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Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for Clear Realization)  

James B. Apple

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for clear realization) is an instructional treatise on the Prajñāpāramitā, or Perfect Wisdom, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Maitreyanātha (c. 350 ce). As a technical treatise, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra outlines within its 273 verses the instructions, practices, paths, and stages of realization to omniscient buddhahood mentioned in Prajñāpāramitā scriptures. In its abridged description, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra furnishes a detailed summary of the path that is regarded as bringing out the “concealed meaning” (sbas don, garbhyārtha) of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra contains eight chapters of subject matter, with a summary of them as the ninth chapter. The eight subjects (padārtha) of the eight chapters (adhikāra) correspond to eight clear realizations (abhisamaya) that represent the knowledges, practices, and result of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s eight clear realizations are types of knowledge and practices for bodhisattvas (“buddhas-in-training”) to achieve buddhahood set forth within the system of the five paths (lam lnga, *pañcamārga) common to Indian abhidharma and Yogācāra literature. The first three clear realizations are types of knowledge that comprise Perfect Wisdom. Total Omniscience, or the wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārajñatā, rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid), is regarded as the fundamental wisdom and the central concept of Prajñāpāramitā. Total Omniscience is direct, unmediated knowledge that exactly understands the manner of reality to its fullest possible extent in all its aspects. Path-omniscience (mārgajñatā, lam shes nyid) comprises the Buddhist path systems of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas mastered by bodhisattvas. Empirical Omniscience (vastujñāna, gzhi shes) cognizes empirical objects in conditioned existence that are to be abandoned. It correlates to knowledge that is comprehended by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. The path to buddhahood itself and the detailed means of its application are covered in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra by the fourth through seventh clear realizations. The fourth chapter is devoted to the realization of wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārābhisaṃbodha, rnam rdzogs sbyor ba), a yogic practice that enables a bodhisattva to gain a cognition of all the aspects of the three types of omniscience. The fifth realization is the summit of full understanding (mūrdhābhisamaya, rtse sbyor), whereby yogic practices reach the culmination of cognizing emptiness. The sixth chapter defines the gradual full understanding (anupūrvābhisamaya, mthar gyis sbyor ba) of the three forms of omniscience. The seventh abhisamaya clarifies the “instantaneous realization” (ekakṣaṇābhisamaya) that occurs at the final moment right before buddhahood. Abhisamayas four through seven are known as “the four methods of realization” of the three types of knowledge. The eighth realization, and last subject in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, is the realization of the dharma body (dharmakāyābhisamaya). In this way, the first three realizations describe the cognitive attainments of buddhas, the middle four realizations discuss the methods that take the cognitive attainments as their object, and the eighth realization describes the qualities and attainments of the dharma body, the resultant body of buddhas. The treatise was extensively commented upon in Indian Buddhism and has been widely studied in Tibetan forms of Buddhism up to the present day.


Buddhism and Bioethics  

Jens Schlieter

In the wake of the globalization of modern Western biomedicine and bioethics, Buddhists felt the need for moral action-guides that provide orientation in ethical dilemmas posed by modern biomedicine. Thus, in the 1980s, Asian Buddhists began to develop distinct Buddhist moral action-guides on issues of selective abortion, stem cell research, genetic enhancement, brain death and organ transplantation from brain-dead donors, and physician-assisted suicide. From the 1990s onward, they were joined by a growing number of Western scholars. Buddhist ethicists emphasize the importance of starting from venture points considerably distinct from Western bioethics: Firstly, they are traditionally less concerned with human dignity and human rights. Instead, with a focus on salvific cultivation, karma, and nonviolence, they predominantly reflect the moral quality of the actor’s intentions, leading to additional suffering in this life or the next. Secondly, bioethics, in harmony with Buddhist ethics in general, is understood as moral cultivation, which puts less emphasis on justification of ethics than on the quality of actual actions. Thirdly, on the one hand Buddhist bioethical reasoning includes aspects such as the harmful “self-centeredness,” while on the other hand it declares compassion to be the core value, including an awareness of the universal interdependence of all forms of sentient existence. In the 1980s, pioneering scholars of Buddhist bioethics Shōyō Taniguchi and Pinit Ratanakul began to outline ethical foundations of Buddhist bioethics. While both suggested that Buddhist ethics are in principle capable of providing orientation in all forms of bioethical dilemmas, their approaches differed considerably, for example regarding the duty of doctors to disclose fatal diagnoses. Dissent on this duty, which is emphasized by Ratanakul but relativized by Taniguchi, reflects not only cultural differences but also the latter’s inclusion of Mahāyāna Buddhist ethics of the bodhisattva’s “skillful means.” Based on a famous Western approach, Ratanakul was the first to outline a system of four principles or duties of Buddhist bioethical reasoning: veracity, noninjury to life (ahiṃsā), justice, and compassion (karuṇā). However, it was a Western scholar, Damien Keown, who in 1995 presented the first book-length treatise to cover almost all major bioethical issues, from embryo research to euthanasia for the terminally ill. Keown argued for a neo-Aristotelian virtue-ethics approach and distilled three basic goods from Buddhist canonical texts. This helped to modernize and transform Buddhist ethics into an operational system of Buddhist bioethics. It is argued that there is an equivalent to human dignity in Buddhism, namely the infinite capacity to participate in goodness, or the potential to reach buddhahood. In this vein, the function of human rights lies in providing a suitable environment for individuals to gradually realize this potentiality. Well into the new millennium, more works on Buddhist ethics appeared in which Western scholars of Buddhism included Tibetan Mahāyāna ethical reasoning (Karma Lekshe Tsomo), reconstrued Buddhist ethics as consequentialism (Charles Goodman), or explored the global variety of Buddhist ethical reasoning (Peter Harvey). Probably the most important contemporary controversy in Buddhist bioethics pertains to the question whether killing out of compassion can in certain circumstances be justified. According to a traditional evaluation of cetanā (intention), it has been argued that the intention to kill cannot coexist with a compassionate intention, whereas others concluded that in regard to both embryonic life and the treatment of terminally ill patients there is room for ethically justifiable options. During the 2010s the global as well as Buddhist discourse on bioethics saw a certain consolidation, but will likely gain momentum again—for example, should genome-edited babies become common practice.


Chöd: A Tibetan Buddhist Practice  

Sarah Harding

Chöd (gcod), “severance” or “cutting,” is a Tibetan term referring to a cycle of Tibetan Buddhist practice and to the lineage initiated by the Tibetan woman Machik Lapdrön sometime in the 11th or 12th century. It is primarily based on the teachings of the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) that represent the second phase of Buddhist texts that developed in India. In Tibet itself, Chöd was one of the many new sects that flourished in the second dissemination of Buddhism from India from 950 to 1350ce. Chöd has been classified as a branch of Zhijé (zhi byed) or “Pacification,” one of the eight great practice lineages that trace back to India, though no actual text on Chöd has been discovered in the early texts of Zhijé. Despite this quandary, its classification has afforded a kind of validation in being connected with the sources of Buddhism through the Indian master Dampa Sangyé. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Machik Lapdrön herself is the sole progenitor for the teachings and the lineage. This woman from the area of Lap in central Tibet was known as Lapkyi Drönma, “the Light of Lap.” The respectful title of Machik, “One Mother,” was added later and is shared with several other important women of the time, often leading to confusion. Lapdrön showed remarkable abilities from an early age, and later gained mastery of speed reading. This led to a job as a chaplain in a patron’s house, where she met her future partner, providing her biographers with a fascinating narrative revealing the problematic status of female masters in Tibet. The recitation of prajñāpāramitā sūtras also led to her epiphany around the parts on māra, “devil,” “demon,” or (spiritual) “death.” This, along with her visions of the bodhisattva Tārā and the important connection with the Indian master Dampa Sangyé, were the inspiration for what became one of the most widespread practices in Tibet. The early Chöd teachings represent aspects derived from both sūtra and tantra sources. The focus is on the understanding of emptiness that severs fixation on the reification of the self and the resultant conduct based on compassion for others. The impediments that prevent such realization, called māras in Sanskrit, were a point of departure. As time went on, specific techniques and methods of practice (sādhana) accrued to this philosophy. While the main practice has remained the cultivation of insight and the enactment of separating the consciousness from the body, the post-meditation practice known as lü jin (lus byin) “giving the body” developed elaborate visualizations and ritual accouterments that came to dominate popular practice. Renowned as a charnel ground practice due to the visualized offering of one’s corpse as food for demons and other beings in situations that are intended to provoke fear, it is this that has become known far and wide as Chöd. The sources for this aspect are obscure and may well come from the surrounding culture of the Tibetan plateau, harking back to Bön and other pre-Buddhist practices. Some elements associated with shamanic practices are enacted in the Chöd rituals, despite its Buddhist soteriological assertions. With its beautiful melodies and lurid visualizations, Chöd quickly became popular in Tibet for exorcism, healing, and other practical usages. Its followers did not establish monasteries, as the lifestyle of roaming mendicants was emphasized, but Chöd was incorporated into most other schools in Tibet. Their liturgies are drawn from the works of Lapdrön’s descendants, or from visionary experiences, or found as treasure texts (terma). As of the early 21st century, Chöd has gained popularity worldwide, with many iterations in 21st-century practice.



Sam van Schaik

Dzogchen, often translated as “the great perfection,” is a tradition of meditation practice and poetic literary expression in Tibetan Buddhism. Though its origins lie in Indic Buddhism, Dzogchen developed a distinct form of practice and literary expression only in Tibet. In general, Dzogchen texts evoke and discuss a state of awareness present in all living beings that transcends dualities and conceptual elaboration. Common terms for this state of awareness are “mind itself” (sems nyid) and “awareness” (rig pa). Dzogchen literature often states that in the presence of this awareness, religious practice oriented toward enlightenment is dualistic and, therefore, not only unnecessary, but also obstructive. Nevertheless, Dzogchen is usually integrated with other forms of Buddhist practice. The Dzogchen tradition encompasses a variety of literature and practice; the most common way of categorizing this is a division into three classes, the mind series, the space series, and the instruction series. The mind series contains most of the early Dzogchen literature, and more recent material in the same style. The space series enjoyed only limited popularity, and little is known of it today. The instruction series, by contrast, increased in popularity from its appearance in the 11th century and in time supplanted the mind series and the space series, ultimately becoming the predominant form of Dzogchen. The practice of Dzogchen requires an authorized teacher and the ritual transmission of key texts, as well as an “introduction” to the nature of the mind given by the teacher to the student. The main scriptural sources of Dzogchen practice are texts held to be translations collected in semicanonical compendia, treatises by Tibetan scholars, and revealed texts known as terma, usually said to have been concealed in the 8th century by the tantric master Padmasambhava. Dzogchen is a living tradition, taught within all of the main Tibetan Buddhist schools, though it remains closely associated with the Nyingma school. Within the latter, Dzogchen is considered to be the most advanced of Buddhist meditation practices, placed at the top of a ninefold categorization of Buddhist practice, the “nine vehicles.” Known in this context as atiyoga, “the utmost yoga,” it is the highest of the three “inner yogas,” the other two being mahāyoga and anuyoga. Dzogchen is also at the pinnacle of the teachings of Tibet’s Bonpo religion, which shares much of its doctrine with the Nyingma school and has in recent years been formally identified as one of the Buddhist schools of Tibet.


Esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asia  

Nathan McGovern

“Esoteric Buddhism” and “Buddhist Tantra” are contested categories to begin with in Buddhist studies; within the specific context of the study of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, they are doubly contested. That is, on top of the usual contestations applying to these categories within the contexts in which they are usually studied—medieval north India, Tibet, and Zhenyan/Shingon in East Asia—there arises the issue of whether and to what extent these categories are applicable to Southeast Asian Buddhism. There are two discrete ways in which the category “esoteric Buddhism” can be used as a lens through which to study aspects of Southeast Asian Buddhism. The first is historical and pertains to the usual referent of “esoteric Buddhism,” namely, Tantra as an aspect or subdivision of Mahāyāna Buddhism (mantranaya). Although Mahāyāna Buddhism is no longer a major force within Southeast Asian Buddhism (aside from Vietnamese Buddhism, which shares more affinities with East Asian Buddhism), Mahāyāna Buddhism did play a significant role in several “classical” Southeast Asian states in the past, and there is some evidence of mantranaya ideas and practices within certain historical Southeast Asian Mahāyāna contexts. The second way in which “esoteric Buddhism” can be applied to Southeast Asian Buddhism is as a (putative) aspect of Theravāda or Pali Buddhism, which continues to be practiced over much of mainland Southeast Asia to the present day. Certain aspects of contemporary (and recent historical) Theravāda/Pali Buddhism have been labeled variously “Tantric Theravāda” or “esoteric Southern Buddhism” out of perceived similarities to the more familiar system of Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantra.


Filial Piety in Chinese Buddhism  

Guang Xing

Many people, even scholars like Kenneth Ch’en, thought that filial piety is a special feature of Chinese Buddhism because it has been influenced by Confucianism, which considers filial piety as the foundation of its ethics and the root of moral teaching. In fact, we find in the early Buddhist textual sources that filial piety is not only taught and practiced in Indian Buddhism but also considered an essential moral good deed although it is never taken as the foundation of Buddhist moral teaching. One of the most important sutta-s related to this issue in early Buddhist resources is the Pāli Kataññu Sutta, which teaches children to pay their debts to the parents who gave them birth and brought them up with much difficulty and hardship. When Buddhism was introduced in China during the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220), Confucianism already occupied the central position in Chinese philosophical thought, and it continued until the end of imperial rule in the beginning of the early 20th century, although its position was challenged by Buddhism and Daoism from time to time. In response to Confucian criticism of Buddhists being unfilial, the learned Chinese Buddhists retorted in theoretical argumentation in the following four ways: (1) translations of and references to Buddhist sutra-s that teach filial behavior; (2) writing scholarly refutations of the charges of unfilial practices, such as Mouzi’s Lihuolun and Qisong’s Xiaolun; (3) interpreting Buddhist precepts as equal to the Confucian concept of filial piety; and (4) teaching people to pay four debts to four groups of people: parents, all sentient beings, kings, and Buddhists. Ordinary Chinese Buddhists replied to the criticism by (1) composing apocryphal scriptures, such as the Fumu Enzhong Jing (Sūtra on the Great Kindness of Parents), to teach filial piety and (2) popularizing such stories and parables as the Śyama Jātaka and the Ullambana Sūtra by way of public lectures, painted illustrations called Banxiang or tableaus on walls and silk, and annual celebration of the Yulanpen festival, popularly known as the ghost festival. Chinese Buddhism has become a religion that emphasizes the teaching and practice of filial piety with rich resources through such exchange and interaction with Confucianism and Daoism for the last two thousand years. Even today, ordinary Chinese Buddhists still teach and read the Fumu Enzhong Jing and celebrate the Yulanpen festival every year. This influenced Daoism such that they also created a similar text teaching filial piety and celebrate the festival on the same day and perform same activities of feeding the hungry ghosts, but they call it Zhongyuan.


Four Noble Truths  

Carol S. Anderson

The Buddhist teaching known in English as the four noble truths is most often understood as the single most important teaching of the historical buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who taught in northern India during the 5th century bce. —Sanskrit duḥkha and Pali dukkha (pain), samudayo (arising), nirodho (ending), and maggo (path) or dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā (way leading to the ending of pain)—are recorded in the languages of Pali and Sanskrit in the different Buddhist canons, and the literary traditions have been very consistent in how they remember the teaching. These teachings are explained in the Sutta on the Turning of the Dhamma Wheel (Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana Sutta in Pali) and in a handful of different formulations in different suttas, abhidhamma analysis, and in the vinaya sections of the canonical texts. Despite the widespread awareness of the four truths, the complexities associated with this teaching are not usually recognized. While the bulk of the scholarship on the four noble truths analyzes them as they appear in the Pali canon, recent scholarship traces them through Buddhist canons that are extant in the Chinese Tripitaka.


Global Buddhism  

Jens Reinke

The notion of a global Buddhism refers to the many ways in which Buddhism in its plurality plays out under, as well as is taking part in, the conditions of globalization. The relationship between Buddhism and globalization is complex and multifaceted. The English terms religion and Buddhism as generic categories are in fact themselves a product of globalization, particularly in its earlier, colonial phase. But colonialism has not only produced increased transnational exchanges and connections between the colonized countries of Asia and the West, it has also facilitated enhanced connectivity and mutual awareness among the different Buddhist traditions within Asia. Modernist Asian Buddhists actively negotiated the global flows of colonial modernity and applied them to their own agenda, thereby shaping the emergence of modern national Buddhist traditions. In the second half of the 20th century, the economic and political restructuring of the globe and the resulting liberalization of migration laws in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia facilitated the global expansion of nationalized Asian Buddhist traditions. The growing tourism industry, but also the emergence of counterculture movements in the West, led at the same time to the increased popularization of Buddhism in non-Asian cultural contexts. From the late 20th century on, ongoing global and inner-Asian exchange and integration, together with the development of the Internet and the diversification of mass media, further continue to shape the globalization of Buddhism. Buddhism, as it is practiced in the 21st century, is a producer of globalization, while it is at the same time a product of globalization.


Mahāmudrā in India and Tibet  

Roger R. Jackson

Mahāmudrā, “the Great Seal,” is a Sanskrit term (Tibetan: phyag rgya chen po) that connotes a wide range of concepts and practices in Indian Mahāyāna and, especially, Tibetan Buddhism, most of them directly or indirectly related to discourse on ultimate reality and the way to know and achieve it. The term first appeared in Indian tantric texts of the 7th or 8th century ce and gained increasing prominence in the final period of Buddhism’s efflorescence on the subcontinent, particularly in the sometimes transgressive Mahāyoga and Yoginī tantras and the works of such charismatic great adepts (mahāsiddhas) as Saraha, Tilopa, and Maitrīpa. By the 11th century, Mahāmudrā had come to refer, in India, to a hand gesture signifying clear visualization of a deity, one of a number of “seals” (with or without hand gestures) that confirm tantric ritual procedures, a consort employed in sexual yoga practices, a meditation technique in which the mind contemplates its own nature, the great bliss and luminous gnosis that result from advanced subtle-body practices, a way of living in the world freely and spontaneously, and the omniscient buddhahood that is the final outcome of the tantric path. It also came to be synonymous with such concepts as emptiness, the middle way, sameness, the co-emergent, the natural mind, luminosity, the single taste, non-duality, meditative “inattention,” buddha nature, non-abiding nirvāṇa, and a buddha’s Dharma Body—to name just a few. Although little discussed during the period of Buddhism’s introduction to Tibet (c. 650–850), Mahāmudrā came to the fore on the plateau during the so-called Tibetan Renaissance (c. 950–1350), finding a place of greater or lesser prominence in the ideas and practices of the religious orders that formed at that time, including the Kadam, Sakya, Shijé, Shangpa Kagyü, and—most notably—the powerful and influential Marpa Kagyü, for which it is a pivotal term, referring to the true nature of the mind, a style of meditation aimed at the realization of that nature, and the perfect buddhahood resulting from that realization. Although it has all these meanings and more, Mahāmudrā became best known as a contemplative technique in which the mind realizes, and settles within, its own true nature: as empty and luminous. It was brought to the center of Kagyü religious life by Gampopa (1079–1153), and studied, practiced, and systematized by generations of great Kagyü scholars and meditators. In later times, it sometimes inspired syncretic formulations, which combined the practices of Kagyü Mahāmudrā with those of the Nyingma Great Perfection (Dzokchen), or the Gelukpa analysis of the emptiness of all existents. Over the course of a millennium or more in Tibet, the Great Seal informed ritual, prompted ecstatic poetry, provoked debate, became the focus of yogic retreats, and was used as a lens through which Indian Buddhist thought and Tibetan institutional history might be viewed. With the post-1959 Tibetan disapora and the subsequent spread of Tibetan Buddhism outside Asia, Mahāmudrā has become a topic of interest for scholars and practitioners in many and varied settings, and a part of the vocabulary of educated Buddhists everywhere.


Monastic Education in Contemporary Asia  

Thomas Borchert

Education is a central component of Buddhism and has been since the start of the religion. The forms of Buddhist education are diverse, including the education and training of monastics and laypeople, men, women, and children from early ages through university and continuing and adult education. The training of monastics is simply one, albeit, important subset of wider systems and practices of Buddhist education. Monastic education exists in multiple forms, including those associated with apprentice or situated forms of learning, and curricular forms in schools, primarily secondary and postsecondary institutions. Contemporary forms of monastic education are entangled with and shaped by discourses and practices of modernization, dynamics of gender in Buddhist societies, and debates about the role of religion within given societies across Asia. These debates become visible in attending to the goals of education, the multiple motivations of monastics for their education, as well as those of other educational stakeholders. Although it may be tempting to see monastic education as a distinct phenomenon, it should be viewed within a wider pedagogical ecosystem within the nation-states of Asia.


Naikan: A Meditation Method and Psychotherapy  

Clark Chilson

“Naikan” 内観 is a self-reflective form of meditation founded by Yoshimoto Ishin 吉本伊信 (1916–1988), who developed it from a lay Shin Buddhist practice called mishirabe身調べ. After Yoshimoto used it to help prisoners in the 1950s, psychiatrists in the 1960s started to use it as a psychotherapy. Today in Japan it is the most popular psychotherapeutic method that originated in Buddhism. Naikan involves self-reflection on three questions: What have I received from a significant other? What have I given back to that person? What troubles and difficulties did I cause that person? People doing Naikan ask themselves these questions in relation to a family member or some other person during particular times in their lives. There are two types of the practice: intensive Naikan (shūchū naikan集中内観) and daily Naikan (nichijō naikan日常内観 or bunsan naikan分散内観). The former is done continually for a week at a Naikan training center, of which there are about twenty-five in Japan and several outside Japan in Austria, Germany, and the United States. During intensive Naikan, those doing Naikan report individually eight or so times a day their answers to the three questions to an “interviewer” (mensetsusha面接者). Daily Naikan is done as part of a person’s everyday normal routine for as short as a few minutes or as long as two hours a day. Intensive or daily Naikan is offered as a therapy at about twenty medical institutions in Japan and another fifteen in China. Intensive Naikan is commonly done for one of four reasons. First, it is done to solve a specific problem, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, a psychosomatic disorder, or a bad relationship with a family member. Second, it is used to train employees so they can interact better with customers and colleagues. The Toyoko Inn, for example, which has over 230 hotels throughout Japan, requires all its full-time employees to do intensive Naikan. Third, it cultivates greater self-awareness with regard to, for example, how our minds work. Finally, it is done to discover the true nature of our lives through a spiritual awakening, which commonly entails the realization of how we live due to the care of others and how we suffer because of our own self-centeredness. This final purpose is in accordance with Yoshimoto’s view of Naikan as a method for learning how to live happily regardless of one’s life circumstances. Those who do Naikan for non-psychotherapeutic purposes sometimes use the term “Naikanhō” 内観法 (Naikan method) to distinguish their aims from Naikan therapy (Naikan ryōhō) 内観療法, which is used to solve a particular problem. But regardless of whether Naikan is done for self-developmental, spiritual, or for therapeutic reasons, the Naikan method of reflecting on the three Naikan questions is the same.


Narratives of Buddhist Relics and Images  

Stephen C. Berkwitz

Relics and images of the Buddha and of other awakened beings occupy important places in ritual practice throughout the Buddhist world. Their significance and sacrality are evidenced by the numerous written and oral narratives that have been composed by Buddhist authors and storytellers to describe how they were obtained and what makes them special. Buddhist narratives on relics and images are mainly found outside of the tradition’s canonical literature, either as discrete texts or as sections in larger works. These narratives often supply explanations as to why certain relics shrines and images are worthy of veneration and can be sites for authorizing power and political status. The written and oral narratives about these allegedly extraordinary objects typically include material concerning the origins of revered relics and images linked to the Buddha or other awakened saints, as well as narratives that prophesy and recount how such special objects were found in their present locations and came to be worshipped by devotees. Such textual sources also often associate particular relics and images with the authority of a ruler or a monastic community that possessed them. It seems clear that the more important a given relic or image is for a Buddhist community, the more likely that it will have a narrative that is used to help locate this object in time and space for devotees to understand and worship it properly. In sum, these narratives play a critical role in endowing relics and images with their extraordinary natures and important roles in the devotional and political spheres of Buddhist communities across Asia.


The Philosophical Works and Influence of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti  

Dan Arnold

The Indian Buddhist philosophers Dignāga (c. 480–540 ce) and Dharmakīrti (c. 600–660 ce) decisively influenced the course not only of Buddhist philosophy, but of Indian philosophy more generally. Having inherited an earlier philosophical tradition (the one advanced in the Buddhist Abhidharma literature) that had been largely intramural in character, Dignāga and Dharmakīrti fundamentally transformed Buddhist philosophy by advancing basically similar commitments with arguments meant to be persuasive across party lines. In doing this, they influentially theorized a family of concepts largely shared by all Indian philosophers writing in Sanskrit—a family centering on the concept of pramāṇa, which denotes a reliable way of knowing or epistemic “criterion” (as one might translate the word)—in ways that facilitated an unprecedented extent of debate among Indian philosophers of all sorts. The resultant growth in the sophistication of philosophical traditions is one of the most salient features of the mature period of classical Indian philosophy. Though there are significant differences between them, Dignāga and Dharmakīrti commonly argued in terms of a broadly empiricist sort of epistemology; this was advantageous insofar as that involves premises to which they might readily win assent, while nonetheless being conducive to the philosophical idealism they both finally upheld. Committed as they were to the basically empiricist notion that only perceptibles are finally real, both thinkers affirmed versions of the innovative sort of nominalism first introduced by Dignāga (and significantly revised by Dharmakīrti): the elusive apoha (“exclusion”) theory of meaning, which represents one of the Buddhist tradition’s signal contributions to the history of Indian philosophy. While some of Dignāga’s works were translated into Chinese and thus became influential in East Asia, none of Dharmakīrti’s was; in both India and Tibet, however, Dharmakīrti effectively eclipsed his predecessor. For generations of subsequent Indian philosophers, Dharmakīrti practically epitomized “the Buddhist position” in matters philosophical, and his works figure to this day as central to most Tibetan monastic curricula.


Pure Land Buddhism in Tibetan Contexts  

Georgios Halkias

Buddhist literature in India and Tibet abounds with literal and allegorical references to terrestrial, celestial, and transcendent realms. Of all celestial dwellings cast along Buddhist lines, the pure land Sukhāvatī holds a prominent place in the religious, cultural, and national imagination of the Tibetans. Many centuries before the first imperially sponsored Sanskrit to Tibetan translations of the long and short Sukhāvatīvyūha sutras, Buddha Amitābha and his western abode Sukhāvatī made headway in the cosmopolitan region of greater Gandhāra. Active in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent he emerged as an influential solar deity with his own paradise in Buddhist monastic circles and enjoyed unprecedented success in his subsequent transmigration to East and Central Asia and across the Tibetan plateau. Notwithstanding a Mahāyāna theological reading of Amitābha and his Pure Land, heliocentric metaphors and symbols informed Mahāyāna Buddhism in its encounters with Eurasian solar cults celebrating the vital force of the sun and its metaphorical transition into a spiritual life triumphing over darkness and death. Ritual invocations and creative visualizations of Amitābha-Amitāyus are noticeable in Indian Vajrayāna scriptures imported to Tibet during the postimperial transmission of Buddhism. This second wave of religious assimilation coincides with Amitābha rising to a position of retroactive primacy and exclusivity in narratives concerning Tibet’s conversion to Buddhism and in ancestral myths of the Tibetan race rescued, through his divine emissary Avalokiteśvara, from indigenous forces of malignancy. His overstated presence in Tibetan mythopoiesis bears witness to various soteriological instantiations and expressions of worship in religious art and esoteric registers. In his dual function as the lord of infinite light (Amitābha) and infinite life (Amitāyus), this Mahāyāna deity absorbed functions that had previously been attributed to a range of divinities. Over time, Amitābha and his celestial field inspired a distinct genre of Tibetan pure land literature, the demön, comprising for the most part aspirational prayers for rebirth in Sukhāvatī and tributes to his extraordinary salvific powers. Under the guise of attaining rebirth in the pure land, these popular supplications of devotional nature were supplemented by substantive commentaries elaborating on Mahāyāna practices and doctrines. Hence, the demön came to encompass a wide range of exoteric and esoteric scriptures including funereal rites, tantric rituals for extending life, and meditation manuals derived from visionary kratophanies of the deity. Sukhāvatī inspired a number of ontological possibilities, corporeal, incorporeal, and subtle interpretations derived from the pure land sutras, the tantras, and the revealed scriptures of the Nyingma school. The fusion of devotional praises, faith-based aspirations, and esoteric subtle-body practices had a profound effect in the soteriological formulation of the pure land in Tibet conceptualized simultaneously as an external after-death destination, an interiorized place of the subtle-body infrastructure culminating in the Vajrayāna practice of mind transference to the pure land, and as a sublimated state representing the immutable nature of the awakened mind.


Queering Buddhist Traditions  

Bee Scherer

Buddhist traditions intersect with queer lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, queer/querying (and more) subjectivities and belongings in a multifaceted way. Queer theory (QT) can enrich Buddhist thought and practices as well as Buddhist studies by inserting a challenging method of deconstruction, troubling and resisting oppressive and harmful socioreligious scripts with regards to, and beyond, sexuality and gender. There is a nascent reception of the queering impulses within Buddhist traditions, yet QT and foundational queer theorists lack comprehensive Buddhist appraisal: Queer “dharmology” has yet to be systematically developed. When discussing perspectives and practices regarding sexuality/ies and sex/gender in Buddhist thought and cultures, a distinct genealogy of nonheterosexual desires and sex/gender diversity emerges. Buddhist views on sexualities anchor on the psychology of desire and attachment in terms of religious philosophy and soteriology; at the social level, biopolitical regulations of Buddhist life focus on the dichotomy of celibate monastic vs. householder lay contexts. The variety of sex/gender subjectivities in Buddhist traditions include the historical stigmatized third and fourth sex/gender categories of the paṇḍaka (“gender-deficient,” usual thought of as “male-deficient”) and the ubhatobyañjanaka (“both-sexed”). However, neither category maps neatly onto contemporary queer and trans* subjectivities, leading to confusion, debate, and discretion in contemporary Buddhist cultures. The complex picture of both surprisingly pragmatic and inclusive as well as discriminatory and hostile paradigms emerges from Buddhist thought and practices in the divergent traditions of Theravāda, East Asian Mahāyāna, Tibetan Buddhism, and in ecumenic or demi-/post-denominational forms of Buddhism and Neo-Buddhism in the Global North (“Western” Buddhism), both historically and in contemporary global-glocal-local traditions. Queer (post)modern Buddhist subjectivities are increasingly emerging as powerful voices within constructive-critical and reflective emic modes of Buddhist thought and practice. A contemporary queer Buddhist “theology” or queer (/trans*-affirmative) dharmology can be successfully developed in a framework of five parameters: (1) reflexivity, (2) hermeneutics, (3) conceptualization, (4) signification, and (5) application. Focusing on the parameter of conceptualization, QT-immersed queer dharmology can start with the specific, “messy,” complex, contextual, ever-changing and conditioned human experiences, and interactional negotiations or be(com)ing and interbe(com)ing. A “this-worldly” (socio-saṃsāric) focus also averts the danger of spiritual bypassing and “dharma-splaining.” Instead, complex Buddhist notions such as karma and interdependence become powerful instruments of Buddhist queering, that is, challenging any normative societal script that causes suffering.


The Sangha as an Institution  

Thomas Borchert

Along with the buddha and the dharma, the sangha is one of the “three jewels,” the core aspects of Buddhism in which a Buddhist “takes refuge.” The sangha is responsible for taking care of and propagating the dharma, the teachings of the buddha. It can also be considered more broadly as the Buddhist community, which in turn can be thought of as the group of people who either take refuge in the three jewels or follow the teachings of the buddha. Given this, the sangha has generally been conceptualized in two ways. Most often, it refers to the community of men and women who have been ordained as monks and nuns under the auspices of Buddhist disciplinary teachers. At the same time, it can sometimes refer more broadly to the four-fold community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. While the sangha may be discussed in the singular, generally speaking it is appropriate to think of sanghas in the plural. In this sense, the term refers not to an ideal community that maintains the teachings of the buddha but rather to the communal and institutional structures through which people define themselves as Buddhist and maintain their Buddhist identities. A particular sangha is revealed by interrogating the linkages (i.e., lineages) between different Buddhists, the kinds of educational structures in place to train adherents, the ways that Buddhists discipline themselves (for example, through the vinaya rules), and the ways in which external governing bodies seek to regulate Buddhist communities.


Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist Guardian Deities: Satara Varan Devi  

Sree Padma and John Holt

Satara varan devi, in the Sinhala language of Sri Lanka, refers to the four guardian deities of the Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka. It is a phrase that first appears in inscriptions at Buddhist temples in the 15th-century Sri Lankan upcountry region of Gampola to denote the protective gods of the divine hierarchy who have been warranted with powers by the Buddha to not only protect the kingdom as a whole, but to provide for this-worldly well-being of individual Buddhist devotees as well. In ensuing centuries, the identities of deities constituting the satara varan devi varied from era to era and from place to place. Moreover, the identities of these deities were often composite conflations of a number of collateral deity traditions. The singular popularity of each of these deities for many devotees continues to form a significant presence in contemporary iterations of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist religious culture. Each are regarded as Buddhist deities, even though the origins of most can be traced to Brahmanical beginnings in India. Even so, most Sinhala Buddhists would be surprised to learn that worship of Vishnu, for instance, originated in India, since he is so well known in Sri Lanka as the guardian of the Buddhasasana (Buddhist tradition). Antecedent constructions of four guardian deities appear in earlier Vedic, Buddhist, and Puranic schemes that were articulated in the earlier history of Indian religions. These various constructions not only served the function of protecting temples, cities, regions, and, in the case of early Buddhism, the Buddha himself in cosmically configured contexts, but they also reflect the way in which deities from non-Vedic, non-Puranic, and non-Buddhist origins were also assimilated and subordinated, perhaps mirroring social and political processes that were historically in play. Comparatively, analogous but not identical processes of incorporation or assimilation can also be seen within the contexts of other Theravada Buddhist-dominated religious cultures: how the Burmese have enfolded nats (mostly euhemeristic, but some Hindu deities), how the Thai and Lao have enveloped phi (various spirits or powers of place and space), and how the Khmer have embraced the worship of neak ta (again, spirits or powers of place and space). In each of these other Theravada Buddhist cultural contexts, important Brahmanic deities have also been absorbed and their significance reframed. In Mahayana contexts, other Buddhists have similarly accommodated the worship of non-Buddhist indigenous deities in Japan (kami), in Tibet (bon), and in China (Taoist and Confucian supernaturals, in addition to deities of the Chinese folk traditions).


Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism  

David B. Gray

The term tantra and the tantric traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism have been subjected to a great deal of misunderstanding in both India and the West. There is a diverse range of attitudes toward the tantric traditions, ranging from their emic understandings as paths to liberation to the relatively widespread associations of the tantric traditions with sorcery and libertine sexuality. Likewise, tantric traditions are also extremely diverse, which has made it difficult to develop a definition broad enough to cover the various tantric traditions without being overly broad. There have also been many attempts to discern the origins of the tantric traditions. While there is very little evidence supporting the hypothesis that any of the tantric traditions existed before the 5th century ce, there have been attempts to trace back these traditions much earlier, to the time of the Buddha or the ancient Hindu sages, or even back to the Indus Valley civilization. In overviewing various attempts to date these traditions, it appears that the first tantric traditions to emerge in a distinct form almost certainly first emerged in a Hindu context around the mid-first millennium ce. An overview of the history of tantric traditions, then, should begin with a survey the development of the Hindu tantric traditions, from the mid-first millennium ce up to the colonial period, when tantric traditions in South Asia generally entered a period of decline, followed by a renaissance in the 20th century. The historical appearance of Buddhist tantric traditions occurs a few centuries later, during the 7th century. Buddhist tantric traditions were strongly influenced at their inception by preexisting Śaiva Hindu traditions, but they also drew on a growing body of ritual and magical practices that had been developing for several centuries, since at least the 5th century ce, in Mahāyāna Buddhist circles. The spread of tantric traditions quickly followed their development in India. They were disseminated to Nepal; Central, East, and Southeast Asia; and also, much later, to the West. Tantric Hindu and Buddhist traditions were also a significant influence on a number of other religious traditions, including Jainism, Sikhism, the Bön tradition of Tibet, Daoism, and the Shintō tradition of Japan.


The Kadampa: A Formative Movement of Tibetan Buddhism  

Ulrike Roesler

The Bka’ gdams pa (pronounced “Kadampa”) emerged as a distinct tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in the 11th century ce. The most common understanding of the name in Tibetan sources is that this tradition taught the complete word of the Buddha (bka’) as explained in the instructions (gdams) of the Indian teacher Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna (982–1054). This is sometimes specified as referring to his instructions on the graded path (lam rim) toward Buddhahood that were later adopted and propagated by the Dge lugs pa (pronounced “Gelugpa”) school, beginning with Tsong kha pa’s (1357–1419) influential Lam rim chen mo. It is commonly assumed that during the 15th century, the Bka’ gdams pa were absorbed into Tsong kha pa’s reform movement of the “new Bka’ gdams pa” (bka’ gdams gsar ma), later known as the Dge lugs pa, but further research is needed on this issue. Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna, also known by his Indian honorific title Atiśa[ya] or Adhīśa, was invited to western Tibet by its rulers and arrived there in 1042. At the request of King Byang chub ’od (984–1078), he composed his famous “Lamp on the Path to Awakening” (Bodhipathapradīpa; Tib. Byang chub lam sgron), which became an important model for Tibetan works on the graded path to awakening. He then accepted an invitation to central Tibet where he spent the rest of his life. He passed away in Snye thang near Lhasa in 1054. Several of Atiśa’s Tibetan students played an important role in the development of Buddhism on the Tibetan plateau. However, it is his student ’Brom ston Rgyal ba’i ’byung gnas (pronounced “Dromtön Gyelway Jungnay,” 1004–1064) who is traditionally regarded as the founding father of the Tibetan Bka’ gdams pa lineage since his students became instrumental in spreading the Bka’ gdams pa teachings in central Tibet. In addition to the lam rim, they became famous for their instructions on “mental purification” or “mind training” (blo sbyong, pronounced “Lojong”), which is meant to free the mind from attachment to the ego and generate the attitude of the “awakening mind” (Skt. bodhicitta). Lam rim and blo sbyong became highly popular doctrinal and didactic genres and have had an impact on Tibetan Buddhism far beyond the Bka’ gdams pa and Dge lugs pa traditions. The Bka’ gdams pa are often perceived as a tradition with an emphasis on monasticism and Mahāyāna ethics, rather than on yogic and tantric practice. However, it should be kept in mind that Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna himself had grown up in the tantric traditions of Bengal. His work on the stages of the path to awakening includes instructions on tantra, but states that tantric practice may not contradict the vows taken (thus excluding antinomian practices for monastics). The early Tibetan Bka’ gdams pa masters take the same stance and promote the idea that Pāramitānaya (i.e., non-tantric Mahāyāna Buddhism) and tantra have the same validity and lead to the same goal, thus trying to strike a balance between the two approaches.


Tibetan Buddhism and the Gesar Epic  

Solomon George FitzHerbert

In both eastern Tibet and in Mongolia, the Buddhist cult surrounding the figure of Ling Gesar (Gling ge sar) or Geser Khan in Mongolian versions is an outgrowth of Gesar’s standing as the eponymous hero of an elaborate oral epic tradition. Today, the epic and the Buddhist cult exist side by side in a relationship of symbiosis. Gesar’s sanctification as an enlightened being—as the combined manifestation of the Three Bodhisattva Lords and as an “emissary” or “manifestation” of Padmasambhava—whose tricksterism is enacted on behalf of the forces of goodness, justice, and the White Side in its perennial battle against the forces of evil, injustice, and the Dark Side—is both an outgrowth but also a source of nourishment for the epic tradition as it has continued to adapt and develop up to our own times. The Gesar/Geser epic, in all the three main regions in which it survives (eastern Tibet and its neighboring regions, the Mongolic regions as far west as Kalmykia, and Ladakh and neighboring regions), is a living and mobile tradition of oral recitation and improvisation. The available textual corpus of this epic is very large, though none of it is very old (the oldest available epic texts in Tibetan are from the 17th century and in Mongolian are from 18th century). Thanks in part to sustained state patronage in the PRC, there are now over 200 published volumes of non-duplicating Gesar epic narrative and song, mostly from eastern Tibet. A lot of this material is of a directly oral provenance. Many modern volumes are the direct transcriptions (with some editing) of the oral repertoires of contemporary bards, some of which have been very lengthy. To take one example, the recorded repertoire of the bard Samdrup (Bsam grub) (1922–2011) was over 3,000 hours long, much of which has now been published. As for literary versions, the authors of Gesar epic texts often make explicit the debt that their tellings owe to oral renditions that they have heard. The mid-18th-century author of the famous Horling Yülgyé (Hor gling g.yul ’gyed), for example, mentions that he based his telling on the oral repertoires of “some twenty bards,” several of whom he cites by name. Due to the heterogeneity and sheer volume of this available textual corpus, it is hard to make categorical assertions about the relationship between Buddhism and the epic tradition, since that relationship varies from version to version. However, some general observations may be offered. In the ritual cult devoted to Gesar that evolved from the epic tradition, matters are somewhat clearer. In the ritual texts devoted to Gesar—which are mostly offering texts—the unruly polyphony of the epic (many bards, many characters, many perspectives) is replaced with a neater integrated vision, in which the hero is praised as a totalizing culture hero and enlightened lord—a hero in every register, both worldly and spiritual, both chivalric and shamanistic.