Brilliant Light Goddess: Karmapa ‘s Tibetan Translation of the Dhāraṇī of Mārīcī (Ozer Chenma): Aspirations to End Adversity (Part I)

“There is a goddess named Mārīcī who goes ahead of the sun.

Because she has the means of mastery over miracles, she always goes ahead of the sun.

The sun cannot see her, but she can see the sun.

No one can see her. No one can know her. 

No one can catch her. No one can harm her.

No one can delude her. No one can bind her.

No one can leave a debt to her unpaid. No one can punish her.

She also has no fear of falling under an enemy’s power.”

–Excerpt from ‘Dhāraṇī of Mārīcī ‘ (based on the Tibetan rendition by 17th Karmapa)

One faced, two-armed Mārīcī 

As an offering for the upcoming online Aspirations to End Adversity (20th-27th January) with HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, I am publishing a series of posts on the contents and background of some of the texts in the compilation of prayers personally selected by the Gyalwang Karmapa, see here: https://dharmaebooks.org/aspirations-to-end-adversity/.

17th Karmapa the Translator

Today’s post considers the 17th Karmapa’s translation of a Kangyur text from Chinese into Tibetan: the Dhāraṇī of Mārīcī (‘phags ma ‘od zer can zhes bya ba’i gzungs), included in the Aspirations book (Day Eight). Other Karmapas have translated texts from Sanskrit and Chinese into Tibetan, but as far as am aware, other Karmapas have not translated Kangyur texts from Chinese into Tibetan. In any case, it is the first known Tibetan translation of this particular Kangyur text from a Chinese edition (although it does not state the source of the Chinese original edition). Another published English translation is based on a Sanskrit edition[1]. This new translation continues the centuries-old connection between the Karmapas and the Chinese (for more on that see here). The 17th Karmapa has also translated from Chinese into Tibetan, the Sutra of the Dharani that Thoroughly Liberates from Suffering (this is included in the Aspirations (Day 3)) – སྡུག་བསྔལ་ལས་རྣམ་པར་དགྲོོལ་བའིི་གཟུངས་ཀྱིི་མདོོ།)

Recently, the Karmapa also stated that he had translated texts about the famous debate on ‘gradualism’ vs ‘instantaneous’ awakening from Chinese into Tibetan.  Most of the Tibetan Buddhist lineages have examples of Tibetan masters who translated texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan, the most well-known Kagyu one being Marpa[2]. Not so many have translated from Chinese into Tibetan though.

The TextThe Dhāraṇī of Mārīcī 
Standing version of 3-head, 6 armed Mārīcī 

Three texts are preserved in the Kriya Tantra of the Tibetan Kangyur in which Mārīcī is the primary subject:

  • The Dhāraṇī of Mārīcī (Skt. ārya mārīcī nāma dhāraṇī, Wyl. ‘phags ma ‘od zer can zhes bya ba’i gzungs, D 564).
  • The Sovereign Practices Extracted from the Tantra of Māyāmārīcī (Skt. Māyāmārīcījāta tantrād uddhitaṃ kalparājā, Wyl. sgyu ma’i ‘od zer can ‘byung ba’i rgyud las phyung ba’i rtog pa’i rgyal po’’, D 565)
  • The Seven Hundred Practices of Mārīcī from the Tantras (Skt. ārya mārīcī maṇḍalavidhi mārīcījāta dvādaśasahasra uddhitaṃ kalpa hṛdaya saptaśata, Wyl. ‘phags ma ‘od zer can gyi dkyil ‘khor gyi cho ga ‘od zer can ‘byung ba’i rgyud stong phrag bcu gnyis pa las phyung ba’i rtog pa’i snying po bdun brgya pa’’, D 566).
Jetavana of Sravasti, showing the three preferred residences of the Buddha. Sanchi. photograph by Anandajoti Bhikkhu. 

The Tibetan version by Karmapa states that it was a teaching given by the Shakyamuni Buddha when he was in Shravasti at Anāthapiṇḍada’s monastery in Jetvana Grove [one of the most famous of the Buddhist monasteries or viharas in India (present-day Uttar Pradesh). It was the second vihara donated to Gautama Buddha after the Venuvana in Rajgir], surrounded by arhats and deities, including Maitreya, Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Marici. Anāthapiṇḍada was a wealthy merchant and banker, believed to have been the wealthiest merchant in Savatthi in the time of Gautama Buddha. He is considered to have been the chief male patron of the Buddha. Anathapindika founded the Jetavana Monastery in Savatthi, considered one of the two most important temples in the time of the historic Buddha, the other being Migāramātupāsāda. The teachings was given in response to a question by Shariputra who asked:

“In the future, by what method can people of the final five hundred years free themselves from all dangers?”

The Buddha’s response begins:

“There is a goddess named Mārīcī who goes ahead of the sun.

Because she has the means of mastery over miracles, she always goes ahead of the sun.

The sun cannot see her, but she can see the sun.

No one can see her. No one can know her. 

No one can catch her. No one can harm her.

No one can delude her. No one can bind her.

No one can leave a debt to her unpaid. No one can punish her.

She also has no fear of falling under an enemy’s power.”

The Buddha then goes on to list the benefits and protection for beings in knowing her name and reciting her mantra. It is predominantly beneficial for repelling and averting danger and sickness.

The colophon of 17th Karmapa’s Tibetan translation reads:

“This was translated from a Chinese translation by the spiritual master, Amoghavajra, a great scholar from Ceylon to the south of India who spread the teachings of secret mantra in China and was a holder of the tripitaka of Daxingshan Monastery. It was translated into Tibetan by the holder of the midnight-blue crown born in a degenerate age inside the ranges of snow mountains in the north, Ogyen Trinley Wangi Dorje, Iron Rat Year, January 13, 2021.” The English translation is by David Karma Chophel.

Differences between the Tibetan editions

Although I will not list all of them, there are several immediately notable differences between the Tibetan edition composed by 17th Karmapa and that in the other published Tibetan edition (used for English translation by Lotsawa House):

 —She goes before/ahead of the sun[3]. The 17th Karmapa’s Tibetan version only mentions the sun, however, the other edition says ‘sun and moon’.

 No-one can see her etc. Another notable difference from the other Tibetan edition is in the first part of the Buddha’s teaching, is the repeated use of the phrase ‘no-one’(Tibetan: sus kyang).

–Mantras. The mantras cited in Karmapa’s edition are different not only in content but also in stated purpose.

Instructions on wearing the mantra and tying knots in one’s clothes as protection. In the Karmapa’s Tibetan edition, there are specific instructions given by the Buddha on tying knots and using the mantra to protect and deflect harm and obstructors. These are completely absent from the Lotsawa House version.

Amoghavajra( 705-774) – Indian monk and founder of esoteric Chinese Buddhism
Portrait of Amoghavajra

The Chinese edition of the text used by the 17th Karmapa was translated from Sanskrit to Chinese by Amoghavajra (अमोघवज्र Amoghavajra; 不空; Bùkōng; 705–774). He was a prolific Indian translator who became one of the most politically powerful Buddhist monks in Chinese history and is acknowledged as one of the Eight Patriarchs of the Doctrine in Shingon Buddhism. Said to be born in Samarkand of an Indian merchant or a brahmin father and a mother of Sogdian origin, he went to China at age 10 after his father’s death. In 719, he was ordained into the sangha by Vajrabodhi and became his disciple. After all foreign monks were expelled from China in 741, he and some associates went on a pilgrimage to gather texts, visiting Sri Lanka, Indochina and India. During this voyage, he apparently met Nagabodhi, Vajrabodhi’s master, and studied the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra at length. He returned to China in 746 with some five hundred volumes. Seventy-seven texts were translated by Amoghavajra according to his own account, though many more, including original compositions, are ascribed to him in the Chinese canons.

Scholars of Chinese Buddhism have often recognized Śubhākarasiṃha (637 – 735), Vajrabodhi (671 – 741) and Amoghavajra collectively as the most important pioneers of Esoteric Buddhism in China. In a PhD dissertation, Geoffrey Goble[4] argues that Amoghavajra alone, while already recognized as the most influential of the three, should deserve credit as the real founder. As a result of rare Tang court patronage of Buddhism, Amoghavajra sustained a lineage of teachings and practices institutionally. Through detailed analysis, Goble unveils the reasons that led to the personal and institutional success of this non-Chinese monk among the ruling elite in the second half of the eighth century.  Although the latest of the three monks commonly associated with early Esoteric Buddhism, Goble asserts that Amoghavajra, who translated the greatest number of texts, was the first to be bestowed Tang imperial titles during his lifetime, and was the first to transmit the complete Diamond Pinnacle Scripture (an authoritative text that established Chinese Esoteric Buddhism) to China.

Goddess of Great Light Rays – Mārīcī

Mārīcī (Sanskrit: मारीची, lit. “Great Ray of Light”), is a deva, as well as a bodhisattva associated with light and the Sun. She is among the lists one of the guardian devas, specifically the Sixteen Devas (十六諸天), the Twenty Devas (二十諸天) and the Twenty-Four Devas (二十四諸天). In Taoism and Chinese folk religion, Doumu (Chinese: 斗母元君; pinyin: Dǒumǔ Yuánjūn) is considered to be synonymous with Mārīcī within Chinese Esoteric Buddhism.

According to Himalayan Art Resources:

“…she is depicted in many different forms. Sometimes she rides a white horse through the sky, banishing the darkness and driving back the night with the orb of the sun in the outstretched right hand, more commonly she is yellow or red in colour, with one, three or more faces and six to twelve arms, seated on a chariot drawn by seven pigs, or horses, removing all obstacles to happiness and well-being. Her mood can be either peaceful or wrathful. The metaphor for spiritual practice and meditation is light, light overcoming darkness.”

Standing Mārīcī, India (Source HAR)

“The compendium of practices known as the Bari Gyatsa (Ba ri rgya rtsa) contains five different descriptions of Mārīcī[5] (based on the Bari Gyatsa of Bari Lotsawa Rinchen Drag, ba ri lo tsA ba rin chen grags, 1040-1112[6]).

The Drubthab Gyatsa (grub thabs rgya rtsa)[7] has six descriptions[8]. The Nartang Gyatsa and Rinjung of Taranatha describe a single form of Mārīcī. Both the Vajravali and Mitra Gyatsa describe a single mandala of Mārīcī with twenty-five surrounding figures.”

Painting of Mārīcī by 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje

Interestingly, one of the last images (or statues depending on what source you read) created by the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje, was that of Mārīcī. The 10th Karmapa created it after he was ordered by the 5th Dalai Lama to go to Drag [it is not clear why he was ordered such], before he fell ill and passed away there:

“Toward the end of 1673, without having yet visited Tsurpu, the Karmapa was told by the Fifth Dalai Lama to go to Drak (sgrags), a somewhat inaccessible region south of Lhasa, on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. The Karmapa followed the order. There, at Nagdrak Monastery (sngags grwa dgon pa), he produced one of his last works of art, a drawing of the Caṇḍa Vajrapāṇi for Norbu Zangpo and a white-sandalwood statue of Mārīcī riding a pig for Norbu Zangpo’s mother. Around the lunar New Year of 1674, not only was the Karmapa granted permission to return to Tsurpu, but the Dalai Lama gave him back the share of property from which he derived his sustenance, the main and subsidiary estates of Tsurpu. He never returned to Tsurpu, however, as he fell ill at Drak and passed away.” (see Treasury of Lives biography).

May this short post about this amazing new Tibetan translation by HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa be of benefit to the teachings, to beings and to attaining the fully awakened state of Mārīcī , Ozer Chenma!


[1] The Dhāraṇī has been translated previously by Lotsawa House, based on the Sanskrit edition of the text cited as available on GRETIL (http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/4_rellit/buddh/maricdhu.htm). Inputted by Klaus Wille the GRETIL version is based on Āryamārīcī-nāma-dhāraṇī, Dhīḥ 42 (2006), pp. 157-158. Mārīcī Dhāraṇī | Lotsawa House.

[2] Another great Tibetan translator, was Jetsun Tāranātha, who surprisingly seems never to have visited India, although one of his main teachers was an Indian siddha master.

[3] Here David Karma Chophel has translated ‘bdun du’ as ‘ahead of’, personally I prefer ‘in front of’ or ‘before’, as do the other translators of the same text.

[4] Chinese Esoteric Buddhism: Amoghavajra and the Ruling Elite, by Geoffrey C. Goble. PhD dissertation, Indiana University, 2012.

[5] Oḍḍiyāna Mārīcī, Kalpa Ukta Mārīcī, Kalpa Ukta Vidhinā Sita Mārīcī, Aśokakāntā Mārīcī, Oḍḍiyāna Krama Mārīcī.

[6] He was one of the teacher translators who taught Sakya masters, ‘khon dkon mchog rgyal po and kun dga’ snying po, and served as the second Sakya throne holder from 1102-1110. Born in the same year as Milarepa (mi la ras pa), i.e. 1040 or 1052.

[7] This text was known in India in the 11th century and later translated into Tibetan in the 13th century. The list on Himalayan Art Resources follows the edited version of the Sakya teacher Thartse Panchen Namka Chime. It contains 142 descriptions of deities. A popular Bhutanese, Drugpa Kagyu, version is said to have been edited by the 9th Je Kenpo of Bhutan, Shakya Rinchen, 1710-1759. The Bhutanese version has more deities, approximately 154. Contents: An Ocean of Methods of Accomplishment (Sadhanas) (himalayanart.org)

[8] The Drub Thab Gyatso has six descriptions: “White with five faces and ten hands; Yellow with three faces and eight hands; Yellow with three faces and eight hands; Dharmadhātu Īśvarī, red with six faces and twelve hands; Picumī, yellow with three faces and eight hands; Red with three faces and twelve hands.”

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