The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India

By Toni Huber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER Four
Tantric Buddhist India and Its
Tibetan Appropriation

By resorting to pīṭha or upaītha, people can become stainless. Wan-
dering to them and examining their characteristics, one will become
wise and free from conceptuality.

Samvarodaya-tantra 9:25


Introduction

During the imperial era of Tibetan history, when peoples of the high plateau of Tibet began their slow conversion to and assimilation of Buddhism, the bulk of Buddhist practices, narratives, and doctrines that were reliably available to them were those of the Mainstream (or Hinayāna) and particularly Mahāyāna styles of Buddhism. By comparison, the Vajrayāna or Tantric Buddhist teachings were more marginally present in Tibet at this time.1 Access to Tantric teachings during the imperial era was impeded, in part, due to careful controls established by a conservative Tibetan religiopolitical elite. Yet, in spite of certain degrees of rarity and restriction, it is evident that a culturally creative background interest in Indian Tantra did develop in imperial Tibet, and that it continued despite the widespread decline of Buddhist monasticism there following the disintegration of the empire during the ninth and tenth centuries.2

During the same period in India, Tantric systems were enjoying a remarkable flourishing. New and ever more sophisticated Tantric Buddhist ritual and narrative texts were being compiled, often in a complex relationship to other non-Buddhist systems of South Asian Tantra. Before the demise of all practicing schools of Indian Tantra by the thirteenth century, the Vajrayāna tradition culminated in the production of a sophisticated set of rituals and narratives set down in a class of texts known as the

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