THE RELIGIOUS STRUCTURE OF TANTRIC BUDDHISM

ANTHONY JOSEPH FASANO, Fordham University

Abstract

The dissertation seeks to contribute to the understanding of Tantric Buddhism by a systematic treatment of its path to Enlightenment and by a detailed analysis of the Tantrayana in its relationship to the H(')inayana and Mahayana forms of Buddhism.^ Tantric Buddhism, one of the final phases of Indian Buddhism, is in some ways its most problematic. The Buddhist tantras, said to have been spoken by the Buddha while he is engaged in sexual intercourse with a consort, are filled with injuctions to such practices as cannibalism, promiscuous sexual intercourse and cemetery liturgies. Mingled with "un-Buddhist" injunctions are the more usual Buddhist teachings concerning the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, the Voidness of dharmas, etc.^ The roots of Tantric Buddhism are traced to the doctrines and practices of pre-Tantric expressions, namely, the H(')inayana and Mahayana. In its practices, however, the Tantra is both continuous with, and distinct from, its predecessors. Thus, such early Buddhist practices as mantras, Concentrations (samadhis) and Gestures (mudras) are taught in the tantras. However, the practices of Yoga (e.g., meditational manipulation of breathing) and of Tantric cults (e.g., ritual intercourse) are also counselled. In general, the "offensive" practices of the Tantric cults are contemplated in Concentrations and thus become means for Enlightenment, the meditational state wherein all false dichotomies are dissolved. ^ In the tantras the goal of Enlightenment is expressed in such terms as Nuptial Body (a yogic, mind-formed body) and the Thought of Enlightenment (the meditational union of Insight and Means); the goal is also represented as sexual intercourse. The path to the Tantric goal is set forth in a twofold course, the Stage of Generation and the Stage of Completion. Both stages are composed of specific steps, each with its proper activity. In the course, the Candidate employs Gestures, mantras and Concentrations so as to affiliate his own body, speech and mind with those of the Buddha. In the Stage of Completion, sexual rituals initiate the Candidate to the more advanced steps of the Tantric path; it is a moot question whether such rituals are meditatively or physically performed. These rituals, however, are reserved to Candidates of superior faculties who have followed the rigorous discipline taught in the H(')inayana and Mahayana.^ The Buddhist tantras can be understood on several levels. Their proper understanding requires the instruction of highly trained masters. One level of interpretation is expressed as Twilight Language, language taught to generate meditational states.^ According to the tantras, women are the source of Enlightenment and co-officiants in the initiation liturgies; as such, women are called mudras, a term which in its Tantric usage goes far beyond the earlier meaning, "Gesture." The Sanskrit commentarial text, Caturmudraniscaya, attributed to the Tantric Nagarjuna, explains in part the role of madras. This text is translated with explanation in Appendix I. ^

Subject Area

Religion, History of

Recommended Citation

ANTHONY JOSEPH FASANO, "THE RELIGIOUS STRUCTURE OF TANTRIC BUDDHISM" (January 1, 1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8123544.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8123544

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