Indian Esoteric Buddhism

Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 475
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Indian Esoteric Buddhism
    Book Description:

    Despite the rapid spread of Buddhism -- especially the esoteric system of Tantra, one of its most popular yet most misunderstood forms -- the historical origins of Buddhist thought and practice remain obscure. This groundbreaking work describes the genesis of the Tantric movement in early medieval India, where it developed as a response to, and in some ways an example of, the feudalization of Indian society. Drawing on primary documents -- many translated for the first time -- from Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tibetan, Bengali, and Chinese, Ronald Davidson shows how changes in medieval Indian society, including economic and patronage crises, a decline in women's participation, and the formation of large monastic orders, led to the rise of the esoteric tradition in India that became the model for Buddhist cultures in China, Tibet, and Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50102-6
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  3. Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Preface
    (pp. XI-XIV)
    Ronald M. Davidson
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  6. Pronunciation and Orthographic Guide
    (pp. XVII-XX)
  7. 1 Introduction: A Plethora of Premises
    (pp. 1-24)

    The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa’s obscure Mr. Va and his peers are enticing examples of the intersection of the religious and the sociopolitical realms in early medieval India. Rhetorically dedicated to the welfare of all beings, Mr. Va evidently employed his energy, wealth, and intelligence to travel over much of India to haggle, debate, and generally harass the adversaries of the Buddhist Dharma. Espousing a doctrine leading to the end of passion, he and the others were passionately involved in the affairs of state, employing the newly evolved tools of the vehicle of secret spells (Mantrayāna or Vajrayāna) to gain a hearing in...

  8. 2 Prayers in the Palace, Swords in the Temple: Early Medieval India
    (pp. 25-74)

    If we are to understand the rise and victory of esoteric Buddhism, the early medieval period must be our initial focus, for this is the time—between the sixth and twelfth centuries—that mature Buddhist esoterism first appears in the available historical materials. The extent to which we can know its chronology is discussed below, but all our best indicators are in accord with the statement of the Chinese monk Wu-hsing, writing about 680 c.e., that the popularity of esoterism was a new event in India.³ As seen in chapter 4, the Indian political systems defined models that were accepted...

  9. 3 The Medieval Buddhist Experience
    (pp. 75-112)

    The weight of early medieval India fell on all its institutions, but in an uneven manner, affecting some much more than others. Certain facets of society, such as the Jaina traditions and the secular military systems, responded with resilience, having developed coping strategies. Some forms of culture entered a period of efflorescence, especially institutions surrounding the courts of local lords. These groups participated in the development of an international ideology of refined culture and its political reflex.² Buddhist congregations, however, found themselves under attack from without and challenged from within. The vitality that the monastic and lay institutions had demonstrated...

  10. 4 The Victory of Esoterism and the Imperial Metaphor
    (pp. 113-168)

    Our survey of the background vicissitudes of India and the somewhat reduced frame of reference for aspects of medieval Buddhism have so far set aside a specific discussion of esoterism and its development, but we now turn fully to this issue. As the most ritually evolved form of Buddhism, esoteric Buddhism had its genesis in the Buddhist experience of the medieval Indian horizon. The emergence of the esoteric dispensation is both a response and a strategy on the part of facets within Buddhist communities: it was a response to the difficult medieval environment and a strategy for religious reaffirmation in...

  11. 5 Siddhas and the Religious Landscape
    (pp. 169-235)

    It might seem that the “Great Perfected” (mahāsiddha) of esoteric Buddhism collectively defeat the proposal that the Vajrayāna is the most feudalized form of Buddhism. Based on siddha images, it is questionable whether the Mantrayāna is actually constituted by those responding to the increasing importance of political systems and authority in the period around the death of Harṣa in 647 c.e. The siddhas, one may suppose, were unconcerned with allegiance of any variety, preferring the untrammeled existence of a psychic world in which ritual systems, social rules, lineage concerns, scriptural continuity, and the other paraphernalia of institutional Buddhism were simply...

  12. 6 Siddhas, Literature, and Language
    (pp. 236-292)

    Creating their ideological ground between the grand, feudalized institutions of orthodox esoterism and the emerging and sometimes agonistic religious and political landscape of the early medieval period, Buddhist siddhas formulated literature that reflected their own concerns. These issues, however, were as diverse as the siddhas themselves. While some siddhas were absorbed in scriptural composition, others were obsessed with its domestication and inclusion into the monastic syllabi, with selected individuals pursuing both tasks. Yet the obstacles to curriculum inclusion were among the most formidable any emerging Buddhist system had ever faced. As the opening of the Guhyasamāja above indicates, siddhas developed...

  13. 7 Siddhas, Monks, and Communities
    (pp. 293-335)

    Nāgabuddhi’s *Ardhapañcamagāthā is a delightful compendium of sixteen late morality tales and warnings on incorrect Buddhist practice. It attempts to perform some of the tasks served by the earlier Buddhist story literature, but most of its narratives focus on the esoteric conundrum: the control of individuals at a time of collapsing boundaries, even while Buddhist communities were under great duress. Many factors contributed to the perception of threat experienced in both siddha and monastic centers at this time. Yet Buddhist partisans did not yield the field without serious and protracted attempts to establish a network of communities and a list...

  14. 8 Conclusion: The Esoteric Conundrum
    (pp. 336-340)

    The goal of this discussion has been to place the activities of Buddhist monks and yogins, of wealthy partisans and impoverished outcastes, of tribal peoples and agonistic trickster siddhas, into the dynamic and quickly changing sociopolitical world of the early medieval period of Indian existence. From the demise of the Puṣyabhūtis until the influx of the Ghurids, Buddhist institutions weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by adapting to and emulating the alterations in public life on the subcontinent. Esoteric Buddhist ideas and practices arose out of the regionalization of Indian polity and religion during this time. Within the...

  15. Appendix: Probable Pāśupata Sites
    (pp. 341-344)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 345-348)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 349-416)
  18. Abbreviations
    (pp. 417-418)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 419-464)
  20. Index
    (pp. 465-476)