Dhras and visions in early esoteric Buddhist sources in Chinese translation

Download Dhras and visions in early esoteric Buddhist sources in Chinese translation

Post on 25-Dec-2016




4 download


  • Bulletin of the School of Oriental andAfrican Studieshttp://journals.cambridge.org/BSO

    Additional services for Bulletin of the School ofOriental and African Studies:

    Email alerts: Click hereSubscriptions: Click hereCommercial reprints: Click hereTerms of use : Click here

    Dhras and visions in early esoteric Buddhistsources in Chinese translation

    Koichi Shinohara

    Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies / Volume 77 / Issue 01 / February 2014, pp85 - 103DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X13000931, Published online: 15 May 2014

    Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0041977X13000931

    How to cite this article:Koichi Shinohara (2014). Dhras and visions in early esoteric Buddhist sources inChinese translation . Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 77, pp85-103 doi:10.1017/S0041977X13000931

    Request Permissions : Click here

    Downloaded from http://journals.cambridge.org/BSO, IP address: on 28 May 2014

  • Dhrans and visions in early esotericBuddhist sources in Chinese translation

    Koichi ShinoharaYale Universitykoichi.shinohara@yale.edu

    AbstractWithin the wider esoteric Buddhist tradition, this paper examines visionsand soteriological goals in dhran practice by looking at the early instruc-tions that are preserved in multiple Chinese translations. A number ofdifferent but not mutually exclusive ritual scenarios are presented inthese materials. Here I will focus on two specific scenarios, namelydhran practices with and without visionary confirmation.Keywords: Dhran, Spell, Vision, Buddhas, Ritual, Translation

    The esoteric Buddhist tradition evolved out of a simple practice of recitingspells (or dhrans). Reciting spells focuses our attention on the sensorydomain of sound, yet later esoteric Buddhist rituals based on this practice pro-duced a rich visual culture of images and mandalas. This development musthave occurred as part of a larger process, reflecting and affecting otherchanges in the evolution of this ritual tradition. In this paper I focus on therole of visions as a distinctly visual phenomenon. Early accounts of dhranrecitations often mention visions that confirm the efficacy of recitation.1 Thepreoccupation with visions was accompanied by a growing prominence of dis-tinctly soteriological benefits promised from dhran recitation. Here I shallexamine visions and soteriological goals in dhran practice by looking closelyat early instructions for dhran practice that are preserved in Chinesetranslations.

    Early records of esoteric Buddhist rituals survive largely in Chinese trans-lations. These sources typically take the format of a stra and present their con-tent as a part of the Buddhas sermon. But the subject of the sermon is a specificdhran, or a set of dhrans, presented in transcription. The Buddha himself or,with the Buddhas permission an attendant bodhisattva, explains the origin ofthe dhran, its affiliation with a specific deity, and its efficacy. I shall referhere to these sources as dhran stras.

    1 In a recent doctoral dissertation Eric Greene (2012) examined in detail the role of what hecalls verificatory visions in fifth- and sixth-century Chinese instructions on meditation.These visions are diverse and often complex, and somewhat different from the visionsthat are mentioned in dhran stras. Nevertheless, the preoccupation with visions inmeditation and dhran practices reflects a common ritual culture in medievalBuddhism. Sin and repentance are also an important preoccupation in both of thesepractices.

    Bulletin of SOAS, 77, 1 (2014), 85103. SOAS, University of London, 2014.doi:10.1017/S0041977X13000931


  • As I have attempted to demonstrate elsewhere, these records enable us to tracein broad outline the evolution of this ritual tradition.2 In their simplest form,spells were recited for practical purposes such as healing, securing the birth ofa child, causing harm to enemies, or securing the peace and prosperity of a king-dom. In some, early instructions appear for example in a collection Stra ofthe Divine Spells of the Great Dhrans of the Seven Buddhas and EightBodhisattvas, dating from the fourth to fifth century. This presents a more com-plex ritual scenario: as one recites the spell over and over, a specific Buddha or,more broadly, all the Buddhas of the Ten Directions, appear in a vision andpromise the realization of desired goals. These goals are also often describedin distinctly Buddhist and otherworldly terms, such as rebirth in a Buddhaland or attaining supernatural knowledge.3

    Over time, spells came to be affiliated with specific deities: either the deitywho taught the spells, or the deity who appeared in the culminating visions toconfirm the efficacy of practice. Earlier accounts of the simpler practice of recit-ing spells focus on such visions and do not mention images. But the practicequickly came to be combined with image worship. Images came to be madewith distinct iconographies, as in the case of Eleven-Faced Avalokitevara,and the practitioner was instructed to recite the spell in front of the image.The success of recitation was now demonstrated in an image miracle. Theimage shakes, emits light, and speaks in a loud voice, promising a successfuloutcome. A large body of instructions for such image rituals, affiliated with avariety of deities, came into being.

    In my view, esoteric Buddhism acquired a more distinct identity when a care-fully constructed ritual of initiating its specialists, or cryas, was introduced. Inthe earliest known account of this ceremony, called the All gathering mandalaceremony, the entire pantheon of esoteric Buddhist deities is invited to theirseats on the mandala, and candidates are initiated in front of them. This generalinitiation qualified the crya to perform the wide range of rituals affiliated witheach of the deities. With this ceremony the idea of a distinct esoteric Buddhistpantheon was introduced, though the list of deities included in the esotericpantheon would evolve and expand over time. A distinct group of esotericBuddhist ritual specialists also emerged.4

    These basic scenarios of esoteric Buddhist rituals are clearly spelled out inearly records preserved in Chinese translation, but these earlier records seldommention visualization. I understand visualization practice to involve deliberatemental construction or contemplation of deities or other figurations and dis-tinguish it from the spontaneous visions mentioned in early dhran instructions.Visualization in this sense was introduced later. Yet it quickly came to dominate

    2 See Shinohara (forthcoming).3 I discuss this and the closely related Miscellaneous collection of Dhran Stras

    (T. 1336) in Shinohara (forthcoming: chapter 1).4 Shinohara (2010: 389420). This ritual shares certain details with post-Vedic rituals of

    Grhyapariista texts, discussed in Einoo and Takashima (2005). Geslani (2011a) exam-ines this development by focusing on the evolution of nti ritual as successfully pro-moted by Atharvavedan priests at Gupta court. See also Geslani 2011b. The synthesisof Esoteric Buddhist rituals, here designated the All-gathering mandala ceremony,appears to have emerged as a part of, or in response to, this larger development.

    86 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • esoteric rituals and transformed both rituals for individual deities and mandalainitiation ceremonies.

    Four distinct ritual scenarios of dhran recitation may be distinguished:dhran recitation without a vision (scenario 1); recitation which culminatesin a vision but does not involve image worship (scenario 2); dhran recitationin front of an image (scenario 3); and mental visualization, accompanied bydhran recitation, of the deity and ritual actions (scenario 4). Some recordedritual instructions follow only one of these scenarios, but in many dhranstras multiple scenarios appear side by side. These scenarios are not mutuallyexclusive, and dhran stras may follow one scenario in one passage whileintroducing another elsewhere.

    In this paper I focus on scenarios 1 and 2, namely dhran practices with andwithout visionary confirmation. The visionary scenario became an integral partof some dhran recitation practices at an early date and this appears fullyworked out in the earliest datable example of dhran stras (T. 1011 datedto the third century as discussed below). By the time the Chinese translationsof dhran stras appeared these two scenarios (recitation with and withoutvisionary confirmation) co-existed side by side. The introduction and popularityof scenario 2 did not lead to the exclusion of scenario 1.

    In many cases dhran stras are preserved in multiple translations spanningmany centuries, each presumably based on its own Indic original. The differenttranslations of any single dhran stra are remarkably consistent in describingthe dhran recitation either with or without visions, suggesting that these scen-arios were recognized as distinct from each other by the compilers and transla-tors of these stras; the non-appearance of a vision in a stra is thus not random,but reflects a distinct ritual scenario. Although it is not possible to determinehow and when the scenario of visionary confirmation was introduced, theexamples below offer glimpses of the way in which the preoccupation withvisions affected the overall ritual dynamics. Of particular interest is the broad-ening of the scope of dhran recitation practice. References to distinctly soter-iological goals appear more prominently in instructions that mention visions.

    I. Dhran practice without visionsI will begin by looking at two stras that present dhrans for recitation.Visionary confirmation of their efficacy is not mentioned (thus scenario 1). Inthe first stra, past Buddhas and other deities present their own distinctivedhrans. This is a scheme that appears repeatedly in other stras. The list ofbenefits emphasizes protection, though the stra also speaks of attaining knowl-edge of ones past lives. Supernatural knowledge of past lives often marks pro-gress towards salvation, but no other soteriological benefits are mentioned in thisstra. The second example is a composite work. In its core narrative section,dhran practice is presented as a strategy for securing protection against demo-nic forces. An elaborate pantheon of protective and demonic deities appears. Inthis section visions are not mentioned. These examples suggest that visionaryconfirmation was not an indispensable part of dhran recitation rituals; a well-developed dhran stra could exist without it, framed around the simpler

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 87

  • scenario and the stras distinctive and often elaborate core narrative. (Examplesin which the recitation of dhrans culminates in visions are taken up below.)

    Ia. The Agrapradpa StraThis stra survives in different versions in different periods or, in other words,the text varies depending on its date. Tuoluonibo jing (DhranVerse Stra, T. 1352) is attributed to Zhu Tanwulan (Dharmaraksa)who translated in Yangdu during 381395.5 A work entitled Chiju shenzhoujing (The Divine Spell of Dhran Verse Stra, T. 1351) is attrib-uted to an earlier translator Zhi Qian (first half of the third century) butthis attribution is questionable.6 Jnaguptas translation DongfangZuishengdengwang tuoluoni jing (The Dhran Straof the Supreme Lamp King of the East) exists in two versions, T. 1353 and1354. T. 1354 is dated to the Kaihuang period of the Sui dynasty (580600).7There is also the later translation by Dnapla, Shengzuishangdengming rulaituoluoni jing (The Dhran Stra of the HolyTathgata Supreme Lamp, T. 1355). Dnapla translated during the period9821017.

    These versions share a core narrative. The Buddha was staying at the Jetavanagarden surrounded by a large number of monks and bodhisattvas. Two bodhi-sattvas, called Infinite Light and Bright Light, arrived from a very distantBuddha land. The Buddha Supreme Lamp (Agrapradpa) of that Buddha landhad sent them. The Buddha kyamuni instructed nanda to receive the spell.kyamuni described its protective powers and explained that this was an unfail-ing spell that numerous Buddhas had taught in the past.

    The narrative of the Dhran Verse Stra/Dhran Stra of the SupremeLamp King of the East continues as several deities present their own dhransone after another, first bodhisattva Maitreya or Ajita and at the end theBuddha [kyamuni] himself. In the versions Jnagupta translated, Majur,following Maitreya, also presents a dhran,8 and the presentation of dhransconcludes with the spell offered by the Four Heavenly Kings.9

    The framework of this narrative, in which different deities present their owndhrans, each explained as spells numerous Buddhas had taught in the past, isstrikingly similar to the framework of the Divine Spells of the Great DhransTaught by Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas, T. 1332, from the late fourthto early fifth century. This stra, it is to be recalled, in contrast to theAgrapradpa stras, has both visions and soteriological benefits. In theAgrapradpa stras, the benefits of the dhrans are described formulaically.In Zhu Tanwulans Dhran Verse Stra, for example, the Buddha describesto nanda the benefits of reciting the spell brought by the two messengers

    5 The phrase tuoluonibo is rendered dhran pada in Bussho kaisetsu daijiten,7.122c.

    6 This does not appear in the list of works reliably attributed to Zhi Qian (Nattier 2008:121).

    7 T. 2148: 55.183b09.8 T. 1353: 21.866c; T. 1354: 21.869b.9 T. 1353: 21.867a; T. 1354: 21.871c.

    88 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • first as knowing seven past lives,10 and then as a series of protections: fromdemons, humans, non-humans, snakes, lizards, vipers, scorpions, poison, sor-cery, weapons, kings and angry gods.11 With the spell given by Maitreya, onecan know fourteen past lives and receive protection, which is described invery similar terms.12 With the spell given by the Buddha himself, one comesto know an infinite number of past lives.13 While travelling, if one is attackedby bandits or wild animals, or falls into water, or commits offences againstkings and local governments, one is instructed to recite the dhran. With thepower of this dhran dead trees will come back to life, growing fresh leaves,flowers and fruits. All illnesses can be cured with this dhran.14 The benefitsare described similarly though sometimes more elaborately in the later versionsattributed to Jnagupta (T. 1353 and 1354).

    The Dhran Verse Stra lists supernatural knowledge of past lives as abenefit obtained through dhran recitation, but mentions no other otherworldlyor supernatural benefits. The Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas Stra men-tions that the spells taught by these deities confer knowledge of past lives.15

    However, it also lists a variety of unambiguous markers of progress on the soter-iological path, such as the removal of sins, prediction of future Buddhahood,rebirth in Buddha lands, and acquiring supernatural knowledge or the fourfruits of the path of ramanas.

    No references to visions, removing of sins from past lives, or samdhi appearin the Dhran Verse Stra. Again, these are distinctive features of the dhranpractices in the Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas Stra and other earlydhran stras. Their complete absence from Dhran Verse Stra / TheDhran Stra of the Supreme Lamp King of the East appears thus to be signifi-cant. These features were clearly not an indispensable part of dhran practice,although their early incorporation may well have affected the distinctive direc-tions in which this practice subsequently evolved.

    Ib. The Stra of the Great Divine Spells of Auspiciousness: Dajiyi shenzhoujing T. 1335The examination of the existing version suggests that this stramust have under-gone several stages of revision and expansion.16 Though they are not marked

    10 T. 1352: 21.865b(-)1; ref., T. 1351: 21.864c(-)1, T. 1353: 21.866b16 [ten lives], T.1354: 21.869a13.

    11 T. 1351: 21.865c4.12 T. 1352: 21.865c1419; T. 1853: 21.866c14 [thirteen lives], T. 1354: 21.869b28

    [seven lives].13 T. 1352: 21.865c28; T. 1351: 21.865a21; T. 1354: 21.869c26 [twenty-one lives],

    870a21 [twenty-eight lives].14 T. 1352: 21.866a15.15 T. 1332: 21.538c17, up to fourteen lives; 540b9 for one hundred, one thousand, and

    one hundred thousand myriad lives; 545c16.16 The version of this text reproduced in Taisho is taken from the Korean canon and com-

    pared to a Nara-period manuscript at the Saifukuji monastery as well as to otherprinted editions. This title as a work in two fascicles appears in the Kaiyuan catalogue(730). Here the work is also said to exist in four fascicles and the famous NorthernWei monastic leader Tanyao is said to have translated it in 462 (T. 2154:55.540a1). A work with a similar title, Dajiyizhou jing, in two fascicles is mentioned

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 89

  • explicitly, I detect five distinct sections in the present version of the stra. Overtime new materials appear to have been added, sometimes in parallel versions, asthe stra expanded. The core message of the stra appears in section 3.17Sections 1 (568a[-24]-[-3]) and 2 (568a[-2]-569a29), closely affiliated witheach other, appear to have been introduced later as its preface. Sections 4(571c7579a29) and 5 (579b1580c11) mention a different name for thestra, The Spell Stra of Marking Ritual Boundaries. Section 5 introducesimage worship and is explicitly framed as an address to nanda, who is notmentioned in the earlier part of the stra, except once in a passage at the veryend of section 3. This last passage appears to have been added, possiblyalong with the long section 4, when the stra was expanded and reconstitutedat a later stage.

    This reading suggests that section 3 represents the earliest form of the Stra ofthe Great Divine Spells of Auspiciousness: this section presents the spells aroundthe narrative of the battle between the gods and demons (asura).18 I note that noreference to any vision appears in this part of the stra. The spells that theBuddha gave the gods established boundaries that no beings could cross; thecosmic scope of the boundary then was indicated by listing all the many beingsthat observe and protect the spell and the boundary. A schematic listing of gods,demons and other beings, a pantheon of gods and supernatural and demonicbeings, emerged from this idea and was further elaborated in sections 1and 2. It was at this stage that the dhran was named as jiyi, which I suspecttranslated svastyayana, used to describe a daily ritual of protection forkings.19 The next stage of elaboration in sections 4 and 5, in which the strais identified by a new name, was also largely framed around this same scheme.The spells introduced in this stra in all of these stages were offered to controland contain demonic beings.

    Section 1The stra begins with an elaborate list of deities.20 The passage begins with thespeaker paying respect to the seven Buddhas, i.e. the past six Buddhas and thepresent Buddha kyamuni, and then to the future Buddha Maitreya, who is sur-rounded by an assembly in Tusita heaven. Then the speaker (I) takes refuge in

    in the Fajings catalogue dated 594, where the translator is said to be unknown (T.2146.55.120c2, 122a3).

    17 T. 1335: 21.569a29571c6.18 The battle between gods and asuras is an ancient and widely attested theme in Indian

    mythology. See, for example, atapatha Brahmana, I.2.5.19a and Mahbhrata,1.17.525. A story of the conflict between the god akra and asuras, similar to thestory told here, appears in Atharvavedapariista. See Geslani 2011a: 91.

    19 With regard to jiyi translating the Sanskrit svastyayana, Marko Geslani hasdescribed how Atharvavedic priests, as court ritualists or purohita, developed a systemof new royal ritual in which the svastyayana or morning blessing occupied a centralplace. The Auspiciousness Dhran Stra may have originated as a Buddhist effort todevelop an independent ritual of royal protection. See Geslani (2011a: 101, 10910).

    20 T. 1335: 21.568a427.

    90 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • all the past, future, and present Buddhas, the Dharma and the Samgha. Thespeaker continues to take refuge in a long list of deities:

    I take refuge in Mahevara who resides in the Supreme Heaven of theRealm of Desire (Akanistha, highest in the Realm of Form). I take refugein uddhvsa gods (the second highest), all deities of the Path ofno-return (Angmin, Fourth Dhyna). I take refuge in Brahma king, theancestor of worldly beings (First Dhyna in the Realm of Form). I takerefuge in the Heavenly King Who Enjoys the Creation of Others(Tahuazizai tianwang or Paranirmitavaavartin, highestin the Realm of Desire). I take refuge in the Heavenly King WhoDelights in Creation (Huale tianwang or Nirmnarati, thesecond highest). I take refuge in the Heavenly King Contented(Tusita)(the third). I take refuge in Heavenly King Xuyma (Xuyemen tian-wang , in the fourth Ym heaven). I take refuge in the deityakra (in the Realm of the Thirty-Three Gods, fifth highest in the Realm ofDesire). I take refuge in the Four Heavenly Kings (sixth highest). I takerefuge in all demonic deities of the earth. I take refuge in all dragon deitiesand Gandharvas, other kings of the Realms of Desire.21

    Here in the list of other deities, one called Yintuolou (Indra?) is firstnamed. Other obscure and indecipherable names follow.22

    it appears that a distinctive pantheon is identified here, beginning with thenaming of deities in the different levels of the heavens in the Realm of Formthrough the Realm of Desire. Certain distinctive deities, such as Mahevara,Indra and others are placed within this scheme. We might note, however, thatthis pantheon, organized around a familiar Buddhist cosmology, is very differentfrom the pantheon of esoteric Buddhist mandalas in which deities are organizedin groups such as Buddhas, Avalokitevara deities, Vajra deities and heavenlydeities.

    After taking refuge in these deities, the speaker obscurely refers to twoholy men (xian ), and then teaches a spell called Accomplishment of AllAuspiciousness (yiqieyijicheng ) which he attributes to these holymen.23 This must be the Great Divine Spell of Auspiciousness (Dajiyi shenzhou) in the title of this text. The identity of the two holy men remainsobscure, though a later passage appears to explain the relationship between oneholy man and the spell in greater detail.24

    A description of the spells benefits follows. The spell produces a realm ofimmortality and accomplishes a wide range of (five hundred) objectives. Itcauses everything one does to end successfully (auspiciously). It cuts offthe efficacy of all evil black magic spells. It protects all beings in the world.It makes all evil spirits and demons flee. It removes all invaders [into ones

    21 T. 1335: 21.568a1219.22 T. 1335: 21.568a(-)10(-)9; the same names appear later in slightly different transcrip-

    tions, T. 1335: 21.571a78.23 T. 1335: 21.568a(-)8.24 T. 1335: 21.571b.

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 91

  • realm]. It makes everything one does turn out well and causes fear in evildoers.25 This list of benefits appears to be glossing the name of the spellgiven earlier.

    Section 2The instruction for reciting the spell follows (section 2).26 The practice takes theform of making offerings to the series of deities mentioned earlier, starting withthe Buddhas, including the past seven Buddhas and the future Buddha Maitreyaand proceeding through the gods of the different heavenly realms, deities on thebeach, in the ocean and of the location. For the Buddhas, offerings of fragrance,flower garlands, incense, jewel umbrellas and banners, and musical perform-ances are mentioned. In the offerings to other deities fragrance and burnt incenseare emphasized. The ritualist makes a wish that the fragrance reach the distantrealms of the deities. The expression transporting fragrance (yunxiang), in this physical sense, and the expression activating the mind (yunxin), presumably in the sense of visualizing the offering reaching the deity,appear side by side. For each offering a specific spell is given in transcription.The relationship between these spells and the spell that the two holy men hadgiven in section 1 is not explained.

    Instructions for visualization as a deliberate mental exercise appear relativelylate in the evolution of esoteric rituals and need to be treated separately fromthe accounts of spontaneous visions that appear in early dhran stras.27References to this practice in this section of the stra thus suggest that thispart of the stra may well have been appended later.

    The ritual of offerings is carefully constructed around the pantheon of deitiesmentioned at the outset of the stra: the Buddhas;28 Heavenly King Mahevara;29Mra king (the ruler of the Masters of the Creation of Others Heaven);30Heavenly Beings Who Take Delight in Creation;31 Heavenly King Master WhoEnjoys the Creation of Others;32 King of the Tusita Heaven;33 Heavenly KingXuyma;34 akra of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods;35 Heavenly King ofthe eastern direction Dhrtarstra;36 of the southern direction Virdhaka;37 of thewestern direction Virpksa;38 of the northern direction Vairavana;39 the ruler ofrksasas in the city Lanka in the ocean Bishana ;40 King of asuras who

    25 T. 1335: 21.568a(-7)(-)3.26 T. 1335: 21.568a28569a29.27 See Shinohara, forthcoming (Part II).28 T. 1335: 21.568a28b14.29 T. 1335: 21.568b1520.30 T. 1335: 21.568b2126.31 T. 1335: 21.568b27c2.32 T. 1335: 21.568c36.33 T. 1335: 21.558c712.34 T. 1335: 21.568c1317.35 T. 1335: 21.568c1821.36 T. 1335: 21.568c2225.37 T. 1335: 21.568c2629.38 T. 1335: 21. 569a15.39 T. 1335: 21.569a69.40 T. 1335: 21.569a1014.

    92 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • resides on a coast Vemacitra;41 dragon king Kla who resides in the ocean;42 theearth deity.43 However, the deities below the Four Heavenly Kings are nameddifferently here from the opening section. As we shall see, the list of deitiesthat appears after the Four Heavenly Kings varies in each section and often amore detailed list of specific categories of beings appears. Nevertheless, theselists in which more or less the same pantheon is mentioned appear to havebeen carefully composed following a single basic model.

    Section 3The same scheme of deities appears again in the long section that follows,44 buta distinct new narrative framework is introduced. At the time the gods andasuras (demons) fought, akras army lost a battle and fled into the city.akra then thought of seeking help from the Buddha.45 At that time theBuddha was at Mt. Upananda, surrounded by five hundred monks and a thou-sand nayuta of bodhisattvas, engaged in the uposatha ceremony on the fifteenthday of the month.

    In response to akras request, the Buddha spoke of the Buddhist rite ofsecuring the ritual space with a spell for protection.46 If someone hears of thisinstruction to mark the ground, upholds it and teaches it to others, sincerelyrecites [the spell] and practises according to this teaching, because of thepower of the spell, swords will not injure him, poison and fire will not harmhim, enemies are kept away and there will be no calamities and troubles foran area of one hundred yojanas. Gods, asuras and spirits will not be able tocross the boundaries marked by the spell to harm [those inside the area]. Forthis reason, the Buddha says that the heavenly deity akra should receive thisteaching of marking the boundary with a spell, read and recite it sincerely,and should never forget it.47

    The long text of the spell is then given. This spell is said to protect rulers,removing all of their difficulties completely. This passage concludes with a tran-scribed text of the spell, but as I indicated earlier, the spell is not identified byany specific name here.

    The organization of the passages which immediately follow is somewhatunclear.48 A long passage on dragon kings appears here, followed by anotherspell, but this passage has nothing to do with the larger narrative: I suspectthat it was inserted later. The narrative resumes after this second spell. Whenthe spell was pronounced (possibly referring to the first spell immediately pre-ceding the dragon king section), the earth shook in six ways and demons andspirits were frightened, saying that Gautama of great reputation taught thisspell to the gods and liberated them.49 The Buddha tells akra that if the spell

    41 T. 1335: 21.569a1518.42 T. 1335: 21.569a1922.43 T. 1335: 21. 569a2326.44 T. 1335: 21.569a29571c6.45 T. 1335: 21.569b2.46 T. 1335: 21.569b15.47 T. 1335: 21.569b1420.48 T. 1335: 21.569c3571c6.49 T. 1335: 21.570a912.

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 93

  • master (zhoushi ) recites this spell and marks the spell boundary (zhoujie) throughout the Three Realms, no beings will be able to transgress thatboundary.50

    At this point the scheme of heavenly deities and other supernatural beingsthat we saw in sections 1 and 2 reappears. The powerful heavenly beingssuch as Mahevara, Mahbrahman, the Evil One Mra, Heavenly King WhoEnjoys the Creation of Others, Heavenly King Who Delights in Creation, theKing of the Tusita Heaven, King of the Ym Heaven, the deity akra, theFour Heavenly Kings are listed first. Other supernatural beings are also enumer-ated, concluding with the eight dragon kings, eight asura kings, and gandharavakings. The Buddha declares for each of these beings formulaically that they can-not overstep the boundary. The Buddha concludes this part of the instruction byattributing the power of the spell he is presenting to the fact that an astronomi-cally large number of Buddhas have taught it before. We see here how the orig-inal core narrative gave rise to the listing of different categories of supernaturalbeings. This list, a nascent pantheon, serves as a unifying trope as new materialswere added to the text.

    The core narrative concludes at this point, but the Buddha continues hisinstruction to akra. Three other spells are introduced. After each spell isgiven, the earth is said to have shaken in six ways; spirits were frightened, recog-nizing the spells to be those of the Buddhas, and they screamed in pain.51

    The scheme that begins with Mahevara, as in the preceding passage, appearsagain, concluding with the eight dragon kings, eight asuras, gandharava andyaksa kings. This part of the Buddhas instruction contains many parallels tothe preceding passage, though the spells are given differently.52 Two competingaccounts that had existed separately may have been preserved side by side in thissynthetic stra.

    After giving the second spell that appears in this largely redundant passage,the Buddha is said to have explained to akra how he had received the spellfrom a holy man innumerable eons earlier.53 This too appears to be an attemptto explain the efficacy of the spells, going further back in time. In a very distantpast when kyamuni Buddha had first given rise to the thought of enlighten-ment, a holy man called Good Sound lived in a mountain called FragrantHill. He used the spell the Buddha was teaching for protection. Then the holyman moved to a different place. He did not mark the boundary with the spell,and numerous yaksas, rksasas, kumbhndas, ptans, picas and particularlyone huge and harmful rksasa watched the holy man as he engaged in asceticpractice. But because the holy man remembered the spell, the rksasa did notdare to harm him. The passage concludes with the Buddha teaching anotherspell and the demonic spirits and yaksas screaming in pain.54

    50 T. 1335: 21.570a1214.51 T. 335: 21.570c36; 571a28b3; c46.52 T. 1335: 21.570b18571b3.53 T. 1335: 21.571b3c6. This story may in fact be related to the reference to the two holy

    men at the beginning of the text in the first section.54 T. 1335: 21.571c16.

    94 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • In the course of this passage a somewhat jarring explanation appears. TheBuddha says to nanda that that holy man was the Buddha himself.55 The nar-rative of this part of the text has so far mentioned akra as the person to whomthe Buddha is offering instruction.56 nanda has not been mentioned. Later, inthe last section of the text nanda again appears as the person to whom theBuddha offers the instruction for reciting the stra in front of a Buddhaimage.57 These shifting references again suggest that the text may have under-gone a complex process of compilation and rewriting.

    In this part of the stra, which I mark as section 3, we see how the core nar-rative of the spell that protects ritual and military boundaries was closely tied toan elaborate schematic classification of supernatural beings. The exceptionalpower of ritual boundaries is highlighted in the story about the holy manGood Sound. The kernel of ideas clumsily worked out here is systematicallyspelled out in the following long section.

    Section 4The long section that follows, and occupies the main body of the text, is orga-nized around the same pantheon of deities that appeared at the beginning of thestra.58 The narrative of securing the ritual boundaries that appeared for the firsttime in section 3 is maintained, and in fact this large section may be read as anexpanded version of the two passages that precede it, each listing the differentbeings throughout the universe. The recurrence of this list suggests that the cen-tral purport of this text was to identify the deities who are to protect the bound-aries marked by the spells and to teach these spells.

    In this version each deity is said to have come to the Buddha and uttered a setof verses praising the Buddha. They were then each given a long and elaboratespell. Shorter spells have been mentioned in relation to each deity in section 2 ofthis text (as reviewed above), but these spells given for more or less the same setof deities in section 4 are entirely different from the earlier ones. In several pas-sages a new name for the stra appears; it is now called the (Great) Spell Strafor Marking Ritual Boundaries (Jiejiedazhou jing ).59 The simplerversion that appeared earlier in section 2 of the stra appears to have beenrewritten into a much more elaborate account.

    Section 5The final section of this text describes an elaborate ritual.60 What is distinctive inthis section is that the ritual now involves images. Again one is led to suspectthat this portion of the text may have undergone its own complex stages ofdevelopment. As noted above, the Buddha is said here to offer the instructionto nanda, and this might suggest a separate origin for this part of the stra.

    55 T. 1335: 21.571b17.56 T. 1335:21.571b3, and 569b14, 570a12, 570b18, 570c6.57 T.1335: 21.579b1.58 T.1335: 21.571c7579a29.59 T. 1335: 21.573c1314; 578c1415, 579a1718; ref., 579b26, c10, 580b8, 17.60 T. 1335: 21.579b1580c11.

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 95

  • In this last instruction images of deities are arranged as if in a mandala(though the term does not appear). Images, as drawings, of the same set ofdeities that are mentioned throughout the stra are prepared, and differenttypes of incense are offered to each deity.

    The practitioner burns incense in front of the images of heavenly deities andrecites the spell [for that deity] 108 times. Seven spell grounds (zhouchang ) are prepared and the practitioner makes a vow to devote himself to theBuddhas of the Three Ages on these spots. As he wishes the Tathgatas toremember him, his body becomes indestructible like vajra. The practitionerthrows himself on the ground to pay respect to the Buddha and then recitesthe spell. Then he throws sesame seeds in all four directions. As he recitesthe spell 108 times the deity Sudra of uddhvsa heavens appears,61 with agolden body, and the deities enter into their respective images.62 The deitySudra says: Well done. Well done. You successfully recited the Stra forMarking Spell Ritual Space and now we will become your servant and serveyou. This is said to be the accomplishment (chengjiu ) phase of therite.63 The recitation of the spell should take place on the fifteenth day of themonth or on the full moon day.

    Detailed instructions for different uses of the spell follow. The stra con-cludes with the Buddhas instruction to nanda regarding worshipping thestra after the Buddhas parinirvna. A series of otherworldly benefits arelisted: attaining the bodhisattva path (path of enlightenment); for pratyeka-buddhas and rvakas, stopping defilements (srava); for lay people, rebirthas a universal monarch, akra and Brahma king.64

    The Stra of the Great Divine Spells of Auspiciousness appears to have under-gone a long and complex development; earlier layers of material were exten-sively rewritten and the earlier and later materials were preserved side byside. Though the newest material, in what I marked as section 5, speaks ofimages and visions, and lists otherworldly benefits, earlier passages, and particu-larly the core narrative in section 3, speak only of reciting specific spells to markboundaries as a way of protection. In the two dhran stras examined above,visions do not appear to have played any role, at least as described in the earlierlayer of the stra. We also note that these stras describe the benefits of dhranrecitation largely, though not exclusively, in this-worldly and practical terms,such as personal protection and defending borders.

    II. Dhran practice with visionsI will now turn to examples in which recitations of dhran are said to result invisions. Buddhas and bodhisattva Avalokitevara appear in a vision and conferbenefits. The vision may itself be understood as a salvific event, while thebenefits are also typically described in explicitly soteriological terms. I havealready mentioned the Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas Stra. This

    61 T. 1335: 21.579b23.62 T. 1335: 21.579b25.63 T. 1335: 21.579b29c1.64 T. 1335: 21.580b9c11.

    96 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • stra and the Dhran Verse Stra /The Dhran Stra of the Supreme LampKing of the East discussed above follow a similar format, but frequently theSeven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas Stra mentions visions and familiarmarks of progress in the Buddhist path leading to liberation for example,removal of sins, rebirth in a Buddha land, acquiring supernatural knowledgeand the four fruits. Here I will first examine another dhran stra forwhich several translations are preserved. As noted above, in the earliest ofthese translations, dated to the third century, the benefit is described in exclu-sively soteriological terms and its attainment is confirmed in a vision. The exam-ination of translations of this stra from the third to the eighth centuries showshow dhran practice was understood by these Chinese translators. I will thenturn to a different stra closely affiliated with bodhisattva Avalokitevara. Inthis stra a different relationship between dhran recitation and visions appears.In its core narrative Avalokitevara appears in a vision and confers dhrans, butI will argue that the same connection between visions and soteriological benefitsmay also be discerned in this stra.

    IIa. Anantamukhanirhra dhranOne example of a dhran practice that was supposed to bring about visions ofinnumerable Buddhas and result in the removal of sins committed in a largenumber of past kalpas is the Anantamukhanirhra dhran that Zhi Qian first translated in the third century and others translated later in the fiftheighthcenturies. Chinese translators were initially unfamiliar with the idea of a dhranthat is to be recited in Sanskrit, and the teaching was understood as a doctrinaldiscourse. It was only in the fifth-century translation by Gongdezhi andXuanchang (T. 1014, dated 642) that the more familiar practice of transli-terating the dhran appeared.

    Nine translations of this stra are preserved:

    Wuliangmen weimichi jing (or) , T. 1011 translated by ZhiQian, third century. This work is also called Chengdao xjiangmo deyiqiezhi.

    Chusehng wuliangmenchi jing T. 1012 is translated byBuddhabhadra (359429), dated 408429.

    Anantuo muqu niheli tuo jing T. 1013 byGunabhadra (394468), dated 435443.

    Wuliangme poma tuoluoni jing T. 1014 Gongdexuan and Xuanchang (416484), dated 462.

    Anantuo muqu niheli tuolinni jing T. 1015Buddhanta , dated 525539.

    Shelifu tuoluoni jing T. 1016 Samghabhara (460524), dated 506520.

    Yixiang chusheng pusa jing T. 1017 Janagupta(523600), dated 585 or 595.

    Chusheng wubianmen tuoluoni jing T. 1018 Zhiyan, dated 721.

    Chusheng wubianmen tuoluoni jing T. 1009 Bukong (Amoghavajra, 705774).

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 97

  • These parallel translations, produced over the period extending from the third tothe eighth centuries, offer an unusual opportunity for studying the reception ofdhran stras in China, where this type of teaching was new and unfamiliar tosome Buddhists. Here we see how the dhran stra was first received and trans-lated, and how this understanding evolved over time. In the earlier translationsby Zhi Qian and Buddhabhadra, T. 1011 and 1012, the term dhran was simplytranslated as chi , and the phonetic transcriptions tuolinni or tuoluoni do not appear. The text of the dhran was translated and not transcribedas in later translations and dhran stras. In the translations by Zhi Qian andBuddhabhadra the Buddha praises riputra and mentions the name of thedhran. The dhran is translated and discussed further in doctrinal termsthat emphasize negation.65

    In later translations the Buddhas answer begins by presenting the text of thedhran.66 In Gunabhadras translation T. 1013 the Buddha tells riputra thatthose who wish to obtain the Anantamukhanihra dhrani, Anantuo muqu nihelituoluoni should first master forty-eight names and thenames are then given in translation. This list of names in fact appears to be a trans-lation of the dhran. The content of the list of the translated names loosely par-allels the translated dhrans in the translations by Zhi Qian and Buddhabhadra,and is again followed by a prose passage that expounds on the dhran. Thesame forty-eight names also appear in Buddhantas translation T. 1015, wherethe names are transcribed with interlinear notes that explain the meaning ofeach name, using the same terms as Gunabhadras translation.67 Otherwise, thetranslations of the entire stra in T. 1015 and T. 1013 are virtually identical.

    The text of the dhran is given explicitly as such in other translations.68Though not identical, these texts of the dhran closely parallel the transcribedtext of the forty-eight names in T. 1015. I suspect that in T.1015 the text of thedhran was misconstrued as a list of names of deities.

    The reference to forty-eight names in Gunabhadras translation T. 1013appears abruptly, and the forty-eight terms translated there do not appear tobe names. T. 1015 which gives these names in transcription appears to havebeen aware of this irregularity in T. 1013. The reference to forty-eight namesdisappears in later translations, and the dhran in slightly expanded form is pre-sented in transcription. While Zhi Qian may not have understood the distinctcharacter of the dhran as a magical spell, Gunabhadra did, and he attemptedto capture this fact by presenting it as a set of names, presumably of deitiesor demons whose names are intoned in magical rituals.69

    65 T. 1011: 19.680c324; T. 1012: 19.682c21683a26.66 By Gunabhadra, T. 1013: 19.685c1224; Gongdezhi / Xuanchang, T. 1014: 19.688c13

    689a9; Buddhaanta, T. 1015: 19.692c1022; Samghabhadra, T. 1016: 19.695c9696a8;Jnagupta, T. 1017: 19.699a25c14; Zhiyan, T. 1018: 19.703a21c9; Amoghavajra,T. 1018: 19.676b15c21).

    67 T. 1015: 19.692c1226.68 In translations by Gongdezhi / Xuanchang (T. 1014: 19.688c78); Samghabhadra

    (T. 1016: 19.695c11); Jnagupta (T. 1017: 19.699b16); Zhiyan (T. 1018: 19.703b34), and Amoghavajra (T. 1009: 19.676b20).

    69 As noted above, the meaning of the dhran is explained in T. 1043 in interlinear notes,and most of the phrases are identified as names of demons. The Consecration stra,

    98 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • This stra summarizes its central message in an extended verse section.70 Theverse begins by stating the familiar message of emptiness: empty dharmas can-not be obtained and one cannot practise [these dharmas] as one wishes[assuming that these practices are real?]. [The approach of] single-mindedlyhonouring the stra and reciting the dhran is offered as the alternative.Through the latter path of wisdom one attains enlightenment (chengdao ).If a bodhisattva receives this dhran and practises it diligently, that bodhisattvawill hear the teachings of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions. If he accepts anddoes not forget all these teachings, he will understand their meaning as if illu-mined by the sun, engage in the subtle and marvellous practice as desired andattain the ultimate goal (enlightenment). The one who practises this path is aprince of the dharma. Such a one will protect the dharma and, deeply lovingthe stra, will be valued by bodhisattvas and loved by the Buddhas of theTen Directions. He will enjoy a reputation that spreads everywhere in the world.

    The practice of dhran recitation is described in considerable detail: if a per-son practises this path, he will see an infinite number of Buddhas appear at themoment of death. These Buddhas will extend their hands and receive this prac-titioner. Evil deeds committed over the past one thousand kalpas will beremoved in one month. Simply by guarding this stra and reciting thedhran for a day one can attain the same number of merits that bodhsattvasaccumulate over kotis (units of astronomically large numbers) of kalpas.Reflecting (siwei , meditating?) on the dhran, and turning to the sourceof all merits, one can achieve enlightenment without fail. Even if all beings inthe Three Realms become Mras, they cannot harm this practitioner. When I(the Buddha) once received the prediction for attaining Buddhahood fromDpamkara, I saw the Buddhas as many as the sands of the Ganges. As Iheard their teachings I understood them. One should simply practise the teachingof this stra. If one wishes to decorate the Buddha land and join the group ofdisciples there, endowed with haloes and counted among their family, one canaccomplish this through this stra. If a person removes uncontrollable thoughtsand concentrates (meditates?) for seven days, eight kotis of Buddhas will appearand together confer this dhran. One attains the dhran only if one stops[reifying] thought, no thought, or thinking. One should reflect deeply on thisstra, not forget the right path, and obtain this dhran as if [it is a treasure]in the middle of the ocean. Do not work for wealth. If one brings peace to allgods and men, all wishes will be realized without difficulty. This is how thepath is realized. One should simply practise the correct path.71

    In this dhrani stra the efficacy of the dhran is described exclusively insoteriological terms. The recitation of the dhran removes all bad karmas(sins) and leads one to enlightenment. The crucial moment is a vision inwhich innumerable Buddhas appear and teach the stra.72 These Buddhas

    T. 1331, begins by presenting the consecration verse as a list of 120 deities (T. 1331:21.495a[15]). See Strickmann (1990: 845).

    70 T. 1011: 19.680c15681b8 and its parallels.71 T. 1011: 19.680c25681b8.72 T. 1011: 19.680c29681a1.

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 99

  • also appear at the moment of death, presumably to ensure good rebirth.73 ZhiQians translation of this stra goes back to the third century. Though thedhran practice is not understood correctly in this translation, its early datesuggests that visionary confirmation had become by then an integral part ofthe ritual scenario of some dhran practices.

    The scenario of dhran recitation followed by a vision appears repeatedly indhran stras and later esoteric stras. In the Dafangdeng dhran stra, trans-lated in Gaochang in Central Asia between 402 and 432, the transmission of thedhran itself is closely tied to visions.74

    IIb. Dhran spell stra of requesting Bodhisattva Avalokitevara todissolve and overcome poisons and harmsQing Guanshiyin pusa xiaofu duhai tuoluoni zhou jing, T. 1043, was translated by Zhu Nanti , or Nandi in 419AD.75 Visions of deities appear prominently in this stra. The stra is framedaround a core narrative of an epidemic in Vail, a story that appears elsewherein the canon.76 At one time, while the Buddha was staying at the lecture hall inmra garden in Vail, a great epidemic raged in the city. An elder calledYuegai , accompanied by five hundred elders, came to the Buddha, askingfor help.

    The Buddha [kyamuni] then spoke to them about the Buddha Amityus, who resides in the western direction, and the two attending bodhisattvasAvalokitevara and Mahsthmaprpta. These deities are alwayscompassionate and, taking pity on all beings, arrive to rescue them from suffer-ing. The Buddha instructed the elders to pay respect to these deities, burningincense, scattering flowers and meditating with the mind concentrated. Theywere told to ask the Buddha Amityus and the two bodhisattvas for help.When the Buddha [kyamuni] spoke these words, the Buddha Amityus andthe two bodhisattvas were seen inside kymunis halo, and these deities arrivedat the gate of the city of Vail. People of the city called the name of the ThreeJewells and the name of bodhisattva Avalokitevara three times and requestedhelp. Avalokitevara then described to the Buddha the dhran and the mudrof great compassion of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions, concluding that ifone recited or meditated on the dhran the Buddhas would appear for certain.77Avalokitevara then presented the spell called the Buddhas of the Ten DirectionsRescuing Sentient Beings, and with the recitation of this spell, order at Vail issaid to have been restored.78

    73 T. 1011: 19.681a1113.74 I discussed this stra in some detail in Shinohara 2012.75 See T. 2156: 55. 509a13. Eric Greene (2012) examined the evolution of this stra in

    detail (Appendix II of his PhD dissertation, 32841), and suggests that this text firstexisted as two separate texts. The second half of the existing stra with a long storyabout Upasena is identified as a separate stra of Avalokitevara Contemplation. Thisstra is also briefly discussed in Yasumoto 2010.

    76 For example, Zengyi ahan jing, T. 125; 2.725b727c; Pusa benxing jing, T. 155: 3. 116c;77 T. 1043: 20.35a4.78 T. 1043: 20.35a19.

    100 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • I read this as an account of a vision. The core story of this stra is writtenaround a visionary account, though here the relationship between the spelland the vision is conceived somewhat differently. Unlike in other examplesreviewed so far, where the recitation of spells results in visions, here it is thevision that produces the spell. The vision and the spell are very closely relatedto each other, and this new presentation calls our attention to the fact that thedhran that produces visions may also be given in visions.

    Although this narrative is framed around a practical and this-worldly concern,namely, an epidemic in a city, the story is imbued with an other-worldly atmos-phere. The elders first appeal to kyamunis compassion and the BuddhaAmitbha and bodhisattvas Avalokitevara and Mahmaprpta appear in avision. The request that the citizens present to Avalokitevara speaks of lettingthem escape from the suffering of the three poisons (greed, anger and ignor-ance) and conferring great nirvna.

    The efficacy of dhran recitation was frequently still described in largelythis-worldly terms even after other-worldly goals came to be associated withdhrans. In the larger perspective seen in this stra, the boundary between this-worldly and other-worldly benefits is blurred. In the account of the eldersappeal to the Buddha and Avalokitevara this-worldly benefits are framed as apart of the larger soteriological design of the Buddha. We see this even moreclearly as the instructions of Avalokitevara continue.

    The Buddha requested that the bodhisattva teach the Dhran that Destroysthe Evil Obstructions and Dissolves and Overcomes Poisons and Harms.79 It isthis spell that appears to have given the stra its name. Though Avalokitevara issaid to have given the dhran, it is the Buddha who spells out its benefits indetail.80 In this discussion a variety of this-worldly difficulties are named,including illness, fire, drought, famine, dangerous wild animals, thieves, etc.But they are all explained as the fruition of past evil karmas. When one recitesthe dhran once or seven times, all such evil karmas are removed for ever, asfire burns up firewood.81 If one recites the name of Avalokitevara and recitesthis spell, all hindrances are removed and Avalokitevara appears in a vision.In this way, external threats are seen as the results of sins, and it is the sinsthat are removed by the spell.

    A further instruction on recitation follows, in which once again religiousgoals are highlighted. One is to uphold the rule of not eating after noon, andrefrain from drinking, eating meat, and five spices and improper food. The prac-titioner is to cover his body with ashes and bathe. He is to avoid contact withmenstruating women and continually contemplate the Buddhas of TenDirections and the Seven Tathgatas. Then, bodhisattva Avalokitevara appearsin a vision. All good wishes are fulfilled. He is later reborn in front of a Buddha,and permanently takes leave of sufferings.82

    Buddha proceeds to teach two other dhrans. Avalokitevara plays an impor-tant role in the first of these two, but is no longer mentioned in the shorter

    79 T. 1043: 20.35a2223.80 T. 1043: 20.35a22, b13.81 T. 1043: 20.35b2225.82 T. 1043: 20.23c28.

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 101

  • explanation of the last. In this part of the stra the narrative of the epidemic inVail is completely forgotten, and the benefit of dhran recitation is describedin more general terms. Distinctly soteriological themes appear frequently. If onehears this spell and recites Avalokitevaras name, for example, all sins are to beremoved and that person gets to see eighty kotis of the Buddhas who confer theirhands [on the crown of the persons head?].83 Avalokitevara leads sentientbeings out of the realm of rebirths to the Pure Land and ultimately to theshore of great nirvna.84

    In this stra the goal of dhran recitation is first presented as a worldlybenefit, freedom from illness in the narrative of an epidemic in Vail. Buteven there, the language of Buddhist soteriology appears. As the stra con-tinues, such practical concerns are further subsumed within the sweeping soter-iological language that accompanies the visions of Avalokitevara.

    Concluding comments

    It is clear that the task of unravelling the history of early esoteric practice is enor-mously difficult. Each text has had its own complex process of development.Nonetheless certain patterns emerge. This paper has highlighted the theme ofvisionary confirmations of the efficacy of dhran recitation, which appears fre-quently in dhran stras. The examples taken from sources in Chinese trans-lation discussed here suggest that this scenario appeared early in the evolutionof esoteric Buddhist rituals, and furthermore, that the incorporation of this dis-tinctly visual element into dhran recitation may have occurred as the scope ofthis practice, initially closely tied to attaining tangible this-worldly goals,expanded to incorporate other-worldly soteriological attainments. Visions, nodoubt, have had their own rich history, associated with the development of med-itative practices. Untangling the crossing threads between recitation of dhrns,confirming visions and the visions of meditation texts is a task for the future.The task will progress slowly, for as this paper has shown, it is first necessaryto unpack each text and try to understand its evolution. The next step hasbeen to identify patterns between texts. Only then can we begin to speculateon how these dhran stras fit in to the larger picture of other developmentsin Buddhist thought and practice.


    Einoo, Shingo and Jun Takashima. 2005. From Material to Deity: Indian Rituals ofConsecration. New Delhi.

    Greene, Eric. 2012. Meditation, repentance, and visionary experience in early medievalChinese Buddhism, PhD dissertation, Berkeley, University of California.

    Geslani, Marko. 2011a. The ritual culture of appeasement: nti rites in post-Vedicsources, PhD dissertation, New Haven, Yale University.

    Geslani, Marko. 2011b. Appeasement and atonement in the Mahdnas, the HinduGreat Gifts, Journal Asiatique 299/1: 13392.

    83 T. 1043:20.36b911.84 T. 1043: 20.36b2627.

    102 K O I C H I S H I N O H A R A

  • Nattier, Jan. 2008. A Guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations. Texts from theEastern Han Dong Han and Three Kingdoms San Guo Periods. Tokyo.

    Shinohara, Koichi. 2010. The all-gathering mandala ceremony in Atikutas collecteddhran scriptures: reconstruction the evolution of esoteric Buddhist ritual, JournalAsiatique, 298: 389420.

    Shinohara, Koichi. 2012. Removal of sins in esoteric Buddhist rituals: a study of theDafangdeng dhran scripture, in Phyllis Granoff and Koichi Shinohara (eds),Sins and Sinners: Perspectives from Asian Religions. Leiden: Brill, 24375.

    Shinohara, Koichi. Forthcoming. Spells, Images, and Mandalas: Tracing the Evolutionof Esoteric Buddhist Rituals. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Strickmann, Michel. 1990. The consecration stra: a Buddhist book of spells, inRobert Bushwell (ed.), Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha. Honolulu: Hawaii UniversityPress, 75118.

    Yasumoto Tsuyoshi. 2010. Girugitto chiiki tarupan no darani kokubun to kannonzuishiju ni tsuite , Mikky zu , 29: 1416.

    D H R A N S A N D V I S I O N S I N E A R L Y E S O T E R I C B U D D H I S T S O U R C E S 103

    Dhraīs and visions in early esoteric Buddhist sources in Chinese translationAbstractDhraī practice without visionsThe Agrapradpa StraThe Stra of the Great Divine Spells of Auspiciousness: Dajiyi shenzhou jing T. 1335Section 1Section 2Section 3Section 4Section 5

    Dhraī practice with visionsAnantamukhanirhra dhraīDhraī spell sūtra of requesting Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara to dissolve and overcome poisons and harms

    Concluding commentsReferences


View more >