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date: 06 December 2023

Tantric Revival in Chinalocked

Tantric Revival in Chinalocked

  • Cody R. BahirCody R. BahirKehilla Jewish High School


The modern reclamation of Esoteric Buddhism by Chinese Buddhists, commonly referred to as “The Tantric Revival,” began in China during the waning days of the Qing dynasty (1664–1912) and has since blossomed into a global phenomenon consisting of both independent and loosely interconnected communities in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Unites States. Despite this diversity, the architects of the revival are united by their desire to resurrect what they perceive as an extinct form of Chinese religiosity—referred to as “Tang-dynasty esotericism” (tangmi唐密), “the esoteric school” (mizong密宗), or more commonly “Zhenyan” (真言)—that they believe disappeared from the Chinese Buddhist landscape after the Tang dynasty. The revival began during the late Qing dynasty and early Republican period (1912–1949), when Chinese Buddhists started studying Esoteric Buddhism in Japan and Tibet, where forms of Esoteric Buddhism have thrived unabated for centuries. However, interest in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism quickly waned, and the popularity of Tibetan Vajrayāna eventually superseded the desire to resurrect Tang-dynasty Zhenyan. Moreover, no independent Chinese chain of Esoteric Buddhist transmission was established during this time. Thus, the first phase of the Tantric Revival, in a sense, failed.

Beginning in the 1970s, however, the importation of Tibetan Buddhism to Taiwan renewed the desire to resurrect—as they saw it—Tang-dynasty Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and essentially revived the revival. Similar to the early Qing-dynasty and Republican-period revivalists who left China to study Esoteric Buddhism abroad, a number of Taiwanese monks traveled to Kōyasan, Japan, where they were ordained as priests within the Japanese Buddhist tradition of Shingon, which descends from the original form of Esoteric Buddhism in China. However, unlike their Chinese-revivalist predecessors, some of these monks were successful in establishing independent and self-propagating Zhenyan lineages. Moreover, a number of their students went on to establish their own Chinese Esoteric Buddhist communities throughout the world.


  • Buddhism

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