18 October 2010

Rigpa Mantras

I'm a fan of the Rigpa Wiki website. I've just found that they have quite a few mantras, with some of them written out in dbu-can script. Overall I find it a handy reference for Tibetan iconography and have used it recently for the proper Tibetan spelling of names for Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

16 October 2010


From my book on Buddhist names:

śraddhā (f.)
m. (in compounds only) śraddha. (Pāli saddhā) “faith, trust, confidence, loyalty” < śrad + dhā ‘to put or place’. Sanskrit śrad is believed to be from the PIE root *√kerd > Latin cred, and so probably allied to Latin credo (cred + do) and English creed, though śrad does not survive as an independent word, except perhaps in the form √hṛd, e.g. hṛdaya 'heart'. The literal meaning, then, is ‘to put one’s heart on’.
I was thinking about how to explain the meaning in Sanskrit:

The text reads: śraddha tatra hṛdaya mama dadhāmi. Faith: there I place my heart. Or perhaps it should be where yatra.

10 October 2010

Book Progress

Visible Mantra: Visualising and Writing Buddhist Mantras (the book of this website) is making progress. I have given it to a proof reader (for the English parts). I've mentioned to my friend who can read Sanskrit in various scripts, as well as Tibetan and Chinese that I'm hoping he'll proof read the mantras for me. And finally I've commissioned an artist friend, who has often done work which incorporated syllables and mantras, to design the cover.

I have some difficult decisions regarding copyright material. I use quotes on the website, and though I'm always careful to cite my sources and link to them, this is not sufficient for a book I intend to sell. I will either need to pay for the use of copyright material, and I'm uncertain of the cost; or I will have to find a way of getting that information across that is not an obvious breach of the law (mainly to ensue that I'm not sued!).

Work always progresses more slowly than I imagine it might, but I want to have the book definitely finished for the Triratna Buddhist Order Convention in August, 2011. I plan to have a book stall at the convention with three books for sale.

My other publishing project - Nāmapada: a guide to names in the Triratna Buddhist Order - is going through another fiddly proofing/editing cycle, but should be finished by the end of October.

06 October 2010

Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra

My article the Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra has been published in the Western Buddhist Review, Vol.5. This article draws together some of the ideas which can be found on the Visible Mantra Vajrasattva page, but goes further to consider why the received version in the Tibetan tradition is different from the Sanskrit version in the Triratna Community Pūja Book, and to consider issues of authority in Buddhism.

My Teacher Sangharakshita received the mantra from Dudjom Rinpoche and part of the reason for writing the article was a brief dialogue we had about the version of the mantra to chant. Sangharakshita was very keen that we pronounce the mantra as he received it.

The Sanskrit version was an intriguing reconstruction created by Dr Andrew Skilton in 1990 (who was at the time a member of the Order). From a mantra which seemed like the usual collect of mantra words, arranged with no regard for grammar he managed to find a series of well-formed Sanskrit sentences. His main procedure was to place word breaks differently.

Far too late to affect the article I discovered the mantra in the Sarvatathāgata-Tattvasaṃgraha and with my friend Maitiu O'Ceileachair established that it was the earliest version of the mantra in the Chinese Canon, which makes it likely to be the earliest version full stop. We compared the Chinese versions, with two Tibetan, and two Sanskrit manuscripts, and realised that Skilton's reconstructed version was largely accurate. So I have identified a problem of authority. Clearly for many Buddhists it is more important to recite a mantra as it was given by a teacher; while for others it is important to recite it as it originally appears in the texts. A third group are concerned with having accurate Sanskrit above other conditions, and are happy to correct both teachers and texts where obvious errors exist. The Hundred Syllable Mantra offers scope for all three groups.

In addition I make some observations about the types of changes that can be observed in the Tibetan. I was somewhat surprised to realise that the most plausible explanation was that at some point a Tibetan misread a Sanskrit manuscript, as opposed to mishearing, or simply mispronouncing the mantra. This point is related to how Sanskrit is written and in particular how sandhi affects word breaks. I recognised the mistakes as one's that I often make as a neophyte Sanskritist.

I avoid coming to any firm conclusion regards authority - rather than trying to prescribe, I am trying to describe the present situation and set out the arguments for both sides. I do have an opinion, but I wanted mainly to make clear what the issues are as a way to stimulate discussion within the Triratna Order.

04 October 2010


Originally uploaded by jayarava
The anusvāra or 'after-sound' is ordinarily added to an Indic syllable to indicate the vowel is nasalised. In Roman script it is written ṃ or ṁ (either is correct). The sound is similar to the French nasal vowels so that oṃ ought to rhyme with bon.

This form, the candra-bindu (moon & drop), also called anunāsika 'from the nose', is added to Devanāgarī semivowels - ya ra la va - when they are nasalised: यँ रँ लँ वँ. However in practice only lṃ is found in Sanskrit.

Hindi employs the candra-bindu routinely unless the letter has a vowel marker which extends above the line: हँ हाँ हिं हीं हुँ हूँ हृँ हें हैं हों हौं. Hindi also has the candra on its own हॉ.

However the sign has esoteric connotations, and is routinely added to seed-syllables (bījākṣara). The anusvāra is called kūten (空点)*, the ‘void point’ in Japanese esoteric Buddhism (Chinese 空點). (空) here meaning śūnyatā or emptiness (i.e. the quality of lacking svabhāva or own-being). Ten (点) just means mark, point or dot.

Adding anusvāra to a syllable indicates that the syllable never quite ends, but fades into a nasal hum, and by analogy the concept conveyed by the syllable merges into emptiness.

* Adrian Snodgrass has the spelling kūden in his book on the Diamond and Matrix maṇḍalas. Thanks to Maitiu O'Ceileachair for pointing out an error with the Kanji!

03 October 2010


Watching Tashi's video (see below) I was inspired to create a seal design for my name. This uses the script known as phags-pha. The Bablestone website tells us that this is an old Uighur script. The Uighers are a Turkic speaking people who live in the steps north of China, especially in the Xinjiang province.

The geometric forms of the letters makes them suitable for inscriptions (carved in stone for instance) and seals (which are in fact often carved in soft stone.

Here is ja ya ra va surmounted by anunāsika or the more elaborate form of the anusvāra with chanda/bindu.

Short Film on Tashi Mannox

Tashi Mannox - Tibetan Calligrapher from Planetary Productions on Vimeo.

02 October 2010

Magic Tattoos

Today's Independent has a feature on Cambodian 'magic' tattoos:

The Girl with the Magic Tattoo.
Even with Angelina Jolie's approval, Cambodia's mystical body artists are struggling to survive.

These tattoos often feature texts in Pāli, written in the Cambodian script (aka Khmer) which itself ultimately derives from the Indian Brahmī script.

This is the one Buddhist culture I know of which has a tradition of tattoo. Although the story suggests that the art is dying out in Cambodia, it is alive and well in the rest of the world - as an internet search will reveal - partly because of celebrities getting this kind of tattoo.