Special Topics

Recitation of Dharanis and Mantras: Six-syllable Mantra, White-robed Guanyin Mantra, Ten-Phrase Avalokitesvara Sutra for Prolonging Life, Great Compassion Dharani, and Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara

There are many dharanis and mantras associated with Guanyin Bodhisattva (Avalokitesvara). In the Chinese-speaking world, the most popular and best known of these must be the Great Compassion Dharani. The Six-syllable Mantra and the Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara, mantras commonly practiced in Esoteric Buddhism, were introduced into the Chinese region by esoteric Buddhist monks from Tibet and Mongolia. Often recited by Chinese Buddhists, the White-robed Guanyin Mantra is believed to be highly efficacious, although it did not originate in Indian Buddhism. In contrast, the lesser known and shorter Ten-Phrase Avalokitesvara Sutra for Prolonging Life (excerpted from the High King Avalokitesvara Sutra) exemplifies a recitation method that encompasses the meaning of the Three Jewels and the spirit of Guanyin Bodhisattva.

Six-syllable Mantra

Pronounced in the Tibetan language as "Om mani padme hum", the Six-syllable Mantra--identical with Guanyin Bodhisattva's name--is one associated with the Bodhisattva. Most likely introduced to China in the Yuan Dynasty, the mantra is mostly recited by Tibetan Buddhist practitioners as a method of practice, and represents the way Guanyin Bodhisattva benefits sentient beings in the Six Destinies.

In contrast with the Chinese tradition of reciting with prayer beads, Tibetan Buddhists usually turn hand prayer wheels while continuously reciting "Om mani padme hum." They believe that each recitation echoes Guanyin Bodhisattva's great compassion that comforts and soothes every Buddhist's innermost being.

White-robed Guanyin Mantra

The White-robed Guanyin Mantra has also been popular with the general public, though its origin and translator remain unknown. Legend has it that Guanyin Bodhisattva appeared in someone's dream to teach this mantra. It contains straightforward and easily understood phrases, such as, "I pray to heavenly deities, I pray to earthly deities. May I be free of distress, may my body be free of trouble, with all misfortunes turned into dust," which is similar to the idea of folk beliefs that drew on a mix of Taoism and Buddhism. Nevertheless, according to Master Sheng Yen, the phrase—homage to the Three Jewels, homage to Guanyin Bodhisattva, and homage to mahaprajnaparamita—also appears in traditional daily Buddhist chants.

This mantra is unique in that one must recite the mantra 12,000 times for a wish to be fulfilled. If a wish is not fulfilled, then one must repeat the recitation until the goal is achieved. Though goal-oriented-- requiring 12000 recitations to fulfill a wish--the mantra is also meant to inspire practitioners to develop their devotion, diligence, and virtue.

Ten-Phrase Avalokitesvara Sutra for Prolonging Life

The "Ten-Phrase Avalokitesvara Sutra for Prolonging Life" is an abridged version of the "High King Avalokitesvara Sutra", which originated from the time of King Gao Huan of the Five Dynasties. Sun Jingde, an officer who was responsible for guarding the treasury, committed a serious crime and was imprisoned to be executed. One day, he dreamed of a monk who advised him to recite the "High King Avalokitesvara Sutra" in order to escape the death sentence. After awakening from the dream, he followed the instructions and recited the sutra repeatedly. Finally, his death sentence was, in reality, lifted. Out of gratitude, he copied the scripture by hand and circulated it throughout the world. The "High King Avalokitesvara Sutra" was then widely circulated because of its efficacy. After being passed on to the Liu-Song Dynasty, the "High King Avalokitesvara Sutra" was simplified into the "Ten-Phrase Avalokitesvara Sutra for Prolonging Life", thereby shortening the original complicated scripture into only ten sentences, namely: 

Guanshiyin. Homage to the Buddha. With the Buddha as cause, with the Buddha as condition, through the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, I attain permanence, bliss, true self, and purity*. In the morning, I recite the name of Guanshiyin. In the evening, I recite the name of Guanshiyin. Every thought arises from mind. Every thought is not separated from mind. 

*The four virtues of the Buddha's Nirvana. 

Venerable Master Sheng Yen believes that "extending one's life" has two meanings: First, to extend the life of one's own physical body, and second, to continue the life of wisdom of Buddhism. Venerable Master Sheng Yen emphasized that these ten phrases of the sutra include the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. While reciting the Ten-Phrase Avalokitesvara Sutra for Prolonging Life, the reciters will also take refuge in the Three Jewels and become devout Buddhists. Therefore, when reciting the sutra, we should recite it continuously, even if the sufferings of illness and karmic obstacles are eliminated one by one and one feels that the body is at peace. Furthermore, we must also have faith in the Buddha, follow the Dharma and respect the Sangha, and make a vow to let the Dharma and wisdom of the Buddha be passed on perpetually. 

Great Compassion Mantra

The Great Compassion Mantra originated from the Great Compassion Dharani Sutra (千手千眼觀世音菩薩廣大圓滿無礙大悲心陀羅尼經). This mantra was spoken by 9.9 billion past Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River and was transmitted from the Buddha King of One Thousand Lights Who Abides in Stillness to Guanyin Bodhisattva. At that time, Guanyin Bodhisattva was only a Bodhisattva of the first bhumi*. Upon hearing this mantra, he immediately attained the eighth bhumi, and his heart was filled with calmness and joyfulness. He made a great vow to spread this mantra and to acquire 1000 arms and 1000 eyes in order to benefit and give comfort to all sentient beings. As a result of his great aspiration, his wish was immediately fulfilled, causing him to manifest 1000 arms and 1000 eyes.

*The bhumis are the stages of the Bodhisattva's career on his way to enlightenment. The tenth, or highest, bhumi is called "Cloud of Dharma", where the Bodhisattva enters the stage of abhiseka (initiation) and experiences many great samadhis, and many other accomplishments.

The Great Compassion Mantra includes the holy name of Guanyin Bodhisattva, as well as the different wisdom and merits of Guanyin Bodhisattva and other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Due to its great power and incredible efficacy, it is called the "Great Compassion Mantra". It is said that by upholding this sacred mantra, even the ten evil deeds* and five grand offences*--the most serious sins and karmic obstacles--can be dissolved and completely washed away. Moreover, by reciting this mantra, "all the wishes are bound to be fulfilled". No matter what the mantra reciter prays for-- from the most basic level of freedom from diseases and hardships to attainment of longevity and prosperity, and even to the achievement of complete enlightenment or Buddhahood-- all his aspirations will be fulfilled. 

* Ten deeds or behaviors which lead one to rebirths in unpleasant destinies, namely: (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) sexual misconduct, (4) lying, (5) divisive speech, (6) harsh speech, (7) frivolous speech, (8) greed, (9) hatred, and (10) deviant view. Abstention from these ten is called the ten good deeds.

* killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of a buddha, and disrupting the harmony of sangha.

The Great Compassion Mantra itself contains the merits, vow power and blessings of Guanyin Bodhisattva. It's a practice method based on "spiritual responses from sound". Therefore, the "Great Compassion Mantra" in particular retains its original Sanskrit sound, and practitioners only need to follow the Sanskrit pronunciation. One can deeply focus on this practice method provided that one is able to set a specific number of recitations to perform, recite the mantra daily, and work diligently until the number is reached.  

Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara

In addition to the Great Compassion Mantra and the Six-Character Great Bright Mantra, the Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara also circulates in Tibetan areas. In fact, as early as the Tang dynasty, the belief in the Eleven-faced Guanyin was popular in China proper. According to the Heart-dhāraṇī of the Avalokiteśvara-ekadaśamukha Sūtra (十一面觀世音神咒經), the "Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara" was proclaimed by 1.1 billion Buddhas, and was very powerful. Those who hold this mantra can obtain ten kinds of merits in this life-- including being free from disease and having adequate food and clothing--- as well as four kinds of "karmic rewards", such as seeing the Buddha on one's deathbed, never falling into the hells, not being harmed by animals, and being reborn in the "kingdom of immeasurable life"* after death.

*Amitabha Buddha's "Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss".

If one finds this mantra too long to recite, one can alternately recite the shorter version of the Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara. In Tibetan Buddhism, the short mantra of the Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara is the well known Six-character Great Bright Mantra. For most Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, the Great Compassion Mantra is usually regarded as the long mantra of the Guanyin Mantra; the "Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara", the middle mantra of the Guanyin Mantra; and the "Six-Character Great Bright Mantra", the short incantation of the Guanyin Mantra. 

Extended Reading:

Upholding the Buddha's name: "Namo Guan Shi Yin Pusa"

Recitation of Dharanis and Mantras: Six-syllable Mantra, White-robed Guanyin Mantra, Ten-Phrase Avalokitesvara Sutra for Prolonging Life, Great Compassion Dharani, and Dharani of Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara

Repentance: Great Compassion Repentance and performing Guanyin repentance method

Reading Scriptures: Universal Gate Chapter and Heart Sutra

Perceiving the five aggregates (skandhas) as empty in nature and the method of perfect penetration through the ear faculty

Resource: Issue 340 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 340 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: Vicky Wei (韋徵儀), Freya Chang (可馨), James 
Editing: Chia-cheng Chang (張家誠), YKL, Keith Brown