Written Analytical Essay What is Tantric Buddhism and Why did it Become so Important in Tibet?

It is known that Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism is one of the main branches of Buddhism. It is often called Mantrayana or Esoteric Buddhism. Many historians believe that there are two main branches of Buddhism: Mahayana and Theravada, and that Vajrayana can be regarded as an extension of Mahayana (Child, 2007, p.7).  According to the historical data, Tantric Buddhism arose in the 7th and 8th centuries on the territory of India and the Himalayas. In China, tantric teachings appeared in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty.  It is found that Mantranaya practices came from India when Buddhism was widely spread in China, and this religious practice got sanction from the emperors of the Tang Dynasty (Gethin, 1998, p.29). According to the history of Tantric Buddhism, such “great masters” as Åšubhakarasiṃha, Amoghavajra and Vajrabodhi came from India to China in the 7th century and brought Tantric Buddhism teachings to the height of their popularity in China. Tantric Buddhism played a significant role in Tibet because it changed the minds of many people and gave them an opportunity to find the path to enlightenment.

During this period of history, the two main source texts were widely used: the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra and the Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra. The most important tantric literature which was spread in China, Japan and Tibet included the tantras that were classified into three groups: “practical” or carya-tantra, “ritual” or kriya-tantra and “yogic” or yoga-tantra. Among them were Susiddhikara, Mahavairocanabhisambodhi and a number of other tantric works (Davidson, p.35)

In addition, Tantric Buddhism in Tibet shares many significant ritual practices, concepts and symbols with its tantric counterpart in India. Tantric Buddhism produced a so-called transformation in Buddhist values and principles. In Tantric Buddhism, it is believed that a person can reach the state of supreme enlightenment and bliss by means of sex. The followers of this branch of Buddhism are taught to revere the human body and to indulge all its sensual desires and impulses. This characteristic feature of Tantric Buddhism was a harsh contrast to Theravada, the traditional branch of Buddhism in China, which was based on self-denial and strict self-discipline. It is known that those people who follow the main doctrines of Theravada should live a modest lifestyle, without any materialistic pleasures and spend much time on meditation practices. That is why the ritual sex activities which are common in tantric practices are not supported by the followers of Theravada. In Tantric Buddhism, the sex rituals often involved from ten to fifty celebrants who organized a great event with smoking cannabis, drinking alcohol, and having a huge feast (Dempsey, 2011, para.3). It is known that the word tantra is a Sanskrit word which means “to weave or sew together”. Tantra teachings are focused on the fact that the union of man and woman is a symbolic union of the divine father or heaven and the divine mother or earth. They are the creators of life on the Earth. These sex ritual practices have the major goal ”“ “to transform desire through recognizing its inherent illusion” (Erickson, 2012, para.6). It means that such rituals help the practitioners to use all their human energy in order to follow the path to enlightenment. The fact that Tantric Buddhism excludes nothing explains its popularity – it is considered as “the most suitable and effective form of Buddhism for Westerners to practice” (Erickson, 2012, para.6).

According to Ronald M. Davidson (2005), the translation and spread of different Tantric Buddhist texts shaped Tibetan society that became the center of Buddhist culture throughout Asia (p.5).  It is found that during the Tibetan Renaissance (950-1200 C.E.), many monks and yogins translated a great number of Indian Buddhist texts. They used the progressive literature and Tantric Buddhism practices as the basis for reconstruction of religious, cultural and even political institutions in Tibet. It is known that Tantric Buddhism which came from India to Tibet was then declared the state religion in Tibet. Then, it was spread into China and Japan (Gethin, 1998, p.52).

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