Friday, August 30, 2013

A Tibetan Buddhist Spell Book

Chances are that after you have perused a number of books on Buddhism you will have learned something of this religion’s history and philosophical underpinnings. Chances are slim that you will have learned much of anything about the magical practices that appear scattered throughout Buddhist texts and have been put to use by Buddhists since the earliest days of Buddhism’s initial formation (Ok, OK, there are some notable exceptions, but works on Buddhist magic are proportionately small in comparison to other areas of Buddhist inquiry). Just so you know, I’m not talking about Buddhist magic as some do, as a method of personal transformation from an ordinary human being to an extraordinary being, such as an arhat, bodhisattva or buddha, but rather I’m talking about pure practical magic that gets stuff done. I won’t argue against viewing human transformation as a magical act, I only want to point out that there is a more worldly side to Buddhist magic than that. You can find Buddhist dharinis and mantras being used in spellwork, magical amulets (such as Gau boxes in Tibet) being used for protection,* the use of magical daggers,** and many Buddhists who specialize in the practice of practical magic.***
Anyway, in my search for tidbits of information on Buddhist magic I came across an interesting find and I thought I would share it with you…it’s a Tibetan Buddhist spell book that was found among the Dunhuang Caves in Western China. Here is a link to a blog post about the spell book written by Sam van Schaik (the blog post…not the spell book), who is doing work with the Dunhuang collection of manuscripts (link). And here is a link to the spell book itself, if you’d like to read it for yourself (link).

 *If you are interested in Tibetan amulets, you might want to check out Tadeusz Skorupski’s Tibetan Amulets. I looked at this book years ago but can’t recall what I thought of it. It has 2 poor reviews on Amazon, but I don’t find either of the reviews worthy of much consideration.

**For the magical use of daggers in Tibet you could take a look at the dated work entitled Dagger Blessing: The Tibetan Phurpa Cult : Reflections and Materials by Thomas Marcotty or simply look at my blog post about this book here.

*** For Buddhist magical specialists in Tibet, do not pass up the chance to read CIVILIZED SHAMANS: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies (Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry) by Geoffrey Samuel.
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