REL 206: Final Exam Study Notes
Lecture 6: Tantric Buddhism; Buddhism in Tibet
Tantric Buddhism is referred to as Vajrayna (the Diamond or Thunderbolt
Vehicle)/ aka, Mantrayna (because of the importance attributed to Tantric
mantras); although a separate vehicle, it falls into the category of Mahayana.
Tantra is named after texts called tantras esoteric teachings and practices.
Esoteric: secret ritual manuals, only for those that are initiated, not open to
everybody Exoteric means knowledge that is available to anyone, public
This early Tantric tradition in India emphasized the power of ritual, meditative
visualization, and esoteric practices to unite males and female energies in a way that
is spiritually liberating. This Hindu Tantric practice felt that if they could harness
things like sexual energy, they could use it for religious practices. Believed other
unconventional energies such as fear could also be harnessed for religious practice.
Prior to the 6 century C.E., this had become a popular form of Hinduism in India;
focused on rituals. Hindu Tantra included physical postures of the body and hands
called mudras, the use of magical phrases called mantras, breathing exercises, and
the cultivation of sensual bliss through ritual practices.
Mandala: Diagram or picture, often circular, used in meditative practice; Tantric
diagram used for visualization of a Buddhas qualities and realm. Cosmic maps of the
universe to help you focus your mind when youre meditating.
Nagarjuna schools are very philosophical schools, hard for us to understand
Buddhism started to become to academic, too abstract lay Buddhist community
began to look for inspiration elsewhere Tantric practices appealed to them
because they involved physical things (vocalization, physical postures) and they
were easier for peasants to relate too rather than the philosophical ideas (e.g.
As lay Buddhists were introduced to Hindu Tantric practices they absorbed some of
their practices and adapted them into a new Buddhist spirituality in order to keep
Buddhism relevant to ordinary people
In this Tantric Buddhist spirituality, the esoteric practices (sadhana) were used not
only to acquire supernatural aid for everyday needs, but also to aid in the pursuit of
Buddhist monastics following the earlier non-Mahayana traditions rejected any
ritualized precept-breaking as unskillful, not conductive to the Path of Purification.
o These Tantric practices involved things like sexual practice, or meditating in
cemeteries, and such practices are usually not considered sacred.
o Many conservative Buddhist believed that Tantric practices should not be
employed in Buddhism
o However, the Mahayana monastics were more open to the possibility of
Tantra functioning as a form of skillful means
o By the tenth century, some Mahayana scholars at Buddhist universities had
accepted certain forms of tantra into their curriculum, but with important
disqualifications, namely, the ritual practices that break precepts such as
sexual acts, were to be done only in the imagination.
Moved away from conventions, used techniques that implemented fear to generate
energy, such as fearful depictions of bodhisattvas. Nagarjuna said you cannot talk about anything because everything is empty, if you
are talking about it you are clinging to the idea. Thus if sacred stuff is empty and
profane stuff is empty, theyre both the same. This is how they justified the use of
sexual practice - by claiming it was empty.
Yogacara School argues that this world that we live in doesnt really exist, weve
made it up in our consciousness. The Tantric school says if this is true, that means
weve made the temple up in our minds, but then also made up in our minds sexual
practice. Since our minds have created sexual practice, there is no reason why we
cannot make it something sacred.
Used these two schools to justify the introduction of Tantric practices.
Has to be esoteric because every ritual has an effect and if you dont know how to
use them it could have a negative effect/unforeseen consequence
This is the kind of Buddhism that developed in Tibet
Buddhism in Tibet
Originally, Tibet did not accept Buddhism because Tibet already had its
indigenous religions, The Tibetans practiced a shamanistic and animistic religion
with elaborate sacrificial rituals, a court priesthood, magicians, and worship of
Uninterested in Buddhism, the Tibetan armies destroyed the Buddhist monastic
institutions they encountered while carrying out their military incursions.
Eventually, King Song Tsan Gampol changed this Tibetan resistance to Buddhism
o In two of his political marriages, one to the daughter of the King of Nepal and
one to the daughter of the emperor of China, two of his wives were Buddhist
and softened his attitude towards the religion
Around the 7 century, Tibet starts to accept Buddhism
Tantric Buddhism was a little bit familiar to the Tibetans because of all the rituals
that were also associated with Shamanism, this is the reason they accepted Tantric
Buddhism as opposed to other forms of Buddhism
Tibetans did not have a written language, Buddhist texts were written in Sanskrit
o Tibetans start adapting Sanskrit to produce their own written language
o Thus, the introduction of Buddhism also meant the acceptance of technology
o Was not only for spiritual reasons that they accepted Buddhism, but also for
political reasons (kings marriages), and lastly for technology
o Sexual practice was used simply as a metaphor
o Prayer Wheels/mani wheels: Inside this wheel is a sutra, when you spin
this wheel; you get all the merit that you would if you actually read the sutra.
o Circumbulation: walking in a clockwise direction around the monastery
Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead)
o Antarabhava [Sanskrit], chung yu [Chinese], chuin/chuu [Japaneses]
o Bardo: the 49 day period between death and next reincarnation
o During those 49 days, they could help someone get a better rebirth
o All schools of Buddhism believe in the Baro Thodol, but only the Tibetan
Buddhist use the Tibetan Book of the Dead
o Manual that is recited while a person is dying or after a person is dead
o Only performed for lay people because monks already know what to do
o They position the deceased/dying on their right side, the same posture of
the Buddha when he died o Dying people are sensitive to sound so they can hear the teachings that will
help them achieve a better rebirth
o Dalai: ocean, lama: wisdom (Tibetan for Guru)
o His wisdom is as deep as the ocean
o This dates back to the 16 century when Altan Khan, one of the moguls, gave
Sonam Gyatso the title of Dalai Lama
o Gendun Druba is the 1 Dalia Lama
o For Tibetans, Avalokiteshvara is not a bodhisattva, but a Buddha
o The Dalai Lamas are believed to be to be the emanation-bodies of this
Buddha, who is said, leads the Tibetan people both spiritually and politically
o Someone as spiritually advanced as the Dalai lama can choose what area that
they will be reborn in
o Even when his physical body dies, consciousness continues
o Before he died he predicts his next life, gives various tests to the
Lecture 7: Buddhism in China
Decline of Buddhism in India
King Asoka ruled in India in the 3 century BCE.
o Said to have converted to Buddhism and under his reign, Buddhism
flourished in India and continued even outside of India (Northwest)
o After a bloody battle, he came to truly appreciate the Buddhist religion
o Used Buddhism to unify his country and for the better welfare of the people
o Monasteries evolved into universities, became cultural centers
o Chinese monk who went to India in the forth century looking for texts
o Chinese pilgrimage to India
o When he comes back he reports about how Buddhism is flourishing in India
In the 6 century, Northwest India was invaded by Nomads (White Huns)
o They attacked the monasteries so there was a set back for Buddhism for a
while, however, Buddhism flourishes again after these invasions
o Another Chinese monk that goes to India
o Spends 13 years in various parts of India between 627-43
o Finds a lot of monasteries in decline at that time, 1000 monasteries in ruins
and destroyed stupas Hinduism is flourishing
In 712 Muslim Turks invaded the Northwest and Western part of India
o Raided a lot of the monasteries and universities set back for Buddhism
As Buddhism became more philosophical (with schools such as the Nagarjuna and
Yogacara School), Buddhist community began to look for inspiration