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Eleven Holy Discourses of Protection

included by UKT as an appendix to Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism


Sao Htun Hmat Win, Dept. of Religious Affairs, Rangoon, Burma, 1981 

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Eleven Holy Discourses of Protection : Maha Paritta Pali - HHW
Buddhism as Religion
Apotropaic Buddhism

UKT notes :


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Eleven Holy Discourses of Protection: Maha Paritta Pali

- UKT 170713:
This section is my insertion. It was not present in Dr. Htin Aung's book. It is almost ad verbum of Eleven Holy Discourse of Protection: Maha Paritta Pali, by Sao Htun Hmat Win, M.A; A.M.; S.R.F. (Harvard), Director of Research and Scriptures, Dept. of Religious Affairs, Rangoon, Burma, 1981. (the ink-on-paper book is in TIL Research Library, Yangon). Sao Htun Hmat Win (HHW) was awarded the Rangoon University Collegiate Scholarship and the President's Prize of Distinction in the Matriculation Examination in 1947. He must have undoubtedly studied under Dr. Htin Aung who was at one time the Professor of English.

HHW: ( p001begin )
This is my modest confession. To the best of my ability and confidence in this instance, I am rendering the original version of the of the book of eleven Mahaparitta Suttas in Burmese Pali (Pali-Myan) into English. The translation has been so attempted that it will be as close to the literal Pali phrases as possible. In order to serve the readers a very faithful readable rendering, the Pali stanzas have been translated and interpreted in word for word transformative design.
- to be continued.

I have also endeavoured sincerely to help the readers to be able to refer to the original Pāli text, by indicating the number of the Pāli stanza at the head of each translated paragraph. To be in accordance with the standardised Sixth Buddhist Council version of the Mahāparitta Pāli text printed in Burma 1956, the total number of stanzas in this book is set 164.

The English syntax may sometimes be not too clear or exact, but if the readers can grasp the inherent meaning and intrinsic value of the discourses however vaguely this work must be considered satisfactory.

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Buddhism as Religion

HHW: ( p002begin )
Moreover, to elucidate the unintelligible meaning of some passages in the translation, I have provided a brief historical sketch of each discourse at the beginning of every Sutta {oat~tn}.

Not being contented with such a technical endeavour, I have committed myself to a research exploration on the religious character of Burmese Buddhism in conjunction with the eleven Paritta Suttas.

In this presentation I am not prepared to argue about the salient diversity in the definitions of the term "Buddhism". The readers may already have conceived that Buddhism is all encompassing, wholesome, meaningful, global and a humanistic social philosophy - though it may sometimes be with reference to the context, philosophical, theological, ethical, psychological, historical, mystical, and Religious .

This is a researcher's attempt to consider briefly the religious position of Burmese Buddhism; and to reveal the status of Mahaparittass text in Buddhism; being prayers for prosperity and safety of the Buddhists in Burma.

I am quite reluctant to pronounce that Buddhism is a Religion; however I have to admit that there are many vital religious ( p002end-p003begin) elements enshrined in this faith, especially in Burmese Buddhism which usually claims to be the Pristine Form of Theravada Buddhist Tradition.

In the daily life of a Burman Buddhist, critically speaking, the outlook is very much religious as in other great religions. The following statements may reveal how much Burmese Buddhism is religious.

Buddhism is an Ideological System. It is a religion of Explicit Salvation, and hence is to be called Nibbanic Buddhism.

Again it is a religion of Proximate Salvation and therefore can be classified as Kammatic Buddhism.

It may even be typified as a religion of Chiliastic Expectations, for imminent and immanent salvation, the enjoyment of a better world as an event which occurs within history, to be known as Esoteric Buddhism.

It is quite obvious that Buddhism has a well-established monastic system too. Its normative structure, social structure, recruitment structure, character structure, and even the status of monkhood in Burmese society can be all treated as the components of a religious institution.

And sometimes Buddhism can be treated as a Ritual System too, being endowed with various rites and rituals the obvious characteristic of a typical religion. ( p003end-p004begin )

More specifically, Buddhism has an apotropaic phenomenon {n~ta.r kn:} 'freedom from danger' which also indicates it is to be a religion of magical protection.

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Apotropaic Buddhism

Of all the above mentioned religious characteristics of Burmese Buddhism, this article is to discuss on the Apotropiac issue, the religious phenomena of Magical protection.

Apotropaion is a technical term derived from Greek, which means any amulet {lak hpw.} or supposed charm against evil influences.

Apotropaic therefore indicates averting evil; of or pertaining to an apotropaion.

UKT 170713: In the above "averting evil", because "evil" can be brought about by malevolent beings and by natural causes, I will interpret it as {n~ta.r kn:} 'freedom from danger'. Thus, people would recite Paritta even in the best of times to avert "danger". Now, let's take a break from HHW, and refer to Wikipedia articles: - - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amulet 170713, and - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yantra 170713.
In the second article, we read: "Representations of the yantra in India have been considered to date back to 11,000-10,000 years BP. [1] The Baghor stone, found in an upper-paleolithic context in the Son River {an na.di} valley, is considered the earliest example [2] by Sharma, who was involved in the excavation of the stone. The triangular-shaped stone, which includes triangular engravings on one side, was found daubed in ochre, in what was considered a site related to worship. Worship of goddesses in that region was found to be practiced in a similar manner to the present day. [3] J M Kenoyer, who was also involved in the excavation, considered it to be associated with Shakti. [4]
See downloaded txt in An Upper-Paleolithic Shrine in India, in Antiquity, LVII, 1983
- JMKenoyer-UpperPaleolithicShrineIndia<> Bkp<> link chk 170713

HHW continues: ( mid-p004 contn )
Let us presume here, for the benefit of academic discussion, that Apotropaic Buddhism is one of the peculiar faces of the Faith in Burmese tradition. [UKT ]

UKT 170713: "Faith" is a loaded word. If you were to take it to mean "blind faith", a person who would believe his religious teacher, monk or layman, would do anything his religious teacher told him to do. What I find in Burmese tradition, based on national character of "Doubting Thomas" is to lip service to what the religionist had said, and would shun the religionist in future. He has his only rule set by the Buddha in Thirty-seven Auspicies - the first Sutta usually recited.

And the discussion will be encompassed within the boundary of apotropaic approach, even when we deal with the Mahaparitta Sutta discourse.

Apotropaic Buddhism is concerned with important matters in this present existence; illness and health, drought and rain, calamity and tranquility, danger and security.

It also assumes that the goals involved here can be attained by specific magical acts ( p004end-p005begin ) which either generate immediate power or invoke the assistance of supernatural forces. [UKT ]

For apotropaic Buddhism the religion as a whole (its devotion, ritual, ethics, scripture and what not) acts as protective measures against the dangers of the present existence. The world (Loka) is viewed by Burmans to be dangerous because ghosts, demons, evil spirits, Nats and other evil souls are existing everywhere; one is constantly and unpredictably in danger of being harmed. Therefore Buddhism is a refuge against all these dangers. Security is achieved by Buddhistic means. Buddhism prevails as the haven of the Burmese people. Most of the Burmese Buddhist rituals are apotropaic and they are performed to extricate the believer from a calamity which he is now suffering, or to save the devotee from the danger which is impending. There are causes and occasions of these calamities and dangers.

They are:

1. Natural Kammaic , and
2. Supernatural Kammaic resourses.

Because of natural Kammaic reasons, ills, hazards, and miserable troubles come into existence. For instance, accidents, imprisonment, sickness, dogbites, snakehits, drought, loss of wealth, defamation and other inevitable quarrels and fights are the resultant issues of natural kammaic resourses. Such imminent and critical problems are solved ( p005end-p006begin ) in a variety of ways by Burmans. Medical treatments are given to the sick; agrarian and irrigation systems are improved and materialized to afford protection against famine and drought; legal, social and political measures are carried out to help those who have breached laws and regulations. Yet these solutions are sometimes ineffective. If these problems cannot be sufficiently coped with by such naturalistic techniques, Burmese Buddhists customarily resort to rituals of apotropaic Buddhism or Buddhist magical rituals.

Where the dangers and perils are not overcome by naturalistic techniques, then the causes of the incidents are ascribed to supernatural kammaic reasons - such as witch-craft, spirits, planetary influence, charms and bad luck.

Astrological influence on the daily life of a Burman is great. The Brahmins -- "Poṇṇahs" {poaN~Na} are hereditary astrological advisors to the Burmese families. Planetary reflections upon the destiny of the individual and the nation are watched with great interest, whether beneficent or maleficent. Immediate necessary actions must be carried out to avoid in time when signs of unhappy planetary influence are detected.

Good and bad omens are also interpreted seriously by the nation or by the individual; and effective preventions must be carried ( p006end-p007begin ) out promptly. In such events the use of Buddhist sacra or spells for protection against the abovementioned dangers must be employed. The devout Burman must tell many rounds of rosary beads daily citing the Buddhist sacra.

Building of pagodas, construction of roads and bridges; setting free fish or any living animal from the hands of fishmongers or butchers, or in the least to support the branches and water the Bodhi trees, must be done to avoid those forthcoming dangers and disasters. Sometimes the Nine Buddhas or the Dakkhiṇasākhā image of the Buddha must be consecrated and honoured by the help of Buddhist monks to avert the predicted calamities.

Very often the yellow robe of the Buddha or of a respectable monk is considered to be endowed with magical power as protection against evil supernatural forces. Hence the ultimate protection for a victim is to be ordained as a Buddhist monk to be able to don on the yellow monastic robe, even if for a temporary period. Such monk is known as Dullabha Rahaṅ.

Buddhist spells in verbal formula are known as Gāthā or Mantrāh, the chanting of which is believed to achieve a desired result by generating magical power or by compelling the assistance of superhuman divinities. Parittas or Rakkhaṇas are ori-( p007end-p008begin )ginally prayers for prosperity, safety, and the welfare of the Buddhist devotees in Burma, but gradually the Paritta Gāthās become Buddist spells. Parittā is a technical term derived from the root.

- (rakkhati) to rescue, to protect, to guard; with the prefix
pari - all around (samantato), from all directions.

Paritta may therefore be interpreted as Buddhist Protecting Charms or Buddhist Raksha Mantras. Mahā means great; holy; sacred; auspicious; mighty; abundant. Thus the great collection of Buddhist spells is generally known as Mahā Paritta Suttas in Burma. [UKT - to begin another slightly different vein in ch01-2.htm ] ( mid-p008 )


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UKT notes


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End of TIL file