Buddhist tantric thealogy? the genealogy and soteriology of Tārā
Scherer, B. 2018. Buddhist tantric thealogy? the genealogy and soteriology of Tārā. Buddhist-Christian Studies. 38, pp. 289-303. https://doi.org/10.1353/bcs.2018.0024
The-a-logy can be seen as a feminist religious subversion of (hetero)patriarchal theology. Thealogy stresses nurturing, motherhood and wisdom; identity with creation; the body and the embodied spiritual journey; the nature in female form, archetypes and mythopoëises in aid of liberating women (and men) from patriarchal silencing, power, and oppression. I argue that Tārā can provide (and is indeed already providing) such an empowering counter-patriarchal thealogical frame in contemporary global Buddhist (post-)modernism(s).
In this article, I gauge the possibilities of developing 'Thealogy' in the Buddhist context by discussing the genealogy, narratives, iconography, and soteriological conceptualisation of Tārā in selected Sanskrit and Tibetan stotras (praises) and sādhanas (meditation texts). In the form of Tārā ('Saviouress', Duōluó 多羅,Tib. sgrol ma), the Indic and Tibetan Mahāyāna and Vajrayāṇa traditions provide a unique pathway to enlightened female compassion. Tārā first appears as an auxiliary figure to Avalokiteśvara (Guānyīn 觀音 or Guānshìyīn 觀世音), who remains male gendered in South Asia and the Himalayas. I demonstrate that Tārā is a multi-valent and multi-functional figure within evolving and changing Indic and Tibetan reference frames, from her origin in hybridity with Devī/Durgā traditions; her conceptualization as Avalokiteśvara's compassion; as saviouress from the eight great dangers (aṣṭa-mahābhaya, Tib. 'jigs pa chen po brgyad); as transcending the gender binarism as Princess Ye shes zla ba; to her rise in Tantra; in her connection and identification with Prajñāpāramitā; and as consort in the Mahāyoga and Yoginī Tantra traditions. After shedding light on the meaning and the function of Tārā deity yoga in Indo-Tibetan traditions, I conclude by reflecting further on contemporary 'thealogical' adaptations and the challenges and opportunities of Buddhist Tantric Thealogy.
|Keywords||Thealogy; Tārā; goddess; feminism; tantra; Tibetan Buddhism; Buddhist literature; iconography; ritual; modernism|
|Journal citation||38, pp. 289-303|
|Publisher||University of Hawaii Press|
|Digital Object Identifier (DOI)||https://doi.org/10.1353/bcs.2018.0024|
|20 Nov 2018|
|Publication process dates|
|Deposited||27 Feb 2018|
|Accepted||24 Feb 2018|
|Accepted author manuscript|
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