The Bhūtaḍāmara Tantra
Degé Kangyur, vol. 95 (rgyud ’bum, dza), folios 238.a–263.a
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Bhūtaḍāmara Tantra is a Buddhist esoteric manual on magic and exorcism. The instructions on ritual practices that constitute its main subject matter are intended to give the practitioner mastery over worldly divinities and spirits. Since the ultimate controller of such beings is Vajrapāṇi in his form of Bhūtaḍāmara, the “Tamer of Spirits,” it is Vajrapāṇi himself who delivers this tantra in response to a request from Śiva. Notwithstanding this esoteric origin, this tantra was compiled anonymously around the seventh or eighth century ᴄᴇ, introducing for the first time the cult of its titular deity. Apart from a few short ritual manuals (sādhana), this tantra remains the only major work dedicated solely to Bhūtaḍāmara.
This translation was produced by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. Wiesiek Mical translated the text from the Sanskrit manuscripts, prepared the Sanskrit edition, and wrote the introduction. Thomas Doctor then compared the translation against the Tibetan translation found in the Degé Kangyur and edited the text. Special thanks are owed to Dr. Péter-Dániel Szántó for making available his transcript of the manuscript, “Göttingen Xc 14/50 I,” which was our default source for the reconstruction of the Sanskrit text.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
“I will now teach,” said the great lord Vajradhara, the supreme master of the triple universe, “the detailed rituals for mastery over all male and female spirits found in this great sovereign Bhūtaḍāmara Tantra.
“One should perform the sādhana at places such as the confluence of two rivers, a charnel ground, a lonely tree, a shrine of a deity, or a temple of the glorious Vajradhara. One will succeed instantly. If a male or a female spirit does not submit to the sādhana, it will perish along with its family and clan.”
Then Maheśvara-Mahādeva respectfully bowed his head to the feet of Lord Vajradhara and said, “May the lord, the supreme master Great Wrath, pronounce the words of the mantra that slays wicked spirits.”
As soon as this was said, many vajra flames issued forth from the pores of the glorious Vajradhara’s skin, and the bodies of all the male and female spirits dried up and withered. All the gods, headed by Indra, Brahmā, and Viṣṇu, were killed.
Amazed, all the tathāgatas said to the lord, “Excellent, Vajradhara! It is excellent, O supreme master Great Wrath, that you will at a later time, on future occasions, subjugate all the male and female spirits.”
Then the lord in turn pronounced a mantra of the goddess who summons the consciousness of the dead:
As soon as this was spoken, a great stream of vivifying air issued forth from the glorious Vajradhara’s nostrils. As soon as it came out, it entered the bodies of all the male and female spirits. [F.238.b] The male and female spirits immediately got up, reeling with great fear, and said, “May the lord protect us! May the bliss-gone one protect us! May the lord command us!”8
Then, in this great gathering, Aparājita, the great lord of bhūtas, prostrated at the feet of the venerable lord Great Wrath9 and said to the lord, “Master Great Wrath! May you, the glorious conqueror of the triple universe, protect us! May you, the bliss-gone one, protect us!”
The lord said, “You, friends, and you, lord of bhūtas, must promise10 that you will grant every success to people on the four continents of the human realm; that you will give to the inhabitants of Jambudvīpa the elixir of long life, power substances, and the comfort of good health,11 as well as gold bullion and coins, pearls, beryls, rubies, sunstones, moonstones, clothes, fragrances, and desirable foods; that you will be servants and helpers of the reciters of the Great Wrath;12 that to anyone who recites one of the tathāgatas you will give every possible object without any reservation, including articles of worship such as fine jewels, clothes, fragrances, incense, flowers; and that you will dispel all fear of kings and enemies, and of lions and tigers.13
“Ho, ho, Aparājita! Great lord of bhūtas! Speak truthfully! Say again and again14 that you will definitely grant success even to the slothful and the immoral, to evildoers and liars. Say that if they do not grant success, the vidyādharīs, bhūtinīs, nāginīs, yakṣiṇīs, śālabhañjikās, kinnarīs, mahoragīs, garuḍīs, piśācīs, and gandharvīs will have their heads split by a great invincible thunderbolt, [F.239.a] and that you will cause them to fall into one of the eight great hells.”15
All the tathāgatas remarked with amazement, “Well done! Well done, Vajrapāṇi! Well said! For the benefit of all may you, great bodhisattva, teach about the great Dharma king of the triple universe who has completely mastered energy, strength, and power, who is honored by all the gods, who exercises mastery over all the world spheres that comprise the four continents, who turns all Dharma wheels, who removes all suffering, and whose numerous mudrās and mantras are employed in different, elaborate rituals.16 Venerable king Great Wrath, speak!”
“Oṁ, summon the consciousness, summon! Revive the dead! Hrīḥ, āḥ!”17
The moment this was intoned, all the deities who were brought back to life collapsed in a swoon. Reeling with great fear, they got up again.
Vajradhara, the supreme master Great Wrath, said, “Do not be afraid, do not be afraid, O lord of spirits! In order that you may be victorious over your adversaries, I will enthrall all gods and subjugate all spirits.”
Vajradhara, the supreme master Great Wrath, then said, “Make a promise, apsarases, that you will be of service to those who recite the glorious Vajradhara19 and give them all kinds of riches—gold, pearls, beryls, rubies, and so forth.” [F.239.b]
Starting with the apsarases, each of the celestial maidens and yakṣiṇīs said, “I am willing to die, I am willing to die, O lord. Let me become a servant of anyone who recites the glorious Vajradhara. We shall become their attendants. If we do not become attendants of those who recite the glorious Vajradhara, we will bring ruin upon all our families and clans. We would be opposing the true Dharma and disparaging all tathāgatas. The lord should then split our heads with the thunderbolt of wrath. With our heads split into a hundred pieces, death would come very quickly and we would enter the eight great hells.”
Then the great bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi applauded all the apsarases, celestial maidens, nāginīs, and yakṣiṇīs, “Well done! Well done, apsarases, celestial maidens, nāginīs, and yakṣiṇīs! You must resolve that in the future, on future occasions, you will become helpers of anyone who recites the tathāgatas.”
Each of the bhūta kings who rule over servant bhūtas, starting with Aparājita, stood up in the midst of his retinue and, having bowed at the feet of the supreme master Great Wrath, the glorious Vajradhara, offered to him his heart mantra:20
“Oṁ, the glorious Sundarī of the great spirit family,21 hūṁ! Oṁ, the glorious Sundarī of victory, hrīḥ! Oṁ, the stainless Sundarī, āḥ! Oṁ, the glorious Sundarī of pleasure, vāḥ! Oṁ, the glorious Sundarī that captivates the mind, dhīḥ! Oṁ, the glorious, terrifying Sundarī, iḥ! Oṁ, the glorious, brilliant white Sundarī, maṃ! Oṁ, the glorious Sundarī with the sweet look in her eyes, bhīḥ!”22
“Thus are these eight spirit queens celebrated in glorious terms.”
Then Aparājita, the great lord of bhūtas, told the great Vajradhara, [F.240.a] “I will keep the pledges of Mahādeva. To all ordinary people I will grant every success obtainable through mantra and mudrā. All they have to do is recite the glorious Vajradhara, and we will grant all accomplishments. If we do not, our families and clans will be destroyed. We will break our pledges to the teachings of all the tathāgatas, and the lord will split our heads with the thunderbolt of wrath. Our death would be quick, and we would enter the eight great hells.”
“Now I will describe the best places for practice.
“These are places for the practice of the eight spirit queens.
“Place the fingers of one hand upon the other and, placing your right hand to the right of the groin, press your right hand down with your left.26 This is the ultimate essence—the pledge mudrā of female spirits.
At that moment the glorious Vajradhara, supreme master Great Wrath, said, “If these female spirits break their respective pledges, one should summon them by reciting the following wrathful mantra one hundred and eight times:
“The practitioner should recite the above wrathful mantra one hundred and eight times; she will soon arrive. If she does not arrive, she will burst at the forehead and will wither and die.
“The practitioner should go to the confluence of two rivers, prepare a maṇḍala with sandalwood powder, and offer abundant flowers. He should burn bdellium incense and recite the mantra one thousand and eight times. His purpose will be achieved. At night, he should again recite the mantra one thousand times, and she is certain to come. When she has come, he should make love to her, and she will become his wife. She will depart at daybreak, leaving one hundred palas of gold on the bed. Doing this every day, he will definitely attain success within one month.
“The practitioner should go to the bank of a river and prepare a maṇḍala with sandalwood powder. After sponsoring a bali of curds and rice, he should recite the mantra one thousand and eight times over seven days.29 On the seventh day she is certain to arrive. When she does, he should give her a welcome offering of sandalwood-scented water. She will be pleased and say, ‘What can I do for you, my dear?’ The practitioner should say, ‘Grant me kingship.’ She will grant kingship and will protect the realm. In addition she will bestow clothes, adornments, food, and so forth.
“In a temple to Vajradhara, the practitioner should offer oleander flowers, burn bdellium incense, and recite the mantra one thousand and eight times. His purpose will be achieved. At night, he should again recite one thousand times; she is certain to come. When she does, he should prepare a seat of flowers for her and say, ‘Welcome.’ She will become his wife. She will offer divine elixirs of longevity and power substances and will topple all his enemies. [F.241.a] Taking him upon her back, she will carry him to heaven. He will live ten thousand years.
“Having gone to the bank of a river, the practitioner should prepare a maṇḍala of sandalwood,30 offer white flowers and fragrant white substances, and burn frankincense. He should recite the mantra one thousand and eight times,31 and his purpose will be achieved. At night, he should again recite the mantra; she is certain to come. When she does, he should present her with a welcome offering of flowers and water and ask, ‘Please be my sister.’ She will offer elixirs of longevity and power substances. She will entice women, even from a thousand leagues away.32
“The practitioner should go to an empty shrine and make a bali offering as just described. He should recite the mantra one thousand and eight times, and his purpose will be achieved. He should again recite the mantra one thousand times at night while making a bali offering. She is certain to come. When she does, he should make love to her, and she will become his wife. Every single day she will provide him with a thousand dinars. Taking him upon her back, she will carry him to Mount Sumeru. In addition, she can give him an entire kingdom and a princess. He will live five thousand years and will be reborn in a royal family upon his death.
“The practitioner should go to the confluence of two rivers and offer oleander flowers along with a dish of meat. He should burn bdellium incense and recite the mantra one thousand and eight times. His purpose will be achieved. At night, he should again offer an elaborate pūjā, light a butter lamp, and recite the mantra one thousand times. She will arrive surrounded by a retinue of five hundred.33 When she arrives, he should make love to her in silence, and she will become his wife. Should she fail to do so, she will perish. Taking him upon her back, she will carry him to heaven every single day. In addition, he will become a king and live five thousand years. He will be reborn in a royal family upon his death.
“The practitioner should go to a riverbank, draw a maṇḍala with saffron,34 and burn incense of aloeswood. He should offer a bali as previously described and recite the mantra one thousand and eight times. His purpose will be achieved. At night, he should again offer an elaborate pūjā and recite the mantra one thousand times. She will arrive in person glowing with a great light. He should give her a welcome offering of sandalwood-scented water. She will then be pleased [F.241.b] and say, ‘What can I do for you, my dear?’ The practitioner should reply, ‘Please be my mother.’ She and her retinue of five hundred will then care for him like a mother, offering him food, ornaments, and clothes every day. He will live for ten thousand years and will be reborn in a brahmin family upon his death.
“At a confluence of two rivers, the practitioner should offer elaborate worship with a bali offering. He should light a butter lamp and recite the mantra all night. Consequently, she will arrive at midnight glowing with a magnificent light and say, ‘What can I do for you, my dear?’ The practitioner should reply, ‘Please grant me kingship!’ She will give him one hundred thousand dinars every single day. He will live for ten thousand years and, upon his death, be reborn as a king of the entire earth.”
|+||plus signs replace illegible text|
|]||a right square bracket marks the lemma, i.e., the adopted reading for which variants are adduced|
|°||an upper ring indicates truncation of a word|
|†||daggers enclose unintelligible text|
|A||Tokyo University Library (New 274 / Old 567)|
|B||Tokyo University Library (New 273 / Old 483)|
|G||Göttingen University Library (Göttingen Xc 14 / 50 I)|
|SM||Sādhanamālā, the sādhana of Bhūtaḍāmara (sādhana no. 264)|
|Tib.||Tibetan text of the Bhūtaḍāmara Tantra in the Degé canon (Toh 747)|
Bhūtaḍāmaratantram. Rāya, Kṛṣṇa Kumāra, ed. Vārāṇasī: Prācya Prakāśana, 1933.
Bhūtaḍāmaratantra. University of Göttingen Library, Xc 14/50 I.
Bhūtaḍāmaramahātantrarāja. University of Tokyo Library, New 274/Old 567.
Bhūtaḍāmaramahātantrarāja. University of Tokyo Library, New 273/Old 483.
Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh, ed., Sādhanamālā (pp. 512−28). Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1968.
’byung po ’dul ba zhes bya ba’i rgyud kyi rgyal po chen po (Bhūtaḍāmara Tantra). Toh 747, Degé Kangyur vol. 95 (rgyud ’bum, dza), folios 238.a–263.a.
Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh. “The Cult of Bhūtaḍāmara.” Proceedings and Transactions of the Sixth All-India Oriental Conference: 349−70. Patna: Bihar and Orissa Research Society, 1933.
———. The Indian Buddhist Iconography Based on the Sādhanamālā and Other Cognate Sanskrit Texts and Rituals. Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1958.
Bühnemann, Gudrun. “Buddhist Deities and Mantras in the Hindu Tantras I: The Tantrasārasaṃgraha and the Īśānaśivagurudevapaddhati.” Indo-Iranian Journal 42:4 (1999): 303–34.
Cabezón, José Ignacio. The Buddha’s Doctrine and the Nine Vehicles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Pal, Pratapaditya. Hindu Religion and Iconology According to the Tantrasāra. Los Angeles: Vichitra Press, 1981.