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Luminous Bliss

A Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet

Georgios T. Halkias

Publication Year: 2012

With an annotated English translation and critical analysis of the Orgyan-gling gold manuscript of the short Sukhāvativyūha-sūtra

Pure Land Buddhism as a whole has received comparatively little attention in Western studies on Buddhism despite the importance of “buddha-fields” (pure lands) for the growth and expression of Mahāyāna Buddhism. In this first religious history of Tibetan Pure Land literature, Georgios Halkias delves into a rich collection of literary, historical, and archaeological sources to highlight important aspects of this neglected pan-Asian Buddhist tradition. He clarifies many of the misconceptions concerning the interpretation of “other-world” soteriology in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and provides translations of original Tibetan sources from the ninth century to the present that represent exoteric and esoteric doctrines that continue to be cherished by Tibetan Buddhists for their joyful descriptions of the Buddhist path. The book is informed by interviews with Tibetan scholars and Buddhist practitioners and by Halkias’ own participant-observation in Tibetan Pure Land rituals and teachings conducted in Europe and the Indian subcontinent.

Divided into three sections, Luminous Bliss shows that Tibetan Pure Land literature exemplifies a synthesis of Mahāyāna sutra-based conceptions with a Vajrayana world-view that fits progressive and sudden approaches to the realization of Pure Land teachings. Part I covers the origins and development of Pure Land in India and the historical circumstances of its adaptation in Tibet and Central Asia. Part II offers an English translation of the short Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra (imported from India during the Tibetan Empire) and contains a survey of original Tibetan Pure Land scriptures and meditative techniques from the dGe-lugs-pa, bKa’-brgyud, rNying-ma, and Sa-skya schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Part III introduces some of the most innovative and popular mortuary cycles and practices related to the Tantric cult of Buddha Amitābha and his Pure Land from the Treasure traditions in the bKa’-brgyud and rNying-ma schools.

Luminous Bliss locates Pure Land Buddhism at the core of Tibet’s religious heritage and demonstrates how this tradition constitutes an integral part of both Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Pure Land Buddhist Studies


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-ix

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Preface by Series Editor

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pp. xi-13

Pure Land Buddhism—considered broadly as the cults of Amitābha, Amitāyus, Aparimitāyus, and the cosmology of a pure buddha land, whether associated with any of those figures or any other buddha—has been an integral part of the Mahayana tradition effectively from its inception. This series seeks to make available...

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pp. xiii-xvi

The creation of Luminous Bliss would not have been possible without the material support and moral encouragement of many people and institutions interested in the documentation and study of Tibetan Pure Land traditions. Like other works of its kind, this book is the outcome of many causes and conditions coming...

Buddhisms and Other Conventions

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pp. xvii-xviii


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pp. xix-xxi

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pp. xxiii-25

Religious texts are as much about the circumstances of their production as they are about their interpretation and contemplative application. In this study, I tried to anticipate some historical aspects in the constitution of Tibetan Pure Land literature and signal, when possible, the dynamic relation between soteriology and contemplation...

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pp. xxv-xxx

This book is written as a record of the religious literature as inspired by an impressive solar deity, which emerged from a Mahayana polytheistic universe and attained over the centuries trans-local eminence and unequivocal soteriological authority. Its transformation into a pan-Asian religious phenomenon, known as Pure...

Part 1. Early Pure Land Traditions in India, Tibet, and Central Asia

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pp. 1-33

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Chapter 1: Indian Mahayana Origins and Departures

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pp. 3-34

Around the beginning of the Common Era, hundreds of years after the death of the historical “architect” of Buddhism, Buddha Śākyamuni, a small and active minority of Indian Buddhists, belonging in all probability to a number of different monastic ordination lineages (Pāli nikāya), continued to elaborate on preexisting...

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Chapter 2: Pure Lands and the Tibetan Empire

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pp. 35-83

The arrival of the Tibetans in Central Asia is marked by a series of confrontations with the Tang dynasty (618-907). In Tang histories, Tibet was situated eight thousand li west of the Tang capital of Chang’an, and in the words of one scholar, it challenged “more severely than any other non-Chinese state in the Tang period Chinese security...

Part 2. Pure Land Texts in Tibetan Contexts

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pp. 85-117

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Chapter 3: The Dharma That Goes against the Ways of the World: The Short Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra with an English Translation from Tibetan

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pp. 87-100

The Tibetan canonical collections of Buddhist scriptures are a colossal accumulation of nearly 4,500 texts. These works occupy a vital position in the religious literature of Tibet and Buddhist literature in Tibetan translation, and also include a small number of original works authored by Tibetans. The Tibetan Tripiṭaka is divided...

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Chapter 4: Tibetan Pure Land Commentaries

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pp. 101-136

In the Tibetan commentarial tradition, the long and short Sukhāvatīvyūha sutras are invoked as authoritative texts for elaborating on Pure Land doctrines. This especially true when it comes to Dharmākara’s nineteenth vow in the long Sukhāvatīvyūha-sūtra, which is frequently cited for visualizing and formalizing the causes for birth in...

Part 3. Pure Lands and Pure Visions

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pp. 137-169

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Chapter 5: Tantric Transfer in Sukhāvatī

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pp. 139-163

The term “Vajrayana” describes a heterogeneous collection of arcane texts and practices that evolved over time and came to represent the most ritually complex expression of Indian esoteric Buddhism. Tantric teachings are said to have been imparted either by Buddha Śākyamuni or by other enlightened expositors, such as the...

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Chapter 6: The Celestial Treasures of Buddha Amitābha

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pp. 165-185

The rNying-ma school divides its unique body of literature into three main lineages: the long lineage of Transmitted Precepts (ring-brgyud bka’-ma), the short lineage of Treasure (revealed texts; nye-brgyud gter-ma), and the profound teachings of Pure Vision (zab-mo dag-snang).1 While the rNyingma adheres to a variety of tantric...

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Epilogue: From Sukhāvatī to Tibet and Back

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pp. 187-192

The religious history of Tibetan Pure Land Buddhism spans over a millennium, encompassing a profusion of scriptures and ritual interpretations of Mahayana doctrines not found elsewhere in Asia. For the purposes of reviewing its prevalence, two registers are of relevance here. The first is generic in that it reflects the growth...

Appendix 1: A Critical Analysis of the Orgyan-gling Gold bDe-mdo

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pp. 193-207

Appendix 2: The Means of Attaining the Sukhāvatī Kṣetra: Editions and Liturgical Texts

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pp. 209-212

Appendix 3: An Anthology of Pure Land Texts from the Treasure Tradition

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pp. 213-214


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pp. 215-292


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pp. 293-322


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pp. 323-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837747
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835903

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Pure Land Buddhist Studies
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OCLC Number: 856976904
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Luminous Bliss

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Subject Headings

  • Pure Land Buddhism -- China -- Tibet Autonomous Region.
  • Buddhist literature, Tibetan -- History and criticism.
  • Tripiṭaka. Sūtrapiṭaka. Sukhāvatīvyūha (Smaller).
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