• Tantrism, Modernity, History. On Lü Cheng's Philological Method

    Martino Dibeltulo Concu
    Buddhism--Study and teaching, China, 1912-1949, Tantrism, Buddhism
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Lü Cheng 呂澂, Mijiao 密教, Xizang fojiao 西藏佛教, Buddhist studies, Republican china, Tibetan Buddhism
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    Tantrism (Mijiao 密教) is regarded by some as the alien element of magic, ritual, and worship that corrupted Buddhism in India. It is regarded by others as a highly sophisticated vehicle named Vajrayāna. Both views would come into play as Tantrism became the focus of Chinese scholars during the Republican period (1912–1949). Such famous figures as Taixu 太虛 (1890–1947) took a special interest in the tantric traditions of contemporary Tibet and Japan. However, the forms of Tantrism that once flourished in ancient India and China, and to which those of Tibet and Japan could be traced, also came under scrutiny. Prior to the First World War, Chinese scholars had not been drawn into the binary that viewed Tantrism in China, Japan, and Tibet as either an aberration of original Buddhism, or as a separate and supreme vehicle that is its culmination. Between the world wars, however, and in the wake of what Holmes Welch has called the revival of Tantrism in China, the problem of Tibet’s Buddhism as a form of Tantrism, and of its historical relation to the Tantrism of China and Japan, presented a dilemma to Chinese scholars. To understand what was at stake in this dilemma, this essay will offer a genealogy of the term Xizang fojiao 西藏佛教, a term translated as “Tibetan Buddhism” in English. In so doing, it will explore two elements that proved central to the study of Buddhism in China between the 1840s and the 1940s: (1) the changing names of Tibetan Buddhism, and (2) the changing meaning of Tantrism in relation to Tibetan Buddhism.
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