Knauft, B.M. Self-possessed and Self-governed: Transcendent Spirituality in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism
(2019) Ethnos, 84 (4), pp. 557-587.
Among Tibetan Buddhist tantric practitioners, including in the U.S., visualisation and incorporation of mandala deities imparts a parallel world against which conventional reality is considered impermanent and afflicted. Tantric adepts aspire through meditation, visualisation, and mind-training to dissolve normal selfhood and simultaneously embrace both ‘conventional’ and ‘ultimate’ reality. Ethics of compassion encourage efficient reengagement with conventional world dynamics rather than escaping them: the transcendental ‘non-self’ is perceived to inform effective and compassionate waking consciousness. Transformation of subjective ontology in tantric self-possession resonates with Foucault’s late exploration of ethical self-relationship in alternative technologies of subjectivation and with Luhrmann’s notion of transcendent spiritual absorption through skilled learning and internalisation. Incorporating recent developments in American Tibetan Buddhism, this paper draws upon information derived from a range of scholarly visits to rural and urban areas of the Himalayas, teachings by and practices with contemporary Tibetan lamas, including in the U.S., and historical and philosophical Buddhist literature and commentaries. © 2017, © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
ontology; selfhood; spirit possession; spirituality; tantra; Tibetan Buddhism