26 July 2011

Mystery Calligraphy

A friend sent me this image of some calligraphy obtained in Nepal asking what it says.

It looks like dbu me or one of the other headless scripts. I'd guess it says:

shes bya ཤེས་བྱ་
"object of knowledge"

c.f. the THL Dictionary definition.

When I searched for shes bya I found this book, and the image on the book jacket appears to confirm my suspicions: c.f. the first characters of this book jacket.

Am I correct?

20 July 2011

Article on Mantra

3quarksdaily has published an article on mantra. (thanks Bodhipakṣa from Wildmind for the tip):

The Hallucinogenic Meaning of Mantras.
by Hartosh Singh Bal

The article is a bit light on conclusions, but gives nods to the research of Steve Farmer and Michael Witzel on the Indus Valley script. It also quotes Frits Staal who has written a lot about mantra, though I would not endorse most of it.

What conclusions there are, are based on the idea that Soma was a hallucinogen. Though I do not think there is any consensus on what Soma was (it has since been lost and replaced by another plant) it seems to me that the most likely candidate is ephedra which has ephedrine as an active ingredient. Ephedrine is a stimulant rather than a hallucinogen. In his documentary "India" Michael Wood seeks out and takes Ephedra tea in a market in Peshawar and describes the effects on camera: a feeling of energy, heightened senses, and talkativeness.

17 July 2011

BBC Radio program on Sacred Sounds

The Power of Oṃ. BBC Radio 4 documentary on mantra. Might only be available in the UK.
"Reverend Richard Coles explores the world of spiritual sound and meditation and tries to understand what it is about certain sounds and chants which gives practitioners a sense of proximity to the Divine."

12 July 2011


evaṃ calligraphyFor a long time I've been intrigued by Tashi Mannox's calligraphy of the word evaṃ. Evaṃ is, of course, is the word that is supposed to start all genuine sūtras:
evaṃ mayā śrutaṃ
In fact many Pāli texts do not start this way, but even so it is distinctively associated with sūtras. The authors of the tantras also began their texts with this word, and developed a number of esoteric associations.

Earlier on this blog I did my own version of evaṃ in Siddhaṃ script.

Here is my take on the Wartu script bīja based on Tashi's calligraphy.


I'd quite like to hear from other Buddhist micro-publishers. I'd like to investigate possibilities of working together on marketing and distribution.

10 July 2011

Maṇi Mantra Wartu Script

mani mantra wartu by jayarava
mani mantra wartu, a photo by jayarava on Flickr.

This is the mantra of Avalokiteśvara.
** oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ ||

The script is called Wartu and is an adaptation of Lantsa - a headless form - from Tibet. I don't know this script, but have based this on some calligraphy by Tashi Mannox.

09 July 2011

mani mantra uchen

mani mantra uchen by jayarava
mani mantra uchen, a photo by jayarava on Flickr.

I recently did a weekend workshop on Tibetan calligraphy with Tashi Mannox. I would not say that I have progressed beyond the level of beginner, but after a couple of weeks of practice I think this is not too bad.

This is the mantra of Avalokiteśvara.
** oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ ||

The script is called dbu can, pronounced like 'uchen', and is from Tibet.

07 July 2011

Visible Mantra Book

So I finally reached the end, and I'm very happy to announce that the book is now for sale!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

As a publisher I'm delighted to be able to finally offer this book because it achieves the goals of the project in a way that the website cannot. It combines a higher quality of calligraphy, and the use of fonts for mantras to provide a great deal more consistency and generally higher quality. It brings together other material on mantra from my blog, and I think makes an attractive package.

As an author I am painfully aware of all of the inconsistencies, the imperfections and omissions that are left. But the project needed to have an end point, and with my publishers hat on I've said "this is it". It's time to let it go, and if necessary start collecting ideas and corrections for a second edition. I only hope that my readers will be forgiving and appreciate the spirit behind the endeavour.

This book has been an incredibly difficult project - many scripts, many languages, hundreds of images, 75,000 words of text, and I have done most of it myself - though with help from many people. To get to this point, even if there are still remaining imperfections feels like a milestone in my life! The idea came six years ago on my ordination retreat when there were a lot of questions about seed-syllables and mantras that I was answering as best I could. As I say - this is a book I wanted to read rather than write.

So here it is. I must say I'm extremely anxious at this point, but here goes... I hope you will find the book as enjoyable and informative as people tell me the website is. I think the book is a great improvement on the website, and this means I have a lot of work ahead bringing the website up to scratch!

I've thanked many people in the book, including many of you who will be reading this and who have contributed via the blog or Facebook, or other media (not least to correct my spelling which seems to be getting worse lately!). Thanks again. And thanks also to those people whose donations, past and present, small and large which pay for the website, and my calligraphy pens! I'd like to make special mention of my friend Maitiu O'Ceileachair whose contribution is felt throughout the book.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

03 July 2011


A friend wrote today to ask about the way to write the name of the goddess of good fortune Lakṣmī. This is traditionally done in Tibet as a bīja or single stack of letters (ignoring the a in la) in both dbu-can and Lantsa scripts. My version of this are on the left in three scripts.

An interesting thing about Lakṣmī is that she is not a Vedic goddess, i.e. doesn't appear in the Ṛgveda. She does appear - under the name Sirimā or Śrī - in the Pāli Canon (Rhys Davids Buddhist India, p.216-9). So she seems to have been a local goddess in North-East India that was adopted into both Buddhism and Hinduism. She puts in an appearance as Lakṣmī in the Golden Light Sūtra. Note that Wikipedia doesn't mention either her origins or her Buddhist associations. I have written on my other blog about how the Buddha describes village people as maṅgalika or superstitious, i.e. concerned with omens and luck (see: Gesundheit! Making Accommodations with Custom).

One also sees this written in Lantsa with a long ā and short i - i.e. लाक्ष्मि - this is common, though I think it is certainly an error. For example there is this image of the corrupt version with two hanzi: 壽 & 福 (Shòu & fú) literally 'life' and 'blessing'. More calligraphy of this version can be found on the East Wind Gallery site.

One sees the problem of mixed up vowel lengths a lot in Chinese and Japanese Siddhaṃ - for example the bīja dhīḥ is routinely written as dhiḥ (with a short i) in Japan. John Stevens says, in regard to other spelling errors that: "rightly or wrongly they have become part of the tradition." (Sacred Calligraphy, p.33). Personally I'm inclined to correct them as I say here and here.

For another (and much better) image of Lakṣmī's bīja written correctly see George Fisher's Indian Scripts website (the link is to a pdf, scroll down, Lakṣmī is the last bīja). The main website is www.lantsha-vartu.org.