A Tibetan Book of Spells


Can monks do magic? Should they? We often picture monks (or at least the ideal of the monk) firmly in the setting of the monastery, either seeking enlightenment through study and meditation, or carrying out in the affairs of the monastery. But magic? Well, it seems that throughout most of the history of Buddhism the answer to the first question has been yes, and to the second usually why not? In fact, the  Buddhist canon contains enough spells to rival the repertoire of Merlin, Saruman and Harry Potter put together.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that this only applies to Tibetan Buddhism, through some insidious influence of shamanism (whatever that is). No, Indian, Chinese, Japanese monks have all mixed potions, cast spells and exorcised demons. There’s a story about Bodhiruci – an Indian monk who taught for many years in China – that nicely illustrates this. Once, when a Chinese monk spotted Bodhiruci casting a spell to make the water in a well boil, the monk started to pay special homage to him. But Bodhiruci stopped the monk and explained that all Indian monks learn these skills. (The story, from Daoxuan’s Further Lives of Eminent Monks, is retold in Richard McBride’s article.)

And let’s not think that this only applies to tantric Buddhism. Spells were being cast by Buddhists long before the tantras appeared. Indeed, the recitation of verses against disease or evil spirits goes right back to the beginnings of Buddhism. Mantras are found in the texts of the Sarvāstivadin sect and in the paritta texts of the Theravadins. (See Peter Skilling’s article.)

And there’s nothing mysterious, dubious or underhand about it. Buddhist monks have traditionally lived apart from, yet among lay people, who support their way of life. And ordinary people have turned to the monks for help with their everyday needs, whether serious calamities like illness, the complications of childbirth and spirit possession, or the questions that are answered by astrology and divination. Buddhist monks faced competition from the Brahmins in India, from the Bön and Shen in Tibet, and from the Daoists in China. They all had their spell techniques – and if they were to win the hearts and minds of ordinary people, the Buddhists would need spells too.

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Spells are written to be used, of course, so it’s interesting to look at an actual book of spells that was owned by a Buddhist monk – one of our 9th or 10th century Dunhuang manuscripts, IOL Tib J 401. That funny writing at the top of this post, that looks like the “outline” effect of my old word processor is the cover of a book of spells, on which a monk has written his name in big letters. You can’t miss it: “This is the ritual manual of Bhikṣu Prajñāprabhā.” Well, through the twists and turns of interdependent origination, this is now the ritual manual of the British Library, and more generally, of everyone who has a web connection and an interest in such things.

The book has a handmade quality; it seems to have been stitched together from recycled paper (long pothi pages, folded in the middle). So what’s in it? Spells, spells and more spells. Just one of the rituals allows the adept to cast spells for the following purposes:

  • If you want a prophecy
  • To bring demons under your power
  • To pacify malignant people
  • To overcome wild animals
  • To cause a spring to come forth to alleviate thirst
  • To sharpen your insight
  • To create various valuable objects
  • To find a treasure
  • To cure an illness
  • To cure a severe illness up to the point of death
  • To cure an illness-ghost with a trap
  • To cut off curses and bad births
  • To reverse water, making it flow upwards
  • To make it flow downhill again
  • To cure madness
  • To avoid being bitten by a dog
  • To divide two lovers
  • To reconcile two friends
  • If you are unable to talk to others
  • If you want to be friendly with another person
  • To bind someone

This list gives us an idea of the many needs of ordinary people that could be addressed by the monk magician. Then there are the more complicated rituals that accomplish a single aim, like:

A fire puja (also called homa), which cures insanity. Fire pujas are found in many religious traditions in India, and they travelled with Buddhism to Tibet, China and Japan. In this spell the monk throws metal filings into the fire nine times – causing a dramatic series of flashes, I’m sure. Then five ritual daggers are stabbed into the ground as if pinning down a demon.

Thread-winding magic for “men with obstructed water” and “women with inverted wombs.” The monk knots and unknots the red thread several times while reciting mantras. In the end the thread is flung into the road – just as in the traditional Tibetan way of disposing of the thread cross.

A barley frog. People suffering from joint problems, swellings and the like were often thought to be afflicted by water spirits called Lu (a Tibetan cousin of the Indian Naga). In this ritual, barley flour is molded into the shape of a frog. Then a cavity is made in the top of the frog with a bamboo stick, and a special ointment prepared in the cavity. The ointment is then applied to the afflicted person’s body. The barley frog is then checked to determine the success of the ritual:

Lift up the frog, and if a golden liquid emerges from under it, they will definitely recover. If it is merely moist, then they will recover before too long. If there is only meat with gluey flour, they will be purified by the end of the illness. It is not necessary to do the ritual again. If there is only gluey flour, break it up and do the ritual again.

Prasena divination. This special kind of divination involves calling down a deity to answer questions put to it. In the ritual in this spell book the deity is called “the sky-soarer” or the Khyung (a Tibetan cousin of the Indian Garuda). The deity speaks through a “pure” (that is, pre-pubescent) child, or shows that child visions in a mirror, or on the flat of his own thumb. Though such rites of spirit-possession might seem “shamanic” they are described in Indian scriptures like the Amoghapāśa Sutra and the Questions of Subāhu, and prasena is apparently an Indian word, though no-one seems quite sure what it might mean (though Michel Strickmann had a good go at it). Prasena (often simply known as “pra”) has a long a fascinating history in Tibet, including being used in the quest for the present Dalai Lama after the death of his predecessor, for example (see Lama Chime Radha’s article).

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Buddhist collections of spells like these always contain some reminder of the wider perspective of Buddhist aspirations. In our spell book, it seems that a certain level of spirtual attainment is necessary for the spells to be effective. And at the end of the spell book everything is tied back into the great themes of Buddhism with a prayer to the Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva of wisdom:

In the supremely precious, jewelled land of Ultimate Emanated Bliss
The realm radiantly coloured like stainless gold
The youth with five locks is lovely to behold.
By making offerings and inviting this supreme spiritual friend
I pray that he will come because of his kindness for this place
And carry out the accomplishment of this adept’s rituals:

“I have been blinded by the net of darkness
Mañjuśrī come near and treat me with kindness.
Your discernment, like the fire at the end of an aeon
Clears away the mere appearance of darkness in the mind;
Please bestow it upon me.”

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1. Cantwell, Cathy and Robert Mayer. 2008. Early Tibetan Documents on Phur pa from Dunhuang. Vienna: OAW.
2. Chime Radha, Lama. 1981. “Tibet.” In Carmen Blacker and Michael Lowe (eds), Oracles and Divination. London: Random House. 3-37.
3. McBride, Richard. 2005. “Dhāraṇī and Spells in Medieval Sinitic Buddhism.” JIABS 28.1: 85–114.
4. Skilling, Peter. 1992, “The Rakṣā Literature of the Śrāvakayāna.” Journal of the Pali Text Society 16: 109-182.
5. Strickmann, Michel (edited by Bernard Faure). 2002. Chinese Magical Medicine. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

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See also: A Soldier’s Prayer

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Note for readers of Tibetan: What is a no pyi ka?
The front cover of the spell book says bIg kru prad nya pra ba ‘I no pyi ka. I hope that most will agree that the name is probably Bhikṣu Prajñāprabhā, but what is a no pyi ka? I first came across the word in a poetical passage by Jigme Lingpa (at the beginning of his Pad ma dkar po) where he calls it “the essence of hearing, thinking and meditating” (thos bsam sgom pa’i snying po no pi ka). The term is much more common the Dunhuang manuscripts, and an interpretation was first suggested by Kenneth Eastman in 1983, when he noted that the Tibeto-Sanskrit glossary in Pelliot tibétain 849 glosses it as sgrub thabs – the Tibetan word that we usually consider a translation of the Sanskrit sādhana, a manual for ritual and/or meditation. Robert Mayer and Cathy Cantwell, in their 2008 book on Phurba manuscripts, suggest (with thanks to Matthew Kapstein) that the probable origin of all this is a Sanskrit term sādhanaupayika. Thus sādhanaupayika becomes nopayika becomes no pyi ka. This would be very neat because we thus get to the original Sanskrit term behind the Tibetan word sgrub thabs: sādhana = “accomplishment” = sgrub, while aupayika = “means” = thabs.

36 thoughts on “A Tibetan Book of Spells

  1. Hi Early,

    Once Robert Mayer kindly pointed out to me, just as I’ll point out to you, that no-pi-ka appears in Sarat Chandra Das (et al.,), Tibetan-English Dictionary, at p. 744, with the definition “n. of a religious service; propitiatory rite.” He then quotes the Blue Annals as saying “no pi ka la sogs pa sgrub thabs mang po bsgyur, ‘he translated many works on propitiatory rites such as Nopika, &c.”

    Das was first published in 1902. So a person really ought to be wary of writing “an interpretation was first suggested by Kenneth Eastman in 1983.”

    You can find examples of it in Derge Tanjur no. 1235 (in the Sanskrit title as given in Tibetan letters: sā dha no pi ka, noting also no. 1928, no. 1977, no. 2096, for further examples).

    Derge Tanjur no. 1261 has maṇḍa la no pi kā, translated into Tibetan as dkyil-‘khor-gyi cho-ga, which might seem to argue for a different way of understanding it as bearing the meaning ‘ritual.’ Check Derge Tanjur no. 1926, for another text where the same ‘ritual’ interpretation is supported. The evidence of these two texts, which argues for a different usage, has so far been ignored, unless I missed something. Always a possibility, isn’t it?

    I enjoy the magic, and am impressed that this bhikshu at least avoided really destructive kinds of magical mayhem… well, ok, even if there is something about splitting up couples and ‘bondage.’ He seems like a fine fellow. Did you leave any bad bits out?


  2. Mea culpa. Apologies to the good pundit Das. Still, I’d like to commend Ken Eastman for his groundbreaking work on Tibetan tantric manuscripts from Dunhuang.

    Anyway, thanks for the clues from the Tanjur. I also noticed that if we look for the element -opāyikā- we get many more examples, and that maṇḍalopāyika is for dkyil ‘khor gyi cho ga, while sādhanopāyikā is for sgrub pa’i thabs. Note that the Tibetans use upāyikā, not aupayika. I guess the latter is better Sanskrit, but how many tantras and ritual texts are written in ‘good’ Sanskrit?

    By the way, I haven’t memorized the Tanjur catalogue, but just made some quick searches of http://web.otani.ac.jp/cgi-bin/peking.cgi.

    No, I didn’t censor any destructive magic, but there is lots more useful stuff, including a rainmaking ritual and a spell to help a childless woman conceive.


  3. So at least, you would say, there is no way you could argue that this fully ordained monk was performing magical rites motivated by his own selfish interests. To the contrary, he was looking out for the (selfish or otherwise) interests of his patrons. Is that fair to say? Was he Tibetan or some other nationality? I know he has a Sanskritic name, but what does that tell us about his ethnicity?

    (Manjushri is still invoked for some divination practices, by the way.)

  4. I think you’re quite right to say that the spells used by this monk at least (and surely this applies in most cases) are for the benefit of patrons. Whether this involves ‘selfishness’ or not must depend on the spiritual development of the individual monk, no? The monk-patron relationship has been interpreted in all sorts of ways, and — as you know — modern scholars often treat it in purely economic terms.

    When you look at traditional biographies it does seem that some Tibetan lamas were not entirely happy about the ‘fundraising’ tours that were expected of them — performing rituals for lay patrons in exchange for goods and money for the monastery. This could leave them with little time for study or meditation. So though you could see this as an economic transaction, it could hardly be regarded as a ‘selfish’ activity.

    As for the other question, also a good one, I’m not sure. Many Chinese monks in Dunhuang wrote in Tibetan, yet this spell material was very popular in Chinese, so why would one write it in Tibetan unless that was one’s first language? There are also a few pages in the book with what looks like a Tibetan transcription of a Chinese text. Again, I’m not sure if this means the monk is more or less likely to have been a Tibetan….

  5. Thanks a lot for the post! I’m very new to this, but the proper place of magic (or shamanic elements) has been puzzling me ever since I read Healing with Form, Energy, and Light by Tenzin Rinpoche. Now, granted, he is coming from Bon background, but still It seems to me that he holds the shamanic elements in much higher regard than just a mere “service” to the common folks. Perhaps, calling them foundation for tantric and dzogchen practices would be going to far, but they certainly seem an organic part of both. At least from his point of view. Is it all because of Bon, or is he not alone in assigning a certain meaning to the magic aspects. The kind of meaning that might be helpful to the monks, not just their patrons.


  6. Very interesting little breviary, many thanks for bringing this into attention!

    Actually upāyikā is much better Sanskrit then aupayika, I think.

    As for pra se na (I haven’t seen Strickmann’s book mentioned by you) Prof. Sanderson derived it from Skt. praśna ‘question’ (which fits the context well) through Prakritic modifications and back-Sanskritization: praśna – pasina – prasena, or something similar. Is there something about dipping his thumb into oil?

  7. I’m intrigued by the possible Tibetan transcription of a Chinese text on the front and back inner covers, but the writing very worn and difficult to read, so I wonder if you have a transcription of the text?

    Also, I wonder what the I ti of I ti prad nya pra at the end of the text means.

  8. It’s an interesting point. It seems that these magical spells were initially not associated with the Vajrayana (or even necessarily with the Mahayana). But with the development of the Vajrayana and the discussion of the classes of tantra, sutras containing spells (like the dharani sutra of Amoghapāśa) were included in the lower classes of tantra (kriyā or caryā in the four-class system). Thus the texts came to be considered ‘tantric’ (even if not designated ‘tantra’ per se) and the spells also were brought into the soteriological system of the Vajrayana, to some extent.

    As the later Bon system is a a mixture of Buddhist and pre-Buddhist elements, spells from both traditions are doubtless included in the texts, but I suspect that there is more similarity than difference in the attitude to spells in the Buddhist and Bon schools.


  9. Michel Strickmann’s discussion of prasena is interesting. He mentions the idea that is derived from Skt. praśna (apparently also suggested in the past by Japanese scholars) but discards this theory; he writes (p.215):

    Boehtlingk’s great Sanskrit dictionary in its 1879 revision cites and early sixth-century occurenceof the word in the B.rajjātaka, an astrological treatise by Varāhamihira. The tenth-century commentator on this work, Utpala, defines it as signifying a form of trickery or charlatanism, “eine Art Gauklerei.” This is evidently an unsympathetic evaluation of techniques comparable to, or identical with, those described in our eighth-century Tantric Buddhist source; the same prasena is obviously meant.

    So it seems we should accept that prasena was the original Sanskrit term as well, though finding a convincing etymology seems to be a hopeless task, even though it is popular as a proper name (as in the famous king Prasenajit). In a footnote to this discussion (pp.327-8), Strickmann also mentions another possibility, suggested by PS Jaini: prasanna, “bright” or “clear”.

    As for the thumb, no oil is mentioned, as far as I can see. The book just mentions “the surface of the thumb” (the bo’i ngo) as an alternative basis for the divination (see f.14r.5).

  10. I’m afraid I don’t have a transcription of the inner covers – partly because they are so difficult to read. There are other cases of Chinese texts transcribed into Tibetan: two copies of the SukhāvatIvyūha, and a catechism on ‘The View of the Mahāyāna Madhyamaka’. These have beeen studied:

    Thomas, F.W., S. Miyamoto, and G.L.M. Clauson, ‘A Chinese Mahayana Catechism in Tibetan and Chinese Characters’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1929): 37-76.

    Thomas, F.W., ‘A Chinese Buddhist Text in Tibetan Writing’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1926): 508-26.

    — ‘A Second Chinese Buddhist Text in Tibetan Characters’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1927): 281–306.

    And I’m guessing that I ti is another Sanskritism, as in “that which has gone before [i.e. this spell book] belongs to Prajñāprabhā.”


  11. And just to add a note to my note above, other sources seem to support aupayika over upāyikā, including the Mahāvyutpatti and the Yogacārabhūmi index (available for download here).

    In the former, suggested translations for aupayika are cho ga, thabs and thabs dang ldan pa. In the latter it is the Sanskrit behind thabs dang ldan pa.

    Monier-Williams provides similar definitions:-

    aupayika mf(ī)n. (fr. upâya g. vinayâdi Pāṇ. 5-4, 34
    • with shortening of the ā Kāś. on ib.), answering a purpose, leading to an object, fit, proper, right MBh. BhP. &c
    • belonging to VarBṛS.
    • obtained through a means or expedient L.
    • (am), n. a means, expedient Kir. ii, 35

    With all of these Sanskrit sources for aupayika, I wonder if there are any for upāyikā?

  12. Dear Early,

    That’s right. I-ti is simply Sanskrit iti. Easy as that. It just means zhes-pa or zhes bya-ba (or about 40 or 50 other possible translations) in Tibetan, something like ‘thus’ or ‘called like that’ (whatever came just before it) in English.

    You do see it sometimes in Tibetan letters in Tibetan books, often mis/spelled ithi for some reason.


  13. Perhaps I should have been clearer on this. aupayika is attested in the dictionaries (the authors of which presumably did not read too much Vajrayāna), but not as an element in the title of tantric ritual manuals.

    If you do a quick search in the NGMCP catalogue ( you will find about a dozen hits, e.g. Vajrāvalīmaṇḍalopāyikā (of Abhayākaragupta), Catuṣpīṭhamaṇḍalopāyikā (attr. to Āryadeva), Yamāritantramaṇḍalopāyikā (of Śrīdhara), Yogāmbarasādhanopāyikā (of Amitavajra), etc. I found no results for aupayika there.

    Of course, you may object that the title cards are not always reliable, and this is true. But it is attested within Vajrayāna texts as well (the list is not exhaustive and I quote colophons only when they seem to be auctorial):

    – aparadevatāmantrā asmābhiḥ śrīsamvarābhisamayopāyikāyām uktāḥ (‘I have explained the mantras of the other deities in the upāyikā [called] śrīsamvarābhisamaya) in the Niṣpannayogāvalī of Abhaya.

    – yathoktasādhanopāyikākrameṇa (‘in accordance with the sequence presented in the said sādhanopāyikā) in the Jyotirmañjarī of Abhaya.

    – mūlamantrau cāsmābhiḥ śrīsamvarābhisamayopāyikāyāṃ saṃvarṇitau (‘I have explained the two root-mantras in the maṇḍalopāyikā [called] śrīsamvarābhisamaya’) in the Vajrāvalī of Abhaya (ed. Sakurai)

    – āryasarvabuddhasamāyogatantroddhṛtā bhagavataḥ śrīherukabhaṭṭārakasya sādhanopāyikā samāptā (‘[here] ends the sādhanopāyikā of the Lord Śrīherukabhaṭṭāraka, extracted from the noble Sarvabuddhasamāyogatantra’) in the Vajrajvālodayā Herukasādhanopāyikā of Ānandagarbha (ms. Gottingen Xc 14/39).

    – kṛteyaṃ maṇḍalopāyikā bhūvācāryeṇa dhīmatā (‘this maṇḍalopāyikā was written by the wise Bhūvācārya’) in the Samvarodayā of Bhūvācārya (ms. Tokyo 450)

    – homopāyikāvihitavidhānena trikoṇakuṇḍaṃ kṛtvā (‘after having made a triangular hearth according to the instructions set out in the homopāyikā’) and etat sarvaṃ sādhanopāyikāyāṃ vistaram (‘all this is [described] at lenght in the sādhanopāyikā’) in Jayabhadra’s Cakrasamvarapañjikā (ed. Sugiki)

    – maṇḍalopāyikāṃ vakṣye śrīsamājānusārataḥ (‘I will set forth a maṇḍalopāyikā according to the Śrī[guhya]samāja’) in the Maṇḍalopāyikā of Padmaśrīmitra (ms. Tokyo no. 280)

    – sādhanopāyikāmātraṃ jñātvā tantre vipañcitam| ācāryā vayam ity evaṃ vadanty āgamikā vibho|| (‘O Lord, these āgamikas speak of themselves as masters only having graspd the sādhanopāyikā described in the tantra’) in the Pañcakrama 1.31 (ed. Mimaki and Tomabechi)

    – sādhanopāyikāvidhinā jaṃ hūṃ vaṃ hoḥ ebhir mantrapadair (‘with these mantras jaṃ hūṃ vaṃ hoḥ, according to the instruction of the sādhanopāyikā) in the Vimalaprabhā of Puṇḍarīka

    I found aupayika only in the Mañjuśriyamūlakalpa, but I’m not quite sure if it means ritual manual there.



  14. Dear Dan,

    I wonder if you’ve come across another (perhaps related) way of closing a text: dha thim? This comes at the end of the Kun tu bzang po’i dgongs nyams from the Klong chen snying thig. It puzzles me.

  15. Thank you Peter. This wealth of real Sanskrit tantric titles surely indicates that in the tantric context, it’s upāyikā, as you originally suggested.

    It certainly makes sense then, to see sādhanopāyikā as the original Sanskrit word the Tibetan translators had in mind when they came up with the translation sgrub [pa’i] thabs “means for accomplishment”.

    Then for maṇḍalopāyikā they chose dkyil ‘khor gi cho ga, “ritual of the maṇḍala”. This is a little inconsistent, but perhaps reflects an Indian practice in which sādhanopāyikā and its consituent parts sādhana and upāyikā could be used fairly interchangeably?

    And I wonder whether the practice of breaking the conjunct in the wrong place to create nopāyikā –> no pyi ka has any precedent in India? It seems more likely to have been a Tibetan innovation.


  16. sorry to interfere, but this is really weird: dha and thim are used in India for annotating different ways of striking a tabla-drum. but what is that doing in a rDzogs chen text? ta-daaaa like at the end of some jingle?

  17. dear Sam,

    yes, it does seem inconsistant, and you might be right about the blurred meaning. and just to create more confusion: if the Tibetan who first came up with sgrub thabs knew good Sanskrit, then _perhaps_ he interpreted the suffix -na in sādhana as ‘thabs’. this makes sense, since such words are usually interpreted as: sādhyate anena iti sādhanam (with sandhi: sādhyata aneneti sādhanam: ‘Sādhana is [something] by which one accomplishes (- sādh)’), that is to say ‘-na’ creates a word which signifies something that is instrumental, able, or fit to do the action expressed in the root.

    as for nopāyikā, I’m in the dark. I am not aware of such precedents in India.


  18. J. Gyatso in the “Apparitions of the Self” book at p. 94 says dha thim means “Symbol’s dissolved!” Clearly she takes the dha element to be a mysterious spelling for brda’. I doubt this, and don’t see reasons why I ought to believe it, no outside evidence to argue for it. It’s true that in cursive mss. the ‘h’ subscript can be used for the purpose of representing a prescript ‘m’, but I don’t know if it being used like this, to represent prescript ‘b’ and superscrpt ‘r.’ RangjungWiki copies word-for-word her explanation here: http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/dha_thim.

    I have another idea, that it’s one of a set of seven “sealing” expressions… (7 because of the 7 seals of the Prajnaparamita that Conze thought entered into the 7 seals of the apocalypse!)… Where “tham” (not thim), like rgya, means the ‘chop’ of a seal. But I’m not completely sure of it, since it could be Indic for something like dhatima? Not that I know of any such word. I don’t.

    PDSz, where do DO RE MI FA SO LA TI DO come from? I’m favoring its Arabic origins, personally. You may be on the right track here. But even if we come up with the true answer, maybe we shouldn’t announce it to the whole world just yet. You think? ; >

  19. Dan, are the seven sealing expressions known individually – or just as the name of a group? I had assumed dha thim was a Sanskritism, because of other Sanskritic terma sealing expressions like sa ma ya and gu hya. Then again Tibetan rgya is also very common. I guess only a convincing Sanskrit original term would close the question. I find the tabla-drum explanation of PDSz quite pleasing as well…


  20. Well, they aren’t know individually by anybody as far as I know. But I should tell you that they have been preserved in one place in the film version of the Zhijé Collection (1st volume fol. 75 verso): zab rgya / ces rgya / gsang rgya / rtsis rgya / gtad rgya / mna’ rgya / gab rgya / rgya rim pa bdun gyis btab bo / iti. Do a Google search for “rgya rim pa bdun” and you’ll see that this is the wording in the Prajnaparamita texts, of which Padampa was a very strong proponent.

    Oh, I just checked and located the seals in the published version, at vol. 1, page 148.

    The ‘entrustment seal’ (gtad rgya) at least must sound very familiar to Nyingmapaists, I’d expect.

    The 7 seals were originally on the enshrined box containing the holy book in the Ashta, described in the Tibetan like this: khang pa brtsegs pa de’i dbus su rin po che sna bdun las byas pa’i khri bzhi btsugs te de’i steng du rin po che’i sgrom bzhi bzhag nas de’i nang du shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa gser gyi glegs bam la bee d’au rya bzhu bas bris pa bcug ste.

    The jeweled box on the seven-jeweled throne ring any bells? Written in lapis on gold? Yes?

  21. Early this morning I was dreaming of a possible vowel transposition at work. Perhaps ‘seal of the dhi.h syllable of Arapacana Mañjusrî’?

    I’ve noticed one use as a ‘sealing expression’ in the Zhijé Collection of kha tham.

    I do see a possible problem in reading the tham (or tham-kha or tham-ga) as meaning ‘seal’ since, if I’m not mistaken, it ought to be borrowed from Mongolian, right? (I’m asking.) The text where it occurs, at the very end, ought to be pre-Mongol period. Of course we also find the spelling .tam, with the Tibetanizing spelling dam (or dam-kha) also occurring with some frequency. Does this term for ‘seal’ ever appear in your O.T. docs? I just tried the different spellings in OTDO (http://otdo.aa.tufs.ac.jp/) and didn’t find it. Perhaps I’ll stop listening to my dreams? Don’t think so, but then, you know…

  22. Don’t stop taking notice of your dreams, especially if Mañjusrî is involved! You are thinking dha thim dhi(ḥ) tham, yes?

    There are some interesting occurances in the Old Tibetan contracts. For example in PT1098, we have the phrase tham lag pa’i ‘og tu, translated by Takeuchi as “After [the two parties] have thus reached an agreement…”. The similar phrase ‘di ltar thams pa las appears in Or.8210/S.2228, which Takeuchi translates in the same way. In a note, he says:

    Tham or thams may be considered the perfect form of the verb ‘tham-pa, “to unite” (Jäschke: 244; TLTD: 3:59).

    The Tshig mdzod chen mo gives two definitions for ‘tham pa, the first being “to surround with troops”, and the second “to grasp firmly with the hand”. Generally the term seems to imply, in the OT contracts, a handshake. And isn’t that a kind of seal?

    (By the way, I’m referring to Takeuchi’s Old Tibetan Contracts, p.267)

  23. I had a new vision, just now, of the gi-gu, like an inch worm, inching its way over to the left until it settled on top of the ‘d’ in dhi. (Just visualize that backward and maybe that’s just what happened…) I swear this will be the last time I’ll ever be visiting that Kabbalah center. Scout’s honor. Even if a Madonna invites me.

  24. Well, I google search ‘Nopika Enlightenment’ and this page is the first and only hit. Apparently google isn’t quite up on ancient Sanskrit texts yet. But I seem to’ve stumbled upon the right place. I am looking for the sanskrit text of the word, Nopika. Or No Pyi Ka, or which ever word seems most correct. I am working on a project, and an graphic of the original sanskrit or tibetan would be greatly appreciated.


  25. Although – I might offer my own input as to the word. I’ve been told that Nopika is the practice of a group of practitioners attaining a higher state by studying together.

  26. I’m afraid I must insist that no pi ka is a corruption/fake re-sanskritization of upāyikā (cutting the compound Sādhanopāyikā in the wrong place for example). I just found three instances in Smṛtijñānakīrti’s commentary to the fourth chapter of the Catuṣpīṭha: there he cites from _the/a_ ‘no pi ka’, and a Guhyasamāja ‘no pi ka’. The first quote is found in the Maṇḍalopāyikā of Caryāvratīpāda, and the second in the highly influential initiation manual of Dīpaṃkarabhadra.

    Althoug I must confess that I find it strange that Smṛti, who after all knew his Sanskrit, did not dismiss this strange word with a smile. Perhaps it is that in the region he was working it was already an accepted ‘Sanskritism’.

  27. On p. 333 of the longer Khepa Deyu history Vimalamitra repeats the dha thim twice. It’s indubitably intended to be Indic here, and so, even if I don’t know what the Indic form would be, it surely shouldn’t make sense to interpret in a Tibetanizing way, as in ‘symbol’s dissolved.’ Anyway, it’s all a little funny for us in light of the humorous story of how the three Tibetan lotsawas in India interpreted Vimala’s words a-ka-ma-sha-ni in three very very different ways (told on the page before, p. 332).

  28. Hmm, interesting! On p. 334 of the Khepa Deyu, you see a definition of dha thim by the very person who earlier pronounced the word. It says it means something like ‘all dharmas are equal (or even).’
    I still for the life of me can’t think what could work for this in Sanskrit or Hindi. That drum syllable explanation is once again starting to look very attractive.

  29. Interesting indeed! How about tha thim — “everything disolves [into equality]”?

  30. Thank you for this post. Many Western Buddhists are unaware of the magic that fills much of the Buddhism on-the-ground. Eaves dropping on scholars of Tibetan and Sanskrit is very fun — an honor. Thanks

  31. So sorry I missed this discussion! I am interested in more discussions on spells and magic especially related to illness. Hope you continue with this blog. upāyikā is the correct term in Sanskrit. sādhanaupayika should be sādhanopayika with sandhi in correct Sanskrit. Ivette

  32. ‘Very interesting for me too. i live in India, and i thought it might interest you that this practice of making a small child answer a question or request (‘prachna’ in Hindi) is still there in India. My husband, who is Indian, remembers sadhus doing it with children, asked to look at their thumbnail painted black (with shoe polish) to answer a question, in Delhi when he was young……. In fact, we heard of a Tibetan monk doing this ‘Prasana’, who was spending a few days in our village of Rajpur near Dehradun. So we met him, and he agreed to do this small ritual with our younger daughter, who was 6 or 7 years old, (33 years ago !), she concentrated on her thumb painted black, and we asked if she could tell us what my brother Noel and his friend were doing at that moment in Kashmir… and she did ! She saw them going down in a forest, and Noel passing behind a tree. They were looking well, and laughing.
    That’s it.. Later, when Noel and his friend returned back in Rajpur, they said, on that day their bus was stopped by a landslide, and they had to walk through the forest on some distance.
    My husband says the way to get the child to start visualising things on her thumb was exactly like sadhus did in his youth !… i.e, while she looks at the black thumbnail, telling her she sees herself passing a broom to clean the place, then an elephant enters the place….. then we were told to ask her our question. …. Can’t remember if there were any magic words !’

  33. I don’t know if you are Westerners simply fascinated with Eastern esoteric beliefs but Buddha strictly forbade the use of magic. Tibetan rituals are based on cultural beliefs and are not aligned with the teachings of Buddha. If you study Buddhist scriptures, you will understand this.

  34. Dear Soma, if the magic being practiced is in line with the Noble Eightfold Path (for example) how is that “not aligned with the teachings of the Buddha?”. What about the Pali Canon Paritta? Is that also a Tibetan ritual “not aligned with the teachings of Buddha”? What about praying for the benefit of others? Is that not a type of magic? What about the Buddha’s advice (in the Pali Canon) to Anguliamala to pray for/bless the pregnant villager? Is that not also a type of magic? Is that also “not aligned with the teachings of Buddha”? Is the Buddha also acting contrary to his own advice/teachings or are you just spouting nonsense?

  35. I posted on G+ about this, and tried to reply but, the comments are closed? Anyway I thought about it a bit, and I realised that in Mahayana Buddhism it’s not the same as Theravada. I should have said, in Theravada (which I currently practice) there is no place for magic. Which is fine with me, I like it that way. Anyway, in Mahayana Buddhism it’s different. In Mahayana Buddhism I think magic is probably ok, because of the difference between relative and absolute. Magic cannot free people from suffering in an absolute way, but it might do so in a relative way. While Theravadins probably wouldn’t care about that much, it might be more important to Mahayana practitioners. Like I said before, I have a history in Western Mystery tradition, which pretty much covers all esoterica I think, at least, the principles would be the same with Tibetan magic. So to answer your question, yes I have reduced Buddhism to the 8 fold path, but only for myself. I recognise that this is not the only path, and that other means may work better for other people. In my defense I will say that, as a student of Western Mystery tradition, it’s my habit to say, “magic is bad don’t do it”, deny it exists, or whatever. Promoting it is certainly not encouraged, at least not publicly. So I apologise for not being clear enough in my original post, and I will say thank you, for seeing through it.

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