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A dharani written in two languages – Sanskrit and central Asian Sogdian

dhāraṇī (T. gzungs གཟུངས་; C. tuoluoni/zongchi 陀羅尼/總持) — "A statement, or spell, meant to protect or bring about a particular result; also refers to extraordinary skills regarding retention of the teachings."[1]

A dhāraṇī is often understood as a mnemonic device which encapsulates the meaning of a section or chapter of a sutra.[2] Dhāraṇīs are also considered to protect the one who chants them from malign influences and calamities.

Dharani texts are placed inside sacred statues and stupas, as a form of protection and blessing.


The word dhāraṇī derives from a Sanskrit root dhṛ which means "to hold or maintain".[3] The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism states:

[this suggests] something that supports, holds, or retains; hence, a verbal formula believed to “retain” or “encapsulate” the meaning of lengthier texts and prolix doctrines, thus functioning as a mnemonic device.[4]

Contemporary scholar Gergely Hidas states:

Dhāraṇī is an exclusively Buddhist term, the primary literary meaning of which is not completely clear. In the extended sense, dhāraṇī has most often been interpreted as “spell.” However, its semantic range is wider than the sphere of incantations, with a further principal interpretation as “memory” or “mnemonic device.” Especially in earlier sources, dhāraṇī was a mnemonics-related term in most cases, a use that appears to have faded away with the course of time. At least synchronically speaking, dhāraṇī is decidedly polysemic and context sensitive. In the present literary context, the “spell” interpretation of dhāraṇī as used here describes a reasonably distinct scriptural body. However, dhāraṇī is often appositional or interchangeable with two other closely related words – mantra and vidyā, which also refer to a spell.[5]

The difference between a Mantra and a Dharani

Rigpa wiki states:

All dharanis are mantras, but not all mantras are dharanis. Often dharanis consists of a homage or invocation of the deity, followed by a request to act. Therefore, a dharani is usually longer than a mantra. Dharanis usually contain imperatives such as bandha, bandha, bind, bind: these words express the request to act. Mantras on the other hand just consist of mantric syllables and possibly the name of the deity, without words of homage or a request to act.[6]



om̐ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñānasuviniścitatejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyak saṃbuddhāya |

tadyathā | om̐ puṇye puṇye mahāpuṇye 'parimitapuṇye 'parimitapuṇyajñānasaṃbhāropacite |

om̐ sarvasaṃskārapariśuddhe dharmate gaganasamudgate svabhāvaviśuddhe mahānayaparivāre svāhā |

The Boundless Life and Wisdom Dhāraṇī:[6]

om̐ homage to the blessed boundless life and wisdom, the firm king of the splendor, the tathāgata, the arhat, the fully awakened one!

It is like this: om̐ merit merit, great merit, boundless merit, you (who) perfected the accumulation of boundless merit and wisdom!

om̐ you who have purified all compounded phenomena, you the dharmatā, you have risen into the sky, you (who) are pure by nature, (you) together with the retinue of [the followers of] the great vehicle, svāhā!

Further reading

In Tibetan

In English


  1. 84000 glossary
  2. Nattier 1992, pg. 158
  3. Braarvig, Jens (1985), p.19
  4. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Dhāraṇī.
  5. Gergely Hidas, “Dhāraṇī Sūtras,” in J. Silk, O. von Hinüber, V. Eltschinger (eds.) ‘’Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. I. Literature and Languages,’’ (Brill, Leiden, 2015), 129.
  6. 6.0 6.1 RW icon height 18px.png Dharani, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
  7. A Sanskrit version of the Aparimitāyurjñānadhāraṇī is partly found in the Sarvadurgatiparisodhana Tantra: http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/4_rellit/buddh/sdurst_u.htm And a full, but slightly different version is found in: Hoernlé, Rudolf. Manuscript remains of Buddhist literature found in Eastern Turkestan. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1916: 300 – 301. Available on: https://archive.org/details/cu31924023185584