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.

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