Buddhist tantras – Manipulation of the subtle body

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

Buddhist Tantric texts began appearing in the Gupta Empire period though there are texts with elements associated with Tantra that can be seen as early as the third century.

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 datable Buddhist Tantra is possibly the Mahavairocana Tantra, which was mentioned and collected by the Chinese pilgrim Wu-xing (無行) c. 680 CE.

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 Buddhist ideas and practices.

Many Tantric texts from the eighth century onward (termed variously Yogatantra, , 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.

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 Tantra says “the world is bound by passion, also by passion it is released”.

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.

It remains the main Buddhist tradition in Nepal, Mongolia and Tibet where it is known as Vajrayana.

There are between 1500 and 2000 surviving Indian Buddhist Tantric texts in the original Sanskrit, and over 2000 more Tantras solely survive in translation (mostly Tibetan or Chinese).

In the Tibetan canons, there are 450 Tantras in the Kanjur collection and 2400 in the Tengyur.

This is a list of Buddhist tantric concepts and figures used by Mahāyāna and Vajrayana Buddhists for diverse spiritual practices.

Mahakala

is a deity common to Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. According to Hinduism, Mahakala is a manifestation of Shiva and is the consort of Hindu Goddess Kali and most prominently appears in Kalikula sect of Shaktism. Mahākāla also appears as a protector deity known as a dharmapala in Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly most Tibetan traditions (Citipati), in Tangmi and in Shingon. He is known as Dàhēitiān and Daaih’hāktīn (大黑天) in Mandarin and Cantonese, Daeheukcheon (대흑천) in Korean and Daikokuten (大黒天) in Japanese. In Sikhism, Mahākāla is referred to as Kal, who is the governor of Maya.

Kalachakra

The is a term used in Vajrayana Buddhism that means wheel of time or “time-cycles”. “Kālacakra” is one of many tantric teachings and esoteric practice in Tibetan Buddhism. It is an active Vajrayana tradition, one offered to large public audiences. The tradition combines myth and history, whereby actual historical vents become an allegory for the spiritual drama within a person, drawing symbolic lessons for inner transformation towards Buddha nature.

Avalokitesvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Portrayed in different cultures as either male or female, Avalokitesvara is one of the more widely revered bodhisattvas in mainstream Mahayana Buddhism, as well as unofficially in Theravada Buddhism.

Avalokitesvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.

Portrayed in different cultures as either male or female, Avalokitesvara is one of the more widely revered bodhisattvas in mainstream Mahayana Buddhism, as well as unofficially in Theravada Buddhism.

He has 108 avatars, one notable avatar being Padmapāṇi, the one who holds the lotus (padma).

In Tibet, he is known as Chenrézik. In East Asia, he is commonly known as Guānyīn.

Hevajra

Hevajra is one of the main yidams in Tantric, or Vajrayana Buddhism. Hevajra’s consort is Nairātmyā.

Hevajra has four forms described in the Hevajra Tantra and the Samputa Tantra which are Kaya Hevajra, Vak Hevajra, Citta Hevajra and Hrdaya Hevajra.

Ekajati

Ekajaṭī or Ekajaṭā,, also known as Māhacīnatārā, is one of the 21 Taras. is, along with Palden Lhamo deity, one of the most powerful and fierce goddesses of Vajrayana Buddhist mythology. According to Tibetan legends, her right eye was pierced by the tantric master Padmasambhava so that she could much more effectively help him subjugate Tibetan demons.

The Guhyasamāja Tantra is one of the most important scriptures of Tantric Buddhism. In its fullest form, it consists of seventeen chapters, though a separate “explanatory tantra” (vyākhyātantra) known as the Later Tantra is sometimes considered to be its eighteenth chapter. Many scholars believe that the original core of the work consisted of the first twelve chapters, with chapters thirteen to seventeen being added later as explanatory material.

Anuyoga

is the designation of the second of the three Inner Tantras according to the ninefold division of practice used by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. As with the other yanas, Anuyoga represents both a scriptural division as well as a specific emphasis of both view and practice.

Yamari

A is a yidam or meditation deity of the Anuttara Yoga Tantra method (father) classification. The Word यमारि yamāri in Sanskrit means Yama’s Enemy There are three types of Yamari:Krishna Yamari Yamantaka sometimes referred to as Vajrabhairava

Mahayoga

Mahāyoga is the designation of the first of the three Inner Tantras according to the ninefold division of practice used by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Sitatapatra

Sitātapatrā is a protector against supernatural danger. She is venerated in both the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. She is also known as Uṣṇīṣa Sitātapatrā. It is believed that Sitātapatrā is a powerful independent deity emanated by Gautama Buddha from his uṣṇīṣa. Whoever practices her mantra will be reborn in Amitābha’s pure land of Sukhāvatī as well as gaining protection against supernatural danger and witchcraft.

Rakta Yamari

Rakta Yamari is an emanation of the meditational deity and bodhisattva of wisdom Manjushri.

Rakta Yamari is an emanation of the meditational deity and bodhisattva of wisdom Manjushri or Yamantaka.

Yamari deities have two forms: red (rakta) and black (krishna), and are part of the Anuttarayoga Class of Tantric Buddhism.

Six Dharmas of Naropa

Thangka of Mahasiddha Naropa, 19th century

The Six Dharmas of Nāropa, also called the Six Yogas of Nāropa, are a set of advanced Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices and a meditation sādhanā compiled in and around the time of the Indian monk and mystic Nāropa and conveyed to his student Marpa Lotsawa.

The six dharmas were intended in part to help in the attainment of Buddhahood in an accelerated manner.

Shurangama Mantra

The Shurangama or Śūraṅgama mantra is a dhāraṇī or long mantra of Buddhist practice in China, Japan and Korea. Although relatively unknown in modern Tibet, there are several Śūraṅgama Mantra texts in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. It is associated with Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and Shingon Buddhism.

Bardo yoga

The deities that one may encounter in the post-mortem interim state

deals with navigating the bardo state in between death and rebirth.

It is one of the , a set of advanced Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices compiled by the Indian mahasiddhas Tilopa and Nāropa and passed on to the Tibetan translator-yogi Marpa Lotsawa.

Vajrasekhara Sutra

The Vajraśekhara Sūtra is an important Buddhist tantra used in the schools of Buddhism, but can refer to a number of different works. In particular a cycle of 18 texts studied by Amoghavajra, which included both , and the Guhyasamaja Tantra, a Tibetan text which appears to be composed of two works grouped together and to further confuse matters in the Japanese Shingon school the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgraha Tantra is known by this name. In Tibetan it is considered to be the main representative of the Yogatantra class of texts.

Ākāśagarbha

Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva or Akasagarbha Bodhisattva is a bodhisattva who is associated with the great element (mahābhūta) of space (ākāśa). He is also sometimes called Gaganagañja, which means “sky-jewel.”

The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa or Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa is a text of the Kriyā-tantra class. It is affiliated with the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. It contains violent, sensual and sexual tantric rituals.

Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī

The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī engraved on a stele at Fo Ding Shan Chao Sheng Temple in Sanyi Township, Taiwan

The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī, also known as the Mahākaruṇā(-citta) Dhāraṇī, Mahākaruṇika Dhāraṇī or Great Compassion Dhāraṇī,, is a Mahayana Buddhist dhāraṇī associated with the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.

Different versions of this dhāraṇī, of varying length, exist; the shorter version as transliterated into Chinese characters by Indian monk Bhagavaddharma in the 7th century enjoys a high degree of popularity in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism – especially in Chinese Buddhism – comparable to that of the six-syllable mantra Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ, which is also synonymous with Avalokiteśvara.

It is often used for protection or purification.

The Mahāmāyā Tantra, is an important Buddhist Anuttarayoga tantra or Yoganiruttaratantra particularly associated with the practice of Dream Yoga.

The Mañjuśrī-Nāma-Saṃgīti is considered amongst the most advanced teachings given by the Shakyamuni Buddha. It represents the pinnacle of all Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings, being a tantra of the nondual (advaya) class, along with the Kalachakra Tantra.

Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra

The Sarvatathāgatatattva­saṃgraha sutra (Sanskrit, Compendium of the Reality of All Tathāgatas), also known as the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra, is an important seventh century Indian Buddhist tantric text.

Although the scripture refers itself as a Mahayana sutra, the content is mainly tantric in nature and thus is sometimes called a tantra.

This work is an important source for the Shingon tradition.

Vidyadhara (Buddhism)

Vidyadhara is the word in Buddhist literature for a person having the great knowledge (vidya) of mantras and other esoteric knowledge of occult practices such as recitation of spells, samatha, and alchemy. A realized master on one of the four stages on the tantric path of Mahayoga. Another Buddhist definition is: Bearer of the profound method, the knowledge which is the wisdom of deity, mantra and great bliss.

The Cakrasaṃvara Tantra or Khorlo Déchok is considered to be of the mother class of the Anuttarayoga Tantra in Vajrayana Buddhism. It is also called the Discourse of Sri Heruka (sriherukabhidhana) and the Samvara Light (Laghusamvara). David B. Gray dates this tantra to the late eight or early ninth century.

Yuthok Nyingthig

is a tantric cycle composed by Yuthok Yontan Gonpo the Younger. It is a system of Buddhist practice which combines Traditional Tibetan medicine and Vajrayāna practices. These are the primary Vajrayāna practices of Tibetan medicine practitioners.

Tantras (Buddhism)

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

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