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Spells, Images, and Mandalas

Spells, Images, and Mandalas: Tracing the Evolution of Esoteric Buddhist Rituals

Koichi Shinohara
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Spells, Images, and Mandalas
    Book Description:

    Koichi Shinohara traces the evolution of Esoteric Buddhist rituals from the simple recitation of spells in the fifth century to complex systems involving image worship, mandala initiation, and visualization practices in the ninth century. He presents an important new reading of a seventh-century Chinese text called theCollected Dharani Sutras, which shows how earlier rituals for specific deities were synthesized into a general Esoteric initiation ceremony and how, for the first time, the notion of an Esoteric Buddhist pantheon emerged.

    In theCollected Dharani Sutras, rituals for specific deities were typically performed around images of the deities, yet Esoteric Buddhist rituals in earlier sources involved the recitation of spells rather than the use of images. The first part of this study explores how such simpler rituals came to be associated with the images of specific deities and ultimately gave rise to the general Esoteric initiation ceremony described in the crucial example of the All-Gathering mandala ritual in theCollected Dharani Sutras. The visualization practices so important to later Esoteric Buddhist rituals were absent from this ceremony, and their introduction would fundamentally change Esoteric Buddhist practice.

    This study examines the translations of dharani sutras made by Bodhiruci in the early eighth century and later Esoteric texts, such as Yixing's commentary on theMahavairocanasutra and Amoghavajra's ritual manuals, to show how incorporation of visualization greatly enriched Esoteric rituals and helped develop elaborate iconographies for the deities. Over time, the ritual function of images became less certain, and the emphasis shifted toward visualization. This study clarifies the complex relationship between images and ritual, changing how we perceive Esoteric Buddhist art as well as ritual.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53739-1
    Subjects: Religion, History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    In this study I offer a hypothetical reconstruction of the formation and transformation of a Buddhist ritual tradition that originated in India but spread widely beyond and is designated by a variety of terms, such as Tantric Buddhism and Vajrayana. In East Asia it is today typically known as “Esoteric Teaching” (mijiao or mikkyō 密教). But both the recognition of this ritual tradition as a distinct type of Buddhist teaching and its characterization as “Esoteric Teaching” have been subjects of scholarly discussion.¹

    Japanese scholars have long studied this tradition, insisting on the distinction between “pure” and “miscellaneous” Esotericism.² This reading...

  6. PART I The Three Ritual Scenarios

      (pp. 3-14)

      The simplest ritual scenario consists of reciting specific spells for the purpose of attaining specific benefits. The simplest accounts present the wording of the spell, explain how to put it into practice, and name its expected effects. In more complex accounts the origin of the spell and the specific deities who transmitted it and/or to whom it should be addressed are identified. In many of these, the spell’s efficacy is attested by extraordinary signs, often a vision of deities appearing to the practitioner.

      In some rituals recitation of spells takes place in front of an image of the deity. The...

      (pp. 15-27)

      Of the two texts dealt with in the previous chapter, theSeven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvasis tentatively and loosely dated between the fourth and fifth century, whereas theMiscellaneous Collection of Dhāraṇīsis assigned to the first half of the sixth century. TheDivine Spell of the Eleven-Faced Avalokiteśvarato which we now turn is a slightly later sūtra.¹ Four well-known versions are preserved in Chinese, their dates of translation ranging from the second half of the sixth century to the mid-eighth century.

      The Sūtra of the Divine Spell of the Eleven-Faced Avalokiteśvara (Shiyimian Guanshiyin shenzhou jing十...

      (pp. 28-63)

      Let us now turn to the third ritual scenario, in which candidates are initiated into a range of Esoteric rituals before a unique kind of maṇḍala. Onto this maṇḍala many deities, representing the entire Esoteric pantheon, are invited. The ceremony for this All-Gathering Maṇḍala is described systematically and in considerable detail in a text entitledThe Collected Dhāraṇī Sūtras, compiled in the mid-seventh century. Here I present a new reading of this well-known collection, highlight its importance in reconstructing the evolution of Buddhist Esoteric rituals, and explore broadly the evolution of Esoteric ceremonies that center around a maṇḍala.¹

      The maṇḍala...

      (pp. 64-88)

      In this chapter I first turn to the second of the two guiding questions put forth in chapter 3 and examine how the account of the All-Gathering Ceremony relates to the rich and diverse accounts of maṇḍala initiation rituals for individual deities assembled earlier in theCollected Dhāraṇī Sūtras.Then in the second section I broaden the scope of investigation and re-examine the All-Gathering Ceremony in the larger context of medieval and post-Vedic ritual developments in India.

      As noted above, many elements of the initiation ceremony that employed the All-Gathering Maṇḍala appear to have been based on familiar rituals for...

  7. PART II The Evolution of Dhāraṇī Sūtras and the Introduction of Visualization Practice

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 89-90)

      Esoteric Buddhist ritual instructions are attributed to the Buddha himself. Esoteric Buddhist sutras typically begin by describing the setting of Buddha’s teaching and explaining how he was led to present the Esoteric teaching in question. These sutras emerged over time and underwent significant changes as the content of the Esoteric teachings evolved. The three distinct scenarios described in part I were presented in such sutras and reappeared repeatedly in later works. These sutras also present other familiar features of Esoteric Buddhist rituals. Particularly important is the introduction of visualization practices, which transformed Esoteric rituals fundamentally.¹ In part II I trace...

      (pp. 91-125)

      Titles in Chinese translation of Indian sūtras that present dhāraṇī instructions typically end with the words Tuoluonijing 陀羅尼經 (“dhāraṇī sūtra”); the specific identity of the dhāraṇī is spelled out in the preceding part of the title, which often includes the name of the deity with whom the dhāraṇī is associated. It may have been Chinese translators who began using the term “dhāraṇī sūtras” consistently. These titles appear to be translations of original Sanskrit titles that ended with the word “dhāraṇī,” preceded by “nāma,” meaning “this is the dhāraṇī called such and such.”² Below I shall follow...

      (pp. 126-144)

      In this chapter we turn to the rich tradition of ritual sūtras associated with the deity Amoghapāśa. Bodhiruci translated an unusually large and complex sūtra from this tradition, in which instructions on visualization of syllables appear scattered in several places. This is of particular interest for the present investigation. Visualization of syllables occupies a central place in theMahāvairocana Sūtra. Other sūtras for this deity present simpler forms of dhāraṇī recitation practice. Together the group of Amoghapāśa dhāraṇī sūtras enables us to trace how simpler dhāraṇī practices evolved into a more complex form that contained elements characteristic of the so-called...

  8. PART III Toward a New Synthesis:: “Mature” Rituals of Visualization

    • 7. Yixing’s Commentary on the Mahāvairocana Sūtra: Creating the Great Maṇḍala
      (pp. 147-167)

      Examples in the preceding chapters of the sutras translated by Bodhiruci early in the eighth century indicated that the rituals prescribed there followed a general scenario of reciting mantras, which resulted in icons emitting miraculous signs that demonstrated the success of the ritual, i.e., the granting of a wish (termed “accomplishment”). Another scenario was also frequent: the one I have called a maṇḍala initiation ceremony, spelled out in detail in Atikūṭa’s All-Gathering Maṇḍala Ceremony. Sometimes these scenarios were combined. And visualization practices, which characterize later Esoteric rituals, began to appear.

      Over time these basic scenarios of “accomplishment” and Maṇḍala initiation...

      (pp. 168-193)

      The ritual manuals (yigui儀軌) attributed to Amoghavajra frequently warn that the rituals prescribed in them are to be performed only by those who have undergone the maṇḍala initiation ceremony.¹ There manuals were making the same basic distinction that appeared in theCollected Dhāraṇī Sūtras,in which the general initiation through the All- Gathering Maṇḍala Ceremony was carefully differentiated from the wide variety of rituals performed to gain tangible benefits from individual deities.² Amoghavajra added a further, and concrete, stipulation: in his ritual manuals marked explicitly as “yoga,” more or less the same set of mantras used in theVajraśekhara...

    (pp. 194-204)

    A broad outline of the evolution of the Esoteric Buddhist ritual tradition emerges from the investigation presented above: two separate developments contributed to the formation of this tradition. At the core of Esoteric rituals is the simple practice of reciting spells. Over time, this practice became increasingly more complex, incorporating image worship and elaborate visualization. One crucial development was the introduction of the general maṇḍala initiation ceremony (often called the All- Gathering Ceremony). The Esoteric Buddhist tradition became more clearly definied through this maṇḍala initiation ritual, and versions of the ritual appear repeatedly as crucial parts of many later accounts...

  10. APPENDIX: The Day-by-Day Instructions for the All-Gathering Maṇḍala Ceremony in the Collected Dhāraṇī Sūtras
    (pp. 205-226)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 227-300)
    (pp. 301-312)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 313-328)