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Pedro Manuel Castro Snchez

The Indian Buddhist Dhra


Dhra
ra:
:
An Introduction to its History, Meanings and Functions

MA Buddhist Studies, June 2011

University of Sunderland

Acknowledgements
First and foremost, I am indebted to my supervisor, Professor Peter Harvey for
his unconditional and patient guidance, for kindly sharing with me several papers
quite useful for this dissertation, and above all, for backing from the start my project
and raising his always thought-provoking questions. I thank my MA mates Penelope
Davis, Indro Marcantonio, Adam Henderson, Brett Morris, and Arjuna Ranatunga for
their useful comments and words of warm support.
I am quite grateful to Dr. Tony K. Lin (Mantra Publishings chief editor), and Dr.
Wing Yeung for their very generous donations that made it possible for me to enjoy
the perusal of The New Edition of All Mantras in Mahpiaka.
I am very gratetul to Dr. Lokesh Chandra for his wise words of advice and
encouragement during our personal meeting at New Delhi, and for his gracious
donation of an old dhra collection edited by him and now out of print.
A number of Professors and Doctors have been very kind and generous sharing
their dissertations, books, and papers on mantras and dhras, whether in printed or
electronic formats, or even in photocopies, they are: Richard McBride II, Jacob Dalton,
Tibor Porci, Christina Scherrer-Schaub, Kate Crosby, Yael Bentor, Jaan Braarvig, J. F.
M. DesJardins, Gergely Hidas, South Coblin, Neil Schmid, Jrgen Hanneder, Shingo
Einoo, Dorji Wangchuk, Asko Parpola, Peter Bisschop, Jacqueline Filliozat, Robert A.
Yelle, and Lambert Schmithausen. Thanks to their sound scholarship, a large part of
the contents and scope of this dissertation had improved in a significant way that I
would not hoped to envisage at its initial stage; I am very grateful to all of them,
indeed.
I am very grateful to the Shingon bhiku Rev. Mysh Taniguchi, who had the
generosity, patience, and courage to collect, scan and photocopy a large amount of
very hard to find papers and books on dhras, through her contacts with the
Kyasan Universitys Library staff. I also thank to the Librariess staffs of the Nava
Nland University (Nland, India), and that of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for
Arts (New Delhi, India), for their help in finding key materials for this dissertation.
I thank Ramn Lpez Soriano for his efforts in getting a hard to find book on
the Atharvavedas Pariias in India, and I thank Juan Carlos Torices for generously
sharing his Tibetan canonical materials on dhras. A special thank is due to Debra
Beatty, who kindly read the whole dissertation and corrected the English.
And last but not least, I am greatly thankful to Jose Luis Moreno who helped
me in many ways, generously providing his time, skillfulness and resources on behalf
of this dissertation, and to Elena Madroal, who quietly supported all my struggles
and had been a true dhra for me along the way.
Finally, I acknowledge that the responsibility for any errors of fact or
interpretation are solely mine.

Table of Contents
Charts

Abstract

Abbreviations

Introduction

13

Chapter 1. History: Doctrinal and Chronological Development of Dhras

15

1.1. Non-Buddhist Factors for the Emergence of Dhras


1.1.1. Vedic Tradition
1.1.1.1. Early Vedic Mantras
1.1.1.2. The Atharvaveda Pariias Mantras
1.1.1.3. Upaniads Phonetical Correspondences
1.1.1.4. The Truth Act (satyakriy)
1.1.2. Tantric Tradition
1.1.2.1. aiva Pre-Mantramrgic Mantras
1.1.2.2. aiva Mantramrgic Mantras
1.2. Buddhist Factors for the Emergence of Dhras
1.2.1. Mainstream Buddhism
1.2.1.1. Early Mainstream Buddhist Attitudes towards Mantras
1.2.1.2. Parittas, Mahstras, and Mtiks/Mtks
1.2.2. Mahyna Buddhism
1.2.2.1. Acceptance of the Soteriological Validity
of Language and Mantras
1.2.2.2. Dhra Scriptures
1.2.3. Vajrayna Buddhism

15
15
16
16
17
18
18
19
20
21
21
21
22
26

Chapter 2. Meanings: Traditional Definitions and Classifications of Dhras

34

2.1. Primary Definitions


2.1.1. Meanings of the Term Dhra
2.1.2. Synonyms and Compound Terms
2.1.2.1. Mantra-pada, Dhra-mantra-pada
2.1.2.2. Vidy, Vidy-mantra, Mah-vidy, Vidyraj, Vidy-dhra
2.1.2.3. Hdaya, Hdaya-dhra
2.1.2.4. Vajra-pada, Dhra-vajra-pada
2.1.3. Dhra paired to other Dharma Qualities
2.1.3.1. Dhra-mukha and Samdhi-mukha
2.1.3.2. Dhra and Pratibhna
2.2. Indian Mahyna Definitions and Classifications
2.2.1. In Stras
2.2.2. In Treatises (stras)
2.3. Indo-Tibetan Vajrayna Definitions and Classifications
2.4. East Asian Vajrayna Definitions and Classifications
2.4.1. In China
2.4.2. In Japan

34
34
35
35
36
37
37
38
38
39
40
40
42
44
47
47
49

26
28
32

Chapter 3. Functions: Dhras in Practice

51

3.1. Some Premises on Dhra Practice


3.1.1 Ethical Foundations
3.1.2. Non-ritual and Ritual Approaches
3.1.3. Mundane and Supramundane Accomplishments
3.2. Mundane Dhra Practices
3.2.1. Protection
3.2.2. Increase
3.2.3. Defence
3.3. Supramundane Dhra Practices
3.3.1. Depositing Dhras in Stpas
3.3.2. Karmic Purification
3.3.3. Attaining Enlightenment

51
51
52
55
56
56
57
58
59
59
61
62

Conclusions

65

Appendix A: Early Vedic Mantras within Buddhist Dhras


Appendix B: Analysis of two Dhra Typologies
B-1: Formulaic Dhras
B-2: Syllabic Dhras
Appendix C: Formulaic and Syllabic Dhras in
Mainstream Buddhist Schools
Appendix D: Dhras within Mahyna Stras
Appendix E: References

68
70
70
75

78
81
84

Charts

Chart 1: The Formulaic Dhra Pattern

71

Chart 2: The Arapacana Syllabary

77

Abstract
This dissertation deals with the Buddhist dhra, mainly understood as the
term selected by Indian Buddhism to assimilate the non-Buddhist notion of mantra. In
the Introduction the two major categories of dhras are defined, i.e., the formulaic
and syllabic dhras. In Chapter 1 the two sources for the emergence of dhras are
studied: the non-Buddhist source being focused on the non-Vedic, Vedic and aiva
Tantric factors, and the Buddhist one being focused on several mainstream Buddhist
and Mahyna factors. It continues with a study on the Dhra Scriptures emergence
and their inclusion within Vajrayna Tantras. Chapter 2 provides a detailed summary
on the traditional definitions of the dhra term, its synonyms, compound terms, and
its pairing with other Dharma qualities. It is followed by a survey on how the dhra
term is defined and classified according to key Indian Mahyna Stras and stras,
and the Indo-Tibetan and East Asian Vajrayna traditions. Chapter 3 is focused on the
dhra practice, first dealing with its ethical basis, its non-ritual and ritual
approaches, and its mundane and supramundane accomplishments, and then the
main dhra practices are analysed intended for worldly and soteriological purposes.
The dissertation closes with five Appendices including a study on a set of early Vedic
mantras appearing within the Buddhist dhras, an analysis of the formulaic and
syllabic dhras, a survey on mantras/dhras accepted by several mainstream
Buddhist schools, and another one on mantras/dhras within Mahyna Scriptures,
and finally, a References list providing a comprehensive and updated bibliography in
several Western languages mainly focused on Buddhist mantras/dhras.

Abbreviations
ka

surkalpa

AM.

The New Edition of All Mantras in Mahpiaka: References to


volume, and mantra(s) number(s); eg. AM.12.6866.

Amog

Amoghapa-hdaya-dhra

ga

rya-sarvabuddhgavat-nma-dhra

Anir

Anantamukha-nirhra-dhra-stra

Aa

Aashasrikprajpramit: References to chapter(s) and page(s)


number(s).

AV

Atharvaveda: References to book, section(s) and verse(s)


number(s).

Avat

Avatasaka-stra

yu

Aparamityu-stra

Bala

rya Mahbala-Nma-Mahynastra: References to page(s), and


line(s) number(s).

BCE

Before the Christian Era

Ben

Benkenmitsunikyron

Bhadra

Bhadramykra-vykaraa: References to paragraph number.

BHSD

Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary

Bodhi

Vajraekharayognuttarasamyaksambodhicittotpda-stra

Bonji

Bonji shittan jimo narabi ni shakugi

Braj

Brahmajla-sutta

BU

Bhadrayaka Upaniad: References to chapter, section(s) and


verse(s) number(s).

Bubh

Buddhabhmyupadea

c.

circa.

CBD

ik Samuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine

CBSM

Catalogue of Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Possession of


the Royal Asiatic Society (Hodgson Collection)

CCBT

A Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka:


References to Scripture number.

CE

Christian Era

Ch.

Chinese

CU

Chndogya Upaniad: References to chapter, section(s) and


verse(s) number(s).

Cund

Cunddev-dhra-stra

DBDh

Chinese-Sanskrit Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary of Words and Phrases as


Used in Buddhist Dhra

DBI

Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography: References to volume and


page(s) number(s).

DEB

Dictionnaire encyclopdique du Bouddhisme

Dhasa

Dharmasagraha

Divy

The Divyvadna, a Collection of Early Buddhist Legends

DMT

Dictionary of Early Buddhist Monastic Terms

DN

Dgha Nikya: References to Sutta and paragraph(s) number(s).

DUK

Dakshimrtis Uddhra-koa

Durga

Sarvadurgatipariodhana-tantra

Ekk

Bhagavat-prajpramit-sarva-tathgata-mt-ekkar-nma

Fj

D fj tulun jng

Gaa

Gaapati-hdaya

Gorin

Gorinkujimyhimitsushaku

Guhya

Sarvatathgatdhihna-hdaya-guhyadhtu-karaamudrdhra-stra

Gusa

Guhyasamja-tantra

HBG

Hbgirin: References to volume, and page(s) number(s).

Hiz

Hizhyaku

HT

Hevajra Tantra: References to part, chapter and verse number(s).

IMT

Inventaire des Manuscripts tibtains de Touen-houang: References to


volume, manuscript, and text number; eg. IMT.I.6/3.

Jap.

Japanese

JUB

Jiminya Upaniad Brhmaa: References to chapter, section(s)


and verse(s) number(s).

Kan

Analyse du Kandjour

Kpa

Kyapaparivarta-stra: References to volume and chapter


number.

Kru

ryvalokitevara-shasrikabhujalocananirmavistarapariprsaga-mahkruika-dhra

Koa

Abhidharmakoa-bhya: References to chapter(s), section(s)


number(s), and letter(s) in original text.

KU

Kaha Upaniad: References to chapter, section(s) and verse(s)


number(s).

Lak

Saddharmalakvatra-stram: References to chapter and page(s)


number(s).

Mapa

Mahparinirva-stra: References to volume and page(s)


number(s).

Mta

Mtag Stra

My

Mahmyr-vidyrj-stra

MDPL

Materials for a Dictionary of the Prajpramit Literature

MM

The Mantra Mahodadhi of Mahidhara: References to chapter


(taraga) and verse number(s).

MN

Majjhima Nikya:References to Sutta and paragraph(s) number(s).

Mns

Majurnmasagti:
number(s).

MP

Milindapaha: Reference to page(s) number(s) in original text.

Mpp

Mahprajpramit-stra: References to volume and page(s)


number(s).

References

to

page(s)

and

verse(s)

Mps

Mahprjpramit-stra

MS

Mahstras: References to volume and page(s) number(s).

Msa

Mahynasagraha:
number(s).

Mslb

Mahynastrlakra-bhya: References to chapter and verse


number(s).

MU

Mkya Upaniad: References to chapter, section(s) and


verse(s) number(s).

Mk

Mlamadhyamakakrik: References to chapter and verse


number(s).

Pli

PED

Pali-English Dictionary

Pph

Prajpramithdaya-stra: References to section number.

Prati

Mahpratisar-mahvidyrj

Pratyu

Pratyutpannabuddhasamukhvasthitasamdhi-stra:
to chapter number and paragraph letter.

Pua

Saddharmapuarka-stram: References to chapter and page(s)


number(s).

Pvr

Pupatavratam: References to section(s) and verse(s) number(s).

PWE(-V)(-S)

The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines & its Verse


Summary: References to Verse Part (PWE-V) include chapter and
verse number(s) in original text; references to Stra Part (PWE-S)
include chapter, and page number(s) in original text.

Rag

Ratnaguasacaya-gth: References to chapter(s) and verse


number(s).

Ragot

Ratnagotravibhga Mahynttaratantra-stra

Ratna

Mahratnaka-stra

RCB

Rpertoire du canon bouddhique sino-japonais

Rgyud

Rgyud sde spyii rnam par gag pa rgyas par brjod

am

amukh-dhra

10

References

to

volume

and

page(s)

References

Sash

Sang shki

atapatha Brmaa: References to Knda, Adhyya, and Brmana


number(s) in original text.

SBLN

The Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal

SED

A Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Sgol

The Stra of Golden


Suvarabhsottamastra

Shes

Shes bya mdzod: References to book and page(s) number(s).

Shji

Shjijissgi

Shmo

Shrai mokuroku

ik

ik Samuccaya: References to chapter and page(s) number(s).

Skt.

Sanskrit

Sit

rya-sarvatathgatoasittapatr-nmaparjitapratyagirmahvidyraj

SN

Sayutta Nikya: References to Part and page(s) number(s) in


original text.

rs

ragama-stra: References to volume and page(s) number(s).

Susi

Susiddhikra-stra

Suvar

Suvaraprabhsa-stra

rsam

ragamasamdhi-stra

Taish Tripiaka (CBETA): References to fascicle number, page,


register (a, b, or c), and line number(s); eg., T 1060 105c8-111c19.

TB

Dictionaries of Tantra stra or The Tantrbhidhnam

TAK

Tantrikbhidhnakoa: References to volume and


number(s).

TED

A Tibetan-English Dictionary with Sanskrit Synonyms

Tib.

Tibetan

Light:

Being

translation

of

the

page(s)

11

TMD

Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang: References to


manuscript and text number from the India Office Library; eg.
TMD: 103/2 (In the original text referenced as IOL Tib J 103/2).

TP

Tibskrit Philology

Tri

Triaraasaptati: References to verse number(s).

TU

Taittirya Upaniad: References to chapter, section(s) and verse(s)


number(s).

Ugra

Ugraparipcch-stra

Uka

Ucchumakalpa: References to section(s) and verse(s) number(s).

Un

Unjigi

Upka

Upyakaualya-stra: References to paragraph(s) number(s).

Uavijay-dhra-stra

Vai-s

Vairocanbhisabodhi-stra

Vai-ta

Mahvairocanbhisabodhi-tantra: References to part, chapter


and section number(s) in original text.

Vk

Vkyapadiyam-Brahmaka: References to verse number(s).

Varat

rvajraratiru-nma-dhra

Vaek

Vajraekhara-stra

VC

A Vedic Concordance

Zabao

Za bao zang jing

Zong

Zongshi tuoluoni jing

12

Introduction
According to the Japanese scholar H. Yoshimura, the word dhra was
selected among many Buddhist technical terms to absorb the non-Buddhist idea of
mantra (1987: 8). Taking this assertion as a starting point, the leitmotiv of the present
dissertation will be to investigate and eventually corroborate its accuracy through its
matching with related historical, doctrinal, and textual data.
Despite the fact that dhras were described and catalogued in the West for
the first time by Brian H. Hodgson in 1828 (CBSM: 39, 41-43, 49-50; SBLN: xli-xlii;
Davidson, 2009: 99-100), the dhra remained for almost two centuries on the
sidelines of Western Buddhist studies, and only very recently has the dhra received
the scholarly attention it deserves. Although a few excellent monographs on specific
dhras have appeared, as well as a few papers focused on the dhras meanings in
Western languages, yet there is no work covering this topic in a more comprehensive
way. Therefore, the foremost aim of this dissertation is to provide, it is believed for
the first time, a preliminary overview of the dhra covering its history, meanings,
and functions. Since the dissertations author is quite aware of his heavy limitations to
carry out this project, this dissertation should be viewed as what in fact is, just a first
intent drawing a rough picture on a quite complex and rich subject in need of further
refinements.
As the first part of its title suggests, this dissertation will focus exclusively on
the dhra as was conceived by Indian Buddhism and its spread through Central
Asian, Northern, East Asian and Southern Buddhisms. The dhra term is understood
here in a quite specific way, including two typologies recognized by the dissertations
author with the names of formulaic and syllabic dhras. A formulaic dhra
consists of a linguistic pattern in prose, sonic or written, regarded as promulgated by
Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and/or any deity accepted by Buddhism and endowed with
their spiritual support (Skt. adhihna), composed by one or more formulas of
certain Indic languages, that pledges (Skt. samaya) the attainment of its mundane
and/or supramundane goals if the prescriptions established by her/his promulgator
are followed. Occasionally, the synonymic expressions of dhra formula or
mantra/dhra will be used to refer to the same meaning as the formulaic dhra
does. By syllabic dhra a list of syllables is understood, each of which is linked to a
particular statement or word that embodies a key aspect of Buddhist doctrine. There
are syllabic dhras issued from a particular arrangement of syllables following
Buddhist topics, and there is another type in which the standard Sanskrit syllabary
(Skt. varapha) is used to convey a set of Buddhist doctrinal terms. Occasionally, the
synonymic expressions of arapacana syllabary, or just syllabary will be used, to refer
to the same meaning as the syllabic dhra does.
This dissertation is divided into three chapters, each one being focused on one
of the three subjects referred to within the dissertations title: the dhras history,
meanings, and funcions. Chapter 1 gives answers to why the dhra appeared and
how it was included within the Buddhist doctrinal/practical corpus, analysing the
non-Buddhist and Buddhist factors for the emergence of dhras. The non-Buddhist
factors include a set of early Vedic mantras, the Atharvaveda Pariias mantras, the
Upaniads phonetical correspondences, the truth act (Skt. satyakriy), and the Tantric
aiva Pre-Mantramrgic and Mantramrgic mantras, that were assimilated by Indian
Buddhism to propitiate protection, the communication and identification with
cosmic/divine entities, and the condensation and memorizing of teachings. The
13

Buddhist factors include an early acceptance of mantras within several mainstream


Buddhist Vinayas, followed by the elaboration of specific texts reconcilable with the
mantric perspective as the Theravda parittas, the Sarvstivda and Mlasarvstivda
Mahstras, and the Abhidharmas mtks. In the same vein, the Mahyna accepted
Sanskrit as a suitable language to convey its doctrines and simultaneously considered
language and mantras as means conducive to enlightenment. This favourable context
stimulated, on the one hand, the inclusion of non-Buddhist mantras and the Sanskrit
syllabary within Mahyna Scriptures, and on the other hand, the creation of
Buddhist syllabaries and dhra formulas inspired by non-Buddhist patterns, that
later would give rise to the Dhra Scriptures and their inclusion within the
Vajrayna Tantras. Chapter 2 answers the questions of what is the dhras nature,
what are its key definitions and classifications, and in what sense could it be
considered Buddhist. Therefore, this chapter provides a detailed summary on the
traditional definitions of the dhra term, its synonyms, compound terms, and its
pairing with other Dharma qualities. It is followed by a survey on how the dhra
term is defined and classified according to key Indian Mahyna Stras and stras,
and the Indo-Tibetan and East Asian Vajrayna traditions. Chapter 3 answers the
question of how dhras are seen to work, first dealing with their ethical basis, their
non-ritual and ritual approaches, and their mundane and supramundane
accomplishments, and then the main dhra practices intended for worldly and
soteriological purposes are summarized.
This dissertation closes with five Appendices where topics basically outlined
within the dissertations body are analysed. They include a study on a set of early
Vedic mantras assimilated within Buddhist dhras, an analysis of the formulaic and
syllabic dhras, a survey on mantras/dhras within several mainstream Buddhist
schools, and another one on mantras/dhras within Mahyna Scriptures, and
finally, a References list mainly focused on Buddhist mantras/dhras.
Given that this dissertation delineates a preliminary overview on dhras, it is
mainly emphasizing a descriptive approach, drawing any interpretation from the
dhra sources themselves, alongside other documentary evidences (archaeological,
historical, living practice, etc.). In the same vein, this dissertation will also address a
number of misunderstandings and biased views on dhras, again taking into account
those same dhra sources to avoid as much as possible any arbitrary speculation on
the topic. Lastly, this dissertation pays special attention to citing sources, so as to
gather an updated bibliography on the Buddhist mantras/dhras in some Western
languages, that would supplement H. P. Alpers bibliography on mantras (1989: 327530), which scarcely makes any references to the dhras.

14

Chapter 1
History: Doctrinal and Chronological Development of Dhra
Dhra
ras
s
1.1. NonNon-Buddhist Factors for the Emergence
Emergence of Dhra
Dhra
ras
s
1.1.1. Vedic Tradition
The Vedic tradition finds in the word (Skt. vc) its unifying factor (BU.2.4.11).
The term vc encompases all its modalities, from natural sounds, of inanimate objects,
of animals, of humans and of supernatural beings, to the absolute reality (Skt.
brahman) as sound (Skt. abda) (Pingle, 2005: xvi, 262-263; BU.1.3.21; SED: 936). This
twofold nature of language as being simultaneously a mundane reality and a spiritual
one, is reflected into the notion of syllable (Skt. akara), understood as the primary
and indivisible phonic unity. According to its traditional etymology, besides meaning
syllable, akara also means na karati or na kyate is that which does not flow out or
perish, hence the imperishable, the indestructible, the eternal (Padoux, 1990: 13;
JUB.I.24.1-2; Buitenen, 1959: 179; SED: 3).1
The mundane and spiritual nature of vc is made manifest mainly in two ways,
as cosmogony and as Vedic revelation. Prajpati, the all-maker god (Skt. vivakarm),
created everything through naming every part of the whole cosmos with the great
utterances (mahvyhtis) (B.II.1.4.11). The Vedas are considered eternal and as
revealed (Skt. ruti) by the gods to the seers (Skt. is) through a supernatural
inspiration, and the is, who were endowed with a spiritual vision (Skt. dh) able to
perceive the Vedic knowledge, transformed it into language (Padoux, 1990: xiv;
Gonda, 1963a: 64; 1963b: 269, 273-274). Just like Prajpati did, the is are seen to have
identified their discovery of language with the faculty of naming, for the first time,
everything, establishing in this way an ontological correspondence between words
and objects. According to this correspondence, the name of a given thing is expressing
the nature or essence of the thing named, thus, naming is not just a conventional
labelling, but it is pointing out to the individual or specific nature of the being/thing
named. Therefore, naming implies calling up or evoking this same nature inherent in
the being/thing itself. It is precisely this same correspondence between words and
objects that, on the one hand, is seen to bestow effectiveness to mantras, and on the
other hand, allows one to draw conclusions regarding the nature of things based on
their names, i.e., according to their etymology (Bronkhorst, 1999: 8-10).2
Indian Buddhism did not remain impermeable before this Vedic cosmovision
centered around vc and its influence was so significant that Indian Buddhism ended
up assimilating those factors of vc reconcilable with its tenets. Here, three of them
will be emphasized: (1) a set of early Vedic mantras, and especially those from some
Atharvaveda Pariias, (2) the Upaniads phonetical correspondences, and (3) the act

On the Mahyna and Vajrayna interpretations of akara, see sections 2.2.1 and 2.3.

On the close relationship between the terms name (nma) and mantra, see next section. On
the application of the Vedic words/objects correspondence to dhras, see Appendix B-1 and
section 3.2.1., and on its application by Kkai, see section 2.4.2.

15

of truth (Skt. satyakriy). These factors will be studied below according to their
original premises.
1.1.1.1. Early Vedic Mantras
Mantras
The traditional Indian definition of mantra is that which saves (tr- to save,
rescue) the one who, in thought, formulates it, meditates upon it (man-). According
to its etymology, however, the term mantra is derived from the root man and is related
to the Skt. manas meaning mind in a generic sense as mental and psychical powers,
and within a Vedic context, man also means evoking, calling up, and is frequently
associated to the noun name (nma). And the ending tra, indicates instrumentality,
and also faculty or function. Hence, a literal translation of mantra would be that of
an instrument of thought, emphasizing its pragmatic function (Yelle, 2003: 11).
Within a Vedic context though, mantra refers to words endowed with power to evoke
cosmic/divine forces to carry them into concrete actions, mainly those of a ritual
order (Gonda, 1963b: 248-250, 255, 257).
On a formal level, a Vedic mantra consists of an utterance shaped as a verse
(Skt. c) (from the gveda), a chant or melody (Skt. sman) (from the Smaveda), and
a muttered formula (Skt. yajus) or one spoken aloud (Skt. nigada) (both from the
Yajurveda) (Staal, 1989: 48). To each Vedic mantra is assigned the i who revealed it, its
meter (Skt. chandas), its presiding deity (Skt. devat), and the application or purpose
for which it is used (Skt. viniyoga). The knowledge of these four factors turns out to be
indispensable for a proper use of Vedic mantras (Hanneder, 1998: 153). The reason for
this is that if the practitioner understands and applies those four factors, she/he
would reproduce through a sonic mimesis act the original model which constituted
the mantra (Burchett, 2008: 836), participating in the fundamental vision originating
the mantra, and of its effectiveness pledged (Skt. samaya) by its promulgator
(Eltschinger, 2001: 22-27).3
However, Indian Buddhism discarded those Vedic mantras of a poetic nature
and preferred instead, to assimilate those non-discursive mantric utterances of an
imperative and evocative nature, able to propitiate protection, the communication
and identification with cosmic/divine entities, and the condensation and memorizing
of teachings. Here, those Vedic mantric utterances which appear most frequently in
Buddhist dhras are expressions such as O, Hu, Pha, Svh, and in some less
frequent cases, the mahvyhtis are found as well.4
1.1.1.2. The Atharvaveda Parii
Pariia
as Mantras
Mantras
Unlike the gveda that revolves around sacrifice rituals, the Atharvaveda is
focused on mantras intended for drastically practical purposes (Modak, 1993: 2),
which turned it into a favourable receptacle to assimilate Indian local cults (Staal,
2008: 73). The Atharvaveda Pariias consist of appendices complementing and
3

On a similar process in the Buddhist dhras, see sections 1.2.2.2. paragraph (a) and
Appendix B-1.
4

For a study of those mantras, see Appendix A. Those same mantras are located at the
beginning and/or at the end of the dhra formulas and denote specific functions, see
Appendix B-1.

16

expanding topics concisely treated in the Atharvaveda.5 Directly related to the present
dissertation are the Pariias surkalpa (ka) and Ucchumakalpa (Uka), because their
mantras formal pattern show a striking similarity with Buddhist dhra formulas.
Several authors already pointed out such similarity: La Valle Poussin recognized in
the Atharvanamantras the prototype of the dhra collections (1895: 436), Goudriaan
described as dhras the mantras appearing in Uka.9 (1978: 227), and Sanderson
noticed that the archaic style of the Ucchumakalpas mantras was strongly
reminiscent of those from the Mah-myr-vidyrj-stra (2007: 199-200, n. 14).
According to the research developed here, the influence of the surkalpa and
Ucchumakalpas mantras on Buddhist dhra formulas can be seen in that those
Pariias mantras provide a basic formal pattern to be assimilated and developed later
by the formulaic dhras.6
Besides taking such pattern though, Indian Mahyna also assimilated the
deities invoked in those Pariias mantras. surkalpas mantras are dedicated to the
god Rudra, which is the early form of iva, and those of the Ucchumakalpa to
Ucchuma, again a modality of Rudra (TAK.I: 225). Likewise, some early formulaic
dhras invoke Ucchuma, other modalities of Rudra, and several non-Vedic
goddesses, as is the case with some early Tantric aiva mantras (Sanderson, 2007: 200).
This indicates that the likely formulaic dhras origin can be found within a
substratum where the Pariias mantras assimilated a non-Vedic mantric lore that in
turn was assimilated by an early aiva tradition and a Mahyna in transition to the
Vajrayna.7
1.1.1.3. Upani
Upaniads
ads Phonetical Correspondences
In some Upaniads phonetical correspondences are established between certain
syllables and Vedic terms beginning with those syllables. Prajpati taught the syllable
da and his disciples extracted the notions of restraint (dmyata), bounty (datta),
and compassion (dayadhvam) (BU.5.2.1-3). In other Upaniad are indicated the
phonetical correspondences of the sevenfold Sman chant: the sound hu is identical
to the interjection Hi, pra is identified with the term Introductory Praise
(pra.stva), the sound with the Opening (.di), ud with the High Chant (ud.gtha),
prati with the Response (prati.hra), upa with the Finale (upa.drava), and the sound
ni is the Concluding Chant (ni.dhana) (CU.2.8.1-3).
The functioning of these phonetical correspondences is quite analogous to that
of mantras, because mantras establish a linkage (Skt. bandhu) between cosmic forces
and ritual elements that make it a real and efficient one (Wheelock, 1989: 108), and
simultaneously, those linkages serve, on the one hand, as a mnemonic guide to
remember the sequential procedure (Skt. itikartavyat) of ritual, and on the other
hand, as a medium of knowledge (Skt. prama) of its meaning (Taber, 1989: 149, n.
15). Likewise, and as the quoted example shows, the phonetical correspondences
serve as a mnemonic guide to perform the Sman chant because the term Sman
5

The Pariias include seventy two texts dealing with topics as ritual, magic, astrology,
religious observances, phonetics, etc., and were composed between the second century BCE to
the fifth century CE (Modak, 1993: 191, 473).

On this formulaic dhra pattern, see Appendix B-1 and Chart 1.

See section 1.1.2.1.

17

establishes linkages between the parts of the cosmos and human beings, and these
linkages in turn, propitiate benefits such as mundane power and wealth (CU.1.6.1-8;
1.7.1-9).
Despite the fact that those Upaniads phonetical correspondences are not
reproducing the alphabetical pattern shown by the syllabic dhras and that there
is no evidence of any historical link between both of them, nevertheless, the Upaniads
give evidence of the earliest instance of phonetical correspondences used as
mnemonic and spiritual device that would be reflected upon the Buddhist syllabic
dhras (HBG.VI.571a).8
1.1.1.4. The Truth Act (Satyakriy
(Satyakriy
Satyakriy)
Being defined as: A formal declaration of fact, accompanied by a command or
resolution or prayer that the purpose of the agent shall be accomplished
(Burlingame, 1917: 429), the truth act (satyakriy) finds its origin in the Vedas.9 Thus,
to avoid a premature birth, it is declared: As this great earth receives the embryos of
existences, so let thine embryo be maintained, in order to birth [i.e., to be born] after
pregnancy (AV.VI.17.1). Satyakriy extracts its effectiveness from the complete tuning
of the proclaimer with the same reality/truth (satya) that constitutes the cosmic order
(Skt. ta). If Vedic gods are satyadharman, that is, having Truth as their basic law or
principle, likewise, a human being realizing to perfection his duty within the cosmos
will embody a divine power enabling him to bend cosmic forces to his will (Brown,
1968: 172-174).
This cosmic power is communicated through a true language of a superhuman
nature (Wayman, 1984a: 392), because according to the Vedas, to speak the truth is
identical to expressing the universal Law (Dharma) (BU.1.4.14). She/he who may utter
the truth is protected by the truth itself, as that man who was falsely accused of
robbery and was left immune from the ordeal by uttering the truth and covering
himself with the truth (CU.6.16.1-2). Satyakriy also implies an utterance of a ritual
nature, because another meaning of kriy is that of rite, hence, satyakriy can be
translated as rite of truth, too (Wayman, 1984a: 392-393). Within a Buddhist context,
however, the Theravda parittas originally grounded their efficiency on the sole
declaration of truth (saccakiriy) (first century BCE), to which a ritual framework was
added later (fifth century CE) (Silva, 1991: 141-142).10
1.1.2. Tantric Tradition
While Vedic mantras serve as the mediators between cosmic/divine forces and
the ritual process, Tantric mantras manifest the identity between practitioner and
deity instead (Wheelock, 1989: 119). Tantric mantras depart from the Vedic ones in
their linguistic structure too, replacing the Vedic poetic forms for sets of terms
8

On the syllabic dhras, see Appendices B-2, C, and D section (b).

It should be noted, however, that satyakriy term does not appear in the Vedas as such, but
with synonyms as true speech (satya-vc) or truth-command (satydhishhna). Satyakriy
(P saccakiriy) term and its synonyms appear only in later Buddhist texts such as the Jtakas,
the Milindapaha, or the Divyvadna (SED: 1136; Burlingame, 1917: 434).
10

On the parittas, see section 1.2.1.2.

18

(frequently injunctions) related to syllables and phonemes that, leaving aside their
semantic meaning or lack of it, only make sense within a ritual context (Hanneder,
1998: 150). The two main modalities of aiva Tantric mantras will be analyzed below,
pre-Mantramrgic and Mantramrgic ones, which Buddhist assimilation
approximately coincides with the two Tantric assimilation stages within Buddhism:
the first stage centered around the incantation and ritual of a standard Mahyna
(c. third century CE), and the second one during the Vajrayna systematization (c.
seventh and eighth century CE) (Kapstein, 2001: 245).11
1.1.2.1. aiva PrePre-Mantramrgic
Mantramrgic Mantras
Mantras
As it was indicated before, the surkalpa and Ucchumakalpa Pariias mantras
invoke the power of Rudra, or one of his variants as Ucchuma (Desiccating [Fire]).
Within the aiva exorcist tradition, Ucchumarudra is invoked as a protector against
evil beings with mantras quite similar to those Pariias mantras mentioned before,
and his main role is that of removing impure substances (Sanderson, 2007: 197-200).
Moreover, according to certain aiva Tantras, Ucchuma is the first of a series of ten
Rudras: Ucchuma, avara, Caa, Mataga, Ghora, Yama, Ugra, Halahala, Krodhin,
and Huluhulu (TAK.I: 225).
It is highly significant the correspondence shown between these ten Rudras
(and their female counterparts) as they appear in the aiva mantras and their parallels
in Buddhist dhras. The aiva Mahgaapatividy includes a long mantra invoking
Ucchuma and the female consorts of Caa (Cali), Mataga (Matag), and the
goddesses Pukkas and Cmud (Sanderson, 2007: 199-200, n. 16). And in certain
dhras invoking Ucchumakrodha Mahbala, that is the Buddhist equivalent of
Ucchuma, the non-Vedic goddesses abari, Matag, and Cali are also invoked
(Bala: 53.2-3). Likewise, in numerous protective (Skt. raka) and dhra formulas
appear invocations to a common set of five non-Vedic goddesses: Gauri, Gandhri,
Cali, Matag, and Pukkas (Skilling, 1992: 155; MS.I: 678-679).12 In all likelihood,
seemingly unintelligible expressions such as hala hala and hulu hulu appearing in a
number of mantras/dhras (MS.I: 687; Harrison/Coblin, 1999: 156; Filliozat, 2004: 500),
were originally invocations to the Rudras Halahala and Huluhulu, that later were
assigned to the Buddhist Hlhala Avalokitevara, whose iconography includes
distinctive features of Rudra/iva (Bhattacharyya, 1958: 132-133).13 These data give
11

The term pre-Mantramrgic refers to the early ascetic tradition focused on iva as Rudra
Paupati intended for exclusively soteriological goals, and the Mantramrgic one (lit. path of
mantras) refers to a later tradition open to ascetics and laypeople alike including mundane
goals, too (Sanderson, 1988: 664-668).
12

See (with variants) AM.1.220, 257; AM.2.450; AM.3.1352; AM.4.1453, 1473; AM.5.2285;
AM.7.3310, 3320; AM.8.3662, 3775, 3790, 3800, 3817; AM.10.5336; AM.12.6872; AM.13.7462;
AM.14.7879, 8223, 8225; AM.15.8355; AM.16.9989, 10133. The names of those goddesses denote
untouchable Indian tribal castes and occupations (hunting, cleaning, corpse handling, etc.)
(Shaw, 2006: 397-398). On the continuity of those tribal castes and the Buddhist Vajrayna
accomplished ones (siddhas), see Davidson, 2002: 224-233. On the goddess Matag within a
aiva context, see Kinsley, 1997: 209-222. On the conversion of the mahvidydhar Matag,
see Appendix C.
13

In the influential ryvalokitevara-mahkruika-dhra, Avalokitevara is venerated with a


number of iva epithets and the exclamation hulu hulu (Chandra, 1979: 14-16).

19

support to the theory described before on the Buddhist origins of formulaic dhras,
whose pattern arose from a substratum made up of a non-Vedic mantric lore
assimilated by the Atharvaveda Pariias, and assimilated in turn and almost
simultaneously by the Pre-Mantramrgic aivism and a proto-Tantric Mahyna.14
1.1.2.2. aiva Mantramrgic Mantras
Mantras
Considered as specific modalities of the words energy (Skt. vkakti), Tantric
mantras are characterized as being the phonic, expressing (vcaka), form of a deity,
its subtle form, its essence, its efficient aspect (Padoux, 1990: 378-380). This
characteristic is usually identified with their seed syllable (Skt. bja) because, save
rare exceptions, a Tantric mantra is defined by its bja (Hanneder, 1998: 149, n. 8).
According to a traditional definition: All mantras consist of phonemes and their
nature is that of energy, O dear One. Know, however, that this energy (akti) is the
mtk, whose nature is that of iva (tr. in Padoux, 1990: 374). In this sense, mtk in
singular, lit. little mother, designates the matrix-energy, the generative power that
simultaneously creates and holds the mantras and the universe. In plural, the mtks
are the fifty phonemes of the Sanskrit syllable system (Skt. varapha), understood as
the basis of all mantras (Padoux, 1990: 147, n. 170, 151-153). Hence, to know the
mtks nature and their akti is equal to know the absolute itself, especially in its
twofold aspect as the worlds manifestation/reabsortion (Padoux, 1990: 78, 152-153, n.
186).15
Besides assigning the seer, the meter (in fact, an inner rhythm), the deity, and
the application as the Vedic mantras, every Tantric mantra includes a ritual of mantric
imposition (Skt. nysa) and a deitys visualization (Skt. dhyna), where the mantra
syllables are imposed ritually on specific parts of the bodys practitioner, and then
he/she visualizes herself/himself as identical to the deity (MM.II.3-6; Bhnemann,
1991: 292-293; Padoux, 1978: 67-68; 1980: 59-61). Moreover, usually every Tantric
mantra is subdivided into three parts: (a) an initial part, its bja, (b) a middle part, its
akti, and (c) a final part, its wedge (klaka) (Bhnemann, 1991: 293). According to
other sources, the klaka part can be subdivided again into five types of mantras:
heart-essence (hdaya), wedge (klaka), weapon (astra), cuirass (kavaca), and
supreme mantra (paramo mantra) (Hanneder, 1998: 153-154). The idea lying behind
those divisions and subdivisions, namely, that from the concrete mtks of a given
mantra can arise more mantras, will be assimilated by the Buddhist dhras according
to their own models.16
Lastly, another significant aspect of Tantric mantras is that they hold a specific
gender. According to several Tantras, mantras are divided into male ones (pumantra)
14

The presence of this non-Vedic mantric lore within Buddhist dhras is also noticed by
references to formulas in Dravidian language (drmi mantrapad) (My: 379, 389, 439) and
to the dhra of [the deity] Dravia (Bala: 50.19), see also Appendix C.
15

On the notion of mtk (P mtik) in the Theravda Abhidhamma, see section 1.2.1.2., on
the varapha in the Mahyna and the Vajrayna, see section 1.2.2.1. and Appendix D section
(b).
16

See section 2.3. The mantras akti (b) indicates the part expressing what is to be effected
(sdhya) for such mantra and is equivalent to the central part of a dhra, see Appendix B-1, n.
171.

20

with ending expressions such as hu and pha, and being used in rites of subduing,
female ones (strmantra), also called vidy, with endings in svh and used in rites of
eradication of disease, or neuter ones, ending in nama (obeisance) and used in
other rituals (Wayman, 1984b: 418-420; Bhnemann, 1991: 304). This mantra
classification based on gender would be assimilated by Buddhist dhras, as well.17
1.2.
1.2. Buddhist Factors for the Emergence of Dhra
Dhra
ras
s
1.2.1. Mainstream Buddhism
Overall, it can be asserted that mainstream Buddhism initially rejected mantras
and only assimilated them later, first within their Vinayas and then within special
collections called Vidydhara-piakas or Dhra-piakas. It is a question of a complex
process that will be studied from three approaches: (1) the early mainstream Buddhist
attitudes of rejection and acceptance of mantras, (2) the emphasis on Buddhist
protective texts based on the act of truth (saccakiriy) as the Theravda parittas, and
those based on mantras as the Sarvstivda and Mlasarvstivda Mahstras, and the
role played by the Abhidharmas mtks as the forerunners of the syllabic dhras,
and (3) the acceptance of mantras/dhras within Southern Buddhism and their
systematization among several mainstream Buddhist schools that were precursors of
the Mahyna.
1.2.1.1. Early Mainstream Buddhist Attitudes towards Mantras
Mantras
The Theravda Nikyas rejected Vedic mantras on the basis of three arguments:
soteriological, ethical, and linguistic ones. The historical Buddha negated that is
could have a direct knowledge of Brahm, hence, their tradition lacked any
soteriological validity (DN.13.12-15). From an ethical level, reciting mantras was
considered a wrong means of livelihood (Braj: 59-61), and the Theravda Vinaya only
accepted as a true Brahman someone wise and virtuous who does not confide in the
sound hu (P nihuhuka) as a protective and purificatory method (McDermott, 1984a:
49-50). And from a linguistic level, mantras are just a kind of deceitful language worth
of reject and despise (DN.11.5-7).18
Nevertheless, Mahsghika, Mahsaka, Sarvstivda, and Mlasarvstivda
Vinayas acknowledged some efficacy to mantras when considered acts such as killing
and having sex through mantras as a defeat (Skt. prjika) (Shes.V: 107). Moreover,
Dharmaguptaka and Mlasarvstivda Vinayas admitted using mantras with protective
and therapeutical goals (Davidson, 2009: 113-116; Pathak, 1989: 32-38).19 The main
reason for using those mantras was quite a pragmatic one: they demonstrated their
17

See section 2.3. and Appendix B-1.

18

However, the South Asian Theravda accepted mantras/dhras in an extra-canonical way,


see Appendix C.

19

Despite a few schools negating them, Sarvstivdins and others admitted the five
supernatural knowledges (Skt. abhij) among ordinary persons (pthagjanas) and nonBuddhists (Koa.VII.41-d; Bareau, 1955: 140). The abhij called supernatural power of
conservation (dhihnik ddhi), is able, among other functions, to empower mantras, hence,
it is hardly surprising that those mainstream Buddhist schools would accept mantra efficacy
(Eltschinger, 2001: 71-72). On dhihnik ddhi, see section 1.2.2.2. paragraph (a).

21

effectiveness against the ten dangers or hindrances (P/Skt. antaryas) liable to


obstruct a normal monastic life, such as dangers from the king, thieves, water, fire,
human beings, non-human beings, wild animals, reptiles, death or severe illness, and
falling away from la under certain compulsion (DMT: 15-16).20 In some instances,
loving-kindness (P mett) meditation proved not to be adequately effective as selfprotective device against the antaryas, and was supplemented or even replaced by
other methods such as the Buddhas commemoration and mantra recitation
(Schmithausen, 1997: 67). Those needs of protection and prophylaxis were, among
other causes, what promoted the apotropaic use of certain Buddhist Scriptures and
the inclusion of mantras within some of them, that will be studied below.
1.2.1.2. Parittas,
Parittas, Mahstra
Mahstras,
tiks/M
tks
stras, and Mtiks/
s/Mtk
ks
Despite their rejection of the Vedas, Theravdins, Sarvstivdins, and
Mlasarvstivdins, among others, acknowledged some features of the Vedic
understanding of language and mantras able to be assimilated by Buddhism without
betraying their tenets. Those schools emphasized three qualities of the Buddhas
speech that could be reconcilable for such purpose: (1) the Buddhas speech as
expressing the truth/reality (P sacca; Skt. satya), (2) its protective power, and (3) its
faculty to facilitate insight derived from its memorizing. These three qualities got an
outstanding significance in the parittas, the Mahstras, and the mtiks/mtks.
The Pli term paritta means protection or safeguard, and originally consists
of a selection of Nikyas Suttas used for prophylactic goals, that is, to ward off or
overcome dangers and problems, and benedictive ones, to assure success in an
undertaking and attain positive good (Harvey: 1993: 53-56).21 There are a variety of
powers propitiating the efficacy of parittas, among them, stand out the power of
ethical virtue (P/Skt. la), the universal loving-kindness (mett), the Three Jewels, the
contemplation of enlightenment factors (P bojjhagas), the deities power (P yakkhas,
ngas, etc.), and even the parittas sound, whose pitch induces mindfulness (Piyadassi,
1975: 15-16; Greene, 2004: 53-54). However, the pivotal power enabling parittas to be
effective is that all of them are modalities of the act of truth (saccakiriy) or truth
utterance (P saccavajja). While the Vedic satyakriy is based on the perfect harmony
between oneself and her/his own duty within the cosmos (ta), the Buddhist
saccakiriy instead, extract its power from the speakers ethical perfection: (moral)
truth is a natural force with irresistible power (Harvey, 1993: 67-68, 70-71, 74).
In this sense, it would be argued that saccakiriy is closely related to two
powers of the Buddhas speech: the Buddha as a truth-speaker, and the Buddhas
Brahm Voice (P/Skt. brahmasvara). In the first case, he is a speaker whose words are
to be treasured, seasonable, reasoned, well-defined and connected with the goal
(DN.1.9), and in the second one, his voice is distinct, intelligible, melodious, audible,
ringing, euphonious, deep, and sonorous (MN.91.21), a persuasive voice that what he
20

The antaryas were included and expanded within the dhras protective benefits lists, see
section 3.2.1. On the continuity between the antaryas and the dadhrmikas, see Appendix D
section (a).
21

Those two parittas goals are quite akin to the ntika and pauika dhras functions, see
sections 3.2.1. and 3.2.2. Besides those uses, however, paritta compilations became the basis of
two monastic revivals in Sri Lanka during the thirteenth century CE and the eighteenth
century CE (Blackburn, 1999: 360-365), and nowadays, parittas are also used as formative
handbooks for novices (Piyadassi, 1975: 5; Samuels, 2005: 346-360).

22

says will carry weight (DN.30.23-24). This means that the Buddhas speech is perfect in
form and content and is able to transform spiritually the listeners lives, as happened
to Kondaa, who opened his Dhammas eye after listening to a Buddhas Sutta
(SN.V.423).22 However, normally paritta practice is focused on attaining mundane
benefits exclusively, and their efficacy can be hindered because of karma obstructions,
defilements, and lack of faith (MP.154). Both of those aspects, among others,
distinguish parittas from dhras, because many dhras were seen to be able to
overcome those factors preventing paritta effectiveness. Although both parittas and
dhras may share common functions of protection and increase, nevertheless,
claiming that the dhra is the counterpart of paritta as does H. Saddhatissa (1991:
127), is inaccurate.23 Lastly, it is significant that some parittas such as the
Mahsamaya-sutta (DN.20) and the niya-sutta (DN.32), among others, invoke the
presence of non-Vedic and Vedic deities as protectors of the Buddhist community.
Specifically, there is a core-set of deities that will remain constant as Dharmas
protectors: the Four Great Kings (Skt. catvri mahrjkayika) Vairavaa,
Dhtarra, Virhaka, and Virpka, the gods Indra (or akra) and Brahm
Sahpati, followed by their hosts of minor deities. This fact gives evidence of an
early incorporation of local cults within Indian Buddhism that will be developed with
the Mahyna and the Vajrayna.24 And not only that, as it will be seen below, the
mantric language of those deities will be identified as buddhavacana through its
inclusion within the Mahstras.
Around the 4th century CE, Sarvstivdins and Mlasarvstivdins extracted
from their gamas a selection of Scriptures, called Mahstras (Great Stras), whose
main function was that of overcoming religious opponents and malignant beings
(MS.II: 4-30). Among them, the Mahsamja-stra, the niya-stra, and the
Vailpravea-stra contain mantras. In the Mahsamja-stra an assembly of deities
(most of them goddesses) gather in order to contemplate the Buddha and to keep off
Mras hosts, then, the deities announce their purpose to protect the Stra and
promulgate mantras and ritual prescriptions (MS.I: 624-661; MS.II: 537-542). In the
niya-stra, Vairavaa describes the Four Great Kings and their retinues, whose
promulgated to the Buddha protective mantras for the Sangha. The next day, the
Buddha teaches those same mantras to the monastic community (MS.I: 662-694; MS.II:
575-577). In the Vailpravea-stra, the Buddha visits Vail city in order to eradicate
an epidemic and by reciting a long mantra, and by the power of the Buddha and that of

22

It would be argued that the Buddhist assimilation of the thirty two marks of the Great Man
(brahmasvara is one of them) from the Vedic lore (DN.3.1.3; 4.5), together with all the
mentioned speech qualities of the Buddha, could be understood as a Buddhist
adaptation/answer to two parallel doctrines already appearing in the Upaniads: the ultimate
reality as embodied speech (BU.1.3.21), and Dharma and truths speech are identical
(BU.1.4.14).
23

P. Harvey rightly noticed that the power of dhras exceeds that of parittas (1993: 83, n. 7).
On the mundane and supramundane dhra goals, see sections 3.2. and 3.3.

24

On the symbiosis between Indian Buddhism and local cults, see Coomaraswamy, 2001: 4-37;
Sutherland, 1991: Chap. 4; Cohen, 1998: 399-400; DeCaroli, 2004: 186-187; Ruegg, 2008: 19-29.
On the continuity of such core-set of deities within Mahyna, see Pratyu.14E, Pua.I: 2;
Aa.3.25-26, PWE-S.III.50-51; Suvar: 36-54, Sgol: 24-44, and in Vajrayna, see Vai-s: 10; Susi: 287289; Bhattacharyya, 1933: 361-363. On the Four Great Kings iconography, see DBI.3: 772-775.

23

the deities, the epidemic ceased (MS.I: 696-738; MS.II: 593-597).25 These three
Mahstras are significant for the Dhra-stras for three reasons: (1) including
mantras within those Mahstras entailed their legitimation as Buddha Word
(buddhavacana). If the Sarvstivda Vinaya, among others, already recognized as
buddhavacana the gods Dharma preaching (Lamotte, 1983-4: 6), Sarvstivdins and
Mlasarvstivdins went a step further including as buddhavacana the deities mantras
approved by the Buddha. The assimilation of this mantric language reflects a
conversion device based on the following exchange: the converters (i.e., Buddhists)
convey the Dharma to the those converted (i.e., tribal/lower caste populations), while
in return, they assimilate a new and powerful kind of buddhavacana: the converteds
mantric lore. This conversion device adopted two modalities: the Buddha approves
the deities mantras (Mahsamja-stra and niya-stra cases), or the Buddha is
presented as the supreme source of the mantric lore (Vailpravea-stra case), and
both modalities will be reproduced within the Dhra-stras.26 (2) These Mahstras
set up a basic Scriptural pattern that will be reproduced by the Dhra-stras,
consisting of a narrative where an issue is addressed to the Buddha and he gives a
solution through the promulgation or approval of a mantra/dhra, the description of
their benefits, and eventually, giving ritual prescriptions.27 And (3), these three
Mahstras will be identified later as Dhra-stras and classified as Kriy Tantras
within the Tibetan Buddhist canon (MS.II: 78-84). All those factors indicate, on the one
hand, a continuity between the non-Vedic and Vedic mantric lore and the
mantras/dhras of Indian Buddhism, and on the other hand, a pan-Indian and
transectarian use of those mantras, because they were employed by Buddhists of all
ynas (MS.II: 75).
The Sangti-sutta understands the faculty of memory (P. sati; Skt. smti) as a
protection giving factor (P ntha-karaa-dhamm):
(b) he has learnt much, and bears in mind and retains what he has learnt. In these
teachings, beautiful in the beginning, the middle and the ending, which in spirit and
in letter proclaim the absolutely perfected and purified holy life, he is deeply learned,
he remembers them, recites them, reflects on them and penetrates them with wisdom
(i) he is mindful, with a great capacity for clearly recalling things done and said long
ago (DN.33.3.3).

The mahvyhtis has already been described as the condensation of the three
Vedas, whose recitation and bodily wearing bestow knowledge and protection,28 and
in the Buddhist case, the same idea is detected but formulated differently:
remembering that bearing in oneself the Buddhist teachings bestows protection, this
establishes a solid basis for their further realization. This close relationship between
memory and protection is made evident within the semantic field of the Pli term sati,
that despite being commonly translated as mindfulness, in fact its primary sense is
that of memory, or remembering and bearing in mind (PED: 672b, 697b). That is
25

Those Mahstras parallels the narrative of three Paritta-suttas: the Mahsamaya-sutta, the
niya-sutta, and the Ratana-sutta, respectively (Piyadassi, 1975: 70-81, 103-114, 30-34).
26

See section 1.2.2.2. paragraph (a) and Appendix C.

27

On this dhras narrative pattern, see section 1.2.2.2. paragraph (a).

28

See Appendix A.

24

why the Dhammasagai considers the term dhraat, whose meaning is that of
bearing [in mind], to be a synonym of sati (Gethin, 2007: 36-37), that also means
wearing, being dressed with, and it is related to dhraa wearing, mantaining,
sustaining, keeping up, bearing in mind, remembrance (PED: 341a), and dharati to
hold, bear, carry, wear, to bear in mind, and in turn the Pli dharati is derived from
the Skt. dharati, whose root dh is identical to the term dhra (PED: 340a; Whitney,
1885: 84-85).29
Although the term dhra does not appear in the Theravda Nikyas, one of its
primary meanings as being a condensed formula able to unleash innumerable Dharma
teachings, is already present within the Theravda notion of matrix or mother (P
mtik; Skt. mtk). Mtik is understood as the Abhidhammas generator, because
according to the Kassapas Mohavicchedan: The word mtik is used because of the
begetting, looking after and bringing up of dhammas and meanings without end or
limit like a mother (tr. in Gethin, 1992: 161).30 In a specific sense, the mtiks consists
of lists of items organized according to a system of numerical progression and terms
linked by doublets-triplets (eg. non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion), extracted from
Scriptures such as the Sangti-sutta and others. Arisen from subtle contemplative
states, the mtiks allows the condensation and memorizing of large corpus of
teachings, provide a map of the path, and may constitute a meditative practice
conducive to insight (Gethin, 1992: 160-167), hence, mtiks and syllabic dhras
share relevant common factors. Despite the fact that syllabic dhras are not based
on lists of items but they are built up from the first syllables of key doctrinal terms,
just like the mtiks, syllabic dhras allows the condensation and memorizing of a
great deal of teachings, they provide a paths map, and serve as contemplative
methods to attain the true nature of existence (Pagel, 2007a: 111-115).31 Moreover,
that one who is a specialist in retaining the mtiks (P mtikdhara) is also a
protector of Dhamma (P dhammarakkha), and both functions are similar to those
belonging to the Bodhisattva, who, according to the Asagas Bodhisattvabhmi: Finds
joy in the summaries (mtk) of the piaka and attains dhras (Braarvig, 1985: 2122).
As will be seen below, parittas, Mahstras, mtiks/mtks, and a mantric lore
accepted by several mainstream Buddhist schools, would be assimilated and reelaborated by Mahyna Buddhism according to its own outlook.32

29

On the etymology of the term dhra, see 2.1.1. On the dhras as protective amulets to be
worn, see Hidas, 2007: 190-198; Sen, 1965: 70-72.

30

On the Tantric mtks, see section 1.1.2.2. On the dhras as condensed formulas, see
section 2.4.2. On the embryological function of the Mah Nikya mantra sa vi dh pu ka ya pa,
understood as the condensation of the seven Abhidhamma books and which syllables are
viewed as mothers (mtiks), see Bizot/Lagirarde,1996: 41, and Castro-Snchez, 2010: 7, Chart
2.
31

On the syllabic dhras, see Appendices B-2 and D section (b).

32

On the formulaic and syllabic dhras within some mainstream Buddhist schools, see
Appendix C.

25

1.2.2. Mahyna
Mahyna Buddhism
Indian Mahyna introduced two decisive changes that would consolidate the
legitimization as buddhavacana of the mantric lore held by the mainstream Buddhist
schools already referred to: (1) a soteriological validation of language and mantras
reflected in the Sanskritization of Mahyna, understood as the Buddhist answer to
the rising of Sanskrit literature in the early centuries CE, and being stimulated by
Buddhist leaders of a Brahmanical origin (Wayman, 1965: 114), and (2) the passage
from a Scriptural closed canon based on an oral transmission, to an open one
allowing a further expansion through written Scriptures issued from visionary
experiences (McDermott, 1984b: 32).33 As will be studied below, the emergence of this
Mahyna open canon was what allowed the widespread inclusion of formulaic and
syllabic dhras within Mahyna Scriptures, and particularly, what allowed the
elaboration of the Dhra Scriptures.
1.2.2.1.
1.2.2.1. Acceptance of the Soteriological Validity of Language and Mantras
Mantras
The Sanskrit language, besides being accepted by the Mahyna for its
technical precision and cultural prestige (Lamotte, 1958: 634-657), was also accepted
as a medium conducive to enlightenment. Probably, the first step towards this
direction was recognizing the Mahyna Stras as written manifestations of the
Buddhas Dharma-body (Skt. dharma-kya):
And when one learns it, one should carefully analyze it grammatically, letter by letter,
syllable by syllable, word by word. For as the dharma-body of the past, future and
present Tathgatas is this dharma-text authoritative (Aa.28.227-228; PWES.XXVIII.461-462).

As is the case with the Brahmans grammatical training, a mastery of the


Sanskrit grammar became one of the hallmarks of Bodhisattva training, who wanted
to acquire the skill in the cognition of sounds (Skt. rutajnakaualya) (Mps: 162).
And for that purpose, the Bodhisattva will follow Sudhanas example, who visited the
grammarian Megha to teach him a dhra whose recitation bestows an omniscient
eloquence (Skt. pratibhna) and is able to transform him into an irreversible (Skt.
avaivartika) Bodhisattva (Avat: 1189-1191).34 Hence, Sanskrit grammar became a
meditative practice through reciting, memorizing, writting, and teaching specific
Stras paragraphs as if they were mantras (Kent, 1982: 324-325).35 This explains that
33

The Mahyna arose simultaneously to the proliferation of a non-Buddhist written


visionary literature in India (first or second century BCE), and this Mahyna acceptance of
written Scriptures was a key factor for its survival (McMahan, 1998: 255, 264).
34

On dhra and pratibhna, see section 2.1.3.2. The avaivartika state coincides with the
accomplishment of the conviction of the non-arising of dharmas (Skt.
anutpattikadharmaknti) and locates the Bodhisattva on the eighth stage (Skt. bhmi) to
Buddhahood (Pagel, 1995: 186-187; Dayal, 1932: 213). On the avaivartika state as a
supramundane dhra goal, see sections 3.3.1. and 3.3.2.
35

Likewise, Bharthari (fifth century CE) recognized Sanskrit grammar as a gateway to


liberation (Vk.14), and his grammatical treatises were included within the curriculum of the
Buddhist university of Nland (Takukusu, 1896: 178-180; Biardeau, 1964: 255-260).

26

Mahyna would include special syllabaries as the arapacana and the standard
Sanskrit syllabary (varapha) within several Mahyna Scriptures, as mnemonic and
contemplative means to realize Buddhist teachings (Mps: 160-162; Mapa.I: 201-207).
Even a commentary of the influential Mahparinirva-stra went so far as to
acknowledge the eternal (akara) and inexhaustible (akaya) nature of the Sanskrit
syllabary and its invention from age to age by the god Brahm (HBG.II: 117).36
Nevertheless, this Sanskritizaton did not necessarily imply a Mahyna
recognition of Sanskrit as the Buddhas sacred language. In fact, on a relative level,
such language mastery was included within the Bodhisattvas detailed and thorough
knowledges (Skt. pratisavids) and was mainly used to skillfully teach the Dharma to
people, because the teaching of both the Dharma and (its) meaning happens only
through speech and knowledge (Mslb.XVIII.36); and on a definitive level, language is
subjected to a rigorous deconstruction divesting it of any reification that
demonstrates its inability to express ultimate reality: One cannot properly express
the emptiness of all dharmas in words (Aa.18.174; PWE-S.XVIII.348). When
confronted with mantras/dhras though, this linguistic deconstruction was
understood in two different ways: for the mainstream Mahyna, mantras/dhras
reveal their emptiness as a no-meaningness (Skt. nitarthath) emphasizing the
inexpressible nature of all dharmas, for the Vajrayna instead, mantras/dhras reveal
their emptiness as producers of innumerable meanings.37
Concerning the Mahyna doctrinal assimilation of mantras, an early reference
indicates that mantras were rejected due to their heretical origins (Pratyu.14B), while
another source ackowledges mantra efficacy and its likely use among Buddhists
(Kpa.4.48). But it is in the Aashasrikprajpramit-stra and its versified part, the
Ratnaguasacaya-gth (1st century BCE, Conze, 2000: 1), where the mantric lore got
an unreserved acceptance. One passage refers to mantra power (Skt. mantra-bala) as a
metaphor for the unsupported power of suchness (Skt. tathat) (Rag.27.5; PWE-V.
XXVII.5), while the other passage refers to the mantras and vidys attaining as a mark
of the irreversible Bodhisattva (Aa.17.167; PWE-S.XVII.337). In practical terms
though, the irreversible Bodhisattvas are identified with the Dharma-preachers (Skt.
dharmabhakas), considered as quite advanced Bodhisattvas who are very near to the
attainment of Buddhahood.38 And if the dharmabhakas were the inspirers of the
Mahyna Stras and their legitimate promulgators (MacQueen, 1982: 60; Drewes,
2006: 246-247), they were, moreover, the introducers of the veneration to the Four
Great Kings, akra, and Brahm Sahpati, and the practice of their mantras within
Mahyna, through invocation formulae (Skt. karaapada), and the only ones
authorized to recite and transmit them (Pagel, 2007a: 60-61). This implies that, in all
likelihood, the dharmabhakas also introduced the different understandings of
36

However, this approach was not followed by other Mahyna streams, see below and
section 2.2.1., and it was accepted by the Vajrayna but with a key difference: the varapha
is not created by Brahm but appears spontaneously from suchness (Bonji: 139). On the
mantras as issued from the dharmat, see section 2.3.
37

On the Mahyna approach to mantras/dhras, see sections 2.2.1. and 2.2.2., and on the
Vajrayna approach, see sections 2.3., 2.4.1. and 2.4.2. On the Bodhisattvas pratisavids, see
section 2.1.3.2.
38

If the irreversible Bodhisattva is located in the eighth bhmi (see n. 34 above), the
dharmabhaka is located in the ninth one, identified with the pratisavids mastery (Drewes,
2006: 248-251).

27

dhra concept within the Mahyna Stras, and later on, they inspired the Dhra
Scriptures, as well. In the first case, the dhra concept passed through several stages
before becoming a mature Dhra Scripture,39 and concerning the second case, it will
be studied below.
1.2.2.2. Dhra
Dhra
ra Scriptures
From the third century CE to the eighth century CE, a new modality of
Buddhist Scripture appeared in India and spread through Central Asia, Tibet, and East
Asia, in fact, a new version of buddhavacana, where the formulaic dhras became
the core of the Stras narrative (Srensen, 2011b: 162). The success and wide
dissemination of those Scriptures was such, that Arthur Waley rightly called it
Dhra-Buddhism (as quoted in McBride, II, 2005: 87). It can be seen in the arising of
the Dhra Scriptures the first consolidation of the non-Vedic, Vedic and early aiva
mantric lores within Indian Buddhism, as a result of a long process of assimilation and
re-elaboration that began, at least, three centuries before (Skilling, 1992: 164).40
Among the key socio-religious factors contributing to the emergence of the Dhra
Scriptures, two factors already dealt with stand out as the Buddhist assimilation of
local cults and their mantric lore from the second century BCE to the third century CE
(Skilling, 1992: 164), and the Sanskritization of Indian Mahyna, and a third one
should be added, the Brahmanical revival focused on Vedic rituals established by the
Gupta dynasty (320-500 CE), interacting/competing against an institutionalized
Mahyna led by the Yogcra school (Matsunaga, 1977: 171; Staal, 2008: 337).41
And among the likely reasons lying behind the dissemination and survival of
the Dhra Scriptures, four would be emphasized:
(1).- Preciseness. The Dhra Scriptures offer a precise sense of their nature and
methods, contrasting with the vague references to those topics appearing in standard
Mahyna Stras. For instance, a Stra refers to a Bodhisattva who has received the
dhras, but does not specify which ones (Aa.30.252; PWE-S.XXX.510), in other
Scripture dhra is defined both as memory and the means to attain it (Braarvig,
1985: 18), but again, this Scripture does not specify what these means concretely
entail. The Dhra Scriptures instead, reveal with preciseness the dhra goals and
their concrete methods of practice to attain them.42
(2).- Practicality. Overall, Dhra Scriptures leave aside discussions on doctrinal
topics, and are focused instead on a dhra formula presented as a practice capable of
accomplishing a concrete goal, whether mundane or supramundane, or both. In fact,

39

On those stages of dhras within Mahyna Stras, see Appendix D.

40

The second Buddhist consolidation of those mantric lores would be established by the
Indian Vajrayna, from the mid-seventh to the mid-eleventh centuries CE (Davidson, 2002:
117-118).
41

On the dhra mastery of Asaga and Vasubandhu, see Chimpa/Chattopadhyaya, 1970: 166172; Davidson, 2009: 139; and sections 2.2.2. and 3.1.1. On the dhra mastery of Mdhyamika
authors as Bhavviveka, see Beal, 1884: ii, 224-226, and section 2.3, and on ntidevas, see
ik.VI.139-142, CBD: 136-140.
42

See section 3.1.2.

28

for most Dhra Scriptures there is no dividing line between mundane and
supramundane goals, since both are viewed as an interrelated wholeness.43
(3).- Effectiveness. Given that Dhra Scriptures condensate numerous
teachings within their formulas, they present themselves as a short-cut to
enligthenment and as a rapid method to attain any goal (Chou, 1945: 258). According
to their own claims, the Dhra Scriptures show effective, feasible, and verifiable
methods to realize the desired goals, adapting their prescriptions to the
characteristics of any person, and even indicating the concrete signs and time in
which their results can be made manifest.44
(4).- Dhras as Relics. Several Dhra Scriptures identified themselves as
Dharma-kya relics and were used to consecrate stpas and images, hence, the stpa
consecrated by those dhras became a living Buddha body and the practitioner
getting in touch with it could easily attain mundane and supramundane benefits.45
The Dhra Scriptures collected by the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist canons
testify, on the one hand, an obvious proof of their proliferation, and on the other
hand, the difficulty to classify them neatly because of their versatile nature. In the
first case, the Chinese Buddhist canon contains at least one hundred fourteen
Scriptures entitled as Dhra-stras (Ch. tuoluoni jing) (RCB: 82-121), but it also
includes numerous dhras/mantras within other Stras, Tantras, ritual texts, etc.,
that according to the The New Edition of All Mantras in Mahpiaka, come to 10,402
formulas.46 The Tibetan Buddhist canon contains ninety six Dhra Scriptures,
entitled as Dhra, Kalpa, and Vidy, besides numerous Tantras containing dhra
formulas (Kan: 561-563, 566). And in the second case, the denomination of Dhra
Scripture is an extensive one, including basically four textual modalities:
(a).- Single Scriptures: Entitled as Dhra or Dhra-stra, also includes
Scriptures entitled as Mahynastra (eg. Bala), and others as Vidyraji (eg. My,
Prati), or Hdaya (eg. Gaa). In most cases those Scriptures are divided into two parts:
a narrative one, where a concrete issue is addressed to the historical Buddha, and a
practical one, where the Buddha or another authority (Bodhisattva, deity, etc.)
approved by him, promulgates a dhra formula as the solution to the raised issue,
praising its benefits and claiming the pledge (samaya) of its efficacy.
A feature of foremost relevance for those Scriptures is that the dhra formula
is presented as buddhavacana, uttered by the Buddha or issued from his craneal
protuberance (Skt. ua) (Sit: 90-91), from his eyebrows (Prati: 193), or it is claimed
that the dhra formula has been promulgated by the Buddha and endowed with his
spiritual support or blessing (Skt. adhihna) (Anir: 103; T 1022(b) 713c17-19, Guhya:
4). The adhihna is an attribute of the Buddhas perfection of power (Skt.
prabhvasapad), which allows them to create, transform, and conserve (adhihna)
an external object (Koa.VII.34-c). Those three functions correspond to three
modalities of the supernatural power (Skt. ddhi), consisting of the supernatural
power of conservation (dhihnik ddhi) in the thing that the magician consecrates
43

See sections 3.1.3, 3.2. and 3.3.

44

See sections 3.1.2., 3.3.2., and 3.3.3.

45

See section 3.3.1.

46

See detailed summaries of the Dhra Scriptures and other esoteric texts within the
Chinese canon in Giebel, 2011, and those extra-canonical ones in Srensen, 2011a.

29

(adhitihati) by saying, may this thing be thus is termed adhihna. This thing is the
object (prayojana) of this ddhi, or this ddhi is produced in this thing: thus this ddhi is
called dhihnik (Koa.III.9-d, p. 31, n. 2). The Buddhas give their adhihna to the
dhras to endow them with efficacy and extend their power indefinitely. Moreover,
the adhihna can be given not only by Buddhas, but by Bodhisattvas and deities, too.
Likewise, the prescriptions for the dhra practice participate of the promulgators
adhihna and pledge (samaya), who secures its effectiveness if her/his prescriptions
are strictly followed (Eltschinger, 2001: 24-27, 62-74).47
Among the earliest Dhra-stras stand out the Mahmyr-vidyrj-stra
(The Scripture of the Queen of Vidys of the Great, Golden Peacock), of high significance for
the early East Asian esoteric Buddhism, whose Sanskrit original dates from the third
century CE (Srensen, 2006a: 91-92, 109). In its narrative, a monk is suffering from
snakebite and the Buddha transmitted to nanda the Mahmyr dhra to be recited
by him to the poisoned monk, regarded as an infallible antidote against poison.
Moreover, the Buddha approves the recitation of mantras/vidys/dhras from a large
host of deities intended to protect the Sangha from all kinds of dangers, since true
words eliminate poisons (My: 458).48
(b).- Dhra Ritual Manuals (Skt. Dhra-vidhis): A great number of Dhrastras contain a third part, focused on ritual practices (vidhi) directly related to the
Stras dhra formula (Copp, 2011: 176). However, originally the vidhis circulated
independently c. mid-fifth century CE, to be attached to the Dhra-stras after the
sixth century CE. The successful spreading of the Dhra-vidhis lies in that the exact
following of their prescriptions is seen to evoke the deitys presence and obtaining the
desired goals. The Dhra-vidhis established the textual basis for the early Buddhist
Tantras emergence (Dalton, 2010: 14-15).49
(c).- Dhra Collections (Skt. Dhra-sagrahas): Of a wide diffusion in India,
Nepal, and Tibet, the Dhra-sagrahas consist of a selection of dhra formulas to be
recited within a liturgical context, and normally are divided into three parts: an
invitation to mundane deities as witnesses and recitations beneficiaries, the dhra
formulas themselves, and a closing part with praises and prayers (Dalton, 2010: 5-10).
Among the most popular Dhra-sagrahas, stand out the Pacarak (Five
47

On the Bodhisattvas adhihna on mantras, see section 2.2.2., on the function of adhihna
in the Vajrayna mantras, see section 2.3. Some Buddhist schools admitted the dhihnik
ddhi in non-Buddhist mantras, see section 1.2.1.1., n. 19. On the samaya role in the Vedic
mantras, see section 1.1.1.1., and in the dhras, see Appendix B-1. On the Dharmakrti (600660 CE) definition of mantras efficacy as exclusively related to a human dhihnik ddhi, see
Eltschinger, 2008: 278-281.

48

The Atharvaveda already described a mantra invoking a peacock as antidote against snakes
poison (AV.VII.56.7). The Mahmyrs narrative core is based on the Khandha and Mora
parittas (Piyadassi, 1975: 37-38, 41-42; Lvi, 1915a: 20-21), and the deities lists appearing into
the Mahsamaya and niya parittas are reproduced in the Mahmyr (Przyluski/Lalou,
1938: 41-44), which in turn, are identical to their parallels Mahsamja and niya
Mahstras already described in section 1.2.1.2. On another key early Dhra Scripture
entitled Mtag-stra, see Appendix C, n. 185.
49

See section 1.2.3. On the Dhra-vidhis, see section 3.1.2. However, there are instances of
early Dhra-stras (c. second-third centuries CE) including both dhra formulas and rituals,
see Appendix C, n. 185.

30

Protections) (Gellner, 1993: 127, n. 39), and Saptavra (Seven Days) collections
(Grnbold, 2001: 372), still in use among Nepalese Buddhist Newars.50
(d).- Dhra Anthologies (Skt. Dhra-sammucayas): These are one of the three
modalities adopted by the Dhra Scriptures in China.51 One of the most outstanding
is the Tuoluoni zi jing (Skt. Dhrasammucaya-stra) (T 901), compiled by Atika
between 653-654 CE. Besides including a vast selection of Dhra-stras and dhra
formulas, the Tuoluoni zi jing describes numerous rituals, especially, that of the
consecration (Skt. abhieka) and fire sacrifice (Skt. homa), becoming a pivotal work
that would anticipate a mature East Asian Vajrayna (Strickmann, 1996: 72-87, 133136). A later and highly relevant Dhra-sammucaya is the quadrilingual Dazang
quanzhou (Great Collection of dhras) in Manchu, Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan,
compiled between 1748-1758 under mandate of the Qing emperor Qianlong (17111799).52
Given that Atikas Tuoluoni zi jing is an abridged version of a Vidydhara-piaka
(Duquenne, 1988: 322), it is likely that the Dhra-sammucayas could be the direct
descendants of the earlier Vidydhara/Dhra-piakas already mentioned. Judging by
their contents, the Vidydhara/Dhra-piakas include early protective mantras
(ik.VI.143; CBD: 140), and Scriptures with a threefold division of rites,
accomplishments (Skt. siddhis), and Buddha Clans (Skt. kulas), as the Subhuparipcch
and the Susiddhikara (Lalou, 1955: 71-72), for this reason they were classified later as
the earliest Kriy Tantras. According to the testimonies of Yijing (635-713 CE) and
Wuxing (?-674 CE), the Vidydhara/Dhra-piakas were presented as a new teaching
of great prestige in India (Chavannes, 1894: 101-105; Li-kouang, 1935: 83-84, n. 2).
Those piakas advocate the model of the vidydhara, lit. bearer of knowledge, as a
human being able to transform himself into a superman or man-god through a
mantra/dhra practice (Buitenen, 1958: 308).53
The Dhra-stras hybrid nature, whose narratives makes them similar to the
standard Mahyna Stras, but their ritual methods relate them to the Tantras, locate
them into a frontier area between Mahyna and Vajrayna (TMD: xxii), which other
authors have described as proto-Tantric (Strickmann, 1996: 129-133), or esoteric
50

See other Dhra-sagrahas in CBSM: 41-43, 49-50; IMT.I.410-411; SBLN: 80-81, 93-95. On the
parallels between the Pacarak collection and some Theravda parittas, see Skilling, 1992:
180-182.
51

The other two are translations of Indian Dhra-stras, and Scriptures elaborated in China
(apocryphal) but based on Indic originals (Strickmann, 1996: 72-73; Franke, 1984: 320-334).
52

Qianlong was seriously involved in dhras and wanted to restore their original Indic
pronunciations (Wang, 1995: 149-151; Yuyama, 2000: 166; Berger, 2003: 39). The contemporary
The New Edition of All Mantras in Mahpiaka (2001) is an improved reproduction of the Dazang
quanzhou.
53

The vidydharas have their origin in the non-Buddhist semigods or men-gods (Skt.
divyamnuas) (Przyluski, 1938: 125), and they are described as being able to fly, to change
shape at will, always young and accomplished (siddhas) in mantric lore (Grafe, 2006: 135-136).
The vidydharas are mentioned in the Milindapaha and certain Jtakas (Lders, 1939: 90-93),
they play a key role in some early Buddhist Tantras (Przyluski, 1923: 306-307), and are the
precursors of the siddha model advocated by a mature Indian Vajrayna (Davidson, 2002: 170171).

31

(Srensen, 2006b: 57-58).54 Regardless the debatable accuracy of those designations,


the documentary evidence shows an indisputable fact: There is in fact a historical
connection between the earlier dhra texts and the later Buddhist Tantras. The
earliest textual precursors of the Tantras are dhra-collections (Gray, 2005: 427).
1.2.3. Vajrayna
Vajrayna Buddhism
Among the foremost Vajrayna contributions to the dhras, two stand out:
endowing them with sophisticated definitions which identify them definitely as
mantras, and with a doctrinal and methodological systematization incomparable to
their former generalized presentations. According to the earliest classification of the
Indo-Tibetan Tantras, Buddhaguhya (the eighth century CE) established two
subclasses within the Kriy Tantra category: the general Tantras that are compilations
of ritual manuals (Tib. spyii cho ga bsdus pai rgyud), and the distinct Tantras (Tib. bye
brag gi rgyud). Under the former type he included texts such as the Susiddhikara (Susi)
or the Subhuparipcch, i.e., compilations of ritual manuals (vidhi), while that under
the second type Buddhaguhya included texts such as the Mahvairocanbhisabodhitantra (Vai-ta; Vai-s). This means that most of the earliest Kriy Tantras are composed
by Dhra-vidhis, hence, those ritual manuals established a key developmental bridge
between the earlier dhras and the later tantras (Dalton, 2010: 15-16, n. 33). In later
classifications, Indo-Tibetan Vajrayna recognized the dhras as a type of Kriy
(Action) and Carya (Conduct) Tantras: The action and conduct tantras are
distinguished as five types according to style of presentation alone: sutras, tantras,
skills, detailed rituals, and retention mantras [sic] (dharani) (Shes.V: 273-274).55
It had been argued that Kriy and Carya Tantras lack any soteriological goals,
therefore, dhra practice would limit itself to exclusively mundane goals
(Williams/Tribe, 2000: 205-208). However, the Dhra Scriptures themselves refute
such biased claim, and demonstrate instead a more complex evidence: there are
dhras with only mundane goals, others with mundane and supramundane goals,
and still others with exclusively supramundane goals.56 Moreover, in the
Majurmlakalpa and the Mahvairocanbhisabodhi-tantra the first soteriological

54

Despite some authors considering the Dhra Scriptures as belonging to the Mantranaya,
understood as a stage previous to the Vajrayna (Williams/Tribe, 2000: 196, n. 8), such
inclusion is problematic for two reasons: Mantranaya was indentified as synonym of
Vajrayna by later Vajrayna authors (mi, 2008: 307-308), and Mantranaya is not
applicable to the East Asian Vajrayna. On the other hand, claiming that the Dhra
Scriptures are unrelated to Vajrayna Tantras as does Hartzell (1997: 253-256), is completely
without foundation, see below and section 1.2.3. Likewise, it had been acknowledged the
emergence of tantric materials out of the dhra literature, despite that those tantric
materials included practices alien to standard Dhra Scriptures (Davidson, 2011: 23).

55

The other categories of Tantras are Yoga, Mahyoga, and Yogin Tantras (Williams/Tribe,
2000: 209-217).
56

The pivotal Kriy Tantra Majurmlakalpa includes both mundane and supramundane goals
(Wallis, 2002: 19-23), and the same occurs with the seminal Carya Tantra
Mahvairocanbhisabodhi-tantra (Vai-ta.I.7; XIII.50). On the mundane and supramundane
dhra goals, see sections 3.2. and 3.3.

32

rationales for Buddhist dhras/mantras are articulated, which locates them neatly
within a doctrinal and methodological Vajrayna context.57
But being faithful to their fluidic nature, dhra formulas are not only located
within Kriy and Carya Tantras, but they permeate through the whole spectrum of
Vajrayna Scriptures, establishing genetic connections between early and late
Tantric texts (Cantwell/Mayer, 2010: 77-78). To quote just a few examples, one of the
accomplishments for the initiated to the Yoga Tantra Sarvatathgatatattvasagraha is
that of [the mastery of] Dhras (Sanderson, 2009: 134); according to an IndoTibetan tradition, dhra-mantras of Mahyoga Tantra, Yoga Tantra, Cary Tantra
and Kriy Tantra should be inserted for consecrating stpas (Bentor, 1995: 256); the
Cakrasavara-tantra, one of the pivotal Yogin Tantras, is ritually treated as a dhradharmakya relic (Gray, 2005: 427-428, n. 26 and 27); and dhra formulas are included
within Mahyoga Tantras as the Guhyasamja-tantra (Gusa: 298-306, 332), Yogin Tantras
as the Hevajra-tantra (HT.I.2.32; II.5.45-47), or ritual manuals as the
Cakrasavarabalividhi (Finot, 1934: 57).
Within the East Asian Vajrayna, it is precisely the term dhra what was
selected to define this tradition.58 The contents of this esoteric lineage are based on
the Scriptures, dhras, and mudrs that the revered Vairocana [Buddha] entrusted
to the bodhisattva Vajrapi until reaching the Indian ancestor Amoghavajra
(Orlando, 1981: 135), and the initiatic transmission of dhras is realized through a
consecration ritual (Skt. dhrayabhieka) (Chou, 1945, 284, n. 62). And to distinguish
clearly the Buddhist dhra from the Daoist spell (Ch. zhou), which it was commonly
confused with in China, Amoghavajra composed a normative definition on the
meaning of the term dhra, where it is identified explicitly as mantra (Zong: 151-154;
McBride, II, 2005: 109).59
In the same line, the Japanese successor of the esoteric lineage Kkai (774-835
CE), described his school as the mantra-dhra-piaka (Jap. shingon-darani-z), and as
emanating from the Buddha Mahvairocanas Dharma-kya and being only accessible
through consecration (abhieka) (Ab, 1999: 197-198). Kkais emphasis on the idea
that the Buddha as Dharma-kya actively preaches the Dharma (Jap. hosshin sepp),
validated mantric language as being both a means to attain enlightenment and as a
perfect expression of it (Payne, 2006: 79). And it is precisely the dhra secret
function as being able to unleash countless meanings from within each letter of a
word which unveils the innumerable contents of the Dharma-kyas preaching (Ab,
1999: 264, 271).60 The dhra definitions and classifications according to Mahyna
and Vajrayna will be dealt with in the next chapter.

57

See section 2.3.

58

An institutional Vajrayna lineage was established in China by the Indian masters


ubhakarasiha (637-735), Vajrabodhi (671-741), and Amoghavajra (705-774 CE) (Chou, 1945:
251-307).

59

See section 2.4.1.

60

See section 2.4.2.

33

Chapter 2
Meanings: Traditional Definitions and Classifications of Dhra
Dhra
ras
s
2.1. Primary Definitions
2.1.1. Meanings of the term Dhra
Dhra
ra
If it had been stated that the Buddhist term dhra is ambiguous (Gyatso,
1992: 173), probably this is due more to some Western interpretations of the term,
than to the accuracy of its semantic field. Certainly, translating dhra just as spell
(Waddell, 1912: 156), magic formula (BHSD: 284b), mantric prayer (Gellner, 1993:
128), or as a short mnemonic string of words (Snellgrove, 2002: 122), had contributed
to limiting its meaning, and to a certain extent, to misunderstanding it.
From more accurate approaches, dhra had been interpreted as retaining in
memory (dhraa), both as the process itself and the means to bring it about
(Braarvig, 1985: 19), and grasp to hold (whether in ones mind or nature or
otherwise) and to understand (including in the sense of to have the knack for)
(Copp, 2008: 493-494). A recent polysemic dhra interpretation identifies it as a
code/coding of Buddhist words/sounds understood as mantras, and
linguistic/cognitive skills such as knowledge, analogical thinking, memory, and
eloquence (Davidson, 2009: 141-142). From a contemplative side, according to a
contemporary interpretation of the Theravda Mah Nikya, the dhra is conceived
as a mental formation (P sakhra) composed of spiritual syllabic formulas that,
through its contemplative cultivation (P bhvan), the meditator is able to purify his
mind and liberate it from the conditioned (Bizot, 1976: 85, n. 1, 140-141). And
according to the Vajrayna that clearly identifes dhra as mantra, a dhra is a
vessel that bears, holds, preserves, and contains a linguistic space that is occupied by
the force of some enlightened being (Wallis, 2002: 30). While those interpretations
rightly point out diverse aspects directly related to the dhra term, its etymological
analysis, however, will yield a clearer understanding of their foundations.
The Sanskrit noun dhra derives from the root dh to hold, and shares such
root, among others, with the term dharmn, bearer, supporter, arranger, that is the
old form of the Vedic dhrman, that which is established or firm, steadfast decree,
statute, ordinance, law (Whitney, 1885: 84-85; SED: 510, 512). In a primary sense, the
feminine noun dhra means any tubular vessel of the body; the earth, and is
derived from the verb dhraa, holding, bearing, keeping (in remembrance),
retention, preserving, protecting, maintaining, possesing, having (SED: 515).61 This
etymological meaning is reflected in the traditional translations of the term dhra to
the Chinese as completely retaining (Ch. zongchi), and to the Tibetan as holder (Tib.
gzus), related to the perfect tense gzu from the root dzin pa to lay hold of, to seize
(Mpp.IV: 1854). Nevertheless, the meaning of this holding is twofold: Dhra
describes both what is grasped, or held to, and the means by which one does so. One
can dhra a dhra, in other words, and dhra names the quality of being that
allows this (Copp, 2005: 168).

61

On the meanings of the Pli term dhraa, see section 1.2.1.2.

34

It is precisely this twofold meaning of dhra, understood on the one hand as a


content/faculty, and on the other hand, as a means to attain it, which allowed it to be
selected by Buddhists to assimilate the mantras semantic field. As it will be
demonstrated with the dhras traditional definitions referred to below, all of them
keep the basic meaning of dhra as a content/faculty that is held to, whether
memory, protection, virtue, knowledge, etc. However, the synonyms and
compound terms of dhra denote a semantic field that unmistakably identifies it
with the term mantra, understood as the means through which those
contents/faculties that are held to are realized.62
2.1.2. Synonyms and Compound Terms
Undoubtedly, this is a complex area that had raised some confusion among
several authors, hence, a basic profile will be offered which, hopefully, will clarify to
some extent the semantic richness of dhra term.
T. Skorupski already rightly pointed out concerning the terms mantra, hdaya,
and vidy that: On the basis of their fundamental notion of mystic recitation they can
be considered one. However, each one of them has its particular significance (Durga:
111). Likewise, the basic principle established here asserts that the terms dhra,
mantra, vidy, hdaya, vajrapada, and their compounds, are identical because all of
them belong to the uncommon language of mantra; hence, they only differ in their
specific functions, which as will be made evident below, are fluidic and according to
different contexts though, they even become interchangeable.
2.1.2.1. MantraMantra-pada,
pada, Dhra
Dhra
ra-mantramantra-pada
Despite the fact that there is no Buddhist definition for the term mantra within
Mahyna Stras, in the Bodhimaala-ekkara-ua-cakra-stra the Buddha is named
as mantra and great mantra, and turns his Dharma wheel with innumerable kinds of
mantras (Ben: 38-39).
What there are in Mainstream and Mahyna Buddhist Scriptures are
references to the term mantra, designed as mantra, or mantra-pada, i.e., mantrawords (MS.II: 74; Harrison/Coblin, 1999: 151), and also to the pairing dhra-mantrapada (Pua.XXI.233-235). Overall, mantra-pada denotes a formula facilitating any
mundane or supramundane goal of the Buddhist practitioner, and dhra-mantrapada has basically the same meaning, as mantra-words of dhras (Dayal, 1932: 267),
although this basic meaning may vary according the context. Thus, in some cases
mantra-pada and dhra-pada are used as synonyms and as interchangeable terms,
indicating in this way their identity of reference (samnadhikarana) (Davidson, 2009:
117), while in others, the terms mantra-pada, dhra-mantra-pada, and dhra-pada
appear separately but within identical context, being understood as synonymous

62

On the Vedic meaning of mantra as an instrument of thought, see section 1.1.1.1. In some
Dhra-stras however, a dhra formula is simultaneously viewed as a means to attain the
goal and the goal itself, eg. a Mahpratisar dhra formula is described as equal to the heart
of all the Tathgatas (Prati: 206). This view will be developed within Vajrayna, see sections
2.3. and 2.4.

35

expressions denoting a set of mantras intended for mundane and supramundane goals
(Prati: 217-218).63
2.1.2.2. Vidy
Vidy, Vidy
Vidy-mantra,
mantra, Mah
Mah-vidy
vidy, Vidyraj
Vidyraj
raj, Vidy
Vidy-dhra
dhra
ra
The feminine Sanskrit noun vidy is derived from the root vid to know, being
identical to the term Veda, hence, it means knowledge, science, learning
(Whitney, 1885: 159; SED: 963-964). And one of the key means to attain vidy is by
reciting the vidy mantras. It would be remembered here that the mahvyhtis
mantras extract the sap of the threefold Vedic knowledge, which denotes a natural
connection between Vedas and vidy. However, the notion of vidy as mantra is
originated with the formulas revealed by non-Vedic goddesses, as the Seven Mothers
(sapta-mtks), abari, Cmua, Caika, Drga, Klartri, etc., assimilated later into
the Atharvaveda. A proof of this lies in the authoritative Dev Pura, true compendium
of non-Vedic goddesses vidy mantras according to the Atharvavedas prescriptions
(Gupta, 2002: 232-233, 237).64
The Theravda Nikyas rejected the vidys (P vijj) Gandhra and Maika as
proper means to attain the powers of invisibility and reading others minds (DN.11.57), however, the Abhidharmakoa accepted those vidys (Koa.VII.47c-d, 56b). With his
mastery of the gndhr-vidy, it is said that Asaga was able to transfer himself
instantaneously to the Tusia heaven (Chimpa/Chattopadhyaya, 1970: 166). The
Suvarabhsottama-stra includes the goddess rs vidy-mantra (Suvar: 61; Sgol: 51),
and the Kraavyha-stra describes its influential six-syllable mantra o maipadme
h as a mah-vidy (Studholme, 2002: 61).65 But it is into the Dhra Scriptures
where, besides identifying vidy as dhra with the compound vidy-dhra (My:
378, n. 49, 386), its feminine quality is emphasized calling it vidy-queen (vidy-raj),
although it is concealed as the Buddhas mantric wisdom. In several Dhra-stras the
vidy-rajs emanate as light from the Buddhas body, whether from his ua (Sit: 9091), or from his eyebrows (Prati: 193). Within the Dhra-vidhis and the early Kriy
Tantras, however, the vidy-rajs reveal their feminine nature as being
simultaneously dhra formulas and personified goddesses, becoming ritual referents
(Hidas, 2010: 481-483) and models for visualization and self-identification (Skt. iadevat) (Porci, 2000: 14-16; Przyluski, 1923: 308-310), and a mature Vajrayna would
identify vidy as a female mantra.66

63

The same thing occurs with the compound mantra-dhra, being understood as an
appositional compound indicating a dhra that is a mantra (mantra eva dhra) (Davidson,
2009: 117). This is precisely the meaning of the mantra-dhra compound in the Asagas
Bodhisattvabhmi, see section 2.2.2. On the dhra-mantra compound in the Vajrayna, see
sections 2.3. and 2.4.

64

Some of those vidy mantras appear in Buddhist Tantras (Vai-ta.IV.11; Vai-s: 73). On the nonVedic goddesses within Buddhist dhras, see section 1.1.2.1.

65

On other references to the mah-vidy as mantra, see Appendix D section (a).

66

See section 2.3. On vidy as a female mantra within the aiva Tantric context, see section
1.1.2.2. On the iconography of the twelve dhras or vidy-rajs, see DBI.3: 925;
Bhattacharyya, 1958: 337-342.

36

2.1.2.3. Hdaya,
daya, Hdayadaya-dhra
dhra
ra
The term hdaya, lit. heart, or essence, appears in the Dhra Scriptures
adopting three meanings: (1) as a title of a Scripture, hdaya denotes the essence or
quintessence of that which is required for accomplishing a powerful supernatural
result, i.e., the dhra formulas, rituals and benefits included within a given
Scripture, eg. the Amoghapa-hdaya-dhra (Amog: 290, n. 13). (2) As a synonym of
dhra, hdaya also indicates the complete set of dhra formulas included within a
Scripture: I shall now recite this Hdaya named Amoghapa (Amog: 295). And (3),
hdaya also designates a mantra-essence (hdaya-mantra), understood as the deitys
sonic body-mind, that despite being functionally equivalent to the Tantric seedmantra (bja-mantra), differs in its form, because the hdaya-mantra consists of several
syllables (Snellgrove, 2002: 141).67
The term hdaya also appears as the compound hdaya-dhra, denoting the
essential dhra of a deity akin to her/his hdaya-mantra, although it is not used to
invoke the deitys body-mind itself, but to invoke the essential qualities that
characterize a given deity. For instance, the Sarvadurgatipariodhana-tantra refers to
the five Vajrapis hdaya-dhras propitiating his powers to remove all obstructions
and pacifying all sorrows (Durga: 42-45, 188, 190). Likewise, the Mahmyrs hdayadhra condensates all her protective powers and its recitation eradicates completely
all evils and misfortunes (My: 379-381).
2.1.2.4. VajraVajra-pada,
pada, Dhra
Dhra
ra-vajravajra-pada
It is significant that several Mahyna Scriptures as the Upyakaualya-stra
(Upka.110, n. 130) and others, refer to a semantic equivalence between dhra and
vajra-pada terms. Basically, vajra-padas are keywords that identify or sum up central
premises of Buddhist thought, i.e., being similar to the Abhidhammas mtiks and the
syllabic dhras, vajra-padas serve as mnemonic support to organize significant
teachings and stimulate minds transformation (Pagel, 2007a: 2-4, 85-86, 109).
According to the Ratnagotravibhga, a vajra-pada is a term expressing the meaning of
enlightenment in a favourable way to its attaining (pada), but such meaning is as the
diamond (vajra), difficult to penetrate for an untrained mind (Ragot: 142). In more
precise terms, the Sarvadharmpravttinirdea-stra defines vajra-padas as words of
reality and thusness identical with space and correspond to awakening they are
words [that pertain to] the non-differentiable Dharmadhtu and engage with the nonestablished state. However, it is the Ratnacaparipch-stra that describes how to
engage with vajra-padas, as being through the dhra-vajra-padas: It is to engage
with all words by means of a single word it is a word that is imperishable the
letter A is the imperishable word. When one has engaged with the letter A, one
engages with all syllables (tr. Pagel, 2007a: 75-76).
To this previous Mahyna identity of vajra-pada as an imperishable (akaya)
syllable, ie. A, understood as a dhra holding all syllables, was followed naturally
by the Vajrayna identity of vajra-pada as mantra.68 The Kraavyha-stra describes
the mantra o maipadme h as a phrase which is a vajra without equal
67

On the hdaya-mantra and its variants, see section 2.3.

68

On the Vedic meaning of the imperishable word, see section 1.1.1. On the Mahyna and
Vajrayna interpretations of the syllable A, see sections 2.2.1. and 2.3. respectively.

37

(asamavajrapadam); an indestructible vajra (abhedyavajrapadam) (Studholme, 2002:


147), and the Mahvairocanbhisabodhi-tantra identified as vajra-pada a dhra-mukha
and a vidy-raj which transcends all mundane states of existence (Vai-ta.III.VII.65).
But now it will be dealt with the most common double associations of dhra term.
2.1.3. Dhra
Dhra
ra paired to other Dharma qualities
2.1.3.1. Dhra
Dhra
mukhas and Samdhi
Samdhimukhas
ra-mukhas
dhi-mukhas
In several Mahyna Scriptures it is asserted that the irreversible Bodhisattvas
obtain dhra-doors (dhra-mukhas) and concentration-doors (samdhi-mukhas)
(Mps: 92; Ratna: 115). Overall, a dhra-mukha means those superior recollective
wisdoms which are able to support immeasurable Buddha qualities and hold them
without failure, so that in one expression it can support all expressions, whereas a
samdhi-mukha refers to those superior contemplations which include all the various
concentrations, i.e., they are samdhis allowing the realization of numerous samdhis;
and are called doors because they engender all conditioned merits and all
uncontaminated states, that is, they embody the limitless accumulation of the
Bodhisattvas merit and wisdom (Bubh: 159-160, 220).69
From a specific level, according to the Asagas ryadeanvikhypana-stra, a
dhra-mukha is the accomplishment of the penetration of syllables With this
power of recollection, within a single letter he can illuminate, distinguish, and fully
reveal every kind of object, whether indicative of defilement or purity (Tr. Davidson,
2009: 125), and for the D fj tulun jng (592-594 CE), a dhra-mukha is analogous to
the earth, enabling the production of all dharmas all stras, all words, all their
different meanings and can sustain them all (Tr. Overbey, 2010: 64). Obviously, for
those Scriptures dhra-mukha is equal to a soteriological language mastery, but, how
to attain it? The Mahprajpramit-stra understands dhra-mukhas not as
language mastery as such, but as three dhras to obtain it: (1) the dhra retaining
what is listened (rutadhara-dhra), that includes four methods: memory cultivated
through analogies, a samdhi to develop memory, mantra practice to obtain dhras,
and memory acumulated from past lives; (2) the dhra entering into [the true
characteristic] of the articulated sounds (ghoapravea-dhra), i.e., to know that
sounds and words are impermanent and utterly empty (atyanta-nya); and (3), the
dhra penetrating the syllables (akarapravea-dhra), i.e., to contemplate the
arapacana syllabary grasping its empty nature (Mpp.IV: 1864-1868).70
From the fourteen samdhis described in the Mahprajpramit-stra, stand
out the samdhi that does not forget any dharma, the samdhi allowing the
knowledge of all articulated sounds and all languages, the samdhi overcoming the
king of all dhras, and the samdhi of the universal eloquence (samanta-pratibhna).
69

According to Yogcra sources, in the Bodhisattvas tenth bhmi, that is equal to


Buddhahood, the ultimate reality (Skt. dharmadhtu) is identified as the dhramukhas/samdhi-mukhass complete mastery (Msa.II: 199). At that stage, the dhras become
completely purified and great and the Bodhisattva relies on them to illuminate the holy
Dharma and uphold it always (Mslb.XVIII.72-74). On the dharmadhtu, see section 2.3. and n.
90.

70

Note the references to mantra practice to obtain dhras, see section 2.2.2., and to the
arapacana syllabary contemplation, see Appendix B-2.

38

At first sight, this text emphasizes an interplay between dhras, samdhis, and
pratibhna, understood as three interrelated qualities where the growing of a single
one stimulates that of the others. However, the text also recognizes certain
differences among them: whereas the dhras remain within the Bodhisattvas
mental continuum life after life, the samdhis instead, disappear after death;
moreover, it is the samdhi practice joined to the wisdom of emptiness that produces
the dhras, because the Bodhisattva, for all beings sake, have to hold dhras to
maintain the qualities (Mpp.IV: 1875-1877).
2.1.3.2. Dhra
Dhra
ra and Pratibhna
Pratibhna
Another frequent pairing found in Stras is the fact that the Bodhisattvas
possessed the dhras; they were gifted with eloquence (pratibhna) (rsam: 117;
Upka: 1; Pua.I.2; Ratna: 149, 427). The Sanskrit term pratibhna is etymologically
related to prati-bh-, to shine upon, come into sight, but also to appear to the mind, to
flash upon the thought, occur to, become clear or manifest, and usually denotes a
sudden thought, a quick understanding or insight, and even means the power of
understanding all kinds of sounds without effort (Gonda, 1963a: 318).71 Within a
Mahyna context, pratibhna means quick-wittedness, inspiration (BHSD: 366b),
being a highly significant faculty for the Bodhisattva in her/his function as
dharmabhaka, whether as an attribute that legitimates her/his own Scriptural
authority, as when the Buddha invites Subhti to speak, with the words may it be
clear to you (pratibhtu te) (MacQueen, 1982: 50), and as a pivotal faculty in her/his
role as Dharma preacher. In the last case, pratibhna is one of the four detailed and
thorough knowledges (pratisavids): (1) dharma-pratisavid: knowledge of all
phenomena in all their names and forms; (2) artha-pratisavid: knowledge of all
phenomena in all their characteristics and meanings; (3) nirukti-pratisavid:
knowledge of all phenomena in all their etymological explanations, and the
knowledge of all languages; (4) pratibhna-pratisavid: knowledge of the verbal
distinctions of all kinds, that together with the dhras and other qualities, constitute
the essential factors that any dharmabhaka needs for a successful Dharmas
spreading (Dayal, 1932: 251, 259-269).72
The pratisavids characteristics demonstrate their focus on a language
mastery intended mainly for soteriological goals, hence, their association with
dhras is hardly surprising, however, the Stras usually refer first to dhras and
then to pratibhna, which suggests a view in which realizing dhras first is a
necessary basis to produce pratibhna: The Bodhisattva who bears in mind these
dhras will come face to face with all the flashes of insight and all analytical
knowledges (pratibhna-pratisavida) (Mps: 488-489).

71

The Bodhisattvas skillfulness in the cognition of sounds will be remembered here (Mps:
162); for instance, the Central Asian dhra master Fotudeng (?-349 CE) when he heard the
sound of bells, he would foretell events therefrom, and [these prophecies] were never once
unfulfilled (Wright, 1948: 338).

72

On the dharmabhakas pratisavids and mantra mastery, see section 1.2.2.1., and n. 38.

39

2.2. Indian Mahyna


Mahyna Definitions and Classifications
2.2.1. In Stras
tras
As was said before, dhra term was closely linked to Mahyna Stras from
their beginnings.73 The Buddhabhmyupadea even commented upon the expression at
one time from the sentence Thus have I heard at one time, as he who enunciated
(this doctrine) has attained dhras and, in one word, in one instant, he was able to
convey all doctrines (Bubh: 7). Hence, the present section will focus on an overview
on the dhras understandings according to several Mahyna Stras following a
chronological order.
Overall, the Prajpramit-stras already established the seminal foundations
to the emergence of formulaic and syllabic dhras, and at the same time, they
constitute the earliest Mahyna reformulation of those non-Vedic, Vedic and aiva
mantric factors assimilable to Buddhism, as protection, memorizing and condensation
of knowledge, eloquence, spiritual realization through language, and the identity
between language and ultimate reality.74
Already it was stated that the Aashasrikprajpramit-stra recognized
mantras and vidys as an attribute of the irreversible Bodhisattva, and the same
Scripture identified itself as a mah-vidy, bestowing five advantages even here and
now (dadhrmikas) to the Bodhisattva who bear it in mind (dhrayisyati): avoiding
disputes, harmonious speech, avoiding to be killed in battle, omniscience, and getting
safety in those places where the Scripture is deposited (Aa.3.27-29; PWE-S.III.50-57).75
In the Mahprjpramit-stra, after obtaining the dhras and producing the
pratisavids, the Bodhisattva remembers the Dharma even after he has died until he
would attain omniscience (Mps: 532), and is able to utter and retain in his mind all
the languages, agreed symbols and meaningful sounds (Mps: 541). Moreover, the
Bodhisattva cultivates the recognition that this deep perfection of wisdom is the
entrance to all the syllables and the door to the dhras (Mps: 488), and this
realization is obtained through contemplating the arapacana syllabary, which will
allow her/him a kind of detachment in which she/he will not be tied down by any
sounds, he will accomplish everything through the sameness of all dharmas, and he
will acquire the skill in the cognition of sounds (Mps: 162). Later on, the
Prajpramithdaya-stra would summarize all factors already referred to within its
mantra, as being identical to the Prajpramit, and described as: A great mantra, a
great vidy-mantra, the utmost mantra, the unequalled mantra, allayer of all suffering
(Pph.VIII). Lastly, for the Bhagavat-prajpramit-sarva-tathgata-mt-ekkar-nma,
the Prajpramit is identical to the syllable A (Ekk: 201).76

73

See Appendix D section (a).

74

On these non-Buddhist mantric backgrounds, see sections 1.1.1. and 1.1.2., and on their
influence upon Mahyna, see section 1.2.2.

75

On the relationship between antaryas, dadhrmikas, and mantra/dhra practice, see


Appendix D section (a), n. 195, and section 3.2.1.
76

This identification denotes an esoterization of the Prajpramit Scriptures (Conze, 2000:


87). On the syllable As Vajrayna meaning, see section 2.3.

40

Besides the Prajpramit-stras, in other Mahyna Scriptures the dhra


concept gradually would become more explicit in terms of definition and methods.
What follows is a basic survey of the most relevant texts on this respect.77
The Ajtaatrukauktyavinodan-stra (147-186 CE) defines dhra as memory,
intelligence, eloquence, and the capacity to maintain the Buddhas lineage (Tr. Pagel,
2007a: 83, n. 67). Here dhra is understood more as knowledge and a soteriological
language mastery than as just memory, moreover, it adds the factor of preserving
the Dharma, denoting thus the dhras protective faculty. Despite the fact that this
Stra does not include any protective mantras, the contemporary Druma-kinnara-rjaparipcch-stra (c. 170-190 CE) does, including a mantra-pada for the protection,
preservation and defense of the Stra and the Sangha (Harrison/Coblin, 1999: 151),78
which makes explicit the identification of dhra as a mantra capable of maintaining
the Buddhas lineage. However, the later Akayamatinirdea-stra (265-316 CE) will
narrow dhras definition as memory itself and the means of retaining in memory
the Buddhas teachings (Braarvig, 1985: 18), but without specifying what those means
would be. The contemporary Bhadramykra-vykaraa (265-316 CE) offers a hint on
the nature of those means when it points out to aim at understanding the hidden
sense of the Tathgatas teaching by means of setting words and letters in the right
order, as one of those means to attain dhra (Bhadra.115).
But it is the Tathgatamahkarunirdea-stra (265-316 CE) that offers the most
detailed account of dhra practice, describing eight dhras that serve primarily to
secure the transmission of the Dharma and thereby contribute to universal
liberation. Most of those dhras revolve around language mastery: the ability to
condense any number of teachings within the sound A, arapacana syllabarys
contemplation, and the four pratisavids accomplishment, establishing thus a close
link between dhra, scriptural memory and teaching (Pagel 2007b: 175-180).
In the same vein, numerous Scriptures emphasized the value conducive to
enlightenment of the syllable A, as the Kualamlasaparigraha-stra (384-417 CE):
the portal to [the sound] A is a portal that leads to imperishable gnosis (jna) and
eloquence (pratibhna). Nevertheless, A is not manifesting an eternal principle as the
Vedic and aiva Tantric A does; instead, the Mahyna chose it because it is
emphasizing A as the privative particle a in Sanskrit grammar, demonstrating in
this way the ineffable and indefinable nature of language and all dharmas (Pagel,
2007a: 63-64, n. 51). Accordingly, the Mahyna approach to language is focused, on
the one hand, to prove its conventional nature lacking any inherent existence, and on
the other hand, its inability to express ultimate reality, that for definition, is
inexpressible, for not in the letters is the perfection of wisdom (Mps: 209). In the last
analysis, the Mahyna mastery of language is aimed at its deconstruction. The
syllables are inexhaustible (akaya) not because they are eternal as the Vedas claim,
but because their grammatical meaning, as that of all dharmas, has no proper reality
(Bhadra.114). For instance, contemplating the syllable VA prompts that the sound of
the paths of speech (vkpathaghosha) has been quite cut off (Mps: 160).79 Being

77

The dates are of the first Stras Chinese translation according to CCBT: 182, 161, 74, 35, 79,
and 425, respectively.

78

See Appendix D section (c).

79

On this Mahyna languages deconstruction, see section 1.2.2.1.

41

faithful to this position, the meaningless nature of mantras/dhras will be


emphasized by Asaga.
2.2.2. In Treatises (stra
(stras)
stras)
Undoubtedly, the two most influential definitions of dhra within a
Mahyna context appear in the Mahprajpramit-stra attributed to Ngrjuna
(fourth century CE), and in the Asagas Bodhisattvabhmi (c. 310-390 CE). Their
influence would be projected on successive Mahyna and Vajrayna texts. The
Mahprajpramit-stra gives the following definition of dhra:
Dhra means able to maintain (dhraa), or able to dispel (vidhraa). As for
being able to maintain, once one has collected all wholesome dharmas (kualadharma),
one is able to maintain them (dhrayati) so that they do not scatter or become lost. It
is like an intact vessel (bhjana), which, when it is filled with water, the water does not
leak out. As for being able to dispel, the unwholesome roots (akualamla) that [are
wont to be] born in the mind are dispelled (vidhrayati) and not born. If there is the
desire to commit evil, [the Dhra] will take hold and not allow oneself to commit it.
This Dhra either is associated to the mind (cittasaprayukta) or is dissociated to the
mind (cittaviprayukta); is either defiled (ssrava) or undefiled (ansrava). It is formless
(rpya), invisible (anidarana), and unhindered (apratigha); it is contained within one
element (dhtu), within one sense field (yatana), within one aggregate (skandha), that
is, the Dharmadhtu, the Dharmyatana, and the Saskraskandha Moreover, the
Bodhisattva who possess the Dhra, due to the power of his memory (smtibala), is
able to keep and not forget all teachings he hears (rutadharma) (Mpp.I: 317-318).

Here dhra is understood mainly as a mental formation (saskra) contained


within the Saskraskandha, that protects the practitioner through a double
function of holding the wholesome dharmas and avoiding the unwholesome ones, and
as already had been noted, this dhra-saskra goes with the Bodhisattvas mental
continuum through all her/his existences. As to the question of how to realize this
dhra, in another passage from the Mahprajpramit-stra several methods are
described, among others, those dhra-mukhas of mantra practice and arapacana
syllabarys contemplation (Mpp.IV: 1864-1868).80 Here again the basic twofold
understanding of dhra is found as a faculty holding attributes as protection,
memory, knowledge and ethics, and as a method to attain it. In this case, as faculty,
dhra is understood as a mental formation able to hold the wholesome and reject
the unwholesome, and as method, dhra is mostly related to a language mastery also
including mantras and the arapacana syllabary, that can be understood as sonic
formations endowed of soteriological efficacy, hence, this proves that dhra term
was selected to assimilate the non-Buddhist notion of mantra.81 However, the
identification of dhra as mantra is still not made fully explicit by the
Mahprajpramit-stra, to do that, it should be turned to the fourfold dhra
definition according to the Asagas Bodhisattvabhmi:82
80

See the rutadhara-dhra and the akarapravea-dhra on section 2.1.3.1.

81

On dhras definition as mental formation, see section 2.1.1. On the Vedic, aiva Tantric
and Indo-Tibetan Vajrayna definitions of mantra, see sections 1.1.1.1., 1.1.2.2., and 2.3.
respectively.
82

Because of space limitations, here the long Asaga text will be summarized.

42

-Dharma-dhra: By her/his memorizing and wisdom faculties, the


Bodhisattva retains innumerable teachings (Dharmas) in their names, phrases, and
phonemes.
-Artha-dhra: It is the same as the previous one, but here the meanings (artha)
of those teachings are retained.
-Mantra-dhra: i.e., a dhra that is a mantra. Because of her/his samdhi
mastery, the Bodhisattva spiritually supports (adhihita) the mantra-words (mantrapadas), becoming thus supremely effective and infallible to appease the distresses of
sentient beings.
-Bodhisattva-knti-lbhya-dhra: i.e., the dhra which give rise to the
receptivity of a Bodhisattva. It consists in meditating on the sense of a mantra
promulgated by the Buddha as tadyath ii mii kii bhiknti padni svh, until it is
realized that these mantra-words have no meaning, this, namely no-meaningness
(nitarthath), is indeed their meaning.83 Then, the Bodhisattva realizes the meaning of
all dharmas as follows: the meaning of the own being (svabhva) of all dharmas is not
completely revealed by any number of words; the absence of expressible essence is
the meaning of their essence (tr. Inagaki, in Anir: 14-15; Kapstein, 2001: 237-238).
This Asagas dhra definition is highly significant because it makes the
identification of dhra clear as mantra within a Mahyna prescriptive framework.
Although Asaga was not explicit on how to attain dharma-dhra and artha-dhra,
it is quite likely that mantras also were used for that purpose, as the quoted passage
from the Mahprajpramit-stra made it clear.84 Concerning mantra-dhra, Asaga
adds to the standard dhra qualities as protection, memory, and knowledge, a key
soteriological one as sufferings allayer, which indicates a tendency developed later
for those dhras focused on the removal of karmic obstructions.85 In other places of
the Bodhisattvabhmi, Asaga refers to the Bodhisattvas samdhi mastery as the power
endowing of adhihna to mantras and making them effective for two reasons: because
the Bodhisattva attained a special dhyna called dispenser of spiritual support
(adhihyaka) having as its object the relief of beings and that provides a basis for
mantra efficacy (Eltschinger, 2001: 66-67), and because the Bodhisattvas bodhicitta,
being able to make effective any kind of mantras and vidys to heal sentient beings
ills (Wangchuk, 2007: 164).86 Lastly, the bodhisattva-knti-lbhya-dhra identifies
mantra practice with realizing the empty and inexpressible nature of all phenomena,
hence, it follows the languages deconstructive approach characteristic of the
Mahyna.87 But Asagas dhra definition was not limited to justifying mantra
practice within Mahyna, it also involved a doctrinal warrant for the expansion of
practices allied with those of esoteric Buddhism (Kapstein, 2001: 238). Now the
Vajrayna understandings of dhra will be studied.

83

In fact, this is a meaningless mantra (Gyatso, 1992: 176). However, on the supposed
dhras unintelligibility, see Appendix B-1.
84

See the rutadhara-dhra in section 2.1.3.1.

85

See section 3.3.2.

86

On adhihna applied to dhras, see section 1.2.2.2. paragraph (a).

87

See sections 1.2.2.1. and 2.2.1.

43

2.3. IndoIndo-Tibetan Vajrayna


Vajrayna Definitions and Classifications
As was stated previously, with the Vajrayna, dhra is identified as mantra
and was object of elaborated rationales, highlighting those from the Majurmlakalpa, the Mahvairocanbhisabodhi-tantra, and the Vajraekharamahguhyayoga-tantra,
that will be summarized below.88
According to the Majurmlakalpa, the buddhavacana consists of
mantras/dhras uttered by all Buddhas throughout time. The mantras/dhras arise
from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas meditative absorption, or in more concrete
terms, because of their power of miraculous transformation (Skt. vikurvaa-bala),
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas themselves are transformed into mantras/dhras (Wallis,
2002: 31-34).89 The term vikurvaa means the capacity to effect, by sheer psychic
power, the transformation, displacement or multiplication of the human body, and
this power emanates from Bodhisattvas who have accomplished ultimate reality or
the Dharma Realm (dharmadhtu) in its aspect of manifestation of magical
productions (Gmez, 1977: 225, 228).90
Therefore, the mantras/dhras are linguistic spaces occupied by the
consciousness and energy of enligthened beings, sonic embodiments of their power.
That is why each mantra/dhra has a specific function: soteriological essence
mantras (hdaya-mantras), all-accomplishing near-essence mantras (upahdayamantras), invocation mantras (hvnana-mantras), and so on.91 The Majurmlakalpa
acknowledged the inclusion of mantras from the Atharvaveda and those belonging to
aiva and Vaiava deities as a conversion device, which reflected a context quite
inclined to religious eclecticism.92
The Mahvairocanbhisabodhi-tantra refers to Bodhisattvas that because of
their pure minds, obtain dhras in unlimited languages, sounds and tones (Vaita.I.I.13), which allows them to know others minds, preserving the Buddhas
88

On the first two Tantras, see section 1.2.3. n. 56. The seventh century CE
Vajraekharamahguhyayoga-tantra (abbreviated as Vajraekhara) is the main explanatory
Scripture of the Yoga Tantras (Rgyud: 25).
89

One of the names of the Dhra Scripture rya Mahbala-Nma-Mahynastra is that of


being the magical transformation (vikurvaa) of the Tathgata, in the sense that such
Scripture will accomplish the Tathgatas acts after his parinirva (Bala: 61.24-25, 64.7-17).
90

According to the Mahyna, dharmadhtu has as its foundation the dharmat, i.e., the
fundamental purity of all dharmas because they are unoriginated, its goal is the buddhat, i.e.,
the sphere of a Buddhas gnosis, including the scope and range of his actions, its path is the
bodhicary, i.e., the cultivation of the ultimate object of enlightenment, and it also includes the
accumulation of the wholesome roots, bringing all beings to enlightenment, and the
manifestation of magical productions (Gmez, 1977: 228-229). See the dharmadhtu as identical
to the mantras dharmat, below.
91

On some of these categories within a dhra formula, see below.

92

As strategies emphasizing its supremacy, the Majurmlakalpa claimed that those nonBuddhist mantras were in fact promulgated by the Bodhisattva Majur disguised as one of
the Hindu deities (Wallis, 2002: 46-49), it also stated that all non-Buddhist mantras and rituals
are effective if they are recited in front of the Majurmlakalpas maala (Granoff, 2000: 404409). On the dhra practice in a ritual context, see section 3.1.2.

44

teachings and getting their protection (Mller, 1976: 117). Besides recognizing those
standard dhra features though, this Tantra elaborated a mantra theory also
applicable to dhras that will be summarized below.
The term mantra refers to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas because they are endowed
with knowledge (man-) and protection (-tra). Mantra also refers to the words (pada)
of their liberation methods and to the syllables transforming into Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas (Vai-ta.I.I.3). Despite Buddhas and Bodhisattvas promulgating mantras,
they do not create them, because the mantras nature is identical to the intrinsic
nature of all dharmas (dharmat).93 Despite the mantras dharmat being unconditioned,
it is able to endow words and syllables with spiritual support (adhihna), and this
support is twofold: a relative one, understood as words and syllables manifesting the
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas qualities and realizations, and an absolute one, as syllables
manifesting the intrinsic emptiness of all phenomena.94 This twofold relative and
absolute nature of mantra is reflected in its basic unit, the syllable (akara),
understood as an unchanging intrinsic nature endowed with three characteristics:
(1) syllable as sound, denotes mantra syllables and are unchanging because their
sound constantly manifest the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas accomplishments; (2)
syllable as Enlightenment-Mind (bodhicitta), refers to the intrinsic nature of
suchness (tathat), fundamentally manifesting itself as the syllable A, understood as
the essence of all mantras and being identical to bodhicitta (Bodhi: 241); and (3) syllable
as energy, since all syllables depend on the syllable A, this is the vital-energy (jiva)
and the life-force (pra) of all syllables. This vital-energy of A is twofold: relative
one, because the rest of syllables could not be uttered if they lacked the syllable A,
and absolute one, because the syllable A produces the knowledge (jna) realizing
that all phenomena are primordially unborn and unarisen (Vai-ta.II.X.9-10; II.XVIII.34).95
Nevertheless, the producing constancy of the syllable A limits itself to be the
cause for all Dharma accomplishments and all Scriptural Dharma (Vai-ta.II.X.10),
hence, it is not a cosmogonical and/or a metaphysical constancy as it is the case with

93

Such identity is also referred to in the Sarvatathgatatattvasagraha-tantra (Eltschinger, 2001:


122). Here a parallel is established with a pivotal axiom already signaled in the Nikyas, i.e., if
the Buddhas do not create the Dhamma, but they discover it because the stableness of the
Dhamma (P. dhammahitat) still persists (SN.II.25), likewise, the Buddhas do not create the
mantras, but they promulgate them because their intrinsic nature [i.e., their dharmat] has
always been present (Vai-ta.II.II.81). However, there is a key difference between both
approaches: the Nikyas dhammahitat is stable only because its nature is a fixed condition
(SN.II.25, n. 51, p. 741), i.e., it always remains within the conditioned sphere of reality, the
Mahyna/Vajraynas dharmat instead, given that it is identical to the dharmadhtu (see n.
90 above), is a fixed non-condition capable of operating within the conditioned, because
according to Ngrjuna, nirva and dharmat are both non-arisen and non-ceased
(Mk.18.7). On the Vajrayna mantras dharmat, see below.
94

This Tantra recognizes two kinds of adhihna: the dharmats as it is referred to above, and
the Buddhas, on this, see below. On the Buddhas adhihna on dhras, see section 1.2.2.2.
paragraph (a).

95

Cf. the meaning of A according to the arapacana syllabary, see Appendix B-2, Chart 2, No.

1.

45

the Vedic and aiva Tantric akara.96 Undoubtedly, with this understanding of akara,
the Vajrayna approach differs from the deconstructive Mahyna one already
referred to, however, both approaches also differ on how they understand emptiness,
not in its nature itself, but in its linguistic functioning. If the Mahyna conceives
emptiness as inexpressible, the Vajrayna instead, emphasizes emptinesss power to
produce innumerable meanings.97 Put in different terms, if the Mahyna illuminates
mantras/dhras to exhaust them into silence, the Vajrayna illuminate them to
unleash their enlightening sonic/linguistic power.98
Likewise, if the aiva Tantric mantra realization is based exclusively on a grace
act bestowed by the absolute as Rudra/iva (Sanderson, 1988: 665), that of Vajrayna
instead, only will be manifested through the concurrence between the dharmats
constant transformative power and several causes and conditions (Vai-ta.II.VI.17).
Among those conditions, stand out ethical purity (Vai-ta.III.V.9), generating bodhicitta,
understanding Dependent Arising (Vai-ta.II.VI.10), visualizing the deity and reciting
the mantra properly, and the Buddhas adhihna (Vai-ta.II.VI.95).99
According to the Vajraekhara, the characteristic of mantras is identical to the
mind of all Buddhas, to Dharmas realization, and posseses the dharmadhtu. This
threefold mantra characterization is manifested by three types of mantras: (a) secret
mantra (Skt. guhya-mantra), (b) knowledge mantra (Skt. vidy-mantra), and (c)
dhra-mantra. The guhya-mantra is called mantra because it protects the mind from
signs (from sense objects) and discursive thought (vikalpa), and because it is the nonduality of void (man-) and compassion (-tra), and it is secret because it is outside the
scope of non-Buddhist gods and Hnayna practitioners. The vidy-mantra denotes
countering avidy (nescience) by overcoming the darkness of passion and by
overcoming defilements, and the character of the dhra-mantra is to hold the
Buddha-dharmas; its holding is called holding of dharmas and virtue (Tr. Wayman,
1990: 64-65).
This threefold mantra classification would be retained by later authors who,
while keeping their basic characteristics, would also add to them new factors.
According to the Bhvavivekas Tarkajvla, the guhya-mantra reveals the esoteric
96

See sections 1.1.1.1. and 1.1.2.2. If the Nikyas emphasize metaphorically that Buddhas
Dhamma has only one taste, that of liberation (P dhammavinayo ekaraso vimuttiraso) (Mpp.III:
1588, n. 1), likewise, Vajrayna emphasizes literally that the Buddhas Dharma has only a
constant sound, that of Buddhahood.
97

As Kakuban put it: Exotericism [i.e. Mahyna] explains that principle decidedly lacks
expression. Esotericism [i.e. Vajrayna] explains that principle has countless expressions
(Gorin: 266). On the Dharma-kyas preaching (hosshin sepp), see section 2.4.2.
98

As illustration of both approaches, there is the following exchange within a Korean


Sn/dhra practice context: The master asked a monk How about the dhra of no
characters? The monk answered: [That is] the character a. The master said: That is one
character! The monk had no answer. The master said: You are now manifesting the True
Way! (Srensen, 2005: 66-67). However, for the Vajrayna approach the emptiness of
language and conceptual thought is just as empty as anything else, and that since emptiness
marks the character of awakened consciousness, the emptiness of language and conceptual
thought is just as much awakened consciousness (Payne, 2006: 96, n. 63). On the dhra
faculty to unleash meanings, see section 2.4.2.

99

On the ethical/doctrinal foundations for the dhra/mantra practice, see section 3.1.1.

46

meaning of the syllables expressing the Buddhas knowledge and bestows the power
to accomplish ones own wishes, the vidy-mantra extinguishes the defilements (klea),
and the dhra-mantra pacifies misdeeds and counteracts its roots (Tr. Kapstein, 2001:
248).100 According to the ninth century CE Tibetan lexicon Sgra sbyor bam gnyis, the
guhya-mantra captures and secretly invokes the deity of the mantra, the vidy-mantra
is an antidote to ignorance, embodied as a goddess,101 and the dhra-mantra retains
without forgetfulness and acquires special sequences (Tr. Kapstein, 2001: 254, n. 34).
And according to the Drukpa Kagyu scholar Pema Karpo (1527-1592 CE), who
identified mantras as Tantras, the guhya-mantras are Tantras that expound the method
aspect of the male deity, the vidy-mantras are Tantras that expound the wisdom
aspect of female deity, and the dhra-mantras recollect the import of guhya and vidy
mantras, and also are Tantras including both male and female aspects of one Tantra
(Shes.V: 457, n. 70).
From a different perspective, the Indian Janavajra (eleventh century CE)
understood dhra as a long formula made up of a series of mantras because it retains
many meanings and terms, and recognized two types: a vidy-dhra if it evokes a
female deity, and a mantra-dhra if it evokes a male deity (Wayman, 1984b: 421-422).
In the same vein as Janavajras, it was established a dhra division composed
basically of three kinds of mantras: a root mantra (mla-mantra), an essence mantra
(hdaya-mantra), and a near-essence mantra (upahdaya-mantra) (Rgyud: 116-118, n.
18).102
To summarize, the Indo-Tibetan Vajrayna, besides acknowledging the
Mahyna dhras faculties as memory, virtue accumulation and language mastery,
identified it as a type of mantra, as a mantra composed by several mantras, and as a
type of non-dual Tantra, and in all those cases involved, the dhras soteriological
nature was emphasized. Now the East Asian Vajrayna understandings on the dhra
will be studied.
2.4. East Asian Vajrayna
Vajrayna Definitions and Classifications
2.4.1. In China
The use of incantatory formulas or spells (Ch. zhou) as antidote against
diseases and demonic influences already was practised by early Chinese Daoists,
hence, the introduction of Buddhist mantras/dhras in China (second-third centuries
CE) was received with great interest (Kieschnick, 1997: 82-83). However, the apparent
resemblance between zhou and mantras/dhras caused confusions and controversies
100

Bhvavivekas definitions are inserted into his defence on mantra efficacy as meditation
method (bhvankra) conducive to enlightenment, as he expressed it against a rvaka
criticism alleging the non-Buddhist origin of mantras, their irrationality, and lack of any
soteriological value (Braarvig, 1997: 33-36; Kapstein, 2001: 240-243).
101

As it was defined by Abhaykaragupta (eleventh century CE): For the purpose of


eliminating nescience (avidy) and promoting clear vision (vidy) are the vidys (Wayman,
1984b: 421). On the vidy-mantra and its synonyms, see section 2.1.2.2.
102

According to a traditional interpretation, the mla-mantra invokes the awakened body of a


deity, the hdaya-mantra its awakened speech, and the upahdaya-mantra its mind (Shes.VIII:
233, n. 7). For a more complex dhras division, see Amog: 295-298.

47

between Daoists and Buddhists. To rectify such a situation, Amoghavajra, who


showed superiority particularly in dhra (Chou, 1945: 302), composed the Zongshi
tuoluoni jing (A Complete Explication of the Meaning of Dhras), where a normative
definition of dhra is established, which will be summarized below.
The mantras/dhras condense the accumulation of Buddhas enlightenment,
and their syllables and words receive their adhihna.103 Amoghavajra defines four
terms: encompassing retention (Skt. dhra; Ch. tuoluoni), true words (Skt. mantra;
Ch. zhenyan), secret words (Skt. guhya-mantra; Ch. miyn), and illumination (Skt.
vidy; Ch. ming), applying to each one four categories: (1) dharma (i.e., nature), (2)
meaning, (3) samdhi (i.e., practice), and (4) text or hearing (i.e., linguistic
expressions).
-Dhra: Its dharma is the removal of defilements and attaining the
dharmadhtu teachings. Its meaning is the obtaining of eloquence and the
understanding of innumerable teachings within the meaning of a single syllable. Its
samdhi develops uncountable samdhis, the five abhijs, allowing rebirth in any of
the six planes of existence. Its text is remembering all the Scriptures forever.
-Mantra: Its dharma is the dharmadhtu understood as mantra.104 Its meaning
corresponds to emptiness, and each of its syllables contains the characteristic of
reality. Its samdhi is arranging the mantras syllables upon a moon disc and
concentrating the mind upon it. Its text are all words and syllables, from o to svh.
-Guhya-mantra: Its dharma is the non-Buddhist mantras and those of the
rvakas and Pratyekabuddhas, together with their rites and accomplishments
(siddhis).105 Its meaning is only understood by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Its samdhi
is the imposition of its syllables on the body to transform its coarse form into a subtle
one.106 Its hearing is the secret transmission of those mantras, their practices and
accomplishments.
-Vidy: Its dharma is the removal of ignorance and defilements. Its meaning
is the yogic understanding of the Prajpramit. Its samdhi is the contemplation of
its seed syllables within the minds moon disc. Its hearing is grasping the Dharma,
the delusions removal, and the accomplishment of bodhicitta.107
Whether they are one-syllable mantras or myriad-syllable ones, they are all
named dhras, mantras, guhya-mantras, and vidys (Zong: 151-154).
Amoghavajra definition of dhra provides three key elements: as included
within the texts title, dhra denotes a general designation integrating all typologies
of mantric expressions; as a particular typology, dhra, besides including its
standard faculties as memory, eloquence, and samdhi, its soteriological value as a
103

On the Buddhas adhihna on dhras, see section 1.2.2.2. paragraph (a).

104

On the identity of mantras and dharmadhtu understood as dharmat, see section 2.3.

105

Here it is implicitly acknowledged the non-Buddhist origin, i.e., non-Vedic, Vedic and
aiva, of those mantras assimilated by some mainstream Buddhist schools, see section 1.2.1.1.
and Appendix C.

106

107

See Vai-ta.II.XIX. On the aiva Tantric nysa, see section 1.1.2.2.

On the vidy-mantras definitions, see sections 2.1.2.2. and 2.3. Here the vidys meaning
may be explained by the continuity between the vidy-mantras feminine nature, and that of
the Prajpramit as the mother of all Buddhas because the all-knowledge of the Tathgatas
has come forth from her (Aa.12.125-126; PWE-S.XII.253-255).

48

remover of defilements and accomplisher of dharmadhtu is also recognized, and


particularly, its ability to condense in one syllable innumerable Stras; and from a
formal level, dhra is identified as a mantra regardless of the number of syllables it
may contain, hence, dhra is interchangeable with mantra, guhya-mantra, and
vidy.108 As will be analysed below, Kkai would highlight the comprehensive nature of
dhra and its function as meaning condenser.
2.4.2. In Japan
It should be remembered here that Kkai emphasized the ability of the
Dharma-kya to preach the Dharma (hosshin sepp), and the key role played by the
dhra to unveil the innumerable contents of such preaching.109 This vast semantic
potential of the dhra lies in its comprehensive nature. The Chinese master of Kkai,
Huiguo (746-805 CE), taught him that the terms vidy, zhou, guhya-mantra, and mantra
illustrate only a limited aspect of dhra, i.e., dhra as vidy reveals wisdoms light,
as zhou eliminates misfortune, as guhya-mantra points to the secret of the dhra, and
as mantra suggests that dhra contains only truth and no falsehood. Kkai accepted
this comprehensive understanding of dhra and conceived mantra (Jap. shingon) term
as denoting the esoteric function of dhra as to unleash countless meanings from
within each letter of a word. Because of this, dhra is translated as sji, the container
of all (Ab, 1999: 263-264). Kkai intrepreted this translation as container of all with
the meaning of within a single letter all teachings are contained, within a single
dharma all dharmas are contained, within a single meaning all meanings are
contained, and within a single sound all virtues are stored (Bonji: 140).
Such dhra faculty to unleash countless meanings is based on a principle
holding two correspondences: (1) the correspondence between sound, sign and
reality, and (2) the correspondence and interpenetration between elements,
languages on all planes of existence, signs of sense objects, and the Dharma-kya.
According to Kkai, no sound is arbitrary, but it invariably expresses the name of
something, and this is termed sign. Thus, a name invariably evokes the essence of an
object, and this is called reality, and the distinctions between sound, sign, and
reality are called their meanings.110 For instance, mantras correspond to sounds,
their syllables and names correspond to signs, and the real characteristics of the
diverse deities, i.e., their accomplishments and virtues, correspond to reality (Shji:
86, 89). Likewise, the five elements (earth, water, fire, wind, and space) are the
original essence of sound, hence, all of them have acoustic vibrations, and correspond
108

On this aspect the East Asian Vajrayna differentiates from the Tibetan Vajrayna, which
usually designates dhras as long mantras (DEB: 369).
109

See sections 1.2.3. and 2.3. n. 97. Hosshin sepps notion is already traceable in several
Mahyna sources, as this one: the Buddhas of the Body of the law (dharmakyabuddha) throw
beams (rami) without ceasing and preach the law without ceasing, but because of their faults,
those beings do not see them and do not listen to them (Mpp.I: 546). See more sources in Ben:
19-60.
110

Although Kkai is assuming here the Vedic correspondence between words/objects (see
section 1.1.1.), he does it emphasizing its meaningful aspect but without reifying it into an
eternal or fixed one, because the ultimate nature of all names, mantras, and syllables is
empty and unborn, see below, and sections 2.3. and 2.4.1.

49

to five syllables, five Buddhas, etc.111 And languages on all planes of existence arise
from sound, and likewise occurs with the sense objects names or signs and their
constitutive aggregates, and the Dharma-kya means that all dharmas (i.e., sounds,
signs, elements, planes languages, and sense objects) are originally unborn, and
this correspond to reality (Shji: 90-103).112
Coming back to the dhras function as container of all already mentioned, it
will become clear with the esoteric interpretation made by Kkai on Asagas fourfold
dhra definition:113 the dharma-dhra consists of the fact that a dharma
represented by a single letter itself forms the basis for [knowing] all other dharmas. In
each letter all dharmas are held; the artha-dhra means that within a single letter is
encompassed the meanings of all the teachings; the mantra-dhra entails that when
reciting this single letter all sufferings are relieved and enlightenment is gained; and
the knti-lbhya-dhra consists in the unceasing practice of this single letter, then
one will eliminate all delusions, afflictions, and karmic hindrances and suddenly
realize the innate wisdom of enlightenment. Kkai concludes emphasizing his
principle based on the correspondence/interpenetration af all dharmas (see above),
because the meaning of any single letter contains within it the truth of the meanings
of all other letters (Bonji: 141).114 According to this Kkais interpretation, dhra goes
beyond the position assigned by Asaga as one modality of dhra conceived as
mantra-dhra, and becomes a mantra able to accomplish the four purposes of the
Asagas definition, i.e., dhra is a mantra composed by one or more syllables which
contemplation allows the Dharmas memorizing and understanding, and also is able to
remove all sufferings and attain enligthenment. Moreover, if the Mahyna approach
differentiates dhra as faculty/content and the means to attain it, for Kkai both
meanings are subsumed within the dhra as mantra. And on the practices, and
mundane and/or supramundane goals of the dhras will be dealt with in the next
chapter.

111

On those quinary Vajrayna correspondences, see Gorin: 275-292; HBG.I: 4-5; Yamasaki,
1988: 150-151; Williams/Tribe, 2000: 211.

112

Accordingly, the many utterances made by the tongue are all mantras (Vai-s: 138),
although in practical terms, the East Asian Vajrayna (and Kkai) recognized Sanskrit (i.e., the
siddham syllabary) as the only sacred language able to preach and realize the Dharma (Bonji:
147; Shmo: 144). However, such linguistic exclusivism is not followed by the Dhra
Scriptures nor by the Indo-Tibetan Vajrayna, see Appendix B-1.
113

114

See section 2.2.2.

This follows the Prajpramit teaching asserting within a single letter all letters are
contained, and within all letters each single letter is contained (Bonji: 140, n. 16; Davidson,
2009: 126).

50

Chapter 3
Functions: Dhra
Dhra
ras
s in Practice
3.1. Some Premises on Dhra
Dhra
ra Practice
3.1.1 Ethical Foundations
Some Dhra Scriptures present themselves as a path particularly indicated
for those who have commited heavily unwholesome actions, such as the monastic
defeats (prjikas), or the five acts of immediate retribution (Skt. nantarya) (Ben:
44). Even for other Dhra-stras, following an ethical conduct appears as irrelevant:
[This dhra] will bestow success to she/he who is ethically pure, to she/he who is
impure, to she/he who is fasting, to she/he who is not fasting, and even, to she/he
engaged in amorous pleasures (Bala: 60.24-26). But it would be mistaken to interpret
those claims as an invitation to moral laxity. In fact, their goal is to emphasize the
dhras ability to counteract whatever nocive past karma may still hinder a present
possibility of spiritual accomplishment for the individual. However, despite the fact
that dhras define themselves as endowed with quasi omnipotent purifying and
transformative virtues, those virtues do not preclude an ethical responsibility: The
preliminary stage [of a dhra ritual] will be achieved if one stands immovable in the
moral precepts without doubting, even if one were ill-behaved formerly (ik.VI.139;
CBD: 137).
But going beyond those Scriptural claims, in practical terms all modalities of
traditional Buddhist ethics, i.e., Vinaya, Mahyna, and Vajrayna ones, establish the
necessary foundations for a proper dhra practice. Already it had been noted that
mantra practice was accepted within Vinayas of several mainstream Buddhist
schools.115 Likewise, the Vinaya also constitutes the ethical basis among the Mahyna
and Vajrayna dhra practitioners. To quote just a few examples, before his death,
Vasubandhu (320-400 CE) saw a monk ploughing his field, and said: The Law of the
Teacher is degenerated, then recited thrice the Uavijay-dhra in the reverse
order and died (Chimpa/Chattopadhyaya, 1970: 174). Of the dhra master Fotudeng
it was said that wine had not passed his teeth, that he had not eaten after noon, that
he had never acted without reference to his vows, that he was desiresless and
unseeking (Wright, 1948: 367). And Amoghavajra was considered a Sarvstivda
Vinaya master (Orlando, 1981: 136, 156), being lauded by emperor Dai-zong because he
held firmly the Vinaya and guarded the las. In fact, a significant group of Chinese
monks belonging to the Vinaya school (Ch. Jil zng) also practised Vajrayna,
because they found a common basis lying behind the right procedures of esoteric
rituals (vidhi) and a sound monastic deportment (Chou, 1945: 313).
Concerning the Mahyna and Vajrayna ethical context, the arising and
stabilization of the bodhicitta is an essential condition to accomplish dhra
practice.116 The Trisamayarja asserts that: He whose thought of enlightenment is
firm, and his mind free from attachment, he need have no doubt, and his aim is always
accomplished (ik.VI.140; CBD: 137), and the Subhuparipcch-tantra states that one
will be ruined if mantras are recited without having generated bodhicitta (Wangchuk,
115

See section 1.2.1.1. and Appendix C.

116

On the bodhicitta as condition to mantras efficiency, see section 2.2.2.

51

2007: 158). Besides the bodhicitta, however, an understanding of Mahyna teachings is


also necessary, i.e., maintaining discipline, having self-control, cultivating
compassion, and a grasping of the Interdependent Arising, to produce success in
dhra practice with only a little hardship (Vai-ta.II.VI.10; III.VII.54).117
Those factors were integrated within a common ethics for all Tantras and
summarized in the four great root pledges: to have a correct view of the
conventional, i.e., the belief in the law of causality; not to forsake the Three Jewels; to
safeguard the bodhicitta; and not reject the true initiation (abhieka) (Shes.V: 230).
Nevertheless, the Kriy Tantras ethics, which overall is followed by most Dhra
Scriptures, prescribes, besides a mainstream Buddhist ethics, specific precepts of a
markedly ritual nature. Now those from the Susiddhikra-stra will be described as a
representative example for the whole tradition:118 (1) to take refuge, (2) to confess
negative deeds, (3) to generate bodhicitta, (4) to make aspirational wish (praidhna) on
the strength of having studied the Tantras and being knowledgeable about ritual
procedures, (5) to make an earnest effort to practise giving, (6) to be free from
greediness, (7) to be endowed with compassion, (8) to be endowed with patience or
receptivity, (9) to be endowed with benevolence, (10) to be endowed with diligence,
(11) practising the six kinds of recollection [i.e. the Three Jewels, morality, generosity,
and deities], (12) to listen to various teachings, (13) to analyse them with devotion,
(14) to recite tantric ritual procedures (vidhi), (15) to make offerings of mantras and
mudrs, (16) to draw maalas, (17) to initiate the four retinues [i.e., bhikus, bhikuns,
upsakas, upsiks] who have a correct view and firm bodhicitta, (18) to expound
Tantras to those who abide by their pledges, and (19) to propagate Tantric Scriptures
(Wangchuk, 2007: 301).119
Another outstanding feature of Vajrayna ethics is that mantras/dhras
themselves are part of the pledges, such as to have impartial and non-judgmental
faith in guhya-mantras, vidy-mantras, and dhra-mantras (Shes.V: 232), to make
offerings to mantra formulas, not abandoning hdayas and mantras, not disclosing
mantras, and not interrupting mantras. Even a method to make amends for the
severest transgression, i.e., the abandonment of bodhicitta, consists of reciting mantras
(Wangchuk, 2007: 306, 324, 329, 354). To summarize, the Buddhist ethics of all vehicles
establishes the key foundations for a sound dhra practice, and keeping their
precepts, vows, and pledges is essential to swiftly gain spiritual attainments (Shes.V:
229). Yet, to such ethics can be added, or not, ritual prescriptions.
3.1.2. NonNon-ritual and Ritual approaches
Depending on which are their Scriptural sources, the dhra formulas may
adopt two practical approaches: one non-ritual or exoteric, and one ritual or
117

On the conditions to mantras accomplisment according to the Mahvairocanbhisabodhitantra, see section 2.3.
118

This Scripture offers one of the most detailed versions of a mature dhra ethics, for
other examples, see Shes.V: 231-234, and Wangchuk, 2007: 295-304. Note that the Susiddhikrastra belongs to certain Vidydhara-piakas, see sections 1.2.2.2. paragraph (d) and 1.2.3. On the
dhra ritual practice, see section 3.1.2.
119

However, dhras can be practised without following such ritual precepts or any ritual
prescriptions, see section 3.1.2.

52

esoteric. In the first case, the promulgator (Buddha, Bodhisattva, or deity) utters the
dhra formula and promises its efficacy and concrete benefits to her/his reciter, but
does not provide any specific method to practise it; this is the approach followed by
most appended dhras on Mahyna Stras.120 In the second case, instead, the
promulgator, besides promising the dhras efficacy and benefits, extends her/his
efficacys pledge (samaya) to its ritual prescriptions, and this is the approach followed
by most Dhra Scriptures, hence, implying a shift from the exoteric sphere to the
esoteric one.121
How are both approaches applied in practice? The non-ritual approach is quite
straightforward, consisting of reciting the dhra formula a minimum of three times,
a figure already being in use in some early Buddhist formal acts and Vedic rituals.122
However, there are cases where a dhra formula is extracted from a Dhra-stra to
be recited the prescribed number of times exoterically within a communal context.
Classical examples of this kind of practice were the permanent recitation of the
Uavijay-dhra twenty one times every day by all monastics, intended to protect
the Chinese empire (Kuo, 2004-2005: 479), or the public dhras recitations for
healing purposes carried out by monastics in medieval Japan (Ab, 1999: 160-163). The
non-ritual approach also includes a private recitation of dhras along with other
sacred texts (Stras, verses, etc.) as part of a daily liturgy (Gellner, 1993: 283), or an
intensive recitation to attain a concrete goal, such as reciting 800,000 times the
Cunddev-dhra to remove all his or her deadly karmic transgressions created since
beginningless time (T 1077 185a20-22, Cund: 1), or even a dhra recitation intended
for several purposes as part of the daily monastic schedule, such as it is practised by
the East Asian Chan/Sn/Zen Buddhist monasticisms (Bodiford, 2011: 925-930).
Before dealing with the dhras ritual approach, it would be convenient to
summarize its origins. It was stated before that the revelation of Vedic and aiva
mantras include their application (viniyoga), being described with detail in the ritual
procedures (Skt. kalpa) including their practice methods and precepts (Modak, 1993:
123). A synonym of kalpa is that of prescription or ritual manual (vidhi), containing
instructions so detailed that have the faculty of inviting or summoning the mantras
deity, because not only the mantra but its kalpa/vidhi as well extract their power from
the efficacys pledge (samaya) secured by the mantras revealer (Eltschinger, 2001: 25,
32). Despite being already included within the Atharvaveda and its Pariias, the
kalpa/vidhi stimulated the rising during the Gupta period (320-500 CE) of a new genre
of ritual texts such as the aiva gamas, the kta Tantras, and the Vaiava Samhits,
being replicated by the Buddhist Kalpas (Wallis, 2002: 12) and Dhra-vidhis, that first
circulated independently to be adhered later to the Dhra-stras (Dalton, 2010: 1415).123

120

See Appendix D section (c).

121

See sections 1.2.2.2. paragraphs (a) and (b), and 1.2.3. The nature of such shift was rightly
expressed by R. Ab: One of the features that distinguish esoteric scriptures from exoteric
Mahyna stras is this shift from stra reading to ritual action as a normative method of
mastering the text (1999: 167).
122

For instance, the threefold repetition of the refuge formula, or the threefold repetition of
the Vedic sacrificial formulas (Wayman, 1984b: 415-416).
123

See section 1.2.2.2., paragraphs (a) and (b).

53

The dhras ritual approach functions in an identical way to their nonBuddhist models, albeit keeping its own particularities. The promulgator utters the
dhra formula and its benefits, pledging that the practitioner will attain them if
she/he follows exactly its ritual prescriptions. The dhra rituals may fall within two
general categories: rituals where no previous consecration (abhieka) is needed, and
rituals in which one is indeed needed. In the first case, a dhra recitation is
prescribed along with the performance of a protective ritual space delimited by a
maala, which is worshipped (pj) with diverse offerings such as lamps, incense,
scents, non fermented beverages, and vegetarian dishes (My: 367-368, 459). Other
rituals add to the maala a painted image (Skt. pratim-vidhi) of a Buddha,
Bodhisattva, or deity, to which offerings are made and in front of which is recited the
dhra formula a prescribed number of times. This recitation is preceded by a ritual
bath, a vegetarian diet, the formulation of bodhicitta and benevolence towards all
beings (Amog: 299-300; Prati: 222-227). In some Dhra-stras the ritual writing of the
dhra formula is emphasized, and its wearing around ones arm or neck (Prati: 207),
or its insertion into stpas, or hanging it in banners, high places, gates, etc. (Sit:
127).124 And in the second case, dhra practice is preceded by an abhieka ritual (Bala:
59.3-5), where besides including those elements already described, dhras recitation
is combined with the performance of hand gestures (Skt. mudrs), and the
visualization of a more elaborated maala and pratim designs, concluding with a fire
ritual offering (Skt. homa) (Susi: 150-151).125
Although at first sight this dhra ritual practice may contradict the rejection
of Vedic ritualism advocated by the early Buddhism (DN.5.22-27), in fact, the dhra
ritual should be viewed as a skillful adaptation to a quite ritualized non-Buddhist
context, but without betraying the fundamental Buddhist tenets.126 If the mainstream
Buddhist ethics asserts that the wholesome actions are wholesome in themselves and
hence, they produce wholesome results (Harvey, 2000: 17), the Dhra-stras added to
this the vidhis ritual efficacy, but always preceded by a right ethical intention. Thus,
the Dhra-stras unified the Buddhist notion of karma as intentional action (Harvey,
2000: 16-17), with the Vedic conceptions of karma as sacrificial act and creative act
(Goudriaan, 1978: 221-222). However, how to deal with the issue of someone ethically
pure who performs rightly a dhra ritual but does not attain the desired goal? To
124

On the Vedic antecedent of investing oneself with a mantra as protection, see Appendix A.
On dhras insertion into stpas and related practices, see section 3.3.1.
125

Despite its rejection in the Nikyas (Braj: 58-59), the Vedic homa would be assimilated by
the Vajrayna. Basically, the Vedic homa is a banquet offered to a deity through fire oblations,
and to this external ritual, the Buddhist homa added to it an internal contemplation, where
the officiator, after identifying herself/himself with the deity, burns the fuel of her/his
defilements with the fire of insight (Strickmann, 1996: 347, 358-359). On the mental fire
offerings in Hinduism and Buddhism, see Bentor, 2000: 604-607. There are also Buddhist homas
with mundane goals, see section 3.1.3., below.
126

In fact, in DN.5.18-27 Vedic sacrifice is not rejected in toto, but some of its aspects are
admitted after being ethicized, as the acceptance of non-bloody offerings (ghee, oil, etc.), and
of some Vedic sacrificial prescriptions, eg. the donations to Brahmans and taking ascetic vows
(vrata) (Modak, 1993: 199, 298-301), being reinterpreted in Buddhist terms as gifts to virtuous
ascetics, providing shelter for the Sangha, and taking refuge in the Three Jewels and
undertaking precepts (DN.5.22-25). Providing feeding to Brahmans of pure conduct is a key
prerequisite for the efficacy of some aiva Tantric mantras (MM.II.7-8).

54

this likely issue the Dhra-stras provided different answers, some of them including
an escape clause noting that the dhra formula might not succeed due to the
fruition of past karma (Skilling, 1992: 148-149), while others signaled an increase of
the number of recitations until getting its expected result (T 1077 185b2-3, Cund: 1).
But most Dhra-stras are seen to have secured an indisputable effectiveness to their
formulas (Amog: 298-299; Sit: 126; Prati: 220), albeit they will not be effective if the
practitioner has not faith in them (T 1060 107a26-27; Kru: 168-169). Some Dhrastras even mention a maximum of seven years to attain their goals (Davidson, 2009:
137; Suvar: 61, Sgol: 52).127
3.1.3. Mundane and Supramundane Accomplishments
One of the most significant aspects of dhra formulas is to integrate
mundane (Skt. laukika) and supramundane (Skt. lokottara) goals as an interrelated
wholeness.128 This holistic nature of dhras was rightly grasped by the
Huayan/Vajrayna master Daozhen (eleventh century CE), who recognized in the
dhras ten inherent virtues: (1) they guarantee national security (protection from
enemies, from astrological and natural disasters, from family dissension, from crop
failure, from drought, etc.), (2) they purge defilements and exorcize ghosts, (3) they
cure illnesses and increase blessings, (4) they guarantee the miraculous achievement
of things sought, (5) they ensure rebirth in paradise, (6) they are the font of all
teachings and practices, the mother of all Buddhas, (7) they enable the easy practice
of adamantine protection for the four retinues, (8) they confirm the equality of
ordinary beings with Buddhas, (9) they effect awakening by both own power and
other power, (10) they are of such value that even Buddhas still cherish them
(Gimello, 2004: 238). As it will be seen below, despite existing Dhra-stras only
focused on one goal, the most influential of them are all-purpose, i.e., they embrace a
wide spectrum of goals, mundane and supramundane alike.129
Therefore, those all-purpose Dhra-stras are presented as mediators
between the conditioned and unconditioned planes of reality, because as being a
modality of buddhavacana, they are seen as embodying in sound and writing the
Buddhas presence: By the power of this stra [and dhra] all Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas, and even all devas are arriving (Bala: 64.21-22). And this Buddhas
mediator present as dhras is not only pointing to a worlds transcendence, but also,
to the attaining of all his desires, as the Buddhas have said (Prati: 235). In this aspect,
however, the dhras are more closely related to the Vajrayna approach, and hence,
with their Vedic and aiva predecessors, than with the transmundane approach
advocated by the Nikyas (DN.16.6.7) and the mainstream Mahyna (ik.XI; CBD:
127

This feature is already traceable in the Nikyas, where is asserted the possibility to attain
Arahantship after just seven years of practicing the satipahnas (DN.22.22; MN.10.46).
128

On both dhra goals, see sections 3.2. and 3.3. This is also the case with the arapacana
syllabarys advantages (Mps: 162).

129

This is also the case with many influential Vedic and aiva Tantric mantras. For instance,
the pivotal Vedic gyatr mantra is used during the initiation ritual of becoming a Brahman
(upanayama) (Staal, 2008: 213-216), and for therapeutical goals (Rou, 1986: 223, 243, 263); and
the Tantric Hanumn mantra can be used for protective, therapeutical, increase, and offensive
goals (MM.XIII.14-39).

55

188-195).130 If the dhras describe themselves as endowed with supreme and


irresistible faculties (My: 453; Prati: 237), this is because of their nature as
buddhavacana expressing what is true, a higher power is derived able to counteract the
inferior power embodied by the referents to which dhras are focused (eg.
defilements, past harmful karma, dangers, demons, diseases, others sects mantras,
etc.). Whatever may be the envisaged dhra and its goal, it is always reproducing this
hierarchical principle: the dhra manifests itself as endowed of a higher power than
its opponents.131 Sections 3.2. and 3.3. will deal with the most characteristic dhras
goals as they appear in some of their most influential Dhra-stras.132 The three parts
of section 3.2. are reflecting an adaptation of the Kriy Tantras classification collecting
the mundane accomplishments according to the rites of pacification (ntika),
increase (pauika), and subjugation (bhicruka), that despite the fact that it does
not always correspond exactly with the dhra goals, is employed here for heuristic
reasons.133 And section 3.3. summarizes some of the most outstanding dhras
supramundane goals, as they are reflected in several ritual and contemplative
practices widespread among Mahyna and Vajrayna Buddhisms.
3.2. Mundane Dhra
Dhra
ra Practices
3.2.1. Protection
The early use of mantras within some mainstream Buddhist schools as an
antidote against the antaryas had already been noted, being followed by the
Mahynas dadhrmikas.134 Likewise, the dhras counteract those same dangers
and still others in a more detailed way. Within this context, the main dhras
function is providing protection and immunity against noxious agents, technically
called pacification or removal of calamities (ntika) (Susi: 181). The dhras are
regarded as being able to protect the practitioner from a large number of dangers and
obstructions provoked by the following categories of harmful factors:
By adverse socio-political conditions. Some dhras offer protection against all
kinds of despotism, tyranny, invasion, or any military conflict (Amog: 299; Prati: 234;
Sit: 103).
By human beings. Certain dhras include protection against hostile individuals
promoting envy, gossip, slander, perjury, quarrels, robbery, etc., and even those who
use black magic and destructive mantras to harm others (Varat: 7-10; Sit: 110-112, 121;
Waddell, 1895: 42-44).
130

As it is the case with dhra practice, with the aiva mantra practice one can attain
[religious] merit, worldly prosperity, sensual pleasure, and liberation (Bhnemann, 1992: 72).

131

Some Dhra-stras make such hierarchical principle explicit: the Sittapatr-vidyrajs


power is higher than all non-Buddhist mantras and other Buddhist mantras considered inferior
(Sit: 109-112), or the Vajratua-dhra is superior against Vedic mantras to stop raining
(Waddell, 1914: 41-42).
132

Note that if identical dhras quotations appear for different functions, this means that
such dhras are all-purpose ones.

133

This threefold classification comes from the Vedic tradition (Goudriaan, 1978: 95).

134

See sections 1.2.1.1. and 2.2.1.

56

By non-human beings. Some dhras provide long and detailed lists of spirits or
demons (Skt. graha) of a harmful or ambivalent nature, who can provoke nightmares,
diseases, premature death, possession, etc. (Varat: 7). An influential dhra by its
power against the danger of possession by all kinds of demons includes the names of
no less than sixty six kinds of such beings, from aggressive gods (devas) to
consciousness-stealers (citthri) (Sit: 104-109).
By wild and/or poisonous animals. As was referred to frequently here, the
protection against poisonous animals (particularly snakes) was one of the foremost
reasons to accept mantras among early Buddhists. The dhras added protection
against wild animals such as mungooses, lions, tigers, bears, hyenas, wild yaks, and
wolves, and poisonous ones such as mosquitoes, flies, bees, horseflies, scorpions, and
of course, snakes (Sit: 120-121; My: 372).
By natural elements. Dangers coming from a negligent handling of fire and
water, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, storms, and droughts ruining harvests
(My: 454), were prevented with dhras by governments sensitive to Buddhism. One
of the major Amoghavajras dhra powers was producing rain in the exact time to
avoid droughts, and with enough amount to avoid floods (Chou, 1945: 298-299, 304305).
By astral influences. The dhras counteract negative astral conjunctions
capable of disturbing those activities ruled by the lunar calendar, and those of an
unfavourable personal astral chart (Sit: 98; My: 446-450; Grnbold, 2001: 372).
By diseases/death. Without doubt, this is the category most referred to in the
dhras, able to counteract the four hundred four diseases (My: 455), provoked by
an imbalance of bodily elements, by viruses, poisonings, spirits, and avoiding any kind
of unnatural death, i.e., a premature one, provoked by accidents, execution, and
murder (Amog: 291; ga: 5; Bala: 57.12-17; Prati: 227-228; Sit: 114-120; Varat: 8-9).
Likewise, some Dhra-stras and the medical treatises of Vghbaa (seventh century
CE), describe remedies based on medicinal substances and empowered with dhras
(Amog: 298-299; T 1060 110a20-110c26, Kru: 192-199; Rou, 1986: 228-237).
The reason for such preciseness in naming the danger (spirit, disease, etc.) from
which oneself is protected by the dhra, lies in the Vedic notion postulating the
correspondence between the being/object itself and the name that designate it.135
Including the harmful agents names within a Dhra-stras text or even within its
dhra formula itself, is equal to neutralize/dissolve their power because they are
enveloped under the dhras higher power.136 Likewise, invoking the names of the
spiritual entities or wise beings who transmmitted the dhra, constitutes a key
condition to obtain its powers (My: 450-451).
3.2.2.
3.2.2. Increase
The dhras not only protect from dangers, they also propitiate factors of
increase (pauika), that according to its traditional definition includes longevity,
rejuvenation, health, vitality, and the development of virtues and desires (Susi: 184).
Overall, the Dhra-stras are seen as promoting the following categories of pauika:
135

See section 1.1.1. and within a Buddhist context, see section 2.4.2.

136

According to the Indian magic, enveloping the name of a victim or patient (sdhya)
within the syllables of a mantra entails to envelop the sdhyas individuality itself (Goudriaan,
1978: 288).

57

Health. This implies basically that all his illnesses disappear and long-lasting
weakness ceases (Prati: 233), and a disease will not occur in his body; when a disease
caused by karman has arisen, it will quickly be cured (Amog: 293).
Vitality. Ones health needs to be increased with strength (Sit: 126), energy,
power, vigour and self-confidence (Prati: 233), and having a smooth, handsome and
slender body, while keeping it away from whatever robs the vital strength (Amog:
293).
Fecundity. Avoiding infertility, getting an abundant progeny of healthy aspect,
a normally developed foetus, and that her/his birth may be safe and painless, are the
goals frequently found in dhras (Bala: 57.14-19; T 1022(b) 714b21-22, Guhya: 6; T 1060
110b24-25, Kru: 196; Prati: 197, 229; Sit: 126). This need of fecundity is also expanded
to trees and herbs growing, and to the proper ripening of fruits and crops (T 1060
111c6, Kru: 203-204; Prati: 213).
Longevity. Numerous Dhra-stras effect an extension of ones life after it has
reached its [natural] limit (Prati: 233), so that, according to several sources, it can
reach one hundred years (yu: 294). Hence, it is emphasized to get a long life (T
1022(b) 714b3-4, Guhya: 5-6) and being able to see the brightness of one hundred
autumns (My: 366, 443).
Prosperity. Eradicating forever poverty (yu: 296), the accomplishment of
wealth (Gaa: 344), prosperity without effort (T 1022(b) 714b19-20, Guhya: 6), the
abundance in money and grain (Prati: 230), or obtaining clothes, money, gold, or
cows (Bala: 60.34-35), is intended for the prosperity of the Buddhist community.
Intellectual faculties. Several dhras related to female deities are recited to
attain specific intellectual faculties, such as the Vajraakalas to deeply remember
the Dharma study (Bongard-Levin, 2000: 127), and above all the Sarasvats, bestowing
memory, eloquence, knowledge, and skillfulness in all kinds of learning and success
in the performance of various arts (Suvar: 56, Sgol: 45, 48; Ludvik, 2007: 158-161, 188190). Likewise, the dhras of the Bodhisattvas kagarbha and Majur are recited
to obtain memory, eloquence, and the knowledge of all Scriptures and all scholastic
works (Ab, 1999: 74; Mns: 43-44).
Supernormal Knowledges (abhij). Undoubtedly, the most reiterated abhij
within the syllabic dhras (Mps: 162) and the Dhra-stras, is that of
remembering ones former existences (Skt. jtismara), wherever he is born, in each
birth he will remember all previous births (yu: 294; Gaa: 344; Prati: 230; Sit: 124;
Schopen, 2005b: 202-205).
3.2.3. Defence
The Vedic tradition elaborated a third set of accomplishments focused on
inimical actions (Skt. bhicara) in order to ward off dangers and enemies of diverse
kind.137 The Vajrayna assimilated such approach but moderated by Buddhist ethics
with the generic term of subjugation (bhicruka), including actions as making close
friends hate one another, or making [your foe] seriously ill, or causing his retainers to
scatter, or stultifying him. Nevertheless, those harmful actions are only directed to
137

bhicara may include, among others, actions such as causing dissension (vidveaa),
eradication (uccana), and liquidation (mraa) (Goudriaan, 1978: 62, 365). Uccana means
depriving a person of an object or removing them from a location, and mraa means taking a
persons life (Burchett, 2008: 817). On the original meaning of the mantra Pha as a counterattack against an bhicara ritual, see Appendix A.

58

punish wicked people who commit various sins, or violate the bodhisattvas pure
code of discipline, or slander the Three Jewels, or rebel against their teachers and
elders.138 Moreover, a proper bhicruka action only can be carried out without anger
and resentment and in a controlled way, paying particular attention to avoid taking a
persons life (Susi: 187-188).139
However, within the Dhra-stras where the bhicruka faculty is invoked, it
takes generally the form of a subtle wrath (Skt. krodha), that can be directed to
remove heavy mental defilements (klea) obstructing an effective meditation (Bala:
55.30-41), or becoming a means to create an armour or body of blazing flame able to
destroy all enemies, i.e., all misdeeds and obstructions (Prati: 207), or also can be
transformed into a psychic defence focused against all kinds of fears, evil spirits,
malevolent magic, contagious diseases, physical pains, and inimical people (Varat: 512).
3.3. Supramundane Dhra
Dhra
ra Practices
3.3.1. Depositing Dhra
Dhra
ras
s in Stpa
Stpas
pas
As was said before, identifying some Dhra-stras as Dharma-kya relics
implied the prolongation of a previous idea identifying the Mahyna Scriptures as
Dharma relics.140 This group of Dhra-stras consititues a specific genre widespread
through the Asiatic Buddhist world, and revolves around the idea that to introduce
into a stpa one or more of those Dhra-stras is equal to the placing innumerable
Buddhas, their physical relics, and the totality of Buddhist teachings into such stpa,
i.e., those Dhra-stras become the Buddhas Dharma Body relics (Skt. Dharma-kyaarras) (Bentor, 1995: 252-253; Schopen, 2005c: 310-311).141
Basically, the Indo-Tibetan classifications recognize three kinds of relics: (1)
the relics of the Tathgatas Dharma-kya, identified as dhras, (2) the relics of his
corporeal substance, and (3) the relics of his garb, and the first ones are considered as
the highest (Rgyud: 107). These are inserted in the form of several Dhra-stras and
Vajrayna Tantras within prominent locations of the stpa, sometimes in its
uppermost tip, expressing that the dhras are the essence of the Buddha, while in
others they are inserted into the upper, lower and middle parts of the stpa, showing
in this way the identity between the Buddhas physical body, i.e., the stpa itself, and
his eighty-four thousands heaps of Dharmas, i.e., the Dharma-kya-arras (Bentor,
138

On a precedent of bhicruka against some Dhammas critics by the deity Vajrapi (P


Vajirapi) in the Theravda Nikyas, see DN.3.1.21; MN.35.14.
139

Nevertheless, under adverse circumstances, bhicruka can transform into a defensive


weapon. Some masters from Vikramala monastery performed bhicruka rituals to repel
Muslim invaders (Chimpa/Chattopadhyaya, 1970: 307, 327-328), and using the same methods,
Amoghavajra helped to pacify the An Lu-shan rebellion (Orlando, 1981: 22) and neutralized an
attempt to invade the Chinese empire (Chou, 1945: 305-306).
140

See section 1.2.2.2. paragraph (4).

141

The most influential Dhra-stra related to stpas is the Uavijay-dhra-stra (U),


see below; for other similar Dhra-stras, see Scherrer-Schaub, 1994: 712-719, and Bentor,
1995: 254.

59

1995: 252-253; Martin, 1994: 298, 301, 304-305). Equivalent ideas are found within East
Asian Buddhism, where the Uavijay-dhra-stras Dharma-kya-arras and
related Dhra-stras, not only were identified as the Buddhas Dharma Body, but also
with the three Bodies of all Buddhas of the three times, hence, to enshrine those
Dhra-stras into a stpa, i.e., the Dharma-kya-arras, is equal to enshrine all
Buddhas Bodies into it (Shen, 2001: 269-272).
In all likelihood, the practice of inserting dhras into the stpas as a
meritorius action able to fulfill all wishes at will (T 1022(b) 714b22, Guhya: 6), and the
daily dhrass recitation to attain longevity, rebirth into a Pure Land, or even, to
attain the unsurpassed bodhi (T 970 360a11, U: 8), stimulated the invention of
printing in China (seventh century CE). Thus, a Mahpratisar-dhras Chinese
translation secures that if someone print or copy [the dhra] and carry it with
her/him, all her/his nocive acts and heavy transgressions will be removed at once
(Drge, 1999: 29-30).142
However, the popularity of some of those Dhra-stras did not lie as much in
their insertion into stpas as in their public display. This is the case of the Uavijaydhra-stra, that according to one of its key passages, if a Uavijay-dhras
written copy is hung on the tip of a banner pole, and whoever sees it, stands close by,
or is touched by its shadow or by its dust when the wind blows, she/he will be
liberated from being reborn into the three unfortunate planes (animals, hungry
spirits, and hells), and will receive the prediction by all Buddhas of being irreversible
(avaivartika) from the supreme enlightenment (T 970 360a26-b16, U: 8; Kuo, 2006:
42).143 This passage originated in China the creation of the dhra [stone] banners
(Ch. tuoluoni-chuang), known in the West as dhra-pillars, consisting in most cases,
in the Uavijay-dhra-stras inscription or that of its dhra formula on
octagonal stone columns, being widespread through all China from seventh century
CE until thirteenth century CE (Kuo, 2006: 37-42; 2005-2006: 461-466).144 Transformed
into stone, the dhra is transferring its sonic efficacy to the visible and tangible
spheres, and with such sonic empowerment of the matter, this same matter is in turn
able to empower, i.e., the dhra-pillars dust and shadows have the same qualities
that the scriptural words have, hence, the dhra-pillar is acting in an autonomous
way as the Buddhas spoken utterance (Copp, 2005: 226-232).

142

The earliest printed document in the world found until now, is a dhra formula in
Sanskrit found in the Chinese city of Xian (c. 650-670 CE), followed by a Dhra-stra printed
in 702 (Pan, 1997: 978-979). The dhras printing was introduced later into Korea (751 CE)
(Barrett, 2001: 4), and was spread to Japan (c. 764-770 CE) (Hickman, 1975: 89).
143

On the avaivartika state and mantra/dhra practice, see sections 1.2.2.1. n. 34, and 3.3.2.,
below.
144

On dhra-pillars in Korea, see Srensen, 2006b: 76-79. The Uavijay-dhra-stra


became so popular, that in some instances, its modality as dhra-pillar was transformed
into a complex maala-pillar synthesizing the whole East Asian Vajraynas teachings
(Howard, 1997: 35-42), or this dhra was represented as being held in lecterns within several
Dunhuangs mural paintings (Schmid, 2010: 6-18).

60

3.3.2. Karmic purification


It had been argued that the early dhras protective functions directed
against the negative consequences of previous karma, evolved towards a dhras
soteriological use as antidotes against their causes, i.e., the defilements (Davidson,
2009: 134). Nevertheless, the Scriptural evidence contradicts, to some extent at least,
such claim because most Dhra-stras assert the removal of both the harmful effects
of karma as well as the mental defilements causing them. For instance, a Dhra-stra
claims its power to remove former transgressions and harmful deeds and their defiled
causes, i.e., lust (rga), hatred (dvea) delusion (moha), pride (mana) and arrogance
(mada) (Sit: 126), and other Dhra-stra, besides eliminating the dangerous
consequences of actions, also roots out all [their] latent impressions (Skt. vsans)
(Prati: 218, 222).145 What is detectable, however, are two different approaches
concerning the karmic purifications method and its results. On the one hand, there are
Dhra-stras postulating generalized methods and results derived from such
purification, such as securing longevity, avoiding an unfortunate rebirth, birth into a
Pure Land (T 1022(b) 714b27, Guhya: 6), or attaining supreme enlightenment (T 970
360a4, U: 7), and on the other hand, there are Dhra-stras describing very
concrete purifications methods and results. The focus will turn now to some of those
Dhra-stras.
As a general premise, the most common types of harmful karma to be purified
as found in the Dhra-stras are the accumulation of serious transgressions since
beginningless time (T 1077 185a22-23, Cund: 1) such as the five nantaryas, and the
three root defilements perpetuating rebirth (rga-dvea-moha), also known as the
obstructions of defilements (Skt. klevaraa) (Kuo, 1994: 137-138).146 Another more
comprehensive classification divides defilements into three kinds: (1) obstructions of
vexation including both the obstructions of defilements (klevaraa) and the
obstructions to knowledge (Skt. jeyvaraa), (2) obstructions of endowment, i.e.,
obstructions due to mental and physical defects, and (3) obstructions of karma
(karmvaraa) (Stevenson, 1986: 64, n. 64).147
145

See more examples in T 1022(b) 714c6-7, Guhya: 7; T 970 359c4-5, U: 7; T 1060 107a20-28,
Kru: 167-169.
146

Mainstream Buddhism posited three kinds of obstructions: (1) the obstructions of karma
(Skt. karmvaraa) identified with the five nantaryas including matricide, patricide, the
killing of an Arhat, schism, and wounding the Tathgata with thoughts of hatred. They are
said of immediate retribution because after death, the transgressor is reborn in hells without
passing through the intermediate state; (2) the obstructions of defilements (klevaraa)
including the referred to root defilements and their derivations; and (3) the obstruction of
retribution (Skt. vipkvaraa). Those obstructions prevent the rebirth in favourable
destinations and attaining liberation (Koa.IV.95c-d.96). On vipkvaraa, also known as
obstructions of endowment, see below, and n. 147.
147

To klevaraa, rooted in the belief in a self that clings to I and mine, the Yogcra added
jeyvaraa, that covers over the indefectible [i.e. unfailing] nature of knowables and causes
them not to appear in the mind, because the belief in a self that clings to all imagined things,
mental states of ignorance, the love to things, and affection for malicious thoughts (Bubh:
206). The obstructions of endowment are those such as congenital blindness or deafness,
having a short life, hereditary sicknesses, etc., experienced in the present life, but as result of
harmful actions committed in previous lives (Mpp.I: 486-499; Avat: 716).

61

According to the Cunddev-dhra-stra, the purifications method consists of


reciting the Cunds dhra formula a fixed number of times, normally 200,000,
700,000, or 800,000 times, until oneself experiences an auspicious oneiric signal, such
as vomiting a white substance such as a thick paste of rice (T 1077 185b3-5, Cund:
1).148 This recitation may be combined with the Cunddevs mudr and visualizing her
image, and her dhra can be recited in a loud voice, in a soft voice audible only to
oneself, or by way of adamantine recitation, that is, by actually speaking the dhra
but with barely perceptible movement of lips and tongue (under ones breath, as it
were) (Gimello, 2004: 237).149 The Mahvaipulya-dhra-stra is describing a different
method, where periods of dhra recitation are combined while walking around a
Buddhas image with periods of sitting meditation, where the mind is focused on the
non-apprehension (anupalabdhit) of all phenomena, and according the
transgressions seriousness, this practice must be repeated a fixed number of times
and days.150 The auspicious sign revealing a successful practice is that of clearly
contemplating a Buddhas image while oneself is receiving from him his adhihna,
the bodhicitta awakening, and the prediction of being irreversible (avaivartika) along
the path to supreme enlightenment (Swanson, 2000: 213, 231). The secret essence of
this dhra practice though, is that of realizing a true insight of the Middle Way that
the dhra embodies: When [the practitioner] discerns the sound of the voice while
he is reciting the dhra, he finds that the sound cannot be apprehended. It is without
any self-substance It is neither empty nor existent (Stevenson, 1986: 64-65).151
3.3.3. Attaining Enlightenment
Owing to the dhras condensing large teachings within their syllables,
reciting/contemplating these entailed a drastic reduction of the time required to
master them, hence, dhras became a short-cut to enlightenment and the lucky sea
to release A bodhisattva, having epitomized all the meditations in one string [i.e.
dhra], would suddenly be elevated in rank and approach supreme enlightenment
(Chou, 1945: 258). Given that each Dhra-stra describes its own approach to attain
enlightenment, it will described below just two examples from the most
representative ones.152 Perhaps the simplest approach is shown by the amukh148

Cund (or Cund) is one of the most important dhra goddesses of Northern and East
Asian Buddhisms because her specialization in purifying harmful karma, and giving support to
Dharma practice (Shaw, 2006: 265-275). On Cunds iconography, see DBI.3: 849-866.
149

Besides those three methods, the East Asian Vajrayna included two more: the samdhi
recitation consisting of a purely mental recitation without moving the tongue, and the light
recitation, whether silently or aloud, light streaming from the mouth is visualized (Ab, 1999:
125; Yamasaki, 1988: 116-117). The Indo-Tibetan Vajrayna posits a whispered and mental
recitations, both applied to the dhra syllables shape or to their sound (Rgyud: 187-191).
150

On experiencing anupalabdhit while contemplating the arapacana syllabary, see Appendix


B-2.

151

Cf. the dhra-mukhas of the ghoapravea-dhra and the akarapravea-dhra, see section
2.1.3.1.
152

On other examples of soteriological dhrans, see rs.VI: 76-161; Zong: 134; Studholme,
2002: 147; Wallis, 2002: 19-23; Kves, 2009: 125-139.

62

dhra (Six Doors dhra), where six experiences/knowledges are described by the
Buddha: (1) making known the suffering experienced by the Buddha, (2) sharing with
all beings the Buddhas spiritual bliss, (3) acknowledging ones own harmful actions,
(4) knowing that Mra acts against the Buddha, (5) identifying the supreme
knowledge concerning all beings with the Buddhas wholesome roots, and (6) knowing
that Buddhas liberation is useful to beings if oneself does not remain either in sasra
or in nirva (am: 10-11). According to Vasubandhus commentary, those Six Doors
are related to six goals (artha) valid for all dhras in general, that can also be applied
to the amukh-dhra thus: (1) the completion of insight, (2) the power of
compassions purity, (3) the purification of ones stream of being, (4) comprehension
of impediments caused by others, (5) summation of the factors of awakening, and (6)
the reality and correct knowledge which are these factors fruit (Davidson, 2009: 139).
The amukh-dhras formula, uttered by the Buddha from his residence in the
uddhvsa heavens, refers to the complete purification of the body, speech, and
mind from all defilements, and the accomplishment of the ultimate reality (Skt.
paramrtha). The formula have to be recited six times a day, and if one remains
detached from all kinds of acts, one will attain quickly the supreme enlightenment
(am: 11).153
The Anantamukha-nirhra-dhra-stra received a versified commentary by
Jnagarbha (700-760 CE) to be memorized and used as a manual, and given that just a
few Mahyna Scriptures hold this kind of commentary, this implies that the
Anantamukha-nirhra-dhra-stra was considered a Scripture deserving a particular
attention (Schoening, 1991: 34-35). The main purpose of this Scripture is [to] become
unretrogressive and quickly attain the highest, perfect Bodhi (Anir: 87). To
accomplish it, the Stra describes three methods: (1) the recitation-meditation into a
formulaic dhra or dhra-mantra-pada, (2) the recitation-meditation into a
syllabic dhra, and (3) the visualization of a maala composed by the syllabic
dhra and the images of the Bodhisattvas and yakas refered to in the Stra.
The Anantamukha-nirhras formula has received the adhihna from
innumerable Buddhas (Anir: 103) and includes three practices: (1) the syllabledhra, consisting of the dhra-mantra-padas recitation accompanied by a
meditation (dhyna-yoga) on their syllables, without getting attached to their
characteristics of existence or non-existence (Anir: 66-68). (2) The meaning-dhra,
also called the practice of non-cognition of object, that is equal to attain the dhra
manifested by the dhra-mantra-pada. It consists of realizing the emptiness of all
dharmas by being supported by the letters which contain all the supreme teachings
and meanings, i.e., the dhra-mantra-padas recitation-meditation is intended to
realize the four pratisavids (Anir: 100-101).154 And (3) the syllable-meaning-dhra,
also called wisdom-dhra, consisting into the alternated practice of (1) and (2), i.e.,
first the dhra-mantra-pada is recited, and then it is followed by meditating on its
inconceivable nature (Anir: 107-108).
The Anantamukha-nirhra-dhra-stra describes another method to attain the
dhra based on a syllabic dhra composed by eight syllables, where each syllable
is conceived as a door to attain a key teachings insight: (1) pa (paramrtha) the

153

However, certain amukh-dhras Tibetan versions claim that enlightenment will only
be attained after seven lives of practice (am: 13, n. 8).

154

On the pratisavids, see sections 1.2.2.1. and 2.1.3.2.

63

nonsubstantiality of all dharmas; (2) la (lakaa) the marks and no-marks of the
Tathgatas dharma-kya; (3) ba (bla) the non-duality between ignorant persons and
wise ones; (4) ja (jti) the non-arising and non-perishing of beings subject to birth,
old age, death, and absence of birth, old age, and death; (5) ka (karma) realization of
karmas and rewards, and their absence; (6) dha (dharmadhtu) it is equal to the
voidness, formlessness, and desiressness; (7) a (amatha) tranquilization and its
absence, entry into the suchness (tathat) of all dharmas; (8) ka (kana) all dharmas
are momentary and originally tranquil, inexhaustible, imperishable, causeless, and in
a state of extinction. The eight syllables insight is realized through a cognitive
process where simultaneously their meanings are discerned and intuitively perceived
(Anir: 113-114, 131-138).155 Lastly, Jnagarbha briefly describes a visualization ritual
of a maala composed by the syllabic dhras eight syllables related to the images
of eight Bodhisattvas and eight yakas, described as the protectors of the
Anantamukha-nirhra-dhra-stras teachings and their practitioners. It is significant
that it was Jnagarbha himself who elaborated the maala method after it was
revealed to him through a dream (Anir: 129-130), which denotes a relevant example of
a progressive Dhra-strass esoterization that would culminate with their
identificaton as Kriy Tantras.156
The combined practice of those three methods is conducive to attain the
Tranquil State, i.e., the nirva of no abiding (apratihita-nirva), understood here
as the klevaraa and jeyvaraas removal, the rga-dvea-mohas extinction, and
accomplishing the supreme enlightenment (sabodhi), conceived as a threefold
realization that, according to different cases, can liberate beings from unfortunate
destinies, or can locate them on heavenly planes, or even can liberate them definitely
from sasra (Anir: 111).157
The two described examples of soteriological Dhra-stras emphasize their
non-dual nature, that of being simultaneously means to attain ultimate reality and
perfect expressions of such reality in sonic/written forms. This dhras non-dual
nature was exactly grasped by the following description of a formulaic dhra called
the dhra of nondefilement included within the Suvaraprabhsa-stra, that who is
able to master it, makes her/him as no different from the Buddhas. According to the
Yijings Chinese translation, it goes like this:
As you have said, the dhra is not bound to a particular direction or location. Nor is
it devoid of a particular direction or location. It is neither a phenomenon nor a
nonphenomenon. It belongs neither to the past, nor to the future, nor to the present.
It is neither an event nor a nonevent, neither a cause nor a noncause, neither a
practice nor a nonpractice. It is subject neither to the rising nor to the ceasing of
things (tr. by Ab, 1999: 241).

155

On an equivalent process with the arapacana syllabarys contemplation, see section


Appendix B-2. Note that with this method, language and its conceptual basis is not
deconstructed but contemplated creatively from within its emptiness, see section 2.3. and n.
98.
156

157

See sections 1.2.3. and 3.1.2.

On klevaraa, jeyvaraa, and rga-dvea-mohas elimination, see section 3.3.2. and n. 146
and 147.

64

Conclusions
After almost two millennium of being rooted on Indian soil before the advent
of Buddhism, the Vedic tradition, that has in the mantras its origins and identity,
established a sacred conception of language understood as manifestation of the
absolute, as means to transform reality, and as protective and mnemonic means,
which would cast its pivotal influence on Indian Buddhism. Overall, despite the fact
that early Buddhism rejected mantras, such rejection denoted more a Buddhist
intention to institutionally differentiate itself from its Vedic rival, than a rejection to
mantra efficacy per se. This can be seen in that besides mantras, other Vedic linguistic
factors such as the satyakriy, and perhaps the phonetical correspondences as are
found within some Upaniads, were also accepted and re-elaborated by the
mainstream Buddhism according to its own criterion.
Shortly after the historical Buddhas disappearance, the early Buddhist
rejection against mantras gave ground to their progressive acceptance, mainly
because of a deeply rooted pan-Indian belief on mantras already established as a taken
for granted value since centuries before, and also because some mainstream Buddhist
schools admitted the five abhijs among non-Buddhist people, being one of those
abhijs that of empowering mantras through the supernatural power of
conservation (dhihnik ddhi). From those premises, the Buddhist acceptance of
mantras and the other Vedic linguistic factors already referred to basically adopted
two modalities according to the characteristics and different concerns of each
Buddhist school: a canonical modality and an extra-canonical one.
The canonical modality, being mainly represented by the Sarvstivdins,
Mlasarvstivdins, and Dharmaguptakas, began to discreetly introduce mantras
through the door of their Vinayas, being used as antidotes against the antaryas and as
therapeutical means. Later on, Sarvstivdins and Mlasarvstivdins introduced
more mantras in some Mahstras and other Scriptures, and those mantras were of a
non-Vedic origin and promulgated either by some deities or were attributed to the
Buddha himself, hence, this mantric lore became buddhavacana and also was used as a
conversion device to integrate several tribal peoples to Buddhism. In a similar vein,
Mahsghikas, Siddhrthikas, Dharmaguptakas, Aparaailas, and Prvaailas went a
step further and elaborated specific baskets called either Vidydhara-piakas or
Dhra-piakas, which held a significant mantric lore which would be assimilated in
turn by the Mahyna and the Vajrayna.
The extra-canonical modality is represented by the Theravda school and
certain Southern Buddhist unorthopraxical ramifications such as the Southeast Asian
Theravda Mah Nikya and the Burmese Weikza movement, among others. At the
beginning the Theravda only accepted its ethicized version of the Vedic satyakriy as
one of the main doctrinal foundations of their parittas, however, a lasting
Mahyna/Vajrayna influence left in Sri Lanka, the ancient Angkor kingdom, and
Burma, allowed that a later Theravda would accept some mantras and dhras
inserted in a number of parittas and other liturgical texts.
To such mantric lore already assimilated by most of the mainstream Buddhism,
the Mahyna added three key factors: the adoption of Sanskrit language, an open
canon in continuous expansion, and the elaboration of the term dhra which
endowed to such early mantric lore of a Buddhist identity. Thus, the Mahyna
recognized as dhra several instances, such as a whole early Mahyna Scripture,
syllabaries devised as mnemonic and soteriological means, mantric formulas intended
65

for protective, mnemonic and supramundane goals, that first would be appended to
several Stras to finally become mature Dhra-stras and early Buddhist Tantras.
Although it had been argued that a supposed original meaning of dhra as memory
was forgotten, to be replaced later by a sense of dhra as mantra, the textual
evidence demonstrates just the opposite, the early Vedic and aiva Tantric meanings
of mantra as including protective, mnemonic, teachings condenser, and soteriological
means, were completely assimilated by the Buddhist dhras and were transmitted
through generations to be transformed into two main categories: the formulaic and
syllabic dhras, which despite having separate origins, both ended up being
identified and integrated within the stage of an early Indian Vajrayna.
As is the case with the Vedic and aiva Tantric semantic field of the term
mantra, which allows its identification within ritual, protective, mnemonic and
soteriological contexts, the same occurs with the semantic field of the term dhra,
whose semantic extent allows it to be identified with cognitive faculties such as
memory, knowledge, virtue, protection, teachings condenser, etc, and as the means to
attain all of them. Despite the fact that at first sight the term dhra seems to be
diluted on a loose linguistic vagueness, on a closer scrutiny instead, dhra keeps
revealing its extraordinary linguistic nature and constantly shows its relation to
language mastery, as is the case with the term mantra. Likewise, if the Vedic and aiva
Tantric mantra is related to a whole constellation of synonyms and paired terms, again
the same occurs with the term dhra, also related to a large number of synonyms,
compound terms, and paired to other Buddhist qualities. And if the Vedic and aiva
Tantric mantras present themselves as secure means to attain any mundane and
supramundane goal, so it is with Buddhist dhras as well. However, going beyond
those functional parallels between the Vedic and aiva Tantric mantras and the
Buddhist dhras, it is significant to emphasize their relevant differences which
would rid dhras of being just mere imitations of their non-Buddhist referents to
become what in fact they are, an elaborated product of the Indian Buddhist creative
genius.
From a formal level, this dissertation had demonstrated that the dhras
follow a pattern originated on certain non-Vedic mantras assimilated later by the
Atharvaveda Pariias and some early aiva Tantras, which neatly differentiate the
dhras from the standard Vedic and aiva Tantric mantras. From a linguistic level,
whereas the Vedic and aiva Tantric mantras strictly reproduce the Vedic Sanskrit and
classical Sanskrit phonological rules, the Buddhist dhras instead, are reproduced
into a large variety of Indic languages. And from a doctrinal level, whereas the Vedic
and aiva Tantric mantras are understood as sonic forms of an absolute and eternal
brahman, the Buddhist dhras instead, are manifesting the emptiness of all dharmas
which can be understood from two approaches: the Mahyna one emphasizing the
inexpressible nature of emptiness, and the Vajrayna one emphasizing its capability
to produce innumerable meanings.
According to all that had been expounded, it can be asserted that, if under the
generic term of vipayan the Indian Buddhism assimilated and recreated according
to its own perspective the early non-Buddhist yogic tradition revolving around
realizing the truth through a contemplative silence, likewise, under the generic term
of dhra the Indian Buddhism assimilated and recreated according to its own
perspective the early non-Buddhist ritual tradition revolving around realizing the
truth through the words power. Although the early Buddhism began integrating
exclusively the tradition of the silence, only would be question of diverse conditions
for that Indian Buddhism, this time under its mainstream, Mahyna, and Vajrayna

66

modalities, would ended up to integrate also the tradition of the word. And are
precisely those both traditions what are shaping the common substratum which gives
lasting support and inspiration to the contemporary Southern, Northern, and East
Asian Buddhisms, and as it could not be otherwise, to Western Buddhism as well.

67

Appendix A
Early Vedic Mantras
Mantras within Buddhist
Buddhist Dhra
Dhra
ras
s
This Appendix is focused on a specific set of Vedic mantras being frequently
found within most Buddhist dhra formulas. As already shown in their cosmogonical
function,158 the three mahvyhtis bhr (earth), bhuva (atmosphere), and svar
(sky) have a pivotal significance for the Vedic tradition. Likewise, from the
contemplation of the mahvyhtis the sap of the threefold Vedic knowledge is
extracted: from bhr the gveda, from bhuva the Yajurveda, and from svar the
Smaveda (JUB.I.1.3-5, II.9.7; TU.1.5.2). The mahvyhtis correspond to several parts of
the human body implying its wholeness: bhr correspond to the head, bhuva to the
arms, and svar to the feet (BU.5.5.3-4), hence, the mahvyhtis bestow bodily
protection. Thus, a Brahman secures her/his identification with the Vedas when
she/he wears upon her/him the mahvyhtis micro-macrocosmic power (CU.3.15.37). The foremost function of the mahvyhtis, however, is that of carrying out a
universal expiation (Skt. sarvapryacitta) (JUB.III.17.2-3). Reciting the mahvyhtis
has the power to atone any mistake committed during the performance of Vedic
sacrifices and their evil consequences (B.XI.5.8.6), and this same power is applied to
any deliberate or unintentional offences. The idea lying behind here is that whatever
disorder can be restored through the mahvyhtis, because they are the sonic
embodiment of the worlds creation in its original perfection (Gonda, 1983: 35, 4950).159
From a spiritual level, the mantra O is a vehicle to attain the heavens (svarga)
(JUB.III.13.10) and to become immortal (CU.1.4.4-5). From a mundane level though, O
denotes assent towards the whole creation (CU.1.1.8), and knowing Os meaning
entails satisfying all desires (KU.2.16). Thus, O is recited mainly to propitiate the
auspicious beginning of several Vedic rituals (CU.1.8), and especially, those related to
welfare and prosperity (VC: 310-311). Another significant function of O is that of
memorizing: O is recited at the beginning and at the end of a Vedic passages reading
to secure its retention (Parpola, 1981: 196-197).160
The mantra Hu (and its variants Um, Hum, y H) has an early meaning
related to O as an interjection of assent, and is also used to connect the final and
initial parts of some verses in several Vedic rituals (Parpola, 1981: 208-209; SED: 1301;
VC: 1070). However, the most common Vedic (and Tantric) meaning of Hu is that of
being the armor mantra, whose pronunciation purifies and protects from evil
influences (Wheelock, 1989: 107).161
158

See section 1.1.1.1.

159

The mahvyhtis appear in several Buddhist dhras to propitiate a successful generative


process, whether a fetal development (Prati: 201), or a spiritual one (Gusa: 316; Snellgrove,
2002: 230-231, 256-257, n. 233). For more examples, see AM.2.806, 842; AM.7.3231; AM.10.4740,
5495; AM.11.5769, 5910, 5972; AM.12.6319, 6334-6335, 6378.

160

161

On the Buddhist meanings of O, see Appendix B-1 paragraph (2).

The Theravda Vinaya criticized this view, see section 1.2.1.1. Within a aiva and Buddhist
Tantric context, Hu denotes the fierce side of the deity (Wayman, 1985: 36), hence, Hu

68

The mantra Pha reproduces an onomatopoeia denoting crash, crack (SED:


716), or a horses hooves sound (DUK: 16), and was originally uttered as a counterattack against an inimical action (Skt. bhicara)s ritual (AV.IV.18.3). That is why the
most common appellative of Pha is that of being the weapon-mantra (Skt. astramantra) (SED: 122; TAK.I: 163; TB: 7, 91; Wheelock, 1989: 107-108). Besides its
protective/offensive use, Pha is also employed to remove demonic entities
obstructing the spiritual practice (Pvra.2.8), and from a yogic level, its sound purifies
the adepts coarse and subtle bodies (Padoux, 1980: 86, n. 1).162
After uttering the mantra Svh, Prajpati did the first offering to the fire god
Agni (B.II.2.1.4). According to its traditional etymology, Svh alludes to the
Prajpatis own greatness (sva) with which he spoke (ha) to Agni, counteracting in
this way Agnis destructive voracity directed against Prajpati and to the world
(B.II.2.4.6). Hence, the mantra Svh became the oblations utterance par excellence in
Vedic rituals (BU.5.8.1, n. 8, p. 321; SED: 1284; VC: 1056-1058).163

also is named as the cuirass (kavaca), wrath (krodha), and preservative (varma) mantra (SED:
264, 322, 926; TB: 43, 47, 91). On the East Asian Vajrayna meaning of H as synonym of
dhra, see Un: 125.
162

On the Buddhist meanings of Pha, see Appendix B-1 paragraphs (2) and (4), and Finot,
1934: 60, 77.
163

On the Buddhist meanings of Svh, see Appendix B-1 paragraphs (2) and (4).

69

Appendix B
Analysis of two Dhra
Dhra
ra Typologies
This Appendix is divided into two parts: Appendix B-1 dealing with the
formulaic dhras, and Appendix B-2 dealing with the syllabic dhras. Besides
providing again definitions for the terms formulaic and syllabic dhras and
analysing their formal patterns, the present Appendix will clarify two common
misunderstandings concerning dhras, the first one, that dhras (i.e., the
formulaic ones) are not properly meaningful (McDermott, 1975: 296, n. 25), or that
they are written in an unintelligible jargon (SBLN: 291), and the second one, that the
arapacana syllabary and its variants (i.e., the syllabic dhras) are primarily
mnemonic devices (Ugra: 291-292, n. 549).
Appendix BB-1: Formulaic Dhra
Dhra
ras
s
A formulaic dhra consists of [1] a linguistic pattern in prose, sonic or
written, [2] regarded as promulgated by Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and/or any deity
accepted by Buddhism and endowed of their spiritual support (adhihna), [3]
composed of one or more formulas of certain Indic languages, [4] that pledges
(samaya) the attainment of its mundane and/or supramundane goals if the
prescriptions established by her/his promulgator are followed. Here only segments
[1] and [3] of this definition will be studied.164
Previously, note had been made of the striking similarity between the formal
structure of several mantras from the Atharvaveda Pariias surkalpa and
Ucchumakalpa and that of the dhra formulas, and it was argued that Indian
Buddhists extracted a pattern from the formal structure of those mantras that they
then reproduced within most of their dhra formulas.165 What follows is an analysis
of the four parts of the formulaic dhras pattern, first, providing a comparative
analysis between the surkalpas root-mantra (mla-mantra) and a dhra formula
invoking Vajrapi from the Susiddhikara-stra, and then, providing an analysis of the
formulaic dhras pattern as is understood in Buddhist Scriptures and according to
certain contemporary interpretations. The surkalpas root-mantra reads:
o namo rudrya, o kauke kaukapattre subhaga suri rakte
raktavsase, atharvaasya duhite ghore ghorakarmakrike
amuka hana hana daha daha paca paca mantha mantha
tvad daha tvat paca yvan me vaam naya svh.
O, obeisance to Rudra: o, O pungent one, thou of the pungent
leaf, blessed suri, reddish one, thou of the reddish garment, O
daughter of the atharvan, non-terrific one, non-terrific wonder
worker (deed-performer), so-and-so smite, smite, burn, burn,
cook, cook, crush, crush, so long burn, so long cook, until thou
hast brought [him] into my power: svh (ed. and tr. ka: 175, 180).

164

On segments [2] and [4], see sections 1.2.2.2. paragraph (a), and 3.1.2.

165

See section 1.1.1.2.

70

The Susiddhikara-stras Vajrapi dhra reads:


namo ratnatrayya, nama caavajrapaye mahyakasenanpataye,
o hara hara vajra matha matha vajra dhuna dhuna vajra hana hana vajra
[daha daha vajra] paca paca vajra dala dala vajra draya draya vajra
vidraya vidraya vajra chinda chinda vajra bhinda bhinda vajra h pha.
Homage to the Three Jewels! Homage to Violent Vajrapi, great
General of the yakas! O, seize, seize, O vajra! destroy, destroy,
O vajra! shake, shake, O vajra! slay, slay, O vajra! burn burn,
O vajra! roast, roast, O vajra! split, split, O vajra! tear, tear, O vajra!
tear [asunder], tear asunder,O vajra! cut, cut, O vajra! split, split,
O vajra! h pha! (Susi: 302-303).166

A formal common pattern is detectable in both texts, composed by four parts:


(1) a salutation mantric sentence, (2) a beginning mantra word (generally, the
monosyllable o), (3) a mantra(s) formula(s), and (4) a closing mantra formula and/or
mantra word(s) (generally, expressions as svh, h, and pha). This fourfold pattern
will be applied to both examples in the following Chart:
Patterns
surkalpas
surkalpas mantra
Parts
A salutation o namo rudrya
mantric
sentence

SusiddhikaraSusiddhikara-stra
tras
ras dhra
dhra
ra

A beginning o
mantra word
A Mantra(s)
formula(s)

A
closing svh
mantra
formula
and/or
mantra
word(s)

kauke kaukapattre subhaga


suri rakte raktavsase,
atharvaasya duhite ghore
ghorakarmakrike amuka
hana hana daha daha paca
paca mantha mantha tvad
daha tvat paca yvan me
vaam naya

namo ratnatrayya, nama


caavajrapaye
mahyakasenanpataye

hara hara vajra matha matha vajra


dhuna dhuna vajra hana hana
vajra [daha daha vajra] paca paca
vajra dala dala vajra draya draya
vajra vidraya vidraya vajra
chinda chinda vajra bhinda bhinda
vajra
h pha

Chart 1: The Formulaic Dhra Pattern (Based on ka: 175, 180, and Susi: 302-303).
166

Daha daha vajra had been added (in square brackets) following Susi: 324, n. 112, because it
appears in the Stras Japanese, Chinese and Tibetan versions. Whereas in the surkalpa the
terms hana, daha, paca are used in rites of inimical action (abhicar), in the Vajrapi dhra
instead, are used to bring a stolen article back (Susi: 302). Those same terms appear in other
dhras to propitiate health and longevity (My: 408-409), removal of defilements (Bala: ed.
27.24, tr. 55.36-39), and protection against enemies and black magic (Varat: 7-12; Prati: 112-113,
201).

71

Although such pattern is not uniformly followed by all formulaic dhras,167


however, it is the most reproduced one, and in fact, such pattern is what defines
formally a formulaic dhra (see segment [1]), showing one of its most distinctive
characteristics that differentiates it clearly from the standard Vedic and aiva Tantric
mantras.168 Now those patterns four parts will be studied according to their Buddhist
understanding and some contemporary interpretations.
(1).- A salutation mantric sentence: The formulaic dhras usually begin with
a set of salutations (Skt. namaskras), in honour to the three Jewels, to the Buddha, to
the Bodhisattva, or to the deity invoked by the dhra. It means that the auspicious
presence of those invoked entities is summoned, and it is a way to give a general
identity to the formula (eg. three Jewels) and a specific one (eg. Vajrapi) (see
example above).
(2).- A beginning mantra word: Normally, this beginning mantra word is
related to the closing mantra word (cf. Part 4), and indicates the dhras concrete
purpose. Thus, the word O at the beginning and the word svh at the end refers to
its use in pacifying calamities (Skt. ntika) (Vai-s: 268; Susi: 134), the word O at the
beginning and the words H Pha at the end refer to its use in summoning, and the
words H Pha at the beginning and end are for use in subjugating (Skt. bhicruka),
the word Nama at the beginning and end are for use in increasing benefits (Skt.
pauika) (Vai-s: 268), But according to a different interpretation, dhras with no
beginning and end words as described, are able to accomplish increasing benefits
(Susi: 134).169 The monosyllable O is the most used as beginning mantra word, and
acquired, among others, the Buddhist meanings of being the sonic manifestation of
the Buddhas three bodies (Skt. trikya), of taking refuge and bowing to the three
Jewels, and of denoting a vast offering (Gorin: 292). From an esoteric sense, O means
the fulfillment of the three bodies and the basis and mother of all mantras (Unno,
2004: 158, 171-172).170
(3).- A Mantra(s) formula(s): This part constitutes the dhras semantic
corpus proper, the part expressing in referential and meaningful terms the effect the
dhra proposes to manifest into the mundane and/or supramundane planes of
reality.171 This part is conceived as a prose mantric utterance composed of several
characteristic features, among them, the following stand out:
(a).-Alliterations: Undoubtedly, this is one of the formulaic dhras
distinctive features, reproduced again and again in most of them. It consists of
167

There are some early dhras lacking parts (1), (2), and (4) (eg. AM.12.6873-6895), and some
that instead of beginning with o, begin with the term tadyath (Zabao: 156; AM.12.68966898), and those that only include parts (2), (3), and (4) (eg. AM.12.6905-6907).

168

See sections 1.1.1.1. and 1.1.2.2.

169

On the meanings of ntika, pauika, and bhicruka, see sections 3.2.1., 3.2.2., and 3.2.3.

170

According to the Theravda Mah Nikya, O is represented with an inverse form and
broken down as MA A U, and those syllables establish a set of correspondences, see CastroSnchez, 2010: 6, Chart 1.
171

This part is equivalent to the portion of the aiva tantric mantra that declares what is to be
effected (sdhya) by the mantra into the world. The relationship between the mantra and the
sdhya parallels that between language and reality (Yelle, 2003: 20-21, 42). This sdhya part is
equivalent to the mantras akti, see section 1.1.2.2., n. 16.

72

repeating an identical term, usually in 2nd. sing. imperative act, with the intention to
intensify the dhras effect (Wayman, 1985: 35); and it signifies a command of the
speaker, but shades off into a demand, and exhortation, an entreaty, and expression of
earnest desire (Amog: 269). Although the most common alliteration is double (see
example above),172 in some instances, a single term is repeated four, and even ten
times (My: 418-428).
(b).-Exhaustion: It means the enumeration of all, or nearly all, of a set or
paradigm class, whether semantic or phonetic, exhausting the directional
possibilities of language (Yelle, 2003: 15). Such device stamp to the dhra a tendency
to comprise and dominate all linguistic possibilities intended by the formula, as in
kara kara, kiri kiri, kuru kuru (Amog: 296), expressing imperatives of multiple action
(Wayman, 1985: 35-36). The combination of alliterations and exhaustions intensifies
the dhras transformative power (Amog: 269).
(c).-Augmentation: It consists of repeating a word or concept with progressive
increase of intensity (Yelle, 2003: 14). One well-known example is the
Prajpramithdaya-stras vidy: o gate gate pragate prasagate bodhi svh
(Pph.VIII), i.e. o gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, enlightenment,
svh (Lopez, 1990: 356).
(d).-Unintelligible terms: Occasionally, the dhras may include terms
considered as unintelligible ones. For instance, there are three terms appearing very
frequently: hili, mili, and kili, and those terms appear, to name just a few examples,
in therapeutical formulas as hili mili (Rou, 1986: 217; ik.VI.142; CBD: 140), against
snakes ones as ili mili phu phu (HT.I.2.32), or within all-purpose dhras as hili hili,
mili mili, kili kili (Prati: 232). Several theories can explain the origin and meaning of
those so-called unintelligible terms, for instance, those terms and similar ones may
refer to certain deities names, as the vidyrja Klikli (Susi: 201, 288),173 or they may
come from the spirits or gods languages invoked by the formula (Goudriaan, 1978:
78), or they may be emerged from a state of meditative absorption (Whitaker, 1963:
12, n. 8), or they may be onomatopoeias, as the god Hanumans bja-mantra kilikili
vuvu (cf. HT.I.2.32, above) imitating the monkeys noise to frighten others (DUK: 22).
The dhras Scriptural and ritual context would provide the keys to clarify which of
those theories, or others, may be applicable to each case. Anyway, it should be taken
into account that the dhras are invoking or summoning the presence of a given
other, hence, those terms are not nonsensical, but are seen as only intelligible for the
entities invoked and for those initiated into such language (Tambiah, 1968: 177-178).174
(e).-Personalizations: In most dhras appears the clause mama (your name
here), signaling the place where to insert the name of the dhras recitation
beneficiary, or the name of that one who sponsored a massive dhras copying
(Hidas, 2008: 25, n. 90; Copp, 2005: 194-195).
(f).-Terms related to specific rites: Besides the beginning and end mantra words
(cf. Part 2), it is possible to know the ritual purpose of a given dhra according to
which terms it may include. A ntika dhra may include terms such as nti-kuru
172

See also DBDh: 3, 10, 17, 27, 36, 37, 45, 50, 51, 62, 86, 109, 111.

173

See the Rudras names within several mantras and dhras, in section 1.1.2.1.

174

As it was stated by the Mmsaka abara: In cases where the meaning is not intelligible,
it is not that there is no meaning; it is there always, only people are ignorant of it (as quoted
in Coward, 1989: 166).

73

(render auspicious), or ama (remove), a pauika one include terms such as pui
(increase benefit), or bala (strength), and an bhicruka one, words such as hana
(strike), or bhaja (shatter) (Susi: 132-133).
(g).-Phrases of supplication: With the purpose of infusing radiant energy (Skt.
tejas) to an object and making it effective, phrases of supplication are inserted after
the initial, middle, and final parts of a dhra, such as jvala (emit light) and jvlaya
(cause to emit light) (Susi: 262).
(4).- A closing mantra formula and/or mantra word(s): Besides the closing
mantra words related to those of the beginning already referred to in Part 1 (see
above), some dhras including phrases of supplication end with the three words
H, Pha and Svh to intensify its power (Susi: 262).
The above points demonstrate that the formulaic dhras, far from being
unintelligible or meaningless, are a kind of language with semantically identifiable
contents based on performative expressions (Payne, 1998: 10). This dhra language,
however, does not follow the parameters of an ordinary communication, but those
only concerned with spiritual and ritual goals that are what provide them with their
sense (Wallis, 2002: 30). The dhras differ from conventional language because they
facilitate states of mental concentration and insight, being able to get in touch with
mundane/supramundane entities, and even attaining the unconditioned (Tambiah,
1968: 206, n. 7). Said in different words, dhra language is not intended for
discriminative proliferation (Skt. prapaca), but only for ritual and transcendental
goals (Padoux, 1990: 373, 377).175
Concerning the languages of dhras (see definitions segment [3]), it is
significant to clarify that, on the contrary to the Vedic and aiva Tantric mantras
following exclusively the Sanskrit phonology (Staal, 1989: 61), the Buddhist
mantras/dhras
are
composed
of
several
Indic
languages.
The
Mahvairocanbhisabodhi-tantra acknowledges as one category of the nature of
mantras that of the local languages, i.e., those that are spoken in accordance with
whatever language is used in each region (Vai-ta.II.II.80), and other Vajrayna sources
admit mantras and Tantras in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhraa, and abari (Lamotte,
1958: 614), and as already have been noted, there are dhrans in Dravidian (Bernhard,
1967: 162-164) and Pli (Bizot/Lagirarde,1996: 214-216, 225-228).176 In practical terms,
however, the dhrans retained a characteristic feature of any non-Vedic, Vedic and
aiva Tantric mantra: a large part of its efficacy is directly related to a proper

175

This may explain the inclusion of dhra formulas within Stras emphasizing
discriminative conceptualization (Skt. vgvikalpa) as a danger to accomplishing ultimate
reality. Thus, out of sixteen Mahyna Scriptures focused on the ultimate realitys
inexpressibility (Lugli, 2010: 139-140), nine of them include references to dhras (Pagel,
2007b: 163-164, n. 28 and n. 31).

176

Another mantric language related to the abari and the Dravidian is the Paic, designated
as bhtabh (the language of bhtas or ghosts), spoken by deities such as yakas, rkasas
and ngas, see Konow, 1910: 95-100, 118; Grierson, 1912: 67-73; Master, 1943: 39-42. On the
mastery of non-human languages as one of the Buddhas conversion devices, see section
1.2.1.3., and as a Bodhisattvas attribute, see Mps: 541, and Pagel, 2007a: 68. On the Dravidian
mantras/dhrans, see section 1.1.2.1., n. 14, and Appendix C.

74

enunciation in its original language, hence, it is also related to its untranslatability


(Padoux, 1987: 120; Copp, 2005: 180-183).177
Appendix BB-2: Syllabic Dhra
Dhra
ras
s
By syllabic dhra a list of syllables is understood each of which is linked to a
particular statement or word that embodies a key aspect of Buddhist doctrine. In most
cases, the syllabaries connect the syllables phonetically to headwords, and the
syllables constitute, save rare cases, the first syllable of the corresponding headword.
There are syllabic dhras issued from a particular arrangement of syllables
following Buddhist topics, and there is another type in which the standard Sanskrit
syllabary (varapha) is used to convey a set of Buddhist doctrinal terms (Pagel,
2007a: 18-38). In either of both cases and as it was said before, the goals for all
syllabic dhras are identical: they serve as means to memorize Dharma topics,
describe a map to the Buddhist path, and are contemplative methods conducive to
insight.178
Undoubtedly, the most influential syllabic dhra is that named arapacana,
which according to one of its earliest and most widespread Mahyna versions,
includes forty three syllables, conceived as doors (mukhas) to attain an insight to key
Buddhist teachings.179 Some authors, however, have insisted in that the primary
function of the arapacana syllabary is an aid to memorisation (Pagel, 2007a: 24, n.
25), and that the sonic syllables and their graphic signs by themselves are more
important to allow easy memorisation than the concepts they designate, because
those concepts change according to different versions (Davidson, 2009: 124-125).
Nevertheless, without questioning the relative validity of those views, an impartial
observation of the arapacana syllabary itself along with its Scriptural context,
demonstrates that the arapacana syllabary, besides being used as a mnemonic device,
is above all a means of spiritual realization.
Just a preliminary reading of their contents, will show that all the arapacana
syllabarys headwords point to experiencing the nonapprehension (Skt.
anupalabdhit) of an inherent existence in any dharma, whether conditioned or
unconditioned, which is a pivotal tenet of the Prajpramit-stras (PWE-S.IX.205-207;
Mps: 80, 101), and as their commentaries repeat, such experience is equated to
grasping the true characteristic (Skt. bhtalakaa) of all dharmas, i.e., their lack of
any characteristic (Mpp.III: XLII). The soteriological function of the arapacana
syllabary is demonstrated again by the akarapravea-dhra, revolving around the

177

Northern, Central Asian, and East Asian Buddhisms made particular efforts to transliterate
as faithfully as possible the dhrans Indic original sounds. For instance, Tibetans devised a
specific set of letters to reproduce exactly Sanskrit syllables (TED: xviii-xxi), Sogdians devised
special diacritical marks to transliterate dhrans (La Valle Poussin/Gauthiot, 1912: 634-635),
and Chinese and Japanese focused on the Indic siddham script to reproduce mantras/dhras
(Bonji: 142-143; Gulik, 1956: 45-138).
178

See sections 1.2.1.2., and Appendices C, and D section (b).

179

See Chart 2 below. For a detailed study of the arapacana syllabary and its variants, see
Pagel, 2007a: 18-38; for its earlier versions, see Brough, 1977, Mukherjee, 1999, and Salomon,
1990 and 1993.

75

contemplation of their syllables.180 From the first instant in which the Bodhisattva
listens to the syllable A, she/he penetrates immediately the fact that all dharmas are
unproduced from the very beginning, and the same process is repeated with the rest
of the syllables, and as she/he is listening to them, penetrates even more into the
true characteristic (bhtalakaa) of all dharmas (Mpp.IV: 1866-1868).181
In the same vein, another feature to be emphasized here is the circularity of
the arapacana syllabary, because it begins with all dharmas are unproduced from the
very beginning (No. 1), and ends with in their ultimate and final station dharmas
neither decease nor are they reborn (No. 43), thus, pointing to the unconditioned
nature of all dharmas and encouraging the practitioner to its realization. This
arapacana syllabarys circularity became the basis of the Vajrayna method on the
revolving dhra, consisting of a meditation on the regular and reverse order on the
meanings of the individual syllables constituting the arapacana dhran or other
mantras arranged in a wheel of letters, where both the final [letter] and the initial
[letter] come to the same thing, i.e., if the cause is inapprehensible, then it is from
the very beginning unborn [No. 1]; if it is from the very beginning unborn, then it
neither increases nor decreases [No. 43] then it is the Dharma body of the
Tathgata (Un: 109, 114-117, n. 14).
Therefore, the arapacana syllabary went beyond a Mahyna sphere to be
assimilated by the Vajrayna and reinterpreted as the mantras method, and as the
gates of the samdhis to the experience of reality (Vai-ta.II.II.84-86), and for Kkai, the
arapacana syllabary is the king of mantras which eradicates suffering and bestows
happiness (Shji: 92). The arapacana syllabary was even personified as the
Bodhisattva Arapacana Majur (Bhattacharyya, 1958: 120-121; DBI.2: 379-380),
becoming a pivotal figure in numerous means of accomplishment (Skt. sdhanas) and
influential ritual texts as the Majurnmasagti (Mns: 22.27).182 Other syllabic
dhras experienced a similar esoterization process, appearing integrated along
formulaic dhras within the same Scripture. In the D fj tulun jng (592-594 CE),
the formulaic dhras serve as removers of negative influences and the syllabic
dhra A-KA-NA induces the production of teachings (Overbey, 2010: 112), and in the
Anantamukha-nirhra-dhra-stra, both formulaic and syllabic dhras are
intended for attaining Buddhahood (Anir: 65-87, 113-144).183

180

See section 2.1.3.1.

181

One of the arapacana practices twenty advantages is that of the cognition of the
extinction of the outflows (Mps: 162).

182

The Tibetan Buddhist canon contains several sdhanas focusing on the arapacana
syllabary (TP: 38, 2117).

183

76

On this Dhra-stras practice, see section 3.3.3.

No.
1

Syllable
A

Headword(s)
dyanutpannatvd

2
3
4

RA
PA
CA

rajas
paramrtha
cyavana

5
6

NA
LA

nman
loka/lat

DA

dnta-damatha

8
9
10

BA
A
SHA

bandhana
amara
shaga

11

VA

vkpatha-ghosha

12
13
14
15
16

TA
YA
SHA
KA
SA

tathat
yathvad
shambha
kraka
samat

17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35

MA
GA
STHA
JA
VA
DHA
A
KHA
KA
STA
J
RTA
HA
BHA
CHA
SMA
HVA
TSA
GHA

mamakra
gamana
sthna
jti
vsa
dharmadhtu
amatha
kha
kaya
stabdha
jna
mrtya
hetu
bhaga
chedana
smarana
hvna
utsha
ghana

36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43

HA
A
PHA
SKA
YSA
CA
A
HA

vihpana
raa
phala
skandha
ysara = jar
carana
alo
niha

Insight
All dharmas (Alldh./alldh.) are unproduced from the very
beginning (dyanutpannatvd).
Alldh. are without dirt (rajas).
Alldh. have been expounded in the ultimate sense (paramrtha).
The decease (cyavana) or rebirth of any dh. cannot be
apprehended, because alldh. do not decease, nor are they reborn.
The names (nman) of alldh. have vanished.
Alldh. have transcended the world (loka); the causes and conditions
of the creeping plant (lat) of craving have been utterly destroyed.
Tamed (dnta) and taming (dnta-damatha) have been
circumscribed.
The bonds (bandhana) have departed from alldh.
The tumult (amara) of alldh. has vanished.
No attachment (shaga) in any dharma is apprehended; they are
neither attached nor bound.
The sound of the paths of speech (vkpatha-ghosha) has been quite
cut off.
Alldh. do not depart from Suchness (tathat).
The nonapprehension of any fact (yathvad).
The nonap. of a support (shambha).
The nonap. of an agent (kraka).
The nonap. of sameness (samat); alldh. never stray away from
sameness.
The nonap. of mine-making (mamakra).
The nonap. of motion (gamana).
The nonap. of subsistence (sthna).
The nonap. of birth (jti).
The nonap. of a principle of life (vsa).
The nonap. of the Realm of Dharma (dharmadhtu).
The nonap. of calming-down (amatha).
The nonap. of the sameness of space (kha).
The nonap. of the extinction (kaya).
Each dh. is fixed (stabdha) in its place, and never leaves it.
The cognition (jna) cannot be apprehended.
The mortality (mrtya) cannot be apprehended.
A root-cause (hetu) cannot be apprehended.
A breaking-up (bhaga) cannot be apprehended.
A cutting-off (chedana) cannot be apprehended.
A remembrance (smarana) cannot be apprehended.
The true appellations (hvna) cannot be apprehended.
The will-power (utsha) cannot be apprehended.
Things and persons are not apprehended each as one solid mass
(ghana).
The nonap. of fabricated appearances (vihpana).
The strife (raa) has departed.
No fruit (phala) is apprehended.
No aggregates (skandhas) are apprehended.
No decay (ysara = jar) is apprehended.
The nonapprehension of good conduct (carana).
The nonapprehension of the other shore (alo).
The nonapprehension of unsteadiness. In their ultimate and final
(niha) station dharmas neither decease nor are they reborn.

Chart 2: The Arapacana Syllabary (based on Mps: 160-162, and Conze, 1955: 120-122).

77

Appendix C
Formulaic and Syllabic Dhra
Dhra
ras
s in Mainstream Buddhist Schools
Besides the Mahstras mantras already referred to,184 more pivotal mantras are
found within other Sarvstivda and Mlasarvstivda texts. It should be emphasized
here that the Upasena-stra, included within the Sayuktgama of both schools, where
has the Buddha empowering a mantra against snakebites with his formulation of
truth: given that the Buddha has killed the three poisons of greed, hatred, and
delusion, the snake poison, too, is killed (Schmithausen, 1997: 11-13). There is also a
mantra for healing ocular diseases in a second century CE Sarvstivdas Avadna
collection (Zabao: 155-157) (Nakamura, 1980: 139, 107, n. 43), and the six syllables
mantra (aakari-vidy) promulgated by the Buddha in the second or third century CE
Sarvstivdas rdlakarvadna (Divy: 613-614). In this text the incorporation of the
mantric lore belonging to the holders of knowledge (Skt. vidydhara) and to the
followers of the non-Vedic goddess Matag into Buddhism is dramatized, through the
monastic ordination of Prakti (nature), daughter of the mahvidydhar Matag,
that, despite falling in love with nanda, finally she became a nun through the
Buddhas mantric power.185
Within the same line of the Buddhist incorporation of local cults, the
conversion to Buddhism of the Four Great Kings through a dhra formula is
significant. According to the second century CE Sarvstivdas Abhidharmamahvibh-stra (Nakamura, 1980: 107), the Buddhas gift for languages allowed him
to teach the Dharma in Sanskrit to Dhtarra and Virhaka, in a barbarian
language (mleccha) to Vairavaa, and in Dravidian (drvia or drmi) to Virpaka,
with the dhra ne mne dapphe daapphe, understood as a summary of the Four
Ennobling Truths (Bernhard, 1967: 163-164; Lamotte, 1958: 608-609).186 The
Abhidharma-mahvibh-stra also includes a series of mantras (called vidys) for
therapeutical and apotropaic goals (McBride, II, 2005: 108-109, n. 79). Likewise, the
Mlasarvstivda Vinaya contains several protective mantras, specially, a mantra
against snakebites that will reappear in an expanded version within the influential
Mah-myr-vidyrj-stra (Skilling, 1992: 156-157; Pathak, 1989: 32-36).
The Dharmaguptaka school (third century BCE) was founded by Dharmagupta,
who allegedly received teachings and mantras from Maudgalyyana (Demiville, 1932:
61). In the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya is mentioned for the first time the syllables a-ra-paca-na as an example of recitation for the set of syllables (akara) with mnemonic and
soteriological goals, which indicates the earliest use of a syllabic dhra before the
184

See section 1.2.1.2.

185

For an earlier account of the rdlakarvadna, see Mta: 166-170. A Chinese version of
this text (T 1300) translated in 230 CE, includes rituals and six dhrans and can be considered
one of the earliest Dhra-stras (Chou, 1945: 242). On the goddess Matag, see section
1.1.2.1., on the vidydharas, see section 1.2.2.2., n. 53.

186

Such dhra appears in My: 438-439, and is functionally akin to the Pli rosary chant du,
sa, ni, ma, composed by the two first letters of dukkha, samudaya, nirodha, magga (Harvey,
1993: 83, n. 7). On the mantras and dhras in Dravidian, see section 1.1.2.1. n. 14, and
Appendix B-1.

78

Mahyna (Lvi, 1915b: 440, n. 1), and the same Vinaya also includes protective and
therapeutical mantras (Davidson, 2009: 113-116). The Bajaur Collection, of a likely
Dharmaguptaka origin (c. late first century CE), includes a fragment of the arapacana
syllabary and a mantra (lit. a vidy) offered by the Nga king Manasvin to the Buddha
as antidote against the antaryas (Strauch, 2008: 18, 37-47).187
Despite its absence in the Theravda Nikyas, mantras (P mantas) and dhras
found an extra-canonical place within South and Southeast Asian Theravda. They
demonstrate a persistent impact left by a Mahyna/Vajrayna established in Sri
Lanka from the third to the ninth century CE (Mudiyanse, 1967: 1-9; Chandra, 2000:
111), in the ancient Angkor empire from the tenth to the fifteenth century CE (Harris,
2005: 14-25), and in Burma from the eleventh to the nineteenth century CE (Bizot,
1976: 36-37).
The Sri Lankan paritta lore uses texts such as the Sval-paritta, Gini-paritta,
Abhisambhidhna-paritta, Jalanandana-paritta, and Arayaka-paritta containing
Mahyna dhra formulas and esoteric diagrams (Skt. yantras), and the Randeegth is recited including Tantric bja-mantras, and the Sarvrakaka-mantra and yantra
invoking eight Mahyna Bodhisattvas as protective devices, as well. Some canonical
parittas are recited a fixed number of times (7, 21, 1,000, and 100,000 times), as it is
prescribed in the aiva and Vajrayna mantra methods. Moreover, there is a monastic
mantra masters lineage (mantrcryas), the Koadeniya Paramparva, focused on
exorcism services (Chandawimala, 2007: 215-226). Likewise, Sri Lankan traditional
medicine preserves therapeutic mantras from a Vajrayna origin (Liyanaratne, 2001:
393-395).
The Southeast Asian Theravda Mah Nikya preserved until the twentieth
century CE the recitation of the Salkarivij-sutta, Indasva, Dhraa-paritta, Displaparitta, dhraa-paritta, Mahvira-paritta, Dibbamanta-Dhraiya-paritta, and
Mahdibba-manta containing Mahyna dhra formulas, along with other dhra
formulas composed by themselves.188 And the contemporary Burmese Buddhist
esoteric movement Weikza (from the P vijj, Skt. vidy), integrated by monastics and
laypeople alike, is based on a mantric tradition related to Vedic and Tantric lores
called gandhr-vijj.189
Besides the mantra practice followed by those schools, other mainstream
Buddhist schools assimilated a growing mantric lore that ended up getting a canonical
status. Mahsghikas (Beal, 1884: ii, 164-165), Siddhrthikas (Walser, 2005: 53),
Dharmaguptakas (Demiville, 1932: 60-61), Aparaailas, and Prvaailas (Tri.57-58),
elaborated and transmitted a new Scriptural basket (Skt. piaka), called Vidydharapiaka for those schools, or called with its synonym of Dhra-piaka by the
187

The name arapacana is drawn from the first five syllabes a-ra-pa-ca-na of a complete
syllabary containing forty two or forty three syllables, its early language is the Gndhr
(North West India) and was created c. first or second century CE (Salomon, 1990: 256, 259; Lvi,
1937: 362). On the arapacana syllabary, see Appendices B-2 Chart 2, and D section (b).
188

See Filliozat, 2004: 499-501, 506-507, 510, 512-513; Jaini, 2001b: 507-513; Bizot, 1976: 27, 85,
n. 1.; Castro Snchez, 2010: 6-8, Charts 1-3.
189

See Pranke, 1995: 350; Ferguson/Mendelson, 1981: 68-71; Mendelson, 1961: 564, n. 2. The
gandhr-vijj (Skt. gandhr-vidy) is regarded as bestowing powers of invisibility, a bodys
multiplicity, and flying (PED: 244; DN.11.5-7; Koa.VII.47c-d). On the vidy mantras, see section
2.1.2.2.

79

Mahsghikas, that, together with the traditional Tripiaka and a Bodhisattva-piaka,


established a primary doctrinal and institutional core from which would develop the
Mahyna and then the Vajrayna.190

190

Some Scriptures refer to the Dhra-piaka as a Mahyna esoteric canon (Ben: 43-45), and
to the Vidydhara-piaka as a denomination for the Vajrayna canon as a whole (Shes.VI: 73-74;
Chavannes, 1894: 101-104), or as a section within it (Dalton, 2010: 16, n. 33; Lalou, 1955: 71-72).
These data demonstrate that Indian Mahyna should be viewed as a primarily textual
phenomenon that arose and developed within the institutional context of mainstream
Buddhism (Drewes, 2006: 160).

80

Appendix D
Dhra
Dhra
ras
s within Mahyna
Mahyna Stras
tras
The complex process of the Buddhist assimilation of mantras initiated within
some Vinayas, the Mahstras, and other mainstream Buddhist Scriptures already
described,191 continued within Mahyna through several stages from which three of
the most relevant will be summarized here, taking into account that the dates
indicated are quite approximated and in a few cases, different dates of stages overlap.
(a).(a).- Dhra
Dhra
ras
s as Identical to Mahyna
Mahyna Stras
tras
The earliest references to the dhra term within Mahyna identify it with
some Stras, that is, the whole Stra is viewed as a dhra. The Upyakaualya-stra
(first century BCE) is also named as a Doctrinal system of the Bodhisattva collection
known as the Incantation of the Irreversible Wheels, the Diamond Word, the Nonarising of All Phenomena (Avaivartika-cakra-dhra-vajrapada-sarvadharmnutpdabodhisattva-pitaka-dharmaparyya), that only with its listening, allows Bodhisattvas to
attain conviction that phenomena are unarising (Upka.110, n. 130).192 Significant here
is the identification of dhra with its synonym term diamond word (vajrapada), both
understood as Dharma words whose sole listening prompts insight.193 Another early
Stra is self-defined as a dhra directed to those who uphold the True Dharma when
the last age arrives (Pratyu.25F-1).194
Besides these indirect references though, it can be said that the earliest
identification of dhra as mantra began with a previous identification of Stra as
vidy, this last term being a synonym of mantra. The Aashasrikprajpramit-stra
defines itself as a great lore (Skt. mah-vidy) bestowing five advantages even here
and now (Skt. dadhrmikas) (Aa.3.27-29; PWE-S.III.55), and likewise, the
Prajpramithdaya-stras mantra is a mah-vidy allayer of all suffering (Pph.VIII).
As will be seen, the protective and soteriological functions of mah-vidy and dhra
are equivalent, hence, both are included within the mantras semantic field.195
191

See sections 1.2.1.1. and 1.2.1.2., and Appendix C.

192

On anutpattikadharmaknti, see section 1.2.2.1. and n. 34. In Hinduism the complete


Bhagavadgt is ritually recited as a single long mantra (mlmantra) for spiritual welfare or
curing illness (Hanneder, 1998: 152).
193

On the relationship between dhra and vajrapada terms, see section 2.1.2.4.

194

Dhra-stras frequently refer to themselves as texts favourable for the last age, i.e., one
of an apocalyptic eschatology (Strickmann, 1990: 86-89; 2002: 104).
195

On its Vedic background, see section 1.1.1.1. Within the Prajpramit-stras context,
vidys range of meanings may include: knowledge, lore, sciences, secret lore, and
magical formula (MDPL: 354). There is continuity between the early mantras counteracting
the antaryas (see section 1.2.1.1.) and the five dadhrmikas bestowed by the
Aashasrikprajpramit-stra as a mah-vidy (Strauch, 2008: 41-42). On these
dadhrmikas, see section 2.2.1. On mah-vidy and dhra, see section 2.1.2.2.

81

From a different perspective, the expanded Prajpramit-stra versions (first


century CE, Conze, 2000: 10) conflate two meanings of the term dhra, i.e., as
identical to the whole Stra, and as the arapacana syllabary, called as dhra-doors
(dhra-mukhas), or simply named as dhras: I have taught this perfection of
wisdom as a dhra. When you bear in mind those dhras of the perfection of
wisdom [i.e., the arapacana syllabary], you bear all dharmas in mind (Mps: 489).
Here dhra can be understood simultaneously as the ultimate reality or goal, and as
method to attain such goal, and this twofold dhra nature would be developed by the
formulaic dhras.196
(b).(b).- Dhra
Dhra
ras
s as Syllabaries in Mahyna
Mahyna Stras
tras
The Chinese Buddhist canon keeps twenty six texts, most of them Scriptures,
composed between the third century CE to the eleventh century CE, where two types
of syllabaries appear, the arapacana (and its variants) in nineteen texts, and the
Sanskrit syllabary (varapha) in the remaining seven (HBG.VI.565-572). The pattern
followed by both syllabaries is identical: each syllable corresponds phonetically to the
first syllable (or a different one) of a set of selected key Buddhist terms, and their
memorizing/contemplation works in a quite similar way as the Abhidhammas
mtiks.197 The arapacana and varapha syllabaries were later assimilated by the
Vajrayna, the first one being understood as mantra teachings (Vai-s: 49-51), and the
second one as the alphabet let there be success (Skt. siddham mtk) viewed as a
sacred language used by the Buddhas to preach (Bonji: 143-147).198 Likewise, specific
syllables from both syllabaries were identified as bja-mantras (Gulik, 1956: 81-90), and
summaries or partial sets of the varapha syllabary became dhras/mantras
(HT.I.1.6; IMT.I.50/2).
(c).(c).- Appendage of Dhra
Dhra
ras
s as Mantras
Mantras in Mahyna
Mahyna Stras
tras
In the Druma-kinnara-rja-paripcch-stra appeared the earliest Buddhist
mantra in a Mahyna Stra with a reliable date (c. 170-190 CE). It is a mantra
promulgated by the Four Great Kings intended to protect the Sangha from hostile
influences and securing the Stras durability. Although the formula is named as
mantra-words (mantra-pada), its nature and formal structure is basically identical to
later dhra formulas, hence, it can be said that this same formula is the first case of a
Buddhist dhra understood as mantra and not as a syllabary (Harrison/Coblin, 1999:
149-174). This tendency continued into a few Scriptures, as the second century CE
Saddharmapuarka-stra, the fourth century CE Saddharmalakvatra-stra
(Nakamura, 1980: 186, 231) and others (Ratna: 35-36; Suvar: 56-58, 61, Sgol: 46-48, 51). It
had been argued that those dhras were appended to famous Stras for the sake of
propagation (Pagel, 2001: 45), but the evidence, at least in some cases, demonstrates
that they were appended mainly for the benefit and protection of the dharmabhakas
196

See sections 2.1.1. and 3.3.3.

197

See section 1.2.1.2. and Appendix B-2.

198

In a technical sense, siddham mtk or siddhamtk refers to a late sixth century CE script
which appeared in the Gupta empire of Northern India, and was used by the East Asian
Vajrayna for transcribing dhras/mantras (Salomon, 1998: 39-40; Shmo: 144).

82

(Pua.XXI.234-236; Lak.IX.106), and also as condensations of the whole Stra, i.e.,


the dhra recitation entailed the recitation of the whole Stra (Lak.IX.106). Overall,
in this stage the dhra concept gets two senses: it designates a Stras chapter
including mantras, and it is identified with the term mantra, as in the expression
dhra-mantra-words (dhra-mantra-pada).199 The tendency of such dhra
appendage, however, would last a short time, being changed into a new one in which
the dhra formulas would become the Stras keystones (Pagel, 2007a: 58, n. 49).

199

On the term dhra-mantra-pada, see section 2.1.2.1.

83

Appendix E
References
Primary Sources
Collections
-CBETA. Chinese Electronic Tripitaka Collection: Taisho Tripitaka Vols. 1-55 & 85, Shinsan
Zokuzokyo (Xuzangjing) Vols. 1-88, Version 2008, Taipei, Chinese Buddhist Electronic
Text Association (CBETA).
-The New Edition of All Mantras in Mahpiaka (ed. Tony K. Lin), 2001, 18 Vols., Taipei,
Mantra Publisher.
Single Works
-Abhidharmakoa-bhya. Vasubandhu.
L Abhidharmakoa de Vasubandhu (tr. L. de la Valle Poussin), 6 Vols., 1980, Bruxelles,
Institut Belge des Hautes tudes Chinoises.
-Amoghapa-hdaya-dhra.
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