While in Japan in April 2010, I picked up a small devotional prayer book at the Silver Pavilion containing the Heart Sutra, but also the mantras for the Thirteen Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or jūsanbutsu (十三仏) for short. These may be esoteric elements of Rinzai Zen retained from its background in Tendai Buddhism, borrowed from Shingon Buddhism, or something else, but references to the Thirteen Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are a common theme in Japanese Buddhism. These thirteen represent the most pivotal deities in Japanese Buddhism, and the public mantra associated with each. In the case of the prayer book, these are used as part of the traditional Japanese Buddhist funeral process whereby devotionals to each figure are held at given dates after the person has passed away. However, I have also witnessed these same mantras, and in the same order, used in Shingon Buddhist lay services too.
The lengthy funeral process in Japanese Buddhism, extending years, may in part reflect Confucian values regarding respect to one’s loved ones after death. In The Analects, Confucius explained the importance of honoring one’s parents after death for a long time as a gesture of respect and gratitude:
[4:20] Confucius said: “If, for three years (after your father’s death) you don’t alter his ways of doing things, you can certainly be called ‘filial.’”
(trans. Prof. Charles A.C. Muller)
Thus, formalized rituals around the 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th days and so on arose in East Asian culture. In the case of Japanese Buddhism at least, Buddhist memorial services on these dates became associated with specific Buddhist figures, and then accordingly the mantras associated with those figures.
There will be no translation given for these mantras, as esoteric training and insight into mantras should only be done under the guidance of a qualified, and fully ordained priest of good reputation. I cannot stress this last point enough, given the number of frauds and crooked priests that are found in the West, and translations posted on the Web should be treated as suspect unless told otherwise by one’s teacher.
This post here is for reference purposes only.
Can’t read the characters?
If you’re having trouble reading the Japanese Kana characters, you might have one or two problems with your computer:
- Your computer may not have Asian fonts installed. In Windows you have to enable UTF8 and East Asian fonts under the Control Panel. Modern Mac computers are fully compatible already.
- Your browser may be assuming the wrong character set. If you use a relatively modern browser and use UTF8 as character set, you should be able to read fine. IE, Firefox and Safari all read this fine as far as I can tell.
Even if not, then you can still use the romanized characters, and the (terrible) English translation. Also check out this excellent page for more information.
Disclaimer and Legal Info
I hereby release this into the public domain. Please use it as you see fit, but if you attribute it to this site, greatly appreciated. Also, please bear in mind this is an amateur work, and should not be taken too seriously, nor is it of academic quality.
I dedicate this effort to all sentient beings everywhere. May all beings be well, and may they all attain perfect peace.
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Namu Amida Butsu
The Thirteen Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
- 7 days after death:Fudō Myōō (不動明王),
のうまくさんまんだ ばざら だん せんだ まかろしゃだ そはたや うんたらた かんまん
nōmaku sanmanda bazara dan senda makaroshada sohataya untarata kanman
- 14 days after death: Shaka Nyorai (釈迦如来),
のうまくさんまんだ ぼだなん ばく
nōmaku sanmanda bodanan baku
- 21 days after death: Monju Bosatsu (文殊菩薩),
- 28 days after death: Fugen Bosatsu (普賢菩薩),
おん さんまや さとばん
on sanmaya satoban
- 35 days after death: Jizō Bosatsu (地蔵菩薩),
おん かかかび さんまえい そわか
on kakakabi sanmaei sowaka
- 42 days after death: Miroku Bosatsu (弥勒菩薩),
おん まいたれいや そわか
on maitareiya sowaka
- 49 days after death: Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来),
おん ころころ せんだり まとうぎ そわか
on korokoro sendari matōgi sowaka
- 100 days after death: Kannon Bosatsu (観音菩薩),
おん あろりきゃ そわか
on arorikya sowaka
- 1 year anniversary: Seishi Bosatsu (勢至菩薩),
おん さんざんさく そわか
on sanzansaku sowaka
- 3 year anniversary: Amida Nyorai (阿弥陀如来),
おん あみりた ていせい から うん
on amirita teisei kara un
- 7 year anniversary: Ashuku Nyorai (阿閦如来),
おん あきしゅびや うん
on akishubiya un
- 13 year anniversary: Dainichi Nyorai (大日如来),
おん あびらうんけん ばざら だとばん
on abira unken bazara datoban
- 33 year anniversary: Kokūzō Bosatsu (虚空蔵菩薩),
のうぼう あきゃしゃ きゃらばや おん ありきゃ まりぼり そわか
nōbō akyasha kyarabaya on arikya maribori sowaka