Tantra is commonly referred to as “esoteric” Buddhism, yet it has become the dominant form of popular practice in Tibetan and other Himalayan cultures. In an effort to account for the popular dimension of this elite domain of practices, this article explores tantra’s transformations from a body of esoteric magico-religio-shamanic rituals in first-millennium India to a Tibetan patchwork cultural landscape in which genuinely secret practices share religious space with “open secrets” accessible to the lay public. This article has two arcs, the first examining magico-shamanic roots of tantric practices, and the second tracing the course of the new tradition’s “domestication” or “institutionalization” into more traditional Buddhism. The Tibetan embrace of tantra offers many opportunities for exploration of tensions between the popular appeal of “esoteric” traditions and the elite nature of their practice


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pp. 62-84
Launched on MUSE
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