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.
Christian K. Wedemeyer is associate professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School and in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. He is the translator and editor of Aryadeva's Lamp That Integrates the Practices: The Gradual Path of Vajrayana Buddhism According to the Esoteric Community Noble Tradition, and his research concerns the history and literature of Buddhism in Southern Asia and Tibet.
List of Figures and Tables Preface and Acknowledgments List of Abbreviations Introduction: Making Sense in and of the Human Sciences Part 1: Historiography 1. Origins 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 Contriving Marginality 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) Notes Bibliography Index