burmese tribes.
- The phurbas of the gubajus are different from those of the jhankris. As a rule, they have only one head on which there is a double vajra as shown here.
- Tantric priests (guruju) use Bhairab phurbas for the curing of disease and especially for curing children's diseases. For these cases the point of the phurba blade is dipped into a glass or a bowl of water, turned and stirred.
- 'Without the phurba inside himself , the shaman has no consciousness'...'The shaman himself is the phurba; he assumes its form in order to fly into other worlds and realities.'
Müller-Ebelling et al. (2002) affirm that some Kukri may be considered kīla, as ultimately, everything that approximates a vertical form. The kīla then is a phallic polysemy and cognate with lingam ~ the generative instrument of Shiva that is metonymic of the primordial energy of the Universe.
The wrathful heruka Vajrakilaya is a meditation deity who embodies the energetic 'activity' (Wylie: phrin las) of all the buddhas, manifesting in a powerful and wrathful yet compassionate form in order to subjugate the delusion and negativity that can arise as obstacles to the practice of Dharma.
Vajrakilaya is a significant Vajrayana deity who transmutes and transcends obstacles and obscurations. Vajrakila is the divine 'thoughtform' (Tibetan: སྤྲུལ་པ།, Wylie: sprul pa) that governs the kīla.
Vajrakilaya (also known as Vajrakumara) is the deity of the magic thundernail, the kīla, a tool of the sharp adamantine point of dharmakaya, a wisdom forded through the power of one-pointed concentration.
A human skin is tied diagonally across his chest with the hands lying flat on Vajrakilaya's stomach and solar plexus representing the flailed ego that has released its powerful grip obscuring the 'qualities' of the Sadhaka.
This deity wears manifold nāga adornments and jewellery: naga earrings, naga bracelets, naga anklets and a naga cord over his chest, sometimes referred to as a naga gurdle and a naga hairpiece or hair ornament.
History of Vajrakilaya practice in India and Tibet
Although at one point the Indic origin of kīla practice was widely questioned, Boord claims that "the existence of a Kīla cult among the Buddhists in eighth century India...must now surely be accepted as established" and further claims that it has been "conclusively demonstrated that all the basic doctrines and rituals of Vajrakīla had their origin in India."
Robert Mayer, one of the leading scholars of the kīla literature, shares the same view, writing that prior research had been plagued by "elementary misunderstandings" based on a lack of familiarity with crucial Indic primary sources.
Tibetan tradition, which Boord credits as generally credible, holds that the entire corpus of Indian kīla lore was systematized by Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and the Nepali Śīlamañju, while on retreat together at Yang-le-shod (present-day Pharping, Nepal).
According to Boord, "it was precisely during this retreat that the many strands of kila lore were finally woven together into a coherent masterpiece of tantric Buddhism and thus it helps to illuminate the process by which tantric methods were being related to soteriology at this time.
Beautifully codified in terms of both theory and practice, this divine scheme of meditation and magic was subsequently transmitted to Tibet and became established there as one of the major modes of religious engagement.
Renowned Tibetologist and Buddhologist Herbert Guenther concurred in a review of Boord's work, concluding that his "careful research of all available texts relevant to the study of this figure" was "much needed and long overdue" in correcting longstanding "misrepresentation of historical facts."
Beer (1999: p. 246) conveys the entwined relationship of Vajrakilaya with Samye, the propagation of Secret Mantra in Tibet, and the importance of the sadhana to both Padmasambhava's enlightenment, and his twenty-five 'heart disciples', who are of the mindstreams of the principal terton (according to Nyingma tradition):
- In the biography of Padmasambhava it is recorded that he travelled to the northern land of Kashakamala, where the cult of the kīla prevailed.
Later, whilst meditating on the deity Yangdak Heruka (Skt. Vishuddha Heruka) in the 'Asura Cave' at Parping in the Kathmandu valley, he experienced many obstructions from the maras, and in order to subjugate them he request the Kīla Vitotama Tantras to be brought from India.
Having established the first Tibetan monastery at Samye, the first transmission that Padmasambhava gave to his 25 'heart disciples', in order to eliminate the hindrances to the propagation of the buddhadharma in Tibet, were the teachings of the Vajrakilaya Tantra.
Vajrakilaya Puja within the Sakyapa and others
The Rigpa Sangha of Sogyal Rinpoche practises several Vajrakilaya sadhanas. The empowerment of Khön Tradition of Vajrakilaya has been given to the Rigpa sangha by H.H. Sakya Trizin at Lerab Ling, 22–23 June 2007 .
Examples of practice in history
- "Princess Sakyadevi was the daughter of King Sukkhadhara of Nepal. Her mother died in childbirth and she was displaced by the next queen and abandoned by the court. When she grew up she became a Yogini and resided near present day Parphing, in the mountains just outside the Kathmandu Valley. There she is said to have become a consort of Guru Padmasambhava and received teachings from him. The two lived together at the yogi's cave of Langlesho, above Parphing, where they mastered Vajrakilaya-practice. It is said that she eventually attained "Rainbow Body" as a realized female Buddha.",.
- "During the empowerment of Assemblage of Sugatas, her (Yeshe Tsogyal's) initiation flower fell on the mandala of kīla. Through this practice she became able to tame evil spirits and revive the dead."
In popular culture
In the 1994 movie The Shadow, the phurba was a dangerous weapon which moved of its own accord. In the 2009 video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, a golden phurba is the key to the mythical kingdom of Shambhala.