Transgression and Encounters with the Terrible in Buddhist and Śaiva Tantras

1st Zurich International Conference on Indian Literature and Philosophy (ZICILP), February 19–20, 2016


Prof. Dr. Angelika Malinar, Dr. Olga Serbaeva


Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies – Indian Studies and URPP Asia and Europe


University of Zurich, Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, Room RAA E-29, Rämistrasse 59, 8001 Zürich


Religious-philosophical texts, doctrines and practices referred to by scholars as “Tantric” are renowned for propagating not only liberation, but also the acquisition of extra-ordinary powers as a goal initiated adepts should strive for. The latter includes also ritual practices that entail an infringement of the (often Veda based) rules and norms that usual regulate socio-ritual behaviour. For instance, the ritual consumption of “impure” products of the body, ritualized cannibalism, the use of body parts of the victim in a variety of magic procedures, illicit sexual practices belong to a typical set of transgressive practices that can be found in many early Śaiva and Buddhist Tantras. Encounters with frightening, terrible aspects of gods and goddesses as well as with horrible demonic and other non-human powers are also important aspects of the empowerment of the adepts. These elements are characteristic for Tantrism as a religious formation that has been followed across various Hindu and Buddhist traditions not only in South Asia, but also in South-East and East Asia.

The conference aims to explore different levels at which Buddhist and Śaiva Tantras are interconnected. The focus is on the ritual and dogmatic similarities between these two religious traditions in relation to transgressive rituals and encounters of the practitioners with frightening and ambivalent beings (yoginīs, ḍākinīs, rākṣasas, etc.) brought about by those rituals. It shall be discussed how the inclusion of transgression and the horrible is conceptualized in Buddhist and Śaiva texts, and in which ways such practices are related to or embedded in standard normative contexts.

This event inaugurates the Zurich International Conference on Indian Literature and Philosophy (ZICILP). This conference is dedicated to the study of the history and selected themes of Indian Literature and Philosophy in the past and present. This international conference aims to bring together scholars from various fields for discussing their research and further developing the scope and the methods of study. The conference is regularly hosted by the Department of Indian Studies of the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, University of Zurich.