Vajrayāna ( Bengali: বজ্রযান; Devanagari: वज्रयान; Sinhala: වජ්රායන; Malayalam: വജ്രയാന; Oriya: ବଜ୍ରଯାନ; Tibetan: རྡོ་རྗེ་ཐེག་པ་, rdo rje theg pa; Mongolian: Очирт хөлгөн, Ochirt Hölgön; Chinese: 密宗, mì zōng), also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Mantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism and the Diamond Way or Thunderbolt Way, is a complex and multifaceted system of Buddhist thought and practice which evolved over several centuries.
According to Vajrayāna scriptures "Vajrayāna" refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the Hinayāna and Mahayana. Note that Hinayāna (or Nikaya) is not to be confused with Theravada (a practice lineage); although is sometimes equated to it. Founded by the Indian Mahāsiddhas, Vajrayāna subscribes to Buddhist tantric literature.
Although the first tantric Buddhist texts appeared in India in the 3rd century and continued to appear until the 12th century, scholars such as Hirakawa Akira assert that the Vajrayāna probably came into existence in the 6th or 7th century, while the term Vajrayāna itself first appeared in the 8th century.
Tantra (Sanskrit: तन्त्र "weave" denoting continuity), tantricism or tantrism is any of several esoteric traditions rooted in the religions of India. It exists in Hindu, Bönpo, Buddhist, and Jain forms. Tantra in its various forms has existed in South Asia, China, Japan, Tibet, Korea, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia and Mongolia. David Gordon White, while cautioning against attempting a rigorous definition of tantra, offers the following working definition:
- Tantra is that Asian body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the Godhead that creates and maintains that universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways.
The Tibetan word bardo means literally "intermediate state"—also translated as "transitional state" or "in-between state" or "liminal state". In Sanskrit the concept has the name antarabhāva. It is a concept which arose soon after the Buddha's passing, with a number of earlier Buddhist groups accepting the existence of such an intermediate state, while other schools rejected it.
Used loosely, the term "bardo" refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one's previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality, while for others it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth.
The term bardo can also be used metaphorically to describe times when our usual way of life becomes suspended, as, for example, during a period of illness or during a meditation retreat. Such times can prove fruitful for spiritual progress because external constraints diminish. However, they can also present challenges because our less skillful impulses may come to the foreground, just as in the sidpa bardo.
Kūkai (空海) or also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師), 774–835 CE was a Japanese monk, scholar, poet, and artist, founder of the Shingon or "True Word" school of Buddhism.
Kūkai is famous as a calligrapher (see Shodo), engineer, and is said to have invented kana, the syllabary in which, in combination with Chinese characters (Kanji) the Japanese language is written (although this claim has not been proven).
His religious writing, some fifty works, expound the esoteric Shingon doctrine, of which the major ones have been translated into English by Yoshito Hakeda (see references below). Kūkai is also said to have written the iroha, one of the most famous poems in Japanese, which uses every phonetic kana syllable.
Painting of the Vajrayogini.
Vajrayoginī (Sanskrit: Vajrayoginī; Standard Tibetan: 'རྡོ་རྗེ་རྣལ་འབྱོར་མ་', Dorje Naljorma Wylie: Rdo rje rnal ’byor ma; Mongolian: Огторгуйд Одогч, Нархажид, Chinese: 瑜伽空行母 Yújiā kōngxíngmǔ) is the Vajra yogini, literally "the female yogi holding the diamond (thunder)". She is a Highest Yoga Tantra yidam (Iṣṭha-devatā), and her practice includes methods for preventing ordinary death, intermediate state (bardo) and rebirth (by transforming them into paths to enlightenment), and for transforming all mundane daily experiences into higher spiritual paths.
Vajrayoginī is a generic female yidam and although she is sometimes visualized as simply Vajrayoginī, in a collection of her sādhanas she is visualized in an alternate form in over two thirds of the practices. Her other forms include Vajravārāhī (Tibetan: Dorje Pakmo, Wylie: rdo-rje phag-mo; English: the Vajra Sow) and Krodikali (alt. Krodhakali, Kālikā, Krodheśvarī, Krishna Krodhini, Sanskrit; Tibetan: Troma Nagmo; Wylie:khros ma nag mo; English: 'the Wrathful Lady' or 'the Fierce Black One'). As a ḍākiṇī and a Vajrayāna deity, she is considered to be a female Buddha.
Vajrayoginī is often described with the epithet sarva-buddha-dakinī, meaning 'the dakini who is the essence of all Buddhas'. Vajrayogini's sādhana, or practice, originated in India between the tenth and twelfth centuries. It evolved from the Chakrasaṃvara sādhana, where Vajrayoginī appears as his yab-yum consort, to become a stand-alone practice of Anuttarayoga Tantra in its own right. The practice of Vajrayoginī belongs to the Mother Tantra (Standard Tibetan: ma-rgyud) class of Anuttarayoga Tantra, along with other tantras such as Heruka Chakrasaṃvara and Hevajra.