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1. Buddha-Crown Superb Victory Dhāraṇī (佛頂尊勝陀羅尼)
2. Great Cundī Dhāraṇī (准提神咒)
3. Whole-Body Relic Treasure Chest Seal Dhāraṇī (全身舍利寶篋印陀羅尼)
4. Dhāraṇī of Infinite-Life Resolute Radiance King Tathāgata (聖無量壽決定光明王如來陀羅尼)
5. Dhāraṇī for Rebirth in the Pure Land (往生咒)
6. Root Dhāraṇī of Infinite Life Tathāgata (無量壽如來根本陀羅尼)
7. Mantra of Medicine Master Tathāgata (藥師灌頂真言)
8. Heart Mantra of the White Umbrella Dhāraṇī (楞嚴咒心)
9. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s Mantra (普賢菩薩所説咒)
10. Great Compassion-Mind Dhāraṇī (大悲咒)
11. Prajñā-Pāramitā Mantra (般若波羅蜜多咒)
At that time the great Brahma-king rose from his seat and arranged his attire. Joining his palms respectfully, he said to Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, “Very good! Great One, I have attended innumerable assemblies of the Buddha and have heard various kinds of Dharmas and various kinds of dhāraṇīs. Never have I heard such wonderful phrases as in this Hindrance-Free Great Compassion-Mind Dhāraṇī. Great One, please tell us the features and characteristics of this dhāraṇī. This large assembly and I would be delighted to hear them.”
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva said to the Brahma-king, “For the convenience and benefit of all sentient beings, you ask me this question. Now hearken well! I will briefly tell you all a few of them.”
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva said, “They are the great loving-kind, compassionate mind, the equality mind, the asaṁskṛta mind, the no-attachment mind, the emptiness-seeing mind, the reverent mind, the humble mind, the unflustered mind, the not-taking-wrong-views mind, and the unsurpassed bodhi mind. You should know that such minds are the features of this dhāraṇī. Accordingly you should cultivate yourselves.”
The features of the Great Compassion-Mind Dhāraṇī are true for all the mantras pronounced by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. One would be wise to cultivate these features whether one recites a mantra, studies a sūtra, or carries on one’s daily life.
Those who have contact with Tibetan Tantrism may have some concern about receiving “transmission” of a mantra from a “highly realized” lama, vested with the authority of a certain lineage. This has never been a problem in the Mahāyāna tradition. First, the Buddha has always instructed us to do our best to disseminate His teachings, including the mantras. Second, the aspiration to recite a mantra arises from one’s own Buddha mind, one’s root lama. Can one find a lama higher than the Buddha or one’s own Buddha mind? Given the mantra texts, one can feel authorized to enjoy mantra recitation with a peaceful and grateful mind, in addition to those minds taught by Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva.
A mantra has boundless meanings if the meanings of the words are not known. However, some of the mantra words are well known to Buddhist students, and this knowledge by no means diminishes the power of the mantra. To look up the meaning of a mantra word, you can use the Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary. Some mantra words are compound words, each formed with two or more words according to the Sanskrit rule of pronunciation. The component words of each compound word are given below each mantra.
Dhāraṇī, often in the form of a long mantra, means total retention, the power to unite all dharmas and hold all meanings. Mantras 2, 4, 5, and 7 are included the ten short mantras that Chinese Buddhists recite in their morning recitation practice.
Mantras 1–4 are dhāraṇīs in one-to-one correspondence with those in Sūtras 1–4, in which the Buddha has explained in detail their use and power.
Mantras 5 and 6 are the mantras for rebirth in Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land. The Chinese version of Mantra 5 is in text 368 (T12n0368, 0351c8–12), which was translated into Chinese by Guṇabhadra (求那跋陀羅, 394–468) from central India. In group practice, Chinese Buddhists usually recite this mantra three times immediately after their recitation of the Heart Sūtra or the Amitābha Sūtra. Not well known to them is Mantra 6, the longer of these two rebirth mantras. The Chinese version of this mantra is in text 930 (T19n0930, 0071b5–18), which was translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra (不空金剛, 705–774) from the present-day Sri Lanka.
Mantra 7 is based on the Sūtra of the Original Vows of Seven Medicine Buddhas, in text 451 (T14n0451, 0414b29–c3). This mantra is imparted by the seventh Medicine Buddha called Vaiḍūrya Light King Tathāgata, after He has pronounced His twelve great vows. The popular Tibetan version differs in its last phrase, which is given below for comparison.
tad-yathā oṁ bhaiṣajye bhaiṣajye mahā-bhaiṣajye rāja samudgate svāhā ||
Tibetans and Chinese have been reciting their respective versions of this mantra for centuries. Their testimonies provide evidence for the healing power of this mantra in both versions.
Mantra 8 is the heart mantra of the complete dhāraṇī in text 944A (T19n0944A, 0102c12–15). Another version is found in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra (T19n0945), which was translated into Chinese by Pramiti (般剌蜜帝, 7th–8th centuries) from central India. Although the full name of this dhāraṇī is Tathāgata-Crown White Umbrella Unsurpassed Subjugation Dhāraṇī, Chinese Buddhists just call it the Śūraṅgama Mantra because it is in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. In this sūtra the Buddha describes the inconceivable power of this dhāraṇī to annihilate hindrances, eradicate one’s afflictions, and facilitate one’s attainment of Buddhahood. Many Chinese Buddhists are able to recite from memory the complete dhāraṇī in their morning recitation practice. The good news is that its heart mantra, the last few phrases of the complete dhāraṇī, is just as powerful and efficacious as the full version. It is recommended that one recite it twenty-one times a day.
Mantra 9 is copied from chapter 26 of the 27-chapter version of the Lotus Sūtra posted on the website of the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon. Its corresponding Chinese version is in the 28-chapter Lotus Sūtra (T09n0262, 0061b19–27), fascicle 7, chapter 28. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva pledges to the Buddha that he will safeguard the Lotus Sūtra, and protect and comfort those who recite and uphold this sūtra. Those who have heard his mantra will know the awesome spiritual power of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva and be able to carry out his great actions as well.
Mantra 10 is copied from Answers.com, and differs from the popular Chinese version in the Sūtra of the Vast, Perfect, Hindrance-Free Great Compassion-Mind Dhāraṇī of the Thousand-Hand Thousand-Eye Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva (T20n1060, 0107b25–c25). Well known for its healing power, this Great Compassion Mantra is most popular among Chinese Buddhists, as Guanyin (Avalokiteśvara) is their favorite Bodhisattva.
Different Chinese versions of this mantra are in texts 1061–64, 1111, 1113A, and 1113B. Texts 1061 and 1113B each include a Siddham version of this mantra. However, these texts are too corrupt to transliterate into Sanskrit. There exists an English version of this mantra, phonetically translated from the version in text 1060. As intended, it sounds like Chinese.
In this sūtra Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva teaches us to make a vow to attain the ultimate enlightenment and rescue other sentient beings with great compassion. One should chant his name and Amitābha Buddha’s name, then recite this mantra. Upon completion of only five repetitions of this mantra, one’s grave sins which would entail 100,000 koṭi kalpas of birth and death will all be expunged. If one recites this spiritual mantra as one’s regular practice, upon one’s death, all Buddhas will come from the ten directions to extend their helping hands, and one will be reborn in a Buddha Land according to one’s wish. Recitation of this mantra will be the distant cause for one’s ultimate attainment of bodhi. On the worldly plane, those who recite this mantra will not die an evil death, and they will live a good life with fifteen benefits. Not only can they ward off evil forces by reciting this mantra, but Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva will dispatch guards to protect them from such forces.
Mantra 11 is the Prajñā-Pāramitā Mantra included in any version of the Heart Sūtra. The word prajñā means higher wisdom. The word pāramitā means gone across to that shore of bodhi (enlightenment), opposite this shore of birth and death. This mantra affirms the crossing—from “gate gate” (gone gone) to “pāragate” (gone across to the opposite shore), then to “pāra-saṁgate” (completely gone across to the opposite shore)—and ends with “bodhi svāhā” (enlightenment hail). This crossing is achieved through unfoldment of one’s higher wisdom in the true reality of all dharmas.
*Corrections of typographical or grammatical errors in the source texts of these mantras are colored red.