10 September 2018

New Definition of "Mantra"

mantra is a means of expressing thoughts of devotion or prayer.
I've been revisiting my notes on mantra for my Heart Sutra book and made an interesting discovery.

The etymology of mantra has always puzzled me. The ancient grammarians derived it from a root √mantr, "mantra" in this view is a simple verbal noun with the suffix -a (Cf. Apte's dictionary definition which gives the Pāṇinian code mantr-aC).

 However, modern grammarians are almost unanimous in rejecting this. They consensus is that the root is √man which is usually said to mean "think". This gave rise to the idea that mantra combined the root with an instrumental suffix -tra to mean something like "a tool for thinking". The trouble with this is that no one ever used a mantra as a tool for thinking. If anything the opposite is true, mantras are tools for avoiding thoughts. The first mantras were verses from the Ṛgveda used as liturgy in rituals. Like the the Gāyatrī mantra, from the Ṛgveda (ṚV 3.57.10)
tat savitur vareṇyaṃ bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt 
We meditate on the lovely Glory of the god Savitṛ That he may stimulate our minds. (Roebuck's translation)
Note the word for meditate here is dhīmahi which is related to the word dhyāna (dhī + āna > dhyāna)

Trying to find a better explanation, I returned to a book that I have long valued for its insights into the Vedic religious imagination, William K Mahony's The Artful Universe (he's an academic and high-level haṭha yoga teacher). Mahony draws attention to an aspect of Sanskrit words from √man that I had previously overlooked, but which is confirmed by standard dictionaries. √man does mean "think", but more importantly the primary meaning is "the verbal expression of thought". The job of the ṛṣi or seer, was not simply to find meaning and significance in the mundane, but to give it verbal expression in order to make it accessible to everyone.

The Ṛgveda was an anthology of such verses, collated around 1500-1200 BCE, which are intended give meaning to life for Brahmins. And to some extent they still do, though more in theory than in practice.

 So words like mati do mean "thinking, thought, mind" etc, but more importantly mati means "prayer, devotion". A manman is a verbal expression of a mental image. A maniṣā is a verbal insight. So a mantra is not “tool for thinking”, but rather mantra is a means of expressing thoughts of devotion or prayer.

This is far more satisfying as a definition since this is how people actual use mantras, and it is still consistent with etymology and dictionaries. Note that this also explains also the most important beliefs of Brahmanism are referred to as śruti "something heard" even though those who transmit such beliefs are called ṛṣi "seer". Like all priests, the ṛṣi plays a mediating role between the seen and the unseen worlds that people believed in.

 One of the main ways the ṛṣi had their visions was to combine mediation with sleep deprivation brought on by the use of stimulants (probably ephedra). This is quite a dangerous practice, which can induce seizures and/or psychosis, and can be fatal if prolonged by more than a few days. So don't try it lightly or without supervision.

30 August 2016

Tibetan Transliteration of Sanskrit

Professor Dorje Wangchuk has produced a very useful introduction to the way that Tibetans have dealt with Sanskrit loan words. 
Tibetan Transliteration System  
"The purpose of this article is to make some preliminary remarks on the transliteration of Sanskrit texts into Tibetan scripts." 

31 October 2015

Mūlamadhyamaka-Kārika 17.6

tiṣṭhaty ā pākakālāc cet karma tan nityatām iyāt |
niruddhaṃ cen niruddhaṃ sat kiṃ phalaṃ janayiṣyati ||

If an action persists till the time of ripening, that would be permanence.
If it has ceased, then being ceased, what fruit will be produced?

This verse from Nāgārjuna's Mulamadhyamaka-Kārikā (MMK 17.6) is important because it shows that the standard versions of pratītyasamutpāda and karma are mutually contradictory. Pratītyasamutpāda says the conditioned cannot persist after the condition has ceased (asya nirodhād idam nirudhyate) while karma requires the conditioned arise long after the condition has ceased. This problem, which I call Action at a Temporal Distance, drives a good deal of innovation the Abhidharma period and after as Buddhists realise the problem exists and try to invent ways around it. For some descriptions of this problem and the proposed solutions, see my collection of essays on karma and rebirth.

28 October 2015

Sanskrit Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependent Arising) Formula

yaduta asmin satīdaṃ bhavaty
asyotpadād idam utpadyate |
yaduta asmin asatīdaṃ na bhavaty
asya nirodhād idaṃ nirudhyate ||

यदुतास्मिन्सतीदं भवत्यस्योत्पदादिदमुत्पद्यते ।
यदुतास्मिनसतीदं न भवत्यास्य निरोधादिदं निरुध्यते ॥

26 October 2015

Pratītyasamutpāda in Sanskrit

A photo posted by jayarava (@jayarava) on

17 October 2015



Seed syllable of the 
Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya (Heart Sutra)
combines dhiḥ and mma 
with short i as per modern 
Shingon interpretations

27 September 2015

The Heart Sūtra in Devanāgarī

       न          म          स्स        र्व          ज्ञा         य          ॥      
     सि         द्ध          म          स्रु          ॥          आ         र्या         व          लो       
कि         ते          श्व         रो         बो         धि         स          त्वो        ग          म्भी      
रं          प्र          ज्ञ          पा         र          मि         ता         च          र्यां         च         
र          मा         णो        व्य         व          लो        क          य          ति         स्म       
प          ञ्च         स्क        न्धां       स्तां       श्च         श्व         भा        व          शू         
न्या        न्प         श्य         ति         स्म        ।           इ          ह          शा        रि        
पु          त्र          रू          पं          शू          न्य         ता         शू          न्य         तै         
व          रू          पं          रू          पा         न्न          पृ          थ          क्          श         
न्य         ता         शू          न्य         ता         या         न          पृ          थ          ग्रू         
पं                                         मे                    वे                    ना         सं         
ज्ञ          सं          स्का       रो         वि         ज्ञ          नं          ।           इ          ह         
शा        रि         पु          त्र          स          र्व          ध          र्माः        शू          न्य        
ता         ल          क्ष          णा        अ          नु          त्प         न्ना        अ          नि        
रु          द्धा        अ          म          ला        अ          वि         म          ला        अ         
नू          ना         अ          प          रि         पू          र्णाः       ।           त          स्मा      
च्छा       रि         पु          त्र          शू          न्य         ता         यां         न          रू         
पं          न          वे          द          ना         न          सं          ज्ञा         न          सं         
स्का       राः        न          वि         ज्ञा         नं          ।           न          च          क्षु         
र्न          श्रो        त्रं          न          घ्रा         नं          न          जि        ह्वा       न         
का         यो                             नः                              रू          पं                   
श          ब्दो        न          ग          न्दो        न          र          सो         न          स्प्र        
ष्ट          व्य         न          ध          र्मः         ।           न          च          क्षू          र्धा        
तु          र्या         व          न्न          मा         नो         वि         ज्ञ          न          धा        
तुः         ।           ना         वि         द्या        ना         वि         द्या        क्ष          यो        
या         व          न्न          ज          रा         म          र          णं          न          ज         
रा         म          र          ण          क्ष          यो         ।           न          दुः         खो       
न          स          मु          द          यो         न          नि         रो         धो         न         
मा         र्गः         ।           न          ज्ञ          नं       न          प्रा         प्तिः        ।          
त          स्मा       च्छा       रि         पु          तर        अ          प्रा         प्ति         त्वा       
द्बो         धि                   त्व         स्य         प्र          ज्ञा         पा         रा         मि        
ता         मा         श्रि        त्य         वि         ह          र          त्य         चि        त्ता       
व          र          णः         ।           चि        त्ता        व          र          ण          ना        
स्ति       त्वा        द          त्र          स्त्रो        वि         प          र्या         सा         ति        
क्रा         न्तो        नि         र्वा         ण          प          र्य          व          सा         नं      
।           त्र्य         ध्व         व्य         च          स्थि       ताः        स          र्व          बु         
द्धाः       प्र          ज्ञ          पा         र          मि         ता         मा         श्रि        त्य        
अ          नु          त्त          रां         स          म्य         क्स        म्बो       धि         म         
भि        स          म्बु         द्धाः       ।           त          स्मा       ज्          ज्ञ          त         
व्यं      प्र          ज्ञा         पा         र          मि         ता         म          हा         वि        
द्या                  नु          त्त                    वि         द्या                                      
स          म          वि         द्या        स          र्व          दुः         ख          प्र          श         
म          नः         स          म्य         क्त्वा      मि         थ्या       त्व         त्          ।          
प्र          ज्ञ          पा         र          मि         ता         या         मु          क्तो        धा        
र          णी        त          द्य         था         ।           ग          ते          ग          ते         
पा         र          ग          ते          पा         र          सं          ग          ते          बो        
धि         स्वा       हा         ॥          प्र          ज्ञ          पा         र          मि         ता        

हृ          द          यं          स          मा         प्तं       ॥          ]         ॥

[my modified text]

26 September 2015

More page updates

oṃ namo mahāguru vairocana vajra

A Sanskrit translation of the hōgō mantra of Kūkai. Also updated recently VairocanaAkṣobhya, Ratnasambhava, AmitābhaAcala Vidyārāja - Fudō Myōō (不動明王).

25 September 2015

Article on Dhāraṇī

Copp, Paul. (2008) Notes on the term “Dhāraṇī” in medieval Chinese Buddhist thought.  Bulletin of SOAS, 71, 3 , 493–508. https://www.academia.edu/463410/Notes_on_the_term_Dh%C4%81ra%E1%B9%87%C4%AB_in_medieval_Chinese_Buddhist_thought

"Dhāraṇī", with its many cognates in Chinese and other languages, is one of the most complex terms in Buddhism. Particular shadings of the tradition’s notions of memory, meaning, and meditation, as well as specific kinds of incantations and mnemonic devices, all fall within what can seem a rather bewildering semantic range. However, the logic of the term is consistent over a wide range of sources, though Western treatments have often been misleading. It is usually claimed that the basic practical significance of "dhāraṇī" is either memory orientation. Yet Chinese sources make clear that each of these understandings overly privileges a narrow band of the term’s usage. Understanding that the basic practical sense of "dhāraṇī" was "grasp", not memory or spells, illuminates connections within a range of sources, from doctrinal treatments to injunctions to "hold" dhāraṇī-incantations in mind and, indeed, on the body encountered in texts of various kinds.

24 September 2015

akaro mantra

oṃ akāro mukhaṃ sarvadharmāṇāṃ ādyanutpannatvāt āḥ hūṃ phaṭ svāhā

This mantra has a fascinating history that ties into the Arapacana alphabet. Without the magic bits it says akāro mukhaṃ sarvadharmāṇāṃ ādyanutpannatvāt.

The letter "a" (akāro) is an opening (mukhaṃ) because of the originate state of non-arising (ādyanutpannatvāt) of all dharmas (sarvadharmāṇāṃ).

In this case the letter "a" (a-kāra) reminds us of the word anutpanna 'unarisen' (an-ut-panna). And the word itself is the focus for a reflection on the nature of dharmas from a Prajñāpāramitā point of view. Because dharmas are the objects of the manas (mind sense) they are neither existent (astitā) nor non-existent (nāstitā). They arise and pass away. In denying that anything arises when we experience something, the Prajñāpāramitā is following the early Mainstream Buddhist idea that dharmas lack substance (anātman). Nothing substantial arises when we have an experience. There is an experience, but nothing real arises in the process.

The Prajñāpāramitā was written in an environment in which dharmas where considered to be really existent things (dravya). To counter this and bring the focus back to experience they used a negative rhetoric which denied the arising of dharmas entirely. In this they were also influenced by the experience of powerful meditative experiences variously called śūnyatā-vimokṣa or nirodhasamāpatti in which no dharmas arise.

The alphabet provides a whole series of words to reflect on, e.g. 44 in the Larger Prajñāpāramitā text. Having reflected on each in turn, one then reflects how they all point to the same understanding.

Later texts, particularly the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha, reduced this practice to just a reflection on the letter "a" and the word anutpanna. The phrase becomes a mantra in the Hevajra Tantra.