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Mahapratisara in Different Buddhist Traditions Dr. Shanker Thapa

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Pratisara is a Sanskrit term denoting to a Buddhist Sutra, Mahapratisaravidyarajni Sutra compiled in the Pancharakshya treatise.

The other Sutras in the group are Mahasahasrapramardini, Mahamantranusarini, Mahamayuri, and Mahashitavati. Pratisara is then transformed into a deity in the Mahayana tradition occupying central place in the Mandala of the Protective deities.

 It proves significance of Pratisara in the Mahayana tradition.

The suffix Maha or the great that gives further impetus to the Sutra itself in the Buddhist tradition usually proceeds the term.

This is the largest Sutra in the group of Pancharakshya. Similarly, the suffix of 'Arya' is often added.

The word Pratisara is a Sanskrit terminology.

The term indicates to a kind of protection, healing, magic and incantation.

In fact, several healing phenomena is found in the elaborated stories and testimonial narratives depicted in the Sutra.

The Sanskrit lexicon has defined the term as healing (as a sore) and a form of magic or incantation.

2 However, in other places it is rather defined as a set of magic formula personified as a tutelary deity and one of the five dharmas.

3 Some other Sanskrit Lexicons also deal with the term.


Basically, the term Pratisara denotes to a special kind of charm or dharani that has enormous Power of protection.

Being assigned with special Power of protection, the importance is thus laid upon the benefit that can be accrued from Mahapratisara.

 Since, Mahapratisara is assigned with the central place in the Mandala, it has secured first and fore most place in the Pancharakshya order. A. K. Gordon writes that Mahapratisara is assigned with a throne in the South Chamber in the Pancharakshya Mandala.4 In this case, Tibetan tradition varies to the 1 * Dr. Shanker Thapa is an Professor in the Central Department of History, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, and Dean, Lumbini Buddhist University, Kathmandu, Nepal. 2 .

Kulapati Jivananda Vidyasagar, A Comprehensive Sanskrit English Lexicon, New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1991, p. 483. 3 . Franklin Edgerton, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary, Vol. II, Delhi: MLBD, 1993, p. 449. 4 .

Antoinette K. Gordon, Iconography of Tibetan Lamism, New Delhi: Munsi Ram Manohar Lal. description of Sadhanamala and Nispannayogavali in terms of position and order of the deities.

But Vajravali and Tantrasamuccaya have assigned central position to Mahapratisara.5 Obviously, Pratisara is a spell having central position in the Pancharakshya order.

Buddhist practitioners visualize the text in the form of a deity.

The exact details of iconography can be found in Buddhist classical texts. Mahapratisara Devi is also called Jnanavati.

It is known as Mahavidya too. Since, the Tathagatas held this Sutra, it is thus called Mahavidya.6

The teaching of Mahapratisara was given by The Buddha at Mt. Meru.

The Sanskrit version of Mahapratisara Sutra has two parts - - Mahapratisarakalpa - 3 sections, 25+ 32+ 25 verses each - Mahapratisara Mahavidyarajni Raksha Vidhana - 2 sections, 7+9 verses each.

In the Tibetan collection, it is known as Aryamahapratisara Vidyarajni.

It is in the extended version comparing to the Sanskrit text. It is of course larger than the Sanskrit version.7 So, there is variation in the text as well.

The importance of Mahapratisara is attributed to its ability to protect the laity. It is clearly mentioned in the Sutra 8 Asyam Sravanamatrena Sarva Papa Kshyayam Gata.

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 Similarly, it is also mentioned in the Pratisara Sutra that only listening the Sutra can eradicate papa and cure all kinds of diseases.9

This Sutra has extraordinary Power that it even could lead to Enlightenment.10 Literary History of Mahapratisara Sutra:

The five individual Sutras of Pancharakshya group is said to be originated in different times.

Because of its higher utility, it became popular. As the matter of fact, Pancharakshya proliferated to the extent that it is now available in various archives in different countries. A large number of volumes of Buddhist literature is also preserved in Tibetan monasteries.

It obviously includes Pancharakshya Sutra written in Newari Scripts.11 1978, p. 78. 5 Raghuvira and Lokesh Chandra, Tibetan Mandala (Vajravali and Tantra Samuccaya), New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1986, pp. 60-61 and 145. 6 .

Mahavidya Mahapratisara Kalpa 2:22; Gajaraj Vajracharya, Pancharakshya Sutrani (Unpublished Mss), p. 47. 7 .

Thinley Ram Shashani, 'Aryamahapratisaravidyarajni Dharani, Dhih No. 28, Sarnath: 1999, p.130. 8 . Ibid, p. 136. 9 . Gajraj Vajracharya, Pancharaksa Sutrani (unpublished Mss.), pp. 9-11. 10 .

Todd T. Lewis, Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal, Narrative and Ritual of Newar Buddhism, New York: New York State University Press, 2000 pp. 121-164.

The Mahapratisara Sadhana mentions that an Upasaka needs to practice four Brahma Vihara, meditation on emptiness, refugee to the Three Jewels, devotion to the Guru and The Buddha and so on. It actually leads the practitioner to Enlightenment.

11 Luciano Petech, Medieval History of Nepal, Rome: IsMEO, 1958, pp. 60-96.



It is assumed that individual Sutras of Pancharakshya were developed in separate traditions.

The texts were later consolidated under the title of Pancharakshya.12 Srimitra translated Mahamayuri Sutra into Chinese in the 4th century.

It obviously means the link of Pancharakshya to antiquity. But the fact that Mahayana Sutras are the words of The Buddha also relates Sutra treatise to historical antiquity.

The frame narrative in the Mahapratisara Sutra mentions that The Buddha at Mt. Meru uttered it.13 Thus, its history begins from the time of The Buddha.

The oldest manuscript of Pratisara in Nepal is dated 19 N.S. (899 A.D.) which is compiled in the book of Pancharakshya Sutra.



This volume was collected by Daniel Wright and now deposited at the Cambridge University library.14

This text of Pancharakshya is also collected in the Tantra Section of Kangyur.

Evidence suggests that the Sutra be translated into Tibetan in 800 A.D.15 Mahapratisara Sutra is now regarded as the main deity in the group of five Protective deities. The Mahapratisara Sutra in Sanskrit has two main titles.


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- Mahapratisara Kalpa and Raksa Vidhanakalpa.

This Sutra was deified around the eleventh century.

Theoretically, the deities in Vajrayana tradition are the reflections of own mind

The Vajrayana pantheons are created out of mind and practice.

Therefore, they are visualized by the practitioners and also meditate on them.

They are paid homage and offered Panchopacara puja (fivefold worship).

The scene at the time of teaching of Mahapratisara Sutra is described in the frame narrative of the Sutra.

In the place of Mahavajra Samadhi, the place itself was decorated with Kalpabrikshya, Vajra pond filled with lotus flower shining with rays and filled with Vajra sand.

The Vajra at the middle of the Mahavajra Mandala consecrated the place.

Similarly,Kotiniyuta Satsahasra (100000000 X 100000 X 10 = 100000000000000) Bodhisattvas were present along with other listeners.

Mahasravaka such as Sariputra, Purna Maitriyaniputra, Kapphina, Subhuti, Rebata, Chunda, Mahamaudgalyayan, Wanda, Sunanda,

Kashyapa, Mahakashyapa, Gayakashyapa, Nadi Kashyapa and Uruvilva Kashyapa accompanied


The Buddha. Similarly, there were Nagarajas, Kinnaras, Gandharvas, Vidyadhararas, Garudras, Yakshyas, Family of Hariti, 12 . Todd T. Lewis, 'The Power of Mantra :

A Story of Five Protectores', in Lopez (ed.), Indian Religious Tradition, New Delhi: Munshi Ram Manoharlal, 1998, p.228. 13 .


The frame narrative of Mahapratisara Sutra is as follows :

Evam maya srutamekasmin samaye Bhagavan Mahavajra Meru Sikhare kutagare viharitisma. Mahavajra Samadhi Bhumi pratishthate, Mahavajra kalpabrikshya samalankrite,


Mahavajra puskarini ratna padma prabhodbhashite, Mahavajra baluka Sanskrit Bhumi bhage, Mahavajradhisthane mahavajra mandala madhye, Shakrasya devana mindrasya Bhavana,

(aneka) Vajra singhasana Kotiniyuta Satashahastra virajite dharmadeshana pratibhana pratiharya samanvagate, sarva Buddhaddhisthanadhisthite, sarva Buddha Dharma samata prabese…..." -

Vajracharya, f. n. no. 8, p.1; Adivajra, Pancharaksha Sutra Patha, Kathmandu: Sattvatara Vajracharya, 2050, p. 1. 14 . Daniel Wright, History of Nepal Translated From Parvatiya, Calcutta: Sushil Gupta Ltd., 1958, pp. 201-208. 15 .



 Peter Skilling, 'Raksha Literature of Sravakayana' Journal of Pali Text Society, Vol. XVI, 1992, p. 138. Mahalokamata, Maharakshasa, seers,

stars and planets, Bhuta preta, Lokapala, ocean god, Chaturmaharaj, Mahaganapati, Vajraduta, Vajrakula families, Mahoraga, Siddhas, Devaputra and Devagana in the assembly while he was delivering the teaching of Mahapratisara.

The Buddha was filled with 32 Lakshana (major signs) and 84 Byanjana (major marks).

He was sitting on the lotus throne named Ratnavajra while addressing the assembly. His teaching is said to have directed for the welfare of all the Sentient beings.

The throne is described to be very attractive. It is decorated with the net of diamond, pearls and others jewels.

 The hermika (base) designed to rest his legs was also nicely decorated.

The red pearl garland decorated a crocodile made of diamonds and filled with rays. Such is the throne of The Buddha at Mount Meru.

16 Maharashmi (great illuminated rays) originated from the urna of The Buddha at the time of teaching of Mahapratisara Sutra. Mahasattva, Bhikshu, Bhikshuni, Upasaka, Upasika, Deva, Naga, Yakshya, Gandharva, Asura, Garuda, Kinnara, Mahoraga, and others visualized the rays and listened to The Buddha.


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Rakshya Literature in Other traditions:

The tradition of Pancharakshya is not only popular among the Nepali Buddhists but also in other societies as well.

Its popularity in ancient India paved the way for its journey towards as far as China and Japan in the East.

Although Pancaraksa has five Sutras having specific qualities, only Mahamayuri became very popular and reached China in the beginning.

Later on, Mahamayuri Sutra was translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra in the 4th century A.D..

 During the ancient times, this Sutra became very popular. However, Mahapratisara Sutra was also translated into Chinese in the 8th century.17 Mahamayuri as a single text was translated into Chinese for six times starting from fourth to eighth centuries.

Similarly, Mahashahasrapramardini and Mahapratisaravidyarajni were translated into Chinese once each. Mahamayuri Sutra was very popular in Japan.

She is regarded as - Jinajanani or the Mother of The Buddha. Such a recognition proves that one of the text of Pancharakshya group became very popular in Japan.

In fact, in the beginning, all the five texts were not compiled in a book but were individually scattered. Mahamayauri alone was very famous among the Northern Buddhist countries.

Several Mahayana goddesses are worshipped in Japan.

But very important fact is that in Japan (also in China) the male principle alone is considered of primal importance.

So, no woman, without gaining masculinity through reincarnation can enter the Sukhavati.18 In the 16.

Mahapratisarakalpa 1: 14. 17 . Bunyiu Nanjio, A Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Tripitaka- The Sacred Canon of Buddhism in China and Japan, Delhi : Classic India Publisher, 1988, pp. 79-80, 181, 229. 18 .

Alice Getty, The Gods of Northern Buddhism, New Delhi: Munshiram Manohar Lal, 1978, p.118.



 Getty quoted Waddel and A. Foucher as saying Mahamayuri as the principal deity in the Pancharakshya.

But at present times, Mahapratisara is regarded as the main goddess in the Pancharakshya group.

The Buddhist Sanskrit texts also assigned her with the central position in the Mandala.



This obviously means Japanese Buddhist culture, Mahamayuri is often depicted in temple banners and also in the form of statutes.

She is called Kujaku myo-o in Japan who is seated on a peacock. She is figured with one head and four hands.



One of her hands holds a pomegranate instead of classically assigned jewel in Japan.19

All the myo-o (Gods) promise protection and genuine advantage in this life.20

The position assigned to Mahamayuri obviously shows the importance of Protective deities in China and Japan.

Mahapratisara Sutra is the largest Sutra in the group of Pancharakshya.

The Power of Mahapratisara is elaborated and designed as enormously effective comparing to other deities in the group. Mahapratisara is also popular in Tibet. Its translation into Tibetan obviously proves its importance laid upon by Tibetan Buddhists.

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 There are eleven volumes of texts relating to Mahapratisara compiled in Tibetan.21 It proves her popularity in Tibet. 22

The Tibetans also believe on her ability and Power. She is appraised and dharani is recited in the Tibetan society to protect embryo as well as procuring a son.

The image of Mahapratisara also occurs in China. The presence of Mahapratisara in China obviously proves her arrival as well as popularity in the Chinese tradition. In this way both the texts and images of Mahapratisara occur in China.

The Chinese collection of Peiping has statue of Mahapratisara.23

This should be considered very important in this context that Mahapratisara dharani was translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra of Than dynasty in the eighth century A. D..


It is listed as - Buddha Bhashita samantajalamala Visuddha sphutikrita Cintamani Mudra Hridayaparajita dharani pratisara Mahavidyaraja in the Chinese canon.

Its Chinese name is Phu pien kwan min yen man tshin tsin kh' shan zu ipao yin sin wu namshan ta min wan ta suikhiu tho lo ni kin24. It is assumed that this text must be popular in the Chinese society in and around the date of its first translation.



In fact, only three Sutras of the Pancharakshya group were translated into Chinese.

Until that time, the five protective Sutras were not compiled in one book of Pancharakshya.

The fact that both Sutras were translated separately obviously proves it.

 No doubt that Mahamayuri was very popular Sutra among the Chinese.


As the matter of fact, it was repeatedly translated into Chinese six times by Srimitra, Kumarajiva,25 that Mahapratisara is the chief goddess. 19 . Ibid, P. 187.

The Names of Mahamayuri in different traditions is - Ma-bya-chen-mo (Tibetan), Kum-syo-min-wang (Chinese) and Kujaku-Myo-o (Japanese). 20 .

Takaoki Saawa, Art in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, New York: Weather Hill, 1972, pp. 148-149. 21 .


Tarthang Tulku, Guide to the Nyingma Edition of the sDge dge bka' 'gyur / bsTangyur Vol. 1, California: Dharma Publishing, 1980, pp. 79, 418-419, 451 and 477. 22 . Gordon, f. n. no. 3, pp. 9-76. 23 .Walter Eugene Clark, Two Lamaistic Pantheons, Cambridge, 1937, pp. 190, 216 and 276. 24 . Nanjio, f. n. no. 16, p. 229. 25 . Daisaku Ikeda,

The Flower of Chinese Buddhism, New York: Weatherhill, 1989, pp. 33-56; Kenneth K. S. Chen, Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973, pp. 81-83. Sanghapala, I-Tsing and Amoghavajra from 4th to 8th centuries.26

This obviously indicates to its popularity among the followers. The Chinese Buddhist Society came to know Mahapratisara Sutra right after Amoghavajra translated it into vernacular Chinese in the 8th century A.D.. The Chinese society had faith on Power of Pancharakshya in contemporary times also.




As the matter of fact, the Chinese Buddhist of Taiwan also sponsor to perform Pancharakshya Mandala puja and recitation of dharani to overcome various diseases, obstacles and bad effects.

Since, they still lack experts to perform Pancharakshya ritual, they hire Nepali Vajracharyas who perform puja and mantra recitation for them in Nepal.

27 Veneration in Nepal:

The followers of Vajrayana in Nepal repose faith on Pancharakshya goddesses.

These goddesses are worshipped and also praised through recitation of stotra.

The deity is venerated to obtain worldly benefits. Since, all five deities are empowered with various abilities and magic, the Nepalese Buddhists worship all of them in need.

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 Since, they have special Power, the worship of individual deity is determined by the problem that is to be solved.

Therefore, the five goddesses are worshipped both in a Mandala and individually.

In the Nepalese Buddhist tradition, the Kriya form of tantric practice remains very prominent.

Therefore, goddesses such as Pancharakshya, Mahapratyangira and Tara are very popular.

In fact, the attributive powers assigned to the particular deity make her popular among the lay followers.



Mahapratisara has several qualities and enormous Power to cope with a large number of problems and cure diseases.28 So, she is very popular in the Nepalese Buddhist society.

The existence of volumes of separate text of Mahapratisara Sutra under varied titles such as- Sutra, Dharani, Stotra, Kalpa, Raksa Vidhana, Hridaya Dharani etc further attest its popularity in the Nepalese Buddhist Culture..29

It has formed a solid base of Tantric Buddhist culture. In fact, the Nepalese Buddhists lay emphasis on veneration as well as devotion to the Pancharakshya deities.

The five Protective deities are of prime importance. It is a matter of greater significance that these goddesses are also depicted in the Grahamandala..

They remain vital in the Grahamandala that is to be worshipped during Bhimratharohana ritual.

In the central section of the Mandala five chambers are created to install the throne of Pancharakshya deities among whom Mahapratisara is always seated at the center.

These deities are symbolically represented in the Mandala.

The icon used to denote Mahapratisara is a disc (the Chakra).30 During Bhimaratharohana (an old age ritual), Mahapratisa is worshipped in the group 26 . Nanjio, f. n. no. 16, p. 80, entries nos. 307, 308, 309, 310, 313. 27 .

Information received from Min Bahadur Shakya, a prominent Nepalese Buddhist Scholar. 28 . Tood T. Lewis, Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal-Narratives and Rituals of NewarBbuddhism, New York: New York State University press, 2000, pp. 126-127.

29 Hidenobu Takaoka, A Microfilm Catalogue of Buddhist Manuscripts in Nepal, Vol. 1, Nagoya: Buddhist Library, 1981, pp. 81, 92 and 110. 30 Similarly, sword, noose bowl and pitavajra are used to denote Mahasharapramardini, Mahamyuri, Sitavati and Mahamantranusarini. Their place is in the East, South, West and North respectively.


Ratnakazi Vajracharya, Yem Deya Bouddha Puja Kriyaya Halam Jvalam, Kathmandu: Nepal Bouddha Prakashan, 1980, p-49. of other Protective deities. There are special objects and materials prescribed to offer to each of the five Protective deities during worship and devotional offerings.

The objects that must be offered to Mahapratisara in the Nepalese tradition include Pratisaraya swan

<The flower of pratisara>, Davaphoswan <Kunda pushpa=white colour small flower>, Hira <diamond>, Moti>Pearl>, Srikhanda <Sandalwood>, Tuyuhamo chikan <Oil of white sesame seeds>, Dhau <Curd or yogurt>, Chhiraja <Porridge>, Sakha madhi, <sweet bread>, Tasi <citrus fruit >, Priyangu < a kind of herb>, Tuyuhamo <white sesame> and Lunya Jwala <golden flame>.

These objects are offered to Mahapratisara during worship by the Newar Buddhists. 31 The most important aspect of Mahapratisara cult in Vajrayana ritual pattern is her assigned place in the Gurumandala. In most of the Vajrayana ritual worships, Gurumandala puja is essentially performed. Mahapratisara is also allotted a place in the Gurumandala.

She is worshipped according to the prescribed rules and processes of rituals. The mantra of Mahapratisara is compulsorily recited during the Gurumandala puja.32 * * * * 31 Ibid, p-44. 32 Naresh Man Vajracharya (ed.), Gurumandalarchana, Kathmandu: Ishwar Man, 2046, p. 5

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