The bell is the most common and indispensable musical instrument in tantric Buddhist ritual. Gods and apotheosized lamas alike hold this popular symbol, along with the thunderbolt in their hands. The bell has an elemental function and its sound, like those made by the trumpet and the drum, is regarded as auspicious; it is said to drive away evil spirits. Like the church bell, the Buddhist hand bell sends the message to evil spirits that they must stay away from the consecrated area where the ritual is being performed.
As already mentioned, in ritual the bell is paired with the Vajra. The Vajra represents the compassion of the Buddha, the masculine principle; and the bell represents wisdom, the female principle. To achieve enlightenment, those two principles must be combined. The bell is visualized as the Buddha's body, the Vajra is visualized as his mind, and the sound of the bell is visualized as Buddha's speech in teaching of the dharma.
The use of the bell and Vajra differs according to the ritual performed or the sadhana chanted. The Vajra can be used for visualization or evocation of deities; ringing the bell can be used to request protection or other actions from a deity, or it can represent the teaching of dharma, and can also be a sound offering. As one example of their use, during meditation on the deity Vajrasattva, the Vajra is placed on the chest of the practitioner, meaning that Vajrasattva is brought to the mediator, and they become one and inseparable. Ringing the bell then represents the sound of Buddha teaching the dharma and symbolizes the attainment of wisdom and the understanding of emptiness.
While chanting, the Vajra is held in the right hand, which faces down, and the bell is held in the left hand, which usually faces up, and they are moved in graceful gestures. Sometimes the hands are held with the wrists crossed over each other, against the chest. This represents the union of the male and female principles.
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