Tantra has been integral part of several ancient Indic–religious traditions. Its roots are very old, presumably as old as the Mohenjodaro civilization. All of the tantra traditions had a live engagement with the feminine divine. Like other religions in India, Buddhism too has an affiliation with female divinities. The Vajrayāna tradition especially is pervaded with a diverse range of feminine imagery. In Buddhist tantra the symbolism of tantric goddesses and their practices is backed by profound philosophical doctrines. However, unlike other religious tradition, the non-theistic framework of Buddhism does not consider the intrinsic existence of tantric goddesses and their appearance and practices are meant to serve the purpose of transcending all sorts of dualistic thoughts for attaining enlightenment. This paper inquires into the evolution of tantra in different religious traditions in general, and in Buddhism in particular. The focal point of the discussion is the practices of goddesses in Buddhist tantra. The interaction and influence of other religious traditions on Buddhism too is pointed out. On the one hand this paper explores textual sources for explaining abstract appearances and unusual practices associated with tantric goddesses and on the other, the functional aspects of tantric goddesses in ancient religious settings. The neo-orientalist interpretation of tantra as given by Western scholars is examined to point out their misinterpretations of tantric symbols and rituals. After documenting some of the diverse traditions of goddesses within tantric cults, this paper makes an effort to find harmony between the overlapping layers of popular belief and the profound philosophy of Buddhist tantrism.
Pranshu Samdarshi, “The Concept of Goddesses in Buddhist Tantra Traditions”, Delhi University Journal of Humanities and Social Science, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 87-99, 2014.