VISCOM: Buddhist Tantric Communities in the Context of Early Medieval India

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In the framework of VISCOM, Vincent Eltschinger focuses on the structural analogies between the ritualistic and the philosophical self-legitimation strategies of early medieval Indian Buddhism (ca. 550-1000 AD).

Recent research by A. Sanderson and R. Davidson has made it increasingly clear that the rise of Indian Buddhist esoterism (otherwise known as tantrism) is to be interpreted against the historical background of early post-Gupta India (from ca. 550 AD), a period of political fragmentation and recomposition characterized, e.g., by new religio-political needs, new patterns of patronage, and the rise of Śaivism to religious predominance. In a context of increasing interconfessional rivalry (reflected in Hindu as well as Buddhist apocalyptic prophecies), the Buddhists of the great learning and ritual institutions of northern India developed new modalities of self-diction and polemical interaction. On a ritual, symbolic, and soteriological level this led to the development of what is now called “tantrism”, while on a philosophical and apologetic level a “logico-epistemological” discourse took shape. These reformed discursive identities were meant to provide Buddhism with new tools for eliciting political patronage and challenging outward criticism.

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