Type of Tantras and Mandalas

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タントラの分類と曼荼羅 マンダラ

◎Mandalas in Tantra

Tantra is a Sanskrit word meaning, “loom”, “woven”, or “warp” of a woven fabric, and represents a doctrine in which various ideas are woven together and systematized in Hinduism and Buddhism.


Below is a brief summary of the types of “Tantras” according to the formation process of the scriptures in Buddhist Tantraism, and their representative Mandalas.


◎Type of Tantras

According to the classification established by the 14th-century Tibetan Buddhist scholar Buton, Tantras can be divided into four categories according to their order of formation:


【1】Kriya Tantra・・・・・・・・・・・・・Early Esoteric Buddhism [2nd-6th Century]

【2】Charya Tantra・・・・・・・・・・・・Mid Esoteric Buddhism [first half of the 7th Century]

【3】Yoga Tantra・・・・・・・・・・・・・Mid Esoteric Buddhism [second half of the 7th Century]

【4】Anuttarayoga Tantra・・・・・・・・・Late Esoteric Buddhism [8th-11th Century]


Each of these tantras are categorized according to their Esoteric scriptures, dharani, rituals, and mindfulness. Let's take a look at each one in more detail.


【1】Kriya Tantra

Scriptures such as the “Susiddhikara Sutra”, “Suvahu-Pariprccha”, and “Fukukenjaku Jimpen Shingonkyo Sutra” fall within this type of Tantra. 


The “Kriya” refers to “action”, with the primary characteristics being incantations, dharani, services for Buddhas, making mandalas, mudras (hand gestures), and ritual etiquette.


Ritual formalities, important in Brahmanism, were under scrutiny by Buddhist ritual formalities in the beginning, however, with the rise of Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmin monk rituals began to be adopted by Buddhist monks.


However, it was not thought that such ritual acts would bring enlightenment, but rather, these acts were considered to be more auxiliary.


Moreover, recently, students of Mahayana Buddhism have started services (Puja) in which water, incense and flowers are offered to the Buddhas. Simply designed Mandalas are also being used in such services, and of the 139 Mandalas in the compilation of Mandala theory from Tibet, compiled at the end of the 19th century, “Compendium of Tantras”, 19 belong to Kriya Tantra.


【2】Charya Tantra

The “Mahavairocana Tantra”, thought to be established in the 7th century, is the primary scripture of “Charya Tantra”. Buddhist Tantraism (Esoteric Buddhism) was established based on this scripture. The central subject of “Mahavairocana Tantra” is enlightenment. While this scripture emphasizes rituals as both an external and physical act, it’s also internalized or mentalized. Mandalas were created, introductory rituals based on that were performed, and meditation took place through yoga. 


Yoga meditation concentrates on the spirit and visualizes "holy things", such as deities and Buddha, as if they existed in front of you, and following such meditation, there is “Tantra Yoga”, “Anuttarayoga Tantra”, and “Mindfulness (Sadhana)” that can be practiced.


In classical yoga, the purpose was to control the mind by erasing “vulgar things” and manifesting “holy things”, however, Tantraism attempts to unite “vulgar things” and “holy things” to strengthen and sanctify “vulgar things” using the mind.


One of the Mandalas included in “Charya Tantra” is based on the “Mahavairocana Tantra”, the

“Daihitaizosho Mandala” (Mandala of Viviparity), however, even in Tibet, which was believed to have accepted most of the Mandalas from India, with only a few points left, this Mandala is considered to have had little influence in later generations. Moreover, number 20 in the “Compendium of Tantras”, the “Tokaku Dainichi 122 Mandala” belongs to “Charya Tantra”.


Both the Womb Realm Mandala and Diamond Realm Mandala were handed down to Japan and are the oldest Mandalas that remain today, and exhibit characteristics of a Mandala from the time Buddhist Tantraism was established. The Womb Realm Mandala is based on the “Mahavairocana Tantra”, however, how it was established is unclear as its current form is thought to have included other scriptures and has come together through various changes and modifications.


Hindu Gods are depicted on the current Mandala, which was inherited and transcribed from the Mandala of the Two Realms that Kukai brought back to Japan from Tang, and on the “Mahavairocana Tantra” Mandala from Tibet. Buddhist ancestry of “Charya Tantra” indicates that it was greatly influenced by Hinduism. Such Hindu influences start to weaken for the following “Yoga Tantra”.


【3】Yoga Tantra

The representative scripture for “Yoga Tantra” is the “Vajrasekhara Sutra”, and the Mandala based on this scripture is the Diamond Realm Mandala.


Regarding putting “Yoga Tantra” into practice, practitioners use mindfulness to make Buddha appear in front of them, aiming, not only to service the Buddha, but to also become “one” with the Buddha. For example, mindfulness using the Diamond Realm Mandala, will make the practitioner feel “one” with the “Buddha” that appears in the Mandala or with the “realm” that is reflected in the Mandala. 


Practice of the “Kriya Tantra” or the “Charya Tantra” manifests the Buddha as a separate entity from oneself, thus “Yoga Tantra” can be said to further deepen and develop mindfulness as it is a unity with the realm of the Mandala, in terms of being conscious of the practitioner in front of the Buddha.


Even looking at the structure of the Mandala, the Diamond Realm Mandala and the Womb Realm Mandala are fundamentally different. Up until the Womb Realm Mandala, the upper part means east and the principal image faces west, but in the Diamond Realm Mandala, the lower part means east and the principal image faces east.


Traditional Mandalas are composed of three parts, the Buddha, the Lotus Flower, and the Diamond, whereas the Diamond Realm Mandala is composed of five parts, the Nyorai, the Diamond, the Jewel, the Act, and the Katsuma. These five parts are located in the center and on all four sides, forming the core of Diamond Realm Mandala. The symbolism of their corresponding positions are as follows:


Center: Nyorai Portion・・・・Vairocana

East: Diamond Portion・・・・Akshobhya: Diamond

South: Jewel Portion・・・・・Ratnasambhava: Jewel

West: Act Portion・・・・・・Amitābha: Lotus Flower

North: Katsuma Portion・・・Amoghasiddhi: Double Diamond (Katsuma)


【4】Anuttarayoga Tantra

“Anuttarayoga Tantra” is generally referred to as an Esoteric teaching, using advanced yoga techniques to further advance the practices acquired in “Yoga Tantra”. The practice of “Anuttarayoga Tantra” has also actively incorporated elements of indigenous culture (Shamanism), such as blood, bone, and skin rituals, which were previously not very relevant to Buddhism.


Moreover, thoughts around sex have also changed significantly. In traditional Buddhism, “sex” was considered something to be suppressed and removed, however, thoughts that it should be considered a “holy thing” rather than a “vulgar thing” have emerged, to the point of sexual activity being used as a means to gain enlightenment.


Strange drawings of the figure of Buddha have also emerged, some with a myriad of arms, holding a skull cup filled with blood, and a princess. 


Moreover, the corresponding scriptures of the “Anuttarayoga Tantra” group are subdivided into three, including the Father Tantras such as “Guhyasamāja Tantra” and “Vajrabhairava Tantra”, Mother Tantras such as “Cakrasaṃvara Tantra”, and Two-Sided Tantras such as “Hevajra Tantra” and “Kalachakra”.


In Japan, while there are several Japanese versions of the “Anuttarayoga Tantra” scriptures such as the “Hevajra Tantra”, very few are actually practiced.


The scripture surrounding the ancestry of the “Anuttarayoga Tantra” was compiled and practiced in India since the 8th ~ 9th century, but the practice of the “Anuttarayoga Tantra” was especially active in Tibet. In the “Compendium of Tantras”, more than half of the Mandalas are based on the “Anuttarayoga Tantra”. The tradition of the “Cakrasaṃvara Tantra” seems to be preserved in modern day Newar Esotericism, however only those who have been granted access can come near it.


As described above, the changes within Buddhist Tantraism scriptures, along with the development of Tantric practices, the Buddha and realm represented within Mandalas have undergone great changes, and mindfulness using Mandalas has evolved and deepened.


Reference: Mandala kanso to mikkyo shiso (Author: Musashi Tachikawa. Shunjusha Publishing.)

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