Buddhist Tantras

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The Garbhadhātu maṇḍala as used in Śubhakarasiṃha's teachings from the Mahāvairocana Tantra. Vairocana is located in the center.

The Buddhist Tantras are a varied group of Indian and Tibetan texts which outline unique views and practices of the Buddhist tantra religious systems.

Overview

Buddhist Tantric texts began appearing in the Gupta Empire period [1] though there are texts with elements associated with Tantra that can be seen as early as the third century.[2] By the eighth century Tantra was a dominant force in North India and the number of texts increased with numerous Tantric pandits writing commentaries.

The earliest known date-able Buddhist Tantra is possibly the Guhyasamāja Tantra which is dated to the fifth century by Alex Wayman (but to the eighth by Japanese scholars).[3] Another early Tantra is the Mahavairocana Tantra, which was mentioned and collected by the Chinese pilgrim Wu-xing (無行) c. 680 CE.[4]

According to Tibetologist Alex Wayman, the Buddhist Tantras arose from "a previous lore reaching back into the Vedic literature and amalgamating this tradition with various Buddhist tenets".[5] Some of the material is also similar to content in the Yoga Upanishads. Buddhist Tantric traditions were variously influenced by Śaiva and Pancharatra Hindu traditions, local god/goddess cults, Yaksha or nāga rites as well as drawing on pre-existing Mahāyāna Buddhist ideas and practices.[6][7]

Many early Buddhist Tantric texts, later termed “action Tantras” (kriyā tantra), are mostly collections of magical mantras or phrases for mostly worldly ends called mantrakalpas (mantra manuals) and they do not call themselves Tantras.[8] Later Tantric texts from the eighth century onward (termed variously Yogatantra, Mahayoga, and Yogini Tantras) advocated union with a deity (deity yoga), sacred sounds (mantras), techniques for manipulation of the subtle body and other secret methods with which to achieve swift Buddhahood.[9] Some Tantras contain antinomian and transgressive[disambiguation needed] practices such as ingesting alcohol and other forbidden substances as well as sexual rituals.[10] Some of the unique themes and ideas found in the Buddhist Tantras is the revaluation of the body and its use in attaining great bliss (mahasukha), a revaluation of the role of women and female deities and a revaluation of negative mental states, which can be used in the service of liberation as the Hevajra Tantra says "the world is bound by passion, also by passion it is released".[11]

Buddhist Tantra quickly spread out of India into nearby countries like Tibet and Nepal in the eighth century, as well as to Southeast Asia. Buddhist Tantra arrived in China during the Tang Dynasty (where it was known as Tangmi) and was brought to Japan by Kukai (774–835), where it is known as Shingon.[12] It remains the main Buddhist tradition in Nepal, Mongolia and Tibet where it is known as Vajrayana.

There are between 1500 to 2000 surviving Indian Buddhist Tantric texts in the original Sanskrit, and over two thousand more Tantras solely survive in translation (mostly Tibetan or Chinese).[13] In the Tibetan canons, there are 450 Tantras in the Kanjur collection and 2400 in the Tengyur.[14]

Tibetan classification systems

Tantric texts were brought to Tibet in two historical periods, the 8th century and the 11th century.[15] The ancient translation school, or Nyingma and the later New translation schools organize Tantras into different categories.

Ancient Translation School

The Nyingma tantra collection is known as the Nyingma Gyubum and has six tantra categories:

New Translation Schools

The Sarma or New Translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism (Gelug, Sakya, and Kagyu) divide the Tantras into four categories:

East Asian classificaton systems

The Japanese Shingon and Tendai schools are based on the Kriya and Charya tantras.[16]

Shingon

Richard K. Payne states:

Rather than employing the fourfold system found in Tibet, the Shingon system works on a distinction between those texts that present "proper practice" ("orthopraxy") and those that present practices that are both proper and improper, that is mixed ("heteropraxy").[16]

Payne states that the contempory Shingon terminology for these categories is:

  • Pure esotericism
  • Mixed (miscelleanous, diffuse, etc.) esoteriscism

List of Buddhist Tantric texts

Guhyasamaja (left), Raktayamari (right), Folio from a Dharani (Protective or Empowering Spells)

Many Tantric texts have titles other than 'Tantra', including Dharani, Kalpa, Rajñi, stotra, doha and sutra. The Major Tantras also accumulated secondary literature, such as 'Explanatory Tantras' (vyākhyātantra), commentaries and sadhana literature.[17] Major Buddhist Tantric texts include:

Tantric authors

As Buddhist Tantra became more widely practiced in the middle of the seventh century, pandits at mainstream Buddhist scholastic institutions began to adopt the practices and write sadhanas and commentaries on Vajrayana praxis. Benoytosh Bhattacharyya notes that there are two main chronological lists of prominent Tantric authors, the first from Taranatha's works and the second from Kazi Dawasamdup's introduction to the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra.[18]

Taranatha's list:

  1. Padmavajra (c.693), author of the Guhyasiddhi
  2. Anangavajra (c.705), author of the Prajñopāyaviniścayasiddhi
  3. Indrabhuti (c.717), author of the Jñānasiddhi
  4. Bhagavati Laksmi (c.729), female author of the Advayasiddhi
  5. Lilavajra (c.741)
  6. Darikapa (c.753)
  7. Sahajayogini (c.765)
  8. Dombi Heruka (c.777)

Kazi Dawasamdup's list:

  1. Saraha aka Rahulabhadra (c. 633)
  2. Nagarjuna (author of the Pañcakrama c. 645, not to be confused with the Madhyamika philosopher)
  3. Sabaripa (c.657)
  4. Luipa (c.669)
  5. Vajraghanta (c.681)
  6. Kacchapa (c.693)
  7. Jalandharipa (c.705)
  8. Krsnacarya (c.717)
  9. Guhya (c.729)
  10. Vijayapa (c.741)
  11. Tilopa
  12. Naropa

Other Indian tantric authors include:

  • Buddhaguhya, wrote a commentary on the Mahavairocana Tantra
  • Vimalamitra, 8th century, wrote commentaries on the Guhyagarbha tantra
  • Padmasambhava
  • Śāntarakṣita (725–788), whose authorship of the Tantric work Tattvasiddhi is attributed by various authors, but this is debated by scholars such as Ernst Steinkellner.[19]
  • Vilāsavajra, 8-9th century author of the Namamantrarthavalokini, a commentary on the Mañjuśrīnāmasamgīti.[20]
  • Buddhajñāna, 8-9th century author of the Śrīherukasādhanavṛtti
  • Aryadeva, author of the Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Caryamelapakapradipa), a commentary on the Guhyasamāja Tantra, not to be confused with the Madhyamaka philosopher of the same name
  • Candrakirti, 9th century author of the Pradipoddyotana, not to be confused with the Madhyamaka philosopher of the same name
  • Sakyamitra, commentator on the Guhyasamāja Tantra
  • Nagabodhi, commentator on the Guhyasamāja Tantra
  • Bhavyakīrti, 10th century author of a commentary on the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, the Śrīcakrasamvarapañjikā-śūramanojñā-nāma.[21]
  • Sraddhakaravarman, commentator on the Guhyasamāja
  • Bhavabhaṭṭa, 10th century author of the Śrīcakrasaṁvarapañjikā, a Cakrasamvāratantra commentary
  • Jayabhadra, Cakrasamvāratantra commentator
  • Durjayacandra, Cakrasamvāratantra commentator
  • Vajrapani, Cakrasamvāratantra commentator
  • Tathagataraksita, Cakrasamvāratantra commentator
  • Bhavabadra, Cakrasamvāratantra commentator
  • Viravajra, Cakrasamvāratantra commentator
  • Manibhadra, Cakrasamvāratantra commentator
  • Śraddhākaravarma, Guhyasamāja commentator
  • Prasantajnana, Guhyasamāja commentator
  • Vimalagupta, Guhyasamāja commentator
  • Cilupa, Guhyasamāja commentator
  • Vajrahasa, Guhyasamāja commentator
  • Santipa
  • Kāṇha, author of the Yogaratnamālā on the Hevajra Tantra
  • Bhadrapāda, author of the Śrīhevajravyākhyākhyāvivaraṇa, on the Hevajra Tantra
  • Vajragarbha, author of the Ṣaṭsāhasrikā-Hevajra-ṭīkā
  • Ratnakīrti, 11th century
  • Ratnākaraśānti, wrote the Muktāvalī, a commentary on the Hevajra
  • Pundarika, a commentator of the Kalachakra tantra
  • Sucandra, Kalacakra commentary in sixty thousand stanzas
  • Yogaratnamālā, author of a commentary on the Hevajra Tantra
  • Abhayakaragupta, 11th-early 12th century CE.

See also

Footnotes

  1. Wayman, Alex; The Buddhist Tantras light on Indo-Tibetan esotericism, Routledge, (2008), page 23.
  2. Williams, Tribe and Wynne; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, chapter 7
  3. Wayman, Alex; The Buddhist Tantras light on Indo-Tibetan esotericism, Routledge, (2008), page 19.
  4. Stephen Hodge, The Mahā-vairocana-abhisaṃbodhi Tantra, with Buddhaguhya’s Commentary (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 14–15.
  5. Wayman, Alex; The Buddhist Tantras light on Indo-Tibetan esotericism, Routledge, (2008), page 12.
  6. Henrik H. Sørensen, Richard K. Payne Edited by Charles D. Orzech General Editor Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia Handbook of Oriental Studies, page 20.
  7. Grey, David B.; Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism
  8. Wallis, Christopher; THE TANTRIC AGE: A Comparison Of Shaiva And Buddhist Tantra, February, 2016
  9. “A Crisis of Doxography: How Tibetans Organized Tantra During the 8th-12th Centuries,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 28.1 (2005): 115–181.
  10. Williams, Tribe and Wynne; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, chapter 7
  11. Williams, Tribe and Wynne; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, chapter 7
  12. Grey, David B.; Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism
  13. Isaacson, Harunaga (1998). Tantric Buddhism in India (from c. 800 to c. 1200). In: Buddhismus in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Band II. Hamburg. pp.23–49. (Internal publication of Hamburg University.) pg 3 PDF
  14. Williams, Tribe and Wynne; Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, chapter 7
  15. Grey, David B.; Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism
  16. 16.0 16.1 Payne (2005), p. 18
  17. Wayman, Alex; The Buddhist Tantras light on Indo-Tibetan esotericism, Routledge, (2008), page 14.
  18. Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh; An Introduction to Buddhist Esoterism, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1980, India, p.
  19. Gray, David B; Compassionate Violence?: On the Ethical Implications of Tantric Buddhist Ritual; Journal of Buddhist Ethics, ISSN 1076-9005, Volume 14, 2007
  20. Tribe, Anthony; Tantric Buddhist Practice in India: Vilāsavajra’s commentary on the Mañjuśrīnāmasamgīti
  21. Gray, David B; Compassionate Violence?: On the Ethical Implications of Tantric Buddhist Ritual; Journal of Buddhist Ethics, ISSN 1076-9005, Volume 14, 2007


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