Luminous Bliss

Luminous Bliss: A Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet

Georgios T. Halkias
Copyright Date: 2013
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Luminous Bliss
    Book Description:

    With an annotated English translation and critical analysis of the Orgyan-gling gold manuscript of the shortSukhāvativyūha-sūtraPure Land Buddhism as a whole has received comparatively little attention in Western studies on Buddhism despite the importance of "buddha-fields" (pure lands) for the growth and expression of Mahāyāna Buddhism. In this first religious history of Tibetan Pure Land literature, Georgios Halkias delves into a rich collection of literary, historical, and archaeological sources to highlight important aspects of this neglected pan-Asian Buddhist tradition. He clarifies many of the misconceptions concerning the interpretation of "other-world" soteriology in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and provides translations of original Tibetan sources from the ninth century to the present that represent exoteric and esoteric doctrines that continue to be cherished by Tibetan Buddhists for their joyful descriptions of the Buddhist path. The book is informed by interviews with Tibetan scholars and Buddhist practitioners and by Halkias' own participant-observation in Tibetan Pure Land rituals and teachings conducted in Europe and the Indian subcontinent.Divided into three sections,Luminous Blissshows that Tibetan Pure Land literature exemplifies a synthesis of Mahāyāna sutra-based conceptions with a Vajrayana world-view that fits progressive and sudden approaches to the realization of Pure Land teachings. Part I covers the origins and development of Pure Land in India and the historical circumstances of its adaptation in Tibet and Central Asia. Part II offers an English translation of the shortSukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra(imported from India during the Tibetan Empire) and contains a survey of original Tibetan Pure Land scriptures and meditative techniques from the dGe-lugs-pa, bKa'-brgyud, rNying-ma, and Sa-skya schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Part III introduces some of the most innovative and popular mortuary cycles and practices related to the Tantric cult of Buddha Amitābha and his Pure Land from the Treasure traditions in the bKa'-brgyud and rNying-ma schools.Luminous Blisslocates Pure Land Buddhism at the core of Tibet's religious heritage and demonstrates how this tradition constitutes an integral part of both Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3774-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Richard K. Payne
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Buddhisms and Other Conventions
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. xxv-xxx)

    This book is written as a record of the religious literature as inspired by an impressive solar deity, which emerged from a Mahayana polytheistic universe and attained over the centuries trans-local eminence and unequivocal soteriological authority. Its transformation into a pan-Asian religious phenomenon, known as Pure Land Buddhism, is closely linked with the astral legends of buddha fields (Skt.buddha-kṣetra), or pure lands. Despite the salient role of pure lands for the expression of Mahayana Buddhism in India and its growth beyond, for the most part their cultic legacy has had little impact on Western academic studies of Buddhism, which,...

  9. Part I. Early Pure Land Traditions in India, Tibet, and Central Asia
    • Chapter One Indian Mahayana Origins and Departures
      (pp. 3-33)

      Around the beginning of the Common Era, hundreds of years after the death of the historical “architect” of Buddhism, Buddha Śākyamuni, a small and active minority of Indian Buddhists, belonging in all probability to a number of different monastic ordination lineages (Pālinikāya), continued to elaborate on preexisting soteriological options, and over the course of centuries articulated them into an original and enormous body of scriptures—Mahayana sutras—that reflected a variety of philosophical approaches and ritual and contemplative practices.¹ A common thread that unified these lineages featured a universal aspiration to reach “supreme and perfect awakening” (Skt.anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi),...

    • Chapter Two Pure Lands and the Tibetan Empire
      (pp. 35-84)

      The arrival of the Tibetans in Central Asia is marked by a series of confrontations with the Tang dynasty (618-907). In Tang histories, Tibet was situated eight thousandliwest of the Tang capital of Chang’an, and in the words of one scholar, it challenged “more severely than any other non-Chinese state in the Tang period Chinese security and sense of superiority.”¹

      In contrast to the nomadic peoples who typically refrained from attempting to occupy the territory of settled peoples, the Tibetans were noted for their territorial ambition. They expanded in all directions, confronting the Chinese in the Qinghai region...

  10. Part II. Pure Land Texts in Tibetan Contexts
    • Chapter Three The Dharma That Goes against the Ways of the World: The Short Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra with an English Translation from Tibetan
      (pp. 87-100)

      The Tibetan canonical collections of Buddhist scriptures are a colossal accumulation of nearly 4,500 texts. These works occupy a vital position in the religious literature of Tibet and Buddhist literature in Tibetan translation, and also include a small number of original works authored by Tibetans. The Tibetan Tripiṭaka is divided into the Kanjur (bKa’-’gyur; lit., “translation of the word”), which comprises teachings said to have been propagated by Buddha Śākyamuni (Skt.buddhavacana), and the Tanjur (bsTan-’gyur; lit., “translations of commentaries”), which features commentarial literature on Buddhist sutras and tantras and scriptures on rituals, hymns, and technical compositions on grammar, poetry,...

    • Chapter Four Tibetan Pure Land Commentaries
      (pp. 101-136)

      In the Tibetan commentarial tradition, the long and shortSukhāvatīvyūhasutras are invoked as authoritative texts for elaborating on Pure Land doctrines. This especially true when it comes to Dharmākara’s nineteenth vow in the longSukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra,which is frequently cited for visualizing and formalizing the causes for birth in Sukhāvatī. The relevant passage reads:

      Awakened One, may I not awaken to full, complete, and perfectly manifest enlightenment, if when I attain enlightenment whichever living being hears my name, directs his mind for the purpose of birth in the buddha field and in countless other buddha fields, totally dedicates his roots...

  11. Part III. Pure Lands and Pure Visions
    • Chapter Five Tantric Transfer in Sukhāvatī
      (pp. 139-163)

      The term “Vajrayana” describes a heterogeneous collection of arcane texts and practices that evolved over time and came to represent the most ritually complex expression of Indian esoteric Buddhism. Tantric teachings are said to have been imparted either by Buddha Śakyamuni or by other enlightened expositors, such as the buddhas Vajradhara, Vajrasattva, Mahāvairocana, and so on, who are sometimes described as tantric manifestations of Śākyamuni.¹ Tantra was at its peak from the eighth to eleventh centuries, but its origins can be traced back to as early as the third century CE, depending on how scholars wish to define the...

    • Chapter Six The Celestial Treasures of Buddha Amitābha
      (pp. 165-185)

      The rNying-ma school divides its unique body of literature into three main lineages: the long lineage of Transmitted Precepts (ring-brgyud bka’-ma), the short lineage of Treasure (revealed texts;nye-brgyud gter-ma), and the profound teachings of Pure Vision (zab-mo dag-snang).¹ While the rNyingma adheres to a variety of tantric teachings shared, more or less, by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, its religious canon is altogether distinctive for its large corpus of treasure teachings attributed to the IndianmahāsiddhaPadmasambhava, who predicted the suitable time of their disclosure, the persons who would reveal them, and the destined recipients who would become holders...

  12. Epilogue: From Sukhāvatī to Tibet and Back
    (pp. 187-192)

    The religious history of Tibetan Pure Land Buddhism spans over a millennium, encompassing a profusion of scriptures and ritual interpretations of Mahayana doctrines not found elsewhere in Asia. For the purposes of reviewing its prevalence, two registers are of relevance here. The first is generic in that it reflects the growth and success of Mahayana traditions beyond India, in part due to their emphasis on ecumenical discourses of salvation, a proliferation of ritual practices, and their inclusive communities of lay followers and monastics. The second register, more specific to place and time, refers to conditions and developments unique to Tibet....

  13. Appendix I: A Critical Analysis of the Orgyan-gling Gold bDe-mdo
    (pp. 193-208)
  14. Appendix II: The Means of Attaining the Sukhāvatī Kṣetra: Editions and Liturgical Texts
    (pp. 209-212)
  15. Appendix III: An Anthology of Pure Land Texts from the Treasure Tradition
    (pp. 213-214)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 215-292)
  17. References
    (pp. 293-322)
  18. Index
    (pp. 323-338)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)