The term sādhana is a Sanskrit term literally meaning “means of achievement.” It is a term that mainly designates ritual and meditative practices. It is related to terms such as sādhaka, the performer of the ritual, and the sādhya, the object or “victim” of the practice, in the case of practices that are intended to directly affect another person. In tantric Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the term sādhana came to designate, first, the instructions on ritual and meditative practices given by a guru to his or her disciples, and eventually signified a genre of literature consisting precisely of written accounts of these instructions. As such, it most commonly designates (typically) short meditation manuals, but the term can also designate ritual guidebooks as well, particularly those that integrate internal visualizations with external ritual actions. Since it appears that visualization is a component of virtually all sādhana, this genre tends to include detailed descriptions of the deities to be visualized. As a result, sādhanas (and most importantly, sādhana collections) have proved to be an invaluable resource for the study of tantric iconography. However, since sādhana literature has traditionally been viewed as esoteric and to be restricted to those who have received proper instruction and empowerment, relatively few translations of sādhanas have been published.
One of the most valuable contributions to the study of Buddhist sādhanas is English 2002, which features an edition and translation of an important sādhana text, as well as a very detailed introduction to the subject. Beyer 1973 remains one of the best introductions to Tibetan Buddhist ritual and meditative practices, while Abé 1999 provides a comprehensive introduction to the Shingon system of practice. Cozort 1996 provides a concise introduction to Tibetan Buddhist sādhanas, while Bautze-Picron 1994 provides a general introduction to the sādhana genre in India. Bernard 1994 contains a trove of information on the sādhanas, focusing on the Buddhist goddess Chinnamundā. Sarbacker 2002 and Sarbacker 2005 provide extremely helpful discussions on the development and structure of tantric Buddhist sādhana.
Abé, Ryūichi. The Weaving of Mantra: Kūkai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
This masterful work is a detailed study of Kūkai’s successful effort to introduce esoteric Buddhist practice to Japan. Abé clearly elucidates both the practical and theoretical elements of esoteric Buddhism as presented by Kūkai and provides one of the best introductions to East Asian esoteric Buddhism. This work is thus an important resource for understanding esoteric Buddhist meditative practices in the East Asian context.
Bautze-Picron, Claudine. “Le sâdhana, ce ‘bizarre genre littéraire’.” In Genres littéraires en Inde. Edited by Nalini Balbir, 165–193. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne nouvelle, 1994.
Provides an excellent general introduction to the sādhana genre in India. It does not focus on Buddhist sādhanas in particular, but it is helpful for providing a broader introduction to this topic.
Bernard, Elisabeth Anne. Chinnamastā: The Aweful Buddhist and Tantric Goddess. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994.
This important work is a study of the “Severed Headed” Hindu tantric goddess Chinnamastā and her Buddhist counterpart, Chinnamundā. This work has an extended discussion of the sādhanas that describes the visualization of this goddess. Chapters 4 and 5 provide complete translations of several short Buddhist sādhanas describing the visualization of this goddess, as well as summaries of several longer sādhanas.
Beyer, Stephan. The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973.
Provides a detailed study of the practice system focusing on the goddess Tārā. While it does not directly address sādhana texts per se, it sheds considerable light on the structure of tantric Buddhist sādhana and tantric Buddhist liturgy in general, and contains numerous translations of passages from sādhana texts. It remains an invaluable resource for anyone interested in this topic.
Cozort, Daniel. “Sādhana (sGrub thabs): Means of Achievement for Deity Yoga.” In Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre. Edited by José Ignacio Cabezón and Roger R. Jackson, 331–343. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1996.
Provides a short but very helpful introduction to the sādhana genre in Tibet. It focuses on the Tibetan meditation manuals that constitute one of the largest segments of the sādhana/sgrub thabs genre.
English, Elizabeth. Vajrayoginī: Her Visualizations, Rituals, and Forms. Somerville, MA: Wisdom, 2002.
Provides one of the best introductions to Buddhist sādhanas. Its first chapter introduces the sādhana genre, and its second chapter constitutes a comprehensive overview of the Buddhist goddess Vajrayoginī. The third chapter provides a detailed study of a particular sādhana, Umāpatideva’s Vajravārāhī Sādhana. The volume concludes with an English translation and Sanskrit edition of this work.
Sarbacker, Stuart. “Traditions in Transition: Meditative Concepts in the Development of Tantric Sādhana.” International Journal of Tantric Studies 6.1 (2002).
Provides a fascinating discussion of the connection between tantric Buddhist sādhana and earlier Buddhist meditation traditions, as well as the structure of sādhana visualizations.
Sarbacker, Stuart. Samādhi: The Numinous and Cessative in Indo-Tibetan Yoga. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.
While this work primarily addresses the concept of samādhi or meditative cessation, the fifth chapter of the work is a revised and expanded version of the author’s 2002 article.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese