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HEVAJRA . The term Hevajra is a name of the central male deity of the maala described in the text of that name, the Hevajra Tantra. The image of Hevajra, which was relatively common in Indian Buddhist art from the tenth century onward, is that of a yogin. Dark blue in color, he is depicted naked yet covered with numerous ornaments, most noticeably a skull garland, skull staff (khavāga ), ritual scepter (vajra ), and bell, and with his dreadlocks tied up in the impressive crest preferred by Indian renunciant yogins. An idealized image of a yogin, it is naturally the case that the tradition that gave rise to these images, and also the associated textual and ritual practices, originated among the communities of renunciants, who constituted what might be termed the "siddha movement" and who from the eighth century onward were an important influence on the development Buddhist Tantric traditions.

The Hevajra Tantra, while a Buddhist scripture with identifiably Buddhist elements, was heavily influenced by this movement. Composed by the late eighth century, the Hevajra Tantra exhibits the charnel-ground culture of the siddha movement, with its emphasis on transgressive practices, particularly in the areas of sexuality and food consumption. Classified as a "Yoginī" or "Mother" Tantra, it also places great emphasis upon female deities, although it is arguable to what extent, if any, this translated into increased respect for women. Like most Tantras, the majority of the text deals with ritual, with great focus placed upon magical rites employing mantras, often for worldly purposes such as affecting the weather. It is also noticeable for its employment of songs written in the Apabraśa dialect, as well as its prescription of a "coded language" (sandhyā-bhāā ) for use by yogins and yoginīs in their Tantric feasts. This has been a topic of great interest for scholars, past and present. In traditional Indian and Tibetan Buddhist contexts, the Hevajra Tantra played an important role in the development of Tantric hermeneutics, and it thus made an important contribution to Buddhist scholarship from the ninth century onward. This "coded language," which has been previously translated as "twilight language," has also been a serious object of study since the mid-twentieth century, and its interpretation has inspired some controversy.

The Hevajra Tantra and its ritual and meditative traditions focus upon a maala as its central iconographic feature. The maala also functions as the premier site for its ritual practices, such as consecration (abhieka ) ceremonies, and its meditative practice, since many meditations in the tradition require that the adept either visualize himself or herself within the maala, or view the maala as existing within his or her body. While there are many different types of Hevajra maalas, probably the best-known version is the relatively simple "skull cupbearing" (kapāladharin ) maala, so called because it centers upon Kapāladharī Hevajra, who in this form has sixteen arms, each of which holds a skull cup. He is depicted as being in sexual union with his consort, Nairātmyā. They are in turn surrounded by a circle of eight yoginīs : Gaurī, Śavarī, Caurī, Caalī, Vetālī, ombinī, Ghasmarī, and Pukkasī. Because the central deity couple are said to be "nondual," it is described as being a nine-deity maala.

The Hevajra tradition is particularly noted for its theory of the four joys (caturānanda ) achieved via sexual union in the context of Perfection Stage meditation practices that involve focused attention upon the subtle body, and the manipulation of "winds" of vital energy and "drops" of subtle sexual fluids within this body's channels. Of greatest importance is the fourth of these, the "natural joy" (sahajānanda ). The concept of the "natural" sahaja state became an important element in the discourse of the siddha movement in India, and it has retained its significance to this day among communities of Tantric Buddhists, particularly in Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, and elsewhere in the diaspora.

The Hevajra Tantra was translated into Chinese by Dharmapāla (9631058) in 1055 ce, but like other Buddhist Tantras that were translated into Chinese at this time, its practice does not appear to have taken root in China. It was, however, successfully transmitted to Tibet. It was one of the central teachings that the Tibetan scholar Mar pa (Marpa, 1002/121096) received from the Indian saint Nāropa (c. 9661040), and Mar pa in turn passed it on to his famous disciple Mi la ras pa (Milarepa, 1028/401111/23), whose disciples would found the Bka' brgyud (Kagyu) orders of Tibetan Buddhism, which continue to transmit the Hevajra tradition as one of their central teachings. It was also transmitted to Tibet by one of Mar pa's contemporaries, the translator-scholar 'Brog mi (Dok-mi, 9921072), who studied at Vikramaśila in Northeast India with Ratnākaraśānti (c. eleventh century). He in turn instructed Dkon mchog rgyal po (Könchog Gyalpo, 10341102), one of the founders of the Sa skya (Sakya) school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Hevajra Tantra would become one of the central teachings of the Sa skya school, and it provides the basis for its "Path and Fruit" (lam 'bras ) system of Perfection Stage yoga.

The Sa skya school also played an essential role in the dissemination of Buddhism to the Mongols. During the Yuan dynasty, the Mongols achieved hegemony over Tibet and appointed the Tibetan Sa skya Paita (Sakya Paita, 11821251) to be their governor of Tibet in 1249. His nephew, the Sa skya lama 'Phags pa (Pakpa, 12351280), became a friend and advisor of Kublai Khan (12161294). Tibetan interactions with the Mongols continued for centuries following the collapse of the Yuan dynasty in 1368 ce, and the Hevajra Tantra was among the many texts and traditions successfully transmitted to the Mongols.

See Also



Broido, Michael. "Does Tibetan Hermeneutics Throw Any Light on Sandhābhāa." Journal of the Tibet Society 2 (1982): 539. A study of the Hevajra Tantra's "coded language" and Tibetan scholarship on it.

Davidson, Ronald. "Reframing Sahaja : Genre, Representation, Ritual, and Lineage." Journal of Indian Philosophy 30 (2002): 4583. An excellent discussion of the concept of sahaja, highlighting the Hevajra Tantra's influence on its development.

Davidson, Ronald. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement. New York, 2002. Provides a useful overview of the "coded language" of the Hevajra Tantra.

Farrow, G. W., and I. Menon, trans. and eds. The Concealed Essence of the Hevajra Tantra. Delhi, 1992. A translation of the Tantra, together with Kāha's Yogaratnamālā commentary.

Snellgrove, David L. The Hevajra Tantra: A Critical Study. 2 vols. London, 1959. Overall, a very good translation, marred only by Snellgrove's refusal to translate the most explicitly sexual portions of the text. It also includes Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of the text, as well as a Sanskrit edition of Kāha's Yogaratnamālā commentary.

Willemen, Charles, trans. and ed. The Chinese Hevajratantra: The Scriptural Text of the Ritual of the Great King of the Teaching, the Adamantine One with Great Compassion and Knowledge of the Void. Leuven, Belgium, 1983. A translation and study of the Chinese translation of the Hevajra Tantra.

David B. Gray (2005)