What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

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What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Jikan » Mon Mar 21, 2011 11:54 pm

In this thread...

viewtopic.php?f=77&t=3556

...the question of whether nembutsu (reciting the name of Buddha Amitabha) is in itself a tantric practice. It's OT to that thread, so here it is in a new one.

Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana, Mikkyo) is a form of Mahayana practice that necessarily involves several elements. Among these are abhiseka (empowerment), qualified guru... and a certain way of understanding reality. (tantra means "continuum.")

Not all these elements are present in nembutsu practice, so it makes no sense to say it is in fact a tantric practice. It is like tantric practice in some respects, however.

Questions, comments, or corrections?
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby LastLegend » Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:06 am

<------------Ehh two cents for you
Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana, Mikkyo) is a form of Mahayana practice that necessarily involves several elements. Among these are abhiseka (empowerment), qualified guru... and a certain way of understanding reality. (tantra means "continuum.")


Namo Amitabha does not have to go through this step to get the effect. If by 'continuum' you mean in relation to Buddha Nature, then you are right that Namo Amitabha is Tantric. Every time you say Namo Amitabha, Amitabha sends his infinite light to you.
Last edited by LastLegend on Tue Mar 22, 2011 3:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:49 am

Jikan wrote:In this thread...

viewtopic.php?f=77&t=3556

...the question of whether nembutsu (reciting the name of Buddha Amitabha) is in itself a tantric practice. It's OT to that thread, so here it is in a new one.

Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana, Mikkyo) is a form of Mahayana practice that necessarily involves several elements. Among these are abhiseka (empowerment), qualified guru... and a certain way of understanding reality. (tantra means "continuum.")

Not all these elements are present in nembutsu practice, so it makes no sense to say it is in fact a tantric practice. It is like tantric practice in some respects, however.

Questions, comments, or corrections?


Nembutsu is not a tantric practice, requires no transmission, belonging to sutra. It absolutely does not resemble a tantric practice in anyway.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Aemilius » Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:12 pm

It depends on how you see it; "sutra" is merely a word, "tantra" is merely a word. In Tibet they have a transalation of the Avatamsaka Sutra in Kangyur, but they felt it belongs to the category of Tantra, and so it is found in the Tantra section of the Kangyur, not in the Sutra Section. Similarly in Japan the Vairocana Abhisambodhi Tantra is classified as a Sutra. And so on,... The Sutra Of Golden Light has also been classified a Tantra by some tibetan scholars,( this is told in a work translated by Alex Wayman).
Obviously there is oral transmission in all of the Mahayana schools, it is not something peculiar to tantras only.
Avatamsaka sutra speaks of abhiseka or initiation in the career of a bódhisattva, etc...
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:22 pm

Aemilius wrote:It depends on how you see it; "sutra" is merely a word, "tantra" is merely a word. In Tibet they have a transalation of the Avatamsaka Sutra in Kangyur, but they felt it belongs to the category of Tantra, and so it is found in the Tantra section of the Kangyur, not in the Sutra Section. Similarly in Japan the Vairocana Abhisambodhi Tantra is classified as a Sutra. And so on,... The Sutra Of Golden Light has also been classified a Tantra by some tibetan scholars,( this is told in a work translated by Alex Wayman).
Obviously there is oral transmission in all of the Mahayana schools, it is not something peculiar to tantras only.
Avatamsaka sutra speaks of abhiseka or initiation in the career of a bódhisattva, etc...



The Avatamsaka sutra is not found in the rgyud sde of the Kangyur, I can assure you since I have access to several versions. There is a two volume collection at the end of the rgyud sde where all dharanis from both sutra and tantra are collected. The dharanis in the Avatamska are also found there.

The abhisheka mentioned in the Dasabhumi sutra and the Lanka-avatara is only bestowed upon tenth stage bodhisattvas. It is not a method that is taught for ordinary people.

These kinds of misconceptions have been put to bed by Indian tantric scholars 1200 years ago. Tripitikamala is one person you should read to understand the difference between sutra and tantras, as well as many others.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Mar 22, 2011 3:05 pm

But what is the definitive attribute of tantra that makes it separate from sutra? Like, for instance, according to Kukai it is that exoteric teachings were taught by rupakaya buddha and they're all upaya, while the esoteric teachings are from the dharmakaya buddha and they convey the truth as it is. Although it's possible to argue with that but I guess that's a start.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Mar 22, 2011 3:12 pm

Astus wrote:But what is the definitive attribute of tantra that makes it separate from sutra? Like, for instance, according to Kukai it is that exoteric teachings were taught by rupakaya buddha and they're all upaya, while the esoteric teachings are from the dharmakaya buddha and they convey the truth as it is. Although it's possible to argue with that but I guess that's a start.


Tripitikamala's famous statement is:

"Although the goal is the same, since it is unconfused,
with many methods, not difficult,
and mastered by those of sharp faculties,
Mantrayāna is superior."

In terms of methods, the Vajrapanjara states:

"Created by passion, the worldly
shall be liberated by the same passion."

Etc.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Mar 22, 2011 3:46 pm

Superior and passionate. I don't think it could help distinguishing one text/method from the other. Also, I don't see passion emphasised in EA mantrayana at all.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Aemilius » Tue Mar 22, 2011 3:51 pm

Namdrol wrote:
Aemilius wrote:It depends on how you see it; "sutra" is merely a word, "tantra" is merely a word. In Tibet they have a transalation of the Avatamsaka Sutra in Kangyur, but they felt it belongs to the category of Tantra, and so it is found in the Tantra section of the Kangyur, not in the Sutra Section. Similarly in Japan the Vairocana Abhisambodhi Tantra is classified as a Sutra. And so on,... The Sutra Of Golden Light has also been classified a Tantra by some tibetan scholars,( this is told in a work translated by Alex Wayman).
Obviously there is oral transmission in all of the Mahayana schools, it is not something peculiar to tantras only.
Avatamsaka sutra speaks of abhiseka or initiation in the career of a bódhisattva, etc...



The Avatamsaka sutra is not found in the rgyud sde of the Kangyur, I can assure you since I have access to several versions. There is a two volume collection at the end of the rgyud sde where all dharanis from both sutra and tantra are collected. The dharanis in the Avatamska are also found there.

The abhisheka mentioned in the Dasabhumi sutra and the Lanka-avatara is only bestowed upon tenth stage bodhisattvas. It is not a method that is taught for ordinary people.

These kinds of misconceptions have been put to bed by Indian tantric scholars 1200 years ago. Tripitikamala is one person you should read to understand the difference between sutra and tantras, as well as many others.


Sorry, but I have quite certainly read that Avatamsaka sutra is there, with some name or another, in the class of yoga tantras if I right remember, unfortunately Alex Wayman is deceased, he would ceratainly know this topic.

I don't claim to say that there is no difference between them. But when you read and hear various definitions of initiation, -and they are many and various-, it is not so obvious what is and what is not Tantra?
What is your opinion, is Vairocana Abhisambodhi a Sutra when it is a called by that name ?
Are the initiations in the BoyScouts movement tantric? -if they happen to contain some elements that you later, as an adult, encounter again in some weird tibetan rituals ?
Tantra is not dependent on the word tantra, or the word rgyud!
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Mar 22, 2011 4:27 pm

"That which abides in the class of being distinguished by [1] being Mahayana and [2] having cultivation of a path according in aspect with the form body (rupakaya) of a buddha is the definition of the Vajra Vehicle. This is established by texts of Highest Mantra as well as the lower tantras."
(Jeffrey Hopkins: Tantric Techniques, p. 373)
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby LastLegend » Tue Mar 22, 2011 4:42 pm

Astus wrote:"That which abides in the class of being distinguished by [1] being Mahayana and [2] having cultivation of a path according in aspect with the form body (rupakaya) of a buddha is the definition of the Vajra Vehicle. This is established by texts of Highest Mantra as well as the lower tantras."
(Jeffrey Hopkins: Tantric Techniques, p. 373)


I would like to elaborate that Tantra or Zen or Pure Land or any other still needs to maintain Conduct/following precepts/practice, Concentration (result of practice), Wisdom (as a result of concentration).

In order to maintain the alike body form to that of a Buddha, one must maintain conduct/follow precepts/practice in order to cultivate the mind and body that is not different from that of a Buddha.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Mar 22, 2011 4:59 pm

Aemilius wrote:
Sorry, but I have quite certainly read that Avatamsaka sutra is there, with some name or another, in the class of yoga tantras if I right remember, unfortunately Alex Wayman is deceased, he would ceratainly know this topic.


Sorry, but I have analyzed in detail the contents of the bka' 'rgyur personally, so I will have suggest that my direct experience of reading many texts in this collection sutras and tantras supersedes your second hand report.

You can of course choose to read through it yourself to prove me wrong: http://www.tbrc.org/#library_work-O3JW118743JW21498

There are six bka' 'rgyurs at the end of this link. Look there.

The only text, as I have said, in the rgyud 'bum from Avatamska is the dharani:

http://www.tbrc.org/link/?RID=O1GS12980 ... 118$W22084


I don't claim to say that there is no difference between them. But when you read and hear various definitions of initiation, -and they are many and various-, it is not so obvious what is and what is not Tantra?


There are four types of initiations in Vajrayana. There are no types of initiations at all in Sutra, apart from the name "abhisheka" found in the sources referenced above, and I am sure, others Mahayana sutras that talk about the transition from tenth bhumi to buddhahood.

The four types of initiations found as described in Indo -- Tibetan sources are:

a rig gtad i.e. the simple entrustment of a vidyāmantra -- this system belongs primarily to kriya tantra.

rje gnang: this is permission right, which is a blessing of body, speech and mind. This is comes from Carya tantra, and can be applied to most deities.

There is abhisheka [dbang skur] -- this comes from Kriya tantra, is more developed in Yoga tantra.

byin rlabs -- this is a type of blessing ritual specific to Anuttarayoga tantra -- it is an abbreviated form of dbang skur, abhisheka where the outer vase empowerment is significantly shortened and the main emphasis is on the three higher abhishekas.

We might add to this, the so called rig pa' rtsal dbang of Dzogchen Atiyoga.

The names may be different in Shingon and Tendai, but the basic principles will be the same up to Yoga tantra.

Other than these aforementioned types of inititations, there are no other types of initiations in Vajrayana.


What is your opinion, is Vairocana Abhisambodhi a Sutra when it is a called by that name ?


Also some Dzogchen tantras are given the name "sutra". What counts is content and method.

When we say "Sutra" and "Tantra" we are making a distinction between methods. This does not mean that every tantric text must be called a "tantra" to be in fact a tantric text.

This is mostly confusing when we are talking about early transitional texts in the evolution of the Buddhist tantras -- for example, the Mahāvairocana abhisambodhi tantra is called a sutra in earlier, Japanese recensions.


Tantra is not dependent on the word tantra, or the word rgyud!


Primarily what distinguishes a tantra from a sutra is method.

Anyway, if you are still confused about this I suggest you try to read Jamgon Kongtrul's Systems of Buddhist Tantra where he makes it quite clear what the difference between sutra and tantra is.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby conebeckham » Tue Mar 22, 2011 5:48 pm

Anyway, if you are still confused about this I suggest you try to read Jamgon Kongtrul's Systems of Buddhist Tantra where he makes it quite clear what the difference between sutra and tantra is.


I second this recommendation. But be advised, this is a dense read. It, along with "The Elements of Tantric Practice," are the clearest elucidations of the specific details of Tantric Practice and technique in English, in my opinion. This stuff is pure Gold.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Aemilius » Wed Mar 23, 2011 2:07 pm

Astus wrote:But what is the definitive attribute of tantra that makes it separate from sutra? Like, for instance, according to Kukai it is that exoteric teachings were taught by rupakaya buddha and they're all upaya, while the esoteric teachings are from the dharmakaya buddha and they convey the truth as it is. Although it's possible to argue with that but I guess that's a start.


Conze remarks that there is very little actual meditation practice instructions, or none at all, in the Mahayana Sutras. He thinks that Tantra arose from the practice instructions that were there all the time as oral instructions connected to the Mahayana, or in the Mahayana. The system got gradually more and more eleborate, and it was gradually written down after having existed as a purely oral tradition for about one thousand years. Its existence in a written form changed its character radically in a few hundred years.
Can you imagine what it would be like today ? I.e. that only sutras are known to exist, and there are no tantras at all that can be discussed by anyone !? (Because they are still secret and exclusicely an oral tradition).
It was like that in India for a long, we can be sure about that, i.e. that tantra did not have a public existence.
We cannot imagine tha situation at all. Making distinctions and definitions about it appears on the stage much later.
In a sense Tantra has replaced Mahayana, because it is now a public teaching, easily available and it is known to exist.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Wed Mar 23, 2011 2:25 pm

Aemilius wrote:
Conze remarks that there is very little actual meditation practice instructions, or none at all, in the Mahayana Sutras.


Conze must not have read many Mahayana sutras, then.
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there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Wed Mar 23, 2011 3:08 pm

Aemilius,

Could you brush up your sources? I mean, when you refer to a text as a source you should have access to it and be able to give an exact citation. First you say Wayman said the Avatamsaka Sutra is among the tantras, now that Conze was unaware of the large number of meditation texts. Both are unlikely statements.

"As a more or less public system of thought, the Tantra gathered momentum after 500 or 600 A.D. Its beginnings do, however, go back to the dawn of human history, when an agricultural society was pervaded by magic and witchcraft, human sacrifice and the cult of the mother goddess, fertility rites and chtonic deities. The Tantra is not really a new creation, but the result of an absorption of primitive beliefs by the literary tradition, and their blending with Buddhist philosophy."
(Edward Conze: Buddhism - Its Essence and Development, p. 176-177)

Later he lists three practices specific to Tantra:

1. the recitation of spells
2. the performance of ritual gestures and dances
3. the identification with deities by means of a special kind of meditation
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Wed Mar 23, 2011 4:05 pm

Astus wrote:Aemilius,

Could you brush up your sources? I mean, when you refer to a text as a source you should have access to it and be able to give an exact citation. First you say Wayman said the Avatamsaka Sutra is among the tantras, now that Conze was unaware of the large number of meditation texts. Both are unlikely statements.

"As a more or less public system of thought, the Tantra gathered momentum after 500 or 600 A.D. Its beginnings do, however, go back to the dawn of human history, when an agricultural society was pervaded by magic and witchcraft, human sacrifice and the cult of the mother goddess, fertility rites and chtonic deities. The Tantra is not really a new creation, but the result of an absorption of primitive beliefs by the literary tradition, and their blending with Buddhist philosophy."
(Edward Conze: Buddhism - Its Essence and Development, p. 176-177)

Later he lists three practices specific to Tantra:

1. the recitation of spells
2. the performance of ritual gestures and dances
3. the identification with deities by means of a special kind of meditation



This characterization of tantra by Conze is naive and silly.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Daniel Arraes » Wed Mar 23, 2011 9:06 pm

Aemilius wrote:It depends on how you see it; "sutra" is merely a word, "tantra" is merely a word. In Tibet they have a transalation of the Avatamsaka Sutra in Kangyur, but they felt it belongs to the category of Tantra, and so it is found in the Tantra section of the Kangyur, not in the Sutra Section. Similarly in Japan the Vairocana Abhisambodhi Tantra is classified as a Sutra. And so on,... The Sutra Of Golden Light has also been classified a Tantra by some tibetan scholars,( this is told in a work translated by Alex Wayman).
Obviously there is oral transmission in all of the Mahayana schools, it is not something peculiar to tantras only.
Avatamsaka sutra speaks of abhiseka or initiation in the career of a bódhisattva, etc...


Actually, the term "jing" 經 is a pan-Chinese one to indicate "text" and has many conotations in Buddhism besides merely 'Sutra'. It can mean 'Upadesha' or 'Tantra'. Kukai and Saicho had a disagreement exactly because of this mistaken conflation.
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Aemilius » Thu Mar 24, 2011 2:11 pm

Astus wrote:Aemilius,

Could you brush up your sources? I mean, when you refer to a text as a source you should have access to it and be able to give an exact citation. First you say Wayman said the Avatamsaka Sutra is among the tantras, now that Conze was unaware of the large number of meditation texts. Both are unlikely statements.

"As a more or less public system of thought, the Tantra gathered momentum after 500 or 600 A.D. Its beginnings do, however, go back to the dawn of human history, when an agricultural society was pervaded by magic and witchcraft, human sacrifice and the cult of the mother goddess, fertility rites and chtonic deities. The Tantra is not really a new creation, but the result of an absorption of primitive beliefs by the literary tradition, and their blending with Buddhist philosophy."
(Edward Conze: Buddhism - Its Essence and Development, p. 176-177)

Later he lists three practices specific to Tantra:

1. the recitation of spells
2. the performance of ritual gestures and dances
3. the identification with deities by means of a special kind of meditation


Conze says more about tantra and/or "the sifting line of esoterism in buddhism" somewhere in his numerous books. I'm really sorry, I don't have a large library at my disposal, currently, I rely in my memory, which is as bad, or sometimes also good, as it is ???
I said nothing like what you have read. The meaning is that Dhyana was an oral topic for about 500 to 1000 years, then the knowledge about dhyana was written down, and it gradually ceased to be esoteric. The main idea is that in the beginning public teachings were exclusively something like the Dharmapada, and Jatakas, and nothing much more. The Dhyana teaching and Dhyana experience exists from the very beginning, Dhyana has certain qualities, it creates new and fresh knowledge, because of direct contact with the source. This is what E. Conze is getting at, that direct experience of the source of buddhism produces new things and makes old things become alive.
Before the advent of the texts called Dhyanas ( and Sadhanas) there was a stream of oral knowledge.

I said that Alex Wayman would know this topic, if he was alive.

The source for the information that Avatamsaka sutra is somewhere in Kangyur, classisfied as a yoga tantra text, comes from some book about the I Jamgon Kongtrul. I Jamgon Kongtrul namely quotes Avatamsaka sutra in his works, certainly in Myriad Worlds for example, and this author explains that the text that Jamgon Kongtrul has read is found in yoga tantra category ( can't remember its actual name). (And I'm sorry again for the inaccuracy about this source!) (I was astonished that it is not common knowledge!)
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Re: What is a tantric teaching in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:14 pm

Aemilius wrote:The source for the information that Avatamsaka sutra is somewhere in Kangyur, classisfied as a yoga tantra text, comes from some book about the I Jamgon Kongtrul. I Jamgon Kongtrul namely quotes Avatamsaka sutra in his works, certainly in Myriad Worlds for example, and this author explains that the text that Jamgon Kongtrul has read is found in yoga tantra category ( can't remember its actual name). (And I'm sorry again for the inaccuracy about this source!) (I was astonished that it is not common knowledge!)



The Yoga tantras make use of the Buddhist cosmology first laid out in Avatamska, but Avatamska is not a Yoga tantra. He cites Flower Ornament three times, but never as a yoga tantra.
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