The vrata

In document Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal (Will Douglas) (Page 178-189)

Amoghapāśa and the vrata

5.3 The History of Amoghapāśa

5.4.1 The vrata

As my primary concern here is to understand the place of the Mahāyāna in the GKV, I should first point out that the inclusion of the vrata in the GKV has no basis in any of its textual sources. The is not mentioned in the KV or BCA. The term has a long history in Indian Buddhism, and strictly refers to the

the eight lay precepts. The eightfold vow is an extension of the ordinary five lay precepts by which any lay Buddhist should abide, and consists of:

Nonviolence, not stealing, chastity, not lying, not taking intoxicants, not using high seats or beds, not using cosmetics or adornments, not listening to music or other entertainments and not eating after noon. It is important to distinguish between the original Buddhist (Pāli uposatha), a periodic ritual involving the eight lay precepts, and the later Mahāyāna ritual which centres around Amoghapāśa. The original lay ceremony was a way of folding lay supporters into the periodic cycle of the fortnightly Pātimokkha. Lay Buddhists were invited in to take the eight precepts and be told edifying stories.48 This core is still apparent in the modern Newar practice, which takes place on the eighth day of the bright lunar half and the fourteenth of the dark half and is a joint activity of the Vajrācārya priests and lay devotees, almost all women.

Before 1200

However, the first textual evidence we have for the distinct ritual and vow of Mahāyāna is the AmS itself. Towards the end of this text, after the exposition of all the mantras, the ritual obligations and meditation are concisely expressed. For the sake of comparison with later material, I will focus on three aspects: the vows themselves, the timing of the ritual, and the dietary restrictions imposed.

Amoghapasa and the posadha vrata 163

kaś cid bhagavan kulaputro vā kuladuhitā vā daughter of a good family, monk, nun, layman or woman or sentient being other than these, having uttered

[the] should

fast on the eighth day of the bright half of the lunar month….

The artist, who has undertaken the eightfold vow, should draw [the image of Amoghapāśa]. Then above that, the practitioner make a

from cow-dung which has not fallen,athrow a white flower [into it], and set up eight flasks filled with scented water. [There are] eight offerings, each of sixty-four materials; [but] the sacrificial offering should be free of meat and blood. Lighting fragrant aloe incense, recite the mantra 108 times. The person offering the recitation should take the precepts for a whole day and night, or for three, eat [only] milk, curd and butter, be clean and bathe thrice daily, and should have put on clean clothing. (Meisezahl 1962:327)

a That is, collected from the cow

before it falls to the ground.

Leaving aside the ordinary components of a Vajrayāna ritual such as the mantra recitation, and flasks, what is distinctive about this ritual in comparison to the non-Mahāyāna vow is that the performance of the eightfold vow (which is nowhere explicitly listed in this particular text) on the eighth day of the bright half of the lunar month is supplemented by a further series of conditions.

First, it is explicitly open to just about anyone; the scope of the phrase “sentient being other than these” is indeed inclusive. One possible action recommended for the text, along with reciting it, writing it and so on, is to mutter it into

the ear of an animal: antaśas sthitvā

dāsyanti. This is not strictly incompatible with the sorts of caste distinctions maintained by the Ahoratra materials mentioned above; an animal presumably does not have the right, the adhikāra, to actually perform the ritual, and indeed the phrase ‘son or daughter of a good family’ may be a way to limit the adhikāra for actually performing the ritual as opposed to having it performed or recited on one’s behalf

Second, the vow is to be taken either for a day or for three days. Three days, in this case, means that the vow begins on the evening of the seventh, continues all day through the eighth, and is finished at noon on the ninth. The alternation between two durations is a feature which has puzzled ethnographers discussing the modern Newar lay vrata, but

Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal 164

both the one-day and the three-day versions appear to be original and both are properly called What I have called three-day version is properly called the ahoratravrata, or day-and-night vrata. The one-day version should take place between waking and sleeping in one day.

Third, there are regulations as to cleanliness. The requirement of a mid-day bath is a rather brahminical feature. The admonition to wear clean clothing probably amounts to the requirement that one adopt white clothing for the duration of the vow. Elsewhere there is mention of a white thread which one ties on, rather than the expected five-coloured thread. The adoption of distinctive white clothing to mark out lay Buddhists engaged in a vow is not uncommon in the modern world,49 but in the modern Newar vrata the requirement is only clean clothing.

Finally, there are dietary restrictions. The or ‘three whites’, are three pure foods in opposition to the impure foods such as garlic, leeks, meat and so on. Elsewhere in the text, the practitioner is advised to dispose of any unfinished impure foods, including garlic and strong drink, before beginning the ritual; and the prohibition extends also to the offerings.50

As a form of asceticism open to all interested parties, the AmS seems happy to impose a substantial load on its adherents. Not least is the mantra itself. The reader who has not read the AmS might not be aware of the length of the as mantras go it is rather long, taking up several pages in the modern edition. Unlike the

vidya, which can be recited 108 times in less than five minutes with ease, each repetition of the would take five minutes or so.


From two short texts of the 12th century Kaśmīrian monk and writer Śākyaśrībhadra, it is clear that while the ritual underwent some degree of clarification, it remained substantially the same. One text, the simply specifies the wording of the vow itself. The other text, called the provides a summary of the ritual. Here there is no one-day option; the vrata begins in the evening of the seventh, takes place largely on the eighth, and finishes during the day of the ninth. As to dietary restrictions, the text says:

de’i cho ga ni dkar po’i phyogs kyi tshes brgyad la brtul shugs kyis bsdams par gyur pas khyad par du ba klag par bya stea bcom ldan ‘das don yod zhags pa la yang dag par mchod cing gsol ba gdab par bya’o chu tshod la sogs kyi khongs su ‘o ma dang ka ra dang dkar gsum gyi zas bza’ bar bya’o

As to the ritual: on the eighth day of the bright half of the month, (this) should be recited by one who has been bound with the special vrata. He should make an offering properly and pray to

Amoghapāśa. Within an hour or other period, he should eat the three white foods, such as milk and sugar.

a xyl. sta

In comparison with the AmS, which appears to be offering several different variations, the ritual framework put forward by Śākyaśrībhadra is clear. The ritual begins on the

Amoghapasa and the posadha vrata 165

evening of the seventh day of the bright lunar half-month. The practitioner takes on the vow, makes an offering to Amoghapāśa, prays, eats from the three white foods and prepares to sleep while visualizing the deity. In the morning at dawn, he washes, performs nyāsa and then with a mantra visualizes and summons Amoghapāśa with his retinue into the seven prepared 51 There are seven jars and seven bowls of rice, each requiring a recitation of the mantra. Once the ritual equipment is set up absolute silence is observed, except for the recitation of mantras. The day is divided into three sessions of mantra recitation. The evening closes with offerings and circumambulation. The final day is as the first day, closing with a dedication of merit, a final offering and sending away the deity.

There is no mention of fresh clothing, although the vrata performer must clean him or herself. There is also no passage emphasizing the inclusiveness of the ritual, but it is a much shorter work than the AmS and is apparently intended as explication of the ritual implicit in the AmS. In this text, a key feature which is not mentioned in the AmS is the requirement that the practitioner be absolutely silent except for the points in the ritual when he or she is expected to recite mantras. While the ritual in the AmS assumes the eight fasting precepts and adds dietary constraints, the in clarifying the ritual makes it an even more strenuous practice. The requirement of silence is very much at odds with the ritual as it is presently performed in Nepal, which is a cheerful communal affair with lots of edifying stories. This text may be aimed at the individual performing solitary fasts of the sort described in the biography of

5.4.2 Nepal

Not surprisingly, there is a substantial corpus of technical texts found in Nepal, most of which appear to be Newar compositions, describing Amoghapāśa, de-tailing the correct performance of this vow, and giving collections of stories appropriate to recount during the ritual.52 To be sure, they draw on the Indian sources and where they can demonstrate continuity they do. Thus the iconography of Amoghapāśa in the Amoghapāśapūjāvidhi is

identical to that in the Amoghapāśasādhana and of

Śākyaśrībhadra, so much so that it is possible to identify a creeping iconographic error.

One of the attributes of Amoghapāśa is a three long staves tied together. This is a standard symbol of an Indian renunciant.53 This the Tibetan translators of the

translate as, ‘a stick with three points,’ which is taken to be equivalent to a triśūla (rtse gsum), a symbol of Śiva sometimes taken over in later Vajrayāna iconography. That mistake is perpetuated in the Tibetan and Japanese iconography, however, where the unfamiliar triple rod is frequently converted into the familiar trident. The Newar sculptors have generally avoided this mistake.

One might expect, therefore, that the Newar sources would present a ritual very similar to that in the Indian sources, but in fact they do not. The ritual put forth in the earliest text from Nepal, the is already much more complex than

Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal 166

Śākyaśrībhadra. The basic structure does not change much between the 15th century and the 17th, or indeed the 20th.54

Outline of ritual in

The 55 or Benefits of the Eight Precepts, begins with the Guru

Pūjā.56 The practitioner then lays out a Buddha and offers a flower to each of the five Buddhas and their consorts; offers the five substances (pañcopahāra); offers water for washing recites a stotra; and goes for refuge to the Buddhas, using a formula which guarantees the correctness of the transmission:

(F7 l 3) so deśito imām velām upādāya yāvad ā



gacchāmi dvipadānām agram ||

I, who have been taught, from this moment on until I attain the seat of Enlightenment establish myself in the blessed Buddha, greatly compassionate, omniscient, omnipotent and beyond all fear; I go for refuge to the indivisiblea great Person, the ultimate body, whose body is the Dharma, best of humans.

a emend to following 8v1

b em. to

a In the sense of both indestructible and nondual.

Next the process is repeated for the Dharma with the offering to each text of flowers, the five substances and water; then the saying of prayers and the refuge formula.

This is all repeated a third time for the

Then follows a general prayer to all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and gurus, the confession of faults, delight in meritorious acts and the subsequent components of the usual sevenfold worship; this is followed by the taking of the eight precepts.

Unfortunately at this point the second half of the text is missing; it picks up again with a single line and the colophon on the next extant folio. However, there is enough material here to demonstrate that the text, while concerned with the same general type of ritual, is in fact rather different from the Indian model. Those familiar with the modern

vrata in Nepal will recognize that already in this text we clearly have a precursor of the modern ritual, which does indeed involve three of Buddha, Dharma and

as well as a of Amoghapāśa.

Changes in the

Judging by the number of preserved manuscripts, the or is one of the more popular handbooks for performing the

Amoghapasa and the posadha vrata 167

vrata. It is in mixed Sanskrit and Newari, with the instructions and discourses in Newari and the descriptions of recitationsand so on preserved in Sanskrit. It may date to the 17th century; the manuscript Wilson 533, in the Bodleian, would appear to be an 18th-century manuscript, but very few old manuscripts of this text are evident, most dating from the 19th or 20th century. In general, the agrees with the earlier text; the overall structure of the ritual, insofar as we can compare it, given the state of the earlier text, is similar although expanded considerably. Rather than embarking on a full exposition of the ritual, which is adequately described elsewhere, I will instead compare a specific element in these two Newar texts, the composition and treatment of the Dharma as adumbrated in the previous chapter at 4.3.3 on page 144. Please consult page 145 for the illustrations.

Dharma in the

The text is unfortunately rather corrupt.

(F 7v 15) namo dharmāya ||

samantabhadrakāyāgram || āryaprajñā (Fr 8r) pāramitāyai

pratīccha svāhā || madhye || pratīccha

svāhā || āryai pratīccha svā(l 2)hā ||

pratīccha svāhā || a āryadaśabhūmīśvarāya pratīccha svāhā || āryai samādhirājāya pratīccha svāhā || āryai

va(l 3) pratīccha svāhā || āryai lālitavistarāya

pratīccha svāhā || āryai pratīccha svāhā ||

(l 4)pacāra pūjā || argha || japa sādhu sādhu dharmastu sugataprabodatajñab ||

(?) aupāsika pāranirvānirvānika (!) tasmai dharmaratnāya(l 5) c

d niryātayāmi || yāme āsādya gatā buddhā tañ ca syāmi sarvasattvārthī(F 8v)sidhya || so deśito imān belām upādāya yāvat ā

f gacchāmi virāgrano pravarateg iti (l 2) || 0 ||

a this whole phrase is a scribal insertion over the line, unclear but discernible.

b prabodhitajña

c by analogy with other occurrences.

d aupapādi? paralle aupapādi? parallel passage below has dvipādi.

e Presumably f

g unclear

Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal 168


Reverence to the Dharma. [This is] the ultimate

of speech, highest body of Samantabhadra, replete with every quality and utterly devoid of qualities.1

1. noble Prajñāpāramitā, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā. (In the middle)

2. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

3. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

4. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

5. noble Daśabhūmīśvara, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

6. noble Samādhirāja, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

7. noble accept this

vajra-blossom, svāhā

8. noble Lalitavistara, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

9. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

[Perform] the pūjā of five substances, [offer] an oblation, and [over that which has been] anointed, recite:

sādhu, sādhu, Dharma, knowledge awakened by the Sugata, befitting, conducive to complete enlightenment. To the Dharma-Jewel, I present this flower appropriate for the spontaneously arisen. May I become that utmost perfect Dharma which past Buddhas have relied upon; I shall (?unclear) for the sake of all sentient beings. As I have been taught, so from this time forward until I attain the seat of Enlightenment, I take refuge in the Dharma (which) was taught by the best of men. This is the Dharma

1 Compare the description of the highest form of Avalokiteśvara in the GKV discussed belov

Amoghapasa and the posadha vrata 169

Dharma in the

(f 42)tato || pūrvavad anāmikayā || gāthā ||

a || samantabhadra uttamam || pūrvavad nivedayāmi nama iti nivedya khe dhūpayet samanvāhareti ||

b pratīccha svāhā || pratīccha svāhā ||

|| āryaprajñāpāramitāyai (f 43) svāhā || c svāhā ||

svāhā || āryasamādhirājāyai svāhā ||

svāhā || ārya svāhā || āryatathāgataguhyakāyai svāhā ||

āryalalitavistarāyai svāhā || svāhā || pañcopacārapūjā || stotra

|| || sadā vande

jagat || deśanā kane || || (f 44) There follows a dharmaparyāya in

Newari. (f 45) vacanad. nāoe dhanyavada . bho .

sādhu 2 dhanya 2 dhakam ājñā || jalān pādāya || ||

f śāstrā g cah || tasmai

dharmaratnāya pu(f 46) niryātayāmi || bali || prajñāpāramite mahāpīte mahāśvete mahānīle

jighra 2 picu 2 prajñā jvala 2 medhā varddhini dhiri 2 buddhivarddhi varddhini svāhā || || iti


a ms.] vaśī but compare Locke’s text.

b should be vocative.

c By analogy with the Prajñāpāramitā, all the texts are feminine.

d this be could a lost ne.

e thus, nenāo; the dot breaking within the word must have been inserted after the word became illegible.

f ms.]

g ms.] pāra-

h cf. Locke: dharmasāgra praveditā

Translation The text is not entirely clear. I have been helped by consulting John Locke’s account of the same ritual, using a related but not identical text, and readers may wish to compare that modern text in which further changes in the ritual are apparent.

Next, the As before, touch the with the

ring finger. [Recite this] verse: ‘ Peaceful, arisen from the best Dharma, that purifies by the practice of knowledge. [This is] the ultimate

of speech, highest body of Samantabhadra.’ As before, offer the sacred grass roots with the phrase ‘Reverence, I offer this vajra-grass-root,’ then toss a flower into the air and light incense, and make the

Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal 170

priestly offering! [Next, offer the oblation, saying] ‘ excellent Dharma please accept this oblation for the feet, svāhā' [then]

‘Please accept this water to sip, svāhā.' [Now perform] the ritual touching with a flower.

1. noble Prajñāpāramitā, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā. (In the middle)

2. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

3. noble Daśabhūmīśvarā, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

4. noble Samādhirājā, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

5. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

6. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

7. noble Tathāgataguhyā, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

8. noble Lalitavistarā, accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

9. noble accept this vajra-blossom, svāhā.

[Perform] the pūjā of five substances. [Sing a] hymn: ’Perfect Wisdom, eternal, whose diverse forms are [expressed in] the forms of [every]

sentient being, refulgent with wisdom: I praise you always, Wisdom goddess and Queen of the world.’ Now give a teaching. (There follows a sermon on the topic of ‘What is Dharma?’ in Newari) The students utter words (requesting) teaching. The guru, having heard the words of the students, gives them blessing57 and deigns to say: ‘Oh student(s)! It is well, it is well; it is fortunate, it is fortunate.’ [Now] the instructions are given. [Give] water with flowers and unbroken rice to the feet. [Make the]

presentation, [saying] ‘I present this peaceful in accord with the Dharma, skillful, explained by the Teacher and leading to complete enlightenment, to the Dharma Now make [the]

presentation, [saying] ‘I present this peaceful in accord with the Dharma, skillful, explained by the Teacher and leading to complete enlightenment, to the Dharma Now make [the]

In document Remaking Buddhism for Medieval Nepal (Will Douglas) (Page 178-189)