Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions

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Columbia University Press, May 6, 2014 - Religion - 336 pages
Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism fundamentally rethinks the nature of the transgressive theories and practices of the Buddhist Tantric traditions, challenging the notion that the Tantras were “marginal” or primitive and situating them instead—both ideologically and institutionally—within larger trends in mainstream Buddhist and Indian culture.

Critically surveying prior scholarship, Wedemeyer exposes the fallacies of attributing Tantric transgression to either the passions of lusty monks, primitive tribal rites, or slavish imitation of Saiva traditions. Through comparative analysis of modern historical narratives—that depict Tantrism as a degenerate form of Buddhism, a primal religious undercurrent, or medieval ritualism—he likewise demonstrates these to be stock patterns in the European historical imagination.

Through close analysis of primary sources, Wedemeyer reveals the lived world of Tantric Buddhism as largely continuous with the Indian religious mainstream and deploys contemporary methods of semiotic and structural analysis to make sense of its seemingly repellent and immoral injunctions. Innovative, semiological readings of the influential Guhyasamaja Tantra underscore the text’s overriding concern with purity, pollution, and transcendent insight—issues shared by all Indic religions—and a large-scale, quantitative study of Tantric literature shows its radical antinomianism to be a highly managed ritual observance restricted to a sacerdotal elite. These insights into Tantric scripture and ritual clarify the continuities between South Asian Tantrism and broader currents in Indian religion, illustrating how thoroughly these “radical” communities were integrated into the intellectual, institutional, and social structures of South Asian Buddhism.
 

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Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
xv
List of Abbreviations
xix
Making Sense in and of the Human Sciences
xxiii
Historiography
xxxvii
Interpretation
ii
No Two Ways About It
63
The Indrabhuti Story According to Pad ma dkar po ca 1575
70
Chapter Nine of the Buddhakapala Tantra The Practice Caryapatala
72
Notes
74
Bibliography
267
Index
301
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About the author (2014)

Christian K. Wedemeyer is associate professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School and in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. He is the translator and editor of Aryadeva's Lamp That Integrates the Practices: The Gradual Path of Vajrayana Buddhism According to the Esoteric Community Noble Tradition, and his research concerns the history and literature of Buddhism in Southern Asia and Tibet.

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