Author Topic: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra  (Read 4329 times)

Offline Caz

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The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« on: March 14, 2011, 05:51:16 am »
Translated by Gavin Kilty. Prepared by Michael Lewis. Printed in From Tushita, edited and published by Michael Hellbach, Tushita Editions, 1977.

The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra

Although some scholars have maintained that Buddhist tantra was derived from Hinduism, this is not correct. The theory, prevalent among those who adhere to the tenets of the Hinayana, is based on a superficial resemblance of various elements of the two systems, such as the forms of the deities, the meditations on psychic veins and airs, the fire rituals, etc. Though certain practices, like the repetition of mantras, are common to both Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions their interpretation, i.e. the inner meaning, is vastly different. Furthermore, Buddhist tantra is superior because, unlike Hinduism, it contains the three principal aspects of the Path: renunciation, the enlightened attitude and the right philosophy.

To elaborate: as even animals want freedom from suffering, there are non-Buddhist practitioners who wish to be free from contaminated feelings of happiness and so cultivate the preparatory state of the fourth absorption (Dhyana). There are even some non-Buddhists who temporarily renounce contaminated feelings of happiness and attain levels higher than the four absorptions. However, only the Buddhists renounce all these as well as neutral feelings and all-pervasive suffering. Then by meditating on the sufferings together with their causes, which are mental defilements, they can be abandoned forever. This is why, while non-Buddhists meditate on the form and formless states and attain the peak of worldly existence, samadhi, they cannot abandon the mental defilements of this state. So, when they meet with the right circumstances anger and the other passions develop, karma is created and the wheel of the circle of rebirth begins to turn.

Because of this and similar reasons, such practices are not fit to be included in the Mahayana. They resemble neither the common sutra path comprising: the attitude of renunciation which wishes for freedom from the cycle of rebirths; the wisdom which correctly understands egolessness, which is the right philosophy acting as an opponent to ignorance-the root of cyclic existence; and the development of the mind which aims for complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings; nor do they resemble the practices of the exclusive tantric path of the Great Vehicle.

The Origin of Tantra

The tantras were spoken by the Buddha himself in the form of his supreme manifestation as a monk, also as the great Vajradhara and in various manifestations of the central deity of specific mandalas. The great beings, Manjushri, Samantabhadra, Vajrapani and others, urged by the Buddha, also taught some tantras.

In terms of the four classes of tantra, the Kriya tantras were taught by the Buddha in the form of a monk, in the realm of the thirty-three gods on the summit of Mt. Meru, and in the human world where Manjushri and others were the chief hearers.

The Pung-Zang tantras were taught in the realm of Vajrapani. Others were taught by the teacher, Buddha himself, and with his blessings some were explained by Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani while others were spoken by worldly gods.

The Carya tantras were also taught by the teacher Buddha in the form of his supreme manifestation in the celestial realms and in the realm called Base and Essence Adorned with Flowers.

The Yoga tantras were taught by the Enlightened One when he arose in the form of the central deity of each mandala in such places as the summit of Mt. Meru and in the fifth celestial realm of desire.

The Anuttara tantras were also taught by the Buddha. In the land of Ögyan the Buddha, having manifested the mandala of Guhyasamaja, taught King Indrabodhi this tantra. The Yamantaka tantras were taught by the teacher Buddha at the time of the subduing of the demonic forces and they were requested by either the consort of Yamantaka or by the consort of Kalacakra. The Hevajra tantra was taught by Lord Buddha when he arose in the form of Hevajra in the land of Madgadha at the time of destroying the four maras. The tantra was requested by Vajragarbha and by the consort of Hevajra. Having been requested by Vajra Yogini, the Buddha, in the manifestation as Heruka on the summit of Mt. Meru, taught the root tantra of Heruka and, when requested by Vajrapani, taught the explanatory tantra. As for the Kalacakra tantra, the mighty Buddha went south to the glorious shrine of Dharnacotaka and there, manifesting the mandala of the Dharmadhatu speech surmounted by the mandala of Kalacakra, taught this tantra to King Chandrabhadra and others. Although he appeared in many different manifestations, actually the tantras were taught by the enlightened teacher, Lord Buddha.

What happens during an initiation

In the initiations of each of the four classes of tantra there are many differences, some great and some small, and so therefore one initiation is not sufficient for all mandalas. At the time of initiation some fortunate and qualified disciples, when receiving the initiation from a qualified master, develop the wisdom of the initiation in their mind streams. Unless this happens, sitting in initiation rows and experiencing the initiations of the vase and water, etc. will implant instincts to listen to the Dharma but little else. An initiation is necessary to study tantra because if the secrets of tantra are explained to someone who has not received initiation, the guru commits the seventh tantric root downfall and the explanation will be of no benefit whatsoever to the mind of the disciple.

The relationship between Sutra and Tantra

Regarding renunciation and bodhicitta, there is no difference between Sutrayana and Tantrayana, but regarding conduct there is. Three kinds of conduct have been taught: the disciple who admires and has faith in the Hinayana should separate himself from all desires; the disciple who admires the Mahayana should traverse the stages and practice the perfections; while he who admires the deep teachings of tantra should work with the conduct of the path of desire.

From the point of view of the philosophy, there is no difference in emptiness as an object of cognition but there is a difference in the method of its realization.

In the sutra tradition the conscious mind engages in meditative equipoise on emptiness, while in tantra the innate wisdom, an extremely subtle mind, is involved and the difference therefore is great. The main practice of Sutrayana, engaging in the path as a cause to achieve the form body and wisdom body of a buddha, is the accumulation of wisdom and virtue for three countless eons and the accomplishment of one’s own buddhafields. Therefore, Sutrayana is known as the causal vehicle. In tantra one concentrates and meditates, even while still a beginner, on the four complete purities which are similar to the result—that is, the completely pure body, pure realm, pure possessions and pure deeds of an enlightened being. Thus tantra is known as the resultant vehicle.

The Four Traditions

As for the sutra tradition, the explanation of the Hinayana and Mahayana is the same in all the four great traditions. Also, as far as the preliminary practices are concerned, there are no differences apart from the names. In the Gelug tradition they are called the Stages of the Path of the Three Motives; in the Kargyü they are known as the Four Ways to Change the Mind; the Sakya refer to Separation from the Four Attachments; while the Dri-gung Kargyu speak of the Four Dharmas of Dag-pa and the Five of Dri-gung.

In tantra, the individual master’s way of leading the disciples on the path depends on his experience and the instructions of the tantric root texts, together with the commentaries of the great practitioners. These result in the entrance into practice being taught a little differently. However, all are the same in
leading to the final attainment of the state of Vajradhara.
http://emodernbuddhism.com/

This eBook Modern Buddhism – The Path of Compassion and Wisdom, in three volumes, is being distributed freely at the request of the author Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The author says: "Through reading and practicing the instructions given in this book, people can solve their daily problems and maintain a happy mind all the time." So that these benefits can pervade the whole world, Geshe Kelsang wishes to give this eBook freely to everyone.

We would like to request you to please respect this precious Dharma book, which functions to free living beings from suffering permanently. If you continually read and practice the advice in this book, eventually your problems caused by anger, attachment and ignorance will cease.

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Offline LastLegend

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2011, 06:52:06 am »



Chin Kung's Master Zhangjia for 3 years: Tantra master
« Last Edit: March 14, 2011, 06:56:15 am by LastLegend »
Beware of philosophies for the sake of knowledge without actual practice for these philosophies only increase the attachment of 'I.'-Te Cong

What is the definition/essence of meditation of all forms?-Te Cong

Thien la gi? Thien la roi phan biet chap truoc.- Lao Phap Su

You have the recipe. Now make the cake instead of thinking about cake.- La Tao Viec

Thuong Tru Tang Nhu Lai= Knowing the presence of Buddha.

Offline catmoon

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2011, 10:41:10 pm »
The OP raises a lot of questions for me.

Who were the authors?

What education did they have?

Were they monks or lamas?

If so, what school were they?


These questions arise because the quoted piece appears to me as poorly written, weakly reasoned and and quite pointedly sectarian.
Sergeant Schultz was onto something.

Offline francis

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2011, 11:07:42 pm »
Hi Caz, that’s an interesting take on the origin of the Buddhist tantras. Another take is the “Higher” tantras were all the fashion in India, and were taught to their Tibetan disciples by the great Indian Mahasiddhas such as Padmasambhava and Tilopa.

Four schools of Tibetan Buddhism have arisen and evolved over more than a thousand years of Tibetan history. The Nyingma Tradition is the oldest school and dates back to the influence of Indian Mahasiddha Padmasambhava in the 8th century. The Kagyu Tradition was founded by Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. This tradition arose from the teachings of great Indian Mahasiddhas, Naropa and Tilopa. The Gelugpa tradition was founded in the 14th century by Lama Tsong Khapa and later became the dominant political force in central Tibet. The Sakya School was founded by Khon Konchok Gyalpo in 1073 when he built the Sakya monastery in south central Tibet. Within the Sakya School, there is the principal branch of Sakya and the two main sub–branches of Ngorpa and Tsarpa.

Check out Buddhist Masters of Enchantment some time.
"Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realises it is water." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Yeshe

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2011, 03:47:41 am »
I wish there was a definitive timeline showing the flow of Tantric practices and deities between Hinduism and Buddhism.

I have been told that the figure of Kali as she now appears was derived from Vajrayogini, and if one examines their images, there is a great similarity.  If true, this would show that the flow occurred in both directions.

Some figures, like Mahakala and Garuda appear in both.

Whilst there is a staggering number of Tantric figures within Buddhist Vajrayana, Hinduism is so broad in its compass that from a Hindu perspective, Shakyamuni and Buddhist Tantra may, like Jainism, be seen as simply a variation, using the same sort of pantheon but with a different motivation and attitude to God and Atman.

I do sometimes wonder about elements such as Chod and the Hindu charnel ground practices as well.

Fascinating.






Offline francis

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2011, 05:04:09 am »
I wish there was a definitive timeline showing the flow of Tantric practices and deities between Hinduism and Buddhism.


Hi Yeshe, I’m not sure about a timeline, but I had Tantra and Veda, The Untold Story by Roar Bjonnes, bookmarked.  It might be worth a look.

Introduction

Tantra has been described by many prominent writers on spirituality, including Ken Wilber, as one of the world's most influential and remarkable spiritual traditions. Tantra, perhaps better than no other spiritual path, epitomizes the very soul and spirit of Yoga.

As my essay will show, most forms of Yoga—from Hatha Yoga to Asthanga Yoga—have their physical and spiritual roots in the ancient soil of Tantra, not in the Vedas, as most yoga scholars in the West wants us to believe. In fact, it was Tantra that first influenced the Vedas, then–during the time of the Upanishads and the Brahmanas (700 BCE and onwards)—the Tantric esprit influenced all the traditions of Indian philosophy, including Vedanta and Samkhya.

All of the practices known to be Yogic in nature—asanas (physical yoga exercises), pranayama (breathing exercises), mantra meditation, kundalini awakening, samadhi (spiritual ecstasy), are Tantric, not Vedic. Hence, Tantra and Yoga are synonymous paths that have had great influence among the great sacred traditions of the East—from Buddhism to Zen, from Jainism to Hinduism. ...


cheers :)
« Last Edit: March 15, 2011, 05:13:17 am by francis, Reason: links »
"Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realises it is water." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Yeshe

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2011, 11:22:44 am »
I wish there was a definitive timeline showing the flow of Tantric practices and deities between Hinduism and Buddhism.


Hi Yeshe, I’m not sure about a timeline, but I had Tantra and Veda, The Untold Story by Roar Bjonnes, bookmarked.  It might be worth a look.

Introduction

Tantra has been described by many prominent writers on spirituality, including Ken Wilber, as one of the world's most influential and remarkable spiritual traditions. Tantra, perhaps better than no other spiritual path, epitomizes the very soul and spirit of Yoga.

As my essay will show, most forms of Yoga—from Hatha Yoga to Asthanga Yoga—have their physical and spiritual roots in the ancient soil of Tantra, not in the Vedas, as most yoga scholars in the West wants us to believe. In fact, it was Tantra that first influenced the Vedas, then–during the time of the Upanishads and the Brahmanas (700 BCE and onwards)—the Tantric esprit influenced all the traditions of Indian philosophy, including Vedanta and Samkhya.

All of the practices known to be Yogic in nature—asanas (physical yoga exercises), pranayama (breathing exercises), mantra meditation, kundalini awakening, samadhi (spiritual ecstasy), are Tantric, not Vedic. Hence, Tantra and Yoga are synonymous paths that have had great influence among the great sacred traditions of the East—from Buddhism to Zen, from Jainism to Hinduism. ...


cheers :)



Thanks. :)

I'll check it out.

I've also come across a book which I've only scanned so far, but which looks promising:

'The Origins of Yoga and Tantra' by Geoffrey Samuel:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Origins-Yoga-Tantra-Religions-Thirteenth/dp/0521695341/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1300214103&sr=8-1
« Last Edit: March 15, 2011, 11:36:23 am by Yeshe »

Offline Amitabha

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2011, 04:59:06 pm »
Quote
In the sutra tradition the conscious mind engages in meditative equipoise on emptiness, while in tantra the innate wisdom, an extremely subtle mind, is involved and the difference therefore is great. The main practice of Sutrayana, engaging in the path as a cause to achieve the form body and wisdom body of a buddha, is the accumulation of wisdom and virtue for three countless eons and the accomplishment of one’s own buddhafields. Therefore, Sutrayana is known as the causal vehicle. In tantra one concentrates and meditates, even while still a beginner, on the four complete purities which are similar to the result—that is, the completely pure body, pure realm, pure possessions and pure deeds of an enlightened being. Thus tantra is known as the resultant vehicle.
Tantra and Sutrayana are one of many methods to develop the realization of emptiness, buddhafield or supreme love. It may be causal or resultant vehicle depending on the practitioner. You can discern that it is the accumulation of wisdom and virtue for three countless eons and the accomplishment of one’s own buddhafields or spontaneous actualization of supreme love. All vehicles gear towards supreme wisdom, however, some may develop stillness more than wisdom, for some is blessing more than wisdom. :namaste:
Love is felt everywhere like magic in the air; Unity can only be manifested by the binary. Unity itself and the idea of unity are already dual.

Offline TenzinTamdrin

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Re: The Relationship between Buddhist Tantra and Hindu Tantra
« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2013, 07:13:46 am »
I wish there was a definitive timeline showing the flow of Tantric practices and deities between Hinduism and Buddhism.

I have been told that the figure of Kali as she now appears was derived from Vajrayogini, and if one examines their images, there is a great similarity.  If true, this would show that the flow occurred in both directions.

Some figures, like Mahakala and Garuda appear in both.

Whilst there is a staggering number of Tantric figures within Buddhist Vajrayana, Hinduism is so broad in its compass that from a Hindu perspective, Shakyamuni and Buddhist Tantra may, like Jainism, be seen as simply a variation, using the same sort of pantheon but with a different motivation and attitude to God and Atman.

I do sometimes wonder about elements such as Chod and the Hindu charnel ground practices as well.

Fascinating.




The Buddha is accepted in Hinduism as one of the 10 avatars of Vishnu and with regards to Vajrayogini and Kali, there's a deity that is considered emanation of Vajrayogini and Kali as well. Her name is Chinamasta. Here's what it says in Wikipedia about her....

Chhinnamasta
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chhinnamasta, at a Kali Puja Pandal, Kolkata.
Devanagari   छिन्नमस्ता
Affiliation   Mahavidya, Devi
Abode   Cremation ground
Mantra   Srim hrim klim aim Vajravairocaniye hum hum phat svaha
Weapon   khatri – scimitar
Consort   Shiva
Chhinnamasta (Sanskrit: छिन्नमस्ता, Chinnamastā, "She whose head is severed"), often spelled Chinnamasta and also called Chhinnamastika and Prachanda Chandika, is one of the Mahavidyas, ten Tantric goddesses and a ferocious aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother. Chhinnamasta can be easily identified by her fearsome iconography. The self-decapitated goddess holds her own severed head in one hand, a scimitar in another. Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck and are drunk by her severed head and two attendants. Chhinnamasta is usually depicted standing on a copulating couple.

Chhinnamasta is associated with the concept of self-sacrifice as well as the awakening of the kundalini – spiritual energy. She is considered both as a symbol of self-control on sexual desire as well as an embodiment of sexual energy, depending upon interpretation. She symbolizes both aspects of Devi: a life-giver and a life-taker. Her legends emphasize her sacrifice – sometimes with a maternal element, her sexual dominance and her self-destructive fury. Though she enjoys patronage as part of the Mahavidyas, her individual temples – mostly found in Northern India and Nepal – and individual public worship is rare, due to her ferocious nature and her reputation of being dangerous to approach and worship. Her individual worship is restricted to heroic, Tantric worship by Tantrikas, yogis and world renouncers.

Chhinnamasta is recognized by both Hindus and Buddhists. She is closely related to Chinnamunda – the severed-headed form of the Tibetan Buddhist goddess Vajrayogini.

Chhinnamasta is popular in Tantric and Tibetan Buddhism, where she is called Chinnamunda ("she with a severed-head") – the severed-head form of goddess Vajrayogini or Vajravarahi – a ferocious form of the latter, who is depicted similar to Chhinnamasta.[1]

Buddhist texts tell of the birth of the Buddhist Chinnamunda. A tale tells of Krishnacharya's disciples, two Mahasiddha sisters, Mekhala and Kankhala, who cut their heads, offered them to their guru and then danced. The goddess Vajrayogini also appeared in this form and danced with them. Another story recalls princess Lakshminkara, who was a previous incarnation of a devotee of Padmasambhava, cut off her head as a punishment from the king and roamed with it in the city, where citizens extolled her as Chinnamunda-Vajravarahi.[2]


The Buddhist Chinnamunda is believed to be the antecedent of the Hindu Chhinnamasta.

The scholar B. Bhattacharya studied various texts such as the Buddhist Sadhanamala (1156 CE), Hindu Chhinnamastakalpa and Tantrasara (17th century); he found that the Hindu Chhinnamasta and Buddhist Chinnamunda are the same, though the former wears a serpent as a sacred thread and has an added Rati-Kamadeva couple in the icon. While Sadhanamala calls the goddess Sarvabuddha ("all-awakened"), with the attendants Vajravaironi and Vajravarnini, the Hindu Tantrasara calls her Sarvasiddhi ("all-accomplished") with attendants Dakini, Vaironi and Varnini. Chhinnamastakalpa calls her Sarvabuddhi ("all-enlightened"), while retaining the Buddhist names for her attendants. Bhattacharya concludes that the Hindu Chhinnamasta originated from the Buddhist Chinnamunda, which was worshipped by at least the 7th century.[3]

While Bhattacharya's view is mostly undisputed,[4][5][6] some scholars like Shankaranarayanan attribute her to Vedic (ancient Hindu) antecedents. S. Bhattacharji says that the Vedic goddess Nirrti's functions were inherited by Kali, Chamunda, Karali and Chhinnamasta. Hindu literature first mentions her in the upapurana Shakta Maha-bhagavata Purana (c. 950 CE) and Devi-Bhagavata Purana. Benard says that whatever her origins may be, it is clear that Chhinnamasta/Chinnamunda was known in the 9th century and worshipped by Mahasiddhas.[4] Apart from Chinnamunda, van Kooij also associates the iconography of Chhinnamasta to Tantric goddesses Varahi and Chamunda.[7]

David Kingsley agrees with the Buddhist origin theory, but acknowledges other influences too. According to Kingsley, the concept of ten Mahavidyas may not be earlier than the 12th century.[6] Ancient Hindu goddesses, who are depicted nude and headless or faceless, may have also influenced the development of Chhinnamasta. These goddesses are mainly depicted headless to focus on the display of their sexual organs, thus signifying sexual vigour, but they do not explain the self-decapitation theme.[6][8] Other Hindu goddesses which might have inspired Chhinnamasta are the malevolent war goddess Kotavi and the South-Indian hunting goddess Korravai. Kotavi, sometimes described as a Matrika ("mother goddess") is nude, dishevelled, wild and awful in appearance. She is mentioned in the scriptures Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana, often as a foe of god Vishnu. The ferocious, wild Korravai is the goddess of war and victory. Both these goddesses are linked to battlefields, while Chhinnamasta is not.[8] Kingsley says that there are several blood-thirsty, nude and wild goddesses and demonesses in Hindu mythology, though Chhinnamasta is the only goddess which displays the shocking self-decapitation motif.[9][10]

Legends and textual references


An 18th-century painting from Rajasthan depicts Chhinnamasta as black as described in Pranotasani Tantra legend. She is seated on the copulating couple.

Chhinnamasta is often named as the fifth Mahavidya in the group, with hymns identifying her as a fierce aspect of the Goddess. Kinsley says three Mahavidyas – Kali, Tara and Chhinnamasta — are prominent among Mahavidya depictions and lists, though Chhinnamasta hardly has an independent existence outside the group.[11][12] Guhyatiguhya-Tantra equates god Vishnu's ten avatars with the ten Mahavidyas; the man-lion incarnation Narasimha is described to have arisen from Chhinnamasta.[13] A similar list in Mundamala equates Chhinnamasta with Parshurama.[14]

In a story from the Shakta Maha-Bhagavata Purana, which narrates the creation of all Mahavidyas including Chhinnamasta, Sati, the daughter of Daksha and the first wife of the god Shiva, feels insulted that she and Shiva are not invited to Daksha's yagna ("fire sacrifice") and insists on going there, despite Shiva's protests. After futile attempts to convince Shiva, the enraged Sati assumes a fierce form, transforming into the Mahavidyas, who surround Shiva from the ten cardinal directions. Chhinnamasta stands to the right of Shiva in the west.[15][16][17] Similar legends replace Sati with Parvati, the second wife of Shiva and reincarnation of Sati or Kali, the chief Mahavidya, as the wife of Shiva and origin of the other Mahavidyas. While Parvati uses the Mahavidyas to stop Shiva from leaving her father's house, Kali enlightens him and stops him, who was tired living with her, from leaving her.[18] Devi Bhagavata Purana mentions the Mahavidyas as war-companions and forms of the goddess Shakambhari.[19]

Pranotasani Tantra narrates two tales of Chhinnamasta's birth. One legend, attributed to Narada-pancharatra tells that once, while having a bath in Mandakini river, Parvati becomes sexually excited, turning her black. At the same time, her two female attendants Dakini and Varnini (also called Jaya and Vijaya) become extremely hungry and beg for food. Though Parvati initially promises to give them food once they return home, later the merciful goddess beheaded herself by her nails and gave her blood to satiate their hunger. Later, they returned home.[20][21] The other variant from Pranotasani Tantra, attributed to Svatantra-tantra, is narrated by Shiva. He recounts that his consort Chandika (identified with Parvati) was engrossed in coitus with him in reverse posture, but became enraged at his seminal emission. Her attendants Dakini and Varnini rose from her body. The rest of the tale is similar to the earlier version, although the river is called Pushpabhadra and the day of Chhinnamasta's birth is called Viraratri. This version is also retold in Shaktisamgama-tantra.[22]

An oral legend records the goddess Prachanda-Chandika appeared to aid the gods in the god-demon war, when the gods prayed to the Great Goddess Mahashakti. After slaying all demons, the enraged goddess cut off her own head too and drank her own blood. The name Prachanda-Chandika also appears as a synonym of Chhinnamasta in her hundred-name hymn in Shakta-pramoda.[22] Another oral legend relates her to the Samudra manthan (Churning of Ocean) episode, where the gods and demons churned the milk ocean to acquire the amrita (the elixir of immortality). Chhinnamasta drank the demons' share of the elixir and then beheaded herself to prevent them from acquiring it.[23]

The central themes of the mythology of Chhinnamasta are her self-sacrifice – with a maternal aspect (in the Pranotasani Tantra versions) or for the welfare of the world (in oral version 2) – her sexual dominance (second Pranotasani Tantra version) and her self-destructive fury (in oral legend 1).[24]

Iconography


A Kangra painting (c. 1800 CE) of Chhinnamasta.


A 19th century Bengali painting of Chhinnamasta.

Chhinnamasta is described as being as red as the hibiscus flower or as bright as a million suns. She is depicted mostly nude and with dishevelled hair. She is described to be a sixteen-year-old girl with full breasts, having a blue lotus near her heart. Chhinnamasta is depicted wearing a serpent as a sacred thread and a garland of skulls/severed heads and bones, along with other ornaments around her neck. She carries her own severed head – sometimes in a platter or a skull-bowl – in her left hand and holding a khatri, a scimitar or knife or scissor-like object, in her right hand, by which she decapitated herself. A crown on the severed head and bangles, waist-belt ornaments may be also depicted. Three streams of blood string from her neck, one enters her own mouth, while the others are drunk by her female yogini companions, who flank her. Both the attendants – Dakini to her left and Varnini to her right – are depicted nude, with matted or dishevelled hair, three-eyed, full-breasted, wearing the serpentine sacred thread and carrying the skull-bowl in the left hand and the knife in the right. While Dakini is fair and represents the tamas guna, Varnini is red-complexioned and conveys the rajas guna. With her right leg stretched and left leg bent a little, Chhinnamasta stands in a fighting posture on the love-deity couple of Kamadeva (Kama) – a symbol of sexual lust – and his wife Rati, who are engrossed in copulation with the latter usually on the top (viparita-rati sex position). Below the couple is a lotus and in the background is a cremation ground.[20][25][26][27] This popular iconographic form is described in the Tantrasara and the Trishakti Tantra.[20]

Sometimes, the attendants also hold severed heads (not their own).[28] Sometimes, Kamadeva-Rati is replaced by the divine couple of Krishna and Radha.[15] The lotus beneath the couple is sometimes replaced by a cremation pyre. The coupling couple is sometimes omitted completely. Sometimes, Shiva – the goddess's consort – is depicted lying beneath Chhinnamasta, who is seated squatting on him and copulating with him.[29]

Chhinnamasta's popular iconography is similar to the yellow coloured severed-head form of the Buddhist goddess Vajrayogini, except the copulating couple – which is exclusive to the former's iconography – and Chhinnamasta's red skin tone.[5][6]

Chhinnamasta Tantra describes the goddess sitting on Kamadeva, rather than standing on him. Additionally, she is described as three-eyed, with a jewel on her forehead, which is tied to a snake and her breasts adorned with lotuses.[20] Another form of the goddess in the Tantrasara describes her seated in her own navel, formless and invisible. This form is said to be only realised via a trance.[20]

Sometimes, Chhinnamasta is depicted as four-armed, and without the copulating couple. She is depicted on a grass patch, holding the sword with dripping blood in her upper right hand, a breaded head – identified with Brahma – in the lower one. Her upper left hand carries her own severed head, spilling blood in a skull-cup in her lower hand. Her two attendants depicted as skeletons drinking the dripping blood, while two jackals drinking the blood dripping from the head of the goddess and Brahma.[30]

The scholar van Kooij notes that the iconography of Chhinnamasta have the elements of heroism (vira rasa) and terror (bhayanaka rasa) as well as eroticism (sringara rasa) in terms of the copulating couple, with the main motifs being the offering of her own severed head, the spilling and drinking of blood and the trampling of the couple.[31]

Symbolism and associations

Chhinnamasta signifies that life, death and sex are interdependent. Chhinnamasta's image conveys the eternal truth that "life feeds on death, is nourished by death, necessitates death, and that the ultimate destiny of sex is to perpetuate more life, which in turn will decay and die in order to feed more life".[25] While the lotus and the lovemaking couple symbolize life and the urge to create life, in a way gives life-force to the beheaded goddess, the blood flowing from goddess conveys death and loss of the life-force, which flows into the mouths of her devotee yoginis, nourishing them.[25][32] The scholar P. Pal equates Chhinnamasta with the concept of sacrifice and renewal of creation. Chhinnamasta self-sacrifices herself and her blood – drunk by her attendants – nourishes the universe.[33] An invocation to her calls her the sacrifice, the sacrificer and the recipient of the sacrifice, with the severed head treated as an offering.[25][34][35]


An 18th-century painting of Chhinnamasta, seated squatting on Shiva, in coitus with him. They sit on a cremation pyre.

While other fierce Hindu goddesses like Kali are depicting severing the heads of demons and are associated with ritual self-decapitation, Chhinnamasta's motif also reverses ritual head-offering, in which she offers her own head to the devotees (attendants) to feed them. In this way, she symbolizes the aspect of the Goddess as a giver. At the same time, she subdues and takes the life-force of the copulating divine couple, signifying the aspect of the life-taker like Kali.[6]

Chhinnamasta standing on a copulating couple of Kamadeva (literally "sexual desire") and Rati ("sexual intercourse") is interpreted by some as a symbol of self-control of sexual desire, while others interpret it as the goddess, being an embodiment of sexual energy. Her names like Yogini and Madanatura ("one who has control on Kama") convey her yogic control and restraint on sexual energy.[36] Images in which Chhinnamasta is depicted sitting on Kamadeva-Rati in a non-suppressive fashion, the couple giving sexual energy to the goddess, and where Shiva is depicted in coitus with Chhinnamasta are associated with the other interpretation. Chhinnamasta's names like Kameshwari ("goddess of desire") and Ratiragavivriddhini ("one who is engrossed in the realm of Rati – [copulation or sexual desire]") and the appearance of klim – the common seed syllable of Kamadeva and Krishna – in her mantra support this interpretation.[37]

Acarya Ananda Jha, the author of the Chinnamasta Tattva, prescribes her worship by soldiers as she embodies self-control of lust, heroic self-sacrifice for the benefit of others and fearlessness of death. Her nudity and headlessness symbolise her integrity and "heedlessness". Her names like Ranjaitri ("victorious in war") celebrate her as the slayer of various demons and her prowess in battle.[38]

The Chhinnamasta icon is also understood as a representation of the awakening of the kundalini – spiritual energy. The copulating couple represent the awakening in the Muladhara chakra, which corresponds to the last bone in the spinal cord. The kundalini flows through the central passage in the body – the Sushumna nadi and hitting the topmost chakra, the Sahasrara at the top of head – with such force that it blows her head out. The blood spilling from the throat applies the upward-flowing kundalini, breaking all knots (granthis) – which make a person sad, ignorant and weak – of the chakras. The severed head is "transcendent consciousness". The three blood streams is the flow of nectar when the kundalini unites with Shiva, who resides in the Sahasrara. Another interpretation associates Daknini, Varnini and Chhinnamasta with the three main subtle channels (nadis): Ida, Pingala and Sushumna flowing free.[39][40][41] Sushumna connects the Muladhara and Sahasrara and is cognate with the spinal cord. Ida courses from the right testicle to the left nostril and is linked to the cooling lunar energy and the right hand side of the brain. Pingala courses from the left testicle to the right nostril and is associated with the hot solar energy and the left hand side of the brain.

The self-decapitation also represents removal of false notions, ignorance and egoism. The ability to remain alive despite the beheading is associated to supernatural powers and awakening of the kundalini.[42] The triad of the goddess and the two yoginis is also philosophically cognate to the triad of patterns, "which creative energy is felt to adopt".[20]

 


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