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India and Tibet in Tantric Literature

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 11:41 PM
Once the terminological problem has been pointed out, and some important illustrations have been made, we can now proceed to a survey which presupposes some acquaintance with the Tibetan Sanskrit lexical situation and at the same time provides a transition to the diffuse patterns of the tantric tradition.

In most of the academies in the western world where Tibetan is taught it is handled as a subject ancillary to Buddhist studies, as a sort of fill-in for research in Buddhist Sanskrit texts which have not, or only partially, been preserved in the original language. Tibetan studies, and especially Tibetan linguistics per se without reference to Buddhism or to Buddhist texts are as yet exceedingly rare, and the few scholars who are interested in Tibet, not as a feeder service to Indian and Buddhist studies, but as a culture area in itself, are few and far between. Scholars like Rolf Stein at Paris, Petech at Rome, Hugh Richardson in Britain, and the Seattle group, rightly resent the fact that Tibetan is being treated as nothing but a stopgap for unavailable Sanskrit material.

With the research of Professor G. Tucci at Rome and the Tibetologists at the University of Washington, in Seattle, there is a good chance that this state of affairs will be remedied. In addition to this, the physical presence of Tibetan scholars in India and in other parts of the world, including the United States, Britain, and several European countries, should be conducive to the study of Tibetan culture per se. However, ironically perhaps and certainly understandably, scholars from among the Tibetan immigration in India are themselves not overly keen on divulging secular knowledge about their country. Occidental scholars, orient lists, and cultural anthropologists alike, don't seem to realize or realize with reluctance only that their zeal, their 'scientific' interests, are not necessarily shared by their informants. For the Tibetans at least, it is the Sanskrit-cum-Buddhist tradition which gives them the only lasting satisfaction and all the prestige they think worthwhile. The Tibetan scholars at Seattle, Washington one of them being among the three most learned in the Tibetan emigration—smiled, at first, at the anthropologists' and sociologists' interest in Tibet for its own sake, that is without reference to Buddhism and its scholastic tradition. In the minds of many learned Tibetan scholars or monks, Sanskrit is and remains the phags skad (aryabhasa), the 'Noble Language', and Lama Kunga. Labrang wanted to learn the Nagari alphabet from me in order to be able to transcribe Tibetan Buddhist texts into the original script, or into what he thought was the original script, of the Buddhist tradition.

Milarepa, Tibet’s Great Yogi-Sage and Singing SaintAlthough it is perfectly justifiable for the cultural anthropologist to be interested in a cultural milieu, in a tradition without reference to its literary background, in the case of Tibet he is not likely to get much co operation from his informants, unless they have been confronted with occidental scholars and exposed to western learning for a long time. In this manner the Tibetan attitude is accidental grist for the occidental Buddhologist mill just as Tibetan per se is no object of linguistic study except as a feeder service to the missing Sanskrit originals, to the western Buddhologist, the Tibetan monk scholar feels exactly the same way and hardly regards Tibetan as an important object of study apart from Buddhist interest. It goes without saying that references to India and to Indian mythological or ritualistic matters abound in Tibetan literature. Compared with these references, those to Tibet are negligible, in number and importance, in Inclian texts. The reasons for this scarcity of references to the northern neighbor are sundry first, there has never been much interest in non-Indian regions, throughout the religious and philosophical literature of India after all, India is the most important and the only spiritually significant part of Jambudvipa (i.e. the generic name for the regions adjacent to India in the north, north-east, east, and south-east, with India at the centre the etymology of the word and its exact connotation is not clear). There is a Jaina work called Jambudvipaprajnapti the 'introduction to the knowledge of Jambudvipa' it is the sixth `Upanga' of the eight Canonical Texts of the Jainas Jacobi assigned this work to the third century A.D., which would place it at least two centuries previous to the beginnings of Buddhist proselytization in Tibet. The work enumerates Naipala, Mahacina, and Cinadega the term `Bhota' does not appear in it (vd. ed. Jainagrantharnala, Banaras 1899).

Secondly, Tibet as a geographical referend might well be included or at least, not excluded in the numerous Puranic accounts of India and Jambudvipa the orthodox northern demarcation of India is, of course, the Himalaya, but it is never quite clear what region is precisely denoted by such terms as uttare parvatah, 'the mountains in the North', auttariyah (i.e. -desah, 'the northern regions), both of which occur scores of tunes in Puranic and Epic literature these terms definitely include Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan, but possibly also parts of Tibet. Thus, the Hindu Phetkarini Tantra (ed. Moradabad 1920, p. 5) a late work, probably of the thirteenth century mentions the Goddess Ugratara as auttariyair aradhita 'worshipped by those in the North' this Goddess is not worshipped in Kashmir, nor, to my knowledge, by Nepalese Hindus on the other hand, the sgrol ma (Tara) of various forms is extremely popular in the Tibetan pantheon. B. Bhattacharya thinks she is a purely Buddhist goddess who was subsequently Hinduized (Buddhist Iconography, 77 f). Ugratara in Buddhist tantric literature is synonymous with Mahacinatara (vd. Bhattacharya, ibid.). There is an image of Ugratari in the Vajrayogini Temple at Sanku in Nepal, but Hindu visitors at this shrine call her Samkari, Spouse of Siva, prompted possibly by the similarity of the place name, i.e. Sanku (the Nepalese hardly distinguish the palatal and the dental sibilant). Whenever Hindus worship Tara, she is simply the wife of Siva, as in Bengal, where the male first name Tarapati, Lord of Tara, is extremely frequent. I do not know whether Bhattacharya really meant to say that Tara was a purely Buddhist goddess, albeit Hinduized I believe the Hindu Tara is simply an entirely different deity the name is a common epithet of all the great Hindu goddesses, and we find it in the Sahasranama, in the 'Invocation of the thousand Names', of Lalita (Siya's spouse proper), of Sarasvati, and of Laksmi neither of them bears any relation to a Tibetan or Vajrayana Buddhist goddess.

Sri YantraIn this connection, it must also be said that the division into three krantas or 'circles' of worship, and ritualistic tradition, is common to all Tantric texts, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina. Bagchi writes `There is ample evidence to prove that the zone of heterodox Tantras went far beyond the natural limits of India. Some of the Tantras divide the Tantric world into three krantas or regions, Visnukranta, Asvakranta, and Rathakranta. Asvakranta comprises the region from the Vindhya Mountains (in Central India) to Mahacina including Nepal, and Rathakranta from the Vindhya to the great ocean including Cambodia and Java. . .’

This division into three vaguely circumscribed regions is rather typical of what I would call 'religious geography' in India it is sufficiently broad so as to include whatever region was not really accessible to the compilers, or what they knew from pious hearsay. I am not even quite sure if Mahicina ever meant Tibet the late Dr. Raghuvira told me he thought it was Mongolia, and this is what Bagchi appears to have held. Most scholars in India seem to agree that Maliacina and Bhota are synonyms I would, however, suggest that the term should not really be equated with an actual geographical name I think `Mahacina' to Hindu tantric authors suggested the entire region to the north of the Himalayas, Tibet, and at least parts of Mongolia and western China. There is no text in tantric literature which would indicate a serious attempt to demarcate any regions lying outside India; we have a parallel in the most read sacred literature of the Hindus, the Puranas 'Suvarnadvipa', i.e. the 'Golden Continent' is mentioned in all of them, but the referents differ the Bhagavatapurana calls it palebhyo purve sthita, 'located eastward from the Palas, i.e. Bengal', which might mean Burma or perhaps Siam the more recent Skandapurana refers to Suvarnadvipa as agneyesu vistrtah 'stretched out in the south-east', which would point to the usually accepted identification of Suvarnadvipa with Indonesia.

Still largely cloaked in mystery, ancient Tibetan yoga practices are slowly being introduced in the West, but teachers remain cautious about reveaThe third reason for the lack of geographical detail in Indian texts seems to me the unbelievable credulousness of the Indian religious with regard to reports on places of worship outside his own ken this has not changed through the ages. I have heard two Hindu priests at Ernakulam (Kerala) saying that Sakti herself dispenses drugs against gout and other diseases. She, in the form of a virgin, lived in a cave at a shrine in a far off western land called 'Rudradega', i.e. 'Region of Siva’ I found out that this news was inspired by the fame of the Lady of Lourdes in France the history of this modification was easy to trace, and exemplifies the said credulousness the area around Ernakulam has a substantial population of Syrian Christians, and many women of that community have been given the name lourdhammar’  since the beginning of this century. 'Lourdes' sounds very similar to 'Rudra-des' when pronounced by speakers of Malayalam and Tulu most Syrian Christians unfamiliar with occidental languages and spellings would pronounce the last syllable of 'Lourdes' not knowing that it is mute in French.

More possible reasons for the scarcity of topographical reference or for the lack of geographical accuracy in such references can be readily adduced and subsumed in the above three headings. Caste-Hindus lose their caste when they cross the northern mountains just as when they cross the ocean places that cannot be inspected are not described with any claim to precision escorts of Buddhist missionaries who returned from Tibet told wild tales about that inaccessible country, with impunity Tibetans who came to study at Nalanda or Vikramasila might have done the same.

Tantra techniques (Vajrayana)
We can hardly trust Tibetan sources when they tell us about the conquest of large parts of India by Tibetan rulers, with which Taranatha's History is replete; chiefly because no Indian sources whatever corroborates these reports. It is thinkable that Taranatha did not really mean a region beyond Nepal or beyond Bengal when he speaks of 'Central India'. Tibetan warrior chiefs seem to have made inroads into Magadha, Bengal, and perhaps the regions adjacent to Western Napal, i.e. the districts of Almora and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Nothing comprehensive has yet been written about these Tibetan conquests on Indian Territory there are scattered references in volumes 3, 4, and 5 of the encyclopaedic History and Culture of the Indian People. One of the very few reliable sources of Indian historiography is the famous Rajatarangini by the Kashmiri court scholar Kalhana, who flourished in the twelfth century A.D. In this enthusiastic treatment of King Lalitaditya, who ascended the throne of Kashmir about A.D. 724, Kalhana reports the king was 'eager for conquests and passed his life chiefly on expeditions'. He sent a diplomatic mission to the Chinese Emperor in A.D. 733 to induce him to make common cause against the Tibetans. In his enumeration of countries and kings whom Lalitaditya defeated, Kalhana writes," 'he conquered the Kambojas, the Tukharas, Bhauttas (i.e. Tibetans), Daradas (i.e. the Dardic groups of which the actual Kashmiris are a part), and vanquished a king named Mammuni.'

In the first half of the eighth century, Tibet wielded enormous influence over Nepal. In a grant of the Licchavi King Sivadeva, dated A.D. 714, there is a reference to `Bhotta-Visti' or a corvee payable to Tibet. That Nepal was a vassal to Tibet during this era is not documented by any Indian or Tibetan source, except for this casual reference to the corvee there is only a Chinese source which throws light on this phase.

Tantric God TaraKing Yasovarman of the Central Indian Chandella Dynasty ascended the throne after his father King Haria's death around A.D. 925. An inscription at Khajuraho in Vindhya Pradesh, Central India, mentions that he received an image of the God Visnu from Devapala (i.e. of the Bengali Pala Dynasty which was one of the foremost champions of Buddhism), which had been given to Devapala's father Herambapala by King Sahi who had obtained the image from the King of Bhota (Tibet).

There seems to be no mention of Tibet in any secular Indian document between the two periods referred to above.

That Tibetans may have held portions of Bengal for a short time seems to be supported by the fact that the early Arab travellers Ibn Haukal and Istakhri who wrote in the tenth century, refer to the Bay of Bengal as the 'Tibetan Sea'. As to the exact extent of their actual conquests in India, we have to rely on Tibetan sources, due to the complete lack of Indian materia1.

Zia Barni, an officer at the court of Muhammad-bin-Tughlag, who ascended the throne of Delhi in 1325, wrote a sort of political record of his time in Persian, Ta’rikh-i-Firuz-Shahi, and the famous Arab traveller Ibn Batutah mentions Muhammed-bin-Tughlag's plans to 'capture the mountain of Kara-jal . . . which lies between the territories of Hind and those of China'.

Tantric thangka
A thirteenth-century work in Old Bengali, the Prakrta paingalant, says that 'the King of Kasi fought successfully with the kings of Gaucla, Vanga, Kaling√£, Telangana, Maharastra, Saurastra, Champarana, Nepala, Bhota, Cina, Lahovara (Lahore), Odra, and Malaya.' D. C. Ganguly thinks that the `King of Kasi (i.e. Banaras) is Govindacandra of the Gahadavala Dynasty, of Rajput provenance Govindacandra ruled approximately from A.D. 1114 to 1154. The enumeration of Bhota and Cina as separate, as also the juxtaposition with much less distant and much less important, small regions like Lahore and Champarana, seems to imply that some border regions are meant in this passage also, rather than Tibet or China. If contemporary vernacular usage may be used for analogy, the custom of the Kumaoni-Hindi speaking people in the District of Almora is to refer to the northern neighbor by a sort of directional metonymy `Bhota' for them means the district adjacent to their own in the North, and they would probably think of just two small areas, Garbiang on the Indian and Taghlakot on the Tibetan side of the Indo-Nepalese-Tibetan corner of the Almora District. They do not, however, mean just the area inhabited by the Bhutiyas, a Hindu group with a Tibetan ethnical and a mixed linguistic background (Bhutiya is structurally Tibetan with a very large percentage of Indian words), for the Bhutiyas live in settlements between Kumaon villages, and not beyond Garbiang.

I now proceed to Sanskrit texts, most of which are straight tantric literature. Here our search is bound to yield, at least quantitatively, better results. In tantric literature and practice, the direction of influence is almost entirely a one way affair it seem reasonable to assume that the tantric elements were imported into, ' Tibet along with the Buddhist precepts, though this does not preclude the possibility that certain features of tantric practice could have had some analogues in pre-Buddhist Tibet Hoffmann and Nebesky-Wojkowitz think that the tantric practices among the `Ka' rgywd pa monks are largely of Bon provenance Tucci does not commit himself, to my knowledge. Be that as it may, I do not think there is any portion of the rgyud section of the Tibetan canon which could not be traced to some Indian model so far as practice and doctrine are concerned. From this conjecture it cannot be anything more at this point it in no way follows that there could not have been similar procedures, or even apparently identical items, in pre-Buddhist Bon similar efforts yield independent inventions and parallel procedures in religious and mystical matters in areas that have had no mutual contact of any sort.

I think that the numerous references to Tibetan deities and Tibetan acaras, i.e. ritualistic and meditative methods, have no geographical significance whatever, so far as the authors were concerned I would venture to say that acaras which would seem either very strange or repulsive to the Indian aspirant, were particularly eligible for the epithets 'of Mahacina' or 'of Bhota'. This trend has continuity in modern Hindu scholarship; P. C. Bagchi, B. Bhattacharya in his short prefaces to Vajrayana texts published in the Gaekwad Series, and all the less illustrious pandits known to me, tend to claim rather peremptorily that the left-handed rites, and the deities propitiated by such and other uncanny ritual, are of non-Indian origin.

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