Question: Are sutras and dharanis the words of the Buddha? What is the difference between them?


Sutras are the words and teachings of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, as recorded by his disciples. Dharanis, on the other hand, are beginningless.

Like many Sanscrit words, dharani has different meanings. Dharanis look like mantras, but are usually longer. They are a type of mantra, but different. Dharanis are the essence of a sutra or a practice in mantra form.

One of the meanings of dharani implies memory. They are the “memory” of the sutra/practice. Reciting the dharani is the same as reciting the sutra. But more than that, a dharani is the essence of what the sutra is about. Yogis who memorize the dharani have in effect memorized the essence of the sutra.


“…the word dharani is defined as the mental power of recollection and mindfulness by which one can hold the words and meanings of Dharma.” Tara Tantra p. 109.

So the concept of memory is part of the meaning of the word.

The dharani is the “memory” of the sutra. Thus, dharanis are said to be very powerful.

There is undoubtedly more to understanding dharanis. Mantras are one of the “Knowable” subjects, which means only a Buddha fully knows it.

Dharanis are sometimes referred to as “Mantras of Retention,” and are associated with sutras which are designed to intensify discriminating awareness. Other dharanis are associated with particular deities. Still others are recited to obtain certain benefits. Thus, dharanis are also known as a form of “skillful means.”

To summarize:

A dharani is a mystical Sanskrit formula similar to mantra, but which has some differences from it. While dharanis are beginningless, in our time, they were passed down by Shakyamuni Buddha himself and can be of different types:

-Dharanis associated with the sutras that encapsulate or contain the essence of the sutra with which they are linked. With its recitation, the same benefits are obtained as the complete recitation of the Sutra.

-Dharanis associated with deities such as Tara, Chenrezig, Vajrapani, Hayagriva, Amitayus, Manjushri,  etc.

-Dharanis that are means to obtain different benefits (long life, increase of wealth, mental clarity, purification of negative karma, elimination of obstacles, etc.)