Venerable Master Hsuan Hua’s has written many commentaries on the most important sutras. He has a website at the City of 10,000 Buddhas that is worth looking into. It is also worth knowing a little bit about this virtuous master. In the Platform Sutra I discovered a fascinating biography of him in his early years.
On the day his mother was buried, he remained behind after the ceremonies were completed to begin a three-year vigil beside her grave.
He commenced to observe the custom of filial piety by watching over his mother’s grave for a period of three years. Clothed only in a rag robe, he endured the bitter Manchurian snow and blazing summer sun. He ate only one meal a day, when there was food, and he simply did not eat if no food was offered to him. He never lay down to sleep.
At the side of the grave, the Master read many sutras. When he first read the Lotus Sutra, he jumped for joy. He knelt and recited it for seven days and seven nights, forgetting to sleep, forgetting to eat, until eventually blood flowed from his eyes and his vision dimmed. Then he read the Shurangama Sutra, thoroughly investigating the Great Samadhi and quietly cultivating it: the three stoppings, the three contemplations, neither moving nor still. The Master relates of this experience:
“I began to obtain a single-minded profound stillness, and penetrate the noumenal state. When I read the Avatamsaka, the enlightenment became boundless in its scope, indescribable in its magnificence, unsurpassed in its loftiness, and ineffable in its clarity.” — Master Hsuan Hua
In the Shurangama sutra there is a very compelling story about saving Ananda from breaking his precepts. As it goes, the Buddha saw that has foremost disciple was in trouble. Ananda, a celibate monk, was out alone begging for food and came across a house of prostitution. The daughter of Matangi had urged her mother to make use of an evil mantra to seduce Ananda.
“He [Shakyamuni] then sent out from the top of His head a bright and triumphant multicoloured light within which appeared a transformation Buddha seated, with crossed legs, on a thousand-petalled lotus. The Buddha then repeated the transcendental mantra and ordered Manjushri to use it to overcome the magic and to bring Ananda with Matangi to the vihara.”
The daughter had become infatuated with Ananda over the years and now wanted him all to herself. At that time the Buddha saw this and utilized the Shurangama Mantra to save him from a downfall. He was protected and returned to the assembly. Due to the blessings of this skillful mantra, the Matangi daughter was pacified and instantly attained Arhatship.
The Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua writes in great detail about this fabulous mantra. You can download his commentary in its entirety here: Shurangama Commentary Master Hua goes on to say:
Now I am explaining the Shurangama Mantra for you and it is extremely difficult to encounter such a rare Dharma assembly as this. Billions of eons pass and no one explains the Shurangama Mantra even once. Nor is it easy to explain even once. When I am explaining, I know full well that no one understands what’s being said. Even if there are those who think they do, they don’t really understand. Some think they already understand and so they don’t pay attention, but that’s also failing to understood.
“Reciting the Shurangama Mantra every day can cause demonic beings and weird ghosts throughout the world to settle down and stop harming people.” ~ Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
The Shurangama Mantra contains the names of ghost and spirit kings. When the names of those leaders are recited, all the ghosts and spirits in their retinues become very obedient and behave themselves. They don’t dare to make trouble.
In his commentary the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua also explains many of the benefits of this mantra:
The Shurangama Sutra says, “If you recite and uphold the Shurangama Mantra until you gain skill and can make it function, then eighty-four thousand Vajra Treasury Bodhisattvas and their retinue of followers will always stay near you and protect you, so that everything you hope for will come true.” But the demon kings never give up searching for a hole so they can give you more trouble than you can handle.
When you recite “San Dan Dwo Bwo Da La”, a great white canopy manifests in the emptiness where you are. The size of the canopy depends on the amount of your skill. If your skill is great and lofty, then when you recite this phrase of the canopy, there will be no disasters for thousands of miles around. If your skill is small, then the canopy will cover your own head and protect you alone.
“Actually those who are really dedicated in reciting the Shurangama Mantra are transformation bodies of Buddhas. Not just any transformation bodies, but those atop the Buddha’s crown–transformation bodies of that transformation body!” ~ Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
If one has virtue in the Way, if one is a great and virtuous high Sanghan, then when one recites this line of [the short Shurangama] mantra, the entire country can benefit from it. The entire area will be free from calamities; great disasters will turn into small ones, and small disasters won’t even happen.
The long version is very difficult to recite and memorize. As Master Hua states:
“The Shurangama Mantra is nicknamed ‘six months’ stupor’ because for most people it takes a half year of diligent recitation to get it memorized.”
It wasn’t easy to find a translation of this mantra in any of the books or sutras I ever came across. However, I did find a website that explained its meaning in great detail. I believe it can be beneficial to the serious aspirant. You can download (the ten page .pdf file) and read the entire meaning of this mantra here: Shurangama Long Mantra
The translation goes by many names in English such as Great White Canopy Mantra, Great White Umbrella Mantra, or Mantra of Achala. Shakyamuni Buddha explains that it is perfectly fine to use the short Shurangama mantra:
“If there are people who cannot put an end to their habits from the past, you should teach them to single-mindedly recite my ‘light atop the Buddha’s summit’ unsurpassed spiritual mantra, MWO HE SA DAN DWO BWO DA LA.”
You can read the rest of the sutra to get an idea of the context here: Shurangama Sutra
Copying this mantra:
The benefits of writing or copying the Shurangama Mantra are explained as follows:
“Ananda, let any living being of any country in the world copy out this mantra in writing on materials native to his region, such as birch bark, pattra, plain paper, or white cotton cloth, and store it in a pouch containing incense.”
“If that person wears the pouch on his body, or if he keeps a copy in his home, then you should know that even if he understands so little that he cannot recite it from memory, he will not be harmed by any poison during his entire life.” — Shurangama Sutra
Lastly, if you don’t have enough time to read and study, at the very least you can listen to how the mantra is pronounced on this YouTube video to receive many extraordinary benefits as you go about your day: Shurangama Recitation