Vajrayāna (Diamond Vehicle)

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The yoga, Śivaism, and polytheism of Pātañjali (c. 200 b.c.), systematized into tantric Buddhism by Asaga (c. a.d. 500) and other Indian masters. It was introduced into China in 716 by Śubhakara (636735) as a cult of a pantheon of patrons who were to be propitiated by spells. It was popularized by Vajrabodhi (671741), developed by Amoghavajra (704774), along with Samantabhadra's esoterism and the Ullambana (All Souls Suffrage, of Christian inspiration), and finally brought to Japan by Kūkai in 806.

The diamond element of the universe (vajra ) is the wisdom of Vairocana (Great Sun) in its indestructibility and activity. It leads one to instant Buddhahood and wonderworking by spells (dhāranī ), incantations (mantra ), hand-poses as described in the esoteric scriptures (tantra ), and meditation, and by the eightfold power to make one's body lighter, heavier, smaller, or larger than anything in the world, and to reach any place, take any shape, control any natural law, and make everything depend on one's will.

The Right Hand Vajrayāna was devoted to masculine divinities and strict asceticism, while the Left Hand Vajrayāna worshipped the wives of buddhas and bodhisattvas as female saviors (tārā ), personifying the active aspects of their consorts. The initiated met secretly at night to recite spells and practice sexual promiscuity, to symbolize and effect the union of the phenomenal Means (upāya ) with the noumenal Wisdom (prajñā ) according to the philosophical doctrines of the Vijñānavāda and Mādhyamika schools.

Bibliography: y. chou, "Tantrism in China," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 8 (1945) 241332. s. dasgupta, An Introduction to Tantric Buddhism (2d ed. Calcutta 1958). r. tajima, Les deux grands mandalas et la doctrine de l'esotérisme Shingon (Paris 1959). e. conze, The Prajñāpāramitā Literature (The Hague 1960). g. tucci, The Theory and Practice of the Maala with Special Reference to the Modern Psychology of the Subconscious (London 1961). g. e. cairns, "The Philosophy and Psychology of the Oriental Maala," Philosophy East and West 11 (1962) 219229. a. wayman, "Buddhist Genesis and the Tantric Tradition," Oriens Extremus 9 (1962) 127131. j. christian, "Bouddhisme et Tantrisme," France-Asie N.S. 18 (1962) 314319.

[a. s. rosso]