The Dhāraṇī “The Mother of Avalokiteśvara”
Degé Kangyur, vol. 94 (rgyud, tsha), folios 200.b–202.a
Translated by Samye Translations
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2021
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In this short sūtra, the bodhisattva Samantabhadra asks the Buddha to reveal The Mother of Avalokiteśvara, a powerful dhāraṇī that helps practitioners progress on the path to awakening. The Buddha grants his request and relates how he had himself received the dhāraṇī. Samantabhadra then speaks the dhāraṇī, after which the Buddha states its benefits.
Translated by Samye Translations under the guidance of Phakchok Rinpoche. The translation and introduction were produced by Lowell Cook and Stefan Mang. The translation was checked against the Chinese by Dr. Jeffrey Kotyk.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Noble Dhāraṇī “The Mother of Avalokiteśvara”1 begins in the city of Vaiśālī, where the Buddha is residing amidst an assembly of monks and bodhisattvas. The bodhisattva Samantabhadra requests that he reveal the powerful dhāraṇī known as The Mother of Avalokiteśvara, and the Buddha agrees. The Buddha first relates how he had himself received this dhāraṇī in a past life from the brahmin Prabheśvara, who benefited millions of beings by teaching it in Sukhāvatī, the pure land of the Buddha Amitābha. Following this account, Samantabhadra magically speaks the dhāraṇī to the assembly, after which the Buddha encourages the audience to recite it and praises its efficacy. Thus, the dhāraṇī can be divided into four sections: the request to teach the dhāraṇī, the dhāraṇī’s origin story, the dhāraṇī itself, and a praise of the dhāraṇī’s benefits.
As indicated by the text’s title, the dhāraṇī concerns a goddess named or bearing the title Avalokiteśvaramātā, “the mother of Avalokiteśvara.” In the Degé Kangyur,2 the dhāraṇī belongs to a cycle of eight Kriyātantra (bya rgyud) texts (Toh 724–31) dedicated to the goddess Tārā. Based on this categorization, we may infer that the Tibetan scholars understood Avalokiteśvaramātā to be the goddess Tārā, but there is no further evidence to confirm this identification.
According to the Tibetan colophon, The Dhāraṇī “The Mother of Avalokiteśvara” was originally translated by the monk and translator Yeshé Dé and the Indian preceptors Jinamitra and Dānaśīla, who were regular collaborators in the late eighth- and early ninth-centuries. The dhāraṇī is accordingly found in the Denkarma (ldan dkar ma) and Phangthangma (’phang thang ma) catalogs of translations made during Tibet’s imperial period.3 The dhāraṇī was translated into Chinese by Fǎxián ( 法 賢, 973-1001) under the title Fo shuo guanzizai pusa mu tuoluoni jing (观自在菩萨母陀罗尼经, Taishō 1117). There is to our knowledge no extant Sanskrit version of this work.
This English translation is based on the Tibetan version in the Degé Kangyur collection, in consultation with the Stok Palace and Phukdrak Kangyurs, as well as the variant readings recorded in the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) Kangyur. The English translation was compared with the Chinese translation before being finalized.
The Dhāraṇī “The Mother of Avalokiteśvara”
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. In the city of Vaiśālī, the Blessed One was surrounded and honored by a great assembly as he sat upon a seat arranged for him. He was surrounded and honored by five hundred fully ordained monks headed by the great śrāvaka Śāriputra, and many bodhisattva great beings headed by Maitreya. Present among this assembly was the bodhisattva great being known as Samantabhadra. Rising from his seat, Samantabhadra draped his upper robe over one shoulder, knelt on his right knee, bowed his head at the feet of the Blessed One, and said:
“Blessed One, the great dhāraṇī of the vidyāmantra, the mantra formula, known as The Mother of Avalokiteśvara, has been taught and is being taught by the blessed buddhas of the past, present, and future. It had previously been taught when the Blessed One was a bodhisattva seeking awakening, and it was taught in order to benefit and care for all beings, up to and including the bodhisattvas. The dhāraṇī is a refuge for all beings who lack refuge, beings who have been the fathers and mothers of the noble sons and daughters who follow the bodhisattva vehicle. It is an ally to those without allies and a protector to those without protection. It brings all misdeeds to an end. All wishes are fulfilled as soon as this dhāraṇī is heard, [F.201.a] and through it all vidyāmantras are successful.”4
The Blessed One replied, “Bodhisattva great being, in the past when I was a bodhisattva seeking awakening, the Thus-Gone worthy, complete, and perfect Buddha Amitābha lived, prospered, and taught the Dharma in Sukhāvatī, a world system far beyond as many world systems as there are grains of sand in the river Ganges. He lives there even now. Among his retinue was a brahmin known as Prabheśvara who had attained the third bodhisattva level. It was he who proclaimed, expounded, and taught this great queen of vidyāmantras, the dhāraṇī known as The Mother of Avalokiteśvara, to many hundreds of thousands of brahmins and numerous billions of sentient beings. As soon as they heard this dhāraṇī, they were freed from all misdeeds and transgressions and remembered their rebirths. This I recall.
“Great bodhisattva, recite the dhāraṇī! At a later time, the numerous trillions of misdeeds of sentient beings, throughout defiled worlds, who have performed misdeeds and the actions with immediate retribution will be exhausted. They will be well and be happy. It will serve as a protector to those without protection. I also approve and rejoice.”
The bodhisattva great being Samantabhadra then spoke the great dhāraṇī of the vidyāmantra, the mantra formula, known as The Mother of Avalokiteśvara.
“Homage to the Three Jewels. Homage to the Blessed, thus-gone Amitābha. Homage to the bodhisattva great being endowed with great compassion, Noble Avalokiteśvara. [F.201.b] Having paid homage to them, I shall recite the great vidyāmantra, the mantra formula, the noble dhāraṇī known as The Mother of Avalokiteśvara. May I accomplish this vidyā!
tadyathā | ili mili | cili mili | kuntule kuntule kuntule | śire śiśire viśire | vīrāyai gauri gāndhāri drāmiṭe mātaṅgi pukkasi kaṣṭaya māṃ | caṇḍāli huttu mālini hūṁ | dhu dhu mālini | cile mile | gṛhṇa saumyadarśani | kuru candramukhi | laghumānayante āryadakṣiṇabhuje | sarvavidyānām prasādhane | sarvavidyānām īśvari svāhā ||
The Blessed One then said,5 “This is the rite for this dhāraṇī that is mastered through recitation. As soon as it is heard, all karmic obscurations will be purified, and one will be protected from all fears. If one recites it during the three periods of the day, one will see the bodhisattva great being Samantabhadra within seven days. If one mentally recites it without thinking of anything else, the great vidyā herself, the mother of Noble Avalokiteśvara, will be revealed within one month, and noble Amitābha will also be seen. One’s progress to unsurpassed awakening will be irreversible. One will also remember one’s rebirths and retain whatever has been learned. No matter where one is born, one will not be separated from the sacred Dharma, and one will be affluent.”
After the Blessed One spoke these words, the entire assembly, including the bodhisattva great being Samantabhadra, the bodhisattvas, and the fully ordained monks, rejoiced and praised what the Blessed One had taught.
This completes the noble dhāraṇī “The Mother of Avalokiteśvara.”
Note that there is a discrepancy among various databases for cataloging the Toh 909 version of this text within vol. 100 or 101 of the Degé Kangyur. See Toh 909 note 2 for details.
spyan ras gzigs yum gyi gzungs (Avalokiteśvaramātādhāraṇī). Toh 725, Degé Kangyur vol. 94 (rgyud, tsha), folios 200.b–202.a.
spyan ras gzigs yum gyi gzungs (Avalokiteśvaramātādhāraṇī). Toh 909, Degé Kangyur vol. 100 (gzungs, e), folios 240.a–241.b.
spyan ras gzigs yum gyi 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. 511–16.
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.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
- ’od dpag med
- spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug
Bandé Yeshé Dé
- ban+de ye shes sde
- bcom ldan ’das
- dA na shI la
Dhāraṇī of the vidyāmantra
- gzungs kyi rig sngags
- gang gA
- dzi na mi tra
- byams pa
- gsang sngags kyi gzhi
- dbang phyug ’od
- kun tu bzang po
- shA ri’i bu
- nyan thos
- bde ba can
- sgrol ma
- de bzhin gshegs pa
- yangs pa can
- rig pa
- rig sngags