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Chinese use of the Siddhaṃ alphabet for the Pratisara Mantra. 927 CE
The Womb Realm maṇḍala used in Śubhakarasiṃha's teachings from the Mahavairocana Tantra. Vairocana is located in the center.
Esoteric practices related to Cundī have remained popular in Chinese Buddhism and East Asia

Tángmì (Chinese: 唐密; pinyin: Tángmì) refers to the traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism that have flourished among the Chinese people since the Tang dynasty in China. These traditions may also be referred to as Hanchuan Mizong (traditional Chinese: 漢傳密宗), the "Han Chinese Transmission of the Esoteric School."


In China and countries with large Chinese populations such as Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism is commonly referred as Tángmì (唐密) "Tang Dynasty Esoterica," or Hànchuán Mìzōng (漢傳密宗) "Secret Buddhism of the Han Transmission" (Hànmì 漢密 for short), or Dōngmì (東密) "Eastern Esotericism." In a more general sense, the Chinese term Mìzōng (密宗) "esoteric religion" is the most popular term used when referring to any form of Esoteric Buddhism.

These traditions more or less share the same doctrines as Shingon Buddhism, with many of its students themselves traveling to Japan to be given transmission at Mount Kōya.


Esoteric teachings followed the same route into northern China as Buddhism itself, arriving via the Silk Road sometime during the first half of the 7th century, during the Tang Dynasty. Esoteric Mantrayana practices arrived from India just as Buddhism was reaching its zenith in China, and received sanction from the emperors of the Tang dynasty. During this time, three great masters came from India to China:

  1. Śubhakarasiṃha (637–735)
  2. Vajrabodhi (671–741)
  3. Amoghavajra (705–774)

These three masters brought the esoteric teachings to their height of popularity in China.[1] During this era, the two main source texts were the Mahavairocana Tantra and the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra. Traditions in the Sinosphere still exist for these teachings, and they more or less share the same doctrines as Shingon Buddhism, with many of its students traveling to Japan to be given transmission at Mount Kōya.

Esoteric methods were naturally incorporated into Chinese Buddhism during the Tang dynasty. Śubhakarasiṃha's most eminent disciple, Yi Xing (Chinese: 一行), also practiced Chan Buddhism. In Chinese Buddhism there was no major distinction between exoteric and esoteric practices and the Northern School of Chan even became known for its esoteric practices of dhāraṇīs and mantras.[2][3] However, Buddhist esoteric practices almost vanished from China during the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution initiated by Emperor Wuzong of Tang.

During the Yuan dynasty, the Mongol emperors made Vajrayana the official religion of China and Tibetan lamas were given patronage at the court.[4] A common perception was that this patronage of lamas caused corrupt forms of tantra to become widespread.[4] When the Mongol Yuan Dynasty was overthrown and the Ming dynasty was established, the lamas were expelled from the court and Vajrayana Buddhism was denounced as not being an orthodox path.[4]

In late Imperial China, the early traditions of Tangmi were still thriving in Buddhist communities. Robert Gimello has also observed that in these communities, the esoteric practices associated with Cundī were extremely popular among both the populace and the elite.[5]

In China and countries with large Chinese populations such as Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, Esoteric Buddhism is most commonly referred to as the Chinese term Mìzōng (密宗), or "Esoteric School." Traditions of Chinese Esoteric Buddhism are most commonly referred to as referred as Tángmì (唐密), "Tang Dynasty Esoterica," or Hànchuán Mìzōng (漢傳密宗), "Han Transmission Esoteric School" (Hànmì 漢密 for short), or Dōngmì (東密), "Eastern Esoterica," separating itself from Tibetan and Newar traditions. Casual attempts to revive Esoteric Buddhism occur in modern China.[6]

Common practices[edit]

According to Hsuan Hua, the most popular example of esoteric teachings still practiced in many Chan Buddhist monasteries of East Asia is the Śūraṅgama Sūtra and its dhāraṇī (Sitātapatroṣṇīṣa Dhāraṇī), along with the Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī "Great Compassion Dhāraṇī", with its 42 Hands and Eyes Mantras.[7]


  1. ^ Baruah, Bibbhuti (2008) Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism: p. 170
  2. ^ Sharf, Robert (2001) Coming to Terms With Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise: p. 268
  3. ^ Faure, Bernard (1997) The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism: p. 85
  4. ^ a b c Nan Huai-Chin. Basic Buddhism: Exploring Buddhism and Zen. York Beach: Samuel Weiser. 1997. p. 99.
  5. ^ Jiang, Wu (2008). Enlightenment in Dispute: The Reinvention of Chan Buddhism in Seventeenth-Century China: p. 146
  6. ^ http://www.tangmi.com
  7. ^ The Shurangama Sutra: Sutra Text and Supplements with Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. 2003. pp. 68-71

Further reading[edit]

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