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Leonard van der Kuijp: "Buddhist Tantras on their Origins"

Thursday April 15th 2010, 7:30PM
Event Sponsor
Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford, Religious Studies, Stanford Humanities Center, Tibetan Studies Initiativ
Levinthal Hall, Stanford Humanities Center
Leonard van der Kuijp: "Buddhist Tantras on their Origins"


All tantras claim that they are revealed and thus belong to the genre of anonymous literature. In spite of their revelatory character, they do have a beginning, even if the indications of their inception appear to have been kept purposively obscure. The available literature suggests that aside from the presence of Buddhist tantric traditions in Sri Lanka and Uḍḍiyāna/Oḍ[ḍ]iyāna during the seventh and eighth centuries, if not earlier, some five other areas of South Asia should be considered as loci for these as well — namely, Kañci, Koṅkana, Śrīparvata, Gilgit, and Za hor (< ?Persian shahr). There are competing narratives about their origins.

A certain Jñānamitra [no later than circa 800] observes in the introduction of his study of the Prajñāpāramitānayaśatapañcaśatikā (his work is only available in a Tibetan translation that was prepared around 800) that a Master (ācārya) Kuk[k]ura was the teacher of the equally elusive Indrabhūti, King of the mysterious land of Za hor. In Jñānamitra’s narrative, Indrabhūti was one of the very first exponents of a corpus of eighteen tantric texts. Vajrapāṇi functions as the spiritual source, a bodhisattva ex machina, for many Buddhist tantras, and there is another narrative suggesting that he bestowed these tantras directly on Indrabhūti himself.

We will examine the account of his transmission of these precepts to Indrabhūti, who is identified both as the King of Uḍḍiyāna as well as the King of Za hor, and take a closer look at Vajrapāṇi’s connections with the mysterious King Dza, who is equally said to be the King of Za hor. The King of Za hor plays various roles in the religious and cultural history of Tibet that are absent from the Indian Buddhist literature. He has a significant part in the history of its medical traditions and the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) has even written him into his autobiography as one of his ancestors on his father’s side.


Leonard van der Kuijp, a graduate of Hamburg, and former MacArthur Fellow, is professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at Harvard, where he chairs the department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, as well as the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies. Best known for his studies of Buddhist epistemology, he is the author of numerous works on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. His most recent publication is In Search of Dharma: Indian and Ceylonese Travelers in Fifteenth Century Tibet (2009).

Evans-Wentz Lecture XXXV