Sūtras for Well-Being Series

A look at sūtras traditionally recited for resilience and well-being in times of adversity and the stories behind them

As people around the world entered into successive waves of Coronavirus-induced uncertainty and sufferings, we had many of our friends and followers asking us for inspiring content to help get us through this challenging time of distancing, quarantines, and lockdowns. We are now excited to share with you a new project!

Our editorial team has fast-tracked the translation and publication of short sūtras traditionally recited for resilience and well-being, and we are bringing them together here as “Sūtras for Well-being.” This series shares the stories behind these beautiful texts and the mantras within them that have traditionally focused minds in times of uncertainty. In such difficult times as many of us face today, remaining cognizant of the fact that all things will pass, may well be one source of resilience and well-being.

 

The Sūtras

Episode 1

Ep.1 | The Mahāsūtra “On Entering the City of Vaiśālī”

To kickstart our Coronavirus quarantine series, Sūtras for Well-being, we announced the publication of “On Entering the City of Vaiśālī,” a short sūtra set during a time when an epidemic was ravaging the ancient Licchavi city of Vaiśālī. This sūtra is one of many that are traditionally recited by Tibetan Buddhists for resilience and well-being during times of adversity.

The summary of this text from our publication in the Reading Room reads:

Invited to visit the city of Vaiśālī, which has been ravaged by a terrible epidemic, the Buddha instructs Ānanda to stand at the city’s gate and recite a proclamation, a long mantra, and some verses that powerfully evoke spiritual well-being. Ānanda does so, and the epidemic comes to an end. One of the mahāsūtras related to the literature of the Vinaya, this text, like other accounts of the incident, has traditionally been recited during times of personal or collective illness, bereavement, and other difficulties.

Episode 2

Ep. 2 | Two Dedications

The second episode in our series is comprised of two dedications: The Dedication “Fulfilling All Aspirations” and The Dedication “Protecting All Beings.” These two dedications contain beautiful and inspiring prayers that are very closely related, and in many ways form a pair. Interestingly, while working on the text, our editors believe that The Dedication “Protecting All Beings” appears to contain the Kangyur’s only explicit articulation of the paradigmatic aspiration of mind-training–the wish that the suffering of others instead “ripen for me”–later popular in the Tibetan mind-training (blo-sbyong) teachings. We’ll return to this later, but for the timebeing, there is something incredibly soothing about making these aspirations for the benefit of all sentient beings, so read the texts here and here, and stay tuned for more on these two rediscovered gems from the Kangyur!

Episode 3

Ep. 3 | “Tārā Who Protects from the Eight Dangers”

Though lockdowns are lifting, we are still seeing overwhelming uncertainty in large parts of the world. In these transformed times, we offer you a new translation of a Tārā text that feels more relevant that ever right now, “Tārā Who Protects from the Eight Dangers.”

The summary of this text from our publication in the Reading Room reads:

In this sūtra, the goddess Tārā warns the gods of the desire realm about the miseries of saṃsāra and offers a pithy Dharma teaching to free them from harm. Tārā begins by vividly portraying the various kinds of suffering endured by beings in each of the six realms of saṃsāra and then points out the futility of reciting mantras without maintaining pure conduct. She goes on to encourage the listeners to engage in virtue, which puts an end to saṃsāra, and she bestows on them an incantation (dhāraṇī) that will help them to achieve this goal. The gods then commend Tārā for her instruction, praise her qualities, and request her divine protection. Finally, the Buddha enjoins his audience to read and practice Tārā’s teaching and share it with others.

Episode 4

Ep. 4 | “The Dhāraṇī of Parṇaśavarī”

As the world collectively continues to face the Covid-19 pandemic, representatives of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism have encouraged their students to recite The Dhāraṇī of Parṇaśavarī, and her mantra. Thus, we at the 84000 consider it our honor and our responsibility to make the oldest known text on Parṇaśavarī freely available with the hopes that it will contribute to the happiness, health, and well-being of everyone everywhere.

The summary of this text from our publication in the Reading Room reads:

“The Dhāraṇī of Parṇaśavarī” is a short incantation dedicated to the piśācī Parṇaśavarī, who is renowned in Buddhist lore for her power to cure disease, avert epidemics, pacify strife, and otherwise protect those who recite her dhāraṇī from any obstacles they may face.  

Episode 5

Ep. 5 | The Aspiration Prayer from “Destroyer of the Great Trichiliocosm”

Coming soon!

Sūtra Recitation Station


 

Stories Behind the Sūtras

Episode 1

Ep. 1 | “On Entering the City of Vaiśālī”

with Dr. John Canti

If you didn’t catch our IGTV video, you can still watch 84000’s Editorial Co-Director, Dr. John Canti, sharing the stories behind the significance and symbolism of the Mahasūtra “On Entering the City of Vaiśālī:”


Dr. John Canti studied medicine and anthropology at Cambridge University (UK) and qualified as a doctor in 1975. While still a medical student he met and began to study with some of the great Tibetan Buddhist masters of the older generation, especially Kangyur Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. After some years of medical work in northeastern Nepal in the late 1970s he went to the Dordogne, France, to complete two three-year retreats at Chanteloube, and has remained primarily based there ever since.

John is a founding member of the Padmakara Translation Group, was a Tsadra Foundation Fellow from 2001-2012, and was awarded the 2016 Khyentse Foundation Fellowship. In 2009, when 84000 first started, he was appointed Editorial Chair of 84000, and in 2020 has become Editorial Co-Director. His interest in the Kangyur and Tengyur has continued to grow as the project has taken shape, and he feels more and more fascinated by their origins and history, their range of content, and above all by the significance of the extraordinary body of literature the two collections have preserved.

Episode 2

Ep. 2 | Two Dedication Prayers

with Dr. Nathaniel Rich

84000 editor, Dr. Nathaniel Rich, talks us through two beautiful, lesser-known prayers for recitation in the Kangyur: “The Dedication: Fulfilling All Aspirations” and “The Dedication: Protecting All Beings.” He speaks about the significance of these texts, and highlights why the latter in particular is especially interesting with regards to the now widely practiced Tibetan “lojong” (or mind training) tradition.



Dr. Nathaniel Rich is an Editor at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. He studied philosophy and history as an undergraduate in Texas, and completed an MA and PhD in religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Though his academic research has focused primarily on the intellectual and institutional history of the Nyingma tradition, he is currently investigating the place of sūtra literature in the development of mind training among the early Kadampas. He is especially interested in introducing contemporary Buddhist practitioners to the study of the Kangyur.

Episode 3

Ep. 3 | “Tārā Who Protects from the Eight Dangers”

with Dr. Jan Willis

Dr. Jan Willis, Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, introduces 84000’s newly published translation of “Tārā Who Protects from the Eight Dangers” by sharing with us some of the stories behind the significance of Tārā, the eight outer and inner dangers, and why Tārā’s qualities and attributes are – in these tumultuous times of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, and economic crisis – needed more than ever.

Tārā images from Himalayan Art Resources: (1) item #237 | Rubin Museum of Art; (2) item #997 | Rubin Museum of Art

Dr. Jan Willis has had a distinguished career as a scholar and teacher of Buddhism spanning fifty years, beginning with her own early studies with Tibetan Buddhists in India, Nepal, Switzerland, and US. Dr. Willis went on to earn BA and MA degrees in Philosophy from Cornell University, and a PhD in Indic and Buddhist Studies from Columbia University, with areas of expertise that include Tibetan Buddhism, the lives of Buddhist saints, and Women and Buddhism.

She is the author of ‘The Diamond Light: An Introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation’ (1972); ‘On Knowing Reality: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi’ (1979); ‘Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition’ (1995); and the editor of ‘Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet’ (1989). Additionally, Willis has published numerous articles and essays on various topics in Buddhism—Buddhist meditation, hagiography, and Buddhism and race.

Coming from Birmingham (Alabama, US) she marched there with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, and has recently begun leading workshops that explore Race and Racism through a Buddhist Lens. In 2001, her memoir, Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey was published. It was re-issued in 2008 by Wisdom Publications as Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist—One Woman’s Spiritual Journey.

In 2000, TIME magazine named Willis one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium.” In 2003, she was a recipient of Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Newsweek magazine’s “Spirituality in America” issue in September of 2005 included a profile of Willis and, in its May 2007 edition, Ebony magazine named Willis one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans.

She has taught at UC Santa Cruz, the University of Virginia and at Wesleyan University, where she is now Professor Emerita of Religion, as well as Visiting Professor of Religion at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA.

Episode 4

Ep. 4 | “The Dhāraṇī of Parṇaśavarī”

with Ryan Damron

84000 editor, Ryan Damron, introduces our newly published translation of the oldest known text on Parṇaśavarī, “The Dhāraṇī of Parṇaśavarī” and shares with us some of the stories behind piśācīs, their nature and characteristics, and how the iconography of Parṇaśavarī has evolved over the centuries.

Images from Himalayan Art Resources: (1) Item #8033 | Private; (2) Item #434 | Rubin Museum of Art; (3) #Item 32081 | Private; (4) Item #52548686 | Shechen Archives – photographs; (5) Item #40412 | Private; (6) Item #59346 | The Norton Simon Museum.

Ryan Damron has been a member of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s Dharmachakra Translation Committee since its inception in 2006, and has taught courses in Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Translation Studies at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu and Rangjung Yeshe Gomde in northern California. He first began working for 84000 as a translator with the Dharmachakra Translation Committee, before joining the editorial team in 2017.

In addition to his ongoing translation and editorial work, Ryan is currently completing his PhD in Sanskrit and South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Episode 5

Ep. 5 | The Aspiration Prayer from “Destroyer of the Great Trichiliocosm”

with Dr. John Canti

Coming soon!