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Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White

Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White

Author:David Gordon White
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: University of Chicago Press


It is in the scriptures of Mahāyāna and tantric Buddhism, however, that rays become the prime media for the transmission of teachings and the transformative process of initiation and yoga.145 Here we again find ourselves in the Indic and Central Asian Buddhist world, in which visionary theism involves the recollection of luminous Buddhas and bodhisattvas.146 Particularly vivid accounts of this phenomenon, found in the second-century Aśokāvadāna, Lotus Sūtra, and other works, cast bodhisattvas or the Buddha himself, in their roles as teachers of the dharma, as beaming their teachings in the form of multicolored rays of light to an infinity of Buddha worlds: I will discuss these in the next chapter. In the same “luminous world of the Mahāyāna Buddhist scriptures,”147 descriptions of initiations generally portray the initiate or practitioner visualizing rays of light originating from the body of a Buddha or bodhisattva. A novel rendering of buddhānusmṛti is found in the fifth- to sixth-century “Yoga Treatise from Qïzïl,” a manuscript that was critically edited and translated by Dieter Schlingloff under the title of Ein buddistische Yogalehrbuch (A Buddhist Yoga Primer) in 1964. While this Mahāyānainfluenced Sarvāstivāda work was likely composed in Kashmir,148 it dates from the same period and was found in the same Chinese Turkestan region as the “numinous” Buddha images from the Simsim caves.149 In this work, the meditator, who is termed a yogācāra (“yoga-practitioner”) generates Buddhas from his body—or more properly speaking, his “psychosomatic form” (āśraya)—in a display of multicolored rays of light.150 In one such visualization, the practitioner meditatively projects from his forehead a woman whose body is composed of the cat’s-eye gemstone as the first member of an emanatory sequence comprised of oil-filled vessals, diamond thrones, solar disks, and exalted Buddhas. The sequence is then reversed, with the emitted Buddhas entering into solar disks, and so on, before finally reentering the yoga practitioner’s forehead. This culminates in the practitioner’s consecration (abhiṣeka), the culmination of the meditation process, by means of which he becomes what he has visualized.151 In the end, the yoga practitioner’s psychosomatic form becomes radiant with the marks and signs of a “Great Person” (mahāpuruṣa), which is tantamount to his becoming a bodhisattva.152 In other words, the practitioner realizes an identity with the Buddhist supreme person, in what appears to be an anticipation of the supreme goal of the tantric yogi.

This Buddhist variation on the now familiar theme of piercing the sun is but one of many such meditations found in this text. Another such visualization has the yoga practitioner receiving visions of Buddhas emitting light rays, which, mediated by an ethereal female being, strike his fontanel, pass through his body, and reemerge into the world.153 In a Chinese Pure Land scripture entitled the Guan Wuliangshou jing (Sutra on Contemplating the Buddha of Measureless Life), an Indian queen named Vaidehī is informed that when she visualizes the Pure Land paradise, “her body will be illuminated by hundreds of colorful rays of light” emanating from the pores of the solar bodhisattva Amitāyus.154 Tantric



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