The Dhāraṇī of Tārā
Degé Kangyur vol. 101 (gzungs, waM), folio 160.a.
Translated by Lhasey Lotsawa Translations and Publications
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
Translated by Lhasey Lotsawa Translations and Publications under the guidance of Phakchok Rinpoche. The translation and introduction were produced by Stefan Mang and reviewed and edited by Ryan Conlon.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Dhāraṇī of Tārā is a short recitation formula that invokes the deity Tārā for the purpose of dispelling obstacles and pacifying negative forces. As suggested by her name, which can be translated as “Savior,”1 Tārā is revered as a deity who quickly responds in the face of worldly and spiritual dangers, and she is commonly invoked for this purpose by diverse communities of Buddhists.
The worship of Tārā in India can be traced back to at least the sixth century, and since that time the goddess has gained increasingly important status in the Buddhist pantheon.2 Tibetan histories recount that the worship and practice of Tārā was introduced to Tibet as early as the seventh century via a sandalwood statue brought by the Nepalese princess Bhṛkutī as dowry for her marriage to the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo.3 While a few texts dedicated to Tārā were translated in the following centuries,4 it is believed that the worship of Tārā did not take firm root in Tibet until the eleventh century, when it was actively promoted by Atiśa.5
The Dhāraṇī of Tārā begins with an homage to the Three Jewels and Avalokiteśvara. This is followed by the main dhāraṇī, which was not translated into Tibetan but preserved in transliterated Sanskrit. The Tibetan text lacks a colophon, so the Tibetan translators and editors of the dhāraṇī remain unidentified.
As cataloged in the Degé Kangyur,6 this dhāraṇī is part of a cycle of eight Kriyātantra (bya rgyud) texts (Toh 724–731) dedicated to Tārā. The same formula recorded in The Dhāraṇī of Tārā is also included in Tārā Who Protects from the Eight Dangers,7 a number of Tengyur texts dedicated to Tārā,8 and Butön Rinchen Drup’s (bu ston rin chen grub, 1290–1364) Dhāraṇī Collection (gzungs bsdus) from his Collected Works (gsung ’bum).9 The dhāraṇī appears to be the main dhāraṇī of the form of Tārā known as Vajratārā, as confirmed by its use in sādhanas dedicated to Vajratārā preserved in the Tengyur10 and the Sādhanamālā.11 It is not known if the dhāraṇī circulated independently, or if it was extracted and preserved separately as The Dhāraṇī of Tārā because of its prestige and widespread incorporation into other texts and practice manuals.
The transcription and translation of the dhāraṇī below takes the Degé Kangyur as the primary witness, which was compared with versions recorded in other Kangyur collections, as well as the above-mentioned Tibetan and Sanskrit sources.
Homage to the Three Jewels!
This text, Toh 1001, and all those contained in this same volume (gzungs, waM), are listed as being located in volume 101 of the Degé Kangyur by the Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC). However, several other Kangyur databases—including the eKangyur that supplies the digital input version displayed by the 84000 Reading Room—list this work as being located in volume 102. This discrepancy is partly due to the fact that the two volumes of the gzungs ’dus section are an added supplement not mentioned in the original catalog, and also hinges on the fact that the compilers of the Tōhoku catalog placed another text—which forms a whole, very large volume—the Vimalaprabhānāmakālacakratantraṭīkā (dus ’khor ’grel bshad dri med ’od, Toh 845), before the volume 100 of the Degé Kangyur, numbering it as vol. 100, although it is almost certainly intended to come right at the end of the Degé Kangyur texts as volume 102; indeed its final fifth chapter is often carried over and wrapped in the same volume as the Kangyur dkar chags (catalog). Please note this discrepancy when using the eKangyur viewer in this translation.
sgrol ma’i gzungs [The Dhāraṇī of Tārā]. Toh 729, Degé Kangyur vol. 94 (rgyud, tsha), folio 222.a.
sgrol ma’i gzungs [The Dhāraṇī of Tārā]. Toh 1001, Degé Kangyur vol. 101 (gzungs, waM), folio 160.a.
sgrol ma’i gzungs. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–2009, vol. 94, pp. 592–93.
sgrol ma ’jigs pa brgyad las skyob pa [Tārā Who Protects from the Eight Dangers]. Toh 731, Degé Kangyur vol. 94 (rgyud, tsha), folios 222.b–224.b. English translation in Lhasey Lotsawa Translations and Publications (2020).
spyan ras gzigs yum gi gzungs (Avalokiteśvaramātādhāraṇī). Toh 725, Degé Kangyur vol. 94 (rgyud, tsha), folios 200.b–202.a; Toh 909, Degé Kangyur vol. 100 (gzungs, e), folios 240.a–241.b. English translation in Lhasey Lotsawa Translations and Publications (2021).
pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos kyi ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag [Denkarma]. Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
lha mo sgrol ma’i mtshan brgya rtsa brgyad pa (Tāradevīnāmāṣṭaśataka). Toh 728, Degé Kangyur vol. 94 (rgyud, tsha), folios 219.a–222.a.
Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh, ed. The Sādhanamālā Vol I. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1925.
Butön Rinchen Drup (bu ston rin chen grub). “sgrol ma ’jigs pa brgyad skyob kyi sngags.” In gsung ’bum rin chen grub [Collected Works], vol. 16 (ma), folio 218.b. Lhasa: zhol par khang, 2000.
Beyer, Stephan. The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Landesman, Susan. “Goddess Tārā: Silence and Secrecy on the Path to Enlightenment.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 24, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 44–59.
Lhasey Lotsawa Translations and Publications, trans. Tārā Who Protects from the Eight Dangers (Toh 731). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2020.
———, trans. The Dhāraṇī “The Mother of Avalokiteśvara” (Avalokiteśvaramātādhāraṇī, Toh 725, 909). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Obermiller, Eugéne, trans. and ed. History of Buddhism (Chos ḥbyung) by Bu-ston. Vol. 2, The History of Buddhism in India and Tibet. Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus 19. Heidelberg: O. Harrassowitz, 1932.
Sonam Gyaltsen. The Clear Mirror: A Traditional Account of Tibet’s Golden Age. Translated by Taylor McComas. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1996.
Stevens, Rachael. “Red Tārā: Lineages of Literature and Practice.” PhD diss., Oxford University, 2010.
- a ti sha
The Indian master Atiśa Dīpaṅkaraśrījñāna (982–1054) is renowned in the history of Tibetan Buddhism for coming to Tibet and revitalizing Buddhism there during the early eleventh century.
- spyan ras gzigs
Bodhisattva of compassion. One of the eight main bodhisattvas, the heart sons of the Buddha.
- khro gnyer can
According to Tibetan historical sources, the Nepalese princess who married the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. She is believed to have arrived in Tibet in either 632 or 634.
The term dhāraṇī has the sense of something that “holds” or “retains,” and as such can refer to the special capacity of practitioners to memorize and recall detailed teachings. It can also refer to a verbal expression of the teachings—an incantation, spell, or mnemonic formula that distills and “holds” essential points of the Dharma and is used by practitioners to attain mundane and supramundane goals. The same term is also used to denote texts that contain such formulae.
- srong btsan sgam po
617–650; a famous king from Tibet’s Imperial Period.
- sgrol ma
A goddess whose name can be translated as “Savior.” She is known for giving protection and is variously presented in Buddhist literature as a great bodhisattva or a fully awakened buddha.
- rdo rje sgrol ma
A form of Tārā, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, commonly depicted as golden yellow in color, with four faces and eight arms.