Dr. Iain Sinclair Lecture – The Religiosity of Newar Buddhism: Mahāyāna or Tantric Śrāvaka?

Written By University of the West Author

Newar Buddhism is not only the last form of Buddhism existing continuously on the subcontinent, but also the only living Mahāyāna tradition practised using the original Sanskrit texts. The Mahāyāna religiosity of the Newars is often described by onlookers as “book worship” or so-called Buchkult — that is, as mere totemism, of only local significance, and as (ironically) nonliterate. These onlooker studies have remained unaware of the long history of worshipping mini-canons of Mahāyāna scripture going back to the eighth century, and the associated rationales.

Furthermore, the Newars continue to engage with Mahāyānasūtras in many literate ways: through translations, scriptural anthologies, and modern preaching and publishing efforts including pioneering digitization projects. The question nonetheless remains as to whether praxis in Newar Buddhism is definitely and necessarily of the non-tantric Mahāyāna. The vow of the bodhisattva is not transmitted as a habitual praxis. The critical intergenerational praxis is that of Sanskritic ordination (pravrajyā)—which imparts the religiosity of the śrāvaka according to the Mūlasarvāstivāda order—and the concomitant reversion to a semi-monastic state, which is only meaningfully enabled by tantric Buddhism. The tantric authorisations (mantradāna, abhiṣeka/dīkṣā) that incorporate bodhisattvism are all optional.

In this lecture, Dr. Sinclair will draw on unpublished research to show that Mahāyāna scripture still plays a vital part in this otherwise wholly ‘Tantric Śrāvaka’ process.

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About Our Guest

Iain Sinclair (PhD, Monash University, 2016) is a Lecturer and Researcher at Nan Tien Institute and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Queensland School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry. He studies the history of religion and art history using primary sources. His published research focuses on Buddhist tantra, medieval Asian history, Sanskrit manuscripts, Newar Buddhism and the Buddhism of the Malay Archipelago.


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