Properly speaking, the dharani has no legitimate place in Zen. That it has nevertheless crept into its daily service is clue to the general characteristics of Chinese Buddhism of the Sung dynasty, when the Japanese Zen masters visited China and imported it as they found it then, together with the Shingon elements of Chinese Zen. In China the Shingon did not thrive very long but left its traces in Zen.
Dharani, the root of which is dhr, "to hold" or "to convey", is ordinarily translated by the Chinese tsung-ch'ih, "general holder", at neng-ch'ih, "that which holds". A dharani is considered as holding magical power in it or bearing deep meaning. When it is pronounced, whatever evil spirits there are ready to interfere with the spiritual effect of a ritual, are kept away from it.
In the following pages the three most frequently read dharanis are given. When translated they convey no intelligent signification. They mostly consist of invocations and exclamations. The invocation is an appeal to the higher powers, and the exclamation is to frighten away the evil spirits. That the practical result of these utterances is not to be judged objectively goes without saying.
Adoration to all the Buddhas! Adoration to the Teaching that knows no obstructions!
Thus: Om! Khya khya khyahi khyahi (speak, speak)!
Jvala jvala prajvala prajvala (blaze, blaze)!
Tistha tistha (up, up)!
Stri Stri (?)!
Sphata (burst, burst)!
One who is quiescent!
To the glorious one, hail!
Adoration to the Triple Treasure!
Adoration to Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva who is the great compassionate one!
Om, to the one who performs a leap beyond all fears!
Having adored him, may I enter into the heart of the blue-necked one known as the noble adorable Avalokitesvara! It means the completing of all meaning, it is pure, it is that which makes all beings victorious and cleanses the path of existence.
Om, the seer, the world-transcending one!
O Hari the Mahabodhisattva!
The earth, the earth!
It is the heart.
Do, do the work!
Hold fast, hold fast! O great victor!
Hold on, hold on! I hold on.
To Indra the creator I
Move, move, my defilement-free seal!
A joy springs up in me!
Speak, speak! Directing!
Hulu, hulu, mala, hulu, hulu, hile!
Sara, Sara! siri, siri! suru, suru!
Be awakened, be awakened!
Have awakened, have awakened!
O merciful one, blue-necked one!
Of daring ones, to the joyous, hail!
To the successful one, hail!
To the great successful one, hail!
To the one who has attained mastery in the discipline, hail!
To the blue-necked one, hail!
To the boar-faced one, hail!
To the one with a lion's head and face, hail!
To the one who holds a weapon in his hand, hail!
To the one who holds a wheel in his hand, hail!
To the one who holds a lotus in his hand, hail!
To the blue-necked far-causing one, hail!
To the beneficient one referred to in this Dharani beginning with "Namah," hail!
Adoration to the Triple Treasure!
Adoration to Avalokitesvara!
May these [prayers] be successful!
To this magical formula, hail!
Adoration to the Blessed One who is the most excellent one in the triple world!
Adoration to the Enlightened One, to the Blessed One!
Om! Cleanse [us], cleanse [us]! O one who is always impartial! One who, being in possession of all-pervading, all-illuminating light, is pure in his self-nature, cleansed of the darkness of the five paths of existence!
Baptize us, O Sugata, with an immortal baptism which consists of the best words, of the great true phrases!
Remove disasters, remove disasters, O one who holds an eternal life!
Cleanse us, cleanse us, O one who is as pure as the sky!
O one who is as pure as the victorious Buddha-crown!
O one who is inflamed with a thousand rays of light!
O all the Tathagatas who look over [the entire world]!
O one who is perfect in the Six Paramitas!
O one who holds the great seal empowered with the spiritual power which emanates from the heart of every Tathagata!
O one whose body is as hard and pure as Vajra!
O one who is thoroughly pure, cleansed of all impediments, all fears, and all the evil paths!
Turn us away [from evils] O one who enjoys a purified life!
O one who empowers us with [the power of] the original covenant! O jewel, jewel, the great jewel! O Suchness which is reality-limit and absolute purity!
O one who is pure in his evolved enlightenment!
Be victorious, be victorious, be ever victorious, be ever victorious!
Bear in mind, bear in mind!
O one who is pure being empowered by all Buddhas!
O Vajragarbha who holds the Vajra! Let my body be like Vajra! Let those of all beings too be like Vajra!
O one who is in possession of an absolutely pure body! O one who is absolutely pure from all the paths of existence! And let me be consoled by all the Tathagatas!
O one who is empowered with the consoling power of all the Tathagatas!
Be enlightened, be enlightened, be ever enlightened, be ever enlightened!
Have them enlightened, have them enlightened, have them ever enlightened, have them ever enlightened!
O one who is most pure in a most thoroughgoing way!
O one who holds a great seal empowered with the spiritual power which emanates from the heart of every Tathagata!