Buddhism Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
by
Gail Hinich Sutherland
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0171

Introduction

It may come as a surprise to those who equate Buddhism solely with its intellectual and mystical traditions to learn that demons are a central aspect of its history. In contrast to Western representations of the demonic, the “demons” of Asia are primarily the powerful, ancient spirits of nature, who require recognition and appeasement. Buddhism was more successful than any of the other missionary religions in making peace with the indigenous spirits it confronted in its progress through Asia. Monastics either turned a blind eye to existent demon-deity cults (as in Southeast Asia), allowing them to flourish in tandem with Buddhism, or (as in Tibet) Buddhist miracle workers like Padmasambhava forcefully tamed the demons and turned them into dharma protectors and fierce guardians of the new faith of Buddhism. In fact, we might say that in Buddhist understanding, there really are no such things as “demons.” There are only powers, energies, and deities to be worked with; the skillfulness, compassion, and attainment of the practitioner determine the outcome of the encounter. Those who are found lacking in these attributes have far more to fear from demons than those who, like the Buddha in his triumph over the ultimate demon Māra, have pacified their own inner demons of greed, aversion, and ignorance. Since there is no notion of absolute evil in Buddhism (or indeed in any Asian religion), and all classes of beings, including beings of the lower realms such as demons, animals, and ghosts, may improve their karmic lot by attaining a higher birth in the human or divine realms, demons are not always and forever demons. They are troublesome but not catastrophic. They are obstacles to be overcome through ritual action, offerings of appeasement, and meditative detachment. Nevertheless, in normative Buddhist texts, the suffering of demons in the hell realms is invoked negatively to warn practitioners to be more diligent in their spiritual efforts—in part to avoid rebirth among these unfortunate beings. As representations of natural bounty, mystery, and fertility, demons threaten to exceed and overturn the human order. They must be controlled, and yet they must be respected, since they are an inevitable feature of that oscillating order.

General Overviews

Buddhist moral systems grow out of a realization of the truth of the interdependence of all beings and all phenomena. While that realization gives rise to a strong commitment to virtue and compassion (since we are all deeply connected), the understanding that supports it is that there can be no absolute good or evil, precisely because of the interdependence and impermanence of all. Still, the construction of cosmologies that reflect different kinds of karma has occupied Buddhist writers for centuries. Matsunaga and Matsunaga 1972 broadly divide these cosmological writings into “two streams,” Abhidharma (drawn principally from Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa) and Mahayana (based primarily on the Flower Garland Sutra and the Larger Sukhāvati-vyūha). They summarily state that Mahayana views “changed Buddhism from a philosophy to a religion” by constructing a distinct mythology and pantheon that give expression to abstract discussions of karma. In this context, different hells entail different punishments and demons who administer them. Sadakata 1997 provides a clear analysis of the metaphysical context of these mythological elaborations. And, as Southwold 1985 points out, Western scholars of religion who see images of unqualified evil in the various demonologies of Buddhism are misguided, because such moral absolutes are probably only truly applicable to monotheistic religions.

  • Matsunaga, Daigan, and Alicia Matsunaga. The Buddhist Concept of Hell. New York: Philosophical Library, 1972.

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    Traces the development of the concept of the hell regions within Buddhist literature from both Pali and Sanskrit (Mahayana) sources, with special attention to the Lotus Sutra.

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    • Sadakata, Akira. Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. Translated by Gaynor Sekimori. Tokyo: Kōsei, 1997.

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      Clear and detailed description of the Indian origins and historical transformations of Buddhist cosmological concepts, including descriptions of demons in the hell realms. Numerous drawings, illustrations, photographs, and graphs. Originally published in 1997.

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      • Southwold, Martin. “Buddhism and Evil.” In The Anthropology of Evil. Edited by David Parkin, 128–141. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.

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        Discusses the dimensions of the concept of evil and how the term may not apply to Buddhism, despite the fact that there are many sources and discussions which analyze “evil” within Buddhism.

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        Encyclopedias

        Buddhist cosmologies have lent themselves to vivid artistic expression. The abundant deities especially of Mahayana and Vajrayāna Buddhism captured the curiosity of Western scholars, who embarked upon efforts to sort out distinctions between categories of supernatural beings and compile exhaustive descriptions in order to recognize them. Among them is Fredrick Bunce, whose seemingly comprehensive explanatory listing of the various beings of the Buddhist pantheon comprises two volumes (Bunce 1994). Volume 1 contains the encyclopedia entries with some line drawings; volume 2 provides “deity identification tables,” listing their various iconographic attributes. Alice Getty’s primary contribution to demonology is her discussion (Getty 1962) of the yakṣiṇī Hārītī (84–87), the cannibal demoness who, according to legend, once devoured all the children in Rājagṛha but was ultimately converted to Buddhism and persuaded by the Buddha to forsake her demonic ways. Her propitiatory cult was found especially in the monasteries of China, where she is placated with food offerings (see also Peri 1917, cited under Indian Buddhism, and Murray 1981–1982, cited under China). The dense texts Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1956 and Willson and Brauen 2000 focus on Tibetan deities and demons. Scholar Jacob Dalton has described the former as a “voluminous, yet partial, survey . . . so overwhelming that one might wish to dismiss these lists as meaningless chaos” (p. 766). Willson and Brauen make a potentially useful distinction between “semi-wrathful” and “fully wrathful deities.”

        • Bunce, Fredrick W. An Encyclopaedia of Buddhist Deities, Demigods, Godlings, Saints, and Demons: With Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes. 2 vols. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1994.

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          Includes some color plates as well as line drawings.

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          • Getty, Alice. The Gods of Northern Buddhism: Their History, Iconography and Progressive Evolution through the Northern Buddhist Countries. Rutland, VT, and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962.

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            An iconographic encyclopedia of the deities of Mahayana and Vajrayāna Buddhism. Includes many photographs and some color plates. Originally published in 1914.

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            • Nebesky-Wojkowitz, René de. Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities. The Hague: Mouton, 1956.

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              A dense, learned study of the deities, iconography, oracles, and practices surrounding the most ancient stratum of Tibetan religion, including references to malevolent applications.

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              • Willson, Martin, and Martin Brauen, eds and trans. Deities of Tibetan Buddhism: The Zürich Paintings of the Icons Worthwhile to See. Boston: Wisdom, 2000.

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                Encyclopedic volume containing color reproductions of a sādhana (spiritual practice) collection dating from 1810, the texts that accompanied the paintings, and reference materials relevant to both.

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                Indian Buddhism

                The much-esteemed art and cultural historian of South Asia Ananda Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan by birth, was in the vanguard of new scholarly interest in the visual and popular depictions of the ancient traditions of the subcontinent in the early part of the 20th century. Using the lens of Western metaphysical analysis to probe deeper into the symbolism behind the profuse decorative sculpture adorning the earliest Buddhist stūpa (burial mound) sites as well as Hindu temples, the author was among the first to realize that the earliest sculptures of the Buddha and bodhisattvas were comparable to known depictions of yakṣas (Pali yakkhas), ancient fertility deities who also appear as demons (Coomaraswamy 2001). In another, earlier work, Masson 1942 considers the perennial question of how and why “rational” Buddhism continued its relationship to the existing deities of Hindu India. Less detailed than Coomaraswamy’s treatise, Misra 1981 also considers the ancient fluidity and moral ambiguity of the yakṣa, which, over time, “assumed demonic attributes and functions.” Building on Coomaraswamy 2001, Misra 1981, and others, Sutherland 1991 uses the ambiguous and historically shifting moral status of the yakṣa, who appears in both Hindu and Buddhist representations, to examine religious categories of the demonic and the divine. Extending and deepening the discussions of Coomaraswamy and Sutherland, DeCaroli 2004 demonstrates an important connection between ancestor and demon cults. Sutherland 1991 and DeCaroli 2004 may serve as useful introductions for undergraduates and other researchers to the study of religious complexity in South Asia. Working on parallel material, Bloss 1973 focuses on the nāgas, snakelike demon-deities associated with water who represent both the inexhaustible bounty and fertility of nature and its fury when subverted or attacked. The king, as a righteous guarantor and guardian of the benevolence of nature, assumes a special connection with the nāga. Among other demon spirits (such as the yakṣas, rākṣasas [Pali: rakkhasas], and piśācas [Pali: pisācas]), the nāga is depicted in ancient legends as having been tamed and converted to Buddhism by the Buddha himself (assuming symbolically the role of the king vis-à-vis the powers of nature). Peri 1917 discusses an important example of the demoness Hārītī, who appears in the Vinaya Piṭaka within the Pali Canon. Cohen 1998 asserts that popular spirit worship was a means of legitimizing Buddhism in specific geographical locations through the inauguration of ritual exchange.

                • Bloss, Lowell W. “The Buddha and the Nāga: A Study in Buddhist Folk Religiosity.” History of Religions 13.1 (1973): 36–53.

                  DOI: 10.1086/462693Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  A study of folk deities in early Buddhism as a means of resolving the tension the author sees between compassion and asceticism. Perhaps most famous of the nāga legends is that of Muchilinda, a nāgarāja (nāga king) who protects the Buddha from rain and wind as he meditates.

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                  • Cohen, Richard S. “Nāga, Yakṣiṇī, Buddha: Local Deities and Local Buddhism at Ajanta.” History of Religions 37.4 (1998): 360–400.

                    DOI: 10.1086/463514Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Analyzing some of the cave sculptures at Ajanta, the author asserts the necessity of recognizing the importance of “popular” spirit worship in Buddhist history, including especially nāgas and yakṣinīs (respectively, ancient serpent deity-demons and female fertility deity-demons).

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                    • Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. Yakṣas. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001.

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                      In-depth analysis of the earliest sculpture of India, much of which was influenced and informed by popular fertility imagery which featured ancient deity-demons such as yakṣas and nāgas and their female counterparts, yakṣiṇīs and nāginīs. Includes photographs. First published 1928.

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                      • DeCaroli, Robert. Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

                        DOI: 10.1093/0195168380.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Using a wide range of textual references, early travelers’ observations, inscriptional evidence, and narrative accounts that embed popular practices, the author builds substantially on previous discussions of Buddhism’s encounter with indigenous spirit worship, demonstrating a convincing link between early monasteries/monks and cemeteries/funerary officiants.

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                        • Masson, Joseph. La religion populaire dans le canon bouddhique pāli. Louvain, Belgium: Bureaux du Muséon, 1942.

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                          Lists and discusses deities that were assimilated into popular Buddhism, comparing canonical references to popular textual elaborations. Among the deities analyzed are Māra (see Indian Buddhism: Māra), yakkhas, nāgas, rakkhasas, and pisācas.

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                          • Misra, Ram Nath. Yaksha Cult and Iconography. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981.

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                            Provides a concise overview of the literary and particularly the sculptural sources of the meaning and image of the yakṣa, a demon figure that overlaps Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain contexts but is especially important in early Buddhist art. Includes many black-and-white photographs and is particularly important for art historians.

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                            • Peri, Noël. “Hārītī, la Mère-de-Démons.” Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 17.3 (1917): 1–102.

                              DOI: 10.3406/befeo.1917.5319Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Analyzes the legend of Hārītī, a demonic goddess and fertility figure whose myths were incorporated into the Buddhist canon. Hārītī, whose name means “thief,” was transformed into a demoness as a result of a spiteful wish in a previous life, then began to steal other people’s children in order to feed herself and her own five hundred children. She was brought under control by the Buddha and is pledged a share of food in every monastery (see also Murray 1981–1982 in China).

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                              • Sutherland, Gail Hinich. The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yakṣa in Hinduism and Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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                                Tracing references historically and through multiple genres of literature, the book explores the entire range of religious associations with the yakṣa and with demons more generally. Compares Hindu and Buddhist expressions. Includes some drawings.

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                                Māra

                                No discussion of demons within early Buddhism is complete without addressing Māra, the evil one, the demonic god of death and desire and primordial foe of Śākyamuni Buddha. He appears prominently in the Pali literature and in the earliest Sanskrit biographies of the Buddha, such as the Buddhacarita, as the king of the realm of desire and death, that is, the lord of samsara. As such, he sends his daughters, Lust, Discontent, and Craving, to distract the bodhisattva as he embarks upon his last meditational push to enlightenment. Māra’s efforts fail, of course. But, scholars want to know, who and what is Māra? For a very brief but thorough overview of the Sanskrit and Pali references to Māra, La Vallée-Poussin’s entry in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (La Vallée-Poussin 1915) is a good starting point for any student. Having examined the early references to demons in the Jātaka tales and the relationship between canonical Buddhism and pre-Buddhist spirit cults in Theravada societies, Ling 1962 is unable to account for the growing prominence of Māra within the Pali literature and also notes surprising comparisons between Māra and Satan. Masson 1942 extends the search for the origins of Māra, tracing references in Vedic texts to similar personifications of death. Masson 1942 concludes that the presence of Māra constitutes one of the most ancient triumphs of “la religion populaire” in the Pali Canon. Boyd 1971 demonstrates that, as well as referring to the mythological figure, māra refers to all of the various problems of samsara. In his attempt to understand the rise to prominence of Māra, Bloss 1978 reads such texts as the Sanskrit Sūtrālaṃkāra, the Chinese A-yü-wang-chuan, and the Burmese Lokapaññati. Analyzing specific narratives within these sources in depth, Bloss 1978 asserts that the Buddha’s striving with Māra is a means primarily of demonstrating his virtue. Strong 1992, an exhaustive study of the widespread and long-lasting ritual and devotional cult of the obscure Indian monk Upagupta, provides an important insight into the monastic and popular applications of the mythology surrounding Māra. Short and accessible, Swearer 2000 documents the continuing importance of the Māra narrative in effecting image consecration in Thailand.

                                • Bloss, Lowell W. “The Taming of Māra: Witnessing to the Buddha’s Virtues.” History of Religions 18.2 (1978): 156–176.

                                  DOI: 10.1086/462812Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Goes beyond the Pali sources in order to expand our notion of the meaning of the Buddha’s triumph over Māra before his enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree.

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                                  • Boyd, James W. “Symbols of Evil in Buddhism.” The Journal of Asian Studies 31.1 (1971): 63–75.

                                    DOI: 10.2307/2053052Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Traces the origins in the Pali literature and subsequent early Buddhist treatises of the dual usage of māra/Māra.

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                                    • La Vallée-Poussin, Louis de. “Māra.” In Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol. 8. Edited by James Hastings, 406–407. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1915.

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                                      Brief but useful overview of the Sanskrit and Pali references to Māra.

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                                      • Ling, Trevor O. Buddhism and the Mythology of Evil: A Study in Theravāda Buddhism. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1962.

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                                        Primarily based on the Pali Canon and the author’s experience of Burmese Buddhism, the book focuses on the figure of Māra.

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                                        • Masson, Joseph. La religion populaire dans le canon bouddhique pāli. Louvain, Belgium: Bureaux du Muséon, 1942.

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                                          Chapter 6 (pp. 99–113) traces references to Māra through a history that encompasses Brahmanical, Buddhist, popular, and monastic texts. An early piece of scholarship that still provides a very useful overview (see also Indian Buddhism).

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                                          • Strong, John S. The Legend and Cult of Upagupta: Sanskrit Buddhism in North India and Southeast Asia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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                                            A study of the varied textual sources of the Indian cult of the monk Upagupta and the religious context of the expansion of the cult into Southeast Asia. Upagupta is a complex figure who, nāga-like, is associated with water and fertility as well as the asceticism of the arhat. Primarily, however, he is celebrated for his conquest of Māra.

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                                            • Swearer, Donald. “Creating and Disseminating the Sacred.” In The Life of Buddhism. Edited by Frank E. Reynolds and Jason A. Carbine, 36–43. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2000.

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                                              Describing consecration rituals of Buddha images in Thailand, the author notes that one of the texts chanted by monks, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, deals substantially with the Buddha’s attack by and defeat of Māra.

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                                              Jātaka Tales

                                              The Jātaka, well known by the 3rd century BCE, is a collection of fables in Pali that illustrate the previous births, in a variety of life forms, of the Buddha. Undoubtedly folk legends that, to a great extent, preceded the life of the Buddha, they have been a source of popular teaching for millennia. Among the 537 stories, a significant number mention or even feature demons, the familiar assemblage of yakkhas, rakkhasas, pisācas, and nāgas. Among the selection of tales below, demons demonstrate points of contrast with the bodhisatta (Sanskrit bodhisattva, the Buddha in a previous birth) and often deal with the qualities of kingship, which the bodhisatta always tends to embody. In Cowell 1973a, as a son of a human mother and a royal nāga father, the prince-bodhisatta develops an interest in philosophy and therefore undertakes a fast to shed his nāga form and the delusory life of sybaritic leisure he had enjoyed at court (much like Śākyamuni himself). In Cowell 1973b, the bodhisatta is a prince who must outwit a yakkha to save his brothers. The bodhisatta converts the yakkha and installs him in a caitya (forest sanctuary). (There is a similar story in the Mahābhārata, involving Yuddhiṣṭhara and his brothers.) In Cowell 1973c, the bodhisatta is a witness to the descent into demonhood of his uncle, who had been captured and suckled as an infant by a yakkhinī (female yakkha, Sanskrit yakṣiṇī). Although the uncle is the rightful king, his “two natures in one form” render him unfit for kingship. Therefore, he becomes a religious ascetic. As King Sutasoma in Cowell 1973d, the bodhisatta is ultimately called in to convert another, cannibalistic, king and return him to righteousness. In Cowell 1973e, the bodhisatta is a prince who successfully resists the siren allure of a cannibalistic yakkhinī, even as his companions succumb and are killed. Thus, because he is a man who is singular in having resisted the apparent attractions of the demoness, the bodhisatta is installed as king. Wily ogresses are also featured in Cowell 1973f, in which the bodhisatta appears as a flying horse who rescues merchants from the clutches of the yakkhinīs, again demonstrating both his mastery over desire and his heroic compassion. As Hobart 1990 demonstrates, the Jātaka tales survive in modern renderings and acquire new references. In Bali, for instance, in performances by dalang (poet-priests), prince Sutasoma helps to bridge and resolve Buddhist and Hindu Śaivite conflicts.

                                              • Cowell, E. B., ed. “Bhūridatta-Jātaka.” In The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Edited by Cowell, E. B. London: The Pali Text Society, 1973a. Vol. 6, Book XXII, no. 543, 80–113.

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                                                Lengthy and complicated tale in which the bodhisatta appears as the son of a human princess and a nāga king. Originally published in 1895.

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                                                • Cowell, E. B., ed. “Devadhamma-Jātaka.” In The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Edited by Cowell, E. B. London: The Pali Text Society, 1973b. Vol. 1, Book I, no. 6, 23–27.

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                                                  Fable involving the bodhisatta as prince Mahiṅsāsa who wins back his brothers from a cannibalistic yakkha who, as guardian of a pond, has captured them. Originally published in 1895.

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                                                  • Cowell, E. B., ed. “Jayaddisa-Jātaka.” In The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Edited by Cowell, E. B. London: The Pali Text Society, 1973c. Vol. 5, Book XVI, no. 513, 11–19.

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                                                    A queen has been born a yakkhinī as a result of her murderous rage toward a rival queen in her previous life. Having already devoured two of her previous rivals’ infants, she is thwarted before devouring a third, whom she comes to love and care for. Originally published in 1895.

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                                                    • Cowell, E. B., ed. “Mahā-Sutasoma-Jātaka.” In The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Edited by Cowell, E. B. London: The Pali Text Society, 1973d. Vol. 5, Book XXI, no. 537, 246–279.

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                                                      A long tale in which the bodhisatta appears as the noble and virtuous prince Sutasoma, who becomes the ruler of the kingdom of Kuru and displaces the king of Benares, who, having been a cannibal-yakkha in his previous life, succumbs to his demonic obsession and kills to quell his desire. Originally published in 1895.

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                                                      • Cowell, E. B., ed. “Telapatta-Jātaka.” In The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Edited by Cowell, E. B. London: The Pali Text Society, 1973e. Vol. 1, Book I, no. 96, 232–237.

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                                                        In this fable, the bodhisatta is a prince who must travel to the city of Takkasilā in order to assume the throne. In order to travel there, he must pass through an enchanted forest which is controlled by yakkhinī sirens who seduce and then kill and eat hapless travelers. The bodhisatta’s five companions all succumb to the “ogresses” and are killed. Originally published in 1895.

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                                                        • Cowell, E. B., ed. “Valāhassa-Jātaka.” In The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. Edited by Cowell, E. B. London: The Pali Text Society, 1973f. Vol. 2, Book II, no. 196, 89–91.

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                                                          In this story, the bodhisatta’s form is that of a flying horse who rescues 250 of the 500 merchants who have been shipwrecked in Ceylon and enthralled by cannibalistic yakkhinīs. Originally published in 1895.

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                                                          • Hobart, Angela. “The Enlightened Prince Sutasoma: Transformations of a Buddhist Story.” Indonesia 49 (1990): 75–102.

                                                            DOI: 10.2307/3351054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Based on the Mahā-Sutasoma-Jātaka, the narrative became popular in Indonesia and is preserved in two Old Javanese texts, Mpu Tantular’s Kakawin Sutasoma, a poem of the 14th century, and the Cantakaparwa, which contains an abridged version of the poem compiled in the 15th or 16th century. Includes observations of actual performances of the text, transcribed dialogue, and photographs and illustrations.

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                                                            Śri Lanka and Sinhalese Buddhism

                                                            Even in the earliest written histories of (Sri) Lanka, the Dīpavaṃsa (trans. Oldenberg 1879) and Mahāvaṃsa (trans. Geiger 1980), the issue of the subjugation of indigenous demons is central to the establishment of Buddhism. According to the former, presumed to be the earlier, account, the first acts of the Buddha in Lanka are to subdue the angry, aboriginal demons (yakkhas, rakkhasas, pisācas, and nāgas). Like the Dīpavaṃsa, the Mahāvaṃsa begins, prior to the conversion of humans to his doctrine, with the Buddha vanquishing the aboriginal demons. In fact, the “demons” were not so easily banished from Lanka, and a rich strain of modern historical and ethnographic scholarship has been devoted to the exploration of the role of demon spirits and deities in the daily lives of Buddhist practitioners. The classic text Gombrich 1988 is a reliable overview of the diverse and multiethnic society of Sri Lanka. Demon-spirit cults figure especially in traditional medicine and healing as well as in state politics. In the context of the former, Paul Wirz (Wirz 1954) was one of the first scholars to pay serious attention to healing via the exorcism of demons and ghosts (yakku, raksho, and prēteo [Sanskrit pretas]) by edura or kattadiya (exorcists) in Sinhalese society. In substantial ethnographic works, Obeyesekere 1969 and Kapferer 1983, two anthropologists have written groundbreaking analyses of healing rituals which primarily exorcise malevolent demons. In several works, Bruce Kapferer has brought the full arsenal of anthropological theory to bear on the “sorcery” rituals of Sri Lanka, starting with his 1983 work, which includes discussions of demon possession in relationship to Buddhism. Kapferer 1997 goes even further, providing the historical, sociological, and political context (including ethnic tensions) for the emergence of the wrathful post-independence bandara (demon-deity) Suniyam. As Winslow 1984 asserts, “localized deities [and demons] have both reflected and been used to bring about the integration of local people into state administrative structures” (p. 274). This integration occurs on a very literal level, “by having people think that, level by level, the territories of the gods correspond to the administrative villages, districts, and provinces” (p. 274).

                                                            • Geiger, Wilhelm, trans. The Mahāvaṃsa or the Great Chronicle of Ceylon. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

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                                                              A mythologized history of the peaceful Buddhist conquest of Lanka (Sri Lanka) and the succession of its kings. Probably dating from the 4th century CE and likely based on the earlier Dīpavaṃsa. This was originally published in 1912.

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                                                              • Gombrich, Richard F. Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988.

                                                                DOI: 10.4324/9780203310878Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                A scholarly but accessible overview with important discussions throughout about the shifting religious boundaries between canonical Buddhism, Tamil Hinduism, and popular spirit possession.

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                                                                • Kapferer, Bruce. A Celebration of Demons: Exorcism and the Aesthetics of Healing in Sri Lanka. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

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                                                                  A theoretically sophisticated ethnographic study of the social and psychological contexts of healing ghost (preta [Pali petta]) and demon (yakku)-related illnesses in Sri Lanka.

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                                                                  • Kapferer, Bruce. The Feast of the Sorcerer: Practices of Consciousness and Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

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                                                                    Further ethnographic work by the author on demonic affliction in Sri Lanka. Includes detailed descriptions of rituals and photographs. Focuses on the Suniyama rite for averting sorcery.

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                                                                    • Obeyesekere, Gananath. “The Ritual Drama of the Sanni Demons: Collective Representations of Disease in Ceylon.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 11.2 (1969): 174–216.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/S0010417500005260Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Pivotal work by an important anthropologist that challenged the then prevailing attitude of Western anthropologists, who dismissed folk rituals for banishing disease as “hocus pocus.” Detailed description of the demons and diseases associated with them, social demographic of participants, and the actual healing rituals.

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                                                                      • Oldenberg, Hermann, ed. and trans. The Dīpavaṃsa: An Ancient Buddhist Historical Record. London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1879.

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                                                                        A mythologized history of the apocryphal event of the Buddha’s coming to Lanka (Sri Lanka). Likely composed by early monks, the text dates to the 3rd–4th century CE. In this narrative, the Buddha exiles all demons except the nāgas, who are conquered by the kindness of the Buddha and elect to serve him.

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                                                                        • Winslow, Deborah. “A Political Geography of Deities: Space and the Pantheon in Sinhalese Buddhism.” The Journal of Asian Studies 43.2 (1984): 273–291.

                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/2055314Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Based on ethnography. Sets the study of territorialized local religion in Sri Lanka within the context of the politics of the nation-state.

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                                                                          • Wirz, Paul. Exorcism and the Art of Healing in Ceylon. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1954.

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                                                                            A detailed description and analysis of the role of the edura or kattadiya (exorcist) in the ancient healing traditions of Sri Lanka, with attention to the rituals employed. Includes photographs and drawings.

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                                                                            Southeast Asia

                                                                            Spirit cults similar to the spirit-demon cults of Sri Lanka were indigenous throughout Theravada Southeast Asia. In Burma, the local demon-spirits are called nats and in Thailand phii. One of the earliest descriptions of the nat cult is Temple 1991 (first published in 1906), whose discourse is decidedly colonial in flavor, for instance in describing Mahayana Buddhism as “the . . . debased ritualistic school.” While recounting a great deal of information about the cult and legends of the thirty-seven nats, the study is primarily concerned with sorting out religious origins, influences, and conflicts between three distinct sources: Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Animism, the latter of which is associated with the still existing “Wild Tribes” of Burma. The scholarly discussion may be outdated, but the great value of the book is its extraordinary collection of illustrations and a glimpse of European colonial attitudes toward indigenous religious traditions of South Asia. Analogous to Gombrich’s overview of Sri Lankan Buddhism (Gombrich 1988, cited under Śri Lanka and Sinhalese Buddhism), Spiro 1982 provides a similar view of Burmese Buddhism. In this important work, Spiro challenges the prevailing focus on “textual, normative Buddhist doctrine” to the exclusion of actual religious practices by many scholars of the period, substituting his own synthesis of texts and beliefs reported by religious actors. Among the material sources of suffering that seem to require more immediate curative methods than normative Buddhist philosophy and ethics provide (along with illness, economic failure, etc.) are attacks by malevolent demons, ghosts, and “evil spirits” (nat in Burma). Spiro 1978 focuses squarely on the afflictions attributed to nats. Rodrigue 1992 is particularly useful as a general and well-illustrated introduction to the tradition of the thirty-seven nats. Tambiah 1970 cites several Thai cosmological treatises that are based on Pali texts. These feature five worlds, among them the realm of the asuras (demons), which assume different manifestations in different Theravada settings: yakkas in Sri Lanka, nats in Burma, and phii in Thailand. Reynolds and Reynolds 1982 contributes to the understanding of Thai Buddhist cosmology with a translation of an important 14th-century text. Chapter 1 of this text, “The Realm of the Hell Beings,” contains a detailed description of the qualities and karmic factors that give rise to birth in the hell realms, including descriptions of the forms that beings take in these realms.

                                                                            • Reynolds, Frank E., and Mani B. Reynolds, eds. and trans. Three Worlds According to King Ruang: A Thai Buddhist Cosmology. Berkeley: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, 1982.

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                                                                              Translation of a work by Phya Lithai, a ruler of the central Thai kingdom of Sukhothai–Si Srisachanalai c. 1345 CE and proponent of orthodox Theravada traditions.

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                                                                              • Rodrigue, Yves. Nat-Pwe: Burma’s Supernatural Sub-Culture. Translated by Roser Flotats. Gartmore, UK: Kiscadale, 1992.

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                                                                                Informative book aimed at a general audience. Explores the history and significance of the cult of the thirty-seven nats, wandering, potentially troublesome spirits that have been assimilated into Buddhism. Author notes that, interestingly, the nats, unlike the Tibetan wrathful deities, have never been given a formal place in the Buddhist pantheon. Numerous illustrations and photographs, both black-and-white and color.

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                                                                                • Spiro, Melford E. Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes. 2d, expanded ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

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                                                                                  A magisterial historical and anthropological overview of Theravada Buddhism as it is practiced in Burma. Discusses protective spells or paritta, which are chapters or sections of chapters of Pali canonical literature. First published in 1970.

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                                                                                  • Spiro, Melford E. Burmese Supernaturalism. Expanded ed. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1978.

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                                                                                    Author asserts that, “wherever it is found,” Buddhism is accompanied by some other religion. In the case of Southeast Asia, that is always an animistic folk religion which the author, an anthropologist, terms “supernaturalism.” Detailed textual and ethnographic analyses of the thirty-seven nats, possession, exorcism, healing, and doctrinal conflicts between Buddhism and “supernaturalism.” Originally published in 1967.

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                                                                                    • Tambiah, Stanley J. Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

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                                                                                      A classic study in the social anthropological corpus. Drawing on the cosmology of deities, demons, and spirits that first appeared in the Sanskrit and Pali writings of India and proliferated in all of the Buddhist societies of South and Southeast Asia, often fusing with local, pre-Buddhist deities, the author notes a similar cosmology in Thailand.

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                                                                                      • Temple, Richard C. The Thirty-Seven Nats: A Phase of Spirit-Worship Prevailing in Burma. London: Kiscadale, 1991.

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                                                                                        Early study of the nat (spirit) cult in Burma. Includes beautiful full-page color illustrations. First published in 1906.

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                                                                                        China

                                                                                        Not surprisingly, given the importance of ancestor veneration in Chinese culture, we discern an apparent overlap between spirit-demon cults and ancestor veneration in Chinese texts and representations. Three texts by Teiser reflect the important connections between Buddhist monasticism and funerary texts and practices (see also DeCaroli 2004, cited under Indian Buddhism). Teiser 1988a discusses the many uses of pictorial representations of hell in medieval China: in mortuary rituals performed by families in order to assist the deceased on its journey through the underworld, in devotion to particular deities, as meditative devices that aided Buddhist monks in their visualization practices to break their attachment to the impermanent world, and as part of public performances. Teiser 1988b traces the history of texts and rituals that emerged in the Tang Dynasty that secured a role for monks in traditional Chinese ancestor worship. Teiser 1994 discusses a 10th-century text from Tun Huang (Dunhuang) which exhibits an interesting overlap between the Chinese religious obsession with celestial bureaucracy and the distinctly Buddhist concern with the forty-nine-day interim between death and rebirth, which Tibetans call the bardo and Teiser translates as purgatory (diyu, literally “underground prisons”). Hearkening back to one of the Pali mythological references, Murray 1981–1982 traces the history of the image of the Buddha’s subjugation of the demon-mother Hārītī in paintings from Chinese monasteries (see also Peri 1917 in Indian Buddhism). In Hsuan Hua 1996, a modern Chinese meditation master’s commentary on one portion of the Surāngama Sutra, we note a particular association of demons with the obstacles one faces in meditation, a connection that appears in the context of Chan and Zen practice.

                                                                                        • Hsuan Hua. The Shurangama Sutra: The Fifty Skandha-Demon States: Based on the Translation into Chinese by Dharma Master Paramiti from Central India: A Simple Explanation. Translated by the Buddhist Text Translation Society. First bilingual ed. (Chinese-English). Burlingame, CA: Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, 1996.

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                                                                                          One portion of an important Mahayana sutra that describes deviant mental states confronted in meditation and associated either literally or figuratively with the demonic. Commentary is aimed especially at practitioners.

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                                                                                          • Murray, Julia K. “Representations of Hāritī, the Mother of Demons, and the Theme of ‘Raising the Alms-Bowl’ in Chinese Painting.” Artibus Asiae 43.4 (1981–1982): 253–284.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/3249844Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Explores references to the Pali myth of the child-eating demoness Hārītī, who turns up in paintings and statues in Chinese monasteries as Kuei-tzu-mu (Guizumu, “Mother of Demons”) or Chiu-tzu-mu (Jiuzimu, “Mother of Nine Children”). Details the history and iconography of this popular figure. Includes useful references to Chinese and Japanese sources (see also Peri 1917 in Indian Buddhism).

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                                                                                            • Teiser, Stephen F. “‘Having Once Died and Returned to Life’: Representations of Hell in Medieval China.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 48.2 (1988a): 433–464.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/2719317Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Basing himself on a variety of sources—Dunhuang manuscripts, intellectual history, Buddhist and Taoist canons, and references to artistic representations—the author explores the ethical uses to which representations of hell in medieval China were put. Teiser says that “it is precisely these extra-canonical representations of hell that were determinative for the vast majority of people in the Buddhist-influenced cultures of Asia” (p. 437).

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                                                                                              • Teiser, Stephen F. The Ghost Festival in Medieval China. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988b.

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                                                                                                Analyzes an important popular festival devoted to ancestors during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) of China, which is based on the myth of Mulian, who saved his mother from hell. Mulian employs the power of the Buddha to face the denizens of hell, particularly pretas (hungry ghosts).

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                                                                                                • Teiser, Stephen F. The Scripture on the Ten Kings and the Making of Purgatory in Medieval Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                  Explication and analysis of a 10th-century apocryphal text found in cave seventeen of the Dunhuang caves. The ten kings are ten judges in the underworld, “each in charge of one court.” Scholarly work with black-and-white illustrations.

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                                                                                                  Korea and Japan

                                                                                                  Wakabayashi 2012 explores the history of the process of assimilating pre-Buddhist demon figures (tengu) to Buddhism as obstacles to enlightenment during the Heian period in Japan. Satō Hiroo’s comparison (Hiroo 2003) between “wrathful” and “saving” deities yields insight into the process by which indigenous deities were assimilated into the Buddhist framework, which may not have been as straightforward as we thought. In addition to Shinto deities, “localized” Buddhas, represented by physical sculptures and monuments and Buddhist saints and patriarchs, were capable by virtue of their locatedness of acting as violent forces. Focusing on a later period and on a different medium, Takeuchi 1987 discusses the famous triptych by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (b. 1797–d. 1861), Minamoto Raiko and the Earth Spider (Minamoto Raikō kōkan tsuchigumo saku yōkai no zu), dating from 1843. The author explores the biography of the artist and addresses the social-political context in which Kuniyoshi’s raucous depiction of demons and ghosts, which was based on a legend from the 10th century and the embellishment of it dating from the Muromachi period (1333–1573), acquires its relevance. Fabricand-Person 2002 offers a glimpse into a curious Japanese artistic theme, which raises as many questions as it answers, depicting female demons as attendants of the Buddha Samantabhadra. The depiction is based on a minor reference in the Lotus Sutra. Citing other scholars, Reider 2003 echoes the view that the oni (demons) who became popular during the medieval period may have originally been identical to the Shinto kami (deities). Grotesque and cannibalistic, they were widely depicted primarily in male form. With the modern emergence of children’s books and manga (graphic fiction), oni have become less demonic and are often sexualized females. The later article Reider 2005 discusses the famous tale of the defeat of the oni Shuten Dōji by the pious warrior Minamoto no Raikō and his army. Reider asserts that during the Tokugawa period, the tale was appropriated by the shogunate: “the shogunate would auspiciously and by divine mandate protect the land and slay all enemies of the government” (p. 209). Uhlmann 2007 reminds us that the shamanism which is associated with Korea also has a literary basis within Buddhist texts, in this case in the ritual manual, the Kubyŏng sisik ŭimun, which addresses the treatment of spirit affliction. Finally, aimed at the practitioner is 14th-century Zen master Kokushi’s meditation advice to the shogun about the dangers of falling into deluded, demonic states of mind while meditating (Kokushi 1996).

                                                                                                  • Fabricand-Person, Nicole. “Demonic Female Guardians of the Faith: The Fugen Jūrasetsunyo Iconography in Japanese Buddhist Art.” In Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan. Edited by Barbara Ruch, 343–382. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2002.

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                                                                                                    Analysis of an iconographic theme, which has no textual source, in which ten female demons (jūrasetsunyo, Sanskrit rākṣasīs) referred to in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Lotus Sutra serve as attendants to the elephant-mounted bodhisattva Fugen (Sanskrit Samantabhadra).

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                                                                                                    • Hiroo, Satō. “Wrathful Deities and Saving Deities.” In Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm. Edited by Mark Teeuwen and Fabio Rambelli, 95–114. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

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                                                                                                      Examines kishōman (oaths that invoke the wrath of buddhas and kami) to reveal that during the Kamakura period, wrathful kami were often seen to be forms that buddhas took to effect retribution for crimes against Buddhism. On occasions when buddhas were invoked, the author argues that they were always physically present in a statue or image.

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                                                                                                      • Kokushi, Musō. Dream Conversations on Buddhism and Zen. Translated and edited by Thomas Cleary. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1996.

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                                                                                                        Spiritual counsel from a 14th-century Zen master and advisor to the shogun. Demons as mental obstructions.

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                                                                                                        • Reider, Noriko T. “Transformation of the Oni: From the Frightening and Diabolical to the Cute and Sexy.” Asian Folklore Studies 62.1 (2003): 133–157.

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                                                                                                          What, the author wishes to know, can account for the transformation of the oni demons, antiestablishment figures “customarily portrayed with one or more horns protruding from their scalps,” into more benign creatures in the modern period? Originally thought to be inhabitants of a Buddhist hell, they became identified with enemies of Japan during World War II and then with space aliens.

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                                                                                                          • Reider, Noriko T. “Shuten Dōji: ‘Drunken Demon.’” Asian Folklore Studies 64.2 (2005): 207–231.

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                                                                                                            Analysis of one of the most famous oni (demon) legends in Japanese literature, which “belongs to a literary genre called otogi zōshi or ‘companion tales’” (p. 207) and describes the conquest of the cannibal-demon Shuten Dōji by the warrior-hero Minamoto no Raikō (Minamoto no Yorimitsu, b. 948–d. 1021). They are successful because they pray to the kami and Buddhist deities.

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                                                                                                            • Takeuchi, Melinda. “Kuniyoshi’s Minamoto Raikō and the Earth Spider: Demons and Protest in Late Tokugawa Japan.” Ars Orientalis 17 (1987): 5–38.

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                                                                                                              Includes illustrations and substantial notes. Author notes an apparent paucity of scholarly references to frightening and demonic images among historians of Japanese art. This was an oversight, however, because such imagery abounds in examples of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), especially around the middle of the 19th century.

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                                                                                                              • Uhlmann, Patrick R. “A Buddhist Rite of Exorcism.” In Religions of Korea in Practice. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr., 112–129. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                Discussion of the Kubyŏng sisik ŭimun, a liturgical text and ritual manual dating from the 13th century, which was used to heal patients afflicted by spirit diseases.

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                                                                                                                • Wakabayashi, Haruko. The Seven Tengu Scrolls: Evil and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy in Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                  History of the process unfolding during the Heian period by which malignant pre-Buddhist spirits, tengu, are incorporated into a Buddhist explanatory idiom as distinctly Buddhist sources of evil and obstacles to enlightenment. Includes black-and-white and color plates.

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                                                                                                                  Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia

                                                                                                                  Because of its remoteness and inaccessibility, the Himalayan region retained its local (in some cases, highly specialized) shaman-based religious practices longer than many other parts of Asia. We certainly find patterns of relationship between monastic Buddhism (when it finally arrived in Tibet in the 7th century CE) and local spirit practices (of protectorship of nature, possession and healing, and symbolism of sovereignty) that are similar to those in other parts of Asia. However, inhabitants of the mountain regions brought their own special concerns and expertise into profound dialogue with canonical Buddhism, giving rise to the full development of the extraordinary tradition of Tantric Vajrayāna Buddhism. Perhaps nowhere else in the Buddhist world do we find such an intimate fusion of philosophical sophistication, advanced meditational techniques, and popular spirit worship. In particular, the ancient demonic spirits of nature and locale are embraced without restraint and accorded a central role in Tantric ritual practice. There are a few very useful overviews of Vajrayāna Buddhism, which also contextualize the worship of demons and wrathful spirits, as they are often called in Vajrayāna. In its introduction, Lopez 2002 raises the central problem of conveying indigenous meanings in translation. The English word demon, as Lopez says, is wholly inadequate to translate the range of Tibetan terms (such as klu, tsen, sa dak, ma mo, dre, drip, dön, gek) it is tasked with (p. 456). Blofeld 1970, an eminently accessible overview, interprets the symbolism of the deities, ritual, and practices in a clear and interesting fashion, including a discussion of the peaceful and wrathful deities invoked in ritual (pp. 110–117). Tucci 1988 devotes a section to the consideration of “Man face to face with divine and demonic powers” (p. 171). Culturally similar to Tibet, Mongolia has even more powerful demon lore and rituals, including colorful performative traditions. Heissig 1980 discusses the confrontation between indigenous Mongolian demons and Tantric wrathful deities. The latter, the author suggests, were ultimately accorded supremacy because of their perceived greater power. Fontein 1999, a catalogue which is now rare, displays numerous exquisite photographs, drawings, and color plates from a Dutch exhibition; the accompanying text supplies detailed historical context. Kelényi 2003, another catalogue, includes nine articles as well as color photographs of ritual artifacts from Mongolia. Linrothe 1999 supplies a detailed and useful history of the evolution of Indo-Tibetan wrathful deity-demons.

                                                                                                                  • Blofeld, John. The Way of Power: A Practical Guide to the Tantric Mysticism of Tibet. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970.

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                                                                                                                    Excellent overview of Vajrayāna practices, aimed at a Western readership.

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                                                                                                                    • Fontein, Jan. The Dancing Demons of Mongolia. London: Lund Humphries, 1999.

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                                                                                                                      Catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition held in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, from 26 June through 17 October 1999.

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                                                                                                                      • Heissig, Walter. The Religions of Mongolia. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

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                                                                                                                        A description of the folk religion of Mongolia, with its demons and its encounter with Vajrayāna Buddhism.

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                                                                                                                        • Kelényi, Béla, ed. Demons and Protectors: Folk Religion in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism. Budapest: Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Art, 2003.

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                                                                                                                          Catalogue published in association with the exhibition opened in October 2002 at the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Art, consisting of nine pertinent articles and numerous color plates.

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                                                                                                                          • Linrothe, Rob. Ruthless Compassion: Wrathful Deities in Early Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhist Art. Boston: Shambhala, 1999.

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                                                                                                                            Analyzing art objects (mainly sculpture) from the 6th to the 13th century, art historian Linrothe traces the chronological development of the wrathful images of deities. Compares Tibetan with Indian examples and includes illustrations.

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                                                                                                                            • Lopez, Donald S. “Introduction: Tibet.” In Religions of Asia in Practice: An Anthology. Edited by Donald S. Lopez, 451–481. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                                              Concise introduction to Buddhism in Tibet. Includes a discussion of the problem of translating Tibetan terms as “demon” (p. 456).

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                                                                                                                              • Tucci, Guiseppe. The Religions of Tibet. Translated by Geoffrey Samuel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                Learned history-of-religions study of the scope of Buddhist practice in Tibet. In addition to discussions of monasteries, doctrines, rituals, and festivals, includes an in-depth analysis of folk traditions. Includes drawings of ritual implements and diagrams by Namkhai Norbu. Originally published in 1970.

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                                                                                                                                Territorial Demons

                                                                                                                                Perhaps no other area in Asia has been conceived of in the popular imaginary as so rife with demons as the Himalayas, particularly Tibet. The harshness of the landscape and the region’s remoteness from the sources of high Asian culture (mainly in the form of canonical Buddhism) have contributed to the region’s characterization as “demonic”—in other words, not civilized, barbaric. Discussing this association, Gyatso 1987 traces early references within and outside of Tibetan sources to Tibet as a land of demons. One of the demon species indigenous to Tibet, the Srin, later identified with the Indian rākṣasa, was, according to Buddhist legends, particularly resistant to taming by the civilizing efforts of Buddhism. Ramble 2008 discusses a myth (cognate with the myth about the pre-Buddhist topography of Tibet that Gyatso examines) from Te, an area in Nepal, which recounts an epic battle between the visiting Indian Buddhist missionary Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) and the Balmo, “a demoness who resisted the propagation of Buddhism in the land.” Drawing on the textual sources from Dunhuang now residing in the Stein collection in the British Library and in the Pelliot collection in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Dalton 2004 examines previously overlooked references to the origin of the accounts of the miraculous activities of Padmasambhava. The theme of violent subjugation, as Dalton says, is crucial to Tibetan culture. Dalton 2011 probes this theme further in a study of the bloody myth of Rudra’s subjugation (appearing in chapters 20–31 of the Compendium of Intentions Sutra, a tantra associated with the Nyingma sect) and the “liberation” rite for ritual murder, both dating from Tibet’s “dark age,” 842–986 CE, following the collapse of the Pugyal dynasty. Using psychoanalytic concepts, Paul 1979 focuses on the sexual significance of exorcism rites. The paradox entailed by recourse to the guardian deities, Paul says, “is that, in order to fight fire with fire, they have to be even more ferocious and dangerous than the demons they are bound by oath to overcome. There is a sense, then, in which the community needs to be protected as much from the protectors as from the demons” (p. 284). Dargyay 1988 looks at other guardian deities, the pha lha (god of our fathers), in Himalayan India. The pha lha is a god or goddess “who protects the family and their property in land and livestock.”

                                                                                                                                • Dalton, Jacob. “The Early Development of the Padmasambhava Legend in Tibet: A Study of IOL Tib J 644 and Pelliot tibétain 307.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 124.4 (2004): 759–772.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/4132116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  A textual archaeology that uncovers multiple dimensions of the Padmasambhava legend, including his symbolic associations with the natural world. Discusses a text that refers to Padmasambhava’s taming of the seven female protectors in the wrathful mandala (ritual microcosm) of Śrī Mahā Heruka. These seven may well be related to the saptamātṛkā (seven mothers) deities of north India.

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                                                                                                                                  • Dalton, Jacob Paul. The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                    Employing texts from the Dunhuang caves, the author looks more directly at the issue of violence and blood sacrifice within the context of Tibetan Buddhism. Provides a detailed analysis of the five-day Dumje ritual within Himalayan Sherpa society, which includes exorcism of demons, drama, and dance. Protection from these demons is sought by summoning wrathful guardian deities.

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                                                                                                                                    • Dargyay, Eva K. “Buddhism in Adaptation: Ancestor Gods and Their Tantric Counterparts in the Religious Life of Zanskar.” History of Religions 28.2 (1988): 123–134.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1086/463141Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Based on ethnographic research. Discusses the displacement of local ancestral deities and beliefs by “literary tantric Buddhism” in Zanskar, a remote valley in the northwestern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, an isolated part of the culturally Tibetan world.

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                                                                                                                                      • Gyatso, Janet. “Down with the Demoness: Reflections on a Feminine Ground in Tibet.” In Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet. Edited by Janice D. Willis, 33–51. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1987.

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                                                                                                                                        An analysis of an early myth about the Tibetan land prior to the advent of Buddhism as being formed by the supine body of a demoness. The female Srin-mo demon, whose body was thought literally to constitute the Tibetan land, had to be tamed before Buddhism could really be established in the country.

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                                                                                                                                        • Paul, Robert A. “Dumje: Paradox and Resolution in Sherpa Ritual Symbolism.” American Ethnologist 6.2 (1979): 274–304.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1525/ae.1979.6.2.02a00040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Discussion of the springtime Dumje ritual, which is a climax to the Sherpas’ ritual cycle, ostensibly meant to exorcise “evil influence from the village” and ensure “the cooperation of the gods” for agricultural success and removal of illness and misfortune.

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                                                                                                                                          • Ramble, Charles. The Navel of the Demoness: Tibetan Buddhism and Civil Religion in Highland Nepal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195154146.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            An ethnographic study of Te, a remote village in the Mustang District of Nepal, in which the people are “nominally Buddhist” but still engage in animal sacrifices “connected with a cult of territorial divinities.” Includes some photographs.

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                                                                                                                                            Bon Po

                                                                                                                                            Although a complete study unto itself, Bon must be mentioned here because of its important connection with the demonology of Tibet. Defined by previous scholars (although this assumption is no longer widely accepted) as the indigenous, shamanic-style practices of Tibet that predate the arrival of Buddhism, according to Kværne 2001 and Tucci 1988, among others, Bon, was able to retain and codify its own ritual traditions in light of Buddhist influence. In these myths and rituals, primarily aimed at protection from malignant powers and entities, Tucci discerns Iranian and Śaivite influences. As Tucci says, “the world of Bon moved between theogonies, cosmogonies, genealogies and conjurations of ambivalent and hostile powers. It was dominated by funeral rituals for the protection of both the living and the dead, and it gave very great importance to divination” (p. 231). For their part, other sects of Tibetan Buddhism generated their own opinions and, according to An-che 1948, continued to represent the Bon tradition as primarily a means of quelling demons. However, des Jardins 2010, an ethnographic study of the contemporary ritual of Tamdrin, points out links with similar practices in the Nyingma school of Vajrayāna Buddhism.

                                                                                                                                            • An-che, Li. “Bon: The Magico-Religious Belief of the Tibetan-Speaking Peoples.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 4.1 (1948): 31–42.

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                                                                                                                                              Discusses the discursive history of Tibetan Buddhist attitudes toward Bon.

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                                                                                                                                              • des Jardins, Marc. “Rites of the Deity Tamdrin (Rta mgrin) in Contemporary Bön: Transforming Poison and Eliminating Noxious Spirits with Burning Stones.” In Tibetan Ritual. Edited by José Ignacio Cabezón, 187–205. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                                Ethnographic study of the Bon ritual for exorcising malevolent spirits with the aid of the martial deity Tamdrin.

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                                                                                                                                                • Kværne, Per. The Bon Religion of Tibet: The Iconography of a Living Tradition. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                  In addition to historical contextualization, contains ample discussion of the many wrathful deities of Bonpo, which the author considers to be now an “unorthodox form of Buddhism.” Numerous color plates.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Tucci, Guiseppe. The Religions of Tibet. Translated by Geoffrey Samuel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                                    Includes an entire chapter (chapter 7) devoted to Bon. See also Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia. Originally published in 1970.

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                                                                                                                                                    Healing and Exorcism

                                                                                                                                                    Like all other traditions of Buddhism, Himalayan Vajrayāna Buddhism has encompassed a rich strain of exorcistic and healing practices aimed at ridding practitioners of disease and mental affliction (see also Bon Po). Demons are seen, literally and figuratively, to be the source of malignancy. Demon expulsion has been incorporated into classical Tibetan medicine as one way, among many, of treating particular afflictions, as is noted in the studies of disease and healing in Vargas 2009 and Clifford 2001. A variety of gdon (demons), klu are thought to be responsible for disorders attacking the nervous system, including leprosy. Allione 2008 and Berghash and Jillson 2001 apply the notion of demon disturbance in a metaphorical fashion to mental affliction. Allione, a proponent of chöd and a Vajrayāna teacher herself, has developed her own version of demon work as a means of cutting off attachment to destructive emotions and trauma. In their study of the songs of the Tibetan Buddhist saint Milarepa, Berghash and Jillson conclude that Milarepa initially objectifies demons as invaders disrupting his focus but ultimately accepts them as aspects of his own mind. The ultimate manifestation of the psychic transmutation of demons is the practice of chöd, in which practitioners visualize offering their bodies to demons to devour as a radical way of cutting off ego attachment. Gyatso 2009 addresses a controversy surrounding the history of the practice: can it be traced to India or is it shamanic in origin? Edou 1996 is a significant expansion of the terrain covered by Gyatso. Chapter 4 contains a discussion of the meaning of “gods” and “demons” within the Tibetan context, concluding that “god-demon” is a more accurate rendering of the Tibetan terms. For students of chöd and Machig Labdrön, Edou’s is an invaluable explication of the profundity of this practice. Harding 2003, a study of the same material, also supplies in-depth and accessible commentary on Machig’s life and the practices. Finally, David-Neel 2008 supplies a useful example of an educated Westerner’s sometimes incredulous reactions to unusual religious practices. In chapter 4, “Dealing with Ghosts and Demons” (pp. 131–166), the author recounts tales of Tantric cannibalism, the rite of rolang (animation of a corpse), an “enchanted” phurba (ritual dagger), and firsthand exposure to the practice of chöd, which she calls the “dreadful mystic banquet.”

                                                                                                                                                    • Allione, Tsultrim. Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Conflict. New York: Little, Brown, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                      A practical, five-step visualization practice of feeding (rather than resisting) personified psychological demons, based on chöd. Includes a CD.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Berghash, Rachel, and Katherine Jillson. “Milarepa and Demons: Aids to Spiritual and Psychological Growth.” Journal of Religion and Health 40.3 (2001): 371–382.

                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1023/A:1012521000819Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                        Drawing on the songs of the 11th-century Tibetan Buddhist saint Milarepa (The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa), discusses his changing perspective on demons in the course of his spiritual journey. Using Object-Relations theory, the authors posit demons as “negative selfobjects” which are transmuted through realization.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Clifford, Terry. Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry: The Diamond Healing. Benares, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                          An accessible, personal account of a Western woman’s study of traditional Tibetan medicine. Includes many references to the malignant effects of demon-disturbance.

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                                                                                                                                                          • David-Neel, Alexandra. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. New Delhi: Rupa, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                            Personal account of early-20th-century travels of an intrepid French explorer, scholar, and practicing Buddhist who became the first Western woman to visit Lhasa, an arduous trip that was recounted in a previous volume (My Journey to Lhasa). She witnesses practitioners of chöd. Includes thirty-two photographs. Translation of Mystiques et magiciens du Thibet (Paris: Plon, 1929); translation first published as With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet (London: Lave, 1931).

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                                                                                                                                                            • Edou, Jérôme. Machig Labdrӧn and the Foundations of Chӧd. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                              Ethnographic, historical, and hagiographical explication of chöd. Invaluable overview of all levels of the practice.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Gyatso, Janet. “The Development of the Gcod Tradition.” In Soundings in Tibetan Civilization. Proceedings of the 1982 Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies held at Columbia University. 2d ed. Edited by Barbara Nimri Aziz and Matthew Kapstein, 320–341. Kathmandu: Vajra Publications, 2009

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                                                                                                                                                                Concise historical overview of the powerful meditative practice of Gcod (chӧd). She concludes that, while Gcod can be traced back through lineages to India, it was codified in Tibet by Machig Labdrön, an 11th- to 12th-century Tibetan woman considered a ḍākinī (literally “sky-goer,” female deity and protector). First published in 1985.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Harding, Sarah, trans. and ed. Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chӧd: A Complete Explanation of Casting Out the Body as Food. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Thorough study of the hagiographical biography of Machik Lapdrön (Machig Labdrön), with a translation of Machik’s text and an explanatory introduction.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Vargas, Ivette. “Demon Diseases and Tibetan Medicine: The Interface between Religion and Science.” In As Long As Space Endures: Essays on the Kalacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Edited by Edward A. Arnold, 367–383. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Citing medical texts such as the 12th-century Rgyud bzhi, the essay discusses diseases attributed to klu (identified with the nāgas or serpent deity-demons of Sanskrit literature).

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                                                                                                                                                                    Death

                                                                                                                                                                    Whether demons are literally “out there” or imagined, as they intentionally are in the practice of chöd, is a question that becomes more complicated when one considers the practices and traditions associated with death and dying in Tibet. One phenomenon that is mentioned in a genre of popular literature, discussed by Cuevas 2008, is that of the délok, rare but not unheard-of people who have returned from the death experience with tales to tell about the gruesome horrors they have encountered, including such creatures as corpse-animating demons. Unique to Tibetan Buddhism are the practices based on the Bardo Thödol (Bardo Thötröl), literally translated by Thurman as “The Book of Liberation through Understanding in the Between [the bardo]” but commonly referred to as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a misnomer that was established by the earliest English translation, by Kazi Dawa-Samdup. In addition to this early translation, three more translations of the text are mentioned, each of which has something of value to contribute to our understanding of this abstruse material. The Bardo Thödol was reputedly written by the great yogi and reformer Padmasambhava (see also Dalton 2004, cited under Territorial Demons), who concealed it as a terton (treasure) to be found in a later period. It was discovered by Karma Lingpa in the 14th century and continues to be used as a manual for encountering what will emerge during the forty-nine-day interval (bardo) between death and rebirth. At the time of its first publication in 1927, the Evans-Wentz edition of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Padmasambhava 2000) made a sensation among Western students of Asian religion and occultism. The Fremantle-Trungpa translation/commentary (Padmasambhava 2007) makes changes to the earlier version principally by not translating Sanskrit or Tibetan terms for which there are no adequate English words and by using contemporary psychological terms when they are deemed useful. The Thurman translation (Padmasambhava 1994) is also aimed at a Western readership but does not sacrifice the authentic spirit of the practice text. It includes excellent introductory material for those with no background in Tibetan Buddhism, including an overview of Tibetan history and detailed discussions of basic Buddhist paradigms and cosmological schemes. The most recent translation, by Gyurme Dorje (Padmasambhava 2005), is, so far, the jewel in the crown of English translations. It includes two additional texts that have not been included in the other translations (chapters 1 and 10).

                                                                                                                                                                    • Cuevas, Bryan J. Travels in the Netherworld: Buddhist Popular Narratives of Death and the Afterlife in Tibet. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195341164.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                      A social analysis of some literary accounts of délok, people who reputedly have returned from the dead. Includes descriptions of demons, particularly corpse-animating demons.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Padmasambhava. The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Compiled and edited by W. Y. Evans-Wentz according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English rendering. 4th ed. London, Oxford, and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Originally published in 1927. Includes a commentary by the psychoanalyst C. G. Jung and a foreword by Lama Anagarika Govinda, an early Western convert to Buddhism. Given that none of these commentators, including Evans-Wentz, had actually translated the text, their remarks may not be of great interest now to the serious student of Tibetan Buddhism. Forewords by Lama Anagarika Govinda and John Woodroffe. Psychological commentary by C. G. Jung.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Padmasambhava. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo. Translated with commentary by Francesca Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa. Boston: Shambhala, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Uses psychological references and language to connect with Western readers. The introductory commentary by Trungpa is a reliable and straightforward explanation of the important cosmological concepts and deities and includes a section on the wrathful deities.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Padmasambhava. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation through Understanding in the Between. Translated by Robert A. Thurman. Foreword by H. H. the Dalai Lama. New York and Toronto: Bantam, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Aimed at Western readers who are practitioners. Each translated section of the text is framed by the translator’s commentary (unlike the Fremantle and Trungpa translation). Overall, it is probably the best introduction for the novice. Includes a few color photographs.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Padmasambhava. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States. Translated by Gyurme Dorje. Edited by Graham Coleman with Thupten Jinpa. Introductory commentary by H. H. the Dalai Lama. New York: Penguin, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                                              This is the first “complete” translation; it includes two chapters not found elsewhere and beautiful color photographs of paintings of the peaceful and wrathful deities encountered in the bardo (interim period between death and rebirth). This translation is aimed at serious scholars and practitioners of the meditation and transference-of-consciousness traditions surrounding this great text.

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