The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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[Many seem to hold Buddhist Tantras as being close to Hindu Tantras because of the similarity in rituals or mantras. But a core principle or view that guides these rituals is what really determines the outcome of the ritual and thus, the two cannot be clubbed together. Buddhism is as different from Hinduism as Christianity or other religions, if not more. One should look beyond the garb of culture which creates a misnomer of similarity between the concepts of the two systems. Two systems cannot be judged based on rituals or practices alone as philosophy is what really defines a philosophical system. Rituals and other aspects are useful but secondary elements of a philosophical framework. As Tathagata says, the same ritual when employed by a Hindu gives a different result and a different one when used by a Buddhist as the goals are different, the view behind the activity is different and the entire perception that is key to achieving the fruit of the ritual is different. While this aspect of right view is subtle, it does really make a difference when a lofty goal is considered. Please note that the author of the piece below is biased towards mahAyAna and some of the things he states should be taken with a pinch of salt. This article, for what it’s worth, can be a good starter for the ignorant who see the two systems as same or similar based on popular practices or cultural exchanges. We can consider Jainism next.]
- By Dr. Benoytosh Bhattacharya
Both Hindus and Buddhists were alike prolific writers of Tantras and the literature extant on them is wonderfully extensive. One of the reasons why the word ‘Tantra’ cannot be defined but can only be described is because of the fact that an astonishing number of subjects come within its purview, not to speak of its own numerous subdivisions. The Buddhist Tantras in outward appearance are similar to the Hindu Tantras but in reality there is no similarity between them neither in subject-matter, nor the philosophical doctrines embodied in them, nor in religious principles. This is not to be wondered at since the aims and the objects of the Buddhists are widely different from those of the Hindus. It is difficult to determine when and under what circumstances the word ‘Tantra’ came to be employed in the sense in which it is used in this literature, nor is it possible to trace the origin of the Tantras or the people who first introduced them. To any careful student of Sanskrit literature it will be evident that when the magical practices become extremely popular with one section of the Indian population, the other section takes them up and incorporates them in its religion, mostly in a modified form so as to suit its own requirements and tenets; and this process or emergence and relapsing goes on continually.
The Vedic sacrifices as performed by the orthodox Brahmanic society in the very earliest times attracted a large number of converts on whom the orthodoxy laid down its foundation, and it can very easily be imagined from what we find now that people in those days looked upon these sacrifices and the Brahmins performing them with awe and reverence. The sacrifices were at one time very popular, especially in the pre-Buddhistic period, and as a matter of fact, no undertaking of any consequence was hazarded without a sacrifice immediately preceding it. Sacrifices were performed mostly for obtaining happiness in this, the next and future lives. Buddhism came in when sacrifices were the order of the day and when numerous animals were immolated and eaten in huge assemblies. In Ashoka’s time, we find sacrifices and the free use of meat in the assemblies very popular. That the very first of a long series of rock edicts of Ashoka should deal with the stoppage of such assemblies displays the great influence that sacrifices with their cooked meat exercised on the minds of the Indian people. On the dismemberment of the Mauryan Empire, the sacrifices prohibited by the Buddhist Emperor revived with great vigor under the sAmavedI Shungas and two sacrifices were performed on a grand scale in the very capital of the king who insulted the orthodox sacrifice.
Though Buddha is known to have been antagonistic to all sorts of sacrifices, necromancy, sorcery, magic or mysticism, he nevertheless is credited with having given instructions on mudrAs, maNDalas, yogas, tantras etc., so that prosperity in this world, by virtue of these, could be attained by his less advanced disciples who seemed to care more for this world than for the nirvana preached by him. It is also a social fact that India in Buddha’s time was so steeped in magic, sorcery, tantra and mysticism, would hardly be able to withstand popular oppositions. A clever organizer as the Buddha was, he did not fail to notice the importance of incorporating such practices in his religion to make it popular from all points of view and thereby attract more adherents. A clear proof of this is to be found in his doctrine of Iddhis which were obtained by the more advanced disciples. The means of attaining Iddhis or Iddhipado are also indicated. In Cullavaya V.8 Buddha condemns Bharadvaja for wantonly showing his miraculous power for a bowl of sandal wood. It does appear that he himself ever stressed on tantras. So long we were ignorant about the Buddha’s attitude towards the tAntric practices excepting a few meager references in Pali literature and were unable to determine the time of their introduction in Buddhism but shAntarakShita and his disciple kamalashIla brought out this connection very forcibly in the tattvasamgraha and its commentary, stating fully the reasons which made the Buddha to incorporate them in his system:
Yato.abhyudayaniShpattiryato niHshreyasasya cha |
Sa dharma uchyate tAdR^ik sarvaireva vichakShaNaiH ||
taduktamantrayogAdi niyamAdvidhivatkR^itAt |
praj~nArogyavibhutvAdidR^iShTadharmA.api jAyate ||
tena bhagavatoktashchAsau mantrayogAdiniyamashcheti vigrahaH | yogaH samAdhiH | Adishabdena mudrAmaNDalAdi parigrahaH ||
Tantra has been practiced by the Buddhists since the time of the Buddha, but unfortunately we do not possess any connected account of them except for a few works on the dhAraNIs which were translated into Chinese early at the beginning of the Christian Era. These dhAraNIs are only unmeaning strings of words which are said to confer great merit when muttered repeatedly for a number of times. Then comes the worship of Buddha in the prajnApAramitA with all the paraphernalia of worship such as we find in the tAntric worship for obtaining worldly happiness. Then follows the different recensions of prajnApAramitA, its sUtra, hrdayasUtra, its dhAraNI, the recitation of all of which confers the benefit of reading the whole of the prajnApAramitA.
Side by side, the paurANika literature attracted a large number of people by their wonderful stories holding out a promise of an award of merits to be gained by hearing the purANas and practicing the rites and observances recommended therein and worshipping the gods described in them. Moreover, the conception of Gods and Goddeses in the paurANika literature was so very attractive that the Buddhists in later times could not help incorporating the idea of godhead in their religion. And when they actually did this, they deified all important personalities of Buddhism, together with the deification of a large number of Buddhistic ideas and philosophical concepts along with a few purely Hindu gods such as gaNesha, sarasvatI etc. The Buddhists busied themselves with producing a variety of literature on the Tantras, and during the tAntrik age thousands of works were written. These works were readily transmitted through the Himalayan passages to Tibet, Mangolia, and thence to China and Japan. The Tantric works, especially of the Buddhists, whose originals in Sanskrit are lost, are now preserved in translations in the pages of the Tibetan Tangyur. The developments on Tantra made by the Buddhists and the extraordinary plastic art they developed did not fail again to create an impression on the minds of the Hindus, and they readily incorporated many ideas, doctrines and gods, originally conceived by the Buddhists in their religion and literature. A bulk of the literature which goes by the name of the Hindu Tantras arose almost immediately after the Buddhist ideas had established themselves, though after the Tantric Age, even up to the last century.
Having thus given a survey of the history of tAntrik literature and the mutual interchange of ideas, doctrines and concepts in this branch of literature, we will now proceed to give a definition or rather a description of what is ordinarily meant by the word ‘Tantra’. many scholars have tried to show what Tantra contains but each and every one of their descriptions are partial and insufficient; they are bound to be so because the writers of Tantras were most erratic and never followed any definite plan. Moreover, the definition which holds good in the case of the Hindu Tantras is not found adequate when applied to the Buddhist branch of this literature. Therefore the definitions of Tantra as given by critical students are not unlike the description of an elephant given by a number of blind men.
The Hindus will not call any work a Tantra which does not include the following subjects among many others, for instance, the stories of the creation, destruction, mystic charms, a description of the abode of the gods, and of holy places, the duties of men in the four stages of life, a description of nocturnal beings, the origin of psychic powers and celestial trees, of the position of the stars, description of vows and observances, distinctions between purity and impurity, account of the duties of the king, the customs of the age, and of the rules of law and of spiritual subjects. The Hindus distinguish this shAstra from two others of a similar kind which go by the names of Agama and yAmala. They treat of certain subjects which are not covered by the description of the tantra given above. The characteristics of Tantra, yAmala and Agama are given in almost every important Hindu Tantric work. The definitions are not all alike and rarely give a complete idea, and all the definitions taken together will not suffice to give a true account of the entire contents of this enormous literature. In the definition given above, it will be seen that speculations on alchemy, medicine, divination, astrology, horoscopy and many similar subjects are not included in it though they frequently appear in tAntric literature.
Similar features present themselves in the Tantras of the Buddhists and, the range of the numerous subjects treated in this literature will be evidenced by the two volumes of the Catalogue of Tibetan Tangyur in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris so far published by P. Cordier. To understand the bulk of the tAntric literature of the Buddhists, we must first take into account that it is distributed among the three grand divisions into which later Buddhism was divided, namely, vajrayAna, sahajayAna and kAlachakrayAna. Besides these there were other minor yAnas with no marked individuality, such as the tantrayAna, the bhadrayAna, etc., which may be said to have originated from the vajrayAna, the principal yAna among the three mentioned above. Moreover, we must also consider the numerous divisions of each of these three powerful yAnas and many less powerful systems in all of whom the Buddhist tAntric literature showed its great interest. The tAntric literature was mainly written by the vajrAcharyas, and the Siddhas whose number is reputed to be eighty-four.
The Buddhist Tantras belong more properly to mahAyAna and not hInayAna with its subdivisions of shrAvakayAna and pratyekayana, though it is quite possible that their followers had also some sort of magical practices current amongst them. Works like sAdhanamAlA seem to lead us to infer that the Tantras were a development of the yogAchAra school which evolved out of the shUnyavAda of the mAdhyamikas; but the form or the branch of the mahAyAna that was directly responsible in this matter seems to be a tertium quid which is known as vajrayAna, and about which very little is known to the students of Buddhism. In sAdhanamAlA, the word mahAyAna occurs twice and from these references we can assume that the tAntric religion was only an outcome of mahAyAna and that the vajrayAna acknowledged its suzerainty. The mahAyAna in the opinion of the vajrAyanists, is co-extensive with what they called dharma, which they considered as eternal and to which was given a more important place in later Buddhism, than that was assigned by Buddha himself.
The word shUnya occurs almost on every page of sAdhanamAlA but so far as it can be ascertained, this shUnya does not represent the shUnya as conceived by the mAdhyamika school. To the mAdhyamikas both the subject and the object are shUnya in essence; there is no reality either of the mind or of the external world. Obviously, this is a position which is not desirable for the vajrAyanists because to them a positive aspect in the vijnAna is absolutely necessary. Moreover, the mAdhyamika school is not referred to anywhere in sAdhanamAlA except in one place where it is in the form of an epithet, mAdhyamikarucheH, to one of the authors of the sAdhanas, namely dharmAkaramati. But if the sAdhana itself is analyzed, ample evidence will be found to prove that it belongs more to yogAchAra than to mAdhyamika. Though the word yogAchAra occurs in the sAdhanamAla only twice, vijnAnavAda as formulated in this school of thought is explained in many places and this leads us to infer that the vajrAyana is a direct development of the yogAchara school and the vijnAnavAda it inculcates.
vajrayAna is characterized as the path which leads to perfect enlightenment or what they call in Sanskrit anuttarasamyaksambodhi. vajrAyana literally means the ‘adamantine path’ or vehicle, but its technical meaning is the ‘shUnya vehicle’ wherein shUnya is used in a special sense to represent vajra – “shUnyata is designated as vajra because it is firm, and sound, and cannot be changed, cannot be pierced, cannot be penetrated, cannot be burnt, and cannot be destroyed”.
The mahAyanists differ from the hInayAnists in several important points, though for both of them the realization of shUnyatA which leads to cessation of sufferings is imperative. But the methods followed by the two branches of Buddhism are widely different, if not altogether antagonistic. The hInayAnists are very keen on obtaining liberation for themselves by their own efforts, without looking into the condition of suffering humanity. They obtain nirvana and freedom from sufferings and the consequential repetition of births and rebirths, and virtually an extinction of Self altogether. But it must be remembered that even if they are able to gain nirvana, they cannot know the perfect truth or remove the veil which conceals the transcendental truth, nor can they impart the knowledge of salvation to others.
The mahAyanists on the other hand do not care for their own salvation; they are more solicitous about the deliverance of their fellow creatures who are in the grip of constant suffering than about their own. They are not afraid of the samsAra or the cycle of birth and rebirth in the same sense as the hInayAnists are, but they are always ready to undergo any troubles and sufferings if these lead even in a small measure to the spiritual upliftment of all beings. This ideal of a mahAyanist finds expression in the karaNDavyUha where the example of avalokiteshvara bodhisattva is set up, who refused to accept his nirvana, thought fully entitled to it, until all creatures of the world were in possession of the Bodhi knowledge and obtained freedom from the worldly miseries. They therefore keep their chain of vijnAna ever active for the benefit of all. it is said that the mahAyanist, or more properly a bodhisattva, obtains omniscience only after he has crossed the ten bhUmis such as are described in the dashabhUmikA shAstra.
This may be considered the goal of every bodhisattva and can be obtained either by following the tenets of the shUnyavAda or the vijnAnavAda. The mAdhyamika theory of nirvana is shUnya or a state about which neither existence, nor non-existence, nor a combination of the two nor a negation of the two can be predicated. But in yogAchAra, which seems to be only a latter development of the original shUnyavAda, the element of vijnAna or a positive element is present in addition to shUnya or the nairAtmya. The Bodhi mind is a chain of vijnAna which is changing every moment, the vijnAna of the previous moment giving rise to the vijnAna of the next moment with the same memory, quality, conformations etc., and this process goes on until the vijnAna attains either omniscience or extinction or nirvana after having eliminated all impurities. But once omniscience has been attained the chain of consciousness will not strive further for nirvana but will engage itself in the spiritual uplift of all beings; it can only get rest when the whole world is delivered.
Now this is the sort of nirvana to which the vijnAnavAdins will lead their followers. In this nirvana, as we have already pointed out, there are two elements: vijnAna and shUnya. The vajrayAna which is the direct outcome of the vijnAnavAdin school introduced a new element, or the element of mahAsukha or ‘eternal bliss’ and happiness. It introduced further the theory of the five dhyAni Buddhas each presiding over one of the five skandhas or elements and formulated the theory of kulas or families of each of the dhyAni buddhas emerging out of them in times of need. It introduced the worship of shaktis in Buddhism for the first time, and a host of other things including a large number of gods and goddesses, their sAdhanas, panegyrics etc.
It is indeed very difficult to point our finger to the scripture from which Buddhist Tantra drew its inspiration; but a perusal of Padmavajra’s guhyasiddhi, a grossly tAntric work, leads us to infer that it was the guhyasamAja which was regarded as the most authoritative work of the school. Padmavajra not only advocates the doctrines, tenets and theories embodied in the guhyasamAja in all matters but also gives a succinct digest of the work which he designates shrIsamAja in his treatise. Other writers also, for instance, indrabhUti in his work jnAnasiddhi, acknowledges the guhyasamAja as a work of great authority and gives a summary of some of the chapters and topics dealt with in this work. Thus, it appears to us quite probable that this was the original work from which tantra drew its inspiration.
It is believed to have been delivered in an assembly of the faithful by the sarvatathAgata kAyavAkchitta. The work which is written in the form of a sangIti is considered as highly authoritative, even now, amongst vajrayAnists and is regarded as one of the Nine Dharmas of Nepal. This is probably the first work of the Buddhist Tantra school and asanga quite conceivably may have had something to do with it, as it is commonly believed that the Tantras were introduced by him, from the tuShita heaven where he was initiated in mysticism by maitreya. But of course, this view cannot be said to be definite, or to be based on sufficiently strong evidence, and it is very doubtful whether we will ever be in a position to trace the origin of the tantra in the most precise manner possible.
It cannot be denied that in the very beginning of early Buddhism and even when mahAyAnism sprang up in later times, a very strict discipline was enjoined on the followers of the faith. On the bhikShus the rules were very strictly put into operation; for instance, they must not have anything to do with women, must not take any food that is forbidden etc. Wine, flesh, fish, appetizers and many similar objects of enjoyment were specially forbidden.
The rules were indeed good and were very attractive in the time of Buddha but inasmuch as they were unnatural, their followers could be expected to follow them only for a certain time but not always or for centuries. It was wholly absurd to expect obedience to such strict disciplinary measures from all members of the sangha even in Buddha’s lifetime, if not for centuries after his mahAparinirvANa. The members of the sangha must have revolted from time to time against these unnatural rules of discipline and party quarrels on such points were already in evidence in the second great Council when the mahAsAnghikas were expelled from the Church by the sthaviras because the latter were unwilling to make any concessions on ten minor points of discipline.
Rebellion against the rules on broader and more important matters of discipline must have been in existence amongst the monks, but they could not create a party of their own which would sufficiently be able to cope with the orthodox section which was sure to go against them and denounce them as heretics. Those monks who saw salvation only in leading a natural life went on devising plans and probably by writing what we call the original Tantras which were secretly handed down through their trusted disciples who could practice the rites only in secret. These Tantras are in th form of sangItis and are said to have been delivered by the Buddha in an Assembly of the Faithful. It is in this sangIiti form that all new ideas were introduced into Buddhism and the sangItis, we must remember, were very powerful agencies in the introduction of innovations.
The orthodox followers of the faith were sure to challenge anything that had not been said by the Buddha and that seems to be reason for the great popularity of the sangIti literature. The original Tantras of Buddhism were also therefore in the Sangiti form wherein were inculcated doctrines which were diametrically opposed to the teachings of Buddha. Easy methods leading to happiness in this world were held out in this literature; easy paths leading to salvations were shown; great parade was made of the merits to be gained by the repetition of the mantras, dhAraNIs, panegyrics and worship of gods.
But everywhere any casual reader can detect a desire on the part of the authors to thwart all unnatural rules and regulations imposed on the followers. These disciplinary rules and regulations gradually slackened down one after another and ultimately when the vajrayAnists gained in power and got an overwhelming majority a general revolution was declared against the mahAyAna orthodoxy which in course of time dwindled to nothingness as it was powerless to fight against the growing disorder among the tAntrics.
The vajrayAnists were however conscious that they were doing something which was against religion and morality, and covert hints to justify their actions are not altogether infrequent in their literature. Indulgence in five makAras cannot be directly described as conducive to the good of anybody in any religion; to gain emancipation through the agencies of women such as was advocated in vajrayAna did not also fail to create a baneful impression on the minds of their followers. Hence we find on their part, like their Hindu counterparts, a keen desire to justify their broad principles, and examples of this kind may prove interesting.
The responsibilities of the Bodhisattva indeed are very heavy entailing untold sacrifices. They have to sacrifice everything for the good of suffering humanity; they have to sacrifice their family, children, worldly enjoyments for the benefit of all beings in order to lead them to the path of salvation. The Bodhisattvas cannot obtain their salvation even if they are entitled to it. If these Bodhisattvas committed little mistakes such as taking wine, being in the company of women, indulging in good food, fish, meat etc., these certainly could not be taken into account in view of the colossal sacrifices the Bodhisattvas were required to make daily for the good of the others.
Later on this idea changed, and the vajrayAnists gave a blank charter by boldly declaring that there is nothing in the world that cannot be done by the Bodhisattva who has taken a vow to emancipate the world. It is of course very interesting to note in this connection that ultimately in the tAntric literature, the vow to emancipate the world was reduced to a mere convention, and though every vajrayAnist had to express this pious wish, indulgence in all actions for which common men are ordinarily doomed to hell were the only things practiced by them to attain Siddhi. indrabhUti who was one of the greatest diffusers of tantra says in his jnAnasiddhi that by those identical actions which make ordinary men rot in hell for hundreds of crores of cycles, the yogis obtain emancipation. They went a degree still further and in an authoritative tAntric work, we find the following still bolder declaration:
sambhogArthamidam sarvam traidhAtukamasheShataH |
nirmitam vajranAthena sAdhakAnAm hitAya cha ||
But the sAdhaka has to see that his mind is not troubled or that he is not attached to anything, meaning thereby to any special food or woman. If the mind is troubled once, emancipation is considered difficult to obtain. Anangavajra says, “Without prajnApAramita emancipation is not possible, and prajnApAramitA resides in women. Emancipation can only be obtained by coming in contact with any woman of low origin or high or whether mother, sister or other relatives”. vajrayAnists went beyond due limits in their spite against the strict rules of morality, and they violated all of them and plunged headlong into the worst immorality, which has been characterized by Raja Rajendra Lal Mitra in the following most significant words:
“Seeing however that the work in which they occur is reckoned to be the Sacred Scripture of millions of intelligent human beings, and their counterparts exist in almost the same words in Tantras which are held equally sacred by men who are by no means wanting in intellectual faculties of a high order, we can only deplore the weakness of human understanding which yields to such delusions in the name of religion, and the villainy of the priesthood which so successfully inculcates them.” Probably in the course of time, the vajrayAnists would have stepped back and brought in a more healthy tone to their religion, but by the time a reaction could set in Mohammadans struck with force.
Further, the vajrayAna incorporated many leading tenets of mantrayAna which was a form of mahAyAna Buddhism, where mantras, mudrAs, maNDalas and gods were given the greatest prominence for the attainment of Siddhis and nirvana. The earliest book of this class is the Vidyadharapitaka which has been characterized by Hiuen Thsang as belonging to the canonical literature of the mahasanghikas. But this unfortunately is not available to us in original Sanskrit and we cannot say anything with regard to its subject matter or the particular tenets inculcated therein. But the case of the other work entitled the manjushrImUlakalpa discovered by the world famous scholar the late mahAmahopAdhyAya T Ganapati Shastri is otherwise. The text of the book which forms a part of the vaipulya-sUtras of the mahAyAna school is decidedly the earliest work of mantrayAna available at present. It is written in the sangIti form, and in the same style as other mahAyAna sUtras are, in prose and verse, and in an archaic style very closely resembling the gAthA style.
This book must have been very popular even after the destruction of Buddhism in India as will be evident from the fact that the book was copied only about four hundred years back in a monastery of Southern India. The manjushrImUlakalpa deals with the formulae and practices which lead to the material prosperity of the followers of mahAyAna, and probably belongs after the time of the composition of the amitAyus sUtra which ushered in the conceptions of amitAbha or avalokiteshvara for the first time in mahAyAna. The amitAyus sUtra was first translated into Chinese at a period between A.D. 148 and 170 and hence the time of its composition may be fixed at about 100 A.D. or a little later. The manjushrImUlakalpa in that case would be only about a hundred years later than the amitAyus sUtra. If we take guhyasamAja as the very first and the most authoritative work of the vajrayAna school, we must admit also that much time must have elapsed between the age of manjushrImUlakalpa and the age of guhyasamAja.
The beginning of the sangIti in the mUlakalpa is in the orthodox style in opposition to the tAntric style which is decidedly later and where in the very opening scene Buddha is introduced in the company of a large number of women instead of an assembly of pure and pious bodhisattvas as in the case of the earlier sangItis. The doctrine of the five dhyAni Buddhas or even their names and mudrAs and their families are all absent in the mUlakalpa while all these are present in the guhyasamAja. Moreover, the mantras and mudrAs which were later on systematized in the vajrayAna book are found scattered in the body of the text of the mulakalpa in a disorganized manner. The mantras of some of the dhyAni Buddhas themselves are found in the mUlakalpa though not exactly with the same meaning or form in which they are met with in the guhyasamAja. Furthermore, the example of a Bodhisattva disobeying all rules and obtaining emancipation by the five makAras and other generally prohibited rites – something that Hindu tantra later absorbed – has not made its appearance in the mUlakalpa. The kalpa indeed speaks of the mantrayAna but it does not refer to vajrayAna which is mentioned for the first time in guhyasamAja. Under these circumstances, we may be justified in calling the mUlakalpa as one of the earliest mahAyAna sUtra works on which perhaps is based the original foundation of the vajrayAna system. But one careful will not fail to notice that the mUlakalpa is the product behind which there is a history of development of several centuries. And probably, if we could go to the root of this mantrayAna, we would have voiced the opinion of shAntarakShita and kamalashIla that instructions on Tantras, mantras, mudrAs and maNDalas were delivered by Buddha himself for the benefit of such of his followers who cared more for the material prosperity than the spiritual. Again, this goal seems to be re-stated differently over a period of time as attaining both spiritual and material benefits simultaneously.
We can see thus that the vajrayAna took into account all the good things, tenets, philosophical notions and theories, and incorporated all that was best in Buddhism and probably in Hinduism also, and it was owing to this that it attained great popularity. It satisfied everybody, the cultured and the uncultured, the pious and the habitual sinners, the lower and the higher ranks of people and devotees. The vajrayAna which was in essence as very “demoralizing” religion so to say that went against all the teachings of Buddha and of great patriarchs of Buddhism, could be popular only because it could cater for all tastes and because it was cosmopolitan in character.
It is difficult to suggest the exact place where the Buddhist Tantra originated. The introduction of Shakti worship in religion is so un-Indian that we are constrained to admit it as an external or foreign influence. Some of the Tantras also support this view, like nityA tantra as pointed by harabhaTTa shAstri. But these tAntrikas who incorporated shakti worship into their religion had some strongholds of their own from where the Tantras were disseminated amongst the Indian public and became popular. In the sAdhanamAlA, we find mention of four pIThas or sacred spots of the vajrayAnists, namely, kAmAkhyA, shrIhaTTa, pUrNagiri and UDDiyAna. The identification of the first two is certain. Both are situated in the province of Assam. kAmAkhyA is now known both as kAmAkhyA or kAmarUpa which is a few miles off from Gauhati. shrIhaTTa or sirihaTTA is modern Sylhet. The identification of the two others has given rise to much speculation and theorizing. pUrNagiri is sometimes identified with modern Poona but this is very doubtful. uDDiyAna is by far the most frequently mentioned among the four pIThas and its exact situation is a matter of great controversy. L A Waddel identified this uDDiyAna with udyAna in the Swat Valley. M Sylvain Levi will place uDDiyAna somewhere in Kashgarh. M M Haraprasad Shastri definitely placed it in Orissa. We supported the third theory in several instances and assigned grounds. indrabhUti is described as a king of uDDiyAna, and guru padmasambhava as his son. Padmasambhava married a sister of shAntarakShita in the latter’s native place in Zahor. shAntarakShita belonged to the royal family of Zahor, and therefore it is hardly possible that the king of this place would allow his daughter to be married to a vagabond who comes from such a long distance as Kashgarh or Swat, being driven out of the kingdom by his father indrabhUti. We can explain this marriage only if uDDiyAna and Zahor are believed to be nearer to each other. Moreover, uDDiyAna is mentioned along with kAmAkhyA and sirihaTTa which, as we can see, are very near each other.
uDDiyAna, according to the authority of Pag Sam Jon Zan, is the place where tAntric Buddhism first developed. In the history of the eighty-four siddhas uDDiyAna is described as containing 500,000 towns and divided into two kingdoms. In the one called Shambhala indrabhUti ruled, and in the other lankApurI jalendra ruled, whose son had for his wife indrabhUti’s sister lakShmImkarA who became a Siddha after which indrabhUti handed over the kingdom to his son. This also does not clear up our difficulties but the identification of uDDiyAna becomes dependent on that of lankApuri which is generally identified with a peak in the amarakaNTaka mountain, a place in Assam, Central India or Ceylon. Now if we accept the identification of Lanka in Assam, then uDDiyAna will have to be located in the same country probably in the Western part of it, and this seems to be more likely as kAmAkhyA and Sylhet are both situated in Assam.
Moreover, the first siddhAchArya Luipa in the Pag Sam Jon Zan is described as sprung from the fisherman caste of uDDiyAna who rose to be the writer in the employ of the king of uDDiyAna and was then known as samantashubha. He ment sharvarIpA who initiated him into the mysteries of tantra. but in the Tangyur Catelogue he is characterized as a mahAyogIshvara and what is important, as a Bengali! Haraprasad Shastri discovered some Bengali songs composed by him and published them in his now classical work Bauddha Gan O Doha with a short account of the author and his songs in the introduction. luipA seems to have composed a book of songs entitled luhipAdagItikA, which is now preserved in Tibetan translation only and from which only a few songs are extant in the original language.
There is then an apparent discrepancy in the two statements about the native place of Luipa, the testimony of Pag Sam Jon Zan will take it to be uDDiyAna whereas the Tangyur Catelogue will have it in Bengal. There is, however, in our opinion no discrepancy in the two statements because LuipA can belong to uDDiyAna and still be a Bengali. The identification of uDDiyAna not being settled under the circumstances enumerated above it is quite possible to locate it in Bengal. If however lankApura, the counterpart of uDDiyAna is located according to Prof. Jacobi in Assam, then uDDiyAna also will have to be located in Assam possibly in the Western part of it which also is a part of Bengal. It is then in uDDiyAna that tantra first developed and was probably transmitted to the other pIThas kAmAkhyA, sirihaTTa and pUrNagiri and thence to the rest of India.
From the foregoing it will appear that it is indeed very difficult to trace the origin of the strange religion of vajrayAna, that also greatly influenced current day Hindu Tantra, but it is much more difficult to attempt to build a chronology of vajrayAna. But a beginning has to be made somewhere. Let us attempt, therefore, to make out a beginning in a way which may be above adverse criticism. The Buddhists generally believe that the tantras were introduced into Buddhism by Asanga, the elder brother of Vasubandhu, who flourished as we have shown elsewhere between AD 280 – 360. But what he taught and what he introduced the history does not tell. We may however hold that he introduced something very questionable into Buddhism. The accounts of tArAnAtha point unmistakably to the fact that the tAntric knowledge was handed down in secret in a period between Asanga and Dharmakirti; but the material to construct the chronology of vajrayAna literature consists in some important guru paramparAs or the succession lists of Gurus and disciples through whom a particular Tantra has been handed down. Two such lists prove very valuable in determining the chronology of vajrayAna: one given in the Tangyur Catelogue of P Cordier and another in the Pag Sam Jon Zan quoted in the edition of the chakrasamvara tantra by the late Kazi Dawasam Dup.
The first gives the succession as follows: Padmavajra, Anangavajra, Indrabhuti, Lakshmi, Lilavajra, dArikapA, Sahajayogini ChintA, Dombi Heruka. The second succession list on which we can rely for the present is the list of Gurus and disciples through whom Chakrasamvara Tantra was handed down, namely: Saraha, Nagarjuna, Shavaripa, Luipa, Vajraghanta, Kacchapa, Jalandhari, Krishnacharya, Guhya, Vijayapa, Tailopa and Naropa.
It is natural to assume that the tAntric gurus were very particular about their succession lists and each important Tantra may be believed to have a list of this kind. When these Tantras were translated into Tibetan the translators occasionally noted down the tradition of the Tantras as it was handed down through a succession of Gurus and disciples. It is in this way some lists have been preserved and at present constitute our only authentic material in determining the chronology of this extensive literature. The two lists above stated are pretty long cover a considerably long period, and seem to be fairly authentic. In these two lists, the point of contact is represented by Jalandhari who in the second list was the first to profess the Hevajra Tantra and to compose a work on the subject.
When we fix the time of Saraha we practically go to the root of the Buddhist Tantra or tantrayAna, because Saraha is reputed to be one of the chief promulgators of tantra. both tArAnAtha and the author of Pag Sam Jon Zan admit that Saraha was one of the earliest writers and diffusers of tAntric doctrines and practices. While mentioning the origin of some of the most important tantras, tArAnAtha gives us the information that Saraha (633 AD) introduced the buddhakapAla tantra, luipA (669 AD) the yoginIsancharyA, kambala and padmavajra (693 AD) the hevajra tantra, krShNAchArya (717 AD) the sampuTatilaka, lalitavajra (693 AD) the three divisions of the krShNaymAritantra, gambhIravajra the vajrAmrta, kukkurI (693 AD) the mahAmAyA and Pito the kAlachakra. It is interesting to note that the name of Saraha has also been placed on the top of the succession list of a Tantra of no less celebrity than the Chakrasamvara Tantra and that the names of at least four among the Gurus in tArAnAtha’s list are in chronological order, namely, Saraha, Luipa, Padmavajra and Krishnacharya in accordance with the proposed calculation.
Let us now see how the account of Saraha as given by tArAnAtha is corroborated by the author of the Pag Sam Jon Zan. According to him, rAhulabhadra or Saraha was the name of a Buddhist sage born of a Brahmin and a DAkinI, in the city of rAjnI. He was an adept both in Brahminical and the Buddhist lores and flourished during the reign of king chandanapAla of prAchya. He worked some miracles in the presence of king ratnaphala and his Brahmin minister and thereby converted them to the Buddhist faith. Afterwards he became the high priest of nAlanda. It is also related of him that he visited Orissa where from one Covesa Kalpa he learnt the mantrayAna, and from there proceeded to Maharashtra. There he united in Yoga with a female ascetic who had approached him in the guise of an archer’s daughter. Having performed the mahAmudrA ritual with her, he attained Siddhi. He was thenceforward called Saraha. He used to sing Doha of mysticism and thereby converted 5000 people and their king to Buddhism. He composed a large number of works in Sanskrit and several among them are preserved in the Tibetan Tangyur. All our authorities, namely, tArAnAtha, the author of Pag Sam Jon Zan and the Chakrasamvara succession list are agreed on one point at least that SarahapAda, also known as SarahapA, Sarahabhadra and rAhulabhadra, was one of the earliest Buddhists responsible for diffusing the tAntric knowledge and popularizing it.
The next author of importance is nAgArjuna (AD 645) who is, of course, different from the author of the same name who is regarded as the founder of the mAdhyamika school of Buddhist philosophy. Absurd accounts are recorded about the life of this nAgArjuna and wild stories are told of his stupendous magical feats. M Wallester, after a thorough investigation of the accounts of nAgarjuna from Tibetan and Chinese sources, has come to the conclusion that there was no such person as nAgArjuna existent on the face of the earth. From his learned and scholarly observations it can be easily seen that the Tibetan sources have hopelessly mixed up together the accounts of the nAgArjuna the disciple of ashvaghoSha with the nAgArjuna who was a disciple of Saraha. One flourished in the first and second quarter of the second century and was the guru of Aryadeva, while the other flourished somewhere in the middle of the seventh century, the two names thus being separated by nearly five hundred years. But as these two are taken erroneously to mean one and the same person a serious confusion has arisen. The Chinese version which does not take into account the tAntric nAgArjuna is less confusing though it also abounds in absurd stories about his life. We are not, however, here concerned with the accounts of nagArjuna, the founder of the mAdhyamika school, but we can easily prove the second ot the tAntric nAgArjuna to be a historical person and a follower of vajrayAna. Two sAdhanas of his are recorded in the sAdhanamAlA one for the worship of vajratArA while the other relates to the worship of ekajaTA. It is distinctly said that nAgArjuna rescued this sAdhana from the country of Bhota which may be identified with Tibet. The worship of ekajaTA appears to have been current in Tibet, and the goddess probably belonged to the primitive Bon religion of that country, and it was nAgArjuna who for the first time introduced this goddess into Buddhism. We can thus see that ekajaTA, variously known as ugratArA, mahAchInatArA etc. is comparatively a recent introduction in Indian religions, and definitely say that any work, Buddhist or Hindu, which may refer to this goddess must be later than the time in which nAgArjuna flourished. nAgArjuna was quite famous and wrote a large number of tAntric works the translations of many of which are still preserved in the Tibetan Tangyur.
ShavarIpA (657 AD) is our third author who is described in Pag Sam Jon Zan as having belonged to the hill tribe called shabaras in Bengal where he met nAgArjuna during the latter’s residence in that country, and embraced tantra. After being initiated by him, along with his two wives Loki and Guni, he attained to sainthood. This ShavarIpA was also a historical person and has composed a sAdhana of kurukullA. He is also the author of a number of melodious songs in the vernacular of his country which according to the authority of Pag Sam Jon Zan was Bangala.
LuipA is termed as the first siddhAcharya by the Tibetans. Leaving aside the next two Gurus such as Vajraghanta and Kacchapa about whom we have practically very little historical information, we pass on to another famous name in Tantric Buddhism. This is Padmavajra (AD 693) the first name in the first succession list above referred to and the author of a large number of works out of which only two are extant in Sanskrit. According to tArAnatha, he was the first to introduce the hevajra tantra in vajrayAna which he did along with his collaborator kambalapAda. kukkurIpAda a contemporary of his is believed to have introduced into vajrayAna the mahAmAyAtantra. Padmavajra was again a historical figure and we have discovered a very interesting work of his called guhyasiddhi, which seems to have been a work of great authority in Tibet even so late as 1747 AD when Pag Sam Jon Zan was written. The whole work is written in what is called the twilight language but still it can be easily seen that he advocates mystic and somewhat objectionable rites and practices, which he terms secret rites. According to Padmavajra, such practices and rites were first formulated by the Buddha and were first recorded in the shrIsamAja which is only another name of the guhyasamAja. Beyond the shrIsamAja, he says there is no better treasure in the three worlds. In line with guhyasamAja, he follows the doctrine of the five dhyAni buddhas and says that by these five forms alone Sambodhi can be attained in accordance with the pronouncement of the tathAgatas. The five forms are: shAsvata/vairochana, akShobhya, ratna, Ayus (amitAbha) and kulAdya (amoghasiddhi).
Dombi Heruka is recognized as one of the eighty-four siddhas and wrote several works of vajrayAna and sahajayAna. He composed a sAdhana for goddess nairAtmA and It appears that he followed the hevajra tantra. His other works include dAsatattva, yogiyoginI nAma sAdhAraNArthopadesha, nairAtmayoginI sAdhana, gaNachakravidhi, ekavIrAsAdhana, nAmasangItivrtti, guhyavajra tantrarAja vrtti etc. DombI formulates that the worship of Kula is the most important in tAntric religion and it appears this is the first connotation of the word kula in this context. Without it no success can be achieved, but with it great success is possible of attainment. While explaining the word kula, he says, they are five in number and they originate from the dhyAni Buddhas: akShobhya, vairochana, amitAbha, ratnasambhava and amoghasiddhi and this is the reason why they are called kuleshas. The thunderbolt family originates from akShobhya, the Lotus family from amitAbha, the Jewel family from Ratnasambhava, the Disc family from Vairochana and the Action family from Amoghasiddhi. From this word kula the words kulAchAra, kaulika are derived. The kaulas declare themselves to be Tantric Hindus. From the literature of the extant Kaulism, the meaning of the word Kula is not consistent. Moreover, the large number of interpretations shows definitely that the Hindu counterparts were not certain about the meaning of the word. But the meaning in the Buddhist sense is quite clear and unequivocal; they give not more than one interpretation of the word. The kaulas according to them, mean the worshippers or the followers of the originators of the five families, namely of the five dhyAni Buddhas. The question will then arise as to whether the first set of Kaulas were Hindus or Buddhists. We are not here to discuss this question in spite of the earlier hint. There is indeed very little difference between the kaulAchara and the tAntric bauddhAchAra, because in both the desire to do prohibited things in the fullest extent is present.
In ancient India for all kinds of religious and secular knowledge the necessity of a Guru or preceptor was always felt, but nowhere is reverence to the Guru so much in evidence as in vajrayAna. Nothing, they affirm, can be achieved without a preceptor. It is impossible to follow mystic doctrines and practices without a preceptor. What particular Mantra or mystic practice is suitable to a person who is already initiated must be told by the preceptor whose duty it is also to inform him of the way in which it should be repeated and the number of times it should be muttered in order to obtain the different kinds of siddhis. The Buddhists always had preceptors practically since the time of Buddha, but the more Buddhism became mystified in its later stages, the greater was the necessity of preceptors that was felt, and, in vajrayAna, we find the position of the Guru altogether paramount. He is idolized as the Buddha, he is the sugata, he is dharmakAya, and the bestowal of emancipation lies in his power; he is omniscient and without his kindness nothing can be achieved. In every tAntric work there is an evidence of the high esteem in which the Gurus were held and, in many works, the characteristics of the Guru and the disciple are enumerated. Simply because a mantra is known it does not necessarily follow that by muttering it one can attain perfection. It is impossible, and it is against the principles of vajrayAna. The worshipper is first to be initiated by a Guru, and he just obtain the different kinds of abhiSheka from the Guru, and then, if all his instructions are followed in the most precise manner possible, then and then alone siddhi or perfection is possible of attainment. Guruship is a position which is very difficult to attain; and unless one answers to the characteristics laid down in vajrayAna literature, he is no Guru.
In view of the conflicting statements regarding the restrictions imposed on the worshippers in sAdhanamAlA, it becomes difficult to say as to how the lives of the worshippers were regulated in those times, and what mandates of the Church they had to follow. We find, for instance, that the worshippers must abstain from taking non-vegetarian and other objectionable items of food, such as onions, oil, salt etc., and must not violate the rules of strict celibacy. In other places it is said that the offerings should consist of flesh, wine and other objectionable articles. In one place it is said that worship should be done after purifying the body by bath and by observing the rules of celibacy. In other places, again, contrary to the above, no restriction is laid down either of place or of any particular food. Again, we also meet with a general rule that the worshipper obtains perfection by the muttering of the mantras only, even without drawing the maNDala or purifying himself by fasting.
The reason for this contradiction seems to be that the vajrayAnists recognized the existence of different grades among the worshippers, and legislated for different classes beginning from a strict observance of vinaya rules in the lowest ranks to the stage of no restriction in the highest ranks. indrabhUti recognized three classes of disciples, as mRdu, Madhya and adhimAtra, who had different degrees of mental development, and prescribed for them according to their mental capacities different regulations for their spiritual uplift. Advayavajra classified Buddhists as Shaikashas and Ashaikashas and prescribed the strictest rules for the former who were less advanced. The latter being much more advanced in the matter of spiritual progress were allowed to follow such advanced practices as are prescribed in the anuttarayoga tantras.
Our late lamented friend Kazi Dawasam Dup has given us also a classification of the vajrayAna; he divides it into six stages, though, of course, he regarded the different divisions as pertaining to mantrayAna. The aforesaid divisions are:
1. kriyA tantrayAna
2. charyA/upAya tantrayAna
3. yoga tantrayAna
4. mahAyoga tantrayAna
5. anuttarayoga tantrayAna
6. atiyoga tantrayAna
We do not know on what authority this classification is based as there is little hope of knowing it as the revered Kazi is now no more. It is to be pointed out in this connection that this elaborate classification was unknown in India where only the following were known:
1. kriya tantra
2. charyA tantra
3. yoga tantra
4. anuttarayoga tantra
These four terms are more or less frequently met with in Buddhist tAntric literature and as such they make their appearance in the sAdhanamAlA also. Beginners and initiates into the mysteries of vajrayAna were, of course, admitted in the lowest ranks, for instance, in the kriyAtantra where strict rules, discipline and celibacy were enjoined on them until they were considered fit to be raised to the higher class. The yogatantra appears to have been reserved for those who were considered fit to come in contact with the shaktis, while the anuttarayogins belonged to the highest class and were immune from all laws, human or divine. They were called Siddhas and were believed, to be inpossession of extraordinary powers of working miracles and performing prodigious feats. The traditional number of the siddhas is recognized as eighty-four and they mostly belonged to the pAla period of Bengal History. The Tibetans are supposed to have preserved a history of these eighty four Siddhas and this has been translated into German by A Grunwedel and published as Die Geschichten der Vierundachtzig Zauberer (Mahasiddhas).
The mantras or mystic syllables constitute the backbone of tAntric worship and of vajrayAna; they are of innumerable varieties such as bIja, hrdaya, upahrdaya, pUjA, arghya, puShpa, dhUpa, dIpa, naivedya, netra, shikhA, astra, rakShA and so forth. These mantras are mostly unmeaning words but they sometimes disclose distinctly the influence of a language now unknown. It is however impossible to say how these mantras were introduced in ancient India; the Vedic hymns were indeed called mantras but they had their meaning. But these tAntric mantras are in most cases meaningless strings of words. The vajrayAnists of course, in several instances, attempted to trace the origin of certain mantras to Buddha himself as their originator. The mantras of vajrayAna seem to be a development of the dhAraNis contained in the vidyAdharapITaka to which a reference has been given by Hiuen Thsang. These dhAraNais existed in Buddhism from very ancient times and seemed to have been introduced for the benefit of the less advanced followers who did not care so much for their nirvana as they did for their material prosperity in this world. Such recruits to Buddhism were enjoined to read some of the sUtras which however proved to be beyond their intelligence. For their benefit, these had to be shortened into dhAraNis and they had to commit them to memory. This seems to be the process in which the sUtras underwent a change in very ancient times, and ultimately when they were further reduced they gave rise to Mantra. For example, aShTasAhasrikA prajnApAramitA is too stupendous for any tolerably learned Buddhist to read through and understand, not to speak of the illiterate mass which were mostly responsible for the great popularity of mahAyAna. They cannot indeed read this vast literature for acquiring merit; for them something shorter was necessary. prajnApAramitA with its eight thousand stanzas was therefore reduced to a hundred, and, ultimately, to a very few stanzas which became known as the prajnApAramitA hrdaya sUtra which was further reduced to make room for the prajnApAramitA dhAraNI. The next step in this chain of evolution is in the formation of a prajnApAramitA mantra which makes its appearance in the sAdhanamAlA, and this again led to the conception of her bIja in one syllable pram in response to which the shUnya may transform itself in the form of the goddess prajnApAramitA, a veritable metamorphosis of the prajnApAramitA literature. The origin of tAntric mantras thus can be traced through the successive stages of the Buddhist literature; when, however, we turn our attention to Hindu literature, we are surprised to find that the tAntric mantras suddenly make their entry without showing many traces of the earlier and crude stages of development. To our mind, this seems to be a sufficient reason for believing the Hindu mAntric system to be later than the Buddhist vajrayAna and for holding that they were incorporated into Hinduism bodily from Buddhism.
The sAdhana for jAngulI which is in the form of a sangIti is said to have been delivered by Buddha himself. In the sAdhana of vajrasarasvatI it is said that this sAdhana has been composed in accordance with the instructions of the sugata. With reference to the mantra, om picu picu prajnAvivardhini jvala jvala medhAvardhani dhiri dhiri buddhivardhini svAhA, the sAdhana says that this mantra was delivered by Buddha himself. The famous logician shAntarakShita and his erudite disciple kamalashIla both of whom belonged to the eighth century are of opinion that the Buddha instructed the people in the mantras, maNDalas, etc. so that they might obtain prosperity in this world (tattvasamgraha). From these facts we can easily maintain that Buddha introduced some sort of mysticism into his religion which, in later times owing to a variety of influences, developed into a full-fledged mystic system in the form of vajrayAna.
The vajrayAnists maintain that the mantras are endowed with great powers. The passages showing this faith on their part are too frequent and eloquent. In one place it is said: What is there impossible for the mantras to perform if they are applied according to rules? In another place, it is said that through the repeated mutterings of the mantra, so much power is generated that it can astonish the whole world. The mantras by their power can even confer the Buddhahood; the merits that accrue from the mutterings of the mantra of mahAkAla are so numerous that all the Buddhas taken together cannot count them even if they were to count without cessation for a number of days and nights. The five greatest sins according to Buddhism are the five Anantaryas but these can be easily washed away and perfection can be gained if the mantra of lokanAtha is repeated. By the repition of the mantra of khasarpaNa, the Buddhahood becomes as easy of access as the badaraka fruit on the palm of the hand. By the dhAraNI of avalokiteshvara, even an ass can keep three hundred stanzas in memory. The mantra of ekajaTA is said to be so powerful that the moment it is muttered a man becomes free from his danger, he is always followed by good fortune and his enemies are all destroyed and without doubt he becomes as pious as the Buddha. Examples of this kind can be easily multiplied from the sAdhanamAlA. Lest the people prove doubting, which they are always apt to do, the sAdhanamAlA gives from time to time the assurance that the power of the mind is extraordinary and one should not doubt what is said about the efficacy of the mantras.
It is said that the mantras are only effective when they are applied strictly in accordance with the rules. The rules are strict and minute, and so numerous that it is extremely improbable that any mantra is capable of being applied in strict conformity to rules, and this is a factor which is apt to discourage enthusiasts and new recruits. But whether the mantras which are not recited according to the letter of the rules, but in conformity with them as far as possible, can give any results, is answered probably in token of encouragement to new-comers and enthusiasts. “You should not be sorry”, says kumudAkaramati, “because you are not able to apply the mantra in accordance with the rules stated before. At least you should perform the rite of self-protection and thinking of the closure of the boundary (sImAbandhana) and of worship, you should repeat the mantras as long as you can and aim at perfection. In accordance with your powers and actions, you will certainly obtain results”. The repetition of the mantras, however, has to be done with the greatest care, and, in several instances, the texts give directions for proper repetition. For instance, they should not be recited too quickly, nor too slowly. The mind at the time of recitation should be free from all bad thoughts and completely concentrated on the letters of the mantra which should be repeated so long as there is no feeling of tiredness.
The mantras are considered most sacred by the vajrayAnists and the accuracy of these mantras were zealously guarded by them, in much the same way as the vedic mantras, by means of several devices. These mantras are composed usually in ordinary prose but occasionally in an enigmatic language the meaning of which sometimes becomes difficult to understand. The mantras are done into prose as well into mnemonic verses for the obvious purpose of memorizing. These verses are extremely curious and give practically no meaning to the ordinary readers.
A peculiar feature of vajrayAna worship lies in its doctrine of ahamkAra or identification of the bodhichitta with the deity worshipped. This doctrine is explained thus: “I am the goddess and the goddess is in me”. After ahamkAra the worshipper should conceive himself as the deity with the same complexion, form and limbs as described in the sAdhana and should instead of worshipping any external object, contemplate worship of himself. It was suggested elsewhere that this identification of the worshipper with the deity worshipped was a new feature introduced by the Buddhists into tantra. This has met with a general criticism from a number of noteworthy scholars including A C Coomaraswami and O C Ganguli. It has been urged that in view of the great antiquity of the yoga philosophy the view that the doctrine of ahamkAra is a new introduction is untenable. To this it may be said here that the theory of the absorption of the individual Self with the Primordial Matter or union of the Self with a Personal God by the practice of yoga, and thereby the attainment of perfect knowledge and the consequential freedom from the bondage of transmigration, was started in India from ancient times, and traces of it can be found in the upaniShads of very great antiquity, even greater than that of the yoga system. Nothing therefore can be said to be a new introduction. But still we say, for instance, that the vedAnta doctrines originated with shankara though previous to that there was a school of aupaniShada philosophers; that shankara systematized the doctrine of mAyA though Buddhists from nAgarjuna’s time all acknowledged and wrote about the same doctrine in their works. When it is said that this element of ahamkAra was introduced by vajrayAna for the first time it was said with reference to the identification of the worshipper with the deity who is a transformation of the great Reality known as shUnya not only for the purpose of obtaining emancipation as is found in yoga but also for bewitching women, destroying foes and their dwelling, and even for the extraction of snake poison or for relieving a woman of the pains of labor. The ahamkAra is in fact imperative in the vajrayAna form of worship and this introduction is considered to be new in view of the multifarious purposes it was called upon to serve.
In some of the Hindu tantras the doctrine of identification or ahamkAra is indeed to be met with, and this fact gives rise to the controversy as to which Tantras, those of Hinduism or Buddhism, are older. We have sufficient reasons to hold that the Hindu tantras were introduced on the model of the Buddhist Tantras and the Hindus borrowed many customs, practices, deities, and mantras. The very kulAchAra seems to have been originally conceived by the Buddhists and probably the forefathers of a large number of kaulas today were direct disciples of Buddhists in the tAntric age.
To understand the significance of the vajrayAnic conception of advaya, the theory of shUnyatA and karuNA will first have to be taken into consideration. Voidness and compassion together constitute what is called the Bodhichitta or the Bodhi Mind. This idea probably for the first time makes its appearance in the guhyasamAja. The mixing up of the two elements shUnyatA and karuNA is known as advaya.
The shUnyatA as conceived by vajrayAna is very forcibly expressed in the sAdhanamAlA. Here it is mentioned that shUnyatA consists in thinking or realizing all dharmas (elements or objects) as transitory, momentary, non-ego, mistaken (as realities) by the mind, similar to objects seen in a dream or magic, endowed with a beginning and end, and natural purity, non-existent, unborn, and void like the place of tathatA.
The conception of karuNA or compassion of the vajrayAna finds also a lucid expression here: it is defined as the determination on the part of the Bodhisattva to lead and finally to place all beings in nirvana including beings born from eggs, uterus, perspiration or being endowed with shoes like horses (aupapAduka), endowed with a form or formless, or endowed with consciousness or unconsciousness, or beings who abide neither in consciousness nor unconsciousness. In another place karuNA is expressed as a strong determination to diffuse right knowledge among the people who owing to desire are blinded by ignorance and cannot realize the continuous transmigration as caused by the act force, in order that they may lead a life in accordance with the law of Dependent Origination.
The commingling of shUnyatA with karuNA is what is designated by the vajrayAnists as advaya and it is a theory which is very important for understanding the underlying features of vajrayAna, for, on this alone, the foundation of shakti worship is based. The sAdhanamAlA also quite clearly explains the theory by characterizing the effects of advaya by means of a simile: as copper leaves its dirty color (and becomes gold) when it comes in contact with the tincture, similarly the body leaves off its attachment, hatred, etc., when it comes in contact with the tincture of advaya. This advaya is a form of cognition which is all important in vajrayAna and in many instances the craving for this knowledge finds expression in many tantras. In the same way as other ideas were deified in vajrayAna, advaya was also deified and we find two deities heruka and prajnA, the embodiments of shUnaytA and karuNA, commingled in advaya, and fused together in embrace in the yuganaddha or the yab-yum form. The duality merges into one even as salt commingles with water.
The word sAdhana is closely connected with the word siddhi and the sAdhana is a procedure by which siddhi can be obtained, provided the directions therein given are practiced with patience and zeal. The Hindus generally recognize eight Siddhis though occasionally eighteen and twenty-four siddhis are also acknowledged. The eight siddhis are: aNimA, mahimA, laghimA, prApti, prAkAmya, Ishitva, vashitva and kAmAvasAyitva.
In the brahmavaivarta purANa mention is made of thrity-four kinds of siddhis, including the eight already cited. Some of them are: dUrashravaNa, parakAyapravesha, manoyAtitva, sarvajnatva, vahnistambhana, jalastambhana, chirajIvitva, vAyustambhana, kShutpipAsAnidrAstambhana, kAyavyUhapravesha, vAksiddhi, mrtAnayana, prANAkarShaNa, prANadAna, indriyastambhana and buddhistambhana. One who is able to attain by a particular process many of the foregoing powers is called a siddha puruSha. The Buddhists recognize the number of siddhas as eighty-four. Pictures of these are still prepared in Nepal and Tibet and they are even now venerated in these countries.
The Siddhas again are of three varieties according to tantrasAra: uttama, madhyama and adhama. The characteristics of each class are also given in the same work; and a siddha, for instance, will be recognized as belonging to the first class when he is able to fulfill all his desires by mere wish, or in other words, as soon as a desire arises in his mind, that very moment it is fulfilled. The second class siddha is able to conquer death, commune with gods, enter unperceived into the bodies and homes of others, move in the air, hear the gods talk in the firmament, understand all terrestrial truths, obtain conveyances, ornaments etc., and a long life, bewitch people, perform miracles, remove diseases by a mere glance, extract poison, obtain erudition in the shAstras, renounce all worldly enjoyments, practice yoga in all the eight divisions, show compassion to all beings etc. The third or the lowest class of siddha obtains: fame, long life, conveyances, ornaments, and familiarity with the king, popularity with royal personages and the people, power of bewitching, wealth, prosperity, children and family.
It can be easily seen that the third class of siddhas were never designated as siddha puruShas; those were attached either to the first or the second class. In all tantras, Hindu or Buddhist, general directions are always given as to the manner of obtaining siddhi by muttering the mantras. In case legitimate muttering of the mantras and the conformity to the regulations do not bestow the desired siddhi, the tantras also give directions as how it can be obtained by seven different processes.
The word siddhi may be defined as the attainment of super human powers of the mind, body or the sense organs. The siddhi is generally known to be of five varieties:
1. Janmaja – co-existent with birth
2. auShadhaja – due to some drug/medicine
3. mantraja – due to the agency of mantra
4. tapoja – due to austerities
5. samAdhija – due to intense meditation or absorption
The mind is compared to a river in the rainy season with all the exits closed except one through which the water rushes with tremendous vigor. When mind in the same way is concentrated on one particular thought, it is able to acquire great strength which we call siddhi. Siddhis are of various kinds and range from success in love affairs to the attainment of the highest emancipation. If we examine the kind of siddhis for obtaining which the Buddhists of the tAntric age busied themselves in muttering mantras and executing tAntric practices, we will be able to understand the aims and objects of the people and their mentality. Hence a study of these practices is not considered redundant as it is capable of throwing a flood of light on the state of tAntric culture.
In many texts, great anxiety is shown for averting and curing diseases, and for the extraction of snake-poison. Next in importance to the above desire is the longing for acquiring a knowledge of the shAstras without study but only through the agency of the mantras. Another characteristic feature of the sAdhanas is presented by their craving for the bodhi which again is to be obtained only through the help of the mantras. Then come the six cruel rites and the attainment of the eight great perfections. Great anxiety is also shown for the attainment of sarvajnatva, or omniscience, or the position of a Buddha – all signifying one and the same thing – namely emancipation. The tAntric Buddhists also possessed a great desire to have the mighty Hindu gods as their servants, whom they believed to be conquerable by mantras, and willing to do menial work for the magician.
The tAntric Buddhists also believed that the benign act of protection could be granted by divine agencies and also secured by mantras. Curiously enough, the aid of the mantras was widely availed of by the tAntric Buddhists for vanquishing their opponents in public discussions. From this it appears clear that religious discussions in public assemblies were very common, and victory in these assemblies was eagerly sought by all classes of people including the Buddhists, and it is no wonder that deities and mantras were invented in order that the sAdhaka may easily obtain victory in learned discussions even without being qualified for it. This leads us to believe in the stories recorded in the Pag Sam Jon Zan that in public assemblies, disputants of different religious sects used to assemble and take part, either staking his own religion. Thus, people were converted and reconverted to different religions. A great desire is also shown, both Hindu and Buddhist tAntrics, for performing miracles probably for creating an impression on the public mind. In spite of acquiring such spiritual powers, however, the monks were habituated to go out for alms, as is evident from the devices invented by them, which were meant to miraculously induce people to offer alms of their own accord.
Their conception of future happiness was also of a strange character. We see a wish expressed for a siddhi at one place which will enable the worshipper to remain in a state of rapture in the company of numberless apsaras, in the land of the vidyAdharas where the Lord of Heaven will hold the parasol over his head, brahmA acting as councilor, vemachitI as the army commander, hari as the gatekeeper and the naked god shankara discoursing on the different virtues. The monks usually led a poor life but they were nevertheless anxious for wealth, and believed that wealth could be obtained by muttering mantras alone! Jambhala, the god of wealth, was created and different images and mantras were invented and a large number of sAdhanas were devoted to his worship. These are similar instances are evidence of the attraction the poor monks had for wealth.
The Buddhists also acknowledged the eight great Siddhis though they were somewhat different from the eight siddhis acknowledged by the hindus. With the Buddhists, the eight siddhis are:
These were later incorporated into Hindu tantras. It is difficult to get a precise explanation of the nature of these perfections from any Buddhist work. The first signifies the perfection which enables a man to conquer a battle with the help of a sword on which mantras have been muttered. The second indicates of a magic unguent which enables the wearer to perceive the treasures buried under earth or otherwise hidden from the eyes. The third refers to the mysterious ointment which when applied to the legs enable a man to move about anywhere without his body being perceived by anyone. The fourth, similarly, refers to the power which enables a man to disappear before the very eyes of other people. The fifth refers probably to the magical solution that turns base metals into gold, and grants immunity from death. The sixth power enables one to move in the firmament. The seventh gives one power to go at will anywhere in this world in a moment, and the eighth refers to the power of going to the nether regions. Such feats were considered superhuman and the monks of the tAntric age directed their attention to executing such feats through the agency of the mantras which, they thought, develops psychic power.
The most important among the different rites of the tAntrics are probably what are known as the ShaTkarma or six rites, and it is necessary here to give some idea of the different rites with which the old monks busied themselves. These six rites are: shanti, vashIkraNa, stambhana, vidveShaNa, ucchATana and mAraNa. The first rite is the one which is calculated to remove diseases and save men from the terrible consequences of evil stars, or of bad actions done in the previous births. The second vashIkaraNa is the rite which when performed gives the performer the power to bewitch all other men or women or even animals and gods, and get work done by them. The third stambhana is the rite by the performance of which power is conferred on the worshipper for stopping all actions of others, and even when a cause is operating to stop its effect. This the burning of fire can be stopped; so that even if the fire be there it will not burn; it is the rite by which all actions of human beings can be stopped at will. The fourth vidveShaNa is another interesting rite which gives the power to separate two friends, relatives, lovers, from each other and so forth. The fifth ucchATana is the rite which when performed gives the performer special power to make his enemy flee from the country with all attendant disgrace. It may be inferred that ucchATana was employed in destroying the dwelling houses of enemies by incantations of mantras and by other means. The sixth is mAraNa, which is perhaps the most cruel among the six rites of tantra. This consists in killing enemies by means of apparently harmless practices.
These are known as the ShaTkarma and it is said that the experienced tAntrics get results immediately these rites are performed. It is nevertheless difficult for ordinary laymen to obtain any successful result because the rites have to be performed in accordance with Time, Star and the appropriate gods and mantras which are known to the specialists alone.
The mantras are of primary importance in all cruel rites and no less than six methods of application are generally formulated:
1. grathana - consists of reciting mantras on each of the letters of the name of the medium (sAdhya), generally required in shanti or protective rites.
2. vidarbha - consists in writing the letters of the name of the medium between the letters of the mantra used mostly in vashIkaraNa or bewitching.
3. sampuTa - consists in writing the mantra in the beginning and at the end of the name of the medium – mostly required in stambhana.
4. rodhana - consists in applying the mantra in the beginning, middle and the end of the name of the medium – necessary in vidveShaNa.
5. Yoga - consists in reciting the name of the medium at the end of the mantra – required in ucchATana.
6. pallava - consists in applying the mantra at the end of the name of the medium and this is required in the mAraNa rite.
The deities of the vajrayAna are all manifestations of shUnya. Advayavajra says in a very characteristic verse that the deities are nothing but manifestations of shUnya and are by nature non-existent, and whenever there is manifestation it must be shUnya in essence. The process of evolution of deities from shUnya has four stages: the first is the right perception of the shUnyatA or voidness, the second is its connection with the germ syllable, the third is the conception of an icon and the fourth is the external representation of the deity. This statement which occurs both in the sAdhanamAlA and in advayavajra is a very strong argument against the theory that later Buddhism was nothing but gross idolatry. This shows on the other hand that their conception of godhead was philosophically most profound, a parallel to which is scarcely to be met with in any other Indian religion.
Occasionally the sAdhanamAlA gives us information as to the residence of the vajrayAna deities and as far as it can be gathered from some stray references we can definitely say that the abode of these gods was in the akaniShTha heaven which is the topmost of the rUpa heavens. As has been pointed out before, the deities of the vajrayAna system represent the shUnya and they are shUnya in essence with the three elements shUnya, vijnAna and mahAsukha. They are rather the voluntary manifestations of the shUnya in accordance with the bIjamantras uttered by the worshippers, with an appearance suitable for the function he has to discharge. In the SadhanamAlA in one instance while characterizing manjushrI it gives us a piece of very important information and calls him as equal to all tathAgatas who are none but the five dhyAni Buddhas. This implies that each deity is an embodiment of the five skandhas over each of which one dhyAni Buddha presides, such as akShobhya for vijnAna, vairochana for rUpa, ratnasambhava for vedanA, amitAbha for samjnA and amoghasiddhi for samskAra. When one element among the five predominates the deity is considered to be an emanation of that dhyAni Buddha who presides over the element in question. When such deity is represented in art, he bears on his head the same dhyAni Buddha and is considered as his offspring and as belonging to his family. The five dhyAni Buddhas are generally represented on the aureole over the head of the principal deity.
It may be noted that texts are very particular in having a color applied to all the deities. This color has a deep significance and is a thing which should not be passed over unnoticed. The dhyAni Buddhas, it may be remembered, have each a different color and they preside over one or the other of the skandas, also five in number. The deities emanating from each of these five dhyAni Buddhas constitute the family of each. Ordinarily, the whole family of a particular dhyAni Buddha should have the same color as that of their spiritual father. Thus the family of akShobhya, the embodiment of vijnAna skandha, should have the blue color because it is the color of the dhyAni Buddha akShobhya. This is, of course, the general rule but numerous exceptions are also met with. Take, for instance, a deity who is very popular and has the power to grant success in a variety of protective and destructive rites. The deity cannot have the same color in all the rites because the difference in rite demands a difference in form and color, posture, and so forth. In the sAdhanamAlA it is said that the color of the deities vary in accordance with the functions they have to discharge.
It may be frequently seen that the deities sometimes present a very fierce appearance and are invoked in terrible rites such as for the destruction of men (maraNa) and their houses (ucchATana). This, perhaps, the authors of sAdhanas considered incompatible with the theory of compassion and a few indirect explanations to clear up this point are not wanting in the sAdhanamAlA. Two characteristic passages are quoted below, one with reference to the fierce form of yamAri and the other in respect of ucchuShma jambhala.
shrImantam antaHkaruNAmayam tam |
sattvArthahetoH bahirugrarUpam ||
nAtham yamArim praNipatya mUrdhnA
likhAmi tatsAdhanamiShTahetoH ||
“After making my obeisance by my head to Lord yamAri who is of dignified appearance, internally compassionate but externally terrific for the good of all beings, I write this procedure of worship for the benefit of all.”
kA chittavrttiH sugatasya kR^itteH |
atashcha kopAdiva jambhalo.asau
ucchuShmarUpam bhayadam chakAra ||
“People who are stricken down with the misery of poverty what desire can they have for the rites laid down by sugata? It is for this reason it seems that jambhala in his anger assumed the terrific form of ucchuShma”.
mahAkAla is another very terrible deity with terrible appearance and is invoked to discharge terrible functions. Neither his appearance nor his functions are in keeping with the doctrine of karuNA or compassion. Nut an excellent explanation to clear up the point has been offered by the author of the sAdhana. He says:
AchArye yaH sadA dveShI kupito ratnatraye.api yaH |
anekasattvavidhvamsI mahAkAlena khAdyate ||
“One who is persistently a hater of the preceptor and is adversely disposed towards the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and immolates many animals is eaten up raw by mahAkAla”.
Now in a case like this we can easily understand that the conception of the fierce of mahAkAla is quite in keeping with the doctrine of compassion because such a man is incorrigible and he alone and unaccompanied does harm to many beings, and a mischievous man like ought to be removed by a fierce deity like mahAkAla for the good of the many. We do not however see the necessity of eating the poor offender raw unless it is assumed that his mental condition will change in the next birth by undergoing a transformation in the compassionate stomach of mahAkAla!
Hindus worship idols and believe that the mantras can infuse the image with life thus making it verily the representation of the deity. The Jainas regard the images as remembrances (smArakas). By seeing the images of the tIrthankaras they call to mind their noble lives, good deeds, preachings and high ideals, and to their memory they offer various articles of worship, in token of reverence. Their idol worship is not exactly what is known as idolatry like in the case of Hindus in so far as these tIrthankaras are concerned, but the moment they leave this sphere and offer objects of worship to beings such as the yakShas and yakShiNis, they are relegated to the sphere of idolatry.
But the Buddhist mode of worship is entirely different from that of the Hindus or of the Jains. To the Buddhist the external world has no existence, the body with the sense organs are unreal; the real noumenon is only shUnya which together with karuNA constitute the bodhichitta. The Bodhi Mind then is also a reality; in fact it has the same reality as that of shUnya, and beyond the mind there is nothing in the external world. The body as such being external does not exist and it has no reality. This is the conception about the mind and the external world in the vajrayAna. To the followers of vajrayAna, therefore, how can there be reality in an image, a grossly external object, to which worship may be offered. The vajrayAna theory of godhead is so peculiar and had such successive stages of development traceable through Buddhist literature for several centuries that whenever similar conceptions or theories are met with in the literature of other sects we can easily put our finger on them and characterize them as borrowed from vajrayAna.
Bodhisattva after following the prescribed procedure according to the instructions of the Guru or according to the sAdhana should restrain himself as nothing but as a chain of momentary consciousness full of compassion for suffering humanity, and invoke the aid of shUnya the ultimate reality with the three elements, shUnya, vijnAna and mahAsukha. This aid can only be invoked when the Bodhi Mind of the Bodhisatva is also identified with the shUnya; and only when this is done, the shUnya responds. In accordance with the bIja mantra or in accordance with the purpose for which the aid of the shUnya has been invoked, the shUnya transforms itself in the form of a divinity with which the Bodhi Mind is identified. When the commingling of the Bodhi Mind with the deity takes place, the former develops great power, and is able to do the work for which the deity has been invoked until he is dismissed from the mind with the proper formula. A glance at the list of deities and the aims and objects of the vajrayAnist will show how many multifarious duties the shUnya had to perform and into how many forms it had to transform itself.
It can indeed be pointed out that because a large number of images of gods and goddesses of the vajrayAna Pantheon were made and subsequently discovered from under the earthe the Buddhists must be considered as idolaters. Against this we can point out that it is not an easy task to conceive the outward appearances of gods and goddesses of an extensive Pantheon for the purpose of meditation, without the help of images or pictures, and it is in order to supply this most important aid to the numerous worshippers that innumerable images had to be carved out of stone. We also have evidence that pictures were painted for th same purpose and even now in Nepal and the vajrAchAryas keep a large stock of paintings and pictures of numerous deities for their numerous clients. It must be definitely understood that an attempt is here made to represent the case of the Buddhist with regard to the change of idolatry occasionally leveled at them.
The vajrayAnists however displayed a great hatred towards the gods of the Hindu religion and a large number of remarks made by a number of vajrayAna authors on the Hindu gods in the sAdhanamAlA fully bears us out. They were not only hostile to the Hindu gods but their hostility towards the Hindu gods prove further that they had a great hatred towards the members of other religions also. This fact was for the first time pointed out in the Indian Buddhist Iconography but it met with violent criticism from eminent scholars especially from the famous art critic, Dr. A Coomarswami of the Boston Museum who did not relish the idea mainly on the ground of sentiment. This has necessitated further comment on the point and we shall here enumerate a number of passages from which it will be possible to judge whether we were not justified in saying that the vajrayAnists displayed great hatred towards the gods of the Hindu faith.
Dr. Coomarswami maintains that the brahmashiras which is carried by a number of gods of the Buddhist Pantheon has a very deep spiritual significance. This of course sounds very ingenious but is a little out of point, and uncorroborated by facts. It shows nothing but that the Buddhist gods are so powerful that they destroy the Hindu gods and carry their heads in their hands thereby displaying wonderful hatred towards the Hindu gods in particular and Hinduism in general. Take for instance, the description of harihariharivAhanodbhava, a form of avalokiteshvara, the all compassionate Bodhisattva, and it will be found that his vAhana or favorite animal is viShNu, the second God of the Hindu Trinity. The latter cannot be mistaken for any other god or thing, because here his own favorite animal, the mythical bird, garuDa, is also present. In another place while describing chaNDaroShaNa, the author of the sAdhana says that the god carries the noose in order to bind the enemies who cause sufferings to humanity, such as viShNu, shiva, brahmA who are terrified by the raised index finger of the god. Further on, in the same sAdhana, the author says that chaNDaroShaNa should be conceived as looking towards the miserable people who are subjected to constant revolution in the cycle of existence by the wicked gods such as viShNu, brahmA, shiva and kandarpa, the god of love. By chaNDaroShaNa’s intervention, the hosts of mAras who are terrified, weeping, nude, with disheveled hair, hopeless and in despair, are hacked to pieces with the sword. chaNDaroShaNa gives their life back and places them near his feet so that they may perform pious duties in future. Further on, while enumerating the benefits that accrue from the worship of mR^ityuvanchana tArA, the author says that the worshipper conquers death as though emancipated, and even the ends of his hair cannot be destroyed by Hindu gods like brahmA, indra, viShNu, Moon, the Sun, shiva, deities of the quarters, yama and manmatha. Again, while describing mArIchI, the principal Hindu gods are brought to the humiliating position of making obeisance to mArIchI. Some of them are actually trampled under her feet while others obey her orders like her servants. In another place, it is said that the ascetic who pleases the goddess kurukullA, to him brahmA, rudra, indra, nArAyaNa and others come and meet his wants whatever they may be, like servants. While describing vajrajvAlAnalArka, he is characterized as trampling under his foot not only viShNu but also his consort lakShmI. bhUtaDAmara is described as one who is an expert in destroying the pride of indra, brahmA, kubera and others. ucchuShma jambhala is described in one place as pressing kubera under his feet so that he vomits blood. The severed head of brahmA is carried by mArIchI, vajrasarasvatI, prasannatArA and several others. Trailokyavijaya tramples upon the head of shiva and the bosom of gaurI who lie on the ground in opposite directions. prasannatArA is described as trampling upon indra and upendra and pressing rudra and brahmA between the two. Paramashiva is described as four-legged and as trampling with the first right leg on indrANI and lakShmI, with the second rati and prIti, with the first left indra and madhukara and with the second jayakara vasanta. While describing the merits and advantages to be gained by worshipping hayagrIva the author of a sAdhana holds before us an exceedingly attractive prospect but not without calumniating Hindu gods. It says, when perfection is attained in this sAdhana the ascetic goes to the vidyAdhara land and enjoys all sorts of pleasures; devendra becomes his parasol bearer, brahmA his minister, vemachitri (kArtikeya) his general, and hari his gate-keeper. All the gods flock together; shankara, the nude preceptor, lectures on the different virtues, and so forth. aparAjitA is described as a goddess whose parasol is raised over her head by wicked and mischievous gods, like brahmA and others.
Now the above are a few among many instances where Hindu gods are insulted and made subservient to Buddhist gods. But these are instances met with in writing; in practice also they did the same. A large number of images were carved by the followers of vajrayAna where the Hindu gods were represented in stone and in pictures as humiliated by Buddhist gods. No matter what attitude earlier Buddhists may have shown to the hindu faith, the later Buddhists maintained an aggressively hostile attitude against Hinduism and the Hindu pet theories of emancipation and this is conclusively proved by a very interesting passage in the chittashodhanaprakarana of aryadeva.
The passage in question contains a scathing indictment of the Hindu belief that bathing in holy places can confer merit and proves its futility in forcible but unequivocal language:
pratarannapi ga~NgAyAm naiva shvA shuddhimarhati |
tasmAddharmadhiyAM pumsAM tIrthasnAnam tu niShphalam ||
dharmo yadi bhavet snAnAt kaivartAnAm kR^itArthatA |
naktandivam praviShTAnAM matsyAdInAm tu kA kathA ||
pApakShayo.api snAnena naiva syAditi nishchayaH |
yato rAgAdibuddhistu dR^ishyate tIrthasevinAm ||
“A dog swimming in the Ganges is not considered pure, therefore bathing in holy places is futile for pious men. If bathing can confer merit, the fishermen must be most meritorious, not to speak of fish and other aquatic animals that are always in water day and night. It is certain that by bathing even sin is not dissipated, because people who are in the habit of making pilgrimages are full of passion, hatred and other vices”.
The study of iconography has revealed certain important facts of primary importance, especially how Tantric Buddhism influenced other religions of India, especially Hinduism. It is well-known that the paurANic pantheon of the Hindus influenced tAntric Buddhism, which was led to accept such gods as gaNesha, sarasvatI, etc., as gods in their own pantheon, but the point we want to emphasize here is that in purely tAntric matters, it was Buddhism which took the lead. From the discussion below, it will be clear that the weight of evidence is in favor of Buddhism, and that tAntric Hinduism drew its inspiration almost wholly from tAntric Buddhism.
It is well-known that the Hindus recognize a set of ten siddha mantras with ten deities presiding over them. One of the goddesses is known as tArA whose mantra consists of five syllables. The Hindus claim this deity as their own and in the tArArahasya of brahmAnanda who flourished in the middle of the 16th century and in the tantrasAra, a still later authority, we meet with the following dhyAna in which the form of tArA is given in detail:
pratyAlIDhapadAM ghorAM muNDamAlAvibhUShitAm |
kharvAM lambodarIM bhImAM vyaghracharmAvR^itAM kaTau ||
navayauvanasampannAM pa~nchamudrAvibhUShitAm |
chaturbhujAM lolajihvAM mahabhImAM varapradAm ||
pi~NgograikajaTAM dhyAyenmaulAvakShobhyabhUShitAm |
jvalacchitAmadhyagatAM ghoradaMShTrAM karAlinIm |
sAveshasmeravadanAM sarvAla~NkArabhUShitAm |
vishvavyApakatoyAntaH shvetapadmoparisthitAm ||
From this it would appear that tArA is a fairly awe-inspiring divinity standing in pratyAlIDha attitude with a garland of skulls round her neck, having a fierce face, protruding tongue and bare fangs. She is four-armed and carries in the two principal hands the kartri and the kapAla while in two others she carries the sword in the right and the blue lotus in the left. She is decked in five mudrAs, has one tuft of hair on her head which is ornamented with akShobhya.
Now for the purpose of comparison three points are of special value: tArA is ekajaTA (one tuft of hair), is decked in five mudrAs and has akShobhya on her crown. Why is she called ekajaTA, what the five mudrAs are, and who is akShobhya? These are three questions which cannot be explained in accordance with Hindu traditions.
The Hindus have no deity known as ekajaTA, but they have a tArA who is regarded as a different form of ekajaTA. They have a variety of mudrAs but no mudrA can be employed as an ornament, much less the five mudrAs which are unknown to them. The deities recognized by the Hindus are divided into two great divisions: shaiva and vaiShNava. Even as early as Megasthenes’s time the Hindus of india were divided into two mighty sections, vaiShNavas and shaivas. Hindu deities thus divided were never to have any other deity on their heads. This is not in the least necessary for Hindu representation of deities, but why should this tArA we are discussing have akShobhya on her crown? None of the points raised, therefore, is explained according to Hindu traditions.
The Buddhists have a deity called ekajaTA and various sAdhanas in sAdhanamAlA relate to the worship which is offered to this deity who is conceived in a variety of different forms. This deity is variously known as ugratArA, mahAchInatArA, ekajaTA, vidyujjihvAlakarAlI etc. Out of these the form known as mahAchInatArA agrees in all details with the description of tArA quoted previously. As regards the second point concerning the ornament of five mudrAs, the sAdhanamAlA offers a solution. According to a shloka, the Buddhists recognized six mudrAs or ornaments all made of human remains representing the six pAramitAs well-known in early Buddhism:
kaNThikAruchakaM ratnamekhalaM bhasmasUtrakam |
ShaT vai pAramitA etA mudrarUpeNa yojitA ||
“The Torque, the bracelets, a bejeweled girdle, ashes and the sacred thread represent the six pAramitAs and are applied in the form of mudrAs”.
It might therefore be inferred that the adjective panchamudrAvibhUShitA stands for a goddess decked in five ornaments made of human bones. This explanation is quite in keeping with the form and nature of the deity under discussion. The third point about the goddess having akShobhya on her head can easily be explained by a reference to Buddhist iconography. The Buddhists recognize five dhyAnI Buddhas as presiding over the five skandhas which are responsible for creation. The names of the five are given in the following couplet:
jino vairochano khyAto ratnasambha eva cha |
amitAbhAmoghasiddhirakShobhyashcha prakIrtitaH ||
The Bodhisattvas emanate from the five dhyAnI Buddhas: vairochana, ratnasambhava, amitAbha, amoghasiddhi and akShobhya, and do the work of creation, protection and destruction. All Bodhisattvas and Buddha-shakti-s emanating from a particular dhyAnI Buddha are required to bear a small figure of the parental dhyAni Buddha on their heads. In a large number of sAdhanas the deities are described as akShobhyamukuTinI, amitAbhavirAjitashiraska, vairochanabhUShitA etc., and those who have carefully examined the sculptures of Buddhist deities preserved in different museums must have noticed the very interesting miniature of the parental dhyAni Buddha appearing on the heads of most of the sculptures. An absurd explanation of this phenomenon of keeping the figure of akShobhya on the crown is given in the toDala tantra and it does not take much to identify its absurdity.
Thus, we can explain all the three points raised in connection with the Hindu deity tArA by means of Buddhist traditions. Let us now try to find out whether the identical deity can be found in the Buddhist tAntric literature. In a sAdhana composed by shAsvatavajra, we find the description of a deity identical in form and nature as our Hindu deity tArA.
pratyAlIDhapadAM ghorAM muNDamAlApralambitAm |
kharvalambodarAM bhImAm nIlanIrajara~njitAm ||
tryambakaikamukhAM divyAM ghorATTahAsabhAsurAm |
suprahR^iShTAM shavarUDhAM vyAghracharmAvR^itAm kaTau ||
navayauvanasampannAm pa~nchamudrAvibhUShitAm |
lalajjihvAm mahAbhImAm daMShTrotkaTavibhIShaNAm ||
khaDgakartrikarAm savye vamotpalakapAladhAm |
pi~NgograikajaTAm dhyAyet maulAvakShobhyabhUShitAm ||
This mahAchInatArA also, like the Hindu deity tArA, presents a fearful appearance with legs arranged in the pratyAlIDha attitude; she wears a garland of skulls, and her face is rendered fierce with protruding tongue and fangs. She carries in the two principal hands the kartari and kapAla, while in two others she carries the sword in the right and the blue lotus in the left. She is decked in five mudrAs and bears the figure of akShobhya on her crown. Thus the resemblance between the two is clear and complete. It is a pity the time of shAsvatavajra is not known except that he must be earlier than A.D. 1100, as his sAdhana dates back to 1165. But fortunately, there is, however, another way of finding out when the deity ekajaTA entered the Buddhist pantheon. In the colophon of the sAdhana 127 of ekajaTA in sAdhanamAlA, we meet with a remarkable sentence:
AryanAgArjunapAdairbhoTeShu uddhR^itam |
“Restored by Arya nAgArjunapAda from the country of bhoTa”.
This fact points to nAgArjuna as the pioneer to bring to India the worship of ekajaTA from the country of bhoTa, also known as mahAchIna, which accounts for the name of the deity mahAchInatArA. We may be pretty certain, therefore, that before the time of nAgArjuna, India knew of no deity as ekajaTA. The accurate time of nAgArjuna for the present remains an open question but from what has been said about him, we can place him around A.D. 645.
In this connection another fact is to be noticed namely the mention of the tradition in connection with the origin of mahAchInatArA according to purely Hindu traditions. In the tArA tantra, bhairavI asks bhairava the nature of the mantra by which Buddha and vasisTha obtained siddhi and bhairava in reply have out the secret tantra to her – a tantra belonging to the yogatantra class prescribing revolting practices. In the rudrayAmaLa again we read of vasisTha being asked to go to chInabhUmi where the Buddha was residing, vasisTha went there and saw the Buddha surrounded by a large number of women drinking wine and engaged in obscene rites. At this vasisTha had great fears and asked the Buddha to clear up his doubts. He eventually got his doubts cleared up and ultimately obtained perfection by muttering the mantra and by the free use of the five makAras.
In the brahmayAmaLa also the same story is repeated with some modification. vasisTha went to mahAchIna and witnessed the same scene as described in the rudrayAmaLa. vasisTha as a true follower of the vedic rites got horrified and was on the point of leaving the job, when there was a mysterious voice from the heaven which explained these strange rites as chInAchAra and asked him to follow the same for the attainment of perfection. vasisTha was pleased and eventually came to the Buddha when he was in a deeply drunken state. The latter after hearing him gave vasisTha all he desired.
In Hinduism, the rudrayAmaLa and brahmayAmaLa are regarded as tantras of great authority. The evidence of these two tantras as well as of the tArA tantra leads us to suppose that this tArA was worshipped in mahAchIna by the native inhabitants, who professed probably the primitive Bon religion of Tibet and that the Hindus got the vidyA from the Buddha or in other words from the Buddhists. It is very probable that nAgArjuna who flourished in the middle of the seventh century was the pioneer to introduce the worship of mahAchInatArA in India. The Mantra was first invented by the Buddhists and the Hindus quietly took it and found it to be a powerful charm invariably awarding siddhi, and that is probably the reason why the mantra was designated as one of the siddha mantras.
In this connection it should be borne in mind that the ancients looked upon the mantras with awe and believed that if the mantra were changed or distorted, it would give no result or produce great harm. Thus, though ekajaTA’s name was changed to tArA, her dhyAna was changed from the ungrammatical Buddhist language to grammatical, the Hindus did not change the mantra, which remained the same. This is a very important factor for all who will take up this line of investigation, because by comparing the mantras alone it will be possible to detect the common deities in different religions, to trace their origin and to know how they entered into the different pantheons.
Let us proceed to examine another deity who is included by the Hindus in the ten mahAvidyA group and who is called by them ChinnamastA. She is described in the tantrasAra and ChinnamastA kalpa in the following words:
madhye tu tAm mahAdevIm sUrakoTisamaprabhAm |
ChinnamastAm kare vAme dhArayantIm samastakam ||
pibantIm raudhirIm dharma nijakaNThavinirgatAm |
dakShiNe cha kare kartrIm muNDamAlAvibhUShitAm ||
digambarAm mahAbhImAm pratyAlIDhapadasthitAm |
asthimAlAdharAm devIm nAgayaj~nopavItinIm ||
ratikAmopaviShTAm tAm kechiddhyAyanti mantriNaH |
DAkinIvarNinIyuktAm vAmadakshiNayogataH ||
dakShiNe varNinIm dhyAyet DAkinIm vAmake tathA |
varNinIm lohitAm saumyAm muktakeshIm digambarAm ||
kapAlakartrikAhastAm vAmadakShiNayogataH |
devIgalocChaladraktadhArApAnAm prakurvatIm ||
DAkinIm vAmapArshve tu koTisUryAnalopamAm |
daMShTrAkarAlavadanAm pInonnatapayodharAm ||
mahAdevIm mahAghorAm muktakeshIm digambarAm |
lelihAnamahAjihvAm muNDamAlAvibhUShitAm ||
kapAlakartrikAhastAm vAmadakShiNayogataH |
devIgalocchaladraktadhArApAnam prakurvatIm ||
From thus dhyAna, the principal goddess ChinnamastA may be imagined to have a very awe-inspiring external appearance. She holds her own severed head in her left hand and from her severed neck issues forth a stream of blood falling into the mouth of the severed head. She is nude, of fierce appearance, with legs arranged in the pratyAlIDha attitude. She wears a garland of heads and carries in her right hand the kartari, and according to some stands on rati and kAma. She is accompanied by two attendants, DAkinI and varNinI on the right and left sides respectively. They are identical in form and appearance and carry the kartri in the right hand and the kapAla in the left, and drink the blood which issues in a stream from the severed neck of the principal deity.
Now, that we have a definite idea about the form of this powerful goddess from the Hindu sources let is turn to the sAdhanamAlA and see if we can find a deity identical in appearance and form with the Hindu goddess ChinnamastA. The sAdhanamAlA contains the description of a deity who is named vajrayoginI and resembles in all respects the form of ChinnamastA we have been discussing. There the dhyAna is:
pItavarNAm svayameva svakartrikartita svamastakavAmahastasthitAm dakShiNahastakartrisahitAm UrdhvavistR^itavAmabAhum adho namitadakShiNabAhum vAsaHshUnyAm prasAritadakShiNapAdAm sa~NkuchitavAmapAdAm bhAvayet | kabandhAnniHsR^ityAsR^igdhArA svamukhe pravishati, apare ubhayoH pArshvayoginyormukhe pravishati | vAmadakShiNapArshvayoH shyAmavarNavajravarNanI pItavarNavajravairochanyau vAmadakShiNahastakartrisahite dakShiNavAmahastakarparasahite prasAritavAmapAda prasAritadakShiNapAde muktakeshayu bhAvayet ||
According to Buddhist tradition, therefore, the deity should be nude and should carry her own head severed by herself with her own kartri which she carries in her right hand. She stands in the pratyAlIDha attitude with her left hand raised and the right hand lowered. She is accompanied by vajravarNanI and vajravairochanI who carry the kartri and karpara and stand in the pratyAlIDha attitude. From the neck of the principal deity issue forth streams of blood, one falling into her mouth and two others into the mouths of the two companions.
It is, therefore, apparent that the two deities though designated by two different names, ChinnamastA and vajrayoginI, are remarkably similar. And yet one is Hindu and the other is Buddhist. There thus arises the necessity to explain the origin of the deity and to ascertain whether she was originally Hindu or Buddhist. The tantrasAra is very late, and the bhairava tantra from which the dhyAna is quoted is of uncertain date. Therefore, these dates will not help. The sAdhanamAlA however, gives valuable data in ascertaining the antiquity of this deity. First of all, the sAdhana is ascertained to have been composed at least before 1100 A.D. The remarks contained in the sAdhanamAlA:
evam nandyAvartena siddhashabharapAdIyamata vajrayoginyArAdhanavidhiH |
show further that siddha shabarapAda was the ascetic responsible for the introduction of a new cult of vajrayoginI. This fact shows that the cult of vajrayoginI existed even before the time of siddha shabara who very probably flourished in A.D. 657 as shown earlier. The origin of the deity may, therefore, be dated earlier. At this stage, it is also necessary to refer to the mantras in question, which are likely to throw decisive light on this point. But unfortunately as much time has elapsed since the introduction of the vajrayoginI cult many copies of MSS containing the ritual of her worship have failed to bring out the original accuracy of the mantras and the practices. Very probably owing to this, errors and modifications are noticeable in the MSS now extant in the mantra of the goddess in Hindu literature, but it is still to be hoped that there remains enough to prove that the cult was originally Buddhist. [H: The topic of nandyAvarta is a big one and it is best we don't get into that at this point].
Quite naturally the mantra given in the sAdhanamAlA runs as:
OM OM OM sarvabuddhaDAkinIye vajravarNanIye vajravairochanIye hUM hUM hUM phaT phaT phaT svAhA ||
The three om letters are given to the three deities so also the three hUm letters and the three phaT-s. The principal deity is called in the mantra sarvabuddhaDAkinI, while the attendant to her left is vajravarNanI and to her right, vajravairochanI. The prefix ‘vajra’ shows that the deities belong to vajrayAna. Thus we can see that the mantra is the natural consequence of the form of the deity according to the canons of vajrayAna. The epithet sarvabuddhaDAkinI clearly shows the Buddhist character of the mantra. In the Buddhist tradition the principal deity is DAkinI and the companions are vajravarNanI and vajravairochanI. In the Hindu literature the principal deity is designated ChinnamastA while the companions are named DAkinI and varNanI with the prefix vajra dropped altogether. But the difficulty arises when we take up the mantra of the deity as given in Hindu tantras. The ChinnamastA kalpa enumerates several mantras as alternatives. The mantra given in tantrasAra includes sarvasiddhivairochanIye sarvasiddhiDAkinIye vajravairochanIye ihAviha etc. In this AvAhana mantra, the three names DAkinI, varNanI and vairochanI, all appear, but why the prefixes are changed from sarvasiddhi in the first two instances to vajra in the third instance, we fail to understand. The change, however, appears to be more or less deliberate as will be evident from the mantra given in the ChinnamastAkalpa, which reads: sarvabuddhiDAkinIye. From this it can definitely be said that the original of sarvasiddhi was sarvabuddha as is evident from sarvabuddhi of the ChinnamastAkalpa. If the original is taken in view of the circumstances noted above to be sarvabuddha there remains very little to show that the origin of the goddess is Buddhist.
Thus we can realize the importance of the study of iconography, especially in determining the origin of certain deities and certain mantras. In this connection there are more facts which are noteworthy. It may be remembered that the vajrayAnists described the idea of mahAsukha as a state when bodhichitta merges itself in shUnyatA as salt melts in water, and to symbolize this the followers of vajrayAna conceived the idea of Yabyum or yuganaddha deities, or deities in embrace. So Yabyum deities are an outcome of purely vajrayAnic idea, which were unknown to Hinduism before the tAntric age, and even now does not fit in well with Hindu ideas or traditions. If there be any deity of a yab-yum character in the Hindu pantheon, there is a strong suspicion that the deity may be of Buddhist origin. When kAlI, for instance, is described as viparItaratAturAm we have at once to regard this deity as of Buddhist origin. kAlI according to Buddhist traditions is kAdi or kakArAdi, or in other words, all consonants of the alphabet, as the vowels were designated Ali or akArAdi, and it is not to be wondered at if a deity is conceived by the Buddhists as kAlI belonging to the yogatantra class and in whom all the consonants of the alphabet are deified. In the yogatantra and anuttara yogatantra all gods are represented as embracing their shaktis and feeling the bliss of nirvana.
Another important fact to be noticed in fixing the origin of deities is their dhyAna. If the names of the deities end or begin with the word vajra in ninety percent of cases we may rest assured that they take their origin in Buddhism and where gods and goddesses are described as nude, lustful and involving sexual practices, their origin also may be regarded for certain as Buddhistic. When deities are described with ornaments of mudrAs representing pAramitAs and composed of human bones etc., they may be taken to have sprung from Buddhism.
To summarize, we have sufficient reasons to hold that the Hindu tantras were introduced on the model of the Buddhist Tantras and the Hindus borrowed many customs, practices, deities, and mantras. The very kulAchAra seems to have been originally conceived by the Buddhists and probably the forefathers of a large number of kaulas today were direct disciples of Buddhists in the tAntric age. DombI formulates that the worship of Kula is the most important in tAntric religion and it appears this is the first connotation of the word kula in this context. Without it no success can be achieved, but with it great success is possible of attainment. While explaining the word kula, he says, they are five in number and they originate from the dhyAni Buddhas: akShobhya, vairochana, amitAbha, ratnasambhava and amoghasiddhi and this is the reason why they are called kuleshas. The thunderbolt family originates from akShobhya, the Lotus family from amitAbha, the Jewel family from Ratnasambhava, the Disc family from Vairochana and the Action family from Amoghasiddhi. From this word kula the words kulAchAra, kaulika are derived. The kaulas declare themselves to be Tantric Hindus. From the literature of the extant Kaulism, the meaning of the word Kula is not consistent. Moreover, the large number of interpretations shows definitely that the Hindu counterparts were not certain about the meaning of the word. But the meaning in the Buddhist sense is quite clear and unequivocal; they give not more than one interpretation of the word. The kaulas according to them, mean the worshippers or the followers of the originators of the five families, namely of the five dhyAni Buddhas.
[H: This view is not very different from that held by traditional dakShiNAchAra-para brAhmaNas of South India who have had no exposure to such academic studies as the one presented here. They have, for a long time, maintained that the kaula practices and pancha makAra were imbibed by Hindus at kAmarUpa, navadvIpa etc. They saw this as unpardonable and unacceptable within the vedic fold not simply because these practices seemed to transgress smrti; the real reason was their origin within the Buddhist circles and the natural deduction that followed was that these were avaidika. The Shakti Sangama tantra goes so far as to describe kaulAchAra as bauddhAgamaprakAshita. The influence of some of the Hindu tantras on Buddhism cannot be negated either. One striking example is the lakula and daNDa of the kApAlikas and the khakaraka of the vajrAchAryas - vide hevajra. Some academicians have also pointed out that the kApAlika sect was the earliest Astika reaction in terms of asceticism to the exceedingly popular shramaNa movement and that would have a wide range of implications as well. It may be noted that makAra was three in number in the kApAlika tantras and were increased to five in kaula tantras based on the direct influence of the Buddhist tantras such as sekoddeShaTIkA, kAlachakra, hevajra and chaNDamahAroShaNa tantras. Most of the Hindu academicians seem to miss the importance of yuganaddha deities as this holds key to the fifth of the makAras. One should also observe the external vajra-kula concept of the Buddhists modeled after our own varNAshrama system that included six kulas: brAhmaNa, kShatriya, vaishya, shUdra, Domba and chANDAla. These were the external kulas and its adherents were named kaulas. There was also an exposition of the wider vajra-kula that included thirty-six social classes, a concept that didn't apparently go well with the shramaNas whose chief opposition against the vaidikas was this social hierarchy. This is supposed to have led to the conception of 'spiritual' kulas associated with the dhyAni Buddhas and eventually a doctrine of Kaula. During an email conversation with Dyczkowski, I expressed some concerns on some of his observations in this regard and pointed to kAlachakra tantra and his responses were far from satisfactory. Similar is the case of many other Hindu-para Academicians especially those dealing with Kashmiri Shaivism as their understanding of Buddhist Tantras is at best superficial. In future, we shall share with our readers this conversation as a part of a paper that discusses all of this from a different angle. We have reiterated time and again that such studies are not helpful eventually for sAdhanA siddhi and still hold strong to this opinion. None of the mahAsiddhas were involved in such studies and none of the famous comparative philosophers and scholars I have known - Eastern or Western - became Siddhas or can even faintly demonstrate any Tantric abilities or signs of divinity. While it is necessary to appreciate both of them for their own contributions, from the viewpoint of Siddhi, svashAstra is all one needs to study correctly and thoroughly. This completes the series on Buddhist Tantra. I recollect what Dalai Lama once said, when we had an opportunity to hold a short conversation with him - "Indian Buddhists were, after all, Indian". I now wonder whether he meant 'Hindu' when he said 'Indian' ... ha ha it gets dark there :D]