Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Religion. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 16 June 2024

Esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asiafree

Esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asiafree

  • Nathan McGovernNathan McGovernUniversity of Wisconsin-Whitewater


“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.


  • Buddhism

Both possible applications of the category “esoteric Buddhism” to Southeast Asia—to refer to the mantranaya of the Mahāyāna or to a “Tantric Theravāda”—are problematic and contested, independently of one another and of the broader issues with the category “Buddhist Tantra” writ large. The historical application of the category “esoteric Buddhism,” that is, the search for evidence of mantranaya within the Mahāyāna Buddhisms found in Southeast Asia in the past, is made problematic by a lack of evidence and the ambiguities involved in interpreting what evidence exists. While several scholars have seen extensive evidence of the mantranaya in Southeast Asian art historical evidence, their conclusions have not been universally accepted, as it is often difficult to determine whether a particular artifact is representative of the mantranaya specifically or the Mahāyāna more generally. On the other hand, while evidence for the so-called “Tantric Theravāda” is abundant, the very applicability of the categories “Tantra” and “esoteric” to Pali Buddhist contexts has been called into question. This is in large part because these categories are not emic to the tradition and are based on an implicit or explicit comparison to Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantra, with which there is no clear evidence of a historical connection.

This article will explore the application of the category “esoteric Buddhism” to Southeast Asia in both of these ways while highlighting the problematic and contested aspects of both applications. It should be noted that a further complicating factor is the relative lack of work, especially synthetic work, that has been done on Southeast Asian esoteric Buddhism, especially in comparison to esoteric Buddhism in India and Tibet. Nevertheless, a partial synthetic article covering Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantra in Southeast Asia has been published by Hiram Woodward, as has an analogous synthetic work on “Tantric Theravāda” by Kate Crosby;1 given the lack of other broad coverages of esoteric Buddhism in the region, this article is particularly indebted to these two synthetic works.

Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantra (Mantranaya) in Historical Southeast Asia

The search for Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantra in Southeast Asia is immediately complicated by the broad issues that one faces in defining “Buddhist Tantra” (or “Tantra” for that matter) in general, additionally compounded by the nature of the Southeast Asian evidence. The term tantra has the advantage of being an emic term, referring to a genre of texts and, within the Tibetan context, to the systems of ritual based on those texts. The application of the term tantra to the earlier of these texts, however, is often retrospective. Likewise, the emic term Vajrayāna is fairly late, dating in India only to the late 7th century, and thus refers more specifically to the more developed rituals of the later tantras. An earlier term that has the advantage of being both emic to the (Indian) tradition and sufficiently broad to cover what scholars usually refer to as “Tantra” is mantranaya (“way of mantras”). This term is opposed to pāramitānaya (“way of perfections”), and together they refer to two paths within the Mahāyāna.2

When framed broadly in this manner, the search for Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantra in Southeast Asia consists essentially of searching for any evidence of Mahāyāna Buddhism that makes use of even the most basic technologies of Tantra, i.e., mantras and maṇḍalas, as opposed to the apparati of ordinary bodhisattva-path Mahāyāna Buddhism, oriented toward slow cultivation of the perfections in pursuit of Buddhahood in the distant future. Unfortunately, the nature of the evidence leaves even such a broad search open to ambiguity and contestation. The Mahāyāna Buddhist traditions relevant to this search are for the most part not living traditions, and there are few historical records from which to gain insight into the extent to which Mahāyāna Buddhists in Southeast Asian history conceived of their practices as belonging to either the mantranaya or pāramitānaya. Indeed, even historical memory of Mahāyāna Buddhism was to a large extent obliterated by the rise of Pali Buddhism in the mainland and Islam in (pen)insular Southeast Asia in the early to mid-2nd millennium. This leaves modern researchers with little evidence to go on: for the most part, inscriptions, which are short and cryptic; art historical artifacts, whose doctrinal referents are generally ambiguous; and historical records of non-Southeast Asian Tantric practitioners who traveled to Southeast Asia, from which one can do little more than make inferences about the state of affairs in Southeast Asia when they visited.

Politico-Historical Contexts

The religious landscape of what is often called “classical” Southeast Asia—referring to the second half of the first millennium and the very beginning of the second millennium, prior to the rise to dominance of Pali Buddhism on the mainland and the adoption of Islam in the archipelago—was variegated and lacked the sorts of rigid boundaries that characterize religion in the modern world. While earlier scholarship labeled such a religious landscape as “syncretistic,” the model of syncretism has now fallen into disfavor as being premised on the existence of “pure” religions available for “mixing” that are completely hypothetical and have no referent in the real world. The earlier model of “Indianization” has likewise been replaced by an emphasis on “localization,” the process whereby Southeast Asian actors adapted Indian cultural forms to local circumstances. From this perspective, the religious landscape of “classical” Southeast Asia can be described as one in which various rulers somewhat eclectically patronized and adapted Indian religious iconography, mythology, vocabulary, doctrine, and personnel in order to suit their particular local circumstances. In many cases, the sources of inspiration for Southeast Asian religious developments were what modern scholars might retrospectively label “Hindu,” and often even more specifically Śaiva. Although other states, such as those of the Burmese in Pagan and the Mon in central mainland Southeast Asia, were more Buddhist in orientation, they tended to patronize Pali forms of Buddhism rather than Sanskritic Mahāyāna.

There are, however, three major contexts in which Mahāyāna Buddhism was a significant source of inspiration to local rulers and thus are possible contexts in which to find evidence of the mantranaya (“way of mantras”). The first and most long-lived was Śrī Vijaya, a maritime state based in Sumatra that was a significant power in the region from roughly the late 7th century to the early 11th century. This state is recognized as having, more than any other Southeast Asian state, been a patron of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and as such appears to have been a significant destination for Buddhist pilgrims from both South and East Asia. The second context is the relatively short-lived Śailendra dynasty, which ruled in central Java in the late 8th and early 9th centuries and like Śrī Vijaya tended to patronize Mahāyāna Buddhism. This dynasty was responsible for the construction of Barabudur, a giant stūpa in the form of a maṇḍala that represents the greatest Buddhist monument of classical Southeast Asia. Finally, a third Mahāyāna Buddhist context is the mainland Angkorean Empire. Although Angkor tended to be Śaiva in orientation throughout most of its history, its rulers also at times patronized Mahāyāna Buddhism, most significantly, Jayavarman VII (r. 1181–1216 ce), who built Angkor’s largest Mahāyāna Buddhist monument, the Bayon. As we will see, most of the evidence for mantranaya in classical Southeast Asia clusters around these three contexts—Śrī Vijaya, the Śailendra dynasty of 8th/9th-century Java, and the late Angkorean Empire—but there are a few significant exceptions.

Inscriptions and Texts

Given that there are not many ordinary written texts preserved from the classical period in Southeast Asian history, inscriptions provide rare glimpses into the narrative worlds of that period. Unfortunately, inscriptions are relatively short, and chance references within them tantalize modern researchers without giving enough context to fully assess their significance. The earliest inscriptions containing references that might imply mantranaya influence are from Sumatra and were erected under the auspices of Śrī Vijaya. The Tulang Tuwo inscription of 684 makes use of various Sanskrit loanwords associated with the pāramitānaya but also uses the word vajraśarīra, which may or may not imply an acquaintance with Buddhist Tantric thought in which the vajra (diamond/thunderbolt) took on great significance. Likewise, the Kota Kapur inscription of 686 and the Telaga Batu inscription refer, respectively, to the use of mantras in war and the use of a magical diagram (yantra) and blood-filled bowl to punish disloyalty.3 Mantras and yantras are important technologies of Tantra in general, and blood is suggestive of the transgressive practices of Tantra, but again it is not clear if these references bespeak a specifically mantranaya context.

Slightly later inscriptions from Java are perhaps more specific in their mantranaya allusions but also remain ambiguous. The 782 Kelurak inscription, according to Woodward, “records the installation of an image of Mañjughoṣa, a form of the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, under the auspices of guru from Gauḍī, a section of Bengal.” The inscription further refers to Mañjughoṣa as Vajradhara (“vajra-bearer”), Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Maheśvara;4 the use of the term Vajradhara and homologization with Hindu gods may imply a Tantric context. The 792 Ratubaka inscription, on the other hand, includes the phrase “esoteric concerns” (saṃgūḍārtha) within a broader context discussing Buddhist themes.5 This could be taken as a literal reference to “esoteric Buddhism,” but it is not necessarily clear that this is what the term saṃgūḍārtha is intended to mean. By far the most compelling piece of evidence for the presence of the mantranaya in Java is an actual text, the Old Javanese Sang Hyang Kamahāyānan Mantranaya, which was compiled sometime between the 9th and 11th centuries. Aside from the fact that this text quite literally refers to the mantranaya in its title, it also includes verses in Sanskrit from several mantranaya texts, including the Mahāvairocana Sūtra, the Vajraśekhara or Jāpa Sūtra, the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana Tantra, the Kriyāsaṃgrahapañjikā, and the Adhyardhaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā.6

Inscriptions from Angkorean Cambodia, like those of Sumatra and Java, give reference to the possible presence of mantranaya Buddhism. Woodward cites two 10th-century inscriptions that refer to Avalokiteśvara and appear to imply knowledge of the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra.7 A bit less ambiguous are a 979 inscription that records the giving of gifts to an image of Trailokyavijaya and an 1108 inscription that records the installation of an image of the same deity. Trailokyavijaya is a wrathful deity who is mentioned in Buddhist Tantric texts, including the Mahāvairocana Sūtra.8 Finally, a 1041 inscription at Phimai (about which more below) refers to four bodies of the Buddha corresponding to four Māras, which, according to Woodward, implies knowledge of certain mantranaya maṇḍalas.9

Although the inscriptions cited so far have all been clustered around the three major Mahāyāna Buddhist contexts of classical Southeast Asia discussed above, there are some inscriptions from other contexts that also might be construed as indicating mantranaya influence. One is the An Thai inscription of 902 in Champa. This inscription implies knowledge of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra insofar as it refers to the three Buddha families of that text in the form of dhātus, or “realms.”10 Likewise, a 1442 inscription refers to the donation of a variety of texts to a monastery in Pagan, including what appear to be three works of Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantra: Mṛtyavañcana, Kālacakra, and Kālacakraṭīkā.11 The fact that this last inscription represents the only reference whatsoever to Mahāyāna Buddhist Tantric literature in pre-modern Burma, the religious context of which is known from the vast preponderance of evidence to have been dominated by Pali Buddhism, reminds us that inscriptional references to the mantranaya, whether ambiguous or not, should not be overinterpreted. Passing references to terms, texts, deities, and ideas associated with the mantranaya may or may not imply a broader mantranaya context and must be interpreted in light of other evidence.

Art Historical Evidence

Art historical evidence, while serving to complement inscriptional evidence in suggesting influence from esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asia, faces perhaps even greater difficulties of interpretation. Given that iconography varied over time and space, scholars often do not agree on the identification of a particular bodhisattva/Buddha/deity, and even if they do agree, the significance of that particular figure in a particular context can be contested. Most art historical evidence that has been identified as possibly reflecting the mantranaya is clustered in Java and greater Cambodia. The most contested piece of art historical evidence for mantranaya in all of Southeast Asia is undoubtedly Borobudur, the world-famous stūpa built in the 9th century by the Śailendras in central Java. Evidence for the influence of the prajñāpāramitānaya of the Mahāyāna on this monument is clear and uncontroversial: in addition to scenes from the life of the Buddha Śākyamuni and Jātaka tales, Borobudur also has reliefs that depict scenes from the story of Sudhana found in the Mahāyāna Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra. Aside from the rather generic fact that the placement of Buddha-images across the monument give it the appearance of a maṇḍala, however, evidence of mantranaya influence is less clear. Although some scholars have argued that certain aspects of Borobudur suggest a Tantric interpretation, the evidence is sufficiently unclear that Jan Gonda stated baldly that Borobudur “cannot . . . be shown . . . [to be] a monument of the Tantric current in Buddhism.”12

Other art historical evidence in Java besides Borobudur has been suggested to reflect mantranaya influence. The temple Chandi Mendut, built about the same time as Borobudur, has an arrangement of bodhisattvas and goddesses that suggests possible influence from the proto-mantranaya Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra. A group of 10th- to 11th-century bronze statues found at Nganjuk in East Java has been identified as depicting deities from the Vajradhātu maṇḍala; likewise, gold plates inscribed with the names of deities from the Vajradhātu maṇḍala have been found deposited at Chandi Gumpung.13 Finally, a group of bronze statues discovered at Surocolo in East Java has been identified as coming from the maṇḍala of the Adhyardhaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā and the Hevajra maṇḍala.14

Angkor was dominated by Śaivism through most of its history but began to show influence from Mahāyāna Buddhism beginning around the 10th century, with fairly clear evidence of specifically mantranaya influence. Several bronze images of Hevajra, dating from the 11th to the 13th centuries, have been found in the sphere of Angkorean influence, although in most cases he is depicted without his female consort.15 Of the Angkorean Buddhist monuments, Prasat Phimai, built in the late 11th or early 12th century by Jayavarman VI in what is now Thailand, is the one most generally accepted to reflect Tantric influence. An inscription already discussed above refers to an image of the Tantric deity Trailokyavijaya, and the lintels depict yoginīs and various male Tantric deities, including possibly Cakrasaṃvara.16 Esoteric interpretations of other Buddhist monuments, such as those found in Angkor itself, are less widely accepted. Woodward, for example, has argued that the iconic faces of the Bayon, built by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th or early 13th century, depict not Avalokiteśvara or Brahmā as often thought, but rather the Tantric deity Hevajra.17

Travelers to Southeast Asia

Another form of evidence for esoteric Buddhism in classical Southeast Asia, somewhat more circumstantial, is the record of travelers who passed through Southeast Asia and are known to have been involved in the transmission of mantranaya Buddhism. For example, the Indian monks Vajrabodhi (670–741) and his disciple Amoghavajra (705–774), who were involved in the translation of mantranaya texts into Chinese and played a pivotal role in the foundation of the esoteric Zhenyan school in China, both passed through Southeast Asia during their travels and may have studied or transmitted mantranaya teachings there.18 In addition, the Indian monk Atiśa, famous as a transmitter of Buddhism to Tibet, studied in Śrī Vijaya from 1012 to 1024 prior to going to Tibet. A commentarial text of the Tibetan Tengyur is attributed to Atiśa’s teacher Dharmakīrti, who is specifically said to have resided in Śrī Vijaya. This raises the possibility, somewhat speculative, that Atiśa might have brought Tantric teachings from Śrī Vijaya to Tibet as well.19

A Living Relic: Bali

In discussing the possible inclusion of mantranaya ideas and practices in the Mahāyāna Buddhism of “classical” Southeast Asia, a brief word should be said about Bali, which is unique in Southeast Asia in preserving religious practices that go back to the classical period without having been overwhelmed by the hegemonic influence of either Sinhala-oriented Pali Buddhism, Sinitic Mahāyāna Buddhism, or (as is specifically relevant in Indonesia) Islam. Although the religion of modern-day Bali is generally described as “Hindu,” evidence of past Buddhist influence is found in the fact that the Brahman priests are divided into two groups: a majority known as padanda Śiva and a smaller number known as padanda Buddha. These latter, who have been studies by Hyookas, perform rituals that involve basic mantranaya technologies such as the use of mantras and mudras.20 Mantranaya influence can also be found in the Balinese Nāgabāyu Sūtra, which refers to wrathful deities corresponding to five cosmic Buddhas.21

“Tantric Theravāda” or “Esoteric Southern Buddhism”

The second way in which the category “esoteric Buddhism” can be and has been applied to Southeast Asia is to refer to an aspect of Pali/Theravāda Buddhism, present throughout the second millennium (possibly even earlier in Burmese and Mon contexts) and continuing to the present day. The field of study for what is often called “Tantric Theravāda” was created almost single-handedly by François Bizot, who published a series of works, beginning in 1976 with Le figuier a cinq branches, making the case that Theravāda Buddhism has a “Tantric” aspect.22 These publications are editions—with translations of and extensive commentary upon— of mostly Cambodian texts that Bizot obtained and likely saved from obliteration just prior to the devastation wreaked by the Khmer Rouge. Bizot argues that these texts are the products of an old tradition in Southeast Asian Theravāda Buddhism that can be described as “Tantric” and that is rapidly dying out due to the increasing hegemony of reformist orthodoxy and (in the case of Cambodia) socio-political upheaval.

The field of study of this “Tantric Theravāda” remains small and dominated by Bizot’s pioneering work, but there have been a few scholars who have accepted and extended Bizot’s basic argument for the existence of an esoteric tradition in Theravāda Buddhism. Lance Cousins, for example, coined the term “esoteric Southern Buddhism” to describe what he sees as a well-defined esoteric tradition in Theravāda Buddhism exemplified by the texts published by Bizot.23 In 2000, Kate Crosby wrote a useful article summarizing in English the publications of Bizot and other French scholars working on similar materials.24 There she prefers to refer to the tradition as yogāvacara, which, unlike “Tantra” and “esoteric,” is an emic term. In her more up-to-date 2013 book on the tradition, she refers to it as boran kammaṭṭhāna, “old meditation,” the term by which it came to be known in the early 20th century in contrast to the new forms of meditation increasing in popularity at that time. This phrase has been taken up by Choompolpaisal and Skilton, who have begun documenting detail of one of the remaining lineages in Bangkok.25

The application of the category “esoteric Buddhism” to Pali/Theravāda Buddhism in the manner followed by Bizot and his successors, however, is not uncontested. It has been criticized in particular by Justin McDaniel, who argues that, aside from the fact that categories like “Tantric Theravāda” and “esoteric Southern Buddhism” are completely foreign to the tradition they describe, they also obscure the fact that the practices they refer to are in fact the mainstream within Southeast Asian Buddhism, even today.26 In her 2013 book, Kate Crosby looks at this aspect from a different perspective, namely the broader technologies of transformation that underpin South Indian tantra and esoteric Theravāda and explain their common features. She shows how esoteric Theravāda meditation shows close parallels with generative grammar, group theory mathematics, ayurvedic obstetrics, and the chemistry of mercury, and suggests that it is the commonality of these sciences to the cultures that hosted various forms of “Tantra” that explains the apparent similarities. Thus, while the remainder of this section will outline the key features of the tradition(s) described as “Tantric Theravāda” or “esoteric Southern Buddhism” and why some scholars have seen fit to describe them as such, particular attention will also be given to the problematics of the implicit comparison between these Pali traditions and more generally recognized Tantric traditions of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Hinduism.

Defining a Useful “Esotericism” in Pali Buddhism

The traditions studied by Bizot and others bear several resemblances to the mantranaya of the Mahāyāna and Tantric traditions more generally that have led them to refer to these traditions as “Tantric” or “esoteric Buddhism.” Kate Crosby has provided a useful list of seven key features: (1) the ritual construction of a Buddha within oneself; (2) the homologization of microcosm and macrocosm through the use of sacred language; (3) the principle that the dhamma arises out of Pali syllables as such; (4) a principle of (magical) substitution; (5) “Esoteric interpretations of words, objects and myths that otherwise have a standard exoteric meaning or purpose in Theravāda Buddhism”; (6) the practice of initiation; and (7) the use of the preceding six “methodologies” in pursuit of both mundane and supramundane goals.27

While these characteristics certainly bear a resemblance to those found in other Tantric traditions, it is important to be clear about the exact extent of those resemblances in evaluating whether the traditions they describe can be usefully referred to as “Tantric” or “esoteric Buddhism.” To begin with, the texts and practices studied by Bizot and his followers are completely within the Pali/Theravāda tradition. That is, while perhaps differing from a perceived or actual Theravāda “orthodoxy,” they make use of only Pali, not Sanskrit, as a sacred language and refer only to canonical and extracanonical Pali texts, never Sanskrit texts of the Mahāyāna. There is therefore no direct evidence that these traditions were influenced in any way by the mantranaya of the Mahāyāna. In addition, these traditions lack the sexual rituals that are so characteristic of Mahāyāna Buddhist and Śaiva Tantra. Given that many of the technologies of Tantra (e.g., mantras and maṇḍalas) are not unique to Tantric traditions, David White has argued that sexual rituals are what give Tantra its specificity.28 According to such a criterion, these Pali Buddhist traditions would not qualify as Tantra.

Another possible way to define the “specificity” of these Pali traditions so as to justify comparison to other traditions of Tantra is the use of characteristic ritual technologies in the pursuit of liberation. “Tantric Theravāda” would then be understood to draw from a range of practices that are somewhat continuous with the ordinary practices of Theravāda Buddhism, but the name would be justified insofar as these practices are summoned to the purpose of attaining nibbāna in a unique way. A comparison to the mantranaya of the Mahāyāna is illustrative. Tantras of the kriyā and caryā classes describe rituals that involve the use of “characteristic” Tantric technologies such as mantras, maṇḍalas, and mudrās, but neither rituals per se nor the technologies used therein are unique to the mantranaya. When we move on to the yoga, mahāyoga, and yoginī tantras, however, these ritual technologies are applied to the pursuit of nirvāṇa, which is unique and thus grants the mantranaya specificity vis-à-vis its other, the pāramitānaya.

A particular facet of the issue of specificity relates to the label “esoteric Buddhism.” McDaniel has criticized the use of this term because, as he shows, many of the practices associated with it are completely mainstream and hardly secret.29 However, this situation is not really different from the more widely recognized “esoteric” tradition of the Mahāyāna. After all, “esoteric Buddhism” is the mainstream tradition in Tibet and Mongolia, and there is no reason to believe that the situation was any different in certain contexts in India in the late first millennium when esoteric Buddhism was being transmitted to Tibet. The application of the label “esoteric” to the mantranaya is justified, in spite of the fact that the bulk of its practices are mainstream and therefore quite literally exoteric, by a rhetoric of secrecy and the use of initiation to limit access to particular advanced practices to select initiates. The same sort of situation appears operative in the traditions studied by Bizot and his followers. The next two sections will outline, first, those mainstream practices found in Southeast Asian Pali Buddhism that resemble the ritual technologies of other Tantric traditions and, then, the evidence for a specific tradition of meditation that draw on these practices in pursuit of liberation.

Mainstream “Tantric” Practices in Southeast Asian Pali Buddhism

As is the case with any Tantric tradition, many of the ritual technologies associated with “Tantric Theravāda” are actually quite mainstream and widely used. First and foremost among them can be counted mantras, the use of sacred syllables in Pali that may be understood to have an “esoteric,” syllable-by-syllable meaning, but in any case are understood to have an intrinsic power of their own. The centrality of mantras to Pali Buddhist practice in Southeast Asia is so great, in fact, that in Thai the word for “pray” is suatmon, literally, “to recite mantras.” Closely related to the concept of mantra in Pali Buddhism is the gāthā, which generally refers to a longer prayer dedicated to a particular sacred figure or purpose, such as the Jinapañjara Gāthā studied by McDaniel that is associated with the famous Thai monk Somdet To.30 Gāthās, like mantras, are understood to have an intrinsic power.

Another “Tantric” technology that is common throughout Southeast Asian Buddhism is the use of yantras, or sacred diagrams. Yantras are also associated with the Tantric Mahāyāna and Śaiva traditions but are mostly overshadowed, especially in textbooks, by maṇḍalas, “circles” of deities arranged around a central deity in imitation of the political theory of Indian Arthaśāstra. As found in mainstream Pali Buddhist practice, yantras are more general sacred diagrams that may be of any shape and include pictures, shapes, and text. Like mantras, they are understood to have an intrinsic power, and often they incorporate mantras within them. Because of this intrinsic power, yantras are often used for protective purposes. It is very common, for example, to ask a monk to draw a yantra on the wall of a new house or building, or on the ceiling of a new car, to protect the structure/vehicle and those within it. There is also an extensive tattooing tradition in Southeast Asia, in which yantras are drawn permanently onto the skin of (usually) young men, including monks. While tattooed yantras have a general protective purpose, they have been popular especially with soldiers and criminals who seek their protection against being wounded or killed.

Lying behind the technologies of mantra, gāthā, and yantra is a general understanding that there exists sacred power, which can be generated, stored, and transmitted much like electricity, and which can be deployed with real effect in the ordinary world. The correct utterance of mantras is one of the most common ways of generating this sacred power, which can then be deposited in yantras, amulets, sacred images, and human beings. Monks, especially highly renowned monks, are also understood to be a source of sacred power, in part because they utter mantras, but also because of their heightened state of merit in the ordained state and, when applicable, because of their meditative attainments. Much of the everyday ritual of Pali/Theravāda Buddhism involves the generation and manipulation of sacred power. Even the simplest ritual will involve the transmission of sacred power to laypeople when monks chant in Pali. Slightly more complex rituals store this sacred power in yantras and amulets (which often incorporate yantras) and allow it to be carried off in portable form. The most complex rituals, such as the consecration of Buddha images or buddhābhiṣeka studied by Donald Swearer,31 deploy all technologies available, including mantras, gāthās, and yantras, as well as collective meditative power, in elaborate fashion to generate, transmit, and manipulate sacred power so as to ultimately infuse it in particular material objects that will then become sources of sacred power in their own right.

When viewed from the Protestant perspective of earlier Western scholarship, such practices can appear “unorthodox.” That is, they do not find explicit sanction in the canonical texts of the Tipiṭaka. However, if one drops the Protestant antipathy to tradition as a methodological principle, it can be seen that these practices are a not unnatural extension of more normative ideas that do find sanction in the canonical texts. For example, the use of sacred language for protective purposes can easily be traced back to the canonical paritta texts, which are explicitly enjoined by the Buddha for use as such. Likewise, the commentarial tradition regarded Pali (referred to as Māgadhī) as a “natural” language, clearly giving it a privileged role in the Pali imaginaire that lies at the basis of its use for the generation of sacred power. Finally and most importantly, the possibility of supranormal powers is not denied, but explicitly recognized, in the canonical texts, in the form of the six abhiññās (“higher knowledges”) that can be attained by particularly skilled monks through meditation. Given that they are mainstream, widely practiced, and rooted in canonical concepts, the ritual practices described here, whether labelled “Tantric” or not, should be understood as a natural development of the Pali tradition, rather than an aberration.

A Specific Tradition?

What then gives specificity to certain traditions in Pali Buddhism such that they might be described as “Tantric Theravāda” or “southern esoteric Buddhism”? This specificity can be found in a tradition of meditation, or rather a conglomerate of related traditions of meditation, in Southeast Asia that, rather than deriving directly from the techniques found in the canon and in Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, draw from the popular “Tantric” technologies described above and, arguably, serve as their legitimizing source. When Bizot did his pioneering work on this tradition of meditation, he did so mostly on the basis of manuscripts from Cambodia. He described the tradition as a rural one that differed from, and was slowly being overtaken by, a reformist system of meditation more common in the cities that was promoted by the Siamese Thammayut sect. It has since become clear that this tradition, whatever one wishes to call it, was not limited to Cambodia and, until fairly recently, represented the mainstream of meditation practice in the Pali Buddhist world of Southeast Asia. Indeed, as Kate Crosby, Andrew Skilton, and Amal Gunasena have shown, this tradition of meditation was sufficiently mainstream as late as the 18th century that it was exported to Sri Lanka in the course of the formation of the Siyam Nikāya.32

The techniques of this system of meditation, while completely rooted in the Pali tradition and making no reference whatsoever to the Mahāyāna, are clearly reminiscent of certain meditative techniques in the Mahāyāna mantranaya. A practitioner must be initiated and guided by a qualified teacher, who may be either a monk or a layperson. The meditation itself involves the visualization of a Buddha within and the placement of mantras within the body so as to gradually transform it into an enlightened dhamma body. This process of transformation has clearly delineated stages that are homologized to the development of a fetus in the womb. Underlying the entire system is a theory of correspondences, in particular between microcosm and between mantric syllables and categories of dhamma. The source of mantras is Pali, and there is a particular emphasis on the use of words and syllables derived from the Abhidhamma.

This tradition of meditation, since it does not draw from the Mahāyāna imaginaire, does not refer to Buddha-families arranged in maṇḍalas in the fashion of the higher tantras of the mantranaya. In other respects, however, it provides a soteriological system similar to that found in the Mahāyāna Yoga Tantras: a ritualized system of meditation making use of visualization and mantras to physically transform oneself into an enlightened being. Although the tradition appears to have been fairly mainstream prior to the onset of recent modernist reforms, this is no different from the soteriological mantranaya systems of the Mahāyāna, especially in Tibet, where Tantra is and always has been mainstream. “Esoteric” in such a context is a useful phenomenological category for comparative purposes; it refers not to actual secrecy and marginality so much as a rhetoric of secrecy and a program of assigning deeper “inner” meanings to outward forms. It should be noted, however, that even when understood in this way, the similarities between the Pali esoteric tradition and the Mahāyāna mantranaya are limited in one particular way. The former tradition simply does not go so far as to embrace in a systematic way transgressive practices, including but not limited to the use of sexual ritual in pursuit of liberation. It is most similar, therefore, to the Yoga Tantras and not to the transgressive Mahāyoga and Yoginī Tantras. Even here, however, the difference is perhaps more a rhetorical than a practical one. Although the rhetoric of transgression has always allowed for the possibility of its practice in Vajrayāna contexts, in reality transgressive practices in the Vajrayāna have often been executed through the technique of visualization that is shared by the Yoga Tantras and the Pali esoteric tradition.33

“Esoteric Buddhism” as a Comparative Category Between the Sanskrit and Pali Cosmopolises

The history of Pali Buddhism in Southeast Asia is long and complex, especially in the Mon and Burmese cultural regions of the central and western mainland. Nevertheless, from the late 12th century when Southeast Asian monks began traveling to Lanka to be re-ordained in the Mahāvihāra lineage and then brought this “Sīhaḷa” lineage back to Southeast Asia, the Pali Buddhism of Southeast Asia has become increasingly intertwined with that of Lanka, in what can be characterized as an ongoing, dialectical, “reformist” project. Although the Mahāvihāra lineage in which these monks re-ordained is an ancient one going back to the earliest years of Buddhism in Lanka, throughout the first millennium it was not the only monastic fraternity on the island and was in fact often overshadowed by its rivals, particularly the Abhayagiri. The importation of the “Sīhaḷa” lineage to Southeast Asia coincided with the triumph of the Mahāvihāra over its rivals in Lanka itself: in the late 12th century, Parākramabāhu I “purified” the saṅgha by switching patronage exclusively to the Mahāvihāra, which he considered more orthodox/prax, and forcing monks in other orders to re-ordain in the Mahāvihāra.

As Jonathan Walters has shown, the key difference between the Abhayagiri and the Mahāvihāra in the first millennium was that the former was cosmopolitan, while the latter was not. The Abhayagiri was open to new developments in Buddhism on the mainland, including the Mahāyāna, but the Mahāvihāra was closed to such developments and valorized a Lanka-centric ideology and the exclusive use of Pali, the language of the canonical scriptures, as opposed to Sanskrit.34 The 12th-century success of the Mahāvihāra in winning exclusive patronage in Lanka and the exportation of its lineage to Southeast Asia set in motion a slow and often incomplete process of “reforms” that led to the entrance of “Theravāda Buddhism” (albeit somewhat misnamed as such35) as a branch of Buddhism distinct from “Mahāyāna Buddhism” in the modern discourse of “world religions.” Although Walters has emphasized the anti-cosmopolitan ethos of the Mahāvihāra in the first millennium, the fact that its Pali-centric ideology became hegemonic throughout both Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia in the second millennium indicates that, in the end, it led to the formation of a new cosmopolis. In parallel to the “Sanskrit cosmopolis” articulated by Sheldon Pollock,36 in which the Abhayagiri partook and the Mahāvihāra did not, we might call this new cosmopolis the “Pali cosmopolis.”37 This Pali cosmopolis arose at a time when the Sanskrit cosmopolis was in decline and represents a major realignment that took place in the geo-politics of the Buddhist world as Islamic rule took hold in North India and Buddhism died out throughout most of the Indian subcontinent.

Whatever its shortcomings, the category “esoteric Buddhism” can serve as a useful phenomenological tool for comparison between the Sanskrit and Pali cosmopolises. On the one hand, Southeast Asia in the “classical” period was clearly participating in the Sanskrit cosmopolis, while the second millennium saw a shift either to the Pali cosmopolis (on the mainland) or to an Islamic cosmopolis (in the [pen]insular region). “Esoteric Buddhism” can thus serve as a useful comparative category for considering similar practices articulated in a (Sanskritic) Mahāyāna framework in the classical period and in a Pali “Theravāda” framework in the second (and now third) millennium, as this article has done. On the other hand, “esoteric Buddhism” is also a useful comparative tool insofar as it allows us to consider the ways in which Buddhism in the Pali cosmopolis, seemingly independently, developed ritual technologies parallel to the Tantric ritual technologies (Buddhist or otherwise) of the Sanskrit cosmopolis. As Buddhist studies increasingly becomes aware of the ways in which Buddhism throughout its history has differed markedly from Buddhist Modernism,38 the study of such parallel developments will surely prove crucial in mapping the structure and development of multiple Buddhisms in the premodern world, as well as in understanding the recent re-articulations of these Buddhisms under the hegemony of modern ideas.

Review of the Literature

The study of mantranaya Buddhism in Southeast Asia is unfortunately rather underdeveloped in comparison to the study Indian Tantric traditions, Vajrayāna Buddhism in Tibet, and the Zhenyan/Shingon school of East Asia. Given the paucity of written sources, the majority of work that has been done is by art historians, while also drawing from the earlier work of historians studying epigraphical sources. Hiram Woodward has provided an extremely useful synopsis of the work that has been done on Southeast Asian mantranaya in a review of Ronald Davidson’s Indian Esoteric Buddhism.39 Woodward himself has made significant contributions to the study of mantranaya Buddhism in Angkor.40 Also worthy of particular note is the work J. J. Boeles on Hevajra in Khmer art41 and that of Pia Conti on Prasat Phimai, undoubtedly the foremost example of Buddhist Tantric architecture in mainland Southeast Asia.42 Within the context of what is now Indonesia, the work of two scholars particularly stands out: the comparative work on Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Old Javanese texts by Max Nihom43 and the similarly comparative work, also taking into account art historical sources, of Lokesh Chandra.44 The study of Borobudur and its possible Tantric influences has become a contentious mini-industry in itself; Alex Wayman, for example, has argued that Borobudur should be read as a Tantric maṇḍala,45 while Jan Gonda has argued that Tantric influence on the monument cannot be demonstrated at all.46 In a sign of recent trends in Buddhist studies that emphasize trans-national flows, a recent edited volume by Andrea Acri includes several contributions that situate the evidence for Southeast Asian mantranaya Buddhism within larger trans-Asian maritime networks.47

As explained above, the application of the category “esoteric Buddhism” to the more recent and contemporary practice of Pali/Theravāda Buddhism in Southeast Asia is due almost single-handedly to the work of François Bizot. Beginning with the publication of Le figuier à cinq branches in 1976, Bizot published with the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient several volumes containing editions and translations of mostly Cambodian texts represented what he argued was a country tradition differing from the “reform” tradition of the cities and displaying certain “Tantric” features.48 While Bizot’s work was published in French, Lance Cousins published an article speculating on the possible origins of this tradition, in which he dubbed it “esoteric Southern Buddhism.”49 Kate Crosby has published a useful article in English as well summarizing the work that has been done on what she called the yogāvacara tradition (using an emic term), including Bizot’s publications on the topic and those of other scholars.50 More recently, Crosby and others have done important work on this tradition, which they now refer to with the more contemporary emic term boran kamaṭṭhāna, in particular showing that a tradition of meditation with certain esoteric/Tantric-like features was mainstream in Southeast Asian Pali Buddhism prior to the spread of modern reform movements and the modern vipassanā method.51

The use of categories such as “Tantric Theravāda,” “esoteric Southern Buddhism,” and yogāvacara to refer to an esoteric current in Southeast Asian Pali Buddhism, however, has been called into question by Justin McDaniel. McDaniel’s critique is simply that the traditions labeled “esoteric” or “Tantric” are not confined to the “unlettered masses” but rather represent the mainstream of Buddhist practice, even today, in Southeast Asia.52 This critique is situated within McDaniel’s study of Thai traditions concerning the famous monk Somdet To and the associated Jinapañjara Gāthā, all of which bear “esoteric” features as defined by Kate Crosby, yet are completely mainstream. McDaniel’s work can be seen as part of a fairly long line of writings by scholars who have shown that the mainstream practice of Buddhism in Southeast Asia differs markedly from the modern image of a purely “rational” form of Buddhism, including the work of Tambiah on forest monks and amulets,53 Spiro on the supernatural elements of Burmese Buddhism,54 Terwiel on “magical monks,”55 and Donald Swearer on Thai Buddhist ritual.56

Further Reading

    • Acri, Andrea, ed. Esoteric Buddhism in Mediaeval Maritime Asia: Networks of Masters, Texts, Icons. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2016.
    • Chandra, Lokesh. Cultural Horizons of India. Vol. 4. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan, 1995.
    • Hooykaas, C. Balinese Bauddha Brahmans. Amsterdam: Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie der Wetenschappen, 1974.
    • Nihom, Max. Studies in Indian and Indo-Indonesian Tantrism: The Kuñjarakarṇadharmakathana and the Yogatantra. Vienna: Publications of the de Nobili Research Library, 1994.
    • Woodward, Hiram. “Esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asia in the Light of Recent Scholarship.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 35.2 (June 2004): 329–354.
    “Tantric Theravāda”
    • Bizot, François. Le figuier à cinq branches: Recherche sur le bouddhisme khmer. Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1976.
    • Cousins, Lance. “Aspects of Esoteric Southern Buddhism.” In Indian Insights: Buddhism, Brahmanism and Bhakti. Papers from the Annual Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, edited by Peter Connolly and Sue Hamilton, 185–207. London: Luzac Oriental, 1997.
    • Crosby, Kate. “Tantric Theravāda: A Bibliographic Essay on the Writings of François Bizot and Others on the Yogāvacara Tradition.” Contemporary Buddhism 1.2 (2000): 141–198.
    • Crosby, Kate. Traditional Theravāda Meditation and Its Modern-Era Suppression. Hong Kong: Buddha-Dharma Centre of Hong Kong, 2013.
    • McDaniel, Justin Thomas. The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
    • Skilton, Andrew Trevor, and Phibul Choompolpaisal. “The Ancient Theravada Meditation System, Boran Kammatthana: Anapanasati or ‘Mindfulness of the Breath’ in Kammatthan Majjima Baeb Lamdub.” Buddhist Studies Review 32.2 (2015): 207–229.
    • Skilton, Andrew Trevor, and Phibul Choompolpaisal. “The Old Meditation (boran kammatthan), a Pre-Reform Theravāda Meditation System from Wat Ratchasittharam: The Piti Section of the Kammatthan Matchima Baep Lamdap.” Aséanie 33 (2017), 83–116.


  • 1. Hiram Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asia in the Light of Recent Scholarship,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 35.2 (June 2004): 329–354; and Kate Crosby, “Tantric Theravāda: A Bibliographic Essay on the Writings of François Bizot and Others on the Yogāvacara Tradition,” Contemporary Buddhism 1.2 (2000): 141–198.

  • 2. In adopting this terminology, I am following Paul Williams and Anthony Tribe, Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition (London: Routledge, 2000), 196.

  • 3. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 335.

  • 4. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 340.

  • 5. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 341.

  • 6. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 339.

  • 7. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 348.

  • 8. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 349, 351.

  • 9. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 351.

  • 10. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 345.

  • 11. D. Christian Lammerts, Buddhist Law in Burma: A History of Dhammasattha Texts and Jurisprudence, c. 1250–1850 CE, ch. 2 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, forthcoming).

  • 12. Jan Gonda, “The Indian Religions in Pre-Islamic Indonesia and their Survival in Bali,” Handbuch der Orientalistik, 3. Abteilung, 2. Band, Abschnitt 1 (1975), 10.

  • 13. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 343–344. Max Nihom, however, has argued on textual grounds that the Vajradhātu maṇḍala was not present in Indonesia: Max Nihom, Studies in Indian and Indo-Indonesian Tantrism: The Kuñjarakarṇadharmakathana and the Yogatantra (Vienna: Publications of the de Nobili Research Library, 1994), 113–115.

  • 14. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 344.

  • 15. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 350.

  • 16. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 350–351; and Pia Conti, “Tantric Buddhism at Prasat Hin Phimai: A New Reading of Its Iconographic Message,” in Before Siam: Essays in Art and Archaeology, eds. Nicolas Revire and Stephen A. Murphy (Bangkok: River Books and The Siam Society, 2014), 375–395.

  • 17. Hiram Woodward, “Tantric Buddhism at Angkor Thom,” Ars Orientalis 12 (1981): 57–67.

  • 18. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 338–339.

  • 19. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 347; Alaka Chattopadhyaya, Atīśa and Tibet (Calcutta: Indian Studies Past and Present, 1967), 84–95; and Peter Skilling, “Dharmakīrti’s Durbodhāloka and the Literature of Śrīvijaya,” Journal of the Siam Society 85 (1997): 187–194.

  • 20. C. Hooykaas, Balinese Bauddha Brahmans (Amsterdam: Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie der Wetenschappen, 1974).

  • 21. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 341–342.

  • 22. François Bizot, Le figuier à cinq branches: Recherche sur le bouddhisme khmer (Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1976); François Bizot, La grotte de la naissance: Recherche sur le bouddhisme khmer II (Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1980); François Bizot, Le don de soi-même: Recherche sur le bouddhisme khmer III (Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1981); François Bizot, Les traditions de la pabbajjā en Asie de Sud-Est: Recherche sur le bouddhisme khmer IV (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1988); François Bizot, Le chemin de Laṅkā (Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1992); François Bizot and Oskar von Hinüber, La guirlande de joyaux (Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1994); and François Bizot and François Lagirarde, La pureté par les mots (Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1996).

  • 23. Lance Cousins, “Aspects of Esoteric Southern Buddhism,” in Indian Insights: Buddhism, Brahmanism and Bhakti. Papers from the Annual Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, eds. Peter Connolly and Sue Hamilton (London: Luzac Oriental, 1997), 185–207.

  • 24. Crosby, “Tantric Theravāda.”

  • 25. Andrew Trevor Skilton and Phibul Choompolpaisal, “The Ancient Theravada Meditation System, Boran Kammatthana: Anapanasati or ‘Mindfulness of the Breath’ in Kammatthan Majjima Baeb Lamdub,” Buddhist Studies Review 32.2 (2015): 207–229; and Andrew Trevor Skilton and Phibul Choompolpaisal, “The Old Meditation (boran kammatthan), a Pre-Reform Theravāda Meditation System from Wat Ratchasittharam: The Piti Section of the Kammatthan Matchima Baep Lamdap,” Aséanie 33 (2017): 83–116.

  • 26. Justin Thomas McDaniel, The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 100–109.

  • 27. Crosby, “Tantric Theravāda,” 141–142.

  • 28. David Gordon White, Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in Its South Asian Contexts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 7, 14.

  • 29. McDaniel, Lovelorn Ghost, 100–109.

  • 30. McDaniel, Lovelorn Ghost, 77–85.

  • 31. Donald K. Swearer, Becoming the Buddha: The Ritual of Image Consecration in Thailand (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

  • 32. Kate Crosby, Andrew Skilton, and Amal Gunasena, “The Sutta on Understanding Death in the Transmission of Borān Meditation from Siam to the Kandyan Court,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 40 (2012): 177–198.

  • 33. On the usefulness of “semiotics” for understanding the role of the rhetoric of transgression in Buddhist tantras, see Christian K. Wedemeyer, Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).

  • 34. Jonathan S. Walters, “Buddhist History: The Sri Lankan Pāli Vaṃsas and Their Community,” in Querying the Medieval: Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia, ed. Ronald Inden et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 99–164.

  • 35. Scholars of “Theravāda Buddhism” have increasingly come to realize that, aside from certain technical uses, “Theravāda” was not a common emic term for the religious system it refers to prior to the modern period. See Peter Skilling, “Theravāda in History,” Pacific World, Third Series, no. 11 (Fall 2009): 61–93; and Peter Skilling et al., How Theravāda is Theravāda? Exploring Buddhist Identities (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2012), especially the Introduction by Peter Skilling and ch. 12 by Todd LeRoy Perreira.

  • 36. Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

  • 37. On the scholarly revolution that took place in Lanka leading to this new cosmopolitan formation in Pali, see Alastair M. Gornall, “Buddhism and Grammar: The Scholarly Cultivation of Pāli in Medieval Laṅkā” (unpublished PhD diss., Cambridge University, 2013).

  • 38. On the use of the category “Buddhist Modernism” to refer to a new type of Buddhism that has arisen in the modern world, mainstream in the West but also increasingly popular in cosmopolitan parts of Asia, see David L. McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • 39. Woodward, “Esoteric Buddhism in Southeast Asia.”

  • 40. Woodward, “Tantric Buddhism at Angkor Thom”; and Hiram Woodward, The Art and Architecture of Thailand: From Prehistoric Times Through the Thirteenth Century (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003).

  • 41. J. J. Boeles, “Two Yoginīs of Hevajra from Thailand,” Artibus Asiae. Supplementum 23 (1966): 14–29.

  • 42. Conti, “Tantric Buddhism at Prasat Hin Phimai.”

  • 43. Nihom, Studies in Indian and Indo-Indonesian Tantrism.

  • 44. Lokesh Chandra, Cultural Horizons of India, Vol. 4 (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan, 1995).

  • 45. Alex Wayman, “Reflections on the Theory of Barabuḍur as a Maṇḍala,” in Barabudur: History and Significance of a Buddhism Monument, eds. Luis Gomez and Hiram W. Woodward, Jr. (Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1981).

  • 46. Gonda, “The Indian Religions.”

  • 47. Andrea Acri, ed., Esoteric Buddhism in Mediaeval Maritime Asia: Networks of Masters, Texts, Icons (Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2016).

  • 48. See note 22.

  • 49. Cousins, “Aspects of Esoteric Southern Buddhism.”

  • 50. Crosby, “Tantric Theravāda.”

  • 51. Crosby et al., “The Sutta on Understanding Death”; Kate Crosby, Traditional Theravāda Meditation and Its Modern-Era Suppression (Hong Kong: Buddha-Dharma Centre of Hong Kong, 2013); Skilton and Phibul, “The Ancient Theravada Meditation System; and Skilton and Phibul, “The Old Meditation (boran kammatthan).”

  • 52. McDaniel, The Lovelorn Ghost, 100–109.

  • 53. Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets: A Study in Charisma, Hagiography, Sectarianism, and Millennial Buddhism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

  • 54. Melford E. Spiro, Burmese Supernaturalism: A Study in the Explanation and Reduction of Suffering (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967).

  • 55. Barend Jan Terwiel, Monks and Magic: Revisiting a Classic Study of Religious Ceremonies in Thailand (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2012).

  • 56. Swearer, Becoming the Buddha.