Words of the Buddha
Courtesy of Himalayan Art Resources
A selection of works by the Buddha himself, many of which feature in the Kangyur (bka' 'gyur), the Tibetan canonical collection of the Buddha's Word:
These verses, which appear in the Kangyur, invoke the auspiciousness of the seven successive buddhas (sangs rgyas rabs bdun): 1) Vipaśyin, 2) Śikhin, 3) Viśvabhū, 4) Krakucchandra, 5) Kanakamuni, 6) Kāśyapa, and 7) Śākyamuni. The text is included in the Tantra section of the Derge Kangyur (Toh 821) and the Miscellaneous section of the Tengyur (Toh 4412).
These verses, taken from the sūtra On Entering the City of Vaiśālī (Toh 312), are commonly recited on their own for the sake of auspiciousness and thus feature as a stand-alone text that is included in both the Kangyur (Toh 816) and Tengyur (Toh 4406). The version translated here appears in the collected writings of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1893–1959).
Vajraṇakhī (rdo rje sder mo), 'Vajra Claw', is a wrathful ḍākinī whose mantra has a long history and can be found in various forms in, e.g., the Guhyasamāja, Vajravārāhī, and Vajrakīla traditions. In this text, her independent dhāraṇī, Vajraṇakhī is invoked as to protect the practitioner's domestic space, family, friends, and allies, and to avert any obstacles that might threaten them. Although her dhāraṇī is here attributed to Buddha Śākyamuni, it is not found in any of the extant Kangyur collections but is preserved in various dhāraṇī compendia (gzungs ‘dus).
This popular canonical work (Tōh. 662) teaches the incantation (dhāraṇī) and rituals associated with the goddess Vasudhārā. According to the text, the dhāraṇī grants prosperity and wealth and averts spirits, demons and disease.
- The Noble Dhāraṇī of The Supreme Accomplishment of Sitātapatrā Born from the Tathāgata’s Uṣṇīṣa, the Great Invincible Dispeller | Sitātapatrā
This popular canonical work, which is included in the Kangyur (Tōh. 591), teaches the incantation (dhāraṇī) and rituals associated with the goddess Sitātapatrā, who is renowned for her power to avert or repel all types of spirits, demons, obstacles, misfortune and disease and is thus invoked by many Tibetan Buddhists on a daily basis.
This short text, which appears twice in the Derge Kangyur (Toh 521 & 981), includes the formula of dependent origination, the so-called ye dharma, said to have been told to Śāriputra as an encapsulation of Buddha Śākyamuni's teachings.
A popular text (Tōh. 748) teaching the incantation (dhāraṇī) and rituals associated with the Blue-Clad (nīlāmbaradhara) form of the deity Vajrapāṇi. According to Karmavajra’s commentary (Tōh. 2676), the dhāraṇī is at once a powerful protection against, and remedy for, spirits, demons and disease.
This popular canonical work (Tōh. 564) reveals the incantation (dhāraṇī) associated with Mārīcī, goddess of the dawn, and explains how it confers the deity's qualities and guards against adversity, danger and disease.
This dhāraṇī, which is part of the larger corpus of texts on astrology (nag rtsis) taught by Mañjuśrī in China, begins with an invocation of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and then features a long series of requests to prevent inauspicious astrological combinations that might result in periodic obstacles. The text is part of the Compendium of Dhāraṇīs (gzungs bsdus).
Vajravidāraṇa (rdo rje rnam ‘joms) is a semi-wrathful form of Vajrapāṇi and the deity’s dhāraṇī (gzungs), counted as a kriyā-tantra, is known for its healing and purifying effect. The dhāraṇī has inspired a large number of ritual liturgies and commentaries, both Indic and Tibetan, and is commonly recited by Tibetan and Newar Buddhists. In Tibetan it is preserved mainly in two forms, one in the Kangyur and the Nyingma version presented here, which is said to be a reconstruction based on commentarial literature.
Popularly known as 'The Teachings Blaze' (bstan 'bar ma), this prayer for the spread of the teachings (bstan rgyas smon lam) is especially popular in the Gelug tradition. The first verse appears to be taken from the Pratimokṣa-sūtra (so sor thar pa'i mdo), while the remainder of the prayer, from the second verse onwards, is to be found in Atiśa Dīpaṃkara's Great Compendium of the Sūtras (Mahāsūtrasamuccaya; mdo kun las btus pa chen po).
Jamyang Khyentse compiled this prophecy from the words of the Buddha. Before an audience that includes Ānanda and the future Buddha Maitreya, the Buddha tells how this text will appear from a meteorite and be disseminated by Avalokiteśvara. He also describes how a series of terrible events, including widespread disease, famine and warfare, will occur during the degenerate age, unless this text can be widely copied and recited as an antidote to such ills.
This famous vajra song (rdo rje’i glu), named after its initial syllables "ema kiri", appears in the Tantra of the Union of the Sun and Moon (nyi zla kha sbyor). It consists of a series of arranged syllables which a practitioner should intone melodiously. The individual syllables and their arrangement as a mantra are considered particularly sacred since they are said to have been revealed by the primordial buddha Samantabhadra.
In the sūtra The Question of Maitreya (Toh. 85, Maitreyaparipṛcchā, byams pas zhus pa), Buddha Śākyamuni recounts this prayer that Maitreya made as a bodhisattva aspiring to accomplish the six perfections and attain the ten bodhisattva levels. The prayer is also included in the Miscellaneous section of the Tengyur (Toh 4378).
A popular Nyingma version of the famous Bodhisattvas’ Confession of Downfalls (byang chub sems dpa’i ltung bshags), also known as the Sūtra of the Three Heaps (phung po gsum pa’i mdo), invoking the thirty-five buddhas of confession as a means of purifying transgressions of vows and downfalls of the bodhisattva vow.
- The King of Aspiration Prayers: Samantabhadra's “Aspiration to Good Actions” (Zangchö Mönlam) | Aspiration Prayers
So popular and influential is Samantabhadra’s “Aspiration to Good Actions” (bzang spyod smon lam) from the Gaṇḍavyūha chapter of the vast Avataṃsaka Sūtra, it is known as the king of all aspiration prayers. It is included in the Dhāraṇī section of the Kangyur (Toh 1095) and the Miscellaneous section of the Tengyur (Toh 4377).
In response to a question from the bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha, the Buddha explains how a bodhisattva should view the mind at the moment of death. It is important, the Buddha says, to cultivate the perception of insubstantiality, great compassion, referencelessness and non-attachment, and not to seek buddhahood anywhere other than in the mind's own wisdom.
The Sūtra of Recalling the Three Jewels is a popular sūtra in the Tibetan tradition, expressing the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Saṅgha. It has inspired a number of commentaries, from Tāranātha (1575–1643), Könchok Jigme Wangpo (1728–1791), Minyak Kunzang Sonam (1823–1905), Ju Mipham (1846–1912), and others.
The Ārya caturdharmanirdeśa nāma mahāyāna sūtra (‘Phags pa chos bzhi bstan pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo, Toh 249) is the ultimate source for the doctrine of the four powers (stobs bzhi), a popular feature of Tibetan teachings on confession. In this initial, canonical presentation, however, the four are referred to as 'factors', although two are also called 'powers'. They are: 1) the action of total rejection, 2) the action as remedy, 3) the power of restoration, and 4) the power of support.
In this (Tōh. 23), the shortest of the Prajñāpāramitā or Perfection of Wisdom sūtras, the Buddha teaches the syllable ‘A’, which encapsulates the transcendent perfection of wisdom and all the literature related to it.
- The Seven Branches from Samantabhadra’s “Aspiration to Good Actions” (Zangchö Mönlam) | Seven Branches
Extracted from Samantabhadra’s “Aspiration to Good Actions” (bzang spyod smon lam, Toh 1095), this is the section on the seven branches (yan lag bdun pa; saptāṅga): 1) prostration, 2) offering, 3) confession, 4) rejoicing, 5) imploring the buddhas to turn the wheel of dharma, 6) requesting the buddhas not to enter nirvāṇa, and 7) dedication. This section is commonly recited as part of the preliminaries to other practices.
The Aparimitāyurjñāna-nāma mahāyāna-sūtra ('phags pa tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po'i mdo, Toh 674 & 849) is said to bring extraordinary merit and longevity when written out, read aloud, copied, or venerated with offerings.
The Vajrakīla Root Tantra Section (or Fragment) (Tōh. 439), the remains of a much larger Vajrakīla tantra, was discovered and translated into Tibetan by Sakya Paṇḍita (1182–1251). According to the text's colophon, it was Guru Padmasambhava who brought the original to Tibet. The tantra contains several famous verses that appear in most Vajrakīla sādhanas and is the only Vajrakīla text included within the Kangyur. The edition translated here includes a colophon by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and benedictory verse by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.
Commonly known as simply the Nāmasaṅgīti, this is one of the most highly revered tantras throughout all lineages and practice systems of Vajrayāna Buddhism. In it, Buddha Śākyamuni teaches Vajrapāṇi and his retinue a list of names for the wisdom body of Mañjuśrī, the heart of all tathāgatas. Expressed in attractive and at time playful verses, these names evoke an extremely vast array of topics and images, from the mundane to the transcendent, and from the quiescent to the ferocious. The Nāmasaṅgīti has occupied a central role in the daily chanting of Buddhist practitioners for centuries and is often the first text to be recited on special occasions.
- The Praise to Tārā with Twenty-One Verses of Homage and The Excellent Benefits of Reciting the Praise | Tārā
Perhaps the most popular of all prayers to Tārā, this tantra praises her twenty-one forms, both peaceful and wrathful. The first twenty-one verses are at once a series of homages to Tārā and a poetic description of her physical features, postures, qualities, abilities, mantras, and hand gestures. The remaining six verses describe how and when the Praise should be recited, as well as the benefits of its recitation.
These commonly cited verses of commitment (dam bca' ba) occur several times in the Precious Treasury of Revelations (rin chen gter mdzod) and are also to be found in the collected writings of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Chokgyur Lingpa and Tertön Sogyal. The translation here is based on the commentary by Ju Mipham (1846–1912).