Comments on “The Buddha and the necrophiliac witch”


Reading tantras

Ber's picture

Hi David
Thanks for one more captivating post. One question though: Where are the damn tantras? I'd be curious to read more of them but it looks like quasi none were translated or what? For the Buddhadkapala it looks like there is no English translation at all, how is it even possible?

Tantras in translation

Hi Ber

Yes, only a half-dozen or so have been translated, and some of those only partially. There are hundreds of them, at least, so this is a tiny fraction.

They are big, strange, ancient texts that are difficult to translate at best. And the Tibetans mostly don't want them to be translated. It's particularly difficult to translate them if you aren't a native speaker, and the native speakers refuse to help you.

In most cases, the Tibetan texts are easily available; in fact the whole Nyingma collection of Tantras is online at . So the supposed "secrecy" is just not wanting non-Tibetans to get access.

(I couldn't find the text of the Buddhakapala there. I'm not sure why not. I did find several related texts—commentaries and ritual manuals. Maybe I overlooked it somehow.)

Some tantras that are available in English are the Guhyagarbha, the Candamaharosana, the Chakrasamvara, and the Hevajra. Probably others that aren't coming to mind.

Mostly they aren't very interesting to read. To get anything out of them, you need an awful lot of conceptual context and practice experience. There are some fun bits (like the opening of the Buddhakapala) but an awful lot of boring stupid stuff, plus stuff that only makes sense if you know what to look for.

Thank you very much, that is

Ber's picture

Thank you very much, that is exactly the information I was looking for. Here is an old microfilmed dissertation on tantric medicine, with a translation of the mahakala tantra :
It has cooking recipes and a list of ingredients in appendice, that I thought you might find intriguing. The whole website contains a lot of material, difficult to use though, for me with a limited knowledge of the topic.

Glad you liked it!

I'm glad you liked it!

I had a lot of fun writing it.

You might be surprised to find how close my version of the story is to Davidson's...

Further inspiration

David, you may find further inspiration in the following two books.

1) Travels in the Netherworld by Bryan Cuevas. Cuevas wrote a/the big study about the history of the Tibetan Bardo texts. In this smaler book he tells about Tibetan folk tales about the so called déloks, people who died, traveled to the realm of the dead and then returned to tell their stories.

2) The Taming of the Demons by Jacob Dalton. He writes about two manuscripts from the Dunhuang cave. One is about the so called "liberation rite" (sgrol ba) which in this case seems to be meant literally – i.e. human sacrifice.

In both cases we learn that all these human remains wrathful deities in Tibetan Buddhism cary with them might not have been meant metaphorically at all in the good old days.

... btw: do you know The House of Leaves? I read it years ago. It keept me up three nights spell bound.

Best, Matthias


Thank you very much for these recommendations! As it happens, I know all three books and have indeed drawn inspiration from them.

I'll be drawing heavily on the délok literature (which I know mostly from Cuevas' book) later in my Buddhist vampire novel. (I haven't yet written those chapters.)

Jacob Dalton is great. I've read several things by him. His Demons book was one of the major sources for the political history of tantra I was planning to write on my Wordpress blog. I was going to explain why current Tibetan tantra is so screwed up, and some of his insights are key in that. (I decided to drop that project.)

I've written briefly about House of Leaves before on this site. It's a remarkable book!