IN AN INVESTIGATION of language in Buddhism, no area is more perplexing than that of the Vajrayana tradition of Tibet. The philosophic texts often seem obscure and convoluted, and ritual Tantric texts employ enigmatic terms and phrases that are sometimes shocking to conventional sensibilities. Western interpreters, often scholars who have no Tantric training, offer explanations that may appear prurient, dismissive, or even contemptuous.
The Hevajra-tantra, a text particularly popular in the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism, begins with the traditional formula “Thus have I heard,” signifying the authentic teachings of the Buddha from the sutras. But this is followed by a startling assertion: “At one time the Blessed One dwelt in bliss (literally, in the womb) of the Vajra Lady, who is the body, speech, and mind of all the Buddhas.” In the Vajrayana, accounts of the Buddha’s enlightenment sometimes include his sexually uniting with the young maid Sujata, who brought him milk-rice to eat as he engaged in meditation under the Bodhi tree. And the Tantric interpretation of the epithet Bhagavat is “one who unites with the womb.” How are we to understand such presentations?"
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