Organized Panel Session
The greater Gandhāran region in the northwest corridor of the South Asian subcontinent remained an important cosmopolitan hub through which many of the major Mahāyāna Buddhist textual traditions extended their influence into Central and East Asia. The argument that Mahāyāna Buddhism flourished in this region, particularly in the early centuries half of the first millennium CE, finds ample support in the archeological and textual-historical record. But Buddhist literature also knows this same region to have been an important seat of the esoteric Buddhist traditions, despite the relative lack of archeological evidence to support these claims.
This paper examines a collection of early works on the tantric tradition of the 'Great Seal' or mahāmudrā that reflects a lineage of Buddhist adepts from the Northwestern kingdom of Oḍiyāna. This lineage emerged after Buddhism had contracted in the region and many of its institutional structures lay in ruin. Here it is argued that the loss of an infrastructure for institutional Buddhism supported the popularization of a new approach to yoga—the idea of generating one's own body as an impenetrable maṇḍala—that could compensate for the widespread destruction of Buddhist monasteries. This offers a new theoretical perspective on how esoteric Buddhism may have flourished even as the infrastructural and political support for Buddhism in the northwest passage of the old silk route was in decline.