Tantric Theravadins?

A forum for beginners and members of other Buddhist traditions to ask questions about Theravāda (The Way of the Elders). Responses require moderator approval before they are visible.

Tantric Theravadins?

Postby mudra » Tue Mar 03, 2009 11:35 pm

I have, over the years, come across vague references to the existence of what seem like tantric practices in Theravada, or to be more precise, in Myanmar, though I have no indication whether this included neighboring countries (Tibet aside of course).

Given that the Burmese (is it Myanmarese? help!) language is part of the same language group as Tibetan, it is not unthinkable that there could be some cultural influence that would extend as far as some meditation practices.

My question is: does anyone here know of any specific practices within Theravada or in the traditionally Theravadin regions of Myanmar that would lead to such rumors of tantric practices there? Or perhaps even some practices that resemble tantra?

Thanks.

M

PS:
About 35 years ago I briefly followed a Thai forest monk teacher from the north, and elderly Mahathera, who taught me a meditation with breath which really resembled Tibetan 'tong-len' meditation. Though this is a bodhisattva practice and not necessarily a tantric practice, years later when I understood a little more about the various schools of Buddhism it surprised me.
mudra
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:33 am

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Mar 03, 2009 11:36 pm

Greetings Mudra,

As you've done, it's certainly useful to distinguish between "Theravada" itself and "traditional Theravadin countries".

Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking, "oh that happens in Thailand" or so on, and assuming it must therefore be a Theravadin thing.

As a side question, I'd be interested to know whether the traditional Theravada commentaries mention Tantra in any way, such as in texts like the "Points of Controversy".

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
 
Posts: 14784
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue Mar 03, 2009 11:55 pm

it would also be good to know just what you mean by tantra....
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
User avatar
jcsuperstar
 
Posts: 1915
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 5:15 am
Location: alaska

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 04, 2009 12:00 am

Hi Mudra

What were the vague references you came across?
It could be possible that there have been through the centuries the genesis of 'vernacular' practices that may have arisen out of the adoption and mixing of practices from Hinduism, animism and Bon. Which shouldn't be confused as Theravada.

I too would like to know whether Tantra was referenced in the commentarial literature, and what was said about the Tantra.
kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
User avatar
Ben
Site Admin
 
Posts: 16315
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: Land of the sleeping gods

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby mudra » Wed Mar 04, 2009 12:23 am

jcsuperstar wrote:it would also be good to know just what you mean by tantra....


Hmm. Pretty much the classic meaning. But as I started this thread, it is only fitting that I try and answer the question.

The short definition?

Tantra= literally continuum, also known as vajrayana (the adamantine path), also known as the resultant path.

the first definition is in part because the practitioner endeavors to see his/her entire experience as part of the pure continuum of the meditational buddha being visualised.

the second because it relates to a kind of 'indestructibility'

the third because in its practice one "brings the result into the path" i.e. one visualizes that one is the Buddha form being meditated.
(kind of like karate masters visualizing their fists going thru bricks before they do it), a process of familiarization that eventually is to bring the mind into line with enlightenment.

The kind of practices that are related would be visualizing blessings in various forms etc, having 'pure view' relating to the 'empty nature' of all phenomena, and so forth.

For obvious reasons it needs the guidance of accomplished masters, and special permission called empowerments in order to practice.
One of the classic pitfalls is getting lost in the system, really believing one is a buddha before actually accomplishing/attaining enlightenment. (This is kinda like the karate guy who hasn't trained at all, then sits in front of stack 20 bricks, visualizes putting his fist through it, then... BAM ends up with his arm in cast). The equivalent in tantra would be not having a solid grounding in Bodhicitta and wisdom understanding sunyatta, thus leading one to spin off into some kind of deep, deluded self-grasping.

Probably about 99% of the people "practicing tantra" are doing just that: practicing, and familiarising their minds with the qualities of their meditational Buddha aspect (Yidam=to bring close to the mind).
mudra
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:33 am

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby mudra » Wed Mar 04, 2009 12:27 am

:oops: didn't mean to imply that 99% of the practtioners were deluded. meant they were mostly just "practicing" as in practice run! My bad.

Ben, I can't really specify, I have just heard rumours over the years, even once saw a reference in E-sangha. That's why I was wondering if there was anything to it.
mudra
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:33 am

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Mar 04, 2009 1:06 am

Greetings Mudra,

So is the common theme behind tantra effectively the visualisation of realisation?

I (like many others here presumably) aren't familiar with precisely what tantra is... because we've never had any inclination to investigate it given its conspicuous absence in the Pali Canon.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
 
Posts: 14784
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby cooran » Wed Mar 04, 2009 1:07 am

Hello all,

Some info about Tantric Buddhism in Burma:
"If, before the foundation of Pagan in the second century A. D., Buddhism prevailed at Prome, it appears to have been of the Southern School, which was probably corrupted, later on, by the tenets of the Northern School as well as by Saivaism and Vaishnavaism. Burmese history relates that,. on the accession of Thaiktaing, the 13th King of Pagan, who began his reign in 513 A.D., the Naga-worship, with the Aris as its priests, arose at Pagan. It lasted for over five centuries, till it was finally suppressed by Anawrata. There is not much information available about the Aris or the system of faith taught by them. About the same period, i.e., 6th century A. D., in Northern India, Buddhism had lost its vigour of expansion,** and Indian Buddhists had migrated to China and neighbouring countries. Buddhism itself had been corrupted by the Tantric system, which is a mixture of magic, witchcraft and Siva-worship; and this Tantric Buddhism apparently percolated into Burma through Bengal, Assam and Manipur, and allied itself with the Northern School prevailing at Pagan. Indeed, Wilson observes in the preface to his Vishnu Purana: "it is a singular and as yet, uninvestigated, circumstance that Assam, or at least the north·east of Bengal (i.e., Kamrup) seems to have been, in a great degree, the source from which the Tantrika and Sakta corruptions of the religion of the Vedas and Puranas proceeded." All that we know about these priests is that they called themselves 'Aris' or 'Ariya,'— the 'Noble' that their robes were dyed with indigo, like those of the Lamas of Tibet and China; that they wore their hair at least two inches long; that they were not strict observers of their vow of celibacy; that the Jus primae noctis prevailed among them; and that the basis of their doctrines was that sin could be expiated by the recitation of certain hymns".
http://web.ukonline.co.uk/buddhism/tawsein5.htm

"The earliest written evidence of Theravada in the country is some inscriptions in Pali dating from about the 5th century AD. In later centuries though, Mahayana and Tantra became popular, although the scandalous behaviour of the Aris, the Tantric priesthood, eventually led to the discrediting and finally the disappearance of Tantric Buddhism".
http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:d7M ... ma-txt.htm

metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
User avatar
cooran
 
Posts: 7763
Joined: Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Queensland, Australia

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby Dhammanando » Wed Mar 04, 2009 3:05 am

Hi Mudra,

mudra wrote:My question is: does anyone here know of any specific practices within Theravada or in the traditionally Theravadin regions of Myanmar that would lead to such rumors of tantric practices there?


The Burma specialist Dr. Patrick Pranke of the University of Michigan's Center for Southeast Asian Studies would be the one to ask about this. For his doctoral thesis Pranke did extensive fieldwork in Burma on the weikza-lam — a cult of semi-Theravadin Buddhist wizards whose practice (a blend of Abhidhamma study, alchemy, mantra chanting and consuming poisonous substances) is aimed at prolonging their present life until the coming of Metteyya Buddha and then awakening as his disciples. If there is any living tradition of tantric Buddhism in Burma I'm sure Patrick will know about it. I don't have his e-mail address but you should be able to find it through google. He's a very approachable guy and if you contact him you can mention my name (he'll probably remember me as "Phra Robert").

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu
    ...and this thought arose in the mind of the Blessed One:
    “Who lives without reverence lives miserably.”
    Uruvela Sutta, A.ii.20

    It were endless to dispute upon everything that is disputable.
    — William Penn Some Fruits of Solitude,
User avatar
Dhammanando
 
Posts: 1363
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:44 pm
Location: Wat Pa Mieng Khun Pang, Chiang Mai

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby mudra » Wed Mar 04, 2009 3:18 am

Thank you Bhante, that sounds like a promising lead. I will follow up.

:anjali:

M
mudra
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:33 am

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby mudra » Wed Mar 04, 2009 3:40 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Mudra,

So is the common theme behind tantra effectively the visualisation of realisation?

I (like many others here presumably) aren't familiar with precisely what tantra is... because we've never had any inclination to investigate it given its conspicuous absence in the Pali Canon.

Metta,
Retro. :)


Hi Retro,

Perhaps more core than that would be the adaptation of the aspects wisdom and means ascribed to the particular Yidam. 'Visualisation' is not so much visual sensory perception, more a sense of changing one's ordinary (samsaic) view/perspective of one's own being and one's surroundings. The various techniques used are to complete this change of perspective, the mind being focused on the particular Yidam aspects in the entirety of life's experiences.

But before this is done one is supposed to have a solid grounding in 4 Noble truths, i.e. the various aspects of the path regarding impermanence, suffering, refuge, the precepts of refuge,understanding of the law of karma, dependent origination, the unsatisfactoriness of samsara, bodhicitta based on compassion and loving kindness, a clear understanding of sunyatta (which again is based on having a good understanding of dependent origination). All these aspects are in fact aspects of this wisdom and bodhicitta being visualised. That's what the visualisation is all about.

Unfortunately I am not really that scholarly. This thread was really a spin off, I was curious about those rumours. Now suddenly I am here holding forth on tantra, and I am really not qualified to do so.

Best,

M
mudra
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:33 am

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby adeh » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:14 am

The basic idea behind hindu tantric practices is the awakening of kundalini and the moving of that energy up through the chakras and out through the crown chakra to attain union with the cosmic consciousness.....is this the idea behind tantric buddhist practices? Adeh.
User avatar
adeh
 
Posts: 215
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 5:42 pm
Location: Mexico City

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby davcuts » Wed Mar 04, 2009 7:33 am

adeh wrote:The basic idea behind hindu tantric practices is the awakening of kundalini and the moving of that energy up through the chakras and out through the crown chakra to attain union with the cosmic consciousness.....is this the idea behind tantric buddhist practices? Adeh.


No, in tantra you visualize yourself as an enlightened being. As such you see all things as empty, just as a Buddha would. A lot of people think tantra is about sex, but it's not. It has to do with the drops found in the chakras, or winds. People have used tantra as a reason to commit sexaul misconduct. I have found that very upsetting to the point I've lost faith in tantra. Ultimalty however tantra has nothing to do with sex. I can't really go into more detail because this is considered a secret practice. You can however find more information online if you look.

David
davcuts
 
Posts: 72
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 7:03 am
Location: Asheville, North Carolina

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby gavesako » Wed Mar 04, 2009 8:57 am

From: Thailand. DONALD K. SWEARER. Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Ed. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003.

As part of the Indian cultural influence into "greater India," elements of
MAHĀYĀNA, TANTRA, and MAINSTREAM BUDDHIST SCHOOLS entered different regions of Thailand through the
Mon, the expansion of the Sumatran-based Śrivijāya kingdom into the southern peninsula, and the
growing dominance of the Khmer empire in the west. These diverse Buddhist expressions, in turn,
competed with Brahmanism, Hinduism, and autochthonous animisms. Rather than an organized sectarian
lineage, the early religious amalgam in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia might be more
accurately described as a syncretic collage of miraculous relics and charismatic monks, Hindu
dharmaśāstra, Brahmanic deities, Mahāyāna buddhas, tantric practices, and Sanskrit Sarvāstivādin and
Pāli Theravāda traditions.

Syncretism and tantric Theravāda
François Bizot describes the eclectic nature of Buddhism in premodern Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia as
a congruence of Vedic Brahmanism, tantrism, and a pre-Aryan Austro-Asiatic cult of guardian spirits and
protective divinities. Interacting with Mon Theravāda beliefs and practices, and possibly influenced by
the Mūlasarvāstivādins, it resulted in what Bizot has characterized as "Tantric Theravāda," identified with
a mystical tradition known as Yogāvacara (practitioner of the spiritual discipline). The features of this
tantric Theravāda, at odds with the stereotypical view of classical Theravāda, include identifying one's
body with the qualities of the Buddha; the use of esoteric syllables and words (DHĀRANĪ, MANTRA, yantra) to
represent the identity of microcosm and macrocosm; the dharmic potency of sounds and letters; and
esoteric initiation for the realization of both soteriological and mundane ends (Crosby).
...
Syncretism continues to define many Thai religious practices.
Temple festivals begin by invoking the guardian deities of the
four quarters, zenith, and nadir. Monastic ordinations are often
preceded by an elaborate spirit calling (riak khwan) ceremony.
Yantric tattoos and magical amulets are worn by the devout to
ward off danger. Offerings are made at the shrines of deities
protecting mountain passes, and elaborate altars to the Hindu
god Brahmā occupy a prominent place at the entrance to hotels.
In Chiang Mai, northern Thais inaugurate the New Year by
three sequential events: appealing to the spirit of a palladial
buddha image; invoking the god, INDRA, resident in the city
pillar; and sacrificing a buffalo to the spirits who guard the
mountains overlooking the valley. The veneration of King Rāma
V (Chulalongkorn, r. 1868–1910), which originated as a cult of
his equestrian statue before the parliament building in Bangkok, has spread nationwide. And, as if to
validate Bizot's theory of tantric Theravāda, Thailand's fastest-growing new Buddhist movement, Wat
Thammakāi, espouses a Yogāvacara form of meditation claimed by the founder to be an ancient method
rediscovered by the late abbot of Wat Paknām, a royal monastery located on Bangkok's Chao Phraya River.
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

ajahnchah.org - Teachings of Ajahn Chah in many languages
Dhammatube - Videos on Buddhist practice
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
User avatar
gavesako
 
Posts: 1416
Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 5:16 pm
Location: England

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Mar 04, 2009 9:06 am

i was going to mention dhammakaya's meditation style.. but i'm not sure it fits, though it is similar. :shrug:
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
User avatar
jcsuperstar
 
Posts: 1915
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 5:15 am
Location: alaska

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby mudra » Wed Mar 04, 2009 10:21 am

Bhante Gavesako,

Thanks for that post. It does put things into better perspective. The syncretism described was pretty much eveident in Java too
from early days up to around the 14th century. Not many people realize for example that the Borobudur was started as a Shivaite
temple, then the dynasty changed....
mudra
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:33 am

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby srivijaya » Wed Mar 04, 2009 2:17 pm

gavesako wrote:As part of the Indian cultural influence into "greater India," elements of MAHĀYĀNA, TANTRA, and MAINSTREAM BUDDHIST SCHOOLS entered different regions of Thailand through the Mon, the expansion of the Sumatran-based Śrivijāya kingdom into the southern peninsula, and the growing dominance of the Khmer empire in the west.

A very good post gavesako. Many people know little to nothing about this incredibly significant maritime empire.
Very good thread btw.

Namaste
srivijaya
 
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 8:31 pm

Re: Tantric Theravadins?

Postby mudra » Wed Mar 04, 2009 6:07 pm

srivijaya wrote:
gavesako wrote:As part of the Indian cultural influence into "greater India," elements of MAHĀYĀNA, TANTRA, and MAINSTREAM BUDDHIST SCHOOLS entered different regions of Thailand through the Mon, the expansion of the Sumatran-based Śrivijāya kingdom into the southern peninsula, and the growing dominance of the Khmer empire in the west.

A very good post gavesako. Many people know little to nothing about this incredibly significant maritime empire.
Very good thread btw.

Namaste


Srivijaya,

Seeing as you chose that name for your online identity, I am assuming that you know a bit more! Please bear with me then if I add some more for the sake of context for other readers.

Not to derail the thread, but Srivijaya ('exalted victorious'), known to Tibetans as "Ser-ling", in Sanskrit as "Suvarnadvipa" (continent of gold) has very close ties to the second wave of Buddhism into Tibet. Most historians are now quite convinced that it's location was in southern Sumatra.

One of the main figures of that movement was the Bengali master Dipamkara Shrijnana (born a prince, initiated into tantra, ordained a monk), other wise known as Jowo Atisha. Though already highly regarded as a practtioner and scholar, he chose to study for 13 years under his main teacher, also born a prince, in Srivijaya. At the time the maritime empire extended as far as the southern part of today's Thailand (!)

Returning to India (Bengal, where he was the leading scholar of Vimalakirti monastic college) he was eventually invited to Tibet. The main teachings he taught publicly were the graded stages of the path and bodhicitta. This latter was the main subject of his studies in Suvarnadvipa, the reason he undertook what was in those days a hazardous journey. He gave tantric teachings and initiations privately to a select few, but it seems it was not his main interest in Tibet at the time. His main interest in teaching was the basics of Buddhism and bodhicitta.

It is interesting to note that Srivijaya not only had extended up to the Siamese peninsula but also owned villages near Nalanda monastic university in India that paid some kind of tithe to the institution. Srivijaya had become home to one of the foremost exponents (read llineage holder) of the most essential aspects (bodhicitta) of what is now known by the blanket term "Tibetan Buddhism".

Given the highly active state of trade and travel in those days it is not surprising that cultures and religions/philosophies rubbed shoulders and mixed. After all Angkor was in its day the biggest city in the world with a population of 900,000 plus. (At the time Paris, was little more than a village).

It is in this light when I read accounts like "Tantric Buddhism in Burma" quoted a few posts above I tend to keep a large shaker of salt by my side. Particularly when written by so-called scholars who often don't really understand the system. To give one a little taste of how colonial views have affected our modern day knowledge of that period: we have all been conditioned to call Myanmar 'Burma' - a British invention, much like Calcutta for Kalikut or Bombay for Mumbai, so much so that when the inhabitants insist on going back to the original we feel it is "weird". As an Asian I have had to reinvestigate a lot to get a less lop-sided view. Hence the query that started this thread.

This all got a lot longer than intended. :rolleye:

Best wishes to all

Mudra
mudra
 
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:33 am


Return to Discovering Theravāda

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests