Why use mantras?

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
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Nicholas Weeks
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Re: Why use mantras?

Post by Nicholas Weeks » Mon Feb 07, 2011 11:29 pm

Many sutras contain mantras and they often list many "worldly" benefits that will occur magically from a confident reliance on using the mantra. If course, if you have no confidence in them, then they have little effect. I put "worldly" in quotes because a wish to have virtuous child, when one has not been able to or even to gain money that will be used for Dharma purposes or to remove fear etc. are all within the norms of removing suffering or gaining happiness that a bodhisattva aims to foster. Mantras are one of the many expedient means bodhisattvas make available, for our benefit.

Here is a Dharma view of mantras: http://www.sutrasmantras.info/mantra0.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Re: Why use mantras?

Post by DGA » Tue Feb 08, 2011 3:40 pm

Yeshe wrote:
Jikan wrote:
Yeshe wrote: Do you have examples of use of mantras for magical purposes amongst Buddhists?
One example might be the use of daimoku to achieve a material end among some members of Soka Gakkai Int'l (if one defines daimoku as a mantra), e.g., chanting until one gets a car or a boat which serves as proof of the effectiveness of practice.

Of course this rationale for practice begs the question of whether this is Buddhist practice or the application of a method derived from a Buddhist tradition toward a non-Buddhist end. I'll not go there and just leave the question open.

Generally speaking, my understanding is that if one is using Vajrayana methods without Mahayana understanding or intention, one is nothing other than a magician and a source for a lot of trouble.
Chanting to achieve material wealth for one's own satisfaction lacks a Buddhist motivation, unless of course that wealth was to be used for the benefit of others? That practice within SGI may be seen as controversial so I'll not offer a specific comment in case I breach ToS. ;)

May that practice of chanting, perhaps to a 'wealth deity' have some Shinto derivation as well?

Another example may be the sale of protective amulets which again may owe more to the expectations of a particular culture being exploited by Buddhists, rather than a Buddhist act per se. Written mantras may be a part of this, but it is very different in intention than 'Liberation Through Wearing' or Liberation Through Hearing'.

Nobody could use Vajrayana methods properly and be the source of a lot of trouble, IMHO, but people could for example teach inappropriate sexual practices and slap the Vajrayana or Tantra label on them, as any Google search for Tantra shows.
Yes, I agree on principle, but I think it useful to introduce another shade of meaning (at least in the East Asian context) of upaya or skillful means. Some methods are used to ensure health or stability or forms of prosperity for the purpose of advancing the Dharma; they're not in the first instance about developing bodhicitta or prajna, but about making the conditions for that development manifest themselves. Medicine Buddha straddles these two categories, as do some forms of Tara practice if I understand them correctly.

EDIT: looks like Will already made a this point in different terms...

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Re: Why use mantras?

Post by kirtu » Tue Feb 08, 2011 4:15 pm

Su DongPo wrote:
Astus wrote: But the Heart Sutra itself is a short reminder of the prajnaparamita teachings.
That is my understanding of the closing of the sutra: it expresses the idea that the Prajna Paramitas / The Perfect Wisdom -- and by implication the Heart Sutra itself -- is a kind of mantra, but I could be wrong.

For reference, here is Ven. Huifeng's translation and notes in a linked pdf --
http://wisdom.buddhistdoor.com/huifeng/ ... y-word.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
In one of Lopez's books (The Heart Sutra Explained - this is a series of essays published from different Buddhist scholarly sources) he asserts that the Heart Sutra is a kind of transitional literature form between sutra and tantra and that mantra arose essentially as a further development of dharani. People have dismissed dharani and mantra as magical words - because that is what they are most clearly similar to in Western systems. However there is no real magic in Buddhism - even in folk Buddhism - to the extent that magic happens it is either a dependent arising or a result of getting unseen beings (like beings pledged to assist Buddhist practitioners) to act.

In the Heart Sutra itself there is no evocation of a yidam. So generally the mantra there has been explained as a direct condensation (or distillation) of the teaching of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in one line. It is intended to be recited as a form of meditation. This is similar to it's use in tantra.

Mantra in tantra has three general uses: 1. a mind protector (a condensed verbal form that carries blessings to protect the mind) 2. a direct verbal experience of enlightenment (this is usually glossed as a verbal invocation of a yidam - the mantra is the yidam in verbal form) 3. mantra recitation brings positive causes and conditions into the world in order to effect change - ultimately transforming everything into enlightenment (and not just in one's vision but really ultimately transforming the relative world into enlightenment).

By verbal I don't mean that it has to be exactly auditory. It can be mental as well. Another way of viewing mantra is as a merging of one's ordinary mind with enlightenment. Doing so sets up the causes and conditions for your enlightenment and also for everyone elses enlightenment.

We could really talk about mantra forever as it is an endlessly deep topic.

Kirt's Tibetan Translation Notes

"Even if you practice only for an hour a day with faith and inspiration, good qualities will steadily increase. Regular practice makes it easy to transform your mind. From seeing only relative truth, you will eventually reach a profound certainty in the meaning of absolute truth."
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

"Only you can make your mind beautiful."
HH Chetsang Rinpoche

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