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Introduction: Esoteric Buddhism And The Tantras In East Asia: Some Methodological Considerations

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Chapter Summary

In all likelihood, it was the Buddhism scholars commonly designate 'esoteric Buddhism' that had the greatest geographical spread of any form of Buddhism. It left its imprint not only on its native India, but far beyond, on Southeast Asia, Central Asia, including Tibet and Mongolia, as well as the East Asian countries China, Korea and Japan. The modern study of esoteric Buddhism and the Buddhist tantras has been dominated by two grand narratives. On the one hand, scholars of Buddhism cited the tantras as evidence of the decay of Buddhism from a pristine rationalist beginning. On the other hand some have privileged relatively late tantras as embodying the most advanced insights of Buddhism. It seems that there are at least eight different contextual applications, each with its own significance, distinct from other such contextual applications. These eight are institutions, ideology, doctrine, practice, praxis, art, architecture, material culture, pantheon, and texts.

Keywords: Buddhist tantras; esoteric Buddhism; Mongolia; Southeast Asia

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