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Piercing to the Pith of the Body: The Evolution of Body Mandala and Tantric Corporeality in Tibet

Department of Religious Studies and Classics and East Asian Studies, College of Humanities, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
This article grew out of a paper presented at the conference for the Society for Tantric Studies held in Flagstaff, AZ, USA, 23–25 September 2016. I am grateful to the participants for their questions and feedback. The article builds upon the research completed in my 2015 dissertation on a fifteenth-century debate on body mandala and expanded in my current book project. The book interprets a textual exchange between Mkhas grub rje, the main focus of the present article, and Ngor chen kun dga’ bzang po, a prominent Sakyapa tantric commentator and founder of Ngor monastery, to demonstrate the dynamics of exchange between ritual, exegesis, and embodiment in fifteenth-century Tibet.
Religions 2017, 8(9), 189;
Received: 20 June 2017 / Revised: 20 August 2017 / Accepted: 5 September 2017 / Published: 18 September 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Society for Tantric Studies Proceedings (2016))
PDF [253 KB, uploaded 18 September 2017]


Buddhist tantric practitioners embrace the liminal status of the human body to manifest divine identity. In piercing to the pith of human embodiment, the tantric practitioner reconfigures the shape and contours of his/her reality. This article investigates the evolution of one particular technique for piercing to the pith of the body on Tibetan soil, a ritual practice known as body mandala [lus dkyil Skt. deha-maṇḍala]. In particular, it uncovers a significant shift of emphasis in the application of the Guhyasamāja body mandala practice initiated by champions of the emerging Gandenpa [Dga’ ldan pa] or Gelukpa [Dge lugs pa] tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) and Mkhas grub rje (1385–1438). This article reveals some of the radical implications of ritual exegesis, ranging from the socioreligious aspects of securing prestige for a tradition to the ultimate soteriological goals of modifying the boundaries between life and death and ordinary and enlightened embodiment. View Full-Text
Keywords: tantra; body mandala; tantric ritual; Guhyasamāja Tantra; Mkhas grub rje; sādhana; bardo tantra; body mandala; tantric ritual; Guhyasamāja Tantra; Mkhas grub rje; sādhana; bardo
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Dachille, R.E. Piercing to the Pith of the Body: The Evolution of Body Mandala and Tantric Corporeality in Tibet. Religions 2017, 8, 189.

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