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Home > Society > Indian Religion > Tantrism > Tantra in Buddhism > Types Of Buddhist Tantras > Hevajra Tantra
Hevajra Tantra, Tantra in Buddhism
Hevajra Tantra is believed to have got its present written form towards the end of the eighth century A.D.
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 Hevajra Tantra, Tantra in BuddhismThe Hevajra Tantra stands out as a specimen of Vajrayanic theory and praxis from among the vast volume of tantric literature. It is also considered to be one of the most prominent yogini tantra belonging to the Anuttarayogo class of Buddhist tantras. It was one of the chief tantric cycles introduced into Tibet during the post-persecution era, i.e., the later part of the tenth century A.D.

'Hevajra' is composed of two syllables: 'he' signifying karuna or compassion and 'vajra' signifying prajna or wisdom. The term 'Hevajra' indicates the ultimate reality, which is the fusion of sunyata and karuna. Muktavali states that mahakaruna, with sarvadharma sunyata as its content, is Hevajra. The title also indicates the method that this tantra employs to attain its goal, which is one of Wisdom and Means. The method consists in uniting prajna and karuna, and this union of voidness and compassion results in bodhicitta. Prajna is of the nature of the female deity and karuna is of the nature of the male deity. The goal of tantric realization is iconographically depicted in the sexual union of the two deities. In the actual tantric praxis the yogi becomes the male deity (Hevajra) and the yogini is the female deity (Nairatmya) and the realization is attained through their physical union. Thus the title itself indicates the basic view of the praxis found in the Hevajra tantra and all other principal root tantras.

The term 'Hevajra' taken as a whole, is the name of the principal deity of the Hevajra sadhana. The principal deity in the Hevajra mandala is Heruka. There is no real distinction between Heruka and Hevajra. Heruka is worshipped singly or in union with his prajna. When he is in yabyum or union he is generally known as Hevajra. By being in union with his prajna (Vajravarahi/Nairatmya) he embodies in himself the method of this non-dual tantra.

As regards the term 'tantra' the Yogaratnamala says, that it is a treatise consisting of three facets, namely the Source Facet (hetutantra), the Fruit Facet (phala-tantra) and the Means Facet (upaya-tantra). The Source (hetu) consists of the beings that belong to the vajra family. In the Hevajra Tantra, the members of the Vajra are the characters in the drama of the Lord Buddha (buddhanataka). Their dialogue is the vehicle through which the nature of and the means to the enlightened states of the Buddhas are revealed. The Fruit (phala) is the perfected Hevajra, that is, Vajradhara in the form of Hevajra. The Means (upaya) are the methods of practice which are described in the Hevajra Tantra. The theory consists of the notions of sunyata and karuna and the production of bodhichitta. The praxis comprises of the visualization of the deities of the Hevajra mandala and the sadhana (enlightened consciousness). The principal deity, the method, as well as the treatise itself are known by the same name, Hevajra.

It is simply impossible to assign precise dates to the tantras because the tantras were in circulation through oral tradition long before they began to appear in writing. However, on the basis of historical evidences supplied by Taranatha and Buston, traditions surrounding the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas, as well as the textual evidences from commentaries written on the Hevajra Tantra, Snellgrove comes to the conclusion that the Hevajra Tantra in its present form was available towards the end of the eighth century. Farrow and Menon too share almost the same opinion that it was composed between the eighth and the ninth century A.D., somewhere in the region of modern day Orissa, West Bengal or Bihar.

As regards authorship, it is believed that Buddha in the form of Vajradhara is the real author of the tantra and the human authors only gave circulation to it. This is indicated by the phrase in the first verse of the tantra itself, "evam maya srutam" ("thus have I heard"). There is general consensus among scholars as to who brought this tantra to light. Snellgrove states that Saroruha and Kampala (also called Lva-va-pa) brought this tantra to light. His assertion is based on what Taranatha himself has stated in his 'History of Buddhism in India'.

The Hevajra Tantra has Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Japanese and English versions, all of which have been published. The Sanskrit original of this tantra consists of seven hundred and fifty slokas in two parts. However, Vajragarbha, probably the first commentator on the text, states in his introduction that it is but a shorter version of the original work, which had thirty two parts and 500,000 slokas. The Chinese translation repeats a similar tradition, explaining that the work has two sections from an original of thirty one. Buston in his list of the lost parts of the Canon refers to a version of this tantra in 100,000 slokas. In addition to these, Vajragarbha constantly, and Naropa occasionally, quote from yet another version. In his introduction Vajragarbha refers to a Mula-tantra of six thousand slokas.

The text of the Hevajra Tantra that is available now consists of twenty three chapters divided into two parts. The part one consists of eleven chapters and the part two consists of twelve chapters. The treatise is composed of discourses that ensue between Bhagavan (Buddha as Vajradhara) and his disciple Vajragarbha. In the second part we find discourses between Bhagavan and his consort as well. These discourses convey the theory, practice, and experience of the karma, the processes of the Buddhist tantric method. The commentaries, Yogaratnamala and Muktavali which accompany the text, explain the relevant terms and phrases of the text. Dissimilar to the sutras, the treaties does not mention the location where the Buddha is addressing Vajragarbha and the other yoginis. He enters immediately into a dialogue with a bodhisattva, Vajragarbha, and later the Yoginis too are found to join the discourse. They raise queries and the Buddha's answers often astound them. It is stated at the beginning that Buddha is in a state of sexual union with his 'diamond women.' It is in this state that he explains the various processes of the tantra and the nature of Enlightened Consciousness.

The Hevajra Tantra must be viewed in the larger context of the concepts and practices from various religious and social contexts that are found in Vajrayana. Ascetic yoga tradition, rituals of tribal shamans, the fertility and passage rites, the rites of initiation into manhood, the rites of coronation of tribal chieftains, ancestor worship, the worship of temple deities and those of the family and the circuits of pilgrimage, set the stage for the practice of this sadhana. Monastic ideals of Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism also find their way into this tantra. Views and methods found in the Guhyasamaja tantra and the Sarvatathagata tattvasamgraha have deeply influenced the formation of this treatise.

(Last Updated on : 19/02/2011)
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