The Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī with Its Ritual Manual (3)
Degé Kangyur, vol. 90 (rgyud ’bum, pha), folios 242.a–243.b
Translated by Catherine Dalton
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2022
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This text was translated by Catherine Dalton, who also wrote the introduction.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of May, George, Likai, and Lillian Gu, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
The Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī with Its Ritual Manual opens in Sukhāvatī, where the Blessed One Amitāyus is residing. Amitāyus addresses the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, informing him that there are beings who suffer from illnesses and short lifespans, and introducing the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī as a remedy for such painful circumstances. Avalokiteśvara immediately asks Amitāyus to pronounce the dhāraṇī, which the Tathāgata does from within a state of samādhi.
After he pronounces the dhāraṇī, Amitāyus explains the benefits of reciting the dhāraṇī for oneself, as well as for animals, as a method for purification and for cutting off lower rebirths.
This work is one among a group of texts in the Kriyātantra section of the Tibetan Kangyurs that contain the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī and its related rituals (kalpa). The present text is the shortest of four short dhāraṇī texts—three of which have the same title—that present the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī with its ritual manual (kalpa).1 These four works share a similar narrative opening (nidāna) up through the presentation of the dhāraṇī proper, and several among them also share additional passages. The present text is made up of content that is entirely parallel—even if some of it appears abbreviated and rearranged—with the longer Toh 594.
There are many Sanskrit witnesses of the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī proper.2 Moreover, what we will call—simply for the purpose of distinguishing it from the present group of dhāraṇī-kalpas—the “primary” uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī text (Toh 597, which is titled Sarvadurgatipariśodhana-uṣṇīṣavijayā-dhāraṇī rather than Uṣṇīṣavijayā-dhāraṇī-kalpasahitā)3 survives in at least one incomplete early manuscript.4 While the present text appears to no longer be extant in Sanskrit, there is at least one surviving Sanskrit uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī work that is closely related to it and belongs to the same group of related dhāraṇī texts described above. This work shares the same opening narrative and some of the ritual material with the texts from this group.5
The primary uṣṇīṣavijayā text was first translated into Chinese by Buddhapāli in the late seventh century, and then at least five times subsequently.6 Several ritual manuals for the dhāraṇī’s recitation were also translated into Chinese, but our text does not appear to be among them.7 One ritual manual (Taishō 978), translated into Chinese by Dharmadeva between 973 and 981, is among the group of uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī texts to which the present work belongs.8 The primary uṣṇīṣavijayā text was significant in East Asia, and one scholar has even identified it as the most important esoteric Buddhist scripture translated into Chinese in the seventh century.9 Practices connected with the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī were important in China, in particular in conjunction with funerary rites, where the dhāraṇī was written on pillars near tombs, especially from the mid-Tang to Ming dynasties (ca. 800–1600 ᴄᴇ).10 In addition to its ritual uses, in China this dhāraṇī receives mention in poems and tales of miracles and is analyzed in philosophical commentaries.11
The uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī also appears to have been popular in Dunhuang. A number of Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang include just the dhāraṇī on its own, both in Tibetan transliteration (dhāraṇīs, like mantras, are commonly left untranslated in Tibetan texts) and in Tibetan translation. The primary uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī text (Toh 597) also appears in several Dunhuang manuscripts.12 Moreover, several drawings from Dunhuang show maṇḍala (altar) arrangements corresponding to uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī texts.13
In Nepal, uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī rituals continue to be performed as part of modern Newar Buddhist practice, where their practice is sometimes prescribed for Wednesdays in particular.14 Practices connected to the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī likewise continue in modern Tibetan Buddhism. The so-called Tongchö (stong mchod)—the thousandfold offering practice of Uṣṇīṣavijayā, a version of which is mentioned briefly in our text—is currently performed in Tibetan monasteries, sometimes using a ritual manual composed by the nineteenth-century polymath Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo. Other notable Tibetan works on the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī and its associated practices include commentaries by the great Sakya lama Butön (bu ston rin chen grub, 1290–1364) and the fourth Panchen Lama, Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen (blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1570–1662).
The question of what, or who, exactly, Uṣṇīṣavijayā is is a complex one that cannot be clearly answered here. In short, like a number of uṣṇīṣa deities, she is sometimes identified as a protective deity, in this case a goddess, emanated from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa. Indeed, Uṣṇīṣavijayā is clearly depicted as a goddess in a number of short sādhanas included in Indian anthologies such as the Sādhanamāla, compiled from the works of many authors probably during the period of the Pāla kings (eighth to twelfth century).15 Three closely similar sādhanas of a three-faced, eight armed form of the goddess are included in the Tengyur, one in each of the three related anthologies translated from the Indian collections into Tibetan in the eleventh to fourteenth centuries respectively.16 A variety of other forms are depicted or described in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Kashmiri sources.17 In the later Tibetan tradition Uṣṇīṣavijayā can even appear as one of a group of three long-life deities along with the Buddha Amitāyus and White Tārā. However, in our text, and indeed in all but one of the uṣṇīṣavijayā works in this section of the Kangyur (Toh 598), while the dhāraṇī itself uses the feminine vocative form throughout, the name uṣṇīṣavijayā is not rendered into Tibetan in the feminine, and the word uṣṇīṣavijayā is not used to refer to anything apart from the name of the dhāraṇī—the dhāraṇī of the crown victory.
The range of possible answers to the question of what the name Uṣṇīṣavijayā refers to is enlarged even further by the existence of a group of related texts widely used in Southeast Asia, sharing the Pali title Uṇhissa-vijaya-sutta (or in some cases simply Uṇhissa-vijaya) but found in a number of different forms, some in Pali but others in Siamese, Lao, Yuon, and Khmer. Some refer at least briefly to the story of the god Supratiṣṭhita (Pali Supatiṭṭhita) which, although not included in the present text, is the frame story of Toh 597 and a secondary narrative element in Toh 594. But instead of the dhāraṇī of the Sanskrit and Tibetan versions these Southeast Asian texts contain a set of verses (gāthā) to be recited whose content is unrelated to that of the Sanskrit dhāraṇī. The gāthā are also found alone in several ritual compilations. Even in the vernacular versions, the verses are written in Pali. In these texts, in their own opening lines, it seems to be the verses themselves that are referred to as the Uṇhissa-vijaya.18
The present text lacks a translator’s colophon. However, as noted above it is made up of content that is almost entirely parallel with Toh 594, with which it also shares the same title. That work does have a translator’s colophon indicating that it was translated into Tibetan by the Indian scholar Dharmasena and the Tibetan Bari Lotsāwa, and it is therefore an eleventh- or twelfth-century translation. However, the imperial Phangthangma catalog lists one Uṣṇīṣavijayā-dhāraṇī-vidhisahitā, which, even if not the same as the present text, is certainly a work of a similar type.19 Thus, along with the records of Uṣṇīṣavijayā texts at Dunhuang, its presence in the Phangthangma catalog at the very least indicates the early presence of parts of the Uṣṇīṣavijayā corpus, including not just the dhāraṇī but also some of its associated rites, in Tibet.
The present translation was completed on the basis of the Tibetan translation of the text found in the Tantra Collection (rgyud ’bum) section of the Degé Kangyur,20 in consultation with the Stok Palace Kangyur and the notes in the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma). The text is stable across all the Kangyurs consulted, with the same title and only minor variants; all recensions are alike in lacking a translator’s colophon. We have also consulted Hidas’ edition and translation of the surviving Sanskrit Uṣṇīṣavijayā-dhāraṇī text for the passages that are parallel with the present text.
The main dhāraṇī is not identical in every detail across the five different versions in the Degé Kangyur (Toh 594–598), and the existence of further variations across different Kangyurs and versions in extra-canonical collections further complicates the picture. Reference to the dhāraṇī as presented in Hidas’ edition of the Sanskrit yields useful orthographic confirmation, but may be misleading as a model given that the ten different Nepalese Sanskrit manuscripts on which it is based are of much later date than any of the present Tibetan witnesses. Here and in the other works in the group we have therefore chosen to transcribe the dhāraṇī as it appears in the Degé version of each text making only minor choices of orthography and adding annotations to point out the most significant discrepancies.
One noticeable difference across both Tibetan and Sanskrit versions of the dhāraṇī is the presence or absence of the syllable oṁ at the beginning of certain phrases. In the present work and in Toh 594, 595, and 597 there are only three such oṁ syllables, while in Toh 598 oṁ appears no less than nine times, as it does in Hidas’ edition from Sanskrit sources and in extra-canonical liturgies. The Tibetan translation of Toh 598 was made at a significantly later date than the other works of the group, and may possibly signal a change in usage that is also reflected in the Nepalese Sanskrit texts of even later date. This is corroborated by the absence of extra oṁ-s in the Dunhuang manuscripts. The colophon of Toh 597 found in the Phukdrak (phug brag) Kangyur includes a note claiming that the texts with only three oṁ-s are to be considered more correct.21 The note also states that although there may have been Sanskrit sources with as many as nine oṁ-s, the twelfth-century translator Sumpa Lotsāwa22 reported that all the Sanskrit texts he had seen contained only three, and that the Sanskrit manuscripts of the texts held at Sakya monastery had no more than that. Because Sumpa Lotsāwa is known to have lived and studied in Nepal, his comment on the “correct” number of oṁ-s in the Sanskrit manuscripts available to him offers a glimpse of the evolution of the text in the Nepalese tradition. As Hidas’ edition of the Nepalese manuscripts suggests, the number of oṁ-s in the dhāraṇī seem to proliferate, eventually reaching a total of nine.
Over the centuries, the textual transmission of the dhāraṇī has preserved the major portion of it with remarkable fidelity. Nevertheless, the few anomalies to be seen across all these closely related texts are a reminder that here, as with other dhāraṇī works, some variations over time and place are to be expected.
Thus did I hear at one time. [F.242.b] The blessed, thus-gone, worthy, perfectly awakened Buddha Amitāyus was staying in the excellent secret palace, Dharma Proclamation,24 in Sukhāvatī. He looked out at the circle of his retinue and said to Noble Avalokiteśvara, “Alas, bodhisattva great beings and sons and daughters of noble family, there are beings who suffer, are afflicted with diseases, and have short lifespans. To help them, one should uphold and recite this dhāraṇī called the crown victory of all tathāgatas and teach it extensively to others for the sake of long life.”25
Then the bodhisattva, the great being, Avalokiteśvara arose from his seat, joined his palms, and said to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, please teach! Well-Gone One, please teach the dhāraṇī called the crown victory of all tathāgatas.”
Then the Blessed One looked upon the circle of his perfect26 retinue, entered the samādhi called the splendor beheld everywhere, and pronounced this dhāraṇī called the crown victory of all tathāgatas:
“oṁ namo bhagavate sarvatrailokyaprativiśiṣṭāya buddhāya te namaḥ |
tadyathā | oṁ bhrūṁ bhrūṁ bhrūṁ | śodhaya śodhaya | viśodhaya viśodhaya | asamasamantāvabhāsaspharaṇagatigaganasvabhāvaviśuddhe | uṣṇīṣavijayapariśuddhe | abhiṣiñcantu māṃ sarvatathāgatāḥ sugatavaravacanāmṛtābhiṣekair mahāmudrāmantrapadaiḥ | āhara āhara mama27 āyuḥsandhāraṇi | śodhaya śodhaya | viśodhaya viśodhaya | gaganasvabhāvaviśuddhe | uṣṇīṣavijāyapariśuddhe | sahasraraśmisañcodite | sarvatathāgatāvalokini | ṣaṭpāramitāparipūraṇi | sarvatathāgatamāte28 | daśabhūmipratiṣṭḥite | sarvatathāgatahṛdayādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭḥite | mudre mudre mahāmudre | vajrakāyasaṃhatanapariśuddhe | sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśuddhe | pratinivartaya mamāyurviśuddhe | sarvatathāgatasamayādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite | [F.243.a] oṁ muni muni mahāmuni | vimuni vimuni mahāvimuni | mati mati mahāmati | mamati | sumati | tathatābhūtakoṭipariśuddhe | visphuṭabuddhiśuddhe | he he | jaya jaya | vijaya vijaya | smara smara | sphara sphara | sphāraya sphāraya | sarvabuddhādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite | śuddhe śuddhe | buddhe buddhe | vajre vajre mahāvajre | suvajre | vajragarbhe | jayagarbhe | vijayagarbhe | vijayagarbhe29 | vajrajvālagarbhe | vajrodbhave | vajrasambhave | vajre | vajrini | vajram bhavatu mama śarīraṃ sarvasatvānāñ ca kāyapariśuddhir bhavatu | sadā me30 sarvagatipariśuddhiś ca31 | sarvatathāgatāś ca māṃ32 samāśvāsayantu | budhya budhya | siddhya siddhya | bodhaya bodhaya | vibodhaya vibodhaya | mocaya mocaya | vimocaya vimocaya | śodhaya śodhaya | viśodhaya viśodhaya | samantān mocaya mocaya | samantaraśmipariśuddhe | sarvatathāgatahṛdayādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite | mudre mudre mahāmudre | mahāmudrāmantrapadaiḥ svāhā.33
“Write down this dhāraṇī called the crown victory, which purifies all evil deeds and obscurations and eliminates all lower rebirths, and place it at the summit of the life-pillar of a caitya. If one bathes and recites this dhāraṇī eight thousand times on the full moon day, one’s life force that has been exhausted will instead be replenished. One will be swiftly freed from lower rebirths, one’s obscurations will be purified, and one will thus attain unsurpassed awakening.
“If animals hear this dhāraṇī, this will be their final lower rebirth. Until they attain awakening, they will be born into kṣatriya, brahmin, merchant, and householder families as prominent as the great sāl tree.
“If someone is touched by the shadow of that caitya, or even if they are touched by a particle of dust from it, they will not take lower rebirths.”
When the Blessed One spoke these words, the bodhisattva great being Noble Avalokiteśvara [F.243.b] rejoiced and praised what he had said.
This concludes “The Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī with Its Ritual Manual.”
Source Texts for This Translation
de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs rtog pa dang bcas pa (Sarvatathāgatauṣṇīṣavijayānāmadhāraṇīkalpasahitā). Toh 596, Degé Kangyur vol. 90 (rgyud, pha), folios 242.a–243.b.
de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs rtog pa dang bcas pa. 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), 2006–9, vol. 90, pp. 799–802.
de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs rtog pa dang bcas pa. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 104 (rgyud, pa), folios 224.a–225.b.
Other Tibetan and Sanskrit Sources
de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs rtog pa dang bcas pa (Sarvatathāgatauṣṇīṣavijayānāmadhāraṇīkalpasahitā). Toh 594, Degé Kangyur vol. 90 (rgyud, pha), folios 230.a–237.b.
de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs rtog pa dang bcas pa (Sarvatathāgatauṣṇīṣavijayānāmadhāraṇīkalpasahitā). Toh 595, Degé Kangyur vol. 90 (rgyud, pha), folios 237.b–242.a.
’phags pa ngan ’gro thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs (Sarvadurgatipariśodhanauṣṇīṣavijayānāmadhāraṇī). Toh 597, Degé Kangyur vol. 90 (rgyud, pha), folios 243.b–248.a; Toh 984, Degé Kangyur vol. 102 (gzungs, waM), folios 120.a–124.b.
de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ma’i gzungs zhe bya ba’i rtog pa (Sarvatathāgatauṣṇīṣavijayānāmadhāraṇīkalpa). Toh 598, Degé Kangyur, vol. 90 (rgyud, pha), folios 248.a–250.a.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos kyi ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh (ed). Sādhanamāla. 2 vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1925–28.
Bühnemann, Gudrun. “A Dhāraṇī for Each Day of the Week: The Saptavāra Tradition of the Newar Buddhists.” Bulletin of SOAS 77, no. 1 (2014): 119–36.
Chandra, Lokesh. “Comparative Iconography of the Goddess Uṣṇīṣavijāyā.” In Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, vol. 34, nos. 1–3, pp. 125–37. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1980.
Cicuzza, Claudio (ed). Katā me rakkhā, katā me parittā: Protecting the protective texts and manuscripts. Proceedings of the Second International Pali Studies Week, Paris 2016. Materials for the Study of the Tripiṭaka Volume 14. Bangkok and Lumbini: Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation and Lumbini International Research Institute, 2018.
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Dalton, Jacob P. (2016). “How Dhāraṇīs WERE Proto-Tantric: Liturgies, Ritual Manuals, and the Origins of the Tantras.” In Tantric Traditions in Transmission and Translation, edited by David Gray and Ryan Richard Overbey, 199–229. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
———(forthcoming). Conjuring the Buddha: Ritual Manuals in Early Tantric Buddhism. New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming.
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———(2020). “Uṣṇīṣavijayā-dhāraṇī: The Complete Sanskrit Text Based on Nepalese Manuscripts.” International Journal of Buddhist Thought & Culture 30, no. 2 (December 2020): 147–67.
———(2021a). “Dhāraṇī Seals in the Cunningham Collection.” In Precious Treasures from the Diamond Throne: Finds from the Site of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, edited by Sam van Schaik et al., 87–94. London: The British Museum, 2021.
———(2021b). Powers of Protection: The Buddhist Tradition of Spells in the Dhāraṇīsaṃgraha Collections. Beyond Boundaries 9. Boston: de Gruyter, 2021.
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———(unpublished). “Sarva(dur)gatipariśodhani-uṣṇīṣavijaya: The Los Angeles Manuscript.” Unpublished transcription and English translation.
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Types of attestation for Sanskrit names and terms
Attested in source text
This term is attested in the Sanskrit manuscript used as a source for this translation.
Attested in other text
This term is attested in other Sanskrit manuscripts of the Kangyur or Tengyur.
Attested in dictionary
This term is attested in Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries.
The attestation of this name is approximate. It is based on other names where Tibetan-Sanskrit relationship is attested in dictionaries or other manuscripts.
Reconstruction from Tibetan phonetic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the Tibetan phonetic rendering of the term.
Reconstruction from Tibetan semantic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the semantics of the Tibetan translation.
This term has been supplied from an unspecified source, which most often is a widely trusted dictionary.
- ’od dpag tu med pa
- tshe dpag tu med pa
- spyan ras gzigs
- bcom ldan ’das
- bram ze
- mchod rten
- chos yang dag par sdud pa
great sāl tree
- shing sA la chen po
- khyim bdag
- rtog pa
- rgyal po’i rigs
- ngan ’gro
- ting nge ’dzin
- bde ba can
- de bzhin gshegs pa
- gtsug tor
- bde bar gshegs pa