The Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī
Degé Kangyur, vol. 90 (rgyud, pha), folios 243.b–248.a.
Translated by Patrick Lambelet and Caley Smith
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Noble Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī That Purifies All Lower Rebirths opens with an account of the god Supratiṣṭhita, who seeks the god Śakra’s advice after learning of his own impending death and rebirth in the lower realms. Realizing that the Tathāgata is the only true refuge from lower rebirth, Śakra goes to the Buddha, who explains to him the benefits of the Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī and a number of rituals related to it that can liberate Supratiṣṭhita and all beings from rebirth in the lower realms.
The text was translated from Tibetan by Patrick Lambelet and from Sanskrit by Caley Smith. Thanks to Catherine Dalton for her helpful suggestions regarding further bibliographic sources.
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 Noble Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī That Purifies All Lower Rebirths opens in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, where the god Supratiṣṭhita’s enjoyment of divine pleasures is interrupted by a voice warning him that he will die within a week, experience seven rebirths in Jambudvīpa, and then be born as a hell being. Supratiṣṭhita rushes in panic to Śakra, Lord of the Gods, seeking his help. Śakra, shocked by this news, sees that Supratiṣṭhita will be born in the lower realms as various types of animals for seven rebirths. Realizing that only the Buddha can offer refuge for beings facing such low rebirths, he seeks the Buddha’s counsel.
When Śakra tells the Buddha of the god Supratiṣṭhita’s impending death and rebirth, light rays emerge from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa, illuminating all the worldly realms before returning to his mouth. The Buddha then explains the qualities of the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī, which include destroying the obscurations, purifying lower rebirths, attaining rebirth as a god, attaining a long life, and attaining rebirth in buddha fields, divine abodes, and the abodes of bodhisattvas. The Buddha bestows the dhāraṇī and again enumerates its benefits. He then requests Śakra to proclaim the dhāraṇī to Supratiṣṭhita so that Supratiṣṭhita will avoid unfortunate future rebirths and be born into the bodhisattva lineage. The Buddha adds that Supratiṣṭhita should contemplate, meditate upon, and recall the dhāraṇī in order to benefit beings in the god realms and all the beings in Jambudvīpa.
The Buddha then explains that the dhāraṇī should be written down and installed in a high place, such as the top of a flagpole or caitya, and that the beings who do this and all beings who see it displayed will be liberated from lower rebirths. He also notes that a person who makes offerings to or venerates the dhāraṇī is to be known as a great being and a child of the tathāgatas.
Following this, Yama, the Lord of Death, goes to the Buddha, praises the benefits of the dhāraṇī, and vows to protect all beings. The Four Great Kings then ask the Buddha to explain the rite related to the dhāraṇī and the technique for performing it. The Buddha explains that beings who recite it will be liberated from the lower realms as well as from all forms of illness, eventually taking their last rebirth in Sukhāvatī.
The Buddha explains a dhāraṇī rite for those who have died in which one should scatter sesame seeds incanted with the dhāraṇī over the bones of the deceased. This will liberate them from lower realms and lead to rebirth in the god realms. He also explains that daily recitation of the dhāraṇī will lead to rebirth in Sukhāvatī, liberation, and protection by the tathāgatas.
Upon hearing these explanations from the Buddha, Śakra returns to Supratiṣṭhita and provides him with the dhāraṇī and the instructions he has received. After practicing it for a week, the dhāraṇī grants Supratiṣṭhita’s every wish—he obtains freedom from lower rebirths, is established on the path to higher rebirth, and is set on the path to his own eventual awakening.
This work is one among a group of texts found clustered together in the Kriyātantra section of the Tibetan Kangyurs that contain the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī and its related rituals. Unlike the other texts in this group, the title of the present work does not explicitly refer to the rituals connected with the dhāraṇī, though it does in fact include a few of the same ritual instructions found in the remaining four texts in the group.1 The group of four more specifically ritual texts all share a similar narrative opening (nidāna) that differs from the introductory narrative in the present text. The dhāraṇī itself and several further passages, however, are shared between the present text and other works in this group. For example, after the supporting narrative for the Buddha’s recitation of the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī, the dhāraṇī itself and nearly all the material that follows it can be found in various sections of Toh 594.
There are many Sanskrit witnesses of the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī proper,2 and the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī text translated here survives in at least one incomplete early Sanskrit manuscript.3 There is also at least one surviving Sanskrit uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī work that is closely related to the remaining four uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī texts described above in that it shares the same opening narrative and some of the ritual material with those texts.4
Several ritual manuals for recitation of the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī were translated into Chinese.5 The present work 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.6 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).7 In addition to its ritual uses, in China this dhāraṇī receives mention in poems and tales of miracles and is analyzed in philosophical commentaries.8
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 uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī text translated here also appears in several Dunhuang manuscripts.9 Interestingly, several drawings from Dunhuang show maṇḍala (altar) arrangements corresponding to uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī texts,10 and one in particular, which has labels written in Chinese, depicts a maṇḍala that is nearly identical to the one described in one of the rites in Toh 594, even though no known ritual manual surviving in Chinese describes such a maṇḍala.11 The records of uṣṇīṣavijayā-related works at Dunhuang, then, suggest a close relationship between Tibetan- and Chinese-speaking Buddhist practitioners there.
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.12 Practices connected to the uṣṇīṣavijayā dhāraṇī likewise continue in modern Tibetan Buddhism. The so-called Tongchö (stong mchod)—the thousandfold offering practice of Uṣṇīṣavijayā—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).13 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.14 A variety of other forms are depicted or described in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Kashmiri sources.15 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. Here in the Kangyur, however, in all but one (Toh 598) of the uṣṇīṣavijayā works in this section, while the dhāraṇī itself uses the feminine vocative form throughout, the name uṣṇīṣavijayā is not rendered in 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), but instead of the dhāraṇī of the Sanskrit and Tibetan texts they 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.16
The present text was translated into Tibetan by the Indian paṇḍitas Jinamitra and Surendrabodhi and the Tibetan translator Bandé Yeshé Dé, thus placing the translation sometime in the ninth century ᴄᴇ.
This translation was made principally on the basis of the Tibetan translations of the text found in the Tantra Collection (rgyud ’bum) and the Compendium of Dhāraṇīs (gzungs ’dus) sections in the Degé Kangyur17 in consultation with the Stok Palace Kangyur and the Comparative Edition of the Kangyur (dpe bsdur ma). We also consulted Toshiya Unebe’s 2015 transliteration of the Sanskrit text, the Sanskrit from Schopen’s transcription of the “Los Angeles Manuscript” of this text, and Hidas’ edition and translation of the surviving Sanskrit Uṣṇīṣavijayā-dhāraṇī ritual for the passages that are parallel with the present text.
The dhāraṇī proper—as is not unusual in the canonical texts where multiple versions have survived—is not identical in every detail even 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 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.
While most differences are minor, one particular phrase in this version of the dhāraṇī appears displaced by comparison with the dhāraṇī in the other works.18 The apparent displacement is not seen in all Kangyurs but is nevertheless not unique to the Degé xylograph alone. Moreover, in the two supposedly duplicate versions of this text, Toh 597 and Toh 984 (in the Tantra and Dhāraṇī sections respectively), that same phrase is by no means identical.
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 Toh 594, 595, and 596 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 some of the extra-canonical liturgies. Toh 598 is a translation 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 oṁs in the Dunhuang manuscripts. The colophon of the equivalent of the present text in the Phukdrak (phug brag) Kangyur19 includes a note to the effect that the texts with only three oṁs are to be considered more correct; that although there may have been Sanskrit source texts with as many as nine, Sumpa Lotsāwa (twelfth century)20 reported that all the Sanskrit texts he had seen contained only three; and that of the Sanskrit texts held at Sakya monastery none had more than that. Sumpa Lotsāwa’s remark regarding this aspect of the Sanskrit manuscripts he had seen, presumably including those then available in Nepal, where he studied and lived, thus contrast with what we know of later manuscript traditions of the dhāraṇī in Nepal, in which the inclusion of nine oṁs seems to have been the norm.
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 only to be expected.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas.
There was a god called Supratiṣṭhita, seated in the divine assembly hall, Sudharmā, among the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three; he lived in a great palace, where he was surrounded by the finest divine pleasures and a great harem of divine maidens playing and singing songs.
That night, after he had indulged in those divine pleasures, he heard a voice say, “God Supratiṣṭhita, your death will occur in one week. After you die, you will be born in Jambudvīpa, where you will undergo seven rebirths. After undergoing the seventh rebirth, you will be born as a hell being. When you are eventually born as a human, you will be poor and blind.”
When the god heard that voice, he became terrified and anguished, and his hairs stood on end. In great haste, he went to Śakra, Lord of the Gods, and prostrated at his feet. He wailed miserably, sobbed, and addressed Śakra, Lord of the Gods, saying, “Lord of the Gods, please listen. Today, Lord of the Gods, I was surrounded by my harem of divine maidens, and after we had enjoyed divine pleasures, played, and indulged in bliss, I heard a voice saying, ‘God Supratiṣṭhita, your death will occur in one week. After you die, you will be born in Jambudvīpa, where you will undergo seven rebirths. After undergoing the seventh rebirth, you will be born as a hell being. When you are eventually born as a human, [F.244.a] you will be poor and blind.’ Lord of the Gods, what am I to do?”21
When he heard what the god Supratiṣṭhita said, Śakra, Lord of the Gods, was astonished. He thought about the seven rebirths that this god was going to experience and sat there in silence. He saw those seven rebirths—birth as a pig, a dog, a fox, a monkey, a venomous snake, a vulture, and a crow—and saw the filthy things he would consume. When Śakra, Lord of the Gods, saw those seven births, he thought, “Alas, if this god is going to experience this unbearable, great suffering, who but the thus-gone, worthy, perfectly awakened Buddha will be his refuge, support, and last resort?”
That evening at dusk, Śakra, Lord of the Gods, gathered various kinds of perfumes, flowers, incense, clothing, ornaments, and so forth, approached the Blessed One in the Jetavana monastery,22 prostrated at the Blessed One’s feet, circumambulated him seven times, performed a great offering, sat before the Blessed One, and told the Blessed One in detail about Supratiṣṭhita’s seven rebirths.
As soon as Śakra, Lord of the Gods, had told the Blessed One about those seven rebirths, brilliant rays of light emerged from the Blessed One’s uṣṇīṣa, illuminated every place throughout the ten directions where there was a world system, returned, and entered the Blessed One’s mouth.23 Then the Blessed One smiled at Śakra, Lord of the Gods, and spoke these words:
“Lord of the Gods, the crown victory dhāraṇī that has been consecrated by the Tathāgata purifies all lower rebirths, [F.244.b] destroys all births characterized by obscurations and suffering, thoroughly purifies the hell realms, animal realms, and the Realm of the Lord of Death, and sets beings on the path to higher rebirth.
“Lord of the Gods, as soon as the crown victory dhāraṇī that purifies all lower rebirths is heard, it destroys the many different types of suffering related to the obscurations. One will obtain a stream of completely pure births, and in each of those lifetimes one will remember one’s previous lives. One will go from one buddha land to another and one god realm to another until one reaches the thirty-second god realm.24
“Lord of the Gods, as soon as that dhāraṇī is uttered, any god whose lifespan has been exhausted will have their lifespan extended;25 the perfectly pure bodily, verbal, and mental karma they have accumulated by maintaining contact with the higher realms26 will allow them to remain, and the tathāgatas will watch over them and27 constantly protect, guard, and preserve them. All the bodhisattvas will think about them as well.
“Just reciting it will lead all the hell realms, the animal realm, the Realm of the Lord of Death, and the preta realm to dry up, disintegrate, and be scattered, cleared, and emptied. The doors to all the buddha fields, god realms, and realms of the bodhisattvas will be opened for them, and they can enter whichever they wish.”
“namo ratna trayāya |29 oṁ namo bhagavate sarvatrailokyaprativiśiṣṭāya buddhāya te namaḥ | tadyathā |
oṁ bhrūṃ bhrūṃ bhrūṃ | śodhaya śodhaya | viśodhaya viśodhaya | asamasamantāvabhāsaspharaṇagatigagane svabhāvaviśuddhe |30 abhiṣiñcantu māṃ sarvatathāgatāḥ sugatavaravacanāmṛtābhiṣekair mahāmudrāmantrapadaiḥ | āhara āhara mama31 āyuḥsandhāraṇi śodhaya śodhaya | viśodhaya viśodhaya | gaganasvabhāvaviśuddhe | uṣṇīṣavijayāpariśuddhe | sahasraraśmisaṃcodite | sarvatathāgatāvalokini | ṣaṭpāramitāparipūraṇi | sarvatathāgatamāte32 daśabhūmipratiṣṭhite | sarvatathāgatahṛdayādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite | mudre mudre mahāmudre | vajrakāyasaṃhatanapariśuddhe | sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśuddhe | pratinivartaya mama āyurviśuddhe | sarvatathāgatasamayādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite | 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 suvajre33| vajragarbhe | jayagarbhe | vijayagarbhe | vajrajvālāgarbhe | vajrodbhave | vajrasaṃbhave | vajre | vajriṇi | vajraṃ bhavatu mama śarīraṃ sarvasattvānāñ ca kāyapariśuddhir bhavatu | sadā me34 sarvagatipariśuddhiś ca | samantān mocaya mocaya | ādhiṣṭhāna35 | sarvatathāgatāś ca mām36 | samāśvāsayantu | budhya budhya | sidhya sidhya | bodhaya bodhaya | vibodhaya vibodhaya | mocaya mocaya | vimocaya vimocaya | śodhaya śodhaya | viśodhaya viśodhaya | 37 samantaraśmipariśuddhe | sarvatathāgatahṛdayādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite | mudre mudre [F.245.b] mahāmudre mahāmudrāmantrapade svāhā38
“Lord of the Gods, the crown victory dhāraṇī that completely purifies all lower rebirths completely purifies all bad deeds, actions, and obscurations. It leads to the path of higher rebirth and utterly destroys all lower rebirths. As many buddhas as there are grains of sand in eighty-eight trillion Gaṅgā Rivers have taught, blessed, and rejoiced in this dhāraṇī, and it is sealed by the wisdom mudrā of all the tathāgatas. It was taught in order to place all beings on the path that leads to higher rebirths, to bring back those who have fallen into lower rebirths, and to liberate all those in painful and frightening existences: hell beings, those born into the animal realm, those in the Realm of the Lord of Death, and all others who have plunged into the ocean of suffering.
“Lord of the Gods, you should take this dhāraṇī and proclaim it to the god Supratiṣṭhita. After you proclaim it, you should urge him to chant it, recite it, contemplate it, meditate upon it, and recollect it, and to worship, uphold, and master it.
“Thus, for the benefit, assistance, and happiness of the gods residing in all the god realms and the beings of Jambudvīpa, I entrust to you the mudrās and mantras related to this dhāraṇī. Lord of the Gods, you must keep it well!
“Lord of the Gods, as soon as this dhāraṇī is heard, the karmic obstructions one has amassed over one hundred thousand eons will be utterly purified.39 Know that one will no longer take any of the various births in the hell realms, the animal realm, [F.246.a] the Realm of the Lord of Death, the realm of the pretas, and the realm of the asuras. Likewise, one will not be born into the class of creatures such as yakṣas, rākṣasas, bhūtas, piśācas, pūtanas, kaṭapūtanas, apasmāras, dogs, tortoises, snakes, fierce wild animals, birds, bees, flies, reptiles, and ants.
“Instead, one will meet with the tathāgatas, be born into the family of the bodhisattvas, or be born into a prominent family such as a brahmin family that is like a great sāl tree, a kṣatriya family that is like a great sāl tree, a householder family that is like a great sāl tree, or a merchant family that is like a great sāl tree.
“Lord of the Gods, consider the utterly stainless precious jewel that is the heart of the sun, completely pure like space, luminous, and blazing with light. This dhāraṇī will render beings devoid of stains just like that jewel. Consider also the perfectly stainless gold from the Jambu River that is pure, perfectly resplendent,40 and utterly lovely. Lord of the Gods, great beings such as those are as utterly and completely pure as that gold, and they will continue to be reborn like that from one lifetime to the next.
“Lord of the Gods, wherever this dhāraṇī is taught—and particularly wherever it is written down,41 read aloud, recited, chanted, [F.246.b] worshiped, studied, listened to, and upheld—all rebirths will be thoroughly purified, and all rebirths in the hell realms will cease.
“Lord of the Gods, this dhāraṇī should be written down and hung from the top of a flagstaff. It should be placed on a high mountain, on top of a tall building, or on top of the life pillar of a caitya.42 Śakra, should any monk or nun, layman or laywoman, or any other son or daughter of noble family see it, live near it, pass under its shadow, or be touched by a breeze carrying a particle of dust from this dhāraṇī when it is hung from the top of a flagstaff, all of that being’s evil deeds will be purified,43 Śakra, and they will no longer have any fear of going to the lower realms. They will not be born as a hell being, they will not be born in the animal realm, they will not be born in the Realm of the Lord of Death, they will not be born as a preta, and they will not be born among the asuras. Lord of the Gods, know that such a being has been prophesied by all the tathāgatas and will never turn back from unsurpassed, complete, perfect awakening.
“Lord of the Gods, a being who worships and honors it, who adorns it with flowers, incense, perfumes, flower garlands, scented salves, parasols, banners, pendants, and ornaments—not to mention builds a caitya at a crossroads, places this dhāraṇī there, and joins their palms together or prostrates or circumambulates it—you should know, Śakra, that this being is indeed a great being! Know them to be a child of the tathāgatas. Know them to be an abode of the Dharma. Know them to be a caitya of the tathāgatas.”
Then, as that evening passed and dawn began to break, Dharmarāja Yama arose, went before the Blessed One, worshiped the Blessed One with divine flowers, cloth, [F.247.a] ornaments, and other things, and respectfully circumambulated the Blessed One seven times. Then he touched the Blessed One’s feet and said, “Blessed One, this dhāraṇī is very powerful. It is very beneficial. Blessed One, I will also continually pursue the benefit of those beings, and I will always remain here to protect and defend them.44 I will turn those beings away from all hell realms. Blessed One, I will do what I know is right, and I will not do what I know is not right.”
Then the Four Great Kings circumambulated the Blessed One three times and said to him, “Blessed One, please give an extensive explanation of the detailed rite for this dhāraṇī and the way to perform the rite.”
“To help a being with a short lifespan, a son or daughter of noble family should bathe on the full moon day and recite the dhāraṇī 1,008 times. The depleted lifespan of that being will be restored. They will become free from illness, all their obscurations will be purified, and they will be completely freed from all lower rebirths, such as that of a hell being.
“One can even recite this dhāraṇī in the ear of any bird or living being that has taken an animal birth and know that this will be their very last lower rebirth.
“If one does the same thing for someone who is extremely ill, even when the doctors have determined that things have taken a turn for the worse, they will be completely freed from their illness and be cut off from all lower rebirths. When they die, they will be born in the realm of Sukhāvatī. Know that this very life is their last birth from a womb. From one lifetime to the next, they will only take miraculous birth from the center of a lotus, and they will always remember the succession of their past lives. [F.247.b]
“For any being who has committed negative deeds and has died, recite the dhāraṇī over white mustard seeds twenty-one times and scatter these over their bones. Even if they have been born as a hell being, in the animal realm, in the Realm of the Lord of Death, as a preta, or in some other lower rebirth, the power of this dhāraṇī will free them from those lower rebirths, and they will be reborn as a god.
“Whoever recites this dhāraṇī completely twenty-one times each day will become worthy to receive offerings from great worldly beings. Their lifespan will increase, they will be free from illness, they will be happy, they will always be joyful, and they will attain the great nirvāṇa. From there they will travel to many different buddha fields and meet the tathāgatas in each one. Those tathāgatas will reassure them and issue prophecies of their awakening. In each of those buddha fields, they will illuminate the entire world.45
“Lord of the Gods, go teach and proclaim this dhāraṇī to the god Supratiṣṭhita,47 and in seven days, Lord of the Gods, all the god Supratiṣṭhita’s rebirths will be purified, he will have a long life, and he will become extremely powerful.”
Śakra, Lord of the Gods, took this teaching from the Tathāgata, went to Supratiṣṭhita’s abode, [F.248.a] and gave this dhāraṇī to the god Supratiṣṭhita. That god diligently practiced this dhāraṇī for six days and six nights, and on the seventh day all his wishes were fulfilled. He was liberated from the lower realms, he was established on the path to the higher realms, and he obtained a long life. Then he proclaimed the following meaningful statement: “How wonderful is the Buddha! How wonderful is the Dharma! How wonderful is it that a dhāraṇī such as this exists in the world! I have been liberated from the great fear!”
This concludes “The Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī That Purifies All Lower Rebirths.”
Note that there is a discrepancy among various databases for cataloging the Toh 984 version of this text within vol. 101 or 102 of the Degé Kangyur. See Toh 984, note 13, for details.
This opening homage to the Three Jewels is included here only in Toh 597, the version of the text in the Action Tantra section of the Degé Kangyur, and is not present in Toh 984, the supposedly duplicate reiteration in the Dhāraṇī section. Moreover, it is only in the Degé Kangyur that the dhāraṇī in the Action Tantra version includes this homage; it does not appear in the Action Tantra recensions in the Yongle, Narthang, Lhasa, and Stok Palace Kangyurs.
This is the anomalous phrase mentioned in the introduction at i.17. In place of the reading samantān mocaya mocaya | ādhiṣṭhāna here in the Degé of Toh 597 and in the equivalent texts in the Lithang and Cone Kangyurs, the supposedly duplicate reiteration of this text in the Dhāraṇī section, Toh 984, instead reads sarvatathāgatasamaya ādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite. The Sanskrit manuscripts as edited by Hidas read sarvatathāgatahṛdayādhiṣṭhānādhiṣṭhite. However, in other Kangyurs, including the Narthang, Lhasa, and Stok Palace, the phrase is omitted altogether. See also n.37.
At this point in most versions of the dhāraṇī comes the phrase samantān mocaya mocaya which, while it is absent here in the Degé text of Toh 597, the version of this work in the Action Tantra section, is present in Toh 984, the supposedly duplicate reiteration in the Dhāraṇī section, as well as in the Stok Palace Kangyur, and in the Sanskrit manuscripts according to Hidas’ edition; in the Narthang and Lhasa Kangyurs it reads samantā mocaya mocaya. The phrase (in one or other of these two spellings) is also present in all other canonical versions of the dhāraṇī in this group of texts—with the exception of the heavily abridged version in the Phukdrak Kangyur (see n.19). See also n.35; one could speculate that this phrase might possibly have been displaced at some point by a scribal error.
’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.
’phags pa ngan ’gro thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs (Sarvadurgatipariśodhanauṣṇīṣavijayānāmadhāraṇī). Toh 984, Degé Kangyur vol. 102 (gzungs, waM), folios 120.a–124.b.
’phags pa ngan ’gro thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’i gzungs. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 104 (rgyud, pa), folios 203.b–210.a.
’phags pa ngan ’gro thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba zhes bya ba’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), 2006–9, vol 90, pp. 804–15.
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.
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 ma’i gzungs zhe bya ba’i rtog pa (Sarvatathāgatauṣṇīṣavijayānāmadhāraṇīkalpa). Toh 598, Degé Kangyur, vol. 90 (rgyud, pha), folios 248.a–250.a.
Sarvagatipariśodhana-Uṣṇīṣavijayā nāma dhāraṇī. In Unebe, Toshiya. “Bonbun Bucchō Sonshō daranikyō to shoyaku no taishō kenkyū” [Sarvagatipariśodhana-Uṣṇīṣavijayā nāma dhāraṇī: Sanskrit text collated with Tibetan and Chinese translations along with Japanese translation]. Nagoya Daigaku Bungakubu Kenkyū Ronshū 61 (2015): 97–146.
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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.
Chou, Yi-liang. “Tantrism in China.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 8, no. 3/4 (March 1945): 241–332.
Copp, Paul. “Voice, Dust, Shadow, Stone: The Makings of Spells in Medieval Chinese Buddhism.” PhD diss., Princeton University, 2005.
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.
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Dalton, Jacob, and Sam van Schaik, ed. Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Stein Collection at the British Library. Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library 12. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Hidas, Gergely (2020). “Uṣṇīṣavijayā-dhāraṇī: The Complete Sanskrit Text Based on Nepalese Manuscripts.” International Journal of Buddhist Thought & Culture 30, no. 2 (December 2020): 147–67.
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Müller, F. Max, and Bunyiu Nanjio, ed. The Ancient Palm-Leaves Containing the Pragñâ-Pâramitâ-Hridaya-Sûtra and the Ushnîsha-Vigaya-Dhâranî. Anecdota Oxondesia, Aryan Series vol. 1, part 3. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884.
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- brjed byed
This is the name for epilepsy, but it also refers to the demon that causes epilepsy and loss of consciousness. The Tibetan specifically means “causing forgetting.”
- lha ma yin
A class of beings, accounts of which can be traced back to the Vedas. They are often considered inferior, even demonic, deities. In Buddhist contexts, they are generally depicted as being in constant conflict with the gods due to their intense jealousy. They are often considered one of the six realms of rebirth in saṃsāra, although they are sometimes classified together with the gods.
- ’byung po
A generic term for a spirit or ghost. They can be malevolent or benevolent.
Birth from a womb
- mngal gyi gnas
Existence in which one is born from a womb. This is one of four types of birth listed in treatises such as the Abhidharmakośa: (1) birth from a womb (mammals, human beings), (2) from an egg (birds, reptiles, fish, etc.), (3) from heat and moisture (maggots, etc.), (4) and spontaneous or miraculous birth (gods, pretas, hell beings, intermediate state beings, etc.).
- bcom ldan ’das
Normally used as an epithet for a buddha. While the Sanskrit term simply means “fortunate,” “illustrious,” or “revered,” Tibetan hermeneutics defines the term as denoting a teacher or buddha who subdues (bcom) the four demonic forces, possesses (ldan) the six attributes of greatness (che ba’i yon tan drug, namely lordship, noble form, glory, fame, wisdom, and perseverance), and transcends (’das) all sorrow, without abiding in the extremes of existence and quiescence.
- sangs rgyas kyi zhing
A pure realm manifested by a buddha or advanced bodhisattva through the power of their great merit and aspirations. Examples include Sukhāvatī (the domain of the Buddha Amitābha) and Abhirati (the domain of the Buddha Akṣobhya).
- mchod rten
- gtsug tor rnam par rgyal ba
The shorter name for the dhāraṇī after which this text is named.
Daughter of noble family
- rigs kyi bu mo
Indian term of address used toward a female student of the bodhisattva path. See “son of noble family.”
- chos kyi rgyal po
Literally “Dharma King” In this text the term is used as an epithet for Yama, the Lord of Death, who judges the dead and rules over the hells.
- lha’i bu mo
Female divine being. The Sanskrit literally means “going in the waters or between the waters of the clouds.”
- bskal pa
Four Great Kings
- rgyal po chen po bzhi
The Four Great Kings, or mahārājas, also known as the “Protectors of the World” (’jig rten skyong ba; lokapāla), are the protectors of the four directions: (1) Dhṛtarāṣṭra (yul ’khor srung) in the east, (2) Virūḍhaka (’phags skyes po) in the south, (3) Virūpākṣa (spyan mi bzang) in the west, and (4) Vaiśravaṇa (rnam thos sras) in the north.
- gang gA’i klung
The Ganges River in India.
- sems dpa’ chen po
- mya ngan las ’das pa chen po
The full awakening of a buddha. A synonym of parinirvāṇa
Great sāl tree
- shing sA la chen po
This can refer either to the sal (or sala) tree (Shorea robusta) or to a great (mahā) household (śāla). The Buddha was said to have been born and died beneath a sāla tree.
Heaven of the Thirty-Three
- sum cu rtsa gsum
According to Buddhist cosmology, the Heaven of the Thirty-Three is the second lowest of the six heavens of the desire realm (kāmadhātu), just above the Heaven of the Four Great Kings (Caturmahārājakāyika) and below the Yāma Heaven. It is situated on the flat summit of Mount Sumeru and inhabited by thirty-three divinities, presided over by Śakra.
- sems can dmyal ba
One of the five or six classes of beings, engendered by anger and powerful negative actions. They are dominated by great suffering and said to dwell in different hells with specific characteristics.
- ’dzam bu
Legendary river carrying the golden fruit fallen from the legendary jambu (“rose apple”) tree. This term is used as an adjective for the gold found in rivers.
- ’dzam bu’i gling
- rgyal byed kyi tshal
One of the first Buddhist monasteries, it is located outside of Śrāvastī and is also known as Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park. Anāthapiṇḍada, a merchant and benefactor of the Buddha, bought the land from Prince Jeta and donated it to the saṅgha. It is said that both names are mentioned to acknowledge their mutual efforts in building the monastery. It was there that the Buddha spent several rainy seasons and gave discourses that were later recorded as sūtras.
- dzi na mi tra
Co-translator and editor of the Tibetan text of the Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī. His name means “Spiritual Guide (mitra) of the Conquerors (jina).”
- lus srul po
A class of malevolent nonhuman beings, similar to pretas, who are often identified as the source of illness.
- dge bsnyen
- dge bsnyen ma
- srog shing
The Sanskrit yaṣṭi may refer to a flagpole, especially one said to have adorned the capital cities of five former buddha, but more specifically, it refers to the “life pillar” in the center of a statue or stūpa
- ched du brjod pa
A formal mode of expression on a religious topic, often referring to one of the twelve divisions of the Buddhist scriptures.
- phyag rgya
- gzhal yas khang
Here refers to a palace of the gods (devavimāna). Alternatively, it can refer to a chariot or self-moving aerial car.
- sha za
A class of semidivine beings traditionally associated with wild, remote places of the earth. They are considered particularly violent and known to devour flesh.
- yi dags
- srul po
Ugly and foul-smelling spirits, they can be good or cause harm to humans and animals.
- srin po
A class of nonhuman beings that are often, but not always, considered demonic in the Buddhist tradition, sometimes depicted as flesh-eating demons who haunt frightening places.
Realm of the Lord of Death
- gshin rje’i ’jig rten
- brgya byin
Common epithet of the god Indra, in Sanskrit meaning “Mighty One,” and in Tibetan “Hundred Gifts.” The Tibetan translation is based on an alternate etymology that śakra is an abbreviation of śata-kratu, “one who has performed a hundred sacrifices.” This epithet often appears together with the title Devendra (“Lord of Gods”). He is ruler of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three.
Son of noble family
- rigs kyi bu
Indian term of address used toward a male student of the bodhisattva path. While this is usually a characteristic pertaining to brahmins (i.e., born in the brahmin caste to seven-generation brahmin parents), the Buddha redefined noble birth as determined by an individual’s ethical conduct and integrity. Thus, someone who enters the Buddha’s Saṅgha is called a “son or daughter of noble family” and is in this sense “good” or “noble” and considered born again (dvija, or “twice born”).
- bde ba can
The blissful pure land of the Buddha Amitābha. A practitioner can take rebirth there through a combination of pure faith, sufficient merit, and one-pointed determination.
- shin tu brtan pa
A god living in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, whose name means “Very Stable.” He is one of the primary characters in this text, where he is told that he has only a week to live before he will be born into the lower realms.
- su ren+d+ra bo d+hi
Co-translator and editor of the Tibetan text of the Uṣṇīṣavijayā Dhāraṇī. His name means “Awakening Lord of the Gods.”
- de bzhin gshegs pa
A frequently used epithet for Buddha Śākyamuni and other buddhas, literally meaning one who has “arrived at” (āgata), or “gone to” (gata), the ultimate state, or “thusness” (tathatā).
Unsurpassed, complete, perfect awakening
- bla na med pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i byang chub
The fully awakened state of a buddha.
- gtsug tor
- gnod sbyin
A class of semidivine beings that haunt or protect natural places and cities. They can be malevolent or benevolent and are known for bestowing wealth and worldly boons. They are associated with Kubera, the god of wealth, who is often counted as their king.
- gshin rje
The Lord of Death, he judges the dead and rules over the hells.