About the Dharani we DON'T chant at Treeleaf

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39237

    About the Dharani we DON'T chant at Treeleaf


    There are several Dharani that are commonly chanted in Soto Zen, sometimes daily during temple ceremonies. These include the Great Compassion Dharani (Daihi shu 大悲呪), Marvelously Beneficial Disaster Preventing Dharani (Shōsai Myōkichijō darani 消災妙吉祥陀羅尼) and the Victor’s Dharani (Sonshōdarani 尊勝陀羅尼).

    Dharani are chants, sometimes intelligible but often unintelligible as the original Indian meanings have been lost (for example, they are chanted phonetically in Japanese vaguely based on purely phonetic Chinese, itself based on some original long lost Indian words), often felt to have protective, good fortune bringing or other special powers thought to derive from the power of the sound (more than the lost meaning ... something that makes even less sense if one believes that the power is only in the now lost original Indian sounds as is the original belief in a Dharani's power!!). Mantra are similar, but typically shorter. Dharani are recited as part of standard Soto rituals, and in most other schools of Buddhism.

    I do not recite Dharani here at Treeleaf, for I tend to consider them too much "hocus pocus and abracadabra."

    I will not chant magic spells. One example is the Disaster-Preventing Dharani (abbreviated: Shōsai shu 消災呪). If the following looks like meaningless gobbledygook, that is because it is meaningless gobbledygook, with no traceable meaning in Indian languages. The purpose is, as the name implies, to prevent disaster. Good luck with that.

    No mo san man da moto nan oha ra chi koto sha sono nan to
    ji to en gya gya gya ki gya ki un nun shifu ra shifu ra hara shifu ra hara shifu ra
    chishu sa chishu sa chishu ri chishu ri sowa ja sowa ja sen chi gya shiri ei so mo ko.

    To quote Harry Potter: Wingardium Leviosa, Expecto Patronum!

    Here is the Disaster-Preventing Dharani being chanted in Japanese. Even the Chinese characters used to represent the sounds are basically without meaning, used for phonetic purposes only:


    On the other hand, as an old joke goes: It might not help prevent disaster, but it can't hurt either!

    I do feel at home to chant certain Mantra, such as at the end of the Heart Sutra (although we also offer a widely accepted translation of that in our chant book):

    Gate! Gate! (Already Gone, Gone)
    Paragate! (Already Gone Beyond)
    Parasamgate! (Already Fully Beyond)
    Bodhi! Svaha! * (Awakening, Rejoice)

    Let me try to explain the difference:

    Much depends how one defines a Mantra or Dharani in one's heart. In much of Buddhism and related religions of India (although something very similar can be found in about all religions really ... e.g., like "God Is Great/Allahu al-Akbar" in Islam, an orthodox Jew's reciting the sacred letters of Torah, or "Praise Jesus" in some corners of Christianity), it is a sound, word or words that create transformation in some way. Mantras and Dharani ... like classical music ... can have a profound meaning often beyond words that is spoken to the heart. That is fine. All sounds arise from and return to Silence! The bare sounds truly can resonate with the heart and outward into space. If you have no problem, and it makes your heart feel good, to walk down the street on a summer day, singing the Beatle's unintelligible "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", then why not the Dharani's equally unintelligible "gya gya gya ki gya ki" if it rings in your heart?

    My real objection is to those Dharani and Mantras used quite clearly as abracadabra magic spells and incantations to get some material benefit such as a new job or new car or love or even medical recovery. I believe that, for most people, that is the way they have been primarily thought of and used through the centuries. Often the ways in which we chant "to get stuff" can be much more hidden and subtle, and we should be cautious. The "Disaster Prevention Dharani" was traditionally used as a magic spell to prevent fires and other like disasters in the monastery and life by its alleged mystical power to appease the spirits (I would advise that it is probably better instead to just buy a smoke alarm and do a fire drill).

    We usually chant the Heart Sutra and other Chants at Treeleaf in English as the common language we share in this international Sangha. We also chant in Japanese (to be exact, "Sino-Japanese", the Japanese pronunciation of classical Chinese) from time to time out of respect for tradition and honoring our "roots" (Sometimes, but more rarely, we chant something in Sanskrit). I feel that it is important to understand the philosophy and perspectives presented in the words of the Heart Sutra, the Identity of Relative and Absolute and all of the other chants we chant. (I even translated the little Mantra that closes the Heart Sutra into understandable English in our Chant Book). Really the magic and true "mantra" of the Heart Sutra is the power of "Emptiness," not the strange sounding words at the end.

    However, there is also a point where we "Just Chant" (like "Just Sit") ... throwing one-self into the chanting. In such case, it does not matter if we chant in English, Japanese, Esperanto, Martian or Silently. Got the point?

    On the other hand, I do not encourage the chanting of Dharani around here for the same reasons expressed by D.T. Suzuki:

    Properly speaking, the dharani has no legitimate place in Zen. That it has nevertheless crept into its daily service is clue to the general characteristics of Chinese Buddhism of the Sung dynasty, when the Japanese Zen masters visited China and imported it as they found it then, together with the [esoteric Buddhist] elements of Chinese Zen. ... A dharani is considered as holding magical power in it or bearing deep meaning. When it is pronounced, whatever evil spirits there are ready to interfere with the spiritual effect of a ritual, are kept away from it. ... When translated they convey no intelligent signification. They mostly consist of invocations and exclamations. The invocation is an appeal to the higher powers, and the exclamation is to frighten away the evil spirits. That the practical result of these utterances is not to be judged objectively goes without saying.
    I do not feel that we need such "magic" in modern times, when this whole world is already magic when we just open our eyes!

    That being said, if doing so holds some meaning or "power" for you in your heart, then they have meaning and power to that extent. If they have meaning for you, then they have that meaning. We humans all find our meaning and power where we will, and so the Dharani may have meaning and power for you to chant.

    However, we do not chant them in our ceremonies here at Treeleaf.

    The Gate of Sweet Nectar (Kanromon 甘露門)

    In keeping with the above, I have sometimes been asked about the "Gate of Sweet Nectar," which has become popular in some western Zen circles through the efforts of the late, great Bernie Glassman Roshi, with his focus of social activism, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. While I support fully that focus, we do not change the Ceremony in our Sangha. I explain my stance this way:

    One aspect that I can appreciate about Bernie Glassman's version is this: He changed the focus from feeding the 'Hungry Ghosts' who are other-wordly beings, literal ghosts, often family Ancestors, who are suffering in a kind of other-worldly purgatory after death due to their insatiable desires ...

    ... to feeding the hungry, poor and homeless in this world, building a Pure Land on earth, although he subtly rephrased the ceremony to speak of all the hungry everywhere. That is something which resonates more in my heart, frankly.

    The official translation in English by Soto-shu reads:

    Giving rise to the thought of awakening, we present a vessel of pure food, offering it to all the hungry ghosts in every country of the innumerable lands in the dharma realm throughout all space in the ten directions. Please come and gather here, you departed long ago, and all spirits, from earth gods of mountains and rivers to demons and wraiths of barren wastes. Taking pity on you all, with this food we feed you now. ... We also pray that your bodies, conveyed by this dharani-food, may leave suffering behind and gain liberation; that you may attain the joy of birth in heavens; that you may, in accordance with your wishes, be delivered to one of the pure lands in the ten directions ... with the prayer that together with all sentient beings we may quickly attain buddhahood and not seek any other rewards.
    Bernie changed the words quite a bit, avoiding the overt rebirth in other realms, wraiths and spirits:

    Raising the Bodhi Mind, the supreme meal is offered to all the hungry spirits throughout space and time, filling the smallest particle to the largest space. All you hungry spirits in the ten directions, please gather here. Sharing your distress, I offer you this food, hoping it will resolve your thirsts and hungers. I pray that all who receive this offering will return its merits to all Buddhas and to all creations throughout space and time, in this way they will be thoroughly satisfied. I further pray that in receiving this meal all your sufferings will be eliminated, and that you will be liberated, so that being joyously reborn you will play freely in the fields of the Pure Land. Raising the Bodhi Mind and practicing the Enlightened Way, you become the future Buddhas without any further regress.
    HOWEVER ... from that point, the ceremony is then filled with about a dozen magical Dharani to help accomplish the task, naked sounds said to have power akin to "abra-cadabra," which I will avoid around this Sangha. No hocus-pocus "open sesame" on my watch!

    Here is just one, accompanied by clashing symbols and blowing conch shell horns:

    *Dharani for Inviting the Cloudlike Hosts of Spirits* (Unshū kijin chōshō darani 雲集鬼神招請陀羅尼)
    [Chinese, chant 3 times]
    ◎ No bo bohori gyari tari ▲3 tatā gyataya.
    It is literally "hocus-pocus" nonsense, a potion and incantation.

    This is why we will not do this Ceremony here.

    I am all for a Ceremony of care for the hungry, poor and homeless.

    However, we will not chant "ugga chaka ugga chaka" and "Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo" in order to realize that goal.

    Do as you wish in the privacy of of your own home, chant "ding a lingo ling" or "molar manifestus" to summon the tooth fairy if you want in your own bedroom, but we do not do so at Treeleaf.

    Not in these Halls! Not on my watch!

    Here is a video of Bernie's Gate of Sweet Nectar:


    Gassho, J

    STLah (a kind of mantra meaning: "Sat Today, Lent a Hand")
    Last edited by Jundo; 02-07-2023, 03:02 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE
  • newby_x86
    Member
    • Dec 2017
    • 114

    #2
    Many thanks for this post, Jundo.

    Gassho
    Anant
    Sat Today

    Comment

    • Tokan
      Treeleaf Unsui
      • Oct 2016
      • 1230

      #3
      Yes, thank you for the explanation. I don't myself believe in such magic, but maybe the magic is in the act of devotion itself - like the Catholic Hail Mary.

      Gassho, Tokan (satlah)
      平道 島看 Heidou Tokan (Balanced Way Island Nurse)
      I enjoy learning from everyone, I simply hope to be a friend along the way

      Comment

      • Kokuu
        Treeleaf Priest
        • Nov 2012
        • 6751

        #4
        I don't myself believe in such magic, but maybe the magic is in the act of devotion itself - like the Catholic Hail Mary.
        Yes, I also see it like that, Tokan, and like the words of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard on this and similar spiritual matters:

        The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
        That said, I respect Jundo's take on this and we have many chants we can do for the wellbeing of others, including the metta verses, so excluding most dharani should not make a different to our practice.

        Gassho
        Kokuu
        -sattoday-

        Comment

        • Seishin
          Member
          • Aug 2016
          • 1520

          #5
          When it comes to Hocus Pocus, I'll stick with Focus. Our traditional Treeleaf chants are good for me.

          Sat.


          Seishin

          Sei - Meticulous
          Shin - Heart

          Comment

          • AnGyo
            Member
            • Aug 2022
            • 28

            #6
            I read this with a chuckle, as the Shosai Shu is one I have chanted for years, as it was given to me by my first teacher. My wife often jokes about it - “Hey, make sure you do the chant for averting calamity, we don’t want the house to burn down.”
            I certainly don’t chant it as a hocus pocus magic spell, but rather out of a sort of a sincere desire for all living beings to be free of suffering and difficulties.

            Gassho
            Cam AnGyo
            SatLah

            Comment

            • Tai Do
              Member
              • Jan 2019
              • 1357

              #7
              I don't usually chant dharanis nor mantras, but I think the same said here can be said about the nembutsu.
              I liked your perspective, Kokuu: I do not think there is an Amida Buddha abiding in a Western Pure Land waiting for saving me after I recite the nembutsu ten times; but I do notice the power of the gratitude, mindfulness and loving-kindness that awakens on me when chanting it being mindful of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
              Perhaps I should try some Soto dharani instead and see if they resonate with me .
              Gassho,
              Mateus
              Satlah
              怠努 (Tai Do) - Lazy Effort
              (also known as Mateus )

              禅戒一如 (Zen Kai Ichi Nyo) - Zazen and the Precepts are One!

              Comment

              • Jundo
                Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                • Apr 2006
                • 39237

                #8
                Originally posted by mateus.baldin
                I don't usually chant dharanis nor mantras, but I think the same said here can be said about the nembutsu.
                I liked your perspective, Kokuu: I do not think there is an Amida Buddha abiding in a Western Pure Land waiting for saving me after I recite the nembutsu ten times; but I do notice the power of the gratitude, mindfulness and loving-kindness that awakens on me when chanting it being mindful of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
                Perhaps I should try some Soto dharani instead and see if they resonate with me .
                Gassho,
                Mateus
                Satlah
                Then you might as well chant "Namu Tutti Frutti Oh Rutti" for the same effect, so long as in your heart you feel the same gratitude, mindfulness and loving-kindness. It is what you want to place in it.


                You can worship a parking meter, if you are serious about it and it resonates with you.


                It is time to get the nonsense and superstition out of Buddhism, not try to "explain it away" nor find modern excuses and interpretations to cover up the silliness.

                Gassho, J

                STlah
                Last edited by Jundo; 09-06-2022, 01:06 PM.
                ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                Comment

                • Tai Do
                  Member
                  • Jan 2019
                  • 1357

                  #9
                  Originally posted by Jundo

                  It is time to get the nonsense and superstition out of Buddhism, not try to "explain it away" nor find modern excuses and interpretations to cover up the silliness.

                  STlah
                  No arguing with that .

                  Gassho,
                  Mateus
                  Satlah
                  怠努 (Tai Do) - Lazy Effort
                  (also known as Mateus )

                  禅戒一如 (Zen Kai Ichi Nyo) - Zazen and the Precepts are One!

                  Comment

                  • Shonin Risa Bear
                    Member
                    • Apr 2019
                    • 921

                    #10
                    I have a thing for modern dharani.



                    gassho
                    ds sat under the apple tree, and also lah
                    Last edited by Shonin Risa Bear; 09-06-2022, 07:12 PM.
                    Visiting priest: use salt

                    Comment

                    • Bokugan
                      Member
                      • Dec 2019
                      • 435

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Jundo

                      It is time to get the nonsense and superstition out of Buddhism, not try to "explain it away" nor find modern excuses and interpretations to cover up the silliness.

                      Gassho, J

                      STlah
                      [emoji1374] This makes sense to me. Chanting is without a doubt important to my practice, but like Seishin, our usual chants are plenty for me.

                      Gassho,

                      Bokugan
                      SatToday
                      Last edited by Bokugan; 09-17-2022, 06:35 PM.
                      墨眼 | Bokugan | Sumi Ink Eye
                      Ryan-S | zazenlibrarian.com

                      Comment

                      • Shayn3TX
                        Member
                        • Apr 2022
                        • 3

                        #12
                        I was doing a web search to learn about dharani because my local zen center chants them & includes them in it chant book. I really agree with the clear, thoughtful explanation given by Jundo.

                        Gassho.

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