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Making a Mantra: Tantric Ritual and Renunciation on the Jain Path to Liberation
by Ellen Gough
University of Chicago Press, 2021
Paper: 978-0-226-76706-2 | eISBN: 978-0-226-76723-9 | Cloth: 978-0-226-76690-4

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Jainism originated in India and shares some features with Buddhism and Hinduism, but it is a distinct tradition with its own key texts, art, rituals, beliefs, and history. One important way in which it has often been distinguished from Buddhism and Hinduism is through the highly contested category of Tantra: Jainism, unlike the others, is said to be a non-tantric tradition. But in Making a Mantra, historian of religions Ellen Gough refines and challenges our understanding of Tantra by looking at the development over two millennia of something that has never been considered “tantric”: a Jain incantation, or mantra, that evolved from an auspicious invocation in a second-century text into a key component of mendicant initiations and meditations that continue to this day.

Typically, Jainism is characterized as a celibate, ascetic path to liberation in which one destroys karma through austerities, while the tantric path to liberation is characterized as embracing the pleasures of the material world, requiring the ritual use of mantras to destroy karma. Gough, however, argues that asceticism and Tantra should not be viewed in opposition to one another. She does so by showing that Jains perform “tantric” rituals of initiation and meditation on mantras and mandalas. Jainism includes kinds of tantric practices, Gough provocatively argues, because tantric practices are a logical extension of the ascetic path to liberation.
 

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