Eight Mahasiddhas

3 stages of Evolution of Tantric Buddhism

usually refers to a special esoteric school of , practice, and ‘based on treatises known as ’.

It emerged in northeast during the fifth or sixth centuries CE and then formed its distinctive features around the seventh century CE. Afterward, it expanded geographically outward to the , East , and Southeast Asia.

What Is Tantra?

Countless practices of several Asian have been lumped together by western scholars under the heading “tantra.” The only commonality among these practices is the use of or sacramental action to channel divine energies.

The earliest tantra probably grew out of the -Vedic tradition. developed independently of Hindu for many centuries, however, and they are barely related now in spite of a surface resemblance.

The Origins of Tantric Buddhism

The origins of are highly obscure. Only a few references to Tantric texts exist in India’s oldest literature. On the other hand, even if there is some evidence of the early Buddhist Tantras, their dates remain an unresolved issue debated in modern scholarship.

There are three most obvious reasons:

  1. first, most of the Buddhist Tantras had been composed, revised, and developed by many and their followers within particular groups over the centuries.
  2. Second, these innovative Tantric ideas were incorporated into existing Buddhist doctrine and canons in order to gain their validity and access the centralized authority.
  3. Last, a great quantity of the first-hand resources—the early manuscripts of Tantras29—were lost in their place of origin.

The Chinese and translations can be helpful to provide some evidence for dating. Not surprisingly, in modern scholarship, there are a great number of different rescensions30 concerning when, where, how, and by whom its secret power and were passed on from to disciple.

The Indian Tantric Movement and its Cultural Background

Just as primitive Buddhism grew out of the Brahmanic tradition, the evolution of Tantric Buddhism was also affected by the revival of and stimulated by the development of a magical ritual complex in .

Two major groups in Tantric Buddhism and Tantric Hinduism, share considerable similarities in doctrines and practices.

Further, Tantric Hinduism had a profound and pervasive influence on Tantric Buddhism. The most evident can be from their emphasis upon female deities and creativity, and a perspective of regarding women as embodiments of female divinity.

As claims:

These passages have no direct precedent in earlier Buddhist literature but echo passages in Hindu Tantric and Sakta texts, revealing their proximity to the Sakta cultural realm. Tantric Buddhist and Sakta texts have parallel passages urging respect of women and extending threats and punishments to those who would transgress this inviolable command.

Tantric Buddhism is one of the main differences between the two is how they each perceive the divine feminine creative power.

The 3 Stages of evolution of Tantric Buddhism

It may be helpful to consider the historical complexity of Tantric Buddhism in three stages, which are based on the development of the evolving Buddhist Tantras. Most of the Tantras are practice-orientated texts that can be divided into four categories:

  1. or Action Tantra
  2. Carya or Performance Tantra
  3. or Union Tantra
  4. , or Supreme Union Tantra

Eclectic esotericism

From the Tantric , Tantras have always coexisted with and developed alongside the other Buddhist traditions.

Some scholars agree that centuries prior to the date of the surviving historical evidence, the earliest Buddhist Tantras may have appeared as short formulas attached to .

Some encouraging sparks of Tantric elements can be found in Agamas, the collections of early Buddhist manuscripts, which were presumably composed by around the of late primitive Buddhism and the Eighteen Schools.

The middle phase of Tantric Buddhism

From approximately the fourth or the fifth century, a certain number of Tantras evolved in the late stage of and tapped into the same wellspring as Hindu Tantric traditions.

For example, Kriya Tantra, the largest class of Tantras, was written probably from the second century to the fifth or the sixth century.

In Chinese scholarship, the of Sutra and Vajrasekhara Tantra are regarded as the hallmark of pure esotericism, as the middle stage of Tantric Buddhism in India.

Mahavairocana Sutra is possibly the first authoritative Buddhist Tantra, which was probably compiled in southwest India during the early seventh century CE. There is the early classification of and with their associated qualities. It is known as a system of three Buddha-families: the highest or Buddha Family, the middle or Family, and the lowest or Thunderbolt Family. They are epitomized by , Avalokitesvara, and respectively. Awakened deities surround Shakyamuni in the Buddha-family, whereas unawakened deities in or wrathful surround Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani in or Vajra Families.

While the basic theory of Tantric Buddhism in the Mahavairocana Sutra has been discussed, the methodology of attaining in this most rapid Tantric path is elaborated as the main theme in the Vajrasekhara Tantra. The Vajrasekhara Tantra was composed at the end of the seventh century and is considered to be the main representative of the class of texts in . In the Vajrasekhara Tantra, the system of three to five Buddha-families is developed with the addition of a Gem or Ratna or Jewel Family36 and an Action or Karman Family. Along with the of Buddha-families, there is a shift in how the deities around the central Buddhas are conceived. In contrast to the unawakened deities in three Buddha-families, the surrounding deities in five Buddha-families in the Vajrasekhara Tantra are regarded as awakened or near-awakened figures.

Based on the system of five Buddha-families, of the five Buddha families are used to support the practices in the Buddhist conceptual framework for understanding, interconnecting, and orienting the five different energies attributed to our psychological types into an integrated whole.

In , each of the five Buddhas in the can be considered as a manifestation of a particular aspect of enlightenment in its purest and most form.

Also, the Five Elements (, , , , and wind/) and five dominant colors (white, red, blue, yellow, and green) are associated with the five presiding Buddhas or , respectively. This is closely related to the transformation of the five types of neurotic energies of our own awareness into their aspects during .

The late phase of Tantric Buddhism

No later than the end of the eighth century or the beginning of the ninth century, a new of Tantric with its own distinctive features had radically grown out of the models of the earlier Buddhist Sutra traditions.

Two of the most representative influential Tantras of this stage are the Guhyasamaja Tantra and Tantra, which were probably produced around the late eighth or early ninth century. Both are classified as Anuttarayoga, which is also known as the Highest Yoga Tantra.

Since the early tenth century, the later Tantric form of scriptures has been established and made official. The Guhyasamaja Tantra maintains the five-family system of the Yog Tantras, yet regards as its central Buddha who is one of the Five Buddhas that represent as a mere reflection of actual reality.

The significance of Aksobhya in the Guhyasamaja Tantra reflects a radical shift in emphasis from the Buddha in Carya and Yoga Tantra to paving the way for more wrathful and semi-wrathful Tantric deities. Aksobhya, along with his Vajra Family, plays a dominating role in the later developmental phase of Tantric Buddhism in India.



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About sadiksha

Namaste! I am a Nepali Art Dealer specialized in Mandala and Thangka paintings. I love to write articles about the monastic culture of the Himalayas.

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