Domang is a collection of many important short sutras. It literally means ‘many sutras’. It is also known as Zungdue or a compendium of zung or dhāraṇī texts. Dhāraṇīs are mantra spells and very cryptic and formulaic texts which are believed to have special powers for different purposes.
Domang is basically a collection of core Buddhist scriptures, mantras and prayers which form part of the Kanjur canon and are commonly used in people’s religious rituals. Because the Kanjur is an enormous corpus of books, these essential texts were conveniently put together in a separate volume so that people can have easy access to them and read them for different purposes.
However, we don’t know when the Domang collection was first put together. It is quite likely that the collection grew incrementally over the centuries as it was common practice for people to have collection of assorted texts which they used regularly. In the popular Domang versions we have in Bhutan, the Tongsa edition is a good example. It has nearly 100 different texts and mantras from the Kanjur and is over 600 pages long. In contrast, the long version of Zungdue from Lhasa include many popular prayers composed even by Tibetan lamas, and has over 330 different texts and some 1200 pages. In this way, it is an open canon, to which texts are often added according to the interests and needs of the users.
In the past, Bhutanese families often owned a Domang as a household property. They would often read the entire Domang or specifics texts from the collection. For instance, if someone is ill with a life threatening illness, they would read the Tsezung or dhāraṇī of Buddha Amitayus – the Buddha of Longevity. If someone does rituals for prosperity, livestock or property, they would read Norzung, the dhāraṇī for wealth. Similarly, if someone dies, one would recite the aspirational prayers or moenlam from the Domang collection. If one has a court case, one may read Khachunagpo and read Mikhadrado if one wishes avert malicious gossip and envy. Thus, there are different sūtras for different purposes in the Domang collection.
Domang played a very important role in traditional Bhutanese religious life. It would be read in order to accumulate merit, clear away misfortunes, cure illnesses, elongate life, gain wealth, increase merit, succeed in life and as funerary rites. While using the Domang collection for these varied purposes, it is important to remember that the Domang collection represents a group of the core texts of the Buddhist canon. Many of the sūtras represent the essential teachings of the Buddha. The person who buys, carries, possesses, commissions, worships and reads is said to become blessed by the Three Jewels and the righteous deities. The person will attain peace, prosperity and happiness and eventually reach enlightenment.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, founder of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why we do what we do.