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The Taming of the Demons

The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism

Jacob P. Dalton
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Taming of the Demons
    Book Description:

    The Taming of the Demonsexamines mythic and ritual themes of violence, demon taming, and blood sacrifice in Tibetan Buddhism. Taking as its starting point Tibet's so-called age of fragmentation (842 to 986 C.E.), the book draws on previously unstudied manuscripts discovered in the "library cave" near Dunhuang, on the old Silk Road. These ancient documents, it argues, demonstrate how this purportedly inactive period in Tibetan history was in fact crucial to the Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism, and particularly to the spread of violent themes from tantric Buddhism into Tibet at the local and the popular levels. Having shed light on this "dark age" of Tibetan history, the second half of the book turns to how, from the late tenth century onward, the period came to play a vital symbolic role in Tibet, as a violent historical "other" against which the Tibetan Buddhist tradition defined itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15395-8
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In 1895, in the Tibetan border region of Sikkim, Lieutenant Colonel L. Austine Waddell completed his studyBuddhism of Tibet or Lamaism, With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology. With its publication, Waddell sought to lift “the veil which still hides [Tibet’s] mysteries from European eyes,” and thus to shed light on a “dark land” and its “sinister growth of poly-demonist superstition.” Waddell’s descriptions repeatedly criticized Tibetans for their corrupt and superstitious practices of sorcery and “sacrifice-offerings to devils.” Today we may easily dismiss Waddell’s prejudice as a product of his time, his Protestant upbringing, and the colonialist desires of...

  5. 1 Evil and Ignorance in Tantric Buddhism
    (pp. 23-43)

    The Rudra myth revels in a litany of violent imagery: in its account of the wild and bloodthirsty lifetimes that precede Rudra’s final birth, in how the newborn demon eats his dead mother’s flesh, in the details of his hideous visage, in the carnage and the disease he wreaks upon the world, in the descriptions of his vile palace, and in the conflagration of monstrous violence that ends his terrible reign. We are supposed to be repulsed by this dreadful demon and the bloody imagery intended to reflect the horrors of his evil ways. Yet the myth’s violence is not...

  6. 2 Demons in the Dark
    (pp. 44-76)

    The character of Tibetan Buddhism during the early imperial period of the seventh to ninth centuries is well illustrated by the story of how the religion first arrived in Tibet: It literallyfell from the sky. One day, as the great king Lhato Tori stood upon his palace roof, a golden casket containing theKaraṇḍavyūha Sūtradescended out of the sky and into his waiting hands.¹ What place could be farther from the earth, or more heavily inscribed with signs of royal and divine providence than the roof of the imperial palace? The sky itself long had been seen by...

  7. 3 A Buddhist Manual for Human Sacrifice?
    (pp. 77-94)

    Certainly the most violent text to emerge from the library cave of Dunhuang is a ritual manual for the performance of the notorious “liberation rite” (sgrol ba). Many early Mahāyoga writings from Dunhuang and elsewhere mention the liberation rite, but none is so explicit or detailed as this manual.¹ The rite is actually described twice in the same manuscript, and taken together the two passages paint a relatively complete picture of the proceedings. The instructions have the victim brought in and placed at the center of the ritual altar so that he faces west; the weapon is blessed and the...

  8. 4 Sacrifice and the Law
    (pp. 95-109)

    In 1777, William Coates Blaquiere set sail from England with his father, Jacob Blaquiere, an employee of the East India Company. Following his arrival in India, William became an interpreter for the Supreme Court and Justice of the Peace in Calcutta, and by the 1780s had risen to the post of police magistrate. Apparently a student of the Sanskrit language, in 1799 he published his translation of theKālikā Purāṇa’s infamous “Sanguinary Chapter” (or “Blood Chapter”) in the fifth volume of the recently inauguratedAsiatick Researches. Unfortunately, Blaquiere provided no preface to his translation, nor did he ever publish with...

  9. 5 Foundational Violence
    (pp. 110-125)

    Even as Tibetans of the later dispensation demonized the innovations of the age of fragmentation as violent excesses, they relied on them in founding their new Buddhist tradition. A new (gsar ma) Tibetan Buddhism was being built, an elaborate edifice that rested upon the earlier demonic “corruptions” of tantric Buddhism. Throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Buddhist temples were being erected and Buddhist geographies constructed, using the narratives and ritual themes of demon taming that had been developed in the preceding years of darkness. In this sense, the violence of the earlier age of fragmentation was not solely destructive; it...

  10. 6 Buddhist Warfare
    (pp. 126-143)

    The thirteenth century saw the dawning of a new age for Tibetans. Since the collapse of the Pugyal Empire in the ninth century, political fragmentation, local clans, and tantric authority had reigned. Even following the tenth century and the “age of fragmentation,” Tibetans’ self-confidence had not fully returned, as they deferred—rhetorically at least—to their Indian masters to the south. As we have seen, throughout the later dispensation period, Tibetans regularly depicted themselves as a benighted people dwelling in a demonic land at the very edges of civilization. By the end of the twelfth century, though, a renewed sense...

  11. 7 Conclusions: Violence in the Mirror
    (pp. 144-158)

    One can almost picture the two men on the same evening a little more than a hundred years ago, separated along Tibet’s borders by a few hundred miles, each working by lamplight on his book. One was L. Austine Waddell, seated in Sikkim and writing his 1895Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism, With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology,the first book composed in English to examine Tibetan Buddhism in any depth.¹ The other was a Nyingmapa lama, Rigdzin Gargyi Wangchuk of Nyarong in eastern Tibet, writing hisDangers of Blood Sacrifice. The two men were almost exact contemporaries; Waddell’s...

  12. Appendix A. The Subjugation of Rudra
    (pp. 159-206)
  13. Appendix B. Dunhuang Liberation Rite
    (pp. 207-209)
  14. Appendix C. Dunhuang Liberation Rite II
    (pp. 210-218)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 219-278)
  16. Glossary of Tibetan Titles and Terms
    (pp. 279-284)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-304)
  18. Index
    (pp. 305-311)