The Constructions of Knowledge regarding Tantric practice in Tibet

(Антропологийн хичээл дээр бичсэн нэг эсээгээ оруулчихлаа. 
Сонирхоод үзээрэй.)

In this paper, I will discuss how Tibetan people construct the knowledge regarding Tantric practice. Firstly, I will focus on the meaning of Tantra and the history of its practice in Tibet. Tantric practice is a complex system of rituals, meditation and doctrine. It is an ancient Indian tradition, which later on prevailed in Tibet. Secondly, I will show how Tibetans construct the Tantric knowledge. I shall also discuss the roles of gurus, symbols being used, the practice of meditation and the religious debate involved in the construction of the Tantric knowledge. Lastly, this paper will argue on the Tantric practice’s complex and diverse nature in knowledge creation.


As a citizen of a country where majority of the population is Buddhist, I have certain interests and experiences related to Buddhism. Mongolia has been a Buddhist country for many centuries. The influence of Buddhism to Tibetan and Mongolian culture has always been an interesting topic for me. For this essay, I want to focus on just Tibet and Tantric practice of Tibetan Buddhism in consideration of the availability of information. My goal for this paper is to discuss how people construct religious knowledge particularly esoteric and mystical knowledge. Tantric practice can be the best example of this kind of religious knowledge because it has gained a lot of attention to its symbolic pictures of sex and other offensive illustrations. It has become the one reason for its popularity in western world. As a matter of fact, this kind of symbolic pictures cannot define the essence of Tantric Buddhism. The main goal of Tantric practice is to help the practitioners go through their pathway to enlightenment. In this regard, it is a complex system with doctrines, rituals, and meditation. In this paper, I will examine how people construct knowledge regarding this complex system based on secondary data.   

The meaning of Tantra and its history

 In order to understand clearly the meaning of word ‘Tantra’, I will discuss few definitions here.
First definition is from Novick (1999, p143) who said that,  “Tantra is the collective term for a complex system of meditative practices that use the methods of ritual symbolic visualization for transforming one’s experience of conventional reality.” This definition emphasized its symbolic side and visualization in meditation.

Secondly, Alexis Sanderson (1991, p91) posits that, “Buddhist Tantra as ritual system, entails the evocation and worship of means of mantras of which the visualized forms of the deities are transformations”. It can be understood that deities are important feature of Tantric Buddhism.

Thirdly, Urban (1999) mentioned that first appearance of the word Tantra was in Vedic times and which means extended spirit of a thing and a system of thought.  “However, according to Sir Moneir Williams, the term has also been used throughout Sanskrit literature to signify not only ‘any rule, theory or scientific work’ (Mahabharata) but also ‘an army, row, number or series (Bhagavata Puranam) and even a drug or chief remedy”  (Urban, 1999, p125). I can say that Urban (1999) offers a wider and more focused etymology of the word Tantra.

From these definitions, I can conclude that Tantra does not just possess diverse meaning, but also it has rich historical background. In general, Tantra can be understood as a religious ritual system.  Now Tantra or Tantric Buddhism is widely used across the world as body of texts, traditions and practices. Urban (1999) acknowledges that western world constructed the term ‘Tantra’ in its own way and it is formed around nineteenth century. In the western world, tantric is a certain doctrine that is esoteric which is both sexually and morally offensive  (Urban, 1999). MacGregor (1989) also mentioned that Western people think Tantric Buddhism as a radical and a controversial practice. In the last few decades, Tantric practices gained a lot of public interest especially from the academic world.  “In academic discourse, Tantric Buddhism usually refers to a special esoteric school of Buddhist philosophy, practice, and art based on treatises known as tantras” (Keown, 2003, p292). However, my focus for this paper is not in the context of the western world but in Tibet.  

There are also various kinds of classification of the Tantric practice or Tantric Buddhism. According to Dreyfus (1997), there are mainly three main Tantric systems in Tibet, which are Guhyasamaja, the Cakrasamvara, and the Hevajra. These Tantric practices can be understood as a ritual, practical and yogic, which have own root texts. The root text is a foundational sutra.  On the other hand, Blofeld (1970) divided Tantric Buddhism (often called Vajrayana) into three parts, which includes rules of conduct, sutras (discourses), and abhidharma, which is an advanced doctrine. It is clear that Blofeld’s classification is similar to Dreyfus’ one. Now I want to mention Gray’s (2007) classification. He said that Tantric Buddhism is divided into four different types, which are action tantra, performance tantra, yoga tantra and supreme union tantra. For me, this classification is derived from the activities associated with Tantra. Moreover, there are also the six types of functions of Tantra. These are Kriya, Carya, Yoga, Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga tantras (Blofeld, 1970).  From my personal point of view, these varying kinds of classification regarding tantric practice in academic world show clearly how this idea can be diverse and that people can construct its meanings differently. It can also show that there is no consolidated and systematic concept about Tantric practice in Tibet.

As mentioned before, I will discuss about its historical background, in order to understand how it is constructed.  Tantric Buddhism has gone through up and down in its history of diffusion in Tibet. Peng (2013) states that there are four historical stages in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. The first phase is the introduction of Tantric Buddhism, the second phase is called “age of fragmentation”, which is the stage of its great popularity in Tibet (Peng, 2013). The third phase is a reintroduction to some parts of Tibet and the fourth stage is the “golden age”, which is the revival of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism (Peng, 2013). As mentioned before, Tantric Buddhism during this period is gaining great popularity among people from around the world, not just from Tibet and India. This popularity is generally derived from its esoteric illustrations. 

In general, Tantric practice is an Indian tradition, which has been partly hegemonising in Tibet since the seventh century (Samuel, 2005). According Samuel (2005), Tantric Buddhism was transferred from India to Tibet during the seventh and eight century. However, it looks like the Indian monastic knowledge has survived in Tibet, but Tantric Buddhism has changed a lot because of Tibet’s culture and intellectual environment (Samuel, 2005). Tibet’s shamanist tradition called “Bon” has influenced significantly to Buddhist Tantric practice as well. From personal point of view, this influence was not in good way because there is similar history in Mongolian Buddhism. Now Mongolian Buddhism has a mixed tradition with Mongolian Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. As a result, people always confuse whether it is Buddhism or not.  

In Tibet, urban monks and monasteries usually have a certain connection with state or government (Samuel, 2005). Some of them even have a political role. Thus, this kind of political influence was one of the reasons of power in Monastic life. Notion of tantric Buddhism is mostly connected to its magical power (Samuel, 2005). Tibetan state intervened it because this reason. Interestingly, the state has no responsibility to support the Monasteries financially, because wealthy people already have been supporting them (Samuel, 2005).

Samuel (2005) mentioned that Tibet was a powerful empire from year 640 to year 840. Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism transferred to Tibet around this period. Padmasambhava is considered as a Lama[1], who is the founder of Tantric Buddhism (Samuel, 2005).  Padmasambhava travelled across Tibet during that time. He was an influential figure who had a major role in the transmission of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Even though Tibetan empire has collapsed, Tantric practices were still growing slowly with its own features of Tibet (Samuel, 2005). Thus, a totally different form of Indian Tantric practice was developed through the successors of Padmasambhava (Samuel, 2005). As mentioned before, Tibetan shamanism and political role was the main differentiator in Tibetan Tantric practice. In Tibet, Monasteries have become more like Tantric centers during that time (Samuel, 2005).  Now Tibetan Tantric practices are not considered homogenous as different types of tantric practices have developed in Tibet.

As mentioned before, Tantric practice is called Vajrayana and Tantric practitioners are called Siddhas in Tibet. According to Samuel (2005), following features are important characteristics of Siddhas.

- In Tantric Buddhism, the Siddha takes own vows, which is additional to the Pratimoksa vows and Bodhicitta vows. In general, taking a vow is one of the important features of Buddhism.  
    - Tantric practitioners do not need to follow the vow of “celibacy”. The emphasis is on sexual and yogic practice. However, most Siddhas are celibate interestingly.     
     - Siddhas learn the fundamental ideas from the root texts of Tantric Buddhism. There are many ideas that are borrowed from Hindu Tantric texts to Vajrayana Tantric texts.
    - Siddhas practice the different rituals from general Buddhists. In Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, there are significant influences from Tibetan Shamanism called Bon.
     - Siddhas do not follow the traditional moral and rather they pursue higher level of morality.  It means that they have no strict binding in terms of moral principles. 

Construction of knowledge in Tibet

According to Dreyfus (1997), the way of organizing the Buddhist knowledge is not an invention of Tibet and it is generally derived from the Indian tradition. “Tantric practitioners known as the siddhas, and it is they rather than the urban monasteries who provided a critical component of the corpus of Buddhist knowledge taken over by Tibet: Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism” (Samuel, 2005, 57).  Nevertheless, it is important to understand the connection of Indian and Tibetan knowledge. On the one hand, these two are inseparable in terms of Buddhist tradition. On the other hand, they have own features, which I will discuss later in the paper.

Now I will illustrate more about how practitioners construct the knowledge in monastic school level in Tibet.

There are different types of sects in Tibetan Buddhism. One of main sects is called Gelugpa. It is known as a yellow hat sect in Tibetan Buddhism. Lamas of Yellow hat sect should spend around twenty years on practice of Sutra and root text (Blofeld, 1970). Official Buddhist universities such as Se rwa (Yellow hat sect) do not include tantra in their curriculum and graduates study tantra by themselves separately from the university (Dreyfus, 1997). Some sects of Tibetan Buddhist think that tantric knowledge should be private and secret in Tibet because of its magical power (Dreyfus, 1997). For some sects, knowledge regarding Tantric practice is in their official curriculum (Dreyfus, 1997).  There is sect called Nyingmapas, which is one of the Red Hat Sets (Blofeld, 1970). They study tantra in their early period of learning and spend less time on Sutras (Blofeld, 1970). Thus, students usually learn basic tantric concepts, for instance difference between sutras and tantras.  During the seventh and eighth grades, students are tested by general tantric practices in those schools that teach tantric practices (Dreyfus, 1997). Even though some may not study Tantra, almost all of them have certain knowledge regarding Tantric practice (Blofeld, 1970). Even normal people follow some forms of tantric practice, for example visualization through mantra (Blofeld, 1970).  

The construction of meaning is not exceptional thing for Tibetan monastic education (Dreyfus, 1997). They often use myth and rituals in this purpose. “The central narratives are not derived from the concrete teachings of the founder or the biographies of the central figures, but those emerge from abstract doctrines. This, I suggest, is a particularity of scholasticism as a religious phenomenon” (Dreyfus, 1997, p61). This is a characteristic that we can see from other religions as well. It is very clear that belief is an important feature of religion itself. Thus, it also plays an important role in Tantric Buddhism.

In order to learn the mystical tantric practice, one needs ultimate determination. Then, there is a need for a teacher who has experiences and knows root texts (Blofeld, 1970). In general, tantric practitioners use techniques, which usually illustrate good and evil. Blofeld (1970) mentioned that there are common misperceptions regarding Tantric practice, which are secrecy and sexual symbol. Knowledge about magical power in Tibet is similar to knowledge of magical power in Southeast Asian countries and countries in Himalayas (Blofeld, 1970). For instance, sacred places like mountains and lakes are considered protectors of the communities in Tibet (Samuel, 2005).

The teachings of Vijnanavadings and Yogacarins are very influential in Tantric Buddhism, because they have significant roles on constructing philosophical and practical part of the teachings (Blofeld, 1970). According to Blofeld (1970), it does not make sense to use solely historical approach in religious subjects, so philosophical and practical aspects are very important in order to understand construction of knowledge regarding Tantric practice in Tibet.

Mills (2003) argued that there are various types of systematization in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. Some schools and monasteries emphasize on symbolic side of its interpretation and some schools are more focus on literal interpretation (Mills, 2003). Thus, understanding regarding Tantric practice is not homogeneous one.  “Whilst almost all Tibetan syntheses found a place for some combination of tantra, ethical trainings and monasticism, schools such as the Nyingmapa, Kagyu and Sakyapa placed a high total value on tantric trainings” (Mills, 2003, p19). Monasteries are very important for some schools and for some, it is not necessarily important factor in order to practice Tantra (Mills, 2003). 

In Tibetan Buddhism, some people have innate connection to the power and you need to have a relationship with them in order to access to some religious knowledge (Samuel, 2005). In many cases, if a person could not get a service from a certain monk or monastery, that person will choose simply a different place or monk (Samuel, 2005).  Here are lists of how people have access to Religious knowledge (Samuel, 2005). 
By heredity – It can be understood as more like a family influence but some people have innate talent to understand Buddhist knowledge.  
* By reincarnation – It is one of the main features of Tibetan Buddhism. If a child is a reincarnation, he will be considered as a high-level lama who is in his next life.    
* Being in monastic community – It is very common to send his/her children to Monasteries or send their child as an apprentice of a certain lama.  
* Spiritual development by herself/himself – Through the meditation or sutras, people develop themselves spiritually. 
Direct access to tantric deities – Pupils in some sects of Tibetan Buddhism study tantric practice later in their learning.
Having access to holy sites – There are some holy place that lamas usually meditate, read sutras and practice tantras.

According to Samuel (2005), there is a strong role of myth and half-historical narratives in construction of knowledge in Tibet. Historical narrative is usually considered as a story-based format. The myths and half-historical narratives are usually transferred through formal and informal oral transmission (Samuel, 2005). Through the ceremonies of Tantric practice such as monastic ritual dances and other tantric rituals, people who do not belong in a Monastic community can get knowledge regarding Tantric Buddhism (Samuel, 2005)

Practitioners of Gelugpa, Yellow hat sect, mention that there are three main actions regarding its practice, which are hearing, thinking and mediation (Wallace, 1999). The hearing can include the textual study and it helps to understand Buddhist doctrine. The thinking includes rational analysis and debate and it helps to check internal consistency of thinking and internal experience of meditation (Wallace, 1999). The goal of this function is to validate the teachings and inside knowledge within the teachings (Wallace, 1999). The meditation helps to understand realities of Buddhist doctrine (Wallace, 1999).  I can also say that it is a process to examine the realities within knowledge. First two actions can be done under the guidance of the teacher lama in monastic schools (Wallace, 1999). I think these two main activities, textual analysis and debate, are similar practice to those in the modern education. In third one, practitioners usually look for a master who can tell his/her experience (Wallace, 1999). However, the meditation is a self-learning practice in reality. 
To conclude this part of the essay, I argue that how the practitioners of Tantric Buddhism construct knowledge is not a simple one. This process also often gets problematic when people systematize in order to understand non-western knowledge especially religious knowledge. When I compare this to my experiences regarding the construction of knowledge in Mongolian Buddhism, Tibetan Tantric Buddhism is more complex and sophisticated for my personal judgment because people do not care about the meaning behind the teaching of Buddhism in Mongolia. Blofeld (1970, p163) acknowledged it and he said, “Western men of learning, whatever their attitude to the content of Tibetan scholarship, cannot fail to admire the amazing feat of the Tibetans in reaching so high an intellectual level, especially when comparisons are made with cultures of other mountain and island kingdoms isolated for centuries from the mainstream progress.”
Now I will illustrate why the role of Guru, Symbolization, Meditation and Debate are important features in the construction of knowledge in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. I argue here that these four elements are the main factors in terms of its influence in Tantric Buddhism. Here are my rationales. 
The Role of Teacher / Guru

In tantric practice, it is very important to find one’s own guru, who can teach its methods.  “To be accomplished, they must believe in what they teach and, therefore, fear of appalling karmic consequences would deter them”  (Blofeld, 1987, p38). If his community is yellow hat sect, he most likely becomes one of Gelugpa lamas (Blofeld, 1970). Then he is sent to monasteries and spends around twenty years of religious studies. It means that they have various teachers in their religious school. Red hat sects will be the one, who stays with Lama (Blofeld, 1970). People who are involved in red hat sect send their child as an apprentice to a lama or guru. Lingshed’s Geshe Changchub explained, “Of course, your lama is more important than Buddha Sakyamuni, or any of the Buddhas. After all, Buddha Sakyamuni is dead – he has gone to nirvana. You do not receive the Dharma from him; he cannot help you, but your lama can. You get your teachings from your lama, so he is far more important” (Mills, 2003, p99). I think that it shows the most pragmatic side of Tantric Buddhism with regards to the guru. It can be understood as a pragmatic feature of Tibetan Buddhism in general because this attitude is realistic even though it is religious practice.    

According to Blofeld (1987), there is very little information regarding initial training of Tantric Buddhism. Initial practices and sutras are short and comparably easy but young student should repeat it thousands of time (Blofeld, 1987). Students usually learn the fundamentals from the root texts and then gurus explain them further (Dreyfus, 1997). For example, they memorize four medical tantras and later they receive a comment gauging their understanding (Dreyfus, 1997). This commentary type of knowledge construction is the center of Tibetan monastic knowledge (Dreyfus, 1997). The commenting process is one of the advantages of having a guru. However, this process also creates a two-way relationship between the lama and the student. The lama is occupying the more advantageous position because he has the capacity to assess the performance of the student. In this regard, the discourse of “power” is also present. In the process of knowledge creation, it is evident that there are two types of actors, the dominant (Lama) and the subordinate (student). The dominant are the ones who hold more power.  Furthermore, the Tibetan knowledge classification is different from western knowledge classification. Tibetan religious texts are usually written as verses and these texts need further explanation or commentary (Dreyfus, 1997). Those who do not know or who cannot read the tantric text, daily practice can be mixed form of magic and superstition (Blofeld, 1987).

In general, it is very important to gain knowledge from reliable source. In tantric Buddhism it is called “empowerments” where a qualified lama should initiate the training (Mills, 2003) but there are certain restrictions. The lama or the instructor knows when his/her student can start the practice; without them, students cannot understand texts (Mills, 2003).

The Role of Symbolization

Tantric practitioners often use symbols that convey a mystery (Blofeld, 1987). This can be understood as one of the ways of constructing knowledge in Tibet. As mentioned earlier, symbolism has influential factor in construction of Tantric knowledge, for example mantra can show ‘nascent presence of divine form’ (Mills, 2003). In order to understand these symbols, the one needs deeper knowledge regarding Tantric Buddhism (Blofeld, 1987).  The symbols include diagrams, shapes, and objects. There are also illustrations of god and goddess (Blofeld, 1987). Vajrayana (Tantric) monks often select certain students to transfer their knowledge orally (Blofeld, 1987). They think that if students use it inappropriately, they might end up being insane. Even though there is sexual symbolism in Tantric Buddhism, it has not been considered as a cause of secrecy (Blofeld, 1987). Symbols were important feature because during the meditation, practitioners reach the intellectual ecstasy, which is thing that hard to imagine because of its abstractness (Blofeld, 1987). Another reason of secrecy is its supernatural power, which is a thing that not accepted in the modern world, because it is cannot explained empirically (Blofeld, 1987).

Tantric symbols can be classified into three different types (Blofeld, 1987). First, there is a direct teaching aid, which is considered less important than the others, because these aids are usually simple and easy ones (Blofeld, 1987). Second one is called living symbols and those symbols have a wide and sophisticated explanation (Blofeld, 1987). However, people need to spend more time on these aids. Third one is called a middle category. They are less direct for teaching purpose but it is more dedicated to students, who can understand it by themselves (Blofeld, 1987). Steven Katz (1978) refers that symbols, diagrams, images and rituals are important factor for practitioners that define what kind of experience they want from practices.   More than that, symbols also play a huge part of the construction of knowledge of a religion because symbols are also associated with a particular belief or particular religious activity. Symbols are also not all the time referring to tangible things. There are variations from different places, context and people.
The Role of Meditation

In some Buddhist schools, firstly the student should start with meditation and then he/she does some ethical training and after that he/she studies about tantra as mentioned earlier (Mills, 2003). Students, who want to become lama receive acknowledgement from his/her teacher lama and do the Tantric meditations (Mills, 2003). In this regard, tantric meditation is similar to other kinds of rituals (Mills, 2003). However, in general, Tantric Meditation life is more individualistic and many Western scholars stated this nature of Tibetan Buddhism (Mills, 2003). 

From here, some people suspect that it is not easy to have an unbiased understanding on Buddhist knowledge through the meditation because they are following their teacher’s guidance (Wallace, 1999). However, we need to understand that religious approach is different from modern scientific approach (Wallace, 1999). In religious approach of constructing knowledge, first you need to believe completely and then you will seek for truth within yourself (Wallace, 1999). When people talk about the role of belief in Buddhist knowledge, they should not forget that it is a complex notion because Buddhism supports the skepticism in general.     
Initially, practitioners need to take the Tantric vows, in order to practice Deity yoga or Tantric meditation (Novick, 1999). Deity Yoga is the spirit of Tantra. In order to reach enlightenment, the person has to do more than meditate on emptiness (Novick, 1999). In tantric meditation and deity yoga demand an imagination and visualization from practitioners and it is more than belief (Novick, 1999). 

However, in tantric practices, they use other traditional Buddhist meditational methods, tantric meditation has own characteristics, which is visualization (Blofeld, 1987). It often includes body, speech and mind (Blofeld, 1987).  Some practitioners prefer to stay by one and spend around three or seven years in solitude (Blofeld, 1987). After years of practice, they become one who does need to rely on books. “In short, visualization is a yoga of the mind” (Blofeld, 1987, p45). It is not easy to explain how they achieve it. For example, Lopon who is a high level lama, was doing annual retreat in Kumbum and then he recited the tantric scripts and imagines himself as tantric Buddha (Mills, 2003). Most lamas become specialist for certain Tantric practice, but they need to learn almost all practices  (Mills, 2003). Lopon’s retreat can be demonstration that Buddha’s presence is coming to the monastery (Mills, 2003).

Even though practitioners and lamas can explain the Buddhist meditation in detail, experience of the meditation is totally different from one another, so people who have not experienced it cannot imagine what it is (Wallace, 1999). Thus, the meditation creates a space, a space that varies from people to people. So through meditation, there is a personal encounter and that makes the tantric practice also personalized. Even Dalai Lama once mentioned that you can find religious teachings from books, experience is like a finding gold (Wallace, 1999).  Paul Griffiths (1986, p13) “states that the Buddhist cultivation of contemplative insight consists of repeated meditations upon standard items of Buddhist doctrine...until these are completely internalized by practitioners and their cognitive and perceptual habit-patterns operate only in terms of them."
Even though most of Buddhist meditation is normative, there are no descriptions regarding one’s meditation experience and no written references even though meditation practice has been developing for more than five hundred years in Tibet (Wallace, 1999).
The Role of Debate

In Tibet, religious education begins with literacy and memorization and then they do hermeneutical practices (Dreyfus, 1997). “The interpretation of commentaries is thus one form that hermeneutical practice takes in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is not, however, the only or even necessarily the main one, for a remarkable feature of much Tibetan scholastic education is the importance of dialectical debates” (Dreyfus, 1997, 31). It gives students more chance to investigate further to that certain issue. Dialectical debates and commentary are the two common practices of Tibetan monastic education (Dreyfus, 1997).  “This pedagogical role for debate has led the Gelugpa tradition to focus on dialectical questions rather than on the more textual and commentarial aspects of Indian Buddhism. As a consequence, this tradition has tended to limit the textual basis of its studies”  (Dreyfus, 1997, 46) Even though it has huge importance, debate is not central method.

Sakyamuni Buddha himself stated clearly that it is not fine to follow his teachings blindly, but rather always try to investigate it (Blofeld, 1987). However, Tibetan Buddhism is different from western empiricism. According to Mills (2003), symbolic feature of Tantric Buddhism indicates a performative perception of meaning, not just descriptive one (Mills, 2003). “Taking a performative approach to language also implies taking a performative approach to the question of truth itself: after all, simple acts – such as kicking a football – are neither true nor false: they simply are” (Mills, 2003, p114). There are two main functions to this kind of performative approach, which are construction of knowledge and systematization in its own way (Mills, 2003).  It means that tantra has significant link to the performer.


First of all, I can conclude that the role of a religious leader was significant in diffusing the Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Indian religious leader, Padmasambhava, was the first person who traveled across Tibet and disseminated the Tantric Buddhism in the country. The disciples of Padmasambhava helped to spread the Tantric teachings more widely and develop it in Tibetan culture.

Secondly, even though it has dimensions of abstractness and magic, practitioners are pragmatic when it comes to training and meditation. For example, as mentioned earlier, some people prefer their teachers than Buddha Sakyamuni because the Buddha is dead and you cannot get comment on your understanding from dead person. Then they prefer their teachers. Thus, role of guru/teacher is very important in construction of knowledge in Tantric Buddhism. They have also an important role in the Buddhist knowledge construction because they often participate as a commentator. This is the one feature of Tantric Buddhism and it called commentary feature. On the other hand, there is also performative feature in Tantric Buddhism, which can demonstrate self-learning side, especially when it comes to meditation; their learning process becomes more personal journey.  

Thirdly, symbolization and myth are next important factor in the knowledge construction. Tantric Buddhism uses symbols to illustrate ideas behind the meaning of sutras. These symbols work like help-desk for practitioners because of usefulness. However, symbols can also be a reason to understand it wrongly i.e. sexual symbolic pictures. In Tantric meditation, visualization is the key element as mentioned before. I can conclude that symbolization, myths, and visualization are the tools to construct knowledge in Tantric Buddhism.   

Lastly, I personally admired the Tantric Buddhism because it emphasizes skeptical attitude toward any kind of teachings. If you are practitioner of Tantric Buddhism, you need to investigate the teachings further through your own common sense. However, there is also a role of belief in Tantric Buddhism. For example, a practitioner should believe their gurus in order to receive the guidance from them. I think that this shows clearly the complexity of Tantric Buddhist knowledge construction.


Blofeld, J. (1987). The tantric mysticism of Tibet. Shambhala.

Dreyfus, G. (1997). Tibetan scholastic education and the role of soteriology. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 20(1), 31-62.

Griffiths, P. J. (1986). On being mindless: Buddhist meditation and the mind-body problem.

Gray, David B. (2007) ‘The Cakrasamvara Tantra: Its History, Interpretation, and Practice in India and Tibet’ in (2007) Religion Compass. US: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, pp. 695-710.
Katz, S. T. (1978). Language, epistemology, and mysticism. Mysticism and philosophical analysis, 2274.

Keown, D. (2003). A dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford University Press.

MacGregor, Geddes (1989) Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy. New York: Paragon House.
Mills, M. A. (2013). Identity, ritual and state in Tibetan Buddhism: the foundations of authority in Gelukpa monasticism. Routledge.

Novick, R. (2012). Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism. Crossing Press.
Peng, J. (2013). An exploration of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism and its art: a potential resource for contemporary spiritual and art practice (Doctoral dissertation, UCL (University College London)).

Samuel, G. (2005). Tantric revisionings: new understandings of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian religion. Motilal Banarsidass Publishing
Sanderson, A. (1991). ‘Vajrayana: Origin and Function’, to appear in Mettanando Bhikkhu et al. (eds.).

Urban, H. B. (1999). The extreme orient: the construction of ‘tantrism’as a category in the orientalist imagination. Religion, 29(2), 123-146.

Wallace, B. A. (1999). The Dialectic Between Religious Belief and Contemplative Knowledge in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars, 203-214.

[1] The lama is a Buddhist monk.