Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies: E-journal Vol 3.1, McBride

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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 3.1 (2020): 318–347;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Manuscript Studies and Xuanzang Studies)

Full text PDF forthcoming


How Did Xuanzang Understand Dhāraṇī?: A View from His Translations

Brigham Young University

Keywords: Xuanzang, dhāraṇī, dhāraṇī sūtras, translations, this-worldly benefits, healing rituals, fire rituals (homa), bodhisattva practices

Abstract: Xuanzang’s 玄奘 (ca. 602–664) chanting the Heart Sūtra and its spell for protection throughout his famed journey to the Indian kingdoms is well known. What is not well known is that in his biography recorded by his colleague Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667) in Further Lives of Eminent Monks (Xu Gaoseng zhuan 續高僧傳), his translation of the Sūtra on the Six Approach Spirit Spell (Liumen shenzhou jing 六門神呪經; aka Sūtra on the Six Approach Dhāraṇī [Liumen tuoluoni jing 六門陀羅尼經; Skt. Saṇmukhīdhāraṇī]) is listed among his important works and translations. Not counting his translation of the Heart Sūtra, Xuanzang translated nine dhāraṇī texts that have been preserved in the Koryŏ Buddhist Canon (and hence the Taishō Canon). Among these are arguably the earliest translations of the dhāraṇīs associated with Amoghapāśa, the lasso-wielding form of Avalokiteśvara, and the Eleven-Headed form of Avalokiteśvara. Because all translations are interpretations, something of Xuanzang’s view of dhāraṇī is preserved in these materials. Just as important, Xuanzang’s understanding of dhāraṇī was shaped by the translations he made. As his disciple Yancong’s 彥悰 (d. after 688) preface emphasizes, dhāraṇī (spell techniques or spellcraft; zhoushu 呪術), along with the practice of meditation and the observance of monastic discipline, is but one of the myriads of mainstream Buddhist ways leading to the one goal of dispelling illusion and benefiting living beings.
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