Buddhist tantra began to enter and develop in China from no later than the 4th century. The word tantra refers to esoteric practices which use meditation on and visualization of mundane objects to effect a spiritual vision of the world, and to actualize through the power of concentration, divine aims of immortality or sotis. Like neidan, Buddhist highest yoga tantra, "is tantra because its methodology involves the utilization of the transformative nature of the mind focused. upon attainable forms of enlightenment to initiate an alchemical process of transmutation.

Forms of physical and mental enlightenment are mentally imposed upon ordinary external and internal forms to such an extent that, through the power of faith, understanding, and concentration, these visualized enlightened forms, are held to actually replace the ordinary phenomena that act as their bases." (Kilty: 1) When the adept reaches the highest level of actualization, the mind and body are transformed. At this moment, the adept may transform into an enlightened being that resides in the heavens; may become a compassionate saviour that works miracles and brings teachings to those remaining on earth; or both. In this role, tantrism may characterize manifold aspects of Chinese religion as manifested in the Late Imperial period. Prior to the Tang, a fully developed Buddhist tantra is not attested; like neidan practices, tantra was in an embryonic phase of development. Elements of tantra, such as dharani, mantra and sometimes mandala emerged in translated tracts from the third to sixth centuries.

This period of Buddhist tantra influx coincided with the development of early Buddhist traditions in China. The period is characterized by direct knowledge transfer from India to China, either through Indian Buddhist monks who personally voyaged to China, or through Chinese monks, scholars and pilgrims who made the journey to India along the Northern and Southern Silk Routes. This period of intense cultivation was slowed by the waning of Chinese influence following the Anlu Shan Rebellion and the rise of Muslim activities in India, two phenomena which made pilgrimage success increasingly uncertain and shifted cultural imperatives on both sides of the Himalayas. Concurrently, China saw the development of indigenous forms of Buddhism such as Tiantai and Chan which further shifted Chinese focus away from contemporary India as a source of religious authority. While Buddhist tantras continued to be translated into the Northern Song (Ian 1966: 142), Orzech (1998b) and Strickmann (1996: 49) note the importance of Daoism tantric practices in China, particularly from the Song-Yuan period.

During the Ming-Qing period, China once again received an influx of Buddhist tantra; however this second period of influx was transmitted from the Tibetan tantric traditions, largely via Mongolia. Tibetan lamaist practices transfonned the nature of Tantra reception in China. In the lamaist traditon, the political authority and spiritual power is united in the person of the lama-prince. The power of the tantras must be understood to have been understood to be both political and spiritual in nature (Farquhar 1979; Berger 1995); tantra became a tool actively employed by both Yuan, Qing and to a lesser extent, Ming emperors. At the level of representation, the Yuan and Qing states both envisioned the emperor as cakravartin. The Yongzhen, Kangxi and Qianlong emperor distributed images of themselves as the cakravartin to feudatory monasteries in the Khams, Bzang, Wu and other Tibetan Buddhist regions. (Berger 1995) Farquhar claims that Yuan and Qing emperors maintained a systematic linguistic segregation, and that this was a deliberate politcal manipulation to ensure religion served to support the imperial hegemony. (1979) This claim may be accurate in the case of the Mongols; however, with the exception of the Manchu language (Crossley 1999: 226), it would appear the Qing were less interested in linguistic segregation than in maintaining ethnic harmony in their multi-ethnic, multilingual empire, especially through ritual inclusion (ibid: 234-256, 270). The court sponsored the production of dictionaries and multilingual gazetteers to assist visitors, pilgrims, merchants and government appointees. The Qing emperors chose to support the Tibetan tantra tradition not only as a tool for governance and personal or clan gain, but also for the spiritual benefit of both the imperial clan and the imperially governed. As Snellgrove suggests, to attempt to separate the mundane siddhis (such as personal wealth, health and political advantage) from the supermundane siddhis of tantra does violence to the tradition (1987: 235-236): these two aspects go hand in hand.

With the arrival of Subhakarasimha (Shanwuwei, arrived in Chang'an 716), we find translated a tract providing instructions on creating a mandala altar, apparently for conference of blessings; and instructions on siddhis (paranormal abilities). Amoghavajra retranslated the Molizhitianjing; first translated during the Liang dynasty, 502-556), adding descriptions on the mudra to be made when reciting, and instructions on mandala construction. A noted student of Amoghavajra, Yijing (635-715), visited the University at Nalanda; he returned with and translated the Da kong juezhou wangjing (TI9.459b-477) This is a well-developed tantra, which brings in the final element necessary to consider it mature tantra where the incantation itself is deified as the deity Vidyaraja. Thus one  can assert that tantric Buddhism reached its maturation in China.

The tantric school of Buddhism existed only briefly as an independent "school" at the Tang capital. Amoghavajra played an important role in introducing the tracts into the imperial family - one that strategically enhanced the position of tantric Buddhism at the Tang court. In Canning's biography of Amoghavajra, the latter transmitted secret methods to emperor aiding in the re-capture of the Tang capitals in 758 CEo After the Tang was re-established, Amoghavajra conferred on him the abiseka (ritual empowennent) of the cakravarin possessing the seven jewels (wheel, elephant, horse, pearl, wife, minister, and general). (T50.712.29) In 769 CE Amoghavajra requested the emperor make the protector deity of the nation. Maiijiisri was then ordered worshipped in all monasteries. (T50.713aI5)

The sixty years between Shanwuwei's arrival in China and Amoghavajra's death mark an intense period of consolidation and organization in tantric Buddhist practice. While much of this influence was directed toward the ruling elite, the iconographic lexicon of Vajrayana and its compelling tales transfonned Chinese literature on many levels. Such imagery as the moon in clear water to reference the pure mind, the inscription of the "nirvana" spot in the brain (niwan) and the three elixir fields of the body all emerge from early tantric influence on Chinese thought and iconography. At the level of ritual, the Six Dynasties-Tang period saw the rise of pilgrimage and, more important for neidan and other fonns of tantra, the internal pilgrimage, complete with a mandalization of the body. These fundamental aspects of Buddhist tantrika re-inscribed the cosmic and ritual bodies of the neidan and Daoist imagination.

Between the Tang and the Song, the Huayan,Faxiang and Tiantai Buddhist sects held the balance of power vis-a-vis the imperial court. Huayan founders had close relations with Tang emperors and empresses. Dushun (557-640) was named "the emperor's heart" by Taizong (r. 627-649); Fazang (643-712) served as imperial master (guoshi) under Wu Zetian (r. 684-704); and Chengguan mil served in similar roles under three emperors. (Jan 1966: 138) The Faxiang school's founder, Xuanzang ,was a personal fiiend of Taizong and the Nanshan Wu Li school was the arbiter of the rules for monastic discipline in the same period. (Ibid: 138-9) In a world where imperial patronage meant both legitimization and emolument, these honours were important.

While Chou Yiliang and Kenneth Ch'en conclude that tantric Buddhism largely died out in China between death of Amoghavajra (774 CE) and the rise of the Mongol dynasty (Chou: 246), this position is contested by Orzech (l989a, 1989b, 1998). While Jan suggests the perceived demise of tantrism in China was due to Chinese ethical distaste for its use of sexual imagery (Jan 1966: 139-140), if this is the case, one must wonder at the flourishing pornographic industry in Ming China, the sexual proclivity in Ming Chinese literary arts, and the sexual practices of some Ming and Qing religions. One basis for their assertion of "dying out" lies in Chou and Ch'en's understanding of "tantra"; the other in the link between tantra as practice and tantra as school. Chou's understanding of the definition of tantra is demonstrated in the story noted in his appendix R (Chou: 328-9): Chou notes that the sexual elements of tantric yoga are eliminated from this tale through re-editing. (ibid) Thus Chou appears to define "tantric Buddhism" by its affiliation with sexual yoga.

This position however is challenged by scholars of Hindu and Buddhist tantra such as David Gordon White and Gavin Flood who suggest that less than 20% of organized tantric systems include ritualized sex as part of the ritual system (White 2000: 14-15; Flood 2006: 9-27, 83-87). Moreover, White contests the concept of tantra as a phenomenon belonging to a particular school (Mantrayana, Vajrayana, etc.) (White 2000: 7-10). Orzech concurs.

In fact "Vajrayana" "Vajrayana" refers to a discrete school whereas "vajrayana" refers to the body of practices. Orzech notes the Japanese influence in this idea that Buddhist esoterism or tantrism died out with the three vajrayana masters (acaryas), and Amoghavajra' s disciple, Huiguo who was the teacher of Kukai, the founder ofShingon in Japan. Based on the Japanese conceit of pure transmission ftom the Chinese Huiguo to the Japanese Kukai, further developments of Tantrism in China have been relegated to "'degraded" forms of Hindu tantrism.

 Works and rites produced before the acaryas who had direct lineal contact with Kukai are regarded as 'unsystematic', 'miscellaneous', and ftagmentary. Works and rites developed in China or India after Kiikai returned to Japan are either unrecognized or 'impure'." (Orzech 1989a: 89-90) This conceit is repeated in the works of noted Japanese scholars such as Kiyota (1978), Tsuda (1985), Matsunaga (1969), Tajima (1959); Western Chinese scholars such as Chou (1945) and Chen (1964, 1973). Orzech argues that not only were the three acaryas' lineages fully developed, Huiguo was only one Amoghavajra's six fully-initiated disciples; and it was Huilang , not Kukai's master Huiguo, who succeeded Amoghavajra as the lineage leader. (Cited in Orzech 1989a: 91)

Orzech also notes that, first, Kiikai was not the first to receive initiations into the dual mandala system that distinguishes Amoghavajra' s teachings; second, Kiikai' s own biography tells of the monk Yiming, who would carry on the teachings in China; third, Kiikai only received six months' training. This is sufficient time to receive initiations into the traditions, but not long enough to achieve mastery. (Ibid: 91-2) Based on this evidence, we may agree with Orzech's suggestion that, despite his importance to the development of esoteric Buddhism in Japan, the representation of KUkai as the preserver of the esoteric tradition of Buddhism in East Asia is grossly overstated. (Ibid: 92)


Tantra and Chinese neidan

When Buddhism and. Tantric Buddhism were beginning to enter and develop in China, neidan was stilJ in its immature (Kohn “embryonic”) phase of development. Like neidan, a fully developed Buddhist tantra is not attested in the Chinese record prior to the Tang. From the late Han-Six Dynasties (20d to 6th centuries CE), exchange between Indic Buddhism and Chinese Daoism was profound. Bokenkamp (1997) has remarked on the more obvious influences, pseudo-Sanskrit terminology in the Lingbao tradition of Daoism. Other tantric influences which developed alongside Daoist neidan include the development of Buddhist hells, numerology and meditation techniques. In addition, Buddhist and tantric practices adapted to indigenous fonns of practice to re-inscribe the Chinese sacred landscape. Buddhism brought the practice of pilgrimage, the use of mandala and mudra. And the concept of the body as pilgrimage site. Chinese sacred squares merged with Buddhist tantric mandala (Orzech 1989b: 171-72).

Chinese use of sacred writing merged with sutra recitation. Chinese concepts of the fairy islands and the origins of the cosmos merged with Buddhist pilgrimage to sacred sites. Chinese concepts of the body and meridians were maintained in the face of alternative tantric mappings of the body and meridians, and many Buddhist tantric elements were naturalized into the Chinese religious practice, especially Daoist. (Strickmann 1996: 46)

Orzech 77 suggests tantra was ignored by literati elite after the Tang because of philosophical prejudices against the use of tantric arts for the purposes of worldly gain. This perspective, Orzech argues, did violence to the principle of ajrayana, which fundamental principle is the non-distinction between samsara and nirvana. Snellgrove notes, “all tantras of all classes promise both supra-mundane success (the gaining of Buddhahood sooner or later) and. Mundane success, such as gaining prosperity, [.. ] etc. It is sometimes suggested that the tantras, later classified as inferior, cater for the more mundane requirements, the superior ones are concerned with more truly religious objectives. In fact, all tantras are interested in precisely the same objectives, whether supra-mundane or mundane.’ (Snellgrove 1987: 235-36) It is precisely in these supra-mundane cum mundane ritual activities, such as the feeding of hungry ghosts, that Orzech finds evidence for continued esoteric Buddhist practices. Orzech notes that, the basis for the Modern Chinese ritual of feeding the hungry ghosts is consistent and possibly a Yuan translation of its Tibetan Vajrayana reference text. (Ibid: 109-110) These various arts, perfonned throughout the Late Imperial period by non-esoteric Buddhists, Daoists and popular religion specialists alike, constitute the continuance of the tantra tradition.

Vajrayana specialists of the Tang instigated a gradual refonnulation of practices and knowledge bases, using native lexical and iconographic elements, a translation practice known as heyi. This creative blending further erased distinctions between Chinese symbolisms and knowledge systems and those of India, and allowed tantra to develop within the bosom of the alternative tantric religion in China, Daoism. Orzech provides. An example of heyi in the innovation of the Two-Mandala system.

The two-mandala system was formulated in the Tang by Amoghavajra or those in his company. The two mandalas are the Garbhakosaclhatu mandala (“largely derived trom” the Mahiivairocana Sutra) and the Vajradhatu mandala based on the Sarvatathagatatattva-samgraha. The latter mandala contrasts with its textual basis: rather than drawn as a series of four sets of six mandala, as instructed in the original Sanskrit, the Vajradhatu mandala is composed of nine mandalas set together in a 3x3 square, like the character jing. This innovation dating to the latter part of the eighth century is traditionally associated with Amoghavajra’s disciple, Huiguo (746-806). Orzech links this arrangement to the luo diagram, the mingtang, and the imperial cult of Taiyij. The idea of Taiyi, the chief stellar deity of the dipper star, presiding  over a world divided into nine “continents” or realms, each presided over by one of nine stellar deities of the Dipper, was an important component of religious specialists at the Chinese court from the time of Han Wudi (140-87 BCE).

By Han Wudi’s time, Taiyi was “homologized” to the emperor. Tang Xuanzong (685-762), who was emperor during the time of Amoghavajra’s presence in China, actually had a theatre built for the nine stellar deities. (Kalinowski 1985: 780) This became a staple iconograph of Daoism, and was further employed in Daoist initiation rites (Ibid.) Orzech cites this as an example for ajrayana integration/assimilation of indigenous elements, and suggests that the ajrayana practices became an important characteristic of Chinese religions. (Orzech 1989a: 113, and throughout) By discarding or morphing its Indic cosmological field and adopting that of the Chinese world, Buddhist and Daoist uses of tantra gradually became indistinguishable.

From the Song, tantric traditions of Indian Buddhist origins increasingly wrote themselves into the Daoist and popular religious traditions of China. Such inscription on Chinese religious traditions as textual traditions profoundly altered Chinese metaphorical and symbolic lexicons, speculative understandings of the universe, divinization and human potential, and the boundaries of political, social and discursive coherence (cf. Code 1995). At the same time, indigenous understandings were not eradicated but expanded to incorporate tantric features. This process of active scholarly transfer continued well into the Song, as tantrika continued to be translated. Xia Song notes: Since 982 up to the present year of 1035, approximately 1,428 bundles of Sanskrit manuscripts have been distributed and taken out of the palace collections. During this period, 564 juan of sutras and sastras have been translated into Chinese.

By the Yuan (1279-1368), tantric Buddhist activities in India had constricted due to Muslim occupation in the region, and innovations in tantric Buddhism were displaced to the Tibetan regions. Given these historical factors, it is not surprising that the numbers of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims to India gradually slowed to a trickle.

This fact on its own demonstrates Chinese individuals’ reaction to conditions on the Indian continent, and should not be taken as a major shift in the values of Chinese faithful. The rise of Chan and Huayan schools of Buddhism tended to draw Buddhists in the direction of ascetic/monastic meditation on non-duality, emptiness and the omnipresence of Buddha-nature, yet many ajrayana practices were drawn into popular religious activities and were performed by Daoists, Mahayana Buddhists and popular religion masters, deeply marking the religious context and the texts of Chinese religions in general. Tantric conceptions wrote themselves into the Daoist practices and onto the neidan body which embodied and manifested reverse embryology, sexuality and soteriology, and the employ of mudra, mantra and mandala. On the b~sis of a new textual traditions and new textual subjectivities, new ritual bodies fonned; eventually these new developments permeated the Chinese religious lexicon. What developed were uniquely Chinese readings of ritual world and the ritualists’ embodiment.

During the Yuan and Ming, when Daoist neidan was entering a stage of great maturation, tantric traditions continued to develop in Tibet with the rise first of the Kagyu and Sakya schools, and later with the Gelugs-pa. Yuan and Ming emperors supported both the Sakya and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Ming (1368-1644) court continued to sponsor Tibetan rituals, and saw the first dissemination of a new set of tantric practices, the Kalacakra and associated tracts, received into China. Under the Ming, dissemination of Buddhist tantra did not receive the kind of support it had in the Tang, or even in the Song, when the Hevajratantra (TI138, TI139) was translated into Chinese under imperial sponsorship; nevertheless the Yongle (r. 1402-1424), Chenghua (r.1465-1487) and Ming Zhengde (r. 1506-1521) emperors sponsored Tibetan Buddhist rituals at the Ming court. The Yongle emperor showed particular interest in Tibetan. Buddhism, and repeatedly requested the visit of Rje Dzong ka ba –Je Tsong kha pa. (1357-1419).

In his stead, Tsong ka pa sent Shakya Yeshe (Byams-chen-chos-rgyal) (1352-1435). The latter departed Lhasa in 1408, delivering the Tibetan Kanjur to Yongle. (See Wang 1995: 230-240) He returned to Lhasa in 1418, having performed numerous initiations into the four classes of tantras and numerous rituals for the emperor’s benefit. This transmission of tracts marks the significant moment of dGe lugs textual introduction (although not sustained) into the Ming Chinese ritual system. Tsong kha pa’ s disciple, Shakya yeshe, gained imperial favor such that he received two names from the emperor: Oreat National Preceptor of the Buddhists of the Western Heaven.

It is unclear exactly how Shakya yeshe’s teachings were disseminated at a more popular level, but this textual tradition appears to have become available to the women’s neidan tradition. Because women’s alchemy tracts are seldom attested in the Ming, little can be asserted with confidence, yet some measure of impact is suggested in Nudan shiji houbian, where Shakya yeshe manifests to transmit women’s inner alchemy secrets. (Nudan shiji houbian 3a, 4a)

The spread of Tibetan tantra into Mongolia and Manchuria impelled Qing sponsorship of Tibetan tantra as the new empire formed. Tibetan rituals re-inscribed Qing imperial rule with new meanings, further transforming the body politic. Tibetan rituals were sponsored as both religious practice (faith based) and ethnopolitical management (controlling through religious sponsorship both Mongol and Tibetan political alignments). Berger has shown the four families of Tibetan Buddhism inscribed in imperial court and temple architecture. Particularly Kiilachakra Tantra recitations were regularly practiced at the Yonghegong. Kalachakra tantra was chanted twice annually by two different groups of monks. (Berger 2003: 121) Recitation also occurred in the Chengdu and Yunnan countryside during the Jinquan wars and at regular intervals in local Tibetan sacred sites. Mongol Yuan emperors had promoted the identification of Wutai shan as the abode of their protector Buddha, Maiijusri. The Yuan emperors had promoted Lamaist monastery and temple building, and Mongolian pilgrimage to the site.  Qing emperors renovated the Tibetan temples at Wutai shan, where their spiritual advisors often resided, and had the gazeteers of the mountain rewritten and recomposed. (Tuttle 2004: 20, 21, 22-23)

In sum, this second phase of tantric Buddhist transmission to China, then, is characterized by Tibetan Buddhist interpretations, Sakya and Kagyu in the Yuan and Ming, and dGelugs in the Qing. Mongolian and later Manchu Buddhism found its sources of authority in Tibet, and it is through Tibet and Mongolia that Late Imperial China received influence from tantric Buddhism. This influence was partly political, partly religious. The Mongolian princes had absorbed the Tibetan theory of the dual nature of governance, religious and political; and Qing emperors clearly imitated their example. In Mongolia, Tibetan Buddhist monks continued to be drawn from the same lineages as the princes and kings. They employed Tibetan monks to protect their troops with dharani and mandala. And Mongolian khans styled themselves as cakravartin, or universal kings who. “turn the wheel of the dharma”. Farquhar credits the Mongols with innovation in blending Tibetan theory of bodhisattva metempsychosis in identifiable morals, in particular rulers who spread the dhanna, and the Chinese tradition of Mount Wutai as the locus for Maiijusri worship. An inscription found at Zhuyuangong adds to this the Confucian element of the emperor as destined by heaven (tianming) and lord of the men (renzhu). (Farquhar 1976: 15) Their adoption of Tibetan Buddhist practices, monikers and iconography can at least in part be associated with the very practical needs to influence rather than overpower these more distant and mobile members of the Qing empire.

It was not unusual for Qing emperors to be conflated with the cakravartin Majrughosa embodying the dual nature of the emperor as political and spiritual leader of the Manchu-Mongol-Chinese-Tibetan empire. In the Mongolian sources this is particularly important: the Mongol history of Buddhism, Hor chosbyun (1819) by ‘Jigs-med-rig-pa’I rdo-Ije (attributed to ‘Jigs-med-nam-mkha’), regularly refers to the Qing emperors in this manner. (Farquhar 1976: 8) Such tradition was manifested as early as the first emperor of the Qing, in a letter from the Fifth Dalai lama and Fourth Panchen lama, and is repeated in Mongolian and Tibetan written sources. Particularly striking is the statement made in the Kangxi emperor’s preface to the Kanjur Tripitaka, The holy Emperor Taizong of the Manchus (r. 1626-43), having become the ruler of the great tribes and states of the autonomous Mongolian princes [...] and having gathered them together as his subjects, became the ruler of the government of China. After that, the holy Emperor Shizu, who [ruled under the name of] the holy Shunzhi, assumed the golden throne, and consoled and gave protection to all of his peoples. After he invited the Fifth Dalai Lama to Beijing ... for the benefit ofthose who desired salvation and for all creatures, the religion of Buddha came to be spread even more than before. The emperor, his ministers, and all his subject peoples made a vast number of offerings and oblations, and showed the most profound respect [to the Religion]. The MafijuSri, the savior of all living forms, [with the] intellect of all the Buddhas, was transformed into human form and ascended the Fearless Lion Throne of gold, and this [was] none other than the sublime Emperor Kang-xi-Maftjusri, who assisted and brought joy to the entire vast world, and who, because he was the venerable Maiijusri in his material essence...”(Farquhar 1976: 9, citing Zahiruddin Amad, Sino Tibetan Relations in the Seventeenth Century, with Chinese Romanization harmonized to the pinyin system).

Farquhar doubts any Tang-Song associations of emperor-as-buddha-incarnate existed, he finds precedent in the Mongolian tradition, particularly from the Yuan, (Farquhar 1976: 12-15). Precedent can be found in for example the Sarvamaprabhasottomasutra, 86 and other tantras from the 6th century forward. Emperor Wu Zetian and Sui Wendi (541-604) embodied these roles. The resurgent influence of Cheng-Zhu Confucianism may have obscured this tradition, but it remained an accessible model for rulership. Nonetheless, the Qing emperors felt the squeeze of Confucian conservatives: in 1792, the Qianlong emperor noted, “When I started to learn the [Tibetan] scriptures, I was criticized by some Chinese for being biased towards [the dGelugs-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism].” (Four language inscription at the Yongh-gong in Lessing: 61; cited in Farquhar 1976: 26). Following Farquhar, Berger reads the audience of “emperor-cakravartins” thangkas as purposefully segregated. Thangkas in which the Shunzhi and Qianlong emperors were pictured as cakravartins (cf. Berger 2003) were distributed mostly to Tibet and Mongolia, or were reserved for Tibetan temples at Chengde and Beijing (Berger 2003).

In other words, the intended “audiences” for these “public displays” appear to be Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhists, and outside of these regions and religio ethnic groups, these thangka cannot be understood as publicly available and viewed media of presentation. Mongolian rulers “read” this message in the actions, language and symbols displayed by the Qing court. Mongolians identified the Qing emperors as true dhanna protectors, or cakravartins.

This situation inside China was complicated by the Mongolian concept of governance informed by the “Tibetan theory of the dual principle of the state, in which government was seen as a joint enterprise of secular nobility and clergy.” (Farquhar 1976: 27) Angela Zito expands on the Qing policy of Buddhist management in Central Asia, stating, “the throne’s relations with its Mongolian and Tibetan subjects proceeded in the idiom of Buddhist practice.” (Zito 1997: 23) Qing policies toward Mongolian and other Buddhists were polarized into two sorts of responses. Despite political expediency in the Tibet-Mongol religious connections, the first Qing emperors did not appear terribly impressed with these lamas, and in 1636 openly condemned the practice. (Cited in Farquhar 1976: 21) Condemnations continued in law and proclamation throughout the Qing. On. The other hand, Qing emperors also granted gifts and honors to lamas and other Buddhists, built and rebuilt temples and monasteries, and wrote eulogies and prefaces to Buddhist canons, including one Chinese (1738), two Tibetan (1692 and 1700), the Mongolian (1718-1720), ‘the translation of the complete Tibetan supplementary canon into Mongolian (1741-1749), a Manchu canon (1790), and a ajrayanaual (Tibetan, Manchu, Mongolian and Chinese) anthology of Sanskrit dharani and mantra ajr the Tibetan canon: (1773) In addition, a new pilgrimage guidebook to Wutai shan (the mountain associated with MaiijiiSri, the Buddha associated with ChiIia in general, and the Qing emperors in particular) was published in 1701; this was expanded and reissued in 1881 by imperial decree. (Farquhar 1976: 24) This policy of simultaneously condemning and permitting religious activity is fully consistent with that practiced in relation to indigenous Chinese Buddhist, Oaoist and popular religious movements of Chinese origin: religious groups were permitted to function if they did so below the radar; as they grew in size and activity, they risked suppression on the grounds of previously promulgated statutes. (See Naquin 1979, 1981)

Just as separating ajrayana “mundane” siddhis from the “supermundane” does violence to that tradition, so separating the religious and political aspects of Qing activities does violence to the Tibetan Buddhist religion they cultivated. Initiations and practice must be understood in just such terms: praxis formed an important part of both the political and personal cultivation of Qing emperors. Initiation was necessitated by the politico-religious stature Qing emperors assumed: a cakravartin would access tantric powers conflated on the living Mafijfisri buddha only through cultivation of the dharani, meditations and mantic arts. In order to fully assume such a role, the emperors necessarily sought initiation into the class of annutarayogatantras, or highest yoga tantras. Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong each received initiations into the annutarayogatantras through MongollCang-skya lineage leaders. Under Qianlong, the Cangskya were fundamental in establishing a four-part Tibetan Buddhist monastic university at the capital in Beijing, and important but smaller Tibetan Buddhist educational institutions throughout the Manchu and Mongolian ethnic regions. Moreover, pilgrimage sites in China proper were actively promoted among Mongolian believers in Tibetan Buddhism, particularly at Wutai shan, a mountain dedicated to the Mafijfisri buddha. (Miller 82-4 for information on convents reserved for Tibetan-Mongolian pilgrims.) The Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors and Qianlong’s mother all made pilgrimages to these mountains, and received teachings while in residence. After one pilgrimage to the site, Qianlong ordered the construction of additional housing for Mongolian and Manchu pilgrims. Qianlong had one Tibetan Buddhist hall roofed with the imperial yellow tiles, and resided there during a second pilgrimage in 1756. (Qingliang shan zhi (1877) 6a)

These activities were extended to Sichuan, where two mountains were particularly important to Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims: Qingchengshan and Emeishan. Qingchengshan was understood as a local manifestation of the cosmic body and of the Greater Jambudvipa. (See chapter two on the cosmology of the three traditions.) Emeishan, the mountain of Puxian (Samantabhadra) in the Buddhist world, was also associated with Xiwangmu gij, who herself was associated with female deities in both Daoist and Buddhist terminology). Both the mountains and the deities were equally worshipped by Daoists and Buddhists, and became important points of religious contact and exchange. Qingchengshan and Emeishan served as focal points for believers in Laozi and Xiwangmu on the one hand, and Adibuddha90 and Samantrabhadra on the other. While it is not clear that special housing was established on the mountain for nonChinese women pilgrims, we do know that Chinese women pilgrims and lay nuns (both Daoist and Buddhist) resided on the mountain, sometimes for extended periods. They were supported in, their worship with temples for female deities dedicated to aiding women and children. Temples to Doumu (the Daoist version of Guanyin ), the Naga girl, and other female deities abound.

The most visible of religio-political structures in the Sichuan region. Was the MafijuSri temple (Wenshumiao ) at the provincial seat, Chengdu. In the dGelugs-pa tradition promoted by the Qing emperors, the greatest among the tantras is and was the Klilacakratantra. In the 18th century, when Bon and Nyingma pa (pa, branch or sect) attempted to supplant the fonner with a newly resurgent “indigenous” cosmology linked to a reconstitution of the Tibetan concept of governance (Tuttle 2004), the Qing responded with a series of military expeditions which sought to wipe out these religious groups. These military responses, known as the Jingquan wars, were accompanied by the construction of temples in each of the sites noted above, and the initiation of regular Klilacakratantra recitations. (Ibid.) Kalacakratantra bi-monthly and biannual recitations had previously been established in Beijing at the Yuhuagong, and these were supported through the emperors’ personal coffers. The Chinese imperial governance in these affairs was kept discrete from the ruling Manchu household administration; and was carefully scrutinized and strategically sponsored.

It is difficult to ferret out the extent of religious exchange between Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist religious practitioners during the Qing. In part, this results &om linguistic distance (cf. Farquhar 1976: 27); in part, this results from lacunae in earlier scholarship.92 Based on availability of sources and sporadic legal cases, it would appear that most Chinese practitioners of Tibetan Buddhist rituals were limited to dharani and mantra recitations. Tibetan mantic arts were incorporated into the ritual repertoire of Daoist, Mahayanist and popular religious masters. Ellen McGill notes one case in which a “Daoist yinyang” incorporated these practices for the pacification of evil spirits and the attraction of good fortune. This master came to the attention of a Mongol prince in Khams when language barriers resulted in a claim of witchcraft again the Chinese. (McGill 2006)

Beyond these uses, the literate exchange of influences is difficult to establish. However, we can be sure that the habitual recitation of Kalacakratantra at regular intervals in the very active Maiijiisri temple at the center of Chinese cultural exchange in the region and the erection of appropriate mandalas profoundly affected Sichuan religious and symbolic vocabulary. Moreover, the Qing court’s demonstrable concern with pronunciation of these Tibetan words by Chinesereaders suggests that these recitations were being read in the original by Chinese reciters largely illiterate in Tibetan. Much of this symbolic infrastructure was established not only from the West and North: Eastern Sichuan the township known locally as Qianzhong also became an important site for knowledge transfer. Qianzhong was a former Tang dynasty commandery which, during the Qing, was known to outsiders as Wutaijun. This site was a locus of Miao, Han-Chinese, Hui and Tibetan religious communities: significant Tibetan Buddhist ritual, initiation, transmission and economic exchange centered about this region.

The cultural sharing of Tibet and Sichuan is poorly documented in the Western scholarship; however, the manifold points of commonality are suggestive of a complex system of knowledge exchange influenced by geographical proximity and political union. During the late Qing, Tibet was filled with a “harmonizing” intellectual fashion accompanied by a liberalization of women’s access to religious asceticism. From the 18th century, ajrayana manuals for women began to emerge in print, and tales of their adventures became elements in popular folktales and dramas. (Young 2003) These dramas, usually performed for religious festivals, were intended for an audience of devotees rather than sceptics. Young asserts that the plays, laudatory tales of valiant yet transgressive women, do not portray women masters in a particularly negative light. Women adepts are no more transgressive than their male counterparts: transgression itself constitutes an upaya, or skillful means toward attaining sotis. The ritual dramas studied by Young represent both men and women as capable of accessing this means toward sotis, often in the guise of teacher, but also as student. Such a textual tradition offers women following the Tibetan model a potent model of textual subjectivity; the inclusion of quotes from Tsongkhapa and the mention of his disciple in some of the nudan tracts suggests that some nudan compilers were aware of the Tibetan textual tradition and the potential this model offered to women adepts. (Note the similarity between late Qing Tibetan attitudes to transgression and that of the late Ming Chinese vogue for “wild-Chan”).

In China proper, concurrent developments in the neidanlnudan tradition mirror the Tibet trend. Whereas Valussi links the development of nudan to rising conservatism and paternalistic sentiment in China, the same could not be said to exist in the Tibet case. The two social systems are based on entirely different principles. In China, a woman could have only one “husband” but a husband could have one principal wife and several’ concubines. On the other social extreme, economic factors in Tibet often led a family to secure one “wife” for several brothers. Similar gender-specific development within the same approximate time period in two disparate socio-religious systems is suggestive. The Qing political umbrella and geographical proximity bear a good deal of weight on the genderspecific developments in both traditions and might explain the parallel developments in each cultural region. Anticipated future explorations of these topics are promising.


Women's neidan traditions

From the perspective of neidan practitioners in the Late Imperial period, women's status as ascetic performers of neidan extended to the beginnings of Daoist history. According to this tradition, the earliest women neidan adepts were the Queen Mother, who visited Han Wudi and transmitted esoteric secrets to him, and Wei Huacun (252-334), who excelled at Shangqing practices and after her apotheosis, became a transmitter of esoteric texts to the early Shangging masters. Attendants of the Queen Mother and Wei Huacun, among others, were commonly summoned by Ming and Qing literati patrons during spirit writing seances. Niidan tracts were indeed transmitted in this way. However, from an historical perspective, niidan tracts cannot be attested prior to the 17th century. The reading of a woman's neidan tradition emerges in Late Imperial period phenomena, and represented a form of authentication for a new textual tradition.

Women in the early Celestial Masters tradition appear to have attained great status as teachers and practitioners. The unity of man and woman, symbolic of the unity of the cosmic poles, repeats in the husband-wife pairs that represented the first three generations. of Celestial Masters leaders in the Hanzhong community. While it is unclear exactly how such nonnative representation played out in the lived realities of individuals' everyday life; the philosophical approach to sotis as paired union marks this group's ideology as approaching gender-equality.

This concept of paired union accords with the idea of yin and yang becoming complete through embodying a harmonious union of opposites in which each occupies the opposite aspect of the other, yet the two aspects do not form poles of one another: the transformation and communication of yin and yang manifests as natural gradations of transformative reality (such as seasonal change) in which yin becomes an extension of yang (as winter transforms into summer) and yang of yin (as summer returns to winter). This understanding of the cosmic processes develops in the root tracts of the early Celestial Masters tradition. The ritual processes inscribe this cosmogonic process onto the body of the cosmic pair. Thus the cosmic pair becomes the "text" of the early Celestial Masters tradition. This textual tradition defines the textual subjectivity of the practitioners and suggests the identity formation of those adepts wishing to establish themselves in the Celestial Masters tradition which is fundamentally a manifestation of the textual tradition. This textual formation, then, suggests that the example of the first three generation of masters and their wives formed a potent model by which women in the Celestial Masters' tradition self-identified. This textual tradition represented one source of cultural metaphors and authenticity for Late Imperial niidan writers and adepts.

When the Shangqing and Lingbao traditions arose, a very different dynamic presents. Practice by the two genders became solo by nature, and the monastic communities became gender-differentiated. Men and women ordinates (niiguan) acted as community leaders, but women leaders predominated in women's only monastic communities. (Despeux 2000a) As ascetic practices and Buddhist monasticism infiltrated the entire system of religious Daoism, Buddhist institutional androcentrism and ascetic misogyny (Sponberg 1992: 6-8) manifests in the Daoist traditions. The gender gap manifests concretely in the greater numbers of male versus female ascetics in both Buddhist and Daoist contexts, and a tendency to exclude women from particular religious sites and religious offices. In the Shangqing tradition, women's access to the ascetic tradition was clearly defined: women monastics must be those impoverished, unmarriageable, elderly, or orphaned. (See DZ1364)

Their outcast state must be confinned by written transfer of their persons to the monastic establishment by a dominant male (brother, father, uncle, father-in-law, or, in the case of orphans, the local government representative). Such individuals, most likely illiterate and lowly, were unlikely to become recipients of high level esoteric training. On the other hand, these individuals were those whose reproductive labor was undesired or' undesirable. Assuming zhan honglong (menstrual interruption) was indeed practiced in this period, loss of their fertility through neidan practice did not constitute a threat to patriarchal control.

Shangqing iconography and metaphors deeply influenced early neidan, and women's textual subjectivity within the tradition. In pre-Tang Shangqing and neidan ritual activities, the representation of real women is extremely circumscribed, and the description of women and their lot is institutionally androcentric. Women's access to the tradition has already been addressed. Once granted access to the practices, women's precepts are three fold that of men's; particular attention is given to women's pollution and women are represented as blood and polluted in textual iconography. Important aspects of the early tradition, inscribed in such textual traditions as the „lyrics on pacing the void“, associated with early Daoist public rituals (Bokenkamp 1987; Schafer 1981) record no women participants (unless symbolic or divine) until the Qing, yet the dominant tropes, such as the final look back before ascending the other shore, emerge in niidan materials of the 19th century. This phenomenon suggests a segregation of ritual roles based on gender difference not only existed during the Tang. Increasing exclusion of women from ritual activities from ritual activities (possibly based on the concept of female bloody pollution) extended into Daoist and neidan traditions.

The Tang period saw Daoist institutions appropriated into the elite and imperial worlds as realms where women self-purified. This association of Daoist institutional self-cultivation with the purification of women's bloody pollution is particularly characteristic of Tang court Daoism. Beyond women's entextualization as objects of bloody pollution, women are further inscribed with the embodiment of [male] passions and desires. So inscribed, women are envisioned as subjectively embodying of those desires. Between marriages or between a life of prostitution and death, women began to make use of the Daoist institutions, temporarily or permanently, as centers of purification. A famous case is the ordination of the two Tang princesses. (Beon 1991) Paul Rouzer further notes the importance of the Daoist institution as a place for retired prostitutes. (Rouzer 2001) 105 These contradictory aspects of women's textual subjectivity mark them as potential actors in the Daoist world, yet inherently polluted in the symbolic system.

Song-Yuan China saw the rise of distinctive forms of literature, social roles and religious context marked by commoditization of professional religion. Much of the Tang gender-disparity continued in the Song scriptural traditions; however, new interpretations re-inscribed the textual traditions. One of the great scriptures of current during the Song is the Cantongqi, atributed to Wei Boyang (2nd century), which was so important it received commentary by the great NeoConfucian Zhu Xi (1130-1200). From the Song period, Late Imperial nudan also received the iconography of the important neidan work Wuzhenpian, and the sophisticated poetic transmissions of the Southern and Northern schools of neidan complete with their significant iconographic motifs: the moon reflected in the water, ice jar, the river, snow, hazy metaphors (calling back to the Laozi). Moreover, the Southern school masters' versification use particular verse patterns: poetic verses based on the four seasons tracts.

Neidan facility fully manifested itself in the literati poetic tradition from which it could not be separated: neidan adepts performed his sotis through poetic perfonnance. Poetic performance in the Southern tradition inscribed the adept's experience into the textual tradition and simultaneously validated the adept's divine status.

Women writers are under-represented in the Song literary tradition in general. The necessity of inscribing personal sotis into the poetic tradition marginalized potential women representatives in the Song. Sun Bu (1119-1182) is one Song women who overcame this educational and social barrier. Her description of the neidan process and its psycho-physical effects are written into a single poem written no later than the Yuan dynasty. Sun Bu'er thus became the nudan traditions' most iconographic figure. Sun Bu'er is credited with founding the Qingjin school, and her school of Qingjing Daoism became closely associated with women Daoists in the Late Imperial period while here emanation was frequently called upon to transmit esoteric secrets for women practitioners.

During the Ming-Qing period a wide array of textual traditions existed, some drawing from Jin dynasty models, others from Southern, Northern, Central or Eastern schools, and still others drawing from alternative traditions such as the Hidden Immortals sect, and local medical traditions. A new tantra tradition emerging in the Qing may also have provided some alternative referents for women practitioners of neidan/nudan when indigenous metaphors failed to provide a sufficiently flexible interpretative framework. One of the characteristics of neidan in the Ming-Qing period is the increasing rift in sexual versus meditation-oriented neidan, and priority of xing versus ming cultivation. Sexual alchemy must be understood as distinct trom bedchamber arts, or fangzhongshu (bedchamber arts) whose aims, in Wiles' words, are for male health and longevity. (2002: 70) Sexual n'eidan traditions are represented in the person of the Ming neidan master Lu Xixing, who saw the exchange of sexual products as mutually beneficial to both adepts, if properly performed. (Ibid.) Fu Jinquan  also includes sexual alchemical techniques in his NUjindan fayao (1743).(Ibid) Sensual techniques, either in solo or dual (sexual) neidan cultivation, characterize much of the materials in the Hid4en Immortals' sect. Less provocative practices predominate in the Qingjing sect. Ming-Qing women adepts had a variety of textual models available for representation and practice.

Nudan as textually represented in the Qing responded to women's spiritual needs in an uneven manner. Women, like all human beings, faced threats of death and pollution. From the point of view of women's longevity, women's social demands, residing in large part in assuring the continuity of the patriarchy through child-bearing, constituted a serious threat. The life-giving labor of child-bearing constituted a life-taking process. Women's labor was further appropriated on the spiritual level. In the implied-androcentric audience of the neidan textual tradition, the metaphor of women's life-giving labor was appropriated for male ascetics' creation of the "true embryo". The "true embryo" is distinguished from the "mundane embryo" produced by women during normal birthing. In the impliedmale body of standard neidan, the birthing process itself was inverted. On one level, male pregnancy is a gender inversion. On another level, the actual moment of birth occurs in an inverted process in the neidan tradition: the immortal embryo does not pass through a normal vaginal birthing canal. Rather, the immortal infant rises up and emits through the top of the head. The inverted, pure birth ofthe immortal child allowed the new self to avoid passing through the bloody pollution of the mundane body. This mimics the Buddha's birth, and that of Laozi, both of whom issued from their mothers' sides or armpits. In a sense the entire neidan process hangs on affirming male (divine) pregnancy through denigrating the value of female (mundane) pregnancy. Effluvia of female birthing was itself considered polluting and constituted a karmic harm to the birth mother; the effluvia of immortal birth ftagrant scents and aurora, were considered beneficent. The inverted embryogonic metaphor remains one of the unifying characteristics in the neidan textual tradition. Parts of the Late Imperial textual traditions embrace this inverted embryogonic metaphor, read the place of men as necessarily potent, and ritually adept; women's place in some traditions remains problematic. Others read this embryogonic metaphor as more natural to those whose genders render them potent to insemination, and prioritize the potential of women in the process of divine gestation.

Bibliographic References

For updates click homepage here






shopify analytics