Showing posts with label Vajrasattva. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vajrasattva. Show all posts

29 June 2012

Canonical Sources for the Vajrasattva Mantra

I've mentioned that Maitiu O'Ceileachair and I have identified the earliest textual occurrence of the Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra in the Chinese Tripiṭika. Circumstances have meant that Maitiu and I have not been able to write up our notes formally. I know there is considerable interest in this mantra, and the Vajrasattva Mantra continues to be the most popular page on my mantra website. So I thought I would write up some of the basic stuff that we've found, along with transcriptions of the mantra from various Canonical sources. This blog post represents our collaborative effort, but credit for all the observations on the Chinese goes to Maitiu.

The earliest occurrence in the Chinese Canon, which is really the only candidate for the earliest literary use of the mantra, since only the Chinese dated their texts, is in T.866, a collection of mantras related to the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha (STTS). T.866 was translated into Chinese by Vajrabodhi (ca 671-741) in 723 CE. Stephen Hodge (2003) says that Vajrabodhi acquired his STTS manuscript circa 700 CE, so it had to have been composed before that date.

Two Sanskrit manuscripts of STTS are extant, though both are relatively recent copies. One has been published in facsimile edition (Candra & Snellgrove), and another forms the basis of a critical edition by Yamada (which means that he compares his Sanskrit manuscript with other versions).  *see comments. We also looked at two versions in printed editions of the Tibetan Canon (the Peking and Derge editions) and several other Chinese versions from the Taisho Edition of the Tripiṭaka (e.g. T.873, 875, 884, 1224, 1320, 1956), including Amoghavajra's translation into Chinese (T. 873).

The mantra occurs in the context of a brief introductory paragraph and is followed by another brief paragraph.

Sanskrit text

atha sarvamudrāṇāṁ sāmānyaḥ svakāyavākcittavajreṣu vajrīkaraṇavidhivistaro bhavati| yadā mudrādhiṣṭhānaṁ śithilībhavati, svayaṁ vā muktukāmo bhavati, tato'nena hṛdayena dṛḍhīkartavyā|
oṃ vajra-satva-samayam anupālaya
dṛḍho me bhava su-toṣyo me bhavānurakto me bhava
su-poṣyo me bhava sarva-siddhiñ ca me prayaccha
sarva-karmasu ca me citta-śreyaḥ kuru hūṃ
ha ha ha ha hoḥ
Bhagavan sarva-tathāgata-vajra mā me muṃca
vajrī bhava mahā-samaya-sattva āḥ ||
anenānantaryakāriṇo'pi sarvatathāgatamokṣā api saddharmapratikṣepakā api sarvaduṣkṛtakāriṇo'pi sarvatathāgatamudrāsādhakā varjasattvadṛḍhībhāvādihaiva janmanyāsu yathābhirucitāṁ sarvasiddhimuttamasiddhiṁ vajrasiddhiṁ vajrasattvasiddhiṁ vā yāvat tathāgatasiddhiṁ vā prāpsyantī-tyāha bhagavāṁ sarvatathāgatavajrasattvaḥ||

Todaro's translation of the Sanskrit.
(except for the mantra which is my translation)

"Now an explanation of the rite of the strengthened of all mudrās alike in one's own body, speech and mind thunderbolt is given. When the mudrā empowerment becomes weak or when there is a desire for liberation by oneself, then one should be made firm with this mantra:
O Vajrasattva honour the agreement!
Reveal yourself as the vajra-being!
Be steadfast for me!
Be fully nourishing for me!
Be very pleased for me!

Be passionate for me!
Grant me all success and attainment!
And in all actions make my mind more lucid!
ha ha ha ha hoḥ
O Blessed One, vajra of all those in that state, don't abandon me!
O great agreement-being become real!
"The Bhagavat Vajrasattva of all the Tathāgatas said: "Notwithstanding continuous killing, the slander of all the Tathāgatas, the repudiation of the true teaching and even all evil and injury, (by this) the perfection of all the Tathāgata's mudrās from the strengthening of Vajrasattva, in the present life as you desire, and all accomplishments, the supreme accomplishment, the thunderbolt accomplishment or the accomplishment of Vajrasattva, up to the accomplishment of the Tathāgata, will be attained quickly."


The reconstructed version of the mantra created on the basis of Sthiramati's work in Jayarava (2010) reflects the extant Sanskrit and Chinese texts of STTS quite well, with only minor differences. It may be that the Tibetans were working from a different source text.

The mantra explicitly allows that someone who has done evil, more or less any kind of evil, will not be prevented from making progress. The Chinese version includes the five atekicca or unforgivable actions. (Giebel p.99). This represents that last phase of turning a tenet of Early Buddhism on its head, i.e. that the consequences of actions are inescapable. This role of the mantra--usually referred to as 'purifying karma'--remains central in the narratives surrounding its use in Tibetan Buddhism. The mantra seems much less prominent in Sino-Japanese Tantric Buddhism, and Vajrasattva (Japanese: 金剛薩埵 Kongosatta) plays quite a different role than in Tibet.

The text refers to the mantra as hṛdaya, i.e, 'heart mantra' or 'heart essence'.

Both extant Sanskrit versions spell sattva with one t, i.e. satva; which may indicate some Middle-Indic influence, although the language of this passage appears to conform to Classical Sanskrit norms.

The main difference between this mantra text and the one reconstructed from the Tibetan in Jayarava (2010) is that Yamada has su-toṣyo me bhavānurakto me bhavasu-poṣyo me bhava; where as the Tibetan (and the Chinese texts) transpose the last two phrases:  sutoṣyo me bhava, supoṣyo me bhava, anurakto me bhava. Note that bhavānurakto is a coalescence of bhava anurakto forced by Sanskrit sandhi rules (-a a- > -ā-).

Tibetan Versions of the Mantra

The Tibetan texts below are transcribed as they appears in the printed text, including punctuation marks, see also note at the end of this section. The lines of woodblock prints are long, and the mantra goes over a couple of long lines in both cases--difficult to reproduce in this medium so I haven't tried.

Derge Ed.
ཨོཾ་བཛྲ་སཏྭ་ས་མ་ཡ། མ་ནུ་པཱ་ལ་ཡ། བཛྲ་ས་ཏྭ་ཏྭེ་ནོ་པ། ཏི་ཥྛ་དྲྀ་ཌྷོ་མེ་བྷ་བ། སུ་ཏོ་ཥྱོ་མེ་བྷ་བ། ཨ་ནུ་ར་ ཀྟོ་མེ་བྷ་བ། སུ་བོ་ཥྱོ་མེ་བྷ་བ། སརྦྦ་སི་ དྡྷི་མྨེ་པྲ་ཡཱ་ཙྪ། སརྦྦ་ཀརྨྨ་སུ་ཙ་མེ་ཙི་ཏྟཾ་ཤྲེ་ཡཿ་ཀུ་རུ་ཧཱུྂ། ཧ་ཧ་ཧ་ཧ་ཧོཿ། བྷ་ག་བཱན། སརྦྦ་ཏ་ཐཱ་ག་ཏོ། བཛྲ་མཱ་མེ་མུཉྩ་བཛྲི་བྷ་བ་མ་ཧཱ་ས་མ་ཡ་སཏྭ་ཨཿ།

oṃ badzra satva sa ma ya| ma nu pā la ya| badzra satva tve no pa| ti ṣṭha dṛ ḍho me bha ba| su to ṣya bha ba| a nu ra kto me bha ba| su po ṣyo me bha ba| sa rbba siddhi mme pra ya tsatsha| sa rbba ka rmma su tsa me tsi ttaṃ śre yaḥ kuru hūṃ| ha ha ha ha hoḥ| bha ga vān| sa rbba ta thā ga ta| badzra mā me nu ñca ba drī bha ba ma hā sa ma ya satva aḥ

Peking Ed.
།ཨོཾ་བཛྲ་སཏྭ་ས་མ་ཡ། །མ་ནུ་པཱ་ལ་ཡ།བཛྲ་ས་ཏྭ་ཏྭེ་ནོ་བ།ཏི་ཥྛ་ཌི་ཌྷོ་མེ་བྷ་བ་སུ་ཏོ་ཥྱོ་མེ་བྷ་བ།སུ་བོ་ཥྱོ་མེ་བྷ་བ།ཨ་ནུ་རག་ཏོ་མེ་བྷ་བ།སརྦྦ་སིད་དྷི་མྨེ་པྲ་ཡཱ་ཙྪ་་་་་་་་་་སརྦ་ཀརྨ་སུ་ཙ་མེ།ཙི་ཏྟཾ་ཤྲེ་ཡཾ་ཀུ་རུ་ཧཱུྂ།ཧ་ཧ་ཧ་ཧ་ཧོཿ་བྷ་ག་བཱན།སརྦྦ་ཏ་ཐཱ་ག་ཏོ། །བཛྲ་མཱ་མེ་མུཾཙ་་་་་་བཛྲི་བྷ་བ་མ་ཧཱ་ས་མ་ཡ་སཏྭ་ཨཱཿ

| oṃ badzra satva sa ma ya | | ma nu pā la ya | badzra sa tva tve no ba | ti ṣṭha ḍi ḍho me bha ba su to ṣyo me bha ba | su po ṣyo me bha ba | a nu rag to me bha ba | sa rbba sid dhi mme pra ya tsatsha ……….. sarva karma su tsa me | tsi ttaṃ śre yaṃ ku ru hūṃ | ha ha ha ha hōḥ bha ga vān | sa rbba ta thā ga to | | badzra mā me muṃtsa……badzri bha ba ma hā sa ma ya satva āḥ
Peking ed. shows signs of being slavishly copied from a woodblock of a different size. The repeated shad | | (not to be confused with a nyis shad || ), for example in the first line 'ya | | ma' indicates that the original line ends with ya | and the new line starts with | ma. The groups of multiple tsheg indicate space filling. We've included the exact number of tsheg as in the printed text (C.f. Beginning and End Markers in Buddhist Texts).

Tibetan regularly makes several substitutions: va > ba; ja > dza; ca > tsa. In addition rva > rbba; rma > rmma (Derge). Medial nasals are sometimes replaced by anusvāra, e.g. muñca > muṃtsa. Both have satva for sattva, but so do extant Sanskrit texts.

General anomalies in the Tibetan versions of the mantra are discussed in Jayarava (2010). Particularly the break between samayam anupālaya becoming samaya manupālaya from an Indic original that would have written individual syllables with no word breaks: e.g. स म य म नु पा ल य sa ma ya ma nu pā la ya (See also the Chinese Siddhaṃ script preserved in T. 875 below.) This is quite simply an error, and was probably a mistake of reading rather than listening.

Both texts incorrectly add a shad in the middle of vajrasattvatvenopatiṣṭha. The words are vajrasattvatvena upatiṣṭha with a sandhi  -a u- > -o- (See Jayarava 2010 for more on this).

Chinese Versions of the Mantra

Reconstructing Sanskrit from Chinese is an imprecise art and often relies on knowing what the Sanskrit 'should' say. Chinese transcriptions are not very good at representing visarga and anusvāra can go missing as well (though this might be the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit source material rather than the translators). Some translators indicate vowel length and some don't. Generally Amoghavajra is pretty good and many translators followed his conventions.

The earliest occurrance is T. 866.

T. 866
A Summary of Recitations Taken from the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha(sūtra)
Translation by Vajrabodhi: 11th year of Kaiyuan (開元), Tang dynasty (CE 723) in Zisheng Monastery (資聖寺). (fasc. 2)

[each section of the mantra is transliterated and then followed, in parentheses, by a gloss in Chinese]
[0239a12] 唵 跋折囉 薩埵三摩耶 麼奴波邏耶。(金剛薩埵三摩耶願守護我)跋折囉薩埵 哆吠奴烏(二合)播底瑟吒(以為金剛薩埵)涅哩茶烏(二合)銘婆嚩(為堅牢我)素覩沙揄(二合)銘婆嚩(於我所歡喜)阿努囉(上 )訖覩(二合)婆銘縛 素補使榆(二合)銘婆嚩 薩婆悉地 含銘般囉野綽(授與我一 切悉地)薩婆羯磨素遮銘(及諸事業)質多失唎耶(令我安隱)句嚧吽呵 呵呵呵護(引)薄伽梵(世尊)薩婆怛他揭多(一切如來)跋折囉麼迷悶遮(願金剛莫捨離我)跋折哩婆嚩(令我為金剛三摩耶薩埵)摩訶三摩耶薩埵阿(去 引)
oṃ vajra sattvasamaya manupālaya (vajrasattvasamaya please protect me) vajrasattvatvenopatiṣṭha (become vajrasattva) dṛḍho me bhava (be strong [for] me) sutoṣyo me bhava (be pleased with me) anurakto me bhava supoṣyo me bhava sarvasiddhi [there is an extra syllable here gam/kam] me prayaccha (bestow on me all siddhis) sarvakarmasu ca me (and all karmas) citta śreyaḥ (make me at peace) kuru hūṃ ha ha ha ha hoḥ bhagavan sarvatathāgata vajra mā me muñca (please Vajra do not abandon me) vajrībhava (make me the vajra samayasattva) mahāsamayasattva āḥ
Vajrabodhi gives glosses for some parts of the mantra that make it clear that he understands sarvasiddhi to mean 'all the siddhis'. I suspect that the punctuation of this line is incorrect and 含 has been moved from directly behind 悉地 and that these characters should be read together as siddhiṃ or siddhaṃ. It is possible that siddhiṃ is a Middle-Indic form of siddhīn. According to Edgerton (BHSD) when the nasal of -īn is retained the vowel is shortened.

Note that the Chinese appears to read vajra sattvasamaya manupālaya rather than vajrasattva samayam anupālaya in line with the Sanskrit mss. If this is correct then the error could have occurred on Indian soil and been transmitted to Tibet and China as it was.

(translated by Amoghavajra 753 CE. 1st chapter only)
唵日羅 薩 怛 三 摩 耶 麼 努 波 (引) 耶
日羅 薩 怛 怛 尾 怒 波 底 瑟 奼
捏 哩 濁 寐 婆 蘇 都 使 庾 寐 婆
阿 努 囉 羯 都 寐 婆
蘇 布 使 庾 寐 婆
薩 悉 朕 寐 缽 囉 也 車
薩 羯 摩 素 者 寐 質 多 室 哩 藥 矩嚕 吽
呵呵呵呵 斛 (引)
婆 伽 梵 薩 怛 他 櫱 多 日囉 摩 弭 悶 遮
日哩 婆 摩 訶 三 摩 耶薩怛 噁(引)

ǎn rì luó sà dá sān mā yē me nǔ bō (yǐn) yē
rì luó sà dá dá wěi nù bō de sè chà
niē li zhuó mèi pó sū dōu shǐ yǔ mèi pó
ā nǔ luo jié dōu mèi pó
sū bù shǐ yǔ mèi pó
sà xī zhèn mèi bō luo yě chē
sà jié mā sù zhě mèi zhì duō shì li yào ju lū hōng
a a a a hú (yǐn)
pó gā fàn sà dá tā niè duō rì luó mā mǐ mēn zhē
rì li pó mā hē sān mā yē sà dá ě (yǐn)

Amongst the Chinese versions are two which preserve a (corrupt) Siddhaṃ version of the mantra. We include one of these for comparison. (The Siddhaṃ is written using the CBETA Font which is not aesthetically pleasing but gives us an idea of what Chinese Siddhaṃ looks like.)

蓮華部心念誦儀軌 [平安時代寫東寺三密藏藏本]
A Ritual Manual of the Mental Recitation of the Lotus Section.
Written during the Heian Period (794-1185 CE). From the Sanmitsu Collection of the Tō-ji.
[0326a26] 金剛三昧。

oṃ va jra sa tva sa ma ya ma nu pā la ya va jra sa tva nve no pa ti ṣṭa dṛ ho me bha va mi su tu ṣuo me bha va a nu ra kto me bh ba sup u ṣo me bha va sa rva si ddhiṃ me pra ya ccha sa rva ka rma su ca me cit ta śre ya ku ru hūṃ ha ha ha ha hoḥ bha ga vaṃ sa rva ta thā ga ta va jra mā ma muṃ ca va jrī bha va ma hā sa ma ya sa tvā āḥ
Be aware that this mantra is corrupted and contains many introduced errors. It is provided for comparison purposes only.


These then are principle canonical sources of the Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra in the Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese versions of the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha. Since the Chinese accurately recorded the date of their translations we can be confident that T. 866 is the earliest translated text in the Chinese Tripiṭika to contain this mantra. The differences between the various versions are relatively minor, though they suggest that even at the earliest times this text existed in several versions containing these minor differences, i.e. not all the differences are due to translations or scribal error.

All of these canonical versions tend confirm the notion that the mantra was originally written in good Sanskrit rather than the somewhat garbled version in the received Tibetan tradition. The garbling of the mantra forms part of the discussion in Jayarava (2010), as does the tension created by received tradition vs. other forms of authority. However T. 866 suggests that at least some of the errors were present in the Indian tradition already. The fact of the difference between the canonical and received versions of the mantra highlights the conflict of sources of authority in the Buddhist tradition. Though Tantric Buddhism places great emphasis on guru to disciple transmission, which tends to outweigh textual authority; the fact that we now have much greater access to the Tripiṭika and the knowledge that the mantra has been partially garbled are difficult to ignore for Western converts unconsciously inculcated with the valorisation of textual authority.

The Vajrasattva mantra was set free from this context in the Tibetan Tantric tradition where it performs an important role in purifying karma that might otherwise impede progress on the Buddhist path.  In its self this is a fascinating aspect of the history of ideas in Buddhism.



大正新脩大藏經 [Taishō Revised Tripiṭaka]

Chandra, Lokesh and Snellgrove, David L. Sarva-tathāgata-tattva-saṅgraha : facsimile reproduction of a tenth century Sanskrit manuscript from Nepal. New Delhi : Sharada Rani, 1981. Online transcription Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon.

Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association (CBETA)

'De-bshin-gśegs-pa thams-cad-kyi de-kho-na-ñid bsdusp-pa shes-bya-ba theg-pa chen-poḥi mdo (Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha-nāma-mahāyāna Sūtra).' The Tibetan Tripitaka Peking Edition. (Ed. D. T. Suzuki) Tokyo: Tibetan Tripitaka Research Institute, 1956. Vol.4, p.233. (Ña 37a-b)

‘De-bshin-gśegs-pa thams-cad-kyi de-kho-na-ñid bsdusp-pa shes-bya-ba theg-pa chen-poḥi mdo (Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha-nāma-mahāyāna Sūtra).’ Derge: The Sde-dge Mtshal-par Bka’-’gyur: A Facsimile Edition of the 18th Century Redaction of Si-tu Chos-kyi-’byuṅ-gnas Prepared under the Direction of H.H the 16th Rgyal-dbaṅ Karma-pa. Delhi: Delhi Karmapae Chodhey Gyalwae Sungrab Partun Khang, 1976-1979.

Giebel, R. W. (2001) Two Esoteric Sutras. Numata.

Hodge, Stephen. The Māhvairocana-Ambhisaṃbodhi Tantra: With Buddhaguhya's Commentary. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

Jayarava. 'The Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra.' Western Buddhist Review, 5, Oct 2010. Online:

Tadaro, Dale Allen. An Annotated Translation of the Tattvasamgraha (Part 1) with an Explanation of the Role of the Tattvasamgraha Lineage in the Teachings of Kukai. Doctoral dissertation Columbia University, 1985.

Weinberger, Steven Neal. The significance of yoga tantra and the "Compendium of Principles" ("Tattvasamgraha Tantra") within tantric Buddhism in India and Tibet. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Virginia, 2003.

Yamada, Isshi. Sarva-tathāgata-tattva-saṅgraha nāma mahāyāna-sūtra : a critical edition based on a Sanskrit manuscript and Chinese and Tibetan translations. New Delhi : Sharada Rani, 1981 p 95.

11 December 2009

Aspects of the Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra II

nectar gathering bumblebeeHaving dealt with some of the issues of the linguistics of the mantra [1], I want now to look at the mantra as a text. While in the Tibetanised version the main theme is taken to be purification of karma, in the corrected Sanskrit one of the other themes emerges into the foreground: samaya. Samaya is our relationship (or agreement or meeting place) with Vajrasattva, the embodiment or personification of the Dharmakāya.[2] I want to explore the nature of this relationship in various terms which will demonstrate some continuities.

Firstly let me say a quick word about the purification of karma. I showed in my published paper on confession [3] that from the point of view of early Buddhism willed actions (karma) inevitably produce results (vipaka). The fruits of actions cannot be eliminated or 'purified'. However they can be mitigated and I cited several texts which explore how this happens. In a footnote to that article I also noted that in later versions of the Samaññaphala Sutta this doctrine began to change. Whereas in the Pāli the story of King Ajātasattu confessing to the Buddha that he has killed his father is only the frame for a larger doctrinal exposition, in the surviving Sanskrit fragment and three Chinese translations Ajātasattu's confession is the main focus. In the Pāli version there is no way to prevent the devastating effects of his actions (patricide is one of the five unforgivable acts), and the commentary on the story tells us that at death he goes straight to the Hell of Copper Kettles. The later versions all make his meeting with the Buddha transformative and state that, to varying degrees, Ajātasattu is released from the effects of his 'unforgivable' actions. Indeed it seems that this became an important theme in Mahāyāna Buddhism and is epitomised by the Tantric Vajrasattva as purifying through the recitation of his mantra.

The theme of samaya is distinctively Tantric, though it has resonances with earlier traditions. Samaya, as I have explained, means 'agreement, meeting, meeting place' and could also be translated as relationship. The idea is brought out quite poetically in Kūkai's expositions on kaji (Sanskrit adhiṣṭhāna) which I wrote about some time ago as grace. The idea is that it is not just the practitioner reaching out towards a remote and disinterested goal, but that the Dharmakāya is doing it's bit to reveal itself. Lest we become too theistic about it I want to unpack this idea.

In the Heart Sūtra is says that all dharmas are marked by emptiness (sarvadharmāḥ śūnyatā-lakṣanā). This is entirely in keeping with the earliest (pre-abhidharma) notions on the nature of dharmas. Dharmas are the units of experience, both the information from the senses, and the mental aspects consciousness such as memory, associative and inductive thinking. Experiences, the focus of discussions of dependent arising, have no ontological status - they are not solid existence 'things', nor are they non-existent. As Nāgārjuna observed the terms existent and non-existent do not apply to dharmas (and therefore to experience). All that we know and are conscious of results from contact between objects and sense organs giving rise to dharmas - in this sense the word means 'foundation'.

However we do not treat experience this way: we take it far more seriously than this, as existent and important. We spin stories about it which we believe and invest with value, a process known as prapañca. Hence we make our fundamental errors which lead to suffering.

Now the samaya with the Dharmakāya says something like: if you seek, you will find. In other words the true nature of experience is always able to be discerned, it can't be permanently hidden from us. If we go about it the right way, we will see through (vipaśyanā) our delusions. This is an important aspect of Buddhist faith. The guarantees that Awakening is possible come in many forms amongst which Tathāgata-garbha, so-called Buddha nature, stands out as a good example. Buddha nature, like this samaya, is designed to set your mind at ease about the possibility of your liberation. Likewise the samaya uses the model of an agreement between two parties to assure us that we can realise the Dharmakāya.

I see the mantra as a dialogue, or even perhaps as a dramatisation of this relationship. On the one hand the chanter is reminding Vajrasattva, as an embodiment of the nature of experience, of his side of the relationship: we need the possibility of gaining insight into the true nature of experience to remain open to us, so that we can be liberated.

On the other hand the seed-syllables are Vajrasattva's response to us. Vajrasattva reminds us that it is we who project onto experience. That he, i.e. the nature of experience, is always available to us, and that in fact nothing can ever change that. Śūnyatā, pratītyasamutpāda, Buddha Nature, etc: these are all ways of pointing to the nature of experience - saying the same thing in different ways. Vajrasattva replies in non-linear, non-rational fashion because typically it is very difficult to think straight about this subject. Typically we are completely caught up in, or intoxicated with (pramāda), our stories and we cannot really think outside that narrow context. In Tanric terms oṃ āḥ and hūṃ represent not just our mundane body, speech and mind, but also the Three Mysteries (trighuya) the 'body', 'speech', and 'mind' of the Dharmakāya which are communicated through his use of mudrā, mantra, and maṇḍala. These three also become the technology by which we align our body, speech and mind with the Dharmakāya and become enlightened. The nectar of the deathless (both words translate as amṛta) is always available for beings in saṃsāra!

  1. I've dealt with the mantra from a linguistic point of view in two previous posts:
  2. Samaya is a complex term. It also covers our relationship with our guru, and with all sentient beings. Samaya can additionally mean 'vow', that is the vows that taken in conjunction with abhiṣeka. There are many different explanations.
  3. Did King Ajātasattu Confess to the Buddha, and did the Buddha Forgive Him?' Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Vol 15, 2008.

04 December 2009

Aspects of the Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra I

Siddhaṃ writing on palm leaf from 11th century Nepal. A section of the Aṣṭasāhasrika Prajñāpārimtā Sūtra
In my annotated translation of the Hundred Syllable mantra I tried to convey what the Sanskrit text of the mantra was and how it might be translated [1] - I did this in such a way as to open up the meaning and allow anyone to produce their own wording. There is a lot more to say about this mantra. Here I want to look at why the mantra might have been misread to produce a garbled version.

Tantric Buddhism is generally agreed to have begun in the 7th century in India. It continued to develop until Buddhism died out in India, and long afterwards in the surrounding nations of Bhutan, Ladhakh, Nepal and especially in Tibet. Having been conveyed to China and the far east, this stream of transmission (and back transmission) was cut off with the demise of the Silk Rd, and the collapse of the Tang dynasty in the late 9th century. Some scholars see the much earlier dhāraṇī tradition as being "proto-tantric", but this is like saying that flour is proto-cake.

Tantras were on the whole composed in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, with the exception of the Kālacakra Tantra which was composed in Classical Sanskrit. BHS is an inflected vernacular language which has been modified to be more like Sanskrit. This was a general trend and even Pāli has been Sanskritised to some extent. My view is that mantras are also in BHS rather than Classical Sanskrit - the -e ending on so many words being not, as many scholars assume, a feminine vocative, but a masculine nominative singular. [See words in mantras that end in -e].

Writing during this time was somewhat different to present day. The script in widespread use in Northern India at the time is known by several different names but is now generally called Siddhaṃ (perfected) or Siddhamātṛka (matrix of perfection). A version of this script, adapted for writing with a Chinese calligraphy brush, is preserved in the Chinese Tripiṭaka for writing mantras - even when they are also transliterated into Hanzi. The Tibetan script dbu-can (pronounced Uchen) was designed on an early model of the Siddhaṃ script. In the latter part of the Tantric period the script which is now often no referred to simply as Sanskrit, but which is more correctly called Devanāgarī (City of Gods) began to supplant Siddhaṃ.

A feature of texts of this period is that syllables were not grouped into words, but written individually with little or no punctuation. In order to read a text like this one had to have a very good knowledge of Sanskrit word endings. Here is the Vajrasattva mantra written as it might have been in the 10th century in Devanāgarī:

Some of the mistakes that crept into the Vajrasattva mantra over time, or perhaps even all at one time, seem to me to be the result of misreading rather than mishearing. Note that Tibetan writing is open to the same kinds of difficulties in reading. Take this segment for instance:
व ज्र स त्त्व स म य म नु पा ल य = va jra sa ttva sa ma ya ma nu pā la ya
As I noted in my translation there are several ways to clump the syllables into words. The first four naturally form the name of vajrasattva. But this leaves sa ma ya ma nu pā la ya. If we are versed in Tantra but not so much in Sanskrit we might be attracted to the word samaya. Because this is a mantra we may not be expecting formal grammar, so we might take that as a unit. This leaves us with manupālaya. This is not well formed Sanskrit, but it has familiar parts (exlpained in my translation). I can't say how often as a neophyte Sanskritist I have fallen into a similar trap. The problem is that when a word ends in -m and the next word begins with a- the two are combined into a single syllable ma for the purposes of writing. So sa ma ya ma nu pā la ya is actually samayam anupālaya 'uphold the agreement'. In spoken Sanskrit this error would be less likely to occur.

A more crucial error in reading occurred further along.
स र्व क र्म सु च मे चि त्तं श्रे य कु रु = sa rva ka rma su ca me ci ttaṃ śre ya ku ru
This phrase is at the heart of the use to which the mantra is put - the purification of karma. Let me review what I think may have been the procedure for understanding this based on my own experience of reading an unfamiliar Sanskrit text. Keep in mine that we know this is a mantra and mantras seldom follow grammatical rules so we're not expecting to see grammar. Several familiar words stand out: sarva (all), karma (action), cittaṃ (mind) kuru (make). This leaves some bits and pieces. Some thought shows that śreya is related to the word śrī, and that me is 'me' or 'mine'. We're left trying to explain su ca. Suca (often spelt sucha to avoid the confusion on how to pronounce c in English) isn't a word, but it is similar to words related to √śuc 'to gleam' figuratively 'to clean or purify'. The basic form is śocati, past-particple śukta, infinitve śuktum, 2nd person singular imperative śoca. Close enough for a mantra. So sarva karma suca me by this process means 'purify all my karma'. And cittaṃ śreya kuru means 'make the mind more śrī'.

In fact su goes with sarva-karma to give the locative plural sarvaskarmasu and the ca is the copulative particle 'and'. Sarvakarmasu ca means 'and in all my actions', and the rest me cittaṃ sreya kuru means 'make my mind more śrī'. Śrī has a very broad range of meaning and I chose 'lucid' because that conveys the sense of light which underlies śrī as well as being an auspicious state of mind.

Well formed Classical Sanskrit sentences do not just form at random. The chances of taking any series of syllables, gathering them into clumps, and finding sentences is vanishing small. Garble is far more likely, and more commonly encountered in mantras. This means that the best explanation is that the formal Sanskrit we find in the mantra when we fiddle with word breaks is very likely the original text. Given that the mantra was composed in Classical Sanskrit it suggests that it may well be from the same milieu that created the Kālacakra Tantra.

A corollary of this is that the mantra only gained its association with the purification of karma after it had been garbled and that this was not the original use of the mantra. [2] Not only that, but the way the message is garbled suggests to me that the mantra was passed on without an explanation at some point, and then later on an exegesis was composed based on the mis-read rather than a mis-heard Sanskrit text. Indeed I wonder whether the text was passed on in written form because an oral tradition would have preserved the Sanskrit rhythms of speech that would have made this kind of mistake quite unlikely. I would imagine that this did not happen on Indian soil.

This finding of the original text, and my conjecture about it, creates a significant tension with the received tradition which revolves around purification of karma. In my next post on this subject I will explore some implications of this tension, and look at the theme that emerges into the foreground when the spurious reference to purity is removed: samaya.

  1. In my translation I relied heavily on notes by Dharmacārī Sthīramati aka Dr Andrew Skilton published privately as: Sthiramati (aka Andrew skilton). 'The Vajrasattva Mantra : notes on a corrected Sanskrit text'. Order Journal. vol.3 Nov. 1990.
  2. In this article Sthiramati makes it clear that a great deal of work remains to be done on the history of this mantra. Several fragments appear in other contexts for instance. I don't have the resources to carry out this research but perhaps someone else will one day (it might make a good dissertation).

30 October 2009

The Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra

100 syllable Vajrasattva Mantra in SiddhamIn this post I'll offer a brief commentary on the Vajrasattva mantra, drawing on an article which appeared in our WBO Order Journal in 1990. In his article Dharmacārin and Sanskritist Sthiramati (aka Dr Andrew Skilton - translator of the Bodhicaryāvatāra) addressed the issue of how to spell and interpret this mantra. Although his study was not exhaustive he was able to consult more than a dozen sources in English, Sanskrit and Tibetan and to produce an edited version of the mantra which now graces the FWBO Puja Book. [1] However Sthiramati's notes are not widely available (I know of only two extant copies of the issue) and so I have extracted them here along with my own glosses. Sthiramati's differs in some respects from traditional Tibetan interpretations but does so in ways that help to make sense of the Sanskrit - for instance in several cases he suggests breaking a sandhi [2] one syllable along in order to create a straightforward Sanskrit sentence that was otherwise obscured. There are a huge variety of transliterations, translations, and interpretations of this mantra. There's no one right way to understand a mantra, and I do not mean to down play the importance of traditional interpretations, but I do understand the mantra on my terms.

The Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra in Sanskrit
vajrasattva samayamanupālaya
dṛḍho me bhava
sutoṣyo me bhava
supoṣyo me bhava
anurakto me bhava
sarvasiddhiṃ me prayaccha
sarvakarmasu ca me cittaṃ śreyaḥ kuru
ha ha ha ha hoḥ
bhagavan sarvatathāgatavajra mā me muñca
vajrībhava mahāsamayasattva
The first thing to notice is that the mantra is in Sanskrit, and unlike most mantras contains mostly well formed grammatical sentences. This is very unusual in mantras! Each phrase has a verb in the second-person singular imperative mood (2.p.s imp). The imperative is used to express moderate to strong desires, injunctions and orders indicated in English by the exclamation mark - ! - 'let him!', 'you must!', 'you might!' I interpret the overall mood of the mantra as being fervent devotion.

The name Vajrasattva was likely modelled on the word bodhisattva. The vajra or thunderbolt was the weapon of the Vedic god Indra who, like the Greek Zeus, hurled them at his enemies. The word is not unknown in early Buddhist texts (in Pāli it is vajira) but in Tantra it is very prominent. By this time it also means 'diamond', and metaphorically it means 'reality'. Sattva is an abstract noun from sat 'true' or 'real' - literally 'truth' or 'reality'. In usage sattva is close in meaning to our word 'being' as in: 'a state of being', or 'a being'. Vajrasattva - the thunderbolt-being - is an embodiment of the true nature of experience.

In Buddhist mantras oṃ is there chiefly to signal that this is a mantra, or that the mantra starts here. Lama Govinda's eloquent speculations aside, the Buddhist oṃ does not seem to have the kind of esoteric significance it does in the Hindu traditions. [3] Note it is oṃ not auṃ, and in the original sources for Buddhist mantras we never find auṃ ॐ.

Taking the mantra one line at a time we find an ambiguity in the first line because of a sandhi phenomena. The line is conventionally written vajrasattvasamayamanupālaya leaving us to figure out the word breaks from our knowledge of Sanskrit grammar. 'Vajrasattva' is most likely to be a vocative singular, 'O Vajrasattva', so the mantra is addressed to Vajrasattva.

The phrase samayamanupālaya could be either samaya manupālaya or samayam anupālaya. Both are commonly seen and the former is a traditional Tibetan approach. Taking it to be samaya manupālaya creates some difficulties however. Manupālaya is interpreted as meaning 'a defender (pāla) of men (manu)' however pālaya is not proper word - at best it could be meant as a (commonly encountered in mantra) faux dative (pāla+ya), but even this is not much help. Manu might be man (singular) but when used this way seems to usually refer to the original progenitor - an equivalent to Adam. Manu more usually relates to the mind (cf. mati, manas). Whereas samayam anupālaya is a natural Sanskrit sentence with samayam (in the accusative case) being the object of the verb anupālaya (the subject being Vajrasattva). Anu+√pāl means 'preserve' and anupālaya is the 2.p.s imp. Samaya means 'coming together' or 'meeting', and is used in the sense of 'coming to an agreement'. In Tantric Buddhism it specifically refers to agreements the practitioner takes on when initiated. These agreements are sometimes referred to as a 'vow' or 'pledge', but a vow is something one takes on oneself whereas Vajrasattva is also bound by the agreement, so vow is not such a good translation. To preserve an agreement is to honour it, so vajrasattva samayam anupālaya means 'O Vajrasattva honour the agreement' .

Vajrasattvatvenopatiṣṭha is again two words: vajrasattvatvena upatiṣṭḥa (a followed by u coalesces to o). Vajrasattvatvena is the instrumental singular of the abstract noun formed from the name Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva-tva could be rendered as 'vajrasattva-ness', the quality of being a vajra-being. The instrumental case indicates how the action of a verb is carried out. The Verb here is upatiṣṭha from upa+√sthā 'to stand near, to be present, to approach, to support, to worship; to reveal one's self or appear'. Though it is acceptable Sanskrit, getting a passable English sentence from this is difficult: literally Vajrasattvatvenopatiṣṭha is something like 'remain/approach/manifest by means of your vajra-being-ness'. Sthiramati suggests "As Vajrasattva reveal thyself!"

Fortunately things get simpler for a bit as we meet a series of phrases with the verb bhava which is the 2nd person singular imperative of √bhū 'to be'. They also contain the particle me which in this case is the abbreviated form of the 1st person pronoun in the dative 'for me'. The form then is 'be X for me'. First we have be dṛḍhaḥ 'firm, steady, strong'. The sandhi rule is that an ending with aḥ changes to o when followed by bha: so dṛḍhaḥ > dṛḍho. Dṛḍho me bhava means "be steadfast for me".

Sutoṣyaḥ is a compound of the prefix su- meaning 'well, good, complete' and toṣya is a secondary nominal derivative (taddhita) from √tuṣ meaning 'satisfaction, contentment, pleasure, joy'. Sutoṣya me bhava is therefore 'be my complete contentment'.

Supoṣyaḥ is again su- but combined with poṣya, also a taddhita from √puṣ 'to thrive, to prosper, nourish, foster'. Sutoṣyo me bhava is then 'be my complete nourishment'. Sthiramati suggests "Deeply nourish me".

Anuraktaḥ is anu + rakta. Rakta is a past-participle from √rañj and the dictionary gives "fond of, attached, pleased" (note it is not from √rakṣ 'to protect'). In his seminar on the mantra Sangharakshita suggests 'passionate' and this seems to fit better with √rañj which literally means 'to glow red, or to redden' (from which we also get the Sanskrit word rāga). We can translate anurakto me bhava as 'be passionate for me', or as Sthiramati suggests 'love me passionately'.

Now comes sarvasiddhiṃ me prayaccha. Prayaccha is a verb from the base √yam 'to reach' and means 'to grant'. (√yam forms a stem yaccha; and pra + yaccha > prayaccha - which is also the 2nd person singular imperative.). Sarva is a pronoun meaning 'all, every, universal' and siddhi is a complex term which can mean 'magical powers, perfection, success, attainment'. So sarvasiddhiṃ me prayaccha must mean 'grant me all success' or ' give me success in all things'. (Note that sarvasiddhiṃ is an accusative singular so it can't mean 'all the siddhis' in the plural).

The next line is somewhat longer and more complex: sarvakarmasu ca me cittaṃ śreyaḥ kuru. Sarvakarmasu is a locative plural. Sarva we saw previously and karma means action - so this word means 'in all actions'. Ca is the connector 'and' meaning we take it with the previous line. [so far we have 'and in all actions'] Me here is a genitive 'my'. Cittaṃ 'mind' is in the accusative case so is the object of the verb kuru which is the 2nd person singular imperative of √kṛ 'to do, to make'. Śreyah is from śrī which has a hug range of connotations: 'light, lustre, radiance; prosperity, welfare, good fortune, success, auspiciousness; high rank, royalty'. I think 'lucid' would do nicely here. Śreyaḥ is the comparative so it means 'more lucid'. Putting all this together find that sarvakarmasu ca me cittaṃ śreyaḥ kuru hūṃ means 'and in all actions make my mind more lucid'.

Sthiramati notes that most Tibetan traditions seem to take this as sarva karma suca me 'purify all my karma'. Their interpretation is important since it explains the connection with the idea of the mantra's purifying effects. However they appear to be relating suca with the Sanskrit verb śocati (from √śuc) 'shine, clean' and this cannot be correct.

In Sthiramati’s version (and most others) hūṃ is tagged on to this line, however I'm inclined to separate it out and leave it as a standalone statement (note that the three syllables oṃ āḥ hūṃ are used in the mantra, though not in that order). In any case hūṃ is untranslatable. Kūkai sees it as representing all teaching, all practices and all attainments, so perhaps we could see this as Vajrasattva’s contribution to the conversation?

ha ha ha ha hoḥ won't detain us long since it is untranslatable and generally understood to be laughter. Sometimes said to be one syllable for each of the Five Jinas. Is this Vajrasattva's laughter; or is it our response to his hūṃ?

Then we come to: bhagavan sarvatathāgatavajra mā me muñca. Sometimes considered as two separate lines we put them together because there is one verb muñca (again in the 2.p.s imp). Bhagavan is a vocative singular, the phrase is addressed to the Blessed One. Sarvatathāgata on its own would also be a voc. sing, but this presents some difficulties since sarva is 'all' but Tathāgata is singular. Sthiramati suggests that these are resolved by taking sarvatathāgatavajra as a single compound meaning "O vajra of all the Tathāgatas" - being a member of a compound allows us to take tathāgata as plural. [4] Mā is the negative particle 'don't', and the verb is muñca from √muc 'to abandon'. So bhagavan sarvatathāgatavajra mā me muñca means 'O Blessed One, vajra of all the Tathāgatas, don't abandon me!'

In the final phrase Vajrībhava mahāsamayasattva, vajrībhava is an example of a factitive or 'cvi' verbal compound. The noun vajra is compounded with the verb bhū, the final a changes to ī and the sense of the word is causative, implying transformation: 'become a vajra'. Again the conjugation is 2.p.s.imp - so its saying 'you should become a vajra'. In his seminar Sangharakshita coins the word 'vajric' which Sthiramati does not like, but I see what Sangharakshita might have meant - someone who becomes the vajra in the sense of embodying it, might be described as vajric. Mahāsamayasattva is once again a vocative, and a compound of three words. I think here that Mahā 'great' qualifies samayasattva a technical term in Tantric Buddhism - 'agreement-being' - meaning the image of the deity generated in meditation which becomes the meeting place (samaya) for the practitioner and the Buddha. In a sense this is our contact with 'reality' or 'śūnyatā' and we want it to go from being imagined to being genuine, so that we are transformed into a Buddha ourselves. Vajrībhava Mahāsamayasattva then means 'O great agreement-being become real!'

The Hundredth syllable is āḥ. In Classical Sanskrit āḥ is an exclamation of either joy or indignation – similar to the way we might use the same sound in English. Hūṃ and phaṭ are traditionally added under specific circumstances - hūṃ when the mantra is recited for the benefit of someone dead, and the phaṭ when the mantra is recited to subdue demons. In the WBO/FWBO they are routinely included.

So my full translation goes:
O Vajrasattva honour the agreement!
Reveal yourself as the vajra-being!
Be steadfast for me!
Be my complete contentment!
Be my complete nourishment!
Be passionate for me!
Grant me all success and attainment!
And in all actions make my mind more lucid!
ha ha ha ha hoḥ
O Blessed One, vajra of all those in that state, don't abandon me!
O great agreement-being become real!
For written versions of the Vajrasattva mantra in various scripts see: I could say quite a lot more about the variations that Sthiramati encountered, so please feel free to raise issues in the comments.

I'll be work-shopping this material and leading chanting at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre on 12th Dec 2009. Book online at the CBC Website.

  1. Note that Sthiramati found a great deal of variation even within Tibetan and Sanskrit sources for the spelling of the mantra.
  2. Sandhi literally means 'junction', but here it is a technical term for how spelling of words changes because of their proximity to each other. English instances of this are the change from 'a bear', to 'an apple' (a > an before a vowel sound); and the creations of plurals with -s compare the final sound and spelling in the words: weeks, bears, fishes (In Sanskrit all of these changes are notated and 'bears' would be spelt bearz, and fishes as fishez).
  3. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism is a popular book but in his explanations of mantra generally and of oṃ in particular Lama Govinda cites only Hindu texts (see for instance pg. 21ff) - which I have always found puzzling. He is viewed with some suspicion by some: see for instance Donald Lopez's many comments in Prisoners of Shangri-La.
  4. See my discussion of the term tathāgata and the way -gata functions in compounds of this sort in Philological Odds and Ends I.

  • Govinda. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. Rider, 1959.
  • Lopez, Donald S. Prisoners of Shangri-La : Tibetan Buddhism and the West. University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • Puja: The FWBO Book of Buddhist Devotional Texts. (7th ed.) Windhorse Publications, 2008.
  • Sangharakshita. Vajrasattva Mantra. Free Buddhist Audio. (Note that Sangharakshita is commenting on the Tibetan version of the mantra as he received it from his Tibetan guru, and differ on a number of points).
  • Sthiramati (aka Andrew skilton). 'The Vajrasattva Mantra : notes on a corrected Sanskrit text'. Order Journal. vol.3 Nov. 1990.
  • Vajrasattva Mantra. Visible Mantra. 2009.
  • Vajrasattva Mantra of 100 Syllables. Wildmind Online Meditation.

Note 14/12/2009
I recently discovered a version of the hundred syllable Vajrasattva mantra in the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṅgraha Tantra (chp 1). The order of the phrases is slightly different, and the application of sandhi varies from Sthiramati's version slightly, but it forms a confirmation of his reconstruction of the text. The Romanised version of the mantra is:
oṃ vajra sattvasamayamanupālaya
dṛḍho me bhava sutoṣyo me bhavānurakto me
bhava supoṣyo me bhava sarvasiddhiṇca me prayaccha
sarvakarmasu ca me cittaśreyaḥ kuru hūṃ
ha ha ha ha hoḥ bhagavan sarvatathāgatavajra mā me muṃca
vajrībhava mahāsamayasatva āḥ
The STTS is a relatively early text (ca. late 7th - early 8th century) and is considered by the Tibetans to be a Yoga Tantra. The version I found it in is a facsimile edition of a Nepalese manuscript produced by Lokesh Chandra and David Snellgrove. This makes the case for an 'original' Sanskrit version of the mantra much stronger.

Online at the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon.

Updated 26 Jan 2014 on the basis of comments below.