Amoghavajra (Bukongjin’gang不空金剛; 704/5-774) was a historically significant Buddhist monk who operated in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). He was a prolific translator and is widely regarded as the founder of an Esoteric or Tantric Buddhist tradition in East Asia. Arriving in China at a young age, Amoghavajra became a monk and practiced under Vajrabodhi (Jin’gangzhi金剛智; 671–741). Following his master’s death, Amoghavajra undertook an ocean voyage to Sri Lanka and southern India. He returned to Tang China in 746/747 with a collection of newly acquired Buddhist texts and training in ritual practices. He was the recipient of patronage and support from members of the ruling elite in Tang China, including a succession of three emperors—Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 713–756), Suzong 肅宗 (r. 756–762), and Daizong 代宗 (r. 762–779). Amoghavajra served the Tang government with his ritual services and was appointed a minister in the central government bureau charged with overseeing official ritual services for the Tang state. With this support and influence, Amoghavajra translated a vast collection of Buddhist scriptures and authored numerous commentaries, ritual manuals, and compendia, and he effectively established a teaching of Buddhism in China that is generally referred to as “Esoteric Buddhism.” This teaching of Buddhism was subsequently transmitted by Kūkai 空海 (774–835) to Japan, where it became established as the Japanese Shingon school. In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist histories, Amoghavajra is regarded as a patriarch of Tang dynasty Esoteric Buddhism and Japanese Shingon.
Fo Guang Shan
Fo Guang Shan is a transnational Buddhist organization that rose to prominence in the late 20th century. Founded in 1967 by the charismatic monk Hsing Yun, who remains the face of the organization, Fo Guang Shan’s main temple and headquarters are in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The temple has become a major tourist attraction that welcomes millions of visitors annually. Starting in the 1980s, Fo Guang Shan began building other large branch temples around the world, the first of which is Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. Hsi Lai Temple, like the main Fo Guang Shan campus, has become a popular tourist destination. Fo Guang Shan, Hsi Lai Temple, and the other branches serve their communities with regular services, retreats, festivals, and youth programming that promote Buddhism as well as traditional Chinese culture. The rise of Fo Guang Shan and other Buddhist organizations in Taiwan occurred alongside the economic rise of Taiwan and its citizens. As it continued to grow, the organization developed its own schools and universities, a television station, and a publishing house in order to further spread the teachings of the Buddha.
Huineng (d. 713), widely known as the 6th Patriarch of Chan Buddhism, was mostly an invented person, a symbol of the Sinification of Buddhism. The only reliable facts known about him were that he was a pupil of Hongren and taught “Chan” in the far south of China. A propaganda campaign elevating him to the 6th patriarch of Chan was launched in 730 by Shenhui, who almost alone fabricated “Huineng” out of a lack of information as the leader of the Chan School. However, Shenhui’s role was completely forgotten until the late 1920s when long-lost manuscripts from the caves of Dunhuang were discovered. Shenhui’s claim to being Huineng’s sole legitimate successor was overshadowed in the late 8th to 9th century by rivals claiming to be the only true disciples of Huineng. Thereafter, the Huineng legend became firmly fixed and gradually grew and remains popular. Huineng is seen as the founder of the Southern School of Chan, the only form of Chan to survive after the 10th century, and as the author of the Platform Sutra, a core Chan authority.
Mañjuśrī (“Gentle Glory”) is one of the oldest and most significant bodhisattvas of the Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist pantheon. Mañjuśrī is the personification of the Mahāyāna notion of prajñā (wisdom): discriminating insight into the nature of reality, and the hallmark philosophical insight that distinguished the Mahāyāna movement from earlier Buddhist schools (Nikāya) of thought. Like discriminating insight, Mañjuśrī is ever new. He is typically portrayed as a golden-complexioned, sixteen-year-old crown prince holding in one hand a flaming sword that cuts through ignorance, and a Perfection of Prajñā book (Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra) in the other. In Mahāyāna sutras, Mañjuśrī is often cast as the interlocutor whose pointed questions to the buddha elicit the teachings their audience needs to finally understand the subtlest points of doctrine. His earliest known appearance is in the corpus of early Mahāyāna works translated into Chinese by the Indo-Scythian monk Lokakṣema (b. 147 ce). In these, the vivid contrast between Mañjuśrī as wonder-working bodhisattva and the slower-witted Nikāya monks implicitly legitimates the early emerging Mahāyāna movement; clearly, Mañjuśrī’s insight into reality is superior even to that of the disciples who sat at Śākyamuni Buddha’s feet and heard him teach. This rhetorical strategy was developed in subsequent Indian Buddhist sūtras and commentaries, especially those that promulgated new or controversial teachings. Scholars from all of its schools claimed direct visions of the bodhisattva of wisdom; “to see Mañjuśrī” denoted the subject’s unmistaken insight into the buddha’s teaching. Mañjuśrī worship entered esoteric Buddhism (Tantra) in the 7th-century Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa—one of the earliest extant Indian Tantras—and reached its zenith in the early 8th-century Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti, a liturgical text praising Mañjuśrī in all his forms. Its close association with the 10th-century Kālacakra Tantra, perhaps the last Tantric text to be composed in India, underscores how thoroughly Mañjuśrī pervaded esoteric Buddhism in South Asia. As a figure of cult worship, Mañjuśrī was most prominent outside of India. By the 5th century, the Chinese Wutai shan (“Five Terrace Mountain”) was understood to be his earthly residence, and a magnet for pilgrims who sought a vision of the crown prince. Mañjuśrī became identified as the patron deity of China during the Tang dynasty, thereby setting a pattern for subsequent rulers of China, who often linked their own legitimacy to Mañjuśrī, and visibly promoted his worship at Wutai shan. This practice crystallized during the long reign of the Manchus (1611–1912), who not only portrayed their rulers as emanations of the crown prince, but fostered the folk etymology of their ethnonym as deriving from Mañjuśrī. Tibetan Buddhism was at its apex there, and Mañjuśrī and his mountain home become important to Tibetans, Nepalese, Khotanese, and Mongols.
Douglas S. Duckworth
Mipam (or “Mipham”; ’Ju mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846–1912) was one of the most influential figures in the Tibetan Buddhist world in the last 500 years. In his writings, he integrates aspects of the Buddhist epistemological tradition with a view of tantra and associates the view of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) with Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka. The Great Perfection is for the Nyingma (rnying ma) tradition its highest esoteric teachings, and Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka is the philosophy commonly accepted in Tibet as the highest exoteric view. Buddhist epistemology, as a system that delineates the means of reliable knowledge, in particular plays an important role in both esoteric (e.g., sutra) and exoteric (e.g., tantra) domains by outlining the authentic means of knowing reality. By integrating the esoteric teachings of Nyingma tantra with Buddhist epistemology and Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka, Mipam affirms the Nyingma not only as a tradition of tantric exegesis and ritual practice, but also as grounded within the rigorous intellectual traditions of Buddhist exoteric philosophy. Mipam systematized the Nyingma tradition’s view of the Great Perfection within his writings on the Buddhist literature that had become the predominant topic of study in the curriculum of monastic education. Central to Mipam’s writing is the prominent place of reasoned inquiry as a means to arrive at the view of the Great Perfection. This is a feature that distinguishes the character of his works and is a significant contribution to Nyingma philosophy. Indeed, the interplay of reason and the transcendence of reason is a central theme in his writings. His skill in engaging the Great Perfection within a rational, dialectical exchange underscores that the Great Perfection is not naive anti-intellectualism, but involves a subtly profound view that, at least in Mipam’s presentation, incorporates reason and transcends it. In his writings on Madhyamaka and other works, Mipam developed a platform for Nyingma monastic education by formulating a systematic presentation drawn from an interpretative framework based on the Great Perfection. This was his unique contribution to the Nyingma, but not all in the Nyingma tradition were ready or willing to adopt his interpretation. It did not take long, however, for this interpretative framework, forged for the Nyingma monastic colleges, to dominate the curriculum in these colleges in Tibet, India, and Nepal. His works continue to be widely studied in such institutions up to the present day.
Rennyo was a Japanese Pure Land Buddhist priest and eighth head priest of Honganji (1457–1489), the central institutional complex of the Jōdo Shinshū tradition. He is often considered the “second founder” of the tradition due to his efforts in propagating the Jōdo Shinshū teachings; expanding the institution; and negotiating conflicts with the military, political, and religious authorities of the time. His prowess as an institution builder and religious teacher laid the foundations for Jōdo Shinshū to become one of the largest Buddhist denominations in Japan. Rennyo was born as the first son of Zonnyo (1396–1457); the seventh head priest of Honganji; and was a ninth-generation descendant of Shinran (1173–1262), the founder of Jōdo Shinshū. Neither the name nor background of Rennyo’s mother is known, but it is believed that she may have been a servant attending at Honganji. When Rennyo was six years old, his mother left Honganji, perhaps because of Zonnyo’s official marriage in 1420. There are no further records of her after that time. In 1431, at the age of 17, Rennyo was ordained at Shōren-in, one of the major monzeki (noble cloister) temples of the Tendai school. Rennyo received transmission of the Jōdo Shinshū lineage from Zonnyo. At Honganji, Rennyo assisted his father’s missionary work. In 1457, Rennyo was appointed as the eighth chief abbot of Honganji, which had been established at the mausoleum of Shinran on the outskirts of Kyoto. Under Rennyo’s leadership, Honganji began to expand its institutional reach beyond the areas surrounding the capital. However, the rapid growth of Honganji met with interference by the forces of the Tendai school on Mt. Hiei. In 1465, Honganji was destroyed by Enryakuji priests, and Rennyo was forced to retreat from Kyoto. After leaving Kyoto, in 1471, Rennyo reestablished Honganji in the city of Yoshizaki, located on the border of Echizen and Kaga provinces (currently Fukui and Ishikawa prefectures). In order to propagate the teaching effectively to the faith communities scattered around Japan in rural areas, Rennyo wrote numerous instructional letters (ofumi, or gobunshō) in which he explained Shinran’s teaching in colloquial Japanese, and distributed six-character myōgo scrolls of Amida Buddha’s name (na-mu a-mi-da-butsu) as the main object of worship. He also reformed ritual practice by adopting the recitation of Shōshinge (The Hymns of True Faith) and Wasan (Japanese Hymns), both composed by Shinran, as a standard religious service to be performed by priests and lay followers together. In Yoshizaki, Rennyo first put his institutional vision into practice by redeveloping the area into a religious township equipped with residences for both priests and lay followers. The town provided lodgings and other services, rapidly attracting large numbers of pilgrims mainly from the northern provinces as far away as Dewa and Ōshū (modern-day Tohoku region). His success at Yoshizaki, however, also drew him into conflicts with local religious and political authorities. In order to avoid these conflicts, he decided to leave Yoshizaki in 1475. After exploring various sites, Rennyo relocated Honganji to Yamashina, directly east of Kyoto. Construction of the Yamashina Honganji started in 1478 and took five years to complete. The site included massive buildings of Shinran’s Memorial Hall and Amida Hall side by side, which would become the standard architectural form of the temple henceforth. Rennyo also developed the surrounding area into a jinaichō (temple-city) as he did at Yoshizaki, but on a much larger scale. In 1489, Rennyo, at the age of 75, ceded the position of head priest of Honganji to his fifth son Jitsunyo (1458–1525). Rennyo remained active in missionary work after his retirement. He directed the construction of another large temple, the Ishiyama Gobō in Settsu, Ōsaka, completed in 1497 as an outpost for further institutional expansion to the western regions. Rennyo died in 1499 at the age of 85. His cloistered title is Shinshōin. In 1882, Emperor Meiji (1852–1912) awarded him the title of Great Master Etō (Etō Daishi).
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).
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.
Tibetan Buddhist Power Objects
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.
Emperor Tri Songdétsen (Khri Srong lde brtsan; 742–c.800 ce) is one of the most fascinating figures in Tibet’s religious and political history. He played a central role in shaping the character of early Tibetan Buddhism by patronizing and protecting it as an official religion of the Tibetan Empire (c. 608–866). After proclaiming his official patronage of Buddhism in c. 779, Tri Songdétsen oversaw the consecration of Samyé (Bsam yas) Monastery and made provisions for the official sponsorship of a nascent Sangha. From this point onward, Buddhism became an irrevocable component of Tibetan culture and spread its roots at both elite and popular levels. 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.
Women in Classical Greek Religion
As “cultic citizens,” women participated in state festivals at Athens alongside men and celebrated their own rituals apart from them, at shrines within the house and in cults outside the house in the company of other women. Their association with fertility made them indispensable performers of rites connected with the agricultural year. Women also served as priestesses, as dedicators, and as euergetai (benefactors). At home, their rituals accompanied nuptial preparations, the laying out of the dead, and the departure of soldiers for war. Female religious activity was considered so critical to the welfare of the community that it was sanctioned by law and financed by the polis. Religion further allowed women’s widespread movement throughout the city as they left their homes to participate in processions and festivals, visit shrines, sanctuaries, and cemeteries. By performing rituals on behalf of the city, Athenian women distinguished themselves from female foreigners and slaves as rightful citizens of the polis. Women-only festivals further offered opportunities to build and strengthen female social networks, to act autonomously, and perhaps even to subvert social norms. Domestic rituals accomplished by women in turn helped to mark the life stages and strengthen familial identity. The difficulties of reconstructing the ancient Greek religious system are well known, even for the period for which there is the most evidence, classical Athens. Even more challenging is the task of recovering the religious activities of women within this structure, given that men served as the primary religious agents within both the polis and household. The prevailing view that the polis mediated all religious activity, including domestic, encompassed by the concept of “polis religion,” has further obscured our understanding women’s ritual activities. Influenced by feminist and social-network theories, recent research has argued for a more nuanced model of religious activity that takes into account the varieties of individual religious experience, particularly those of members of marginal groups, such as slaves and women. It dismantles the traditional binary model of public and private by showing how polis and household were intricately interconnected and interdependent at all levels. These new approaches allow us to consider the ways in which women’s ritual activities intersected with and reinforced polis ideology, allowing women a significant presence and agency in the civic sphere, despite their exclusion from politics, commerce, and certain public spaces. It can also help us understand their engagement with noncivic celebrations and domestic ritual.