Cover image for Indian esoteric Buddhism : a social history of the Tantric movement
Indian esoteric Buddhism : a social history of the Tantric movement
Davidson, Ronald M., 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xvi, 475 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Reading Level:
1660 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BQ8912.9.I5 D38 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Despite the rapid spread of Buddhism--especially the esoteric system of Tantra, one of its most popular yet most misunderstood forms--the historical origins of Buddhist thought and practice remain obscure. This groundbreaking work describes the genesis of the Tantric movement in early medieval India, where it developed as a response to, and in some ways an example of, the feudalization of Indian society. Drawing on primary documents--many translated for the first time--from Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tibetan, Bengali, and Chinese, Ronald Davidson shows how changes in medieval Indian society, including economic and patronage crises, a decline in women's participation, and the formation of large monastic orders, led to the rise of the esoteric tradition in India that became the model for Buddhist cultures in China, Tibet, and Japan.

Author Notes

Ronald M. Davidson is professor of religious studies and director of the program in Asian studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He is the coauthor (with Steven D. Goodman) of Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The importance of esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, China, and Japan is well recognized, but relatively little attention has been given to the origins of esoteric (or Tantric) Buddhism in early medieval India. Davidson (Fairfield Univ.) examines in some detail the period from the mid-seventh to the mid-11th centuries, a time of sweeping social and political change in India that challenged the position of the Buddhist establishment. Although some earlier writers saw Tantrism as a decadent form of Buddhism, Davidson interprets it as a creative response and adaptation to an increasingly feudal and violent society. He considers the contribution of the large monasteries and the individual Siddhas, and he discusses ritual, mandalas, and literature. He gives a clear account of esoteric Buddhist beliefs and practices, describing the social and historical context in which they arose. Although some readers may find the wealth of detail a bit overwhelming, the book is a well-written and interesting account of an important but neglected subject. A few misprints are annoying but not significant. Some illustrations, a brief glossary, and copious endnotes enhance this book, which belongs in any serious collection on Buddhism or Indian religion. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. H. Peebles emeritus, Wabash College

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: A Plethora of Promises
2 Early Medieval India
3 The Medieval Buddhist Experience
4 The Victory of Esoterism and the Imperial Metaphor
5 Siddhas and the Religious Landscape
6 Siddhas, Literature, and Language
7 Siddhas, Monks, and Communities
8 Conclusion: The Esoteric Conundrum Appendix: Probable Pa supata Sites