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Disclosing the Empty Secret: Textuality and Embodiment in the Cakrasamvara Tantra

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This article seeks to shed light on the textuality of Buddhist tantras and the esotericism that characterizes this genre of literature. It first examines the development of Buddhist models of textuality. Esoteric Buddhists developed a sophisticated textual theory that linked their scriptures to the gnosis of the Buddhas, which they claimed their practices could achieve most efficaciously. But the relation between text and practice is a problematical one. Indian Buddhists commentators on Cakrasamvara Tantra sought to resolve this problem through the trope of the "secret," an empty signifier that points both to practice traditions that are to be concealed, and an undisclosable gnosis to which some practices lead, and which others presuppose. The article closes with a survey of the changing interpretations of the "secret" as the tradition itself changed, highlighting the central importance of sexuality in the history of this tradition.

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