History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions
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.
Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism is a major contribution to our understanding of Indian esoteric (or Tantric) Buddhism. Christian K. Wedemeyer writes with verve, humor, and--most crucially--remarkable clarity, managing to explain difficult texts and ideas with great lucidity.
Roger R. Jackson, Carleton College
An important new work in Buddhology
Wedemeyer not only provides an advanced introduction, but also makes the reader question the assumptions (and almost everyone has assumptions about Tantra!) they bring to and expect of the study of Tantric Buddhism.
Justin Thomas McDaniel
A clear work that engages a fresh methodology in order to articulate a new theory of Buddhist antinomianism, offering thereby a novel way to 'make sense' of tantric Buddhism.
List of Figures and Tables
Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Making Sense in and of the Human Sciences
Part 1: Historiography
Understanding Tantric Buddhism through its Origins
The Quest for Origins as Method in the History of Religions
2. Narrating Tantric Buddhism
The Poetics of Historiography
The Tropology of Esoteric Buddhism
Historical Narrative and Ideological Implication
3. Going Native: Traditional Historiography of Esoteric Buddhism
Historiography and Cosmology in Exoteric Buddhism
Historiography and Cosmology in Esoteric Buddhism
Observations on Structure
Part 2: Interpretation
4. The Semiology of Transgression
The Literal and the Figurative in Tantric Hermeneutics
Connotative Semiotics as Exegetical Method
Connotative Semiotics in Tantric Ritual
Connotative Semiotics in Tantric Scripture
5. "The Practice" of Indian Esoteric Buddhism
Terms of Art as an Interpretative Problem
Interpreting the Practice Observance I: Irony and Inversion
Interpreting the Practice Observance II: Prerequisites and Temporal Frame
Interpreting the Practice Observance III: ?aiva Parallels
6. Tantric Buddhist Transgression in Context
The Social Location of Tantric Buddhism as an Interpretative Problem
The Common Repertoire of Buddhist Professionals
"Carnivalesque" or "Rituals of Rebellion"?
But...Did They Really Do It?!
Conclusion: No Two "Ways" About It
Appendix I: The Indrabhuti Story According to Pad ma dkar po (ca. 1575)
Appendix II: Chapter Nine of the Buddhakapala Tantra, "The Practice" (Caryapatala)
Read the introduction, "Making Sense In and Of the Human Sciences" (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner)
2013 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Historical Studies from the American Academy of Religion