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Tantric Treasures: Three Collections of Mystical Verse from Buddhist India

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This book provides accurate, accessible translations of three classics of medieval Indian Buddhist mysticism: the "couplet-treasuries" of the great tantric masters Saraha, Kanha, and Tilopa. Since their composition around 1000 CE, these poems have exerted a powerful influence on spiritual life, as well as poetry and song, in India, Nepal, and Tibet. The book offers new translations of the poetry aiming to capture the sense and spirit of the poems in the original. It also offers an introduction that summarizes the latest scholarship, situating the poems in their historical context.
... There has also been much fine scholarship in the area of Buddhist Tantra, as well as ongoing debates on whether Hindu or Buddhist Tantra developed first. Again, this is not intended as a literature survey, but for an overview of Buddhist Tantra in general (and on specific traditions), readers may consult Davidson (2005Davidson ( , 2012, Jackson (2004), Gray (2007), Orzech et al. (2010), Acri (2016), Isaacson (1998Isaacson ( , 2013, Wallace (2001), Snellgrove (1959, Wayman (1991Wayman ( , 1993, and Wayman and Lessing (2008). ...
... While the text explored here is in Sanskrit, even the vernacular Tantric and Siddha literature is equally metaphoric. Exemplary studies in this direction to shed more light on the vernacular literature include Jackson [33,34], Bagchi [35][36][37], Guenther [38,39], Bailly [40], Dimock [41], and Urban [42]. ...
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By applying the contemporary theories of schema, metonymy, metaphor, and conceptual blending, I argue in this paper that salient cognitive categories facilitate a deeper analysis of Tantric language. Tantras use a wide range of symbolic language expressed in terms of mantric speech and visual mandalas, and Tantric texts relate the process of deciphering meaning with the surge of mystical experience. In this essay, I will focus on some distinctive varieties of Tantric language with a conviction that select cognitive tools facilitate coherent reading of these expressions. Mystical language broadly utilizes images and metaphors. Deciphering Tantric language should therefore also provide a framework for reading other varieties of mystical expressions across cultures.
... See Higgins (2008) andMathes (2008) for more on the dates of these figures and the notion of amanasikāra. And see especiallyJackson (2004 and2005) for an excellent overview of Mahāmudrā and translations from Saraha's poetic works.9 One commentator of particular note is Śākyabuddhi (fl. ...
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The aim of this article is to explore an approach to ‘mindfulness’ that lies outside of the usual Buddhist mainstream. This approach adopts a ‘non-dual’ stance to meditation practice, and based on my limited experience and training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, this non-dual notion of ‘mindfulness’ seems an especially appropriate point of comparison between Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Buddhism. That comparison itself will not be the focus here—given my own inexpertise and lack of clinical experience, it would be best to leave the comparison to others! Instead, the aim here will be to explore some features of ‘mindfulness’ in the context of non-dual styles of Buddhist practice. To begin, we will assess some difficulties that emerge when one attempts to speak of ‘mindfulness’ in Buddhism. Next, we will turn to the somewhat radical notion of ‘non-dual’ practice in relation to the more mainstream descriptions found in the Buddhist Abhidharma literature. We will then examine some crucial features of Buddhist non-dualism, including attitudes and theories about thoughts and judgments. A brief foray into specific practice instructions will help us to understand the role of ‘mindfulness’ in a specific non-dual tradition called, ‘Mahāmudrā’ (the ‘Great Seal’). Finally, after some reflection on ‘mindfulness’ in the non-dual practice of Mahāmudrā, I will conclude by considering a crucial issue: the context of practice.
Article
Mahāmudrā is the highest inner significance of the bKa’ brgyud sect, passed on to Nāropa by the adept of later Tantric Buddhism in India, Tilopa, and was brought into Tibet by the Tibetan translator Marpa. This paper examines the philosophy of Tilopa himself, regarded as the founder of bKa’ brgyud Mahāmudrā. I compare two poems: 1. the Tillopādasya dohākoṣa, which is considered as his autograph written by Apabhraṃśa; and 2. the Phyag rgya chen po ’i man ngag, which is extant only in Tibetan translation. This text is the source of many Mahāmudrā teachings and is well known as “Ganges Mahāmudrā” in the West. It became clear that source 1 had no established “Mahāmudrā philosophy,” and mainly focuses on Sahaja thought based on gradual enlightenment through the practices of Haṭhayoga. Source 2 is a song about the state of the “mind Mahāmudrā” which emphasizes ‘seeing the mind itself,’ based on sudden enlightenment. Finally, there are some unresolved problems about the founders and authors of early Mahāmudrā.
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This article continues an earlier investigation in this journal (2004), of the synthesis of Sufism and Tantrism in a corpus of texts from Aceh between the 16th and 19th centuries. The revisiting was stimulated by a rapid development of scholarship on the interaction of Sufism and Tantra/yoga in the Islamic oikoumene and the discovery of new, more detailed texts in Malay on this subject. The most important among them is Bustān al-sālikīn (Garden of wayfarers); found in the MS PNI Jakarta Ml. 110 (ff.2v–30r). A loosely structured themed anthology, Bustan consists of ten chapters that contain treatises providing a comprehensive idea of the Sufi-Tantric branch of Islamic mysticism in Aceh and, mutatis mutandis, in the Malay-Indonesian world. Although summarising the entire Bustan, the article concentrates on ilm al-nisa (‘ilm al-nisā’; the science of women) from the text’s early chapters and examines it within the context of the Acehnese Sufi-Tantric corpus and Sufi-yogic/Tantric works of the Islamic world. The author of Bustan made every effort to legitimise the science of women as a genuinely Islamic doctrine of spiritual wedding with unio mystica as its final goal. Allegedly created and practised by the Prophet Muḥammad himself, ilm al-nisa includes the practices of mystical gazing, breathing, touching and coition. The article scrutinises their Sufi and Tantric aspects, revealing the synthesis underpinning them. Against the background of early forms of Islam in the Malay-Indonesian world, this synthesis, by facilitating the mutual ‘translatability’ of the old and the new religion, was instrumental in the peaceful Islamisation of the region.
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South Asian Buddhism presents a comprehensive historical survey of the full range of Buddhist traditions throughout South Asia from the beginnings of the religion up to thepresent.Starting with narratives on the Buddha’s life and foundational teachings from ancientIndia, the book proceeds to discuss the rise of Buddhist monastic organizations and texts among the early Mainstream Buddhist schools.It considers the origins and development of Mahayana Buddhism inSouth Asia, surveys the development of Buddhist Tantra in South Asia and outlines developments in Buddhism as found in Sri Lanka and Nepal following the decline of the religion in India. Berkwitz also importantly considers the effects of colonialism and modernity on the revivals of Buddhism across South Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
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The aim of the present study is to shed light on why the citation taken from Saraha’s Dohākośagīti and occurring in the Madhyamakaratnapradīpa, chapter 7, opens the door to some fundamental reflections concerning the authority and the “nature” of this latter text. On the basis of a historical and doctrinal analysis, here a new interpretation is put forward, according to which the Madhyamakaratnapradīpa should be considered a tenth century CE handbook, written by some unknown Buddhist teacher perhaps as a manual for his lessons. The primary purpose of this teacher seems to have been the discussion—in the light of textual sources compiled up to this time—of the doctrinal and philosophical perspectives contained in the sixth century CE Bhāviveka’s Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā and Tarkajvālā. The Madhyamakaratnapradīpa could have been composed on the basis of notes written down for the benefit of this teacher’s students. Moreover, the analysis of the general style and quotes or references of the text, on the one hand, compared with the passage containing the quote from Saraha, on the other hand, lead us to take seriously into consideration the possibility that the citation borrowed from the Dohākośagīti could have been embedded into the text a little after its composition, by someone different from its original author.
Article
Mahāmudrā, usually translated as ‘the great seal’, is a vital term in the tantric traditions of Buddhist India and most schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In early Indian Buddhist tantras, it refers primarily to a hand-gesture (mudrā) accompanying visualization meditation. In the later and more esoteric Indian Mahāyoga and Yoginī tantras, it denotes, inter alia, one of a sequence of experiential ‘seals’ to meditation; a ‘consort’ in sexual yoga practices; and a non-dual gnosis in which great bliss and awareness of emptiness (śūnyatā) are inseparably conjoined. In the songs and treatises of the Indian great adepts (mahāsiddhas), Mahāmudrā is an index of ultimacy, regarded as the luminous, empty nature of mind, i.e. our buddha-nature; a type of meditation for realizing mind’s nature; a set of unconventional practices that express that realization; and the final fruit of meditation, buddhahood. In Tibet, Mahāmudrā was known during the imperial period, but gained prominence only during the Tibetan ‘renaissance’ that began in the 11th century. Although a topic of analysis in nearly every Tibetan tradition, it is most central to the Kagyü, or ‘oral lineage’. Introduced to the Kagyü by Marpa and Milarepa, Mahāmudrā was popularized by Gampopa, who analyzed it from many angles, and suggested it was as much a practice rooted in the sūtras as in the tantras. Subsequent Kagyü masters developed Gampopa’s analysis further, produced anthologies of Mahāmudrā texts, and related Mahāmudrā to a variety of important Indian and Tibetan Buddhist ideas and practices. As a meditation practice, Mahāmudrā often is divided into sudden and gradual approaches. The sudden approach involves simply abiding in the natural mind, which is tantamount to buddhahood. Gradual approaches may involve complex tantric visualizations and the manipulation of forces within the subtle body or a sequence of meditations that focus on the nature of mind, which is found to be empty, luminous, non-dual, and blissful. Discourse on mahāmudra in India and Tibet raises a number of important issues for Buddhist thought and practice, such as the soteriological sufficiency of a single, sudden insight; the place of reason and ethics in contemplative tradition; and the unity or diversity of meditative realization. Those issues resonate, in turn, with discussions elsewhere of mysticism, religious experience, and the nature of mind.
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A critic of the thesis that asceticism and celibacy are central to mysticism might well turn for support to the Buddhist and Hindu tantras, whose practices often are assumed to involve ‘sex in the service of enlightenment’. I will attempt to show that the issue is not nearly so simple, by demonstrating the ambiguity of sexual imagery in Buddhist tantric texts and the historical ambivalence of the tantric tradition itself regarding the place and meaning of sexuality. After presenting three highly encoded ‘performance-songs’ (caryāgīti) of the Indian Buddhist adept Kānha (11th century), I will discuss the nature of interpretation in the tantric tradition, then the various ways in which the sexual imagery in Kānha's performance songs may be read. There appear to be at least four possible levels of interpretation: (1) literal, where sexuality is overt, (2) symbolic, where the surface sexuality is a metaphor for certain meditative achievements, (3) ‘higher’ literal, where the symbolized meditative achievements are actualized by ritual sexuality, and (4) yogic, where sexual rites are revealed to entail sublimation rather than indulgence, asceticism rather than eroticism. By way of conclusion, I will address some possible criticisms of my analysis, and suggest broader comparative issues arising from it.
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