The most well-known Buddhist mantras
A mantra is a sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word or phonemes, or group of words in Sanskrit, Pali and other spiritual languages.
Some mantras have a syntactic structure and literal meaning, while others do not.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Origin of the Buddhist mantras
- 2 - Mantras & meditation
- 3 - Mantras in the Thai Forest Tradition
- 4 - Mantras in the Tantric Theravada tradition
- 5 - Mantras in Chinese Buddhism
- 6 - Mantras in Vajrayana Tradition
- 7 - Well-known Buddhist mantras
- 7.1 - Svaha
- 7.2 - Om mani padme hum
- 7.3 - Vasudhara
- 7.4 - Sitatapatra
- 7.5 - Dharani
- 7.6 - Shurangama Mantra
- 7.7 - Ucchusma
- 7.8 - Mantra of Light
- 7.9 - Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra
- 7.10 - Nianfo
- 7.11 - Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī
- 7.12 - Ākāśagarbha
- 7.13 - A in Buddhism
- 7.14 - Ye Dharma Hetu
- 7.15 - Shiken haramitsu daikoumyo
- 7.16 - Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō
- 7.17 - Tangut dharani pillars
- 7.18 - Ten Small Mantras
- 7.19 - Hyakumantō Darani
- 7.20 - Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra
Origin of the Buddhist mantras
One of the most ancient Buddhist mantras is the Ye Dharma Hetu, also known as the dependent origination dhāraṇī.
This phrase is said to encapsulate the meaning of the Buddha’s Dharma. It was a popular Buddhist mantra and is found inscribed on numerous ancient Buddhist statues, chaityas, and images.
Mantras & meditation
Mantra practice is often combined with breathing meditation, so that one recites a mantra simultaneously with in-breath and out-breath to help develop tranquility and concentration.
Mantra meditation is especially popular among lay people. Like other basic concentration exercises, it can be used simply to the mind, or it can be the basis for an insight practice where the mantra becomes the focus of observation of how life unfolds, or an aid in surrendering and letting go.
Mantras in the Thai Forest Tradition
The “Buddho” mantra is widespread in the Thai Forest Tradition and was taught by Ajahn Chah and his students.
Another popular mantra in Thai Buddhism is Samma-Araham, referring to the Buddha who has ‘perfectly’ (samma) attained ‘perfection in the Buddhist sense’ (araham), used in Dhammakaya meditation.
Mantras in the Tantric Theravada tradition
In the Tantric Theravada tradition of Southeast Asia, mantras are central to their method of meditation.
Popular mantras in this tradition include Namo Buddhaya (“Homage to the Buddha”) and Araham (“Worthy One”).
Mantras in Chinese Buddhism
In Chinese Buddhism, various mantras, including the Great Compassion Mantra, the Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī from the Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Sutra, the Mahāmāyūrī Vidyārājñī Dhāraṇī, the Heart Sutra and various forms of nianfo are commonly chanted by both monastics and laymen.
A major mantra in the Chan Buddhist tradition is the Śūraṅgama Mantra from the Śūraṅgama Sutra, which extensively references Buddhist deities such as the bodhisattvas Manjushri, Mahākāla, Sitatapatra, Vajrapani and the Five Tathagatas, especially Bhaisajyaguru.
It is often used for protection or purification, as it is often recited as part of the daily morning session in monasteries. In addition, various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and deities also have mantras associated with them.
Mantras in Vajrayana Tradition
In Japanese tradition there are thirteen mantras used in Shingon Buddhism, each dedicated to a major deity.
In Northern Vajrayana Buddhism, Mantrayana, which may be translated as “way of the mantra”, was the original self-identifying name of those that have come to be determined ‘Nyingmapa’.
Probably the most famous mantra of Buddhism is Om mani padme hum, the six syllable mantra of the Bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteśvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig, Chinese: Guanyin).
This mantra is particularly associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteśvara.
The Dalai Lama is said to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, and so the mantra is especially revered by his devotees.
The mantras used in Tibetan Buddhist practice are in Sanskrit, to preserve the original mantras. Visualizations and other practices are usually done in the Tibetan language.
According to Tibetan Buddhism “Om tare tutare ture soha” the mantra of Green Arya Tara, can not only eliminate disease, troubles, disasters, and karma, but will also bring believers blessings, longer life, and even the wisdom to transcend one’s circle of reincarnation.
Well-known Buddhist mantras
This is a non-exhaustive list of the most well-known Buddhist mantras studied and used by practitioners around the world.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, the Sanskrit lexical item svāhā is a denouement indicating the end of the mantra. Literally, it means “well said”. In the Tibetan language, “svaha” is translated as “so be it” and is often pronounced and orthographically represented as “soha”. Whenever fire sacrifices are made, svāhā is chanted. Etymologically, the term is probably from su, “well” and the root ah, “to call”.
Om mani padme hum
The six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.
The six-syllabled Sanskrit mantra is associated with the four-armed Shadakshari form of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
It first appeared in the Mahayana Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra where it is also referred to as the sadaksara (six syllabled) and the paramahrdaya.
Vasudhārā, whose name means “stream of gems” in Sanskrit, is the Buddhist bodhisattva of wealth, prosperity, and abundance. She is popular in many Buddhist countries and is a subject in Buddhist legends and art. Originally an Indian bodhisattva, her popularity has spread to southern Buddhist countries. Her popularity, however, peaks in Nepal where she has a strong following among the Buddhist Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and is thus a central figure in Newar Buddhism. She is named Shiskar Apa in Lahul and Spiti. She is related to Hindu great goddess Lakshmi, and her Sanskrit name Vasundhara indicates she is the source of the eight “bountiful Vasus.” Therefore, according to the epic Mahabharat, she is the bounty that is the waters of the river Ganges—the goddess, Ganga whose origin is the snows of the Himalayas.
Sitātapatrā is a protector against supernatural danger. She is venerated in both the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.
She is also known as Uṣṇīṣa Sitātapatrā. It is believed that Sitātapatrā is a powerful independent deity emanated by Gautama Buddha from his uṣṇīṣa.
Whoever practices her mantra will be reborn in Amitābha’s pure land of Sukhāvatī as well as gaining protection against supernatural danger and witchcraft.
Dharanis, also known as a Parittas, are Buddhist chants, mnemonic codes, incantations, or recitations, usually the mantras consisting of Sanskrit or Pali phrases. Believed to be protective and with powers to generate merit for the Buddhist devotee, they constitute a major part of historic Buddhist literature. Many of these chants are in Sanskrit and Pali, written in scripts such as Siddham as well as transliterated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Sinhala, Thai and other regional scripts. They are similar to and reflect a continuity of the Vedic chants and mantras.
The Shurangama or Śūraṅgama mantra is a dhāraṇī or long mantra of Buddhist practice in China, Japan and Korea. Although relatively unknown in modern Tibet, there are several Śūraṅgama Mantra texts in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. It is associated with Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and Shingon Buddhism.
Ucchuṣma is a vidyaraja in the Vajrayana sect of Buddhism. He is also known by various other names such as Burning Impurity Kongo, Jusoku Kongo (受触金剛) and Kazu Kongo (火頭金剛).
Mantra of Light
The Mantra of Light, also called the Mantra of the Unfailing Rope Snare, is an important mantra of the Shingon and Kegon sects of Buddhism, but is not emphasized in other Vajrayana sects of Buddhism.
It is taken from the Amoghapāśakalparāja-sūtra or Sutra of the Mantra of the Unfailing Rope Snare of the Buddha Vairocana’s Great Baptism and is chanted as follows:
Sanskrit/Roman script: om̐ amogha vairocana mahāmudrā maṇipadma jvāla pravartāya hūm̐
Devanagari: ॐ अमोघ वैरोचन महामुद्रा मणिपद्म ज्वाल प्रवर्ताय हूँ
Japanese: おん あぼきゃ べいろしゃのう まかぼだら まに はんどま じんばら はらばりたや うん Om abogya beiroshanō makabodara mani handoma jinbara harabari tayaun
Korean: 옴 아모가 바이로차나 마하무드라 마니 파드마 즈바라 프라바릍타야 훔 om amoga bairochana mahamudeura mani padeuma jeubara peurabareutaya hum
Vietnamese: Án (Ông/Úm) A ma cát Hoài lô giai nã Ma cáp mẫu đức la Ma ni bá đức ma Cập phạp la Bát la phạp nhĩ đả nha Hồng
Kanji and Chinese script: 唵 阿謨伽 尾盧左曩 摩訶母捺囉 麽抳 鉢納麽 入嚩攞 鉢囉韈哆野 吽 Ǎn ā mó jiā wěi lú zuǒ nǎng mó hē mǔ nà luō me nǐ bō nà me rù mó luó bō luō wà duō yě hōng
Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra
The Heart-dhāraṇī of Avalokiteśvara-ekadaśamukha Sūtra is a Buddhist text first translated from Sanskrit into Chinese on the 28th day of the third lunar month of 656 CE, by Xuanzang.
The title in Tibetan language is Spyan-ras-gzigs-dbang-phyug-shal bcu-gcig-pa, while the Sanskrit title recovered from the Tibetan translation is Avalokiteśvara ikadaśamukha dhāraṇī.
Alternatively, the sutra’s title has been translated as the Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra by Professor Ryuichi Abe.
Nianfo is a term commonly seen in Pure Land Buddhism. In the context of Pure Land practice, it generally refers to the repetition of the name of Amitābha. It is a translation of Sanskrit buddhānusmṛti.
The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī, also known as the Mahākaruṇā(-citta) Dhāraṇī, Mahākaruṇika Dhāraṇī or Great Compassion Dhāraṇī,, is a Mahayana Buddhist dhāraṇī associated with the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.
Different versions of this dhāraṇī, of varying length, exist; the shorter version as transliterated into Chinese characters by Indian monk Bhagavaddharma in the 7th century enjoys a high degree of popularity in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism – especially in Chinese Buddhism – comparable to that of the six-syllable mantra Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ, which is also synonymous with Avalokiteśvara.
It is often used for protection or purification.
Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva or Akasagarbha Bodhisattva is a bodhisattva who is associated with the great element (mahābhūta) of space (ākāśa). He is also sometimes called Gaganagañja, which means “sky-jewel.”
A in Buddhism
The phoneme A (अ) is an important symbol and seed mantra in Mahayana Buddhism as well as in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Ye Dharma Hetu
In Buddhism, ye dharmā hetu, also referred to as the dependent origination dhāraṇī, is a dhāraṇī widely used in ancient times, and is often found carved on chaityas, images, or placed within chaityas. It is used in Sanskrit as well as Pali. It is found in Mahavagga section of Vinaya Pitaka of the Pali Canon.
Shiken haramitsu daikoumyo
Shiken haramitsu daikoumyo is a nine-syllable Japanese Buddhist mantra. Its kanji is 四拳 波羅蜜 大光明:shi-ken 四拳: -(ken “heart” or “fist”) ha-ra-mitsu 波羅蜜: -(ra “gauze”)-(mitsu “nectar”) dai-kou-myo 大光明: -(kou “light”)-(myo “bright”)
Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō
Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō (南無妙法蓮華経) are Japanese words chanted within all forms of Nichiren Buddhism. In English, they mean “Devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra” or “Glory to the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra”.
Tangut dharani pillars
The Tangut dharani pillars are two stone dharani pillars, with the text of a dhāraṇī-sutra inscribed on them in the Tangut script, which were found in Baoding, Hebei, China in 1962. The dharani pillars were erected during the middle of the Ming dynasty, in 1502, and they are the latest known examples of the use of the Tangut script. They are also very rare examples of Tangut monumental inscriptions outside of the territories ruled by the Western Xia dynasty. The only other known example of an inscription in the Tangut script that has been found in north China is on the 14th-century Cloud Platform at Juyongguan in Beijing. These pillars indicate that there was a vibrant Tangut community living in Baoding, far from the Tangut homeland in modern Ningxia and Gansu, during the early 16th century, nearly 300 years after the Western Xia was conquered by the Mongol Empire.
Ten Small Mantras
The Ten Small Mantras are a collection of esoteric Buddhist mantras or dharanis. They were complied by the monk Yulin, a teacher of the Shunzhi Emperor, for monks, nuns, and laity to chant during morning liturgical services. They are still chanted in modern Chinese Buddhist ritual.
The Hyakumantō Darani (百万塔陀羅尼), or the “One Million Pagodas and Dharani Prayers”, are a series of Buddhist prayers or spells that were printed on paper and then rolled up and housed in wooden cases that resemble miniature pagodas in both appearance and meaning. Although woodblock-printed books from Chinese Buddhist temples were seen in Japan as early as the 8th century, the Hyakumantō Darani are the earliest surviving examples of printing in Japan and, alongside the Korean Dharani Sutra, are considered to be some of the world’s oldest extant printed matter.
Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra
The Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra is considered an important mantra or dharani in Pure Land Buddhism and other schools of Buddhism, mainly following the Mahayana tradition. The full name of this mantra is the Dharani for pulling out the fundamental cause of karmic obstacles and obtaining rebirth in the Pure Lands (Chinese:拔一切業障根本得生淨土陀羅尼). It is also known as Pure Land Rebirth Dhāraṇī, or Rebirth Mantra for short.