Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Magic Buddhist spells (video)

A.G.S. Kariyawasam, Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka (BPS.lk, Wheel 402, Access to Insight); Bhante, Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly
Golden Buddha atop Dambulla Temple, Sri Lanka (the.redhead.and.the.wolf/flickr.com).
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In "Breathe (Reprise)" Pink Floyd sing, "Home, home again/I like to be here when I can...Far away across the field/the tolling of the island bell/calls the faithful to their knees/to hear the softly spoken magic spells." What "spells"?

Sri Lanka hangs off So. India.
There is a magical Buddhist island in the Indian ocean, a citadel of the Dharma set forth in the Buddha's time, holding to the ancient traditions of Jambudvipa ("the Rose Apple Land," which is where the Buddha lived long before there was an "India"). It is shaped like a teardrop off the southern tip of the subcontinent and home to an ancient monastic tradition called Theravada, "the Teaching of the [Enlightened] Elders," the first disciples of the historical Buddha.

Sadly, it was the site of the longest civil war in Asia waged between Hindu Tamil extremists and the abusive Sinhalese majority. There where an ancient form of Buddhism survives -- just as in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Malaysia -- there are magical incantations chanted, ward spells (pirit) to preserve the people from dangers in the seen and unseen worlds.

(Priyantha De Silva) Seth Pirith, 23 of the most potent pirit chants by a sangha of Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monks: 1. Dasa Disa Pirith, 2. Atawisi Pirith, 3. Jinapanjnara Pirith, 4. Anawum Pirith, 5. Angulimala Piritha, 6. Nawagraha Shantiya, 7. Rathnamali Gatha, 8. Bojjangha Pirith, 9. Ruwanmali Sa Wandhanawa, 10. Dalada Wandana Gatha, 11. Sooriya Pirith, 12. Dhajagga Sutra, 13. Jaya Pirith, 14. Khandha Pirith, 15. Mora Pirith, 16. Sathbudu Wandanawa, 17. Maha Mangala Suthra, 18. Karaniya Metta Sutra, 19. Narasiha Gatha, 20. Wattaka Piritha, 21. Ratana Sutra, 22. Randenee Gatha, 23. Dutu Gemunu Aarakshaka Gatha
The Pirit Ceremony 
Famous and much revered pre-Buddhist cave painting from the forests of central Sri Lanka.
Pirit (or paritta) is a collective term designating a set of protective chants or runes sanctioned by the Buddha for the use of both laypeople and monastics. Pirit-chanting is a very popular ceremony among the Theravada Buddhists of Sri Lanka.
As the term itself suggests (paritta = protection), pirit means a safety rune, a ceremonial recital regarded as being capable of warding off all forms of harm and danger (vipatti), including disease, the evil influence of ghosts, spirits, planets, and so on. These may be real dangers to the safety of people and property or superstitions and imagined calamities.

In addition to this curative and positive aspect, pirit is also chanted for the attainment of general success (sampatti, siddhi). In the domestic and social life of Sri Lankan Buddhists, no important function can be considered complete without this ceremony. However, the ceremony may vary from a simple one to something elaborate, depending on the occasion and the status of the sponsor.
The Golden Temple at Dambulla, Sri Lanka
The essence of the pirit ceremony consists of ritual chanting of certain Pali language texts selected from the canonical sutras. These extracts are found collected and arranged in a particular order in The Book of Protections or Pirit-Pota.*
  • *The Pirit-Pota is also known by the more honorific designation Piruvana-Potvahanse. For an English translation of the most important texts from this work, see Ven. Piyadassi's The Book of Protection (Buddhist Publication Society, 1981).
It is known in Pali as Catu-bhana-vara. It contains 27 extracts, including such sutras as the Jewel, Blessings, Loving-Kindness, Dealing with Ogres (Ratana, Mangala, Metta, Atanatiya), and so on.
Buddhist Ceremonies (BPS.lk)
The use of protective spells -- variously known as paritta, mantra, rakkha, dharani, kavaca, and so on, each term representing slightly different forms -- against various dangers has been a common practice among the Indians from very early times. The Buddha himself is said to have adopted the practice on several occasions.
The public recitation of the "Jewel Sutra" (Ratana Sutta) at Vesali is the best known instance. The Snake Protection, Dealing with Ogres, and Loving-Kindness discourses (Khandha Paritta, Atanatiya Sutta, and the Metta Sutta) are some protections that have received the sanction of the Buddha himself.

As they generally embody statements of truth as taught in Buddhism, their recitation is regarded as an "asseveration of truth" (sacca-kiriya) whereby evil can be averted. The Jewel Sutra is a good example of this kind of protection. It draws its power by wishing the listeners safety after affirming the excellent qualities of Buddhism's Three Jewels or Gems: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha -- the Enlightened One, the Teaching of the path to enlightenment, and those successfully taught (the "noble" or enlightened community, which is composed of laypersons and monastics who have attained at least stream entry, the first stage of enlightenment).

The ancient Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple of the Tooth is a reliquary of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha's tooth in Kandy with moat next to Borisvoronin reservoir (flickr.com).
The power of virtue (sila) contained in the Blessings Sutra or Mangala Sutta and the power of loving-kindness (metta) contained in the Metta Sutta are two other aspects that make pirit effective.

The power of the sound waves and vibrations resulting from the sonorous and rhythmic recitation and also from particular combinations of certain letters and syllables play a part in exercising this beneficial influence. 

The vibrating sound waves produced by the mellifluous chanting adds to the effect of the truths enunciated. The ceremonial recitation with various ritualistic observances (discussed below) and with the presence of the Triple Gem in the form of the relic casket representing the Buddha, The Book of Protections representing the Dharma, and the reciting monks or nuns representing the noble Sangha (community of all enlightened disciples), are additional factors that are regarded as increasing the efficacy of pirit chanting.
Pali language chanting app
Among laypeople in Burma and Sri Lanka The Book of Protections is more widely known than any other Pali language book. Any Buddhist, educated or not, knows what it is and regards it with honor and respect. Even in ancient times the blessings of the pirit ceremony were sought in times of national calamity just as in Vesali at the time of the Buddha (when a great plague was averted by Buddhist monastics sent out by the Buddha to bless an area).

King Upatissa (4th century: Mhv. xxxvii,189), Sena II, and Kassapa V (ibid, li,80; 1ii,80) are three such Sinhalese Sri Lankan monarchs who had the ceremony performed under such circumstances. The incorporation of an element called the dorakada-asna ("message read at the threshold"), as explained below, shows that it is a ritual that has gradually been elaborated over time.
The simplest form of the pirit ceremony is held when what is called the maha-pirita (great or major pirit) -- the Mangala, Ratana, and Metta Sutras and a few benedictory stanzas -- is chanted by a few monastics, usually three or four, three times with a break in between. The three times may consist of the morning and evening of one day and the morning of the following day, or the evening of one day and the following morning and evening. The monastics are conducted to the particular household and the chanting takes place in any room of the house chosen.
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Ritual Chants
The Book of Protection: Paritta (Ven. Piyadassi Thera, Buddhist Publication Society)
Men, monks decorate stupa with lights.
Monastics sit around a table on which a clean white cloth has been spread, and flowers and puffed rice are strewn about. A pot of filtered water is placed in the center of the table and one end of a ball of three-stranded thread is twisted around it.

The thread then passes through the hands of the reciting monastics and is next held by the person or persons on whose behalf the chanting is being done. They are seated on a mat on the ground in front of the reciting monastics. The water in the pot, designated pirit-water (pirit-pan), and the sacred thread (pirit-nula), become sanctified through the chanting and are used thereafter as a protection against evil.
The thread is used by tying a piece around the wrist or arm and the water by drinking or sprinkling it, according to requirements. In the simplest form, the ceremony is called varu- or vel-pirita (varu and vel in Sinhalese meaning half-day session) as the ceremony is confined only to a portion of the day and only the major pirit is chanted.
But the full-fledged pirit ceremony is a much more elaborate ritual. It also has two main forms -- one lasting for one whole night and the other for a week or even longer. The former is the more usual form as a domestic ceremony while the latter is held on special occasions, particularly for public purposes. Whatever the form may be, when this kind of chanting is undertaken, a special pavilion called the pirit mandapaya is constructed for the purpose.

If the ceremony is to be performed in a private home, this pavilion is put up in a central room of the house. Generally it would measure about 12x12 feet and is decorated with tissue paper, tinsel, and so on. Its roof is covered with a white canopy from which are hung small cuttings of arecanut flowers, betel twigs, tender twigs of the iron wood (na) tree, etcetera. Two water pots on which opened coconut racemes are kept are placed on either side of the entrance. Two lighted coconut-oil lamps are also placed on the coconut racemes.
In the center of the pavilion is a table, usually a round one, on which a clean white cloth is spread. Upon it are strewn puffed rice (vilanda), broken rice (sun-sal), white mustard (sudu-aba), jasmine buds (saman kakulu), and panic grass (itana). These five varieties, known as lada-pas-mal, are regarded as having a sanctifying and purifying power in combination and are therefore used for ritualistic purposes at Buddhist ceremonies.

Enlightened monastics entering at right, statues of first Buddhist missionaries to arrive from India: Ven. Mahinda and his sister Ven. Sanghamitta (Richard Silver/rjsnyc/flickr).

In the center of the table is the filtered water pot around which the three-stranded sacred thread is twisted. This thread is drawn round the interior of the pavilion, and when the chanting commences it is held by the chanting monastics and given over to be held by the person or persons for whose benefit the ceremony is held.

An ola palm leaf copy of the Pirit-Pota, regarded as more sanctified than a printed paper one, occupies a significant place on the table, representing the Dharma, the second of the Three Jewels. Consequently, while the printed copy is used for reading, the palm-leaf version is regarded as an indispensable item on the table. The other important item brought inside the pavilion is the sacred casket containing the bone-relics of the Buddha (dhatu-karanduwa), representing the Enlightened One. It is placed on a separate decorated table on one side of the pavilion.
In the monastic seating arrangement, two chairs, centrally placed near the table, are referred to as yuga-asana or "seats for the duel." During a greater part of the all-night recital, two monastics occupying these two seats continue the chanting, taking it in relays, instead of the full assembly. A post called indra-khila or raja-gaha is planted securely and fastened between these twin chairs. This post, resembling a mace in more ways than one, is attractively decorated and serves as a symbol of authority and protection for the officiating monastics. This is generally erected only when the ceremony lasts for a week (sati pirita) or longer.
Even when the ceremony is held in a private home, the temple is connected with every stage of the ritual. Temple authorities are responsible for assigning the required number of monastics. On the evening of the day on which the chanting takes place, a few members from the particular household go to the temple in order to conduct the monastics.
They come in a single file procession in order of seniority, attended by drumming. At the head of the procession the relic casket is carried, borne on the head of a layman, under an umbrella or a canopy. The beating of drums continues throughout. As the monastics enter the home, a layperson washes their feet while another wipes them. They walk to the pavilion on a carpet of white cloth (pavada) and take their seats around the table.

The relic casket, The Book of Protection, and the monastics thus come together, representing the Triple Gem: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

(Mahakalu Sinhalayo) Major Pirit (Maha Piritha, මහ පිරිත - තුන් සූත්‍රය) by Thun Suthraya (MKS)
Mahakalu SinhalayoBefore the commencement of the ceremony proper, the usual time of which is around 9:00 pm, the monastics are welcomed and requested to perform the ceremony by being offered a tray in which betel leaves, arecanut, cardamon, nutmeg, and more are nicely arranged, the ingredients being those taken for the chewing of betel nut.
This invitation is usually extended by the chief householder if it is in a private home. Otherwise, some leading lay devotee does it. One of the senior monastics present accepts the invitation on behalf of the entire Sangha and, in order to make the invitation formally valid, a lay devotee repeats the following Pali stanza requesting the monastics to begin the ceremony:
Vipattipatibahaya — sabbasampattisiddhiya
sabbadukkhavinasaya — parittam brutha uttamam
"Please recite the noble pirit for the avoidance of all misfortune, for the attainment of all success, and for the end of all suffering."
Next the senior monastic explains the significance of the occasion in a short address. This is followed by ceremonial drumming (magulbera vadana), as a ritualistic preamble to the ceremony, serving both as an invitation to the devas and an offering of sound (sadda-puja). The monastics also commence the chanting by reciting a stanza that invites all of the divine beings in the universe to the ceremony:
Samanta cakkavalesu Atragacchantu devata
Saddhammam Munirajassa Sunantu saggamokkhadam
"May the divine beings of the entire universe come here to hear the good doctrine of the Best of Sages that confers both heavenly happiness and the freedom of nirvana."
From the commencement of the chanting until its conclusion the following morning, the pavilion is not vacated. The major pirit, with which the chanting begins, is chanted in a rhythmic manner by all of the monastics, numbering about 10 or 12, seated in order of seniority. The rest of the discourses are chanted by two or four of them. The ceremony is concluded the following morning with the recital, once again, of the major pirit at which ceremonial drumming takes place once more.

This drumming is also performed at the recital of important discourses like the Set Rolling the True Wheel of the Dharma Sutra (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) and the Dealing with Ogres Sutra (Atanatiya Sutta). Once the chanting is concluded, convenient lengths of the thread, sanctified by the chanting, are cut and tied around the wrists or arms of those assembled. A little of the sanctified water is given to everyone for drinking.
When the ceremony continues for several days, or a week (sati-pirita), the chanting must continue night and day without break. When the set of sutras constituting pirit is completed, chanting is recommenced from the beginning and in this manner they are recited over and over again until the session is concluded. Both to begin and to end the session, the major pirit is recited in chorus by all of the monastics on each day at sunrise and at sunset.
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Gold leaf coating (VagabondTravels/flickr)
An important ceremony connected with the seven-day and longer pirit ceremony is known as dorakada-asna, which seems to have entered the pirit ceremony during the Kandyan period, 18th century (Ven. Kotagama Vacissara Thera, Saranankara Sangharaja Samaya, pp.118-19).
The theme of this ritual is to invite all of the devas (deities, fairies, nature spirits residing in the vicinity) and request that they partake of the merits generated by the pirit ceremony and to help dispel all evil and bring about prosperity to everyone.
This ritual involves several stages commencing from the morning of the last day of the pirit ceremony, that is, the seventh day if it is a seven-day ceremony. The first stage is the preparation of the message to be taken to the neighboring temple where the abodes of the devas (deva-layas, deva-statues) are also found. For this purpose several palm (talipot) leaves, on which the message is to be written, are brought to the chanting pavilion in a ceremonial procession and handed over to a monastic who has previously been selected to write the message.
Ancient Greek deva statues (flickr com)
Next, this particular monastic writes down the auspicious time for the "messenger of the devas" (deva-dutaya) to set out to the deva-laya and read it aloud, to be sanctioned by the assembled monastics. Once this is done another monastic, also previously selected, reads aloud a text written in a highly ornate and stilted style, enumerating the temples and deva-layas at which the deities are requested to be present at the pirit chanting that evening.
This text is called the vihara-asna. Until these preliminaries are gone through, the other monastics keep holding the sacred thread. After this, the monsatic who was appointed to write the message begins to write it while the other monastics retire.
The message contains the invitation -- which is a command from the Sangha (sangha-natti) and therefore not to be turned down -- addressed to all of the deities residing at the religious places enumerated in the vihara-asna to come and partake of the merits of the week's pirit chanting.
Dancers? Stilt walkers? (AlisonRyde/flickr)
The message is prepared in quadruplicate. These are then hung on a pole and handed over to a young boy, specially selected for the task and richly attired as befits a messenger of the devas. Mounted on a caparisoned elephant and escorted by men with swords, the boy carries the message in a procession to the deva-laya. This procession is called the devaduta-perahera, "the procession of the devas' messenger," and has many features like dancers, drummers, mask-dancers, stilt-walkers, and so on.
At the deva-laya, the monastics and the deva-dutaya first go near a Buddha statue and pay respects, after which they proceed to the building where the statues of the devas are and chant the Loving-Kindness Sutra (Metta Sutta). The devas concerned are usually Lord Vishnu and the spirit Kataragama (Skanda). This is followed by ceremonial drumming (magul bera) as an invitation to the devas, and next a monastic reads the message out loud.
The four messages are given to the lay officiating priest or priestess of the deva-laya (known as kapurala) to be hung in the four cardinal directions inside the deva-laya, the abode of the devas. These are meant for the Regents of the Four Quarters (the Four Great Sky Rulers or Catumaharajikas -- Datarattha (east), Viruda (south), Virupakkha (west), and Vessavana (north) -- who are requested to come to the ceremony with their assemblies. The procession now returns.
Until the monastics arrive for the pirit chanting, the messenger or deva-dutaya is kept confined and guarded. Once the monastics arrive and take their seats inside the pavilion, a dialogue takes place between the deva-dutaya and a monastic, the purpose of which is to reveal to the assembled gathering that the task of the messenger, which was to invite the devas to partake of the shared merits, has been done and that all the devas have arrived.

Message read at the threshold
Bhumi devas in European art (youtube.com)
The deva-dutaya makes this statement, standing and guarded by the swordsmen, at the entrance (dorakada) to the chanting pavilion within which the monastics have taken their seats. It is this statement of the deva-dutaya which thus comes to be called the dorakada-asna, meaning "the message read at the threshold."
The gist of this statement, written in the same kind of stilted language as the vihara-asna referred to earlier, is that all the devas invited have arrived for the pirit ceremony so that they may dispel all misfortune and bring about prosperity to all.
After the dorakada-asna, another monastic standing within the pavilion reads out a similar text called the anusasana-asna, wherein all the devas assembled are requested to rejoice in (approve of, applaud, laud, encourage) the merits of the entire ceremony. This monastic holds a round-handled fan made of the talipot palm leaf, elaborately decorated, a symbol of authority and high ecclesiastical position.
These three ritualistic message texts mentioned -- that is, the vihara-asna, dorakada-asna, and the anusasana-asna -- were all composed during the Kandyan period, the 18th century, when ceremonies and rituals, especially those connected with the devas, became more popular than during the earlier periods (Ven. Kotagama Vacissara Thera, Saranankara Sangharaja Samaya, pp.118-19).

The golden shores of the Sri Lanka or "Spice Island" (Cyrille Gibot/flickr.com).
It is also worth noting that this ceremony of dorakada-asna, the message at the threshold, has in addition to its religious and ritualistic significance considerable dramatic and theatrical value. For the whole event, from the preliminaries of the morning to the grand finale of the anusasana in the evening, contains much impersonation, mime, and dialogue.

In this connection we may note that as early as the time of Buddhaghosa (5th century A.C.E.), the greatest of all Buddhist commentators, there were Buddhist rituals with such theatrical features as is shown by the "exorcism ritual" of reading the Atanatiya Sutta described in the Commentary to the Longer Discourse (Digha Nikaya Tika iii, 969-70). [For details of the Atanatiya recital, see below, pp.55-57.]
The recital of the "Verses of the Supreme Blessings" or Jayamangala Gatha, a set of eight benedictory stanzas extolling the virtues of the Buddha, may also be cited as a popular custom partly related to the chanting of pirit. This is usually done on important occasions like the marriage ceremony, when setting out on an important journey, or when inaugurating any venture of significance.
This custom is inevitably observed at what is called the Poruva ceremony when, after a couple to be married ascends a small decorated platform (poruva), they are blessed for future prosperity. The recital is usually done by an elderly person who, for the occasion, assumes the position of an officiating priest.
May we participate in the Sri Lankan ritual?
At public functions a bevy of young girls clad in white uniforms also do the recital. The contents of the stanzas recited clearly show that the ritual is intended to bring happiness and prosperity to the persons concerned or the successful completion of the project. Accordingly these verses have come to be called "the stanzas of success and prosperity," Jaya Mangala Gatha, and have become quite popular among all sections of the Buddhists.
While the origin of these stanzas is shrouded in mystery, it can be stated with certainty that they were composed in Sri Lanka by a devoted Buddhist poet. The earliest available reference to them is during the Kandyan period when they are given in a list of subjects that a monastic should study. This shows that they had become well established during the 16th and 17th centuries; therefore, they must have been composed at least a century earlier. These stanzas are regarded as efficacious because they relate eight occasions, each based on a beautiful story, when the Buddha triumphed over powerful opponents.
The chanting of what is called set-pirit by a few monastics at the inauguration of new ventures or at receptions and farewells to important public personages has also become quite common. The chanting usually consists of a sutra like the Mangala, Ratana, or Metta Sutta, and a few benedictory stanzas.

Set-pirit is broadcast by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation every morning as the first item of its program. More

1 comment:

Andy said...

Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!

With metta,

Andrew C