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
Scholars have long recognized the transformative impact that colonialism had on Buddhist institutions, identities, thought, and practice. The period marked the rise of politicized identities linking Buddhism to anti-colonial nationalist movements alongside boisterous discussions about reforming Buddhism to its “innate” humanistic, scientific core. For many decades, histories of Buddhism under colonialism generally subscribed to a singular narrative in which colonial forces leveled such monumental changes that almost all forms of modern Buddhism were seen as derivative of ideologies introduced by Western colonial regimes. These narratives, however, only tell some of the story. Beginning in the last decades of the 20th century, scholarship has increasingly shown how Buddhists responded in a multitude of ways to colonial influence. There was resistance and collusion as well as instances where colonial systems had only minimal impact. Numerous ideas about Buddhism which for most of the 20th century were taken for granted—that the text is closer to “true” Buddhism than contemporary practice, that texts composed in “classical” languages are more authoritative than those in the vernacular, that Buddhism is not really a religion at all but more like a science of the mind or philosophy, that Buddhism is less ritualistic and more rational than other religious traditions, and so on—have their roots in the colonial encounter with Buddhism. Any student wishing to understand the place of Buddhism during the colonial period must consider the multiple trajectories and plural histories rather than singular, monolithic narratives.
Henrik H. Sørensen
The period from the 3rd to the late 6th century, variously known as the period of the Northern and Southern States (Nanbeichao) and the Six Dynasties period (Liuchao) signals a formative period in Chinese history when Buddhism established itself in China. Virtually all its major scriptures, doctrines, and practices were introduced in some form during this period, which in many ways can be considered a defining development in the religion’s history in East Asia. During this time Buddhism, which entered China from both the Central Asian Silk Road and from the southern sea route, was at the beginning accompanying merchants from abroad, and during its early time mainly served foreign communities.
The Nanbeichao period is the time when Buddhism not only established itself but also became the dominant religious power in China, far outdistancing the native Daoist and Confucian traditions in terms of influence, economic power, and number of adherents. Even so, Buddhism in China was not a monolithic tradition with a centralized hierarchy or power structure. Buddhism in China, as in its native India, was divided into numerous independent communities each with its own leaders and support units, many reflecting specific local tendencies and geo-political conditions. As in many other religions, Buddhism was greatly dependent on royal and upper-class patronage for support in order to sustain its growing monastic populations and the costly building and construction projects its practices required. This meant land donations and the building of temples and monuments, including large-scale excavation of cave complexes for worship and habitation, which dot the Chinese landscape to this day.
Michael H. Fisher
The history of the Mughal Empire (1526–1858) reveals much of the diversity among Muslims and the complexity of Islam as variously envisioned and as practiced in India. The empire’s ruling Timurid dynasty was patrilineally Sunni; many of its original core supporters were also Sunni immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Central Asia, especially Turks and Mongols. But Mughal emperors married women from families who were Shiʿites or who either converted to Islam in India or remained Hindus; similarly, the imperial army and administration also broadened its composition to include such families. Each individual emperor developed his own religious ideology, including Sunni, Sufistic, strongly influenced by Shiʿism, and eclectically drawing upon diverse Islamic and non-Islamic Indic traditions (i.e., Hindu devotional bhakti, Zoroastrianism, Jainism). Roughly a quarter of the Mughal dynasty’s subjects were Muslim, but these also followed an array of diverse Islamic ideologies and social and religious practices (many functioning much like “castes”). Conversely, many non-Muslim officials and subjects of the dynasty adapted its Persianate patterns of culture and belief. Over the 16th and 17th centuries, the Mughal dynasty conquered most of the Indian subcontinent (except the southern tip of the peninsula), but then its empire fragmented over the 18th and early 19th centuries. Evidence for the variety of Islamic expressions within the Mughal Empire comes from many types of sources. Imperial officials, accountants, and scribes compiled Persian-language records in detail, extent, and preservation that exceeded previous states in India. Emperors, courtiers, and authors whom they patronized created sophisticated works of history and literature that described events, rituals, and values, using Persian and also Sanskrit and regional Indian languages. Additionally, various types of material evidence have survived—including architecture, paintings, coins, weapons, and clothing—that display the dynasty’s religious expressions, values, and technologies. Muslim and Christian visitors from Central and Western Asia and Europe also wrote down their observations and assessments while traveling to the imperial court or through the Empire’s provinces. The relationships between Islamic beliefs and practices and the Mughal Empire that travelers, commentators, and historians noted and evaluated varied over time.
Buddhist reincarnations, stemming from the Tibetan term rJe btsun dam pa (“Holy Precious Master”) in the 17th century after fourteen previous rebirths in India and Tibet, appeared in Khalkha Mongolia. Their significance results from both religious and political activity. They became central to Khalkha Mongolian identity.
The First Khalkha Jebtsundampa (1635–1723)—in Tibetan Blo bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan, in Mongolian Zanabazar and referred to as Ȯndür Gegen (“High Serenity”)—was the son of the Khalkha Tüśiyetü Khan Ġombodorji. As a child he was recognized as the reincarnation of Tāranātha Künga nyingpo (Kun dga’ snying po; 1575–1634), the great master of the Tibetan Jonangpa school. However, he was educated by the Gélukpa teachers, also in Tibet, and treated by this school as the reincarnation of yet another master, Jamyang chöjé (’Jam dbyangs chos rje; 1379–1449), an important Gélukpa teacher. His recognition was confirmed by the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Fourth Panchen Lama. Political plans of influential Tibetan clergy probably shaped this unusual situation. The position of the khan’s son, economic support given by his father, knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism, and his own charisma led Zanabazar to play a decisive role in disseminating Gélukpa Buddhist traditions in Khalkha Mongolia. He was also a gifted artist who cast in bronze superb religious sculptures. Due to political conflicts between Western and Eastern Mongols, the Khalkha lands were attacked by the Oirat Ġaldan Bośuġtu (1644–1697), and the Jebtsundamba fled to Southern (Inner) Mongolia. Khalkha Mongols and the Jebtsundamba allied with the Manchu Emperor Kangxi (r. 1662–1720). Upon Ġaldan Bośuġtu’s defeat and the Jebtsundamba’s return to his homeland, he was regarded as the main religious and political figure of the Khalkha Mongols. After the death of the second Jebtsundamba, who was engaged in anti-Manchu activity, in order to prevent merging of religion and secular power of the Mongols, Manchu authorities forbade searching for the Jebtsundamba incarnations in Mongolia. All subsequent seven incarnations were recognized among the Tibetans.
The importance of the Jebtsundampa incarnations as religious and political leaders of Khalkha Mongolia (otherwise called Northern Mongolia or Outer Mongolia) resulted in elevating the Eighth Jebtsundampa or Boġda Gegen (1871–1924) to the position of a hierocratic monarch, Boġda Khaġan, similarly to the Tibetan Dalai Lamas, when Mongolia gained independence in 1911. His rule was interrupted by the Chinese in 1919 and again in 1921 by the communists. After his death the communist authorities forbade searching for the next incarnation. Nevertheless, the Ninth Jebtsundamba (1933–2013) was found in Tibet and raised in a monastery. In 1959 he fled to India where he lived as a lay Tibetan refugee. With democratization in Mongolia his recognition as Jebtsundamba was reconfirmed by the Dalai Lama in 1991 with a task of preserving the religious legacy of the Jebtsundambas and the Jonangpa tradition. In 2011 he was enthroned as the head of Mongolian Buddhists. After his passing the process of searching for the tenth incarnation has begun.
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
The spread of Buddhism across Asia has been studied mainly from a perspective focusing on the transmission through the overland routes popularly known as “Silk Roads” and emphasizing Central Asia as an important transit corridor and contact zone between South and East Asia. However, recent scholarship has increasingly recognized the significant role played by the sea routes or maritime “Silk Roads” in shaping premodern intra-Asian connectivity. This has paved the way for an appreciation of the important contribution of the southern rim of Asia—especially South India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia—to the genesis, transformation, and circulation of various forms of Buddhism.
Evidence of the long-distance transfer of Buddhism from its northeastern Indian cradle to the outlying regions of South India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and China via the maritime routes goes back to the early centuries of the Current Era. From the 5th century onward, written and material vestiges from the southern rim of Asia became more substantial, testifying to an efflorescence of long-distance maritime contacts that were to last several centuries. As is shown by textual, epigraphic, and art historical materials—including icons, ritual accoutrements, dhāraṇīs, manuscripts, and monuments—Buddhist cults, imaginaries, and ritual technologies flourished across the vast swathe of littoral, island, and hinterland territory that can be conceptualized as the sociospatial grouping of “Maritime Asia.” Buddhist vestiges recovered from the Indian Subcontinent littorals, Sri Lanka, the Maldives Islands, peninsular and coastal mainland Southeast Asia, and what are now called the Indonesian Archipelago and the Philippine islands, speak in favor of the existence of pervasive and sustained multidirectional Buddhist exchanges among interconnected nodes linking South Asia and the Western Indian Ocean to China, Korea, and Japan through the maritime routes. A polycentric, geographically wide, and maritime-based approach is necessary to fully appreciate how religious, mercantile, and diplomatic networks acted as catalysts for transmission of Buddhism far and wide across Asia over nearly two millennia.
Matthew W. King
Mongol lands were bastions of Mahāyāna (Mon. yeke kölgen) and Vajrayāna (Mon. vačir kölgen) Buddhist life from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, vast territories of the Buddhadharma deeply twinned with Tibetan traditions but always of local variation and distinct cultural content and purpose. Mongol contact with the Dharma reached its apex in the early decades of the 20th century, a flourishing of Buddhist knowledge, craft, and institutionalism that would soon face the blunt tool of brutal state violence. As the great Eurasian Empires came undone with tectonic force and consequence, Mongol lands along the frontiers of the Qing and Tsarist formations had the highest per capita rate of monastic ordination in the history of Buddhism (up to one in three adult men holding some monastic affiliation). Decades into the revolutionary aftermath of imperial collapse, at the interface of Republican China and Soviet Russia, Mongolian monastic complexes were hubs of cultural, economic, and intellectual life that continued to circulate and shape anew classical Indian and Tibetan fields of knowledge like medicine and astrology, esoteric and exoteric exegesis, material culture, and performance traditions between the Western Himalaya; the northern foothills of the British Raj; the Tibetan plateau; North China; Beijing; all Mongol regions; and Siberia, right to St. Petersburg. In addition to being dynamic centers of production, Mongolian Buddhist communities in the early 20th century provided zones of contact and routes of circulation for persons, ideas, objects, and patronage. Pilgrims, pupils, merchants, diplomats and patrons (and those that were all of these) moved from Mongol hubs such as Urga, Alashan, or Kökeqota to monastic colleges, markets, holy sites (and at this time, universities, parliaments, and People’s Congresses) in Lhasa, Beijing, Wutaishan, France, and St. Petersburg.
In the ruins of the Qing and Tsarist empires, to whatever uneven degree these had been felt in local administrative units, Buddhist frames of references, institutions, and technologies of self- and community formation were central in the reimagination of Mongol and Siberian communities. In the decades this article considers, such imperial-era communal and religious references were foundational to new rubrics associated first with the national subject and then the first experiments with state socialism in Asia. In many Mongol regions, Buddhism was at first considered “the very spirit” of revolutionary developments, as the Buryat progressive and pan-Mongolist Ts. Jamsrano once put it. By the late 1930s, however, the economic, social, and political capital of monks (especially monastic officials and khutuγtu “living buddhas”) and their monastic estates were at odds with new waves of socialist development rhetoric. Buddhist clerics and their networks (though not “Buddhism” as such) were tried en masse as counterrevolutionary elements. Able only to speak their crimes under interrogation and in court, monks fell to firing squads by the tens of thousands. All monastic institutions save three were razed to the steppe grasses and desert sands. Any continuity of public religiosity, other than minimal displays of state-sponsored propaganda, was discontinued until the democratic revolution of 1990. Mongol lands and its Buddhism was thus an early exemplar of a pattern that would repeat itself across socialist Asia in the 20th century. From China to Cambodia, Tibet to Vietnam and Korea, counter-imperial and colonial nationalist and socialist movements who were at first aligned with Buddhist institutions would later enact profound state violence against monastics and their sympathizers. Understanding Buddhism in early 20th century Mongolia is thus a key case study to thinking about the broad processes of nationalization, reform, violence, Europeanization, state violence, and globalization that has shaped Buddhism and Buddhists in much of Asia in the recent past.
The Safavids (1501–1722) controlled a land-based empire that comprised the modern-day nation of Iran, with extensions into Iraq, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan. The family of the Safavids originated as Sufi mystical sheikhs based in the region of Azerbaijan but were later imperialized thanks to the dynastic founder, Shah Ismaʿil (r. 1501–1524). The transition from Sufi tariqa to imperial polity was not smooth, and Ismaʿil faced external threats from the Ottoman Empire to the west, as well as internal pressure from his popular base, the Qizilbash tribal Turks who revered their shah as both a Sufi sheikh as well as a manifestation of the millenarian figure Mahdi who was popularly understood as the Muslim agent of the Apocalypse. The success of the Safavids was partly based on their ability to distance their family from such decentralized, tribal elements and seek out those constituencies that could help with regard to establishing and building legitimacy: orthodox Twelver Shiʿite jurists and scholars as well as urban Persian administrators and bureaucrats. It was Ismaʿil and his successor, Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–1576), who proclaimed and enforced Twelver Shiʿism as the new state doctrine, thus contributing to a stark Sunni-Shiʿite division between themselves and their neighboring rival empires of the Ottomans and the Uzbeks. The apogee of the Safavid Empire took place during the reign of Shah ʿAbbas (r. 1589–1629) who, among other things, transformed Isfahan into a city of international stature with fantastic architectural patronage while at the same time enticing European merchants and traders to trade in textiles, silk, and other manufactured goods. Following the reign of Shah ʿAbbas, the Safavid Empire became less stable and more susceptible to outside elements, namely those Caucasian nobles and landed gentry who had been previously incorporated into the Safavid state as court officials, provincial governors, and ranking military officers. Concurrently, there was a rise in conservative orthodoxy among the Shiʿite religious scholars, and the previous era of open trade and strong international relations began to wane as Christians, Jews, and other minorities became increasingly targeted and persecuted. By the end of the 17th century, the Safavid court was politically isolated from the other provinces, so much so that the imperial capital was easily besieged and conquered in 1722 by an invading conglomerate of Afghan tribes.
During the Nara period (710–794), the Japanese religious and political landscape saw tremendous change. A new capital was built, Chinese legal codes were implemented, and the Buddhist temples grew in size and number. Traditionally, Nara period Buddhism has been described in terms of the so-called “Six Schools.” It is certainly the case that the 8th century became the cornerstone of later doctrinal and ritual developments, but the Buddhist context was more complex and intertwined than these six forms of Buddhism.
David L. Gardiner
Many accounts place the origins of Tantric Buddhism in Japan in the hands of the two men, Saichō 最澄 (767–822) and Kūkai 空海 (774–835). (This article will use “Tantric” and “esoteric Buddhism” synonymously.) These were the founders, respectively, of the Tendai (天台) and Shingon (真言) schools, both of which contributed substantially to the early development of Japanese forms of Tantric theory and practice. Naturally, no tradition emerges from a vacuum; it always grows from existing roots and trunks to create new branches. Because the contributions of Saichō and Kūkai marked a major transition in the history of Japanese Buddhism, focusing on them is an appropriate way to frame important features of early Tantrism in Japan.
Several of the deities central to developed esoteric Buddhism in Japan were present during the Nara period (710–794), as were some of the key texts such as the Scripture of the Great Illuminator大日経 (Skt. Mahāvairocana-sūtra, Jpn. Dainichi-kyō), prior to Saichō and Kūkai’s bringing new materials back from China in 805 and 806, respectively. Significant among the new elements were mandalas, initiation or consecration ceremonies (kanjō灌頂) into ritual practice that employed them, and new texts, in particular of the Scripture of the Tip of the Thunderbolt (金剛頂経) (Skt. Vajraśekhara-sūtra, Jpn. Kongōchō-kyō) corpus, most of which had been translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra 不空 (705–774, Ch. Bukong; J. Fukū). While Saichō returned to Japan more than a year before Kūkai—and established the earliest foundation for the new Tantric tradition by performing Japan’s first kanjō and by making one of the two formal tracks for training Tendai monks a Tantric one (shana-gō遮那業)—Kūkai’s subsequent contributions had a much greater immediate impact on how the tradition unfolded.
James Duncan Gentry
As Tibetans began to import Buddhist scriptures and translate them into the Tibetan language in the 8th and 9th centuries, they also imported items like relics, reliquaries, statues, paintings, amulets, and other material objects believed to embody and transmit power through their physical connections with buddhas, bodhisattvas, and saints of the past. Guided by scriptural pronouncements, as these resonated with indigenous sensibilities Tibetans came to hold that sensory interactions with Buddhist power objects would enable unmediated access to the powerful sources of the Buddhist tradition for a range of pragmatic and transcendent goals. Such encounters were held to be so efficacious that they were sometimes promoted as viable complements or substitutes for the study and cultivation of Buddhist doctrine.
As Tibetans integrated Buddhism into Tibetan culture they began crafting their own Buddhist power objects. These became so ubiquitous and diverse in Tibetan Buddhist societies that there is no single Tibetan term that directly corresponds with the category of “power objects” to encapsulate their full range. Patterned after Indian prototypes, Tibetans developed their own terms and rubrics for these kinds of objects. They also adapted them to include a wider spectrum of items and advanced theories of their power and efficacy that extend beyond their Indian Buddhist counterparts. On this account, controversies sometimes erupted among Tibetan ecclesiastical scholars over the purported nature and potency of such things. The prominent role given to Buddhist power objects in Tibet entailed they would serve as touchstones for the formation of Tibetan Buddhist communities, institutions, and states. Yet, sustained discussion of these kinds of objects has only been sporadic among traditional Tibetan exegetes and modern academic scholars of Tibetan Buddhism.
Jeremy R. Ricketts
At its founding, the United States did not have a long history nor an official state religion to draw from to construct a national identity, so Americans turned to the creation of sacred geographies built around nature and, as time passed, the founding myths of the republic. These natural and human-built sacred places now span the United States and correspond to a civil religion that appeals to tourists. The United States even has sacred documents like the Declaration of Independence that tourists view with reverence. Sacred tourist destinations are often overtly constructed and they imbue a nation with identity, elicit something akin to religious awe, and create a place wherein public rituals and modern pilgrimages are enacted. They also underscore the diverse nature of sacred tourism in America.
Religion and tourism both exist in space and use space to construct meaning. The motivations of those religious adherents who travel to sacred places are buttressed by an undercurrent of belief. Tourists, on the other hand, are not always believers, and they have diverse rationales for traveling to sacred places: some are on a quest for genuine spiritual engagement, others are seeking authenticity to offset the manufactured nature of modernity, and still others simply have an attraction to the cultural lore connected to a place. Tourists to religious sites thus arrive at a place that has been specifically designated sacred and therefore set apart, but while the place may be fixed geographically, its meanings commonly are not. Classifying a space brings it into existence as place, and this classification is regularly driven by the forces of commodification linked to tourism; it is also often contested between religious adherents and less spiritually inclined tourists and at times even within different tourist constituencies. Since human intervention is a precondition in any construction of place, sacred tourist destinations are based on mutually reinforcing relationships, and the tourists and pilgrims that seek sacred sites each play significant roles in creating, maintaining, or contesting a place’s identity.
“Religious-based tourism,” “tourism to sacred places,” and “religious or spiritual tourism” each carry different connotations. While religious and spiritual tourism indicate tours undertaken solely or mainly for faith-based reasons, “religious-based tourism” acknowledges that tourists are not homogenous; those tourists whose main aim is recreational can still be religious adherents, nonreligious tourists are still usually visiting a sacred place because of its purported numinous qualities, and those whose primary goal is religious can still evince behavior typically associated with tourism. “Tourism to sacred places” or “sacred tourism” allows the flexibility to include hallowed places that are either formally religious or not. Indeed, sites of secular pilgrimage continue to proliferate wherein “pilgrim” is used indistinguishably from “tourist” because of the mixture of secular and sacred at the site itself as well as the diverse motivations of the people who journey there. A spatial examination of tourism to sacred sites must thus consider the spatial dynamics of the motivations and actions of people within a commodified and contested place that draws tourists, pilgrims, and the many who are both.
Emperor Tri Songdétsen (Khri Srong lde brtsan; 742–c.800
The basic contours of Tri Songdétsen’s life and work may be gleaned from contemporary administrative records and from the king’s own inscribed pillar edicts and their accompanying paper documents. These describe how he was enthroned as a fourteen-year-old boy after his father was assassinated in the course of a revolt. They also give Tri Songdétsen’s reasons for officCially supporting Buddhism, and mention some of the opposition that he faced. As accounts of the concerted introduction of Buddhism to Tibet, Tri Songdétsen’s edicts constitute a clear forerunner to later Tibetan “histories of the Dharma” (chos ’byung) that would become a standard medium for Tibet’s Heilsgeschichte from the 11th century to the 21st. In this way, Tri Songdétsen also played a key role in the genesis of Tibet’s unique form of Buddhist historiography.
Ironically, the very historiographical traditions that Tri Songdétsen inaugurated in Tibet would in subsequent centuries come to express an ambivalent attitude toward the emperor’s central role in the establishment of Buddhism. Although he was lionized shortly after his death and in the century that followed, in Buddhist histories and hagiographies from the 12th century onward, Tri Songdétsen is eclipsed by the figure of the yogin Padmasambhava, who is credited as the real agent in the conversion of Tibet. Within this new narrative, the king is somewhat ineffectual in his commitment to Buddhism, such that his failure to follow Padmasambhava’s instructions eventually accounts for Padmasambhava’s departure from Tibet and for all sorts of future calamities that befall Tibet, its monarchy, and its people.
The subordination of Tri Songdétsen to Padmasambhava is part of a larger movement by which kings receded from Tibetans’ devotional emphasis and from their daily lives, and by which the figure of the lama ascended to cultural paramountcy. In particular, it reflects a shift in devotional emphasis across the 11th to 13th centuries from the cult of Emperor Songtsen Gampo (Srong rtsan sgam po; c. 605–649), who was viewed as an emanation of Tibet’s protector bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara, to that of the yogin Padmasambhava, revered as an emanation of the Buddha Amitābha. Tri Songdétsen became a supporting player in Padmasambhava’s hagiography and cult, as one of his twenty-five disciples, and was also refigured as an emanation of the bodhisattva Mañjusrī. It is in this guise that Tri Songdétsen is remembered within Tibetan cultural memory and within Tibetan Buddhism more generally from the 12th century to the 21st.
Belonging to an esoteric corpus of Buddhist texts known as the teachings of secret mantra (Skt. guhyamantra), the tantras of Vajrakīla have been carefully guarded through the centuries and handed down from teacher to disciple under a strictly ethical code of conduct. Although the texts themselves often seem to advocate a violent and unrestrained lifestyle, under the skillful guidance of a suitably qualified guru, who must be seen by the disciple as none other than the Buddha himself, one who seriously engages in the systematic practice of their profound series of meditations becomes quickly and thoroughly purified in body, speech, and mind.
The wrathful deity Vajrakīla is described in all the tantras that bear his name as the manifestation of heroic power for the overthrow of Māra. During times of peace he manifests as Vajrasattva, and his mind abides in tranquility. During times of activity he manifests as “Vajra of Total Destruction” (Skt. *Ativināśanavajra) and, when manifesting as a bodhisattva, he is Vajrapāṇi, “the One with a Vajra in his Hand.”
With regard to his name “Vajrakīla”: vajra as a prefix is found everywhere within the Buddhist tantras. Originally meaning “the hard or mighty one” and referring in particular to the thunderbolt as a weapon of Indra, it subsequently became so intimately associated with the development of tantric ideas in Buddhism that the entire system of practice came to be known as the Vajrayāna or Vajra Vehicle. Indeed, as a symbol within the Buddhist tantras it is as pregnant with meaning as the very texts themselves. Characterized as abhedya, “unbreakable,” and acchedya, “indivisible,” the term may be said to represent nothing less than the full enlightenment of the samyaksaṃbuddha, who himself came to be referred to as Vajradhara, “Holder of the Vajra.” The Sanskrit word kīla means “nail,” “peg,” or “spike,” and thus Vajrakīla may be taken to mean “the unassailable spike” or, on a higher level, “(He who is) the nail of supreme enlightenment.”
Introduced to Tibet during the 8th century
The roots of Kīla mythology, however, may lie buried deep within the pre-Buddhist religion of ancient India where, in the Ṛgveda, the story is told of the god Indra who slew the demon Vṛtra. It is said that, at that time, Indra stabilized the earth and propped up the heavens with a kīla and thus, at the outset, we have clearly discernible indications of a path along which a simple wooden stake might travel so as eventually to become deified as a terrifying god of awesome power, one by whom all demons are vanquished and enlightenment realized for the benefit of the world.