“The Verses of the Eight Auspicious Noble Ones” was composed by Jamgön Mipham Gyatso in 1896. It is based on a sutra of a similar title, “The Eight Auspicious Noble Ones,” which comprises instruction requested of Shakyamuni Buddha by a man named Suvikranta, who was from the Licchavi clan. Mipham Rinpoche synopsized what Buddha said in that sutra and set it to verse. As Bardor Tulku has explained (see his “A Teaching on the Tashi Prayer,” available through Karma Triyana Dharmachakra), this is an age in which merit has been depleted and thus our strength to accomplish virtue is weak. When one sets out to do something virtuous, it can be difficult to be successful. These verses of auspiciousness invoke the power of goodness so that any harm or obstacles—of human or nonhuman origin, as Mipham says in his autocommentary to the chant—may be overcome and our projects and endeavors may meet with success. It can be recited at any time, though Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has particularly encouraged us to chant it at the start of an activity or undertaking, in keeping with tradition. Thrangu Rinpoche suggested that the Söpa Chöling retreatants chant it at the start of each practice day.
The first stanza invokes the power of the three jewels: the buddhas, dharma, and sangha, who represent the fundamental goodness and purity of the phenomenal world, in all directions and time. “Sangha” in this context refers to the exalted sangha, the bodhisattvas who have attained the first bhumi and beyond.
The second stanza specifically invokes the power of eight buddhas, the chanting of whose names is auspicious. This was the focus of Suvikranta’s query, which was the occasion for Buddha’s discourse and became the sutra that formed the basis of these verses. There are eight buddhas mentioned, two on each of the first two lines (“King of Light” and “Powerful Enduring Wisdom Fulfilling All Purposes”; “Glorious Ornament of Loving Kindness” and “Supreme Glory Renowned for Virtue”), and then one on each of the subsequent four lines. In the original sutra, each Buddha is invoked separately in a more elaborate way. For instance, for the first buddha mentioned: “Bhagavat, tathagata, arhat, samyaksambuddha King of Light (or “Pradiparaja,” but there is no reliable source for the Sanskrit names of the other Buddhas), we prostrate to you, make offerings to you, take refuge in you.” There is a similar line for each of the eight Buddhas; Lama Mipham’s chant condenses them all into one stanza.
Mipham’s autocommentary explains that, unlike our world, the realms of these buddhas are free of what are called the “five degenerations”: decline in regard to view, klesha, life span, sentient beings (the body declining in attractiveness and size), and the age (suffering due to disease, warfare, and famine becoming prevalent). This is due to the buddhas’ previous aspirations. Holding these buddhas in mind, remembering and reciting their names, will be of great benefit to all one’s activities, both dharmic and secular. Mipham particularly recommends thinking of them as one falls asleep and as one awakens, and then again before one undertakes a project. If one does that, the project will meet with success.
The third stanza invokes the eight great bodhisattvas, also known as the “eight close sons” of Shakyamuni Buddha. In Lama Mipham’s understanding, the eight close sons are in essence buddhas who will manifest as bodhisattvas for as long as samsara exists for the benefit of beings. Mipham’s commentary recounts that some sutras and tantras maintain that remembering the names of these bodhisattvas or even the emblems (scepters, hand implements) that they hold will bring auspiciousness, and he provides a list of these emblems. However, in Bardor Tulku’s view, there are discrepancies between the order of the emblems and the order of the bodhisattvas. The following chart correlates the bodhisattvas with their emblems according to Bardor Tulku’s understanding; a translation of the bodhisattvas’ names is provided as well.
||Translation of Name
|Manjushri||“gentle and glorious”||sword|
|Vajrapani||“vajra in hand”||vajra|
|Avalokiteshvara||“lord who looks down”||white lotus|
|Maitreya||“friendly”||naga wood(the wood of a bush whose smoke is pleasing to the nagas)|
|Kshitigarbha||“essence of the earth”||jewel|
|Sarva-nivarana-vishkambhin||“completely dispelling all obscurations”||utpala flower (blue lotus)|
|Akashagarbha||“essence of space”||moon|
The fourth stanza invokes eight female bodhisattvas, who appear in various forms in various contexts. In some Chakrasamvara traditions, Mipham declares in his commentary, they manifest as eight gatekeepers. The eight male and female bodhisattvas are the eight principal mandala deities of the Nyingma tradition and in essence are the same as the eight manifestations of Padmakara, Guru Rinpoche himself said. Here, the eight female bodhisattvas manifest as eight goddesses, who make offerings to the buddhas.
In general, these offering goddesses bring auspiciousness and goodness and reverse any decline or degeneration of well-being. Lama Mipham also describes their particular functions: The offering goddess bearing the parasol is said to pacify decline in the welfare of the land or country. The parasol is a traditional sign of social rank and, in a dharmic context, of spiritual power: just as the physical parasol protects from the heat of the sun, so does dharmic realization protect from the heat of the kleshas. The goddess bearing the two golden fish brings clear vision and a healthy body with an intelligent mind. The goddess bearing the wish-fulfilling vase brings inexhaustible wealth and the inexhaustible melodious sound of dharma to one’s speech: physically, one’s voice can be clearly heard; it is neither too soft nor too loud. More importantly, the meaning of one’s words is clear and easily understood. The goddess bearing a kamala (lotus) brings the auspiciousness of a good voice, physical beauty, and of not being stained by faults, just as a lotus is not stained by sediment. The goddess bearing a conch brings good teeth (one of the marks of a buddha, perhaps associated with the white color of the conch), fame (the conch is used as a musical instrument and resounds), and freedom from sickness and contagion. The goddess bearing a knot of eternity brings the accomplishment of one’s wishes and an increase in intelligence. The goddess bearing a victory banner brings physical majesty, victory, and social rank. The goddess bearing a wheel brings control and power over all, auspicious marks (wheels, a sign of a buddha) on one’s hands and feet, and the vanquishing of opponents.
The fifth stanza invokes eight protectors, each holding his characteristic emblem or scepter, which the chant lists in order (a trishula is a trident) . The first three protectors—Mahabrahma, Shambhu, and Narayana—are Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Mipham’s commentary cites the Guhyasamaja Tantra, which presents these gods of the Hindu tradition as emanations of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind, respectively. They can also said to be the lords of the three families—Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani—appearing as kings of the worldly protectors to guard the teachings of the Buddha. The fourth protector, Sahasraksha (“Thousand-Eyed One”), is Indra, another god of the Hindu tradition. He too protects the teachings of the Buddha. He is the king of thirty-three classes of desire-realm gods and watches over humans, assisting those who are virtuous.
The final four protectors mentioned—Dhrita-rashtra, Virudaka, Virupaksha, and Vaishravana—are the four great kings. They are bodhisattvas who have attained the eighth bhumi but dwell on the four sides of Mt. Meru as the kings of the gandharvas, kumbhandas (a type of yaksha, human in general appearance but with a variety of animal heads and with scales on their knees, elbows, and ears), nagas, and yakshas. They have been given the primary responsibility to protect the teachings of the Buddha.
It is said that hearing and remembering the name of any of these eight guardians of the world will protect one from fear and danger. They increase auspiciousness and goodness throughout the three worlds—under the ground, on the ground, and above the ground.
Lama Mipham maintains that among these thirty-two—the eight buddhas, eight male bodhisattvas, eight female bodhisattvas, and eight protectors—all the mandalas of all deities are included, without exception. If one chants these verses and is devoted, all one’s wrongdoings and obscurations will be pacified, and one will attain all the good qualities of the higher realms and true goodness (liberation).