Research Groups: Chinese and Tibetan Tantric Buddhism

[RG # 138] Chinese and Tibetan Tantric Buddhism

Sept 1, 2013 - June 30, 2014


Yael Bentor (The Hebrew University) 
Meir Shahar (Tel Aviv University)

Emerging in India in the middle of the first millennium CE, the "Diamond Vehicle" (Vajrayāna, more commonly known as Tantric Buddhism or Esoteric Buddhism) exerted tremendous influence on Asian religions and cultures. Equipped with a daring eschatology of liberation in the body, it transformed every aspect of Buddhist faith: from the language of philosophical and mystical discourse, through meditation and ritual practice, to symbolism and iconography. The impact of the Tantric movement has been felled from the Asian steppes in the north to the Indonesian archipelago in the South, from today's Afghanistan in the west to Japan in the east. Far from being limited to Buddhist circles, Tantric Buddhism has influenced native faiths throughout Asia. Its ritual patterns and tools -- such as the mantra charms, mudrā hand-gestures, and mandala mystical charts -- have been adopted by religions ranging from Daoism to Shinto, even as its divinities (which originated for the most part in Indian mythology) have been celebrated in the literatures of China, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

Despite its enormous significance in the religious and cultural history of Asia at large, the Vajrayāna has been the least studied of the three Buddhst "vehicles", receiving less attention that either the Early Buddhism and the Theravāda or the Mahāyāna. Our project is the first serious and prolonged encounter of "Western", Chinese and Tibetan disciplines of tantric Buddhist studies.