Political Theology World Religions

Biopolitics and Vajrayana Buddhism, Part 1 (Padraic Fitzgerald)

The following is the first of a 3-part series.

Biopolitics, as Michel Foucault argued, views populations through an economic lens, as capital to be preserved and multiplied to keep the nation or tradition afloat and strong. In the secular sphere, this concerns keeping the population healthy, numerous, and reproducing, largely through the promotion of an ideal way of life or body, so that the nation may maintain supremacy in the global relational and economic arena.

Religions also engage in biopolitics with various doctrines describing how adherents should conduct themselves in certain situations and how they should treat their body in a way that aligns with the faith. Occasionally, the biopolitical aims of a religion may mesh with the aims of a larger government. Nevertheless, the biopolitics of a religion may run completely counter to the biopolitical agenda of a ruling power. In an important sense the performance of the Vajrayana Buddhist rituals of Deity Yoga, Chod, and Lalu may be construed as constructing a biopolitical sphere running counter to that found in the West and in powers neighboring its cultural area.

Through the construction of a counter-biopolitics enforced through a combination of doctrinal teachings and ritual practices as well as propagated and enacted on behalf of the local community by charismatic spiritual leaders, a religion may circumvent the biopolitical doctrine of a larger governing entity beginning at the individual level and subsequently growing to the community level and beyond.

A striking example of the potential for the creation and establishment of micro-biopolitical fields by religious specialists may be observed in the ritual practices and accompanying ritual doctrines found within the area of Vajrayana practice.

But what may one define as the biopolitical? An all-encompassing definition can be hard to pin down.  It is not that a definition is elusive, but that facets of the biopolitical are found in differentiating, multitudinous areas of every-day life within the secular governmental and religious hierarchies.

In his lecture series given at the Collège de France in the late 1970s and entitled The Birth of Biopolitics, Foucault describes over the course of three hundred and forty odd pages the framework in which what we now know as the “biopolitical “was birthed. To Foucault the origin of what is biopolitics may be found in the early manifestations of both the modern liberal democratic system and justice, a concept according to Foucault which was brought about to ensure equity and security within the marketplace.

As elaborated by Foucault, justice originated in relation to the matrix of the economy, and to this day notions of justice are seen to be tightly bound to the economic realm and it’s ever shifting tides[1]. Until recently society had as its ruling power and judicial mediator the figure of a king, a visible sovereign entity who possessed the power to regulate and protect much of society with the exception of the economy, the maintenance of which fell to the sovereign’s ruling body of viziers to regulate.

The role of the sovereign was in a sense the fulfilment of a social contract. In the example of Christendom, the sovereign was a figure that was able to make the ultimate dictatorial decision, but also someone who ensured the salvation of his people, spiritually and physically in the sense that the ruler was the protector of the state in which his subjects dwelled[2]. The sovereign figure assured the physical and spiritual salvation of the realm, but the matter of actual bureaucratic government fell to appointed ministers, particularly in regards to the maintenance of the state’s economy.

This economy and its associated regulations and laws directed towards the maintenance of justice that protected participants in the market further burgeoned with globalization and extended to regulations and decrees that would ensure the state’s growth and protection in the global market economy by enacting mandates that assured “the maintenance of a state’s competition with foreign powers, particularly through constant monetary enrichment and steady population increase[3].

Further, according to the concept of raison d’etat, or the “art of government” which originated in the police state as described by Foucault[4], the modern objective of these economic states, as in the form of the modern liberal democratic government, is to maintain an atmosphere of competition with no state rising too far above or below its peers, in other words, political economy[5]. This particular

Portrait of French philosopher Michel Foucault taken on December 16, 1981 at the radio broadcast studio Europe 1 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Alexis Duclos)/APHSL/AP8112160125_1/1309051648
Portrait of French philosopher Michel Foucault taken on December 16, 1981 at the radio broadcast studio Europe 1 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Alexis Duclos)/APHSL/AP8112160125_1/1309051648

notion of the political economy, particularly after the Second World War, found itself within the practice of liberal democratic governments which had risen to the fore and still present the style of rule maintained by most Western states.

These governmental entities have vested interests in the global economy, and utilize various lenses related to political economic practice to analyze the performance and maintenance of government and how to improve upon these things. Particularly during the latter half of the twentieth century and continuing into the present, these economic lenses were turned on the human population in an effort to maximize their output as human capital.

In short, what we now refer to as biopolitics relates to the stock that governmental powers have invested in their human subjects. In regards to the practices and concerns of modern economic powers, biopolitics refers to the optimization of their citizens, keeping them healthy so that they may produce economically and reproduce biologically to continuously ensure that the given governmental power is able to perpetually strengthen itself in regards to its population and its economic power, thus maintaining supremacy on the global scale[6].

Biopolitics and Religion

Concerned with health and continuous growth, the biopolitical can be found with little effort virtually everywhere in the modern world, primarily in the public and political spheres but also in less overt places such as religious institutions or even select social groups. The religio-biopolitical sphere exists simultaneously with the governmental, mirroring the latter’s attempts to influence groups of people to utilize their bodies for certain ends in a type of economy similar to that propagated by the secular biopolitical sphere.

One may conjecture that these goals held by a religious biopolitical sphere can supplement the biopolitical machinations of the larger governmental power by encouraging continued adherence to the biopolitical norms propagated by the latter that pertain to economic and biological reproduction and other endeavors that would safeguard the secular power’s economic and biological supremacy; that being said, religious organizations also have their own biopolitical beliefs and ends that are taught to adherents and that may potentially be utilized to construct spheres of opposing biopolitical influence within the larger, secular biopolitical system.

Concerning the biopolitical within the religious realm, all faiths view the human body in certain ways that could be conducive to the reinforcement of an accompanying secular biopolitical regime.  However, certain faiths espouse doctrines and bodily beliefs that could be seen as in direct opposition to the overarching secular biopolitical systems in which they exist.

For example, general Buddhist thought can be seen as posing the question, “what is the body and does it fundamentally exist?”, a query which is diametrically opposed to the general biopolitical system whose focus is the idea of a singular, whole human form that must be safeguarded and optimized for the betterment of the state. The conceptions of the body projected in Buddhist thought and ritual, particular within the Vajrayana branch of the practice are what I aim to analyze in relation to the notion of the biopolitical.

More precisely, I examine here the practices of the Deity Yoga, Chod, and Lalu rituals and how they can aid in the individual’s or group’s simultaneous realization and circumvention of a biopolitical regime and further, how the practice of these rituals and the observance of Vajrayana doctrine may aid in the construction of microbiopolitical entities under charismatic leaders such as lamas or yogins.

One of the more recent contributors to the conversation regarding religion and the biopolitical is Anya Bernstein and her piece More Alive than all the Living, in which she describes the Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism practiced by the Buryat people and this religion’s relations with the Russian governments over the past century. Bernstein points to the fact that the lamas of the Buryat people circumvented the biopolitical regime of the USSR and current Russian Federation, a regime which demanded absolute adherence and conformance to the Russian ideal body[7].

Conversely, one may see the uncanny abilities and accomplishments of these lamas as constructing a micro biopolitics within a system of macrobiopolitics seen in the Russian governmental power. The macro-biopolitics of the former Soviet Union and the current Russian Federation advocate a typical Western ideal of the human body; it must be healthy and strong as befitting the idealized image of the Russian citizen and must be able to work and reproduce to continuously improve the might of the nation both economically and militarily, ideas lying in opposition to general Buddhist doctrine and ritual practice[8].

To better understand the potential of these rituals, one must understand the officiants that possess the authority to perform and preside over them. The officiants are charismatic religious figures who are thought to possess uncanny attributes and a liminal quality that allows them to relate to their surroundings in ways not comparable with other human beings.

Shamans and other mystics found within the Vajrayana cultural area such as yogic practitioners and incarnate lamas are able to interact with the world and society in a particular way due to their liminal nature, achieved through initiation into their particular spiritual paths and maintained by a liminal, solitary lifestyle highlighted by the performance of austerities and rituals in addition to occasionally adhering to certain lifestyle strictures such as celibacy.

As described by Mircea Eliade in his analysis of the phenomenon of shamanism around the world, the initiations which give the shaman his ability are either a spontaneous vision or a rite which enables a vision which for all intents and purposes renders the shaman temporarily dead to surrounding society. Within the traditions of Central Asia, an area where shamanism intermingles with Vajrayana Buddhism, these visions entail the shamanic initiate being exposed to a graphic vignette of his or her own body being dismembered and reconstituted by the local gods and familial, shamanic ancestors.

Eliade points out that it is precisely because of this initiatory experience that the shaman can perform the ecstatic feats of soul flight, divination, and exorcism[9]. Because of the perceived, temporary death and catatonic state followed by symbolic resurrection the shaman experiences, he is able to transcend the human condition and perform mystical feats. Similarly, within a Vajrayana Buddhist context, meditation on death and the performance of certain austerities empower ritual practitioners to similarly transcend conventional reality[10].

This transcendence by way of achieving an ecstatic state within the contexts of ritual may be both examined alongside and applied in relation to the concept of biopolitics, particularly in regards to spiritual leaders and religious practitioners utilizing the transcendent state to simultaneously realize the prevalence of the overarching biopolitical regime, spread a doctrine running counter to the overarching regime, and then construct a field of microbiopolitics within the existing macro sphere by imparting ritual practice and doctrine to others within the community.

Deity Yoga

The process of transcending the human condition is prevalent in all shamanic rites, as this transcendence of humanity grants the shamanic practitioner the power to go between the realms of existence for divinatory, exorcistic, and other ritual purposes. These shamanic feats entailing the transcendence of the human condition to accomplish uncanny ends can also be located within various rites and practices found in the Vajrayana Buddhism prevalent in the Himalayan and steppe regions of Asia.

Within Tibet in particular, the shamanic tradition runs quite deep and aspects of pre-Buddhist shamanic aspects appear in contemporary Bon and Vajrayana rituals, the latter of which was profoundly influenced by Vedic practices which subsequently migrated north with the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet and Central Asia. Among the Central Asian peoples, the shaman and their abilities of transcendence are associated with birds, particularly eagles, beings equated with the divine and of simultaneous physical and spiritual ascension[11].

Further, a correlate of this concept is found regarding the divine royalty of pre-Buddhist Tibet, themselves thought to be sovereign shamans who were held to transcend their bodies upon death and in short, not truly dying but arising in an alternate, adjacent state of existence[12]. The achievement of personal ascension found in pre-Buddhist shamanic practices correlates with multiple concepts found within Vedic practice, both of which meshed with the ideas of Buddhism when it was introduction to Tibet.

This emphasis on achieving personal ascension gradually filtered through these multiple traditions, from which emerged the practice of Deity Yoga, a rite in which an individual practices an active meditation where they visualize themselves as a Yidam, a tutelary deity held dear to the practitioner. The Yidam embodies certain qualities that the practitioner wishes to emulate, a feat that is accomplished through this meditative yogic practice[13].

The practice of visualization is regarded as a powerful act in all the schools of Buddhism and it can be said to tie in to the concept of not self that is a cornerstone of Buddhist doctrine. Not-self harkens to the concept of impermanence, itself a concept tied to suffering within the Four Noble Truths: “that existence is never free from forms of suffering, suffering is caused by clinging, that cessation of suffering is possible, and that the path to the cessation of suffering is through adherence to the Dharma[14]. Few things in this world are held to be permanent, as many things that conventionally exist will at some point pass away or change.

The ideas of impermanence held in Buddhist thought and practice center around this knowledge that everything in existence is impermanent and will pass away only to rise again in another form at a further point in time. In regards to the human body and the idea of a self, the body is simply a collection of matter assembled in a fashion dependent upon past karmic echoes that houses a shifting consciousness.

This concept can be seen to run counter to the general western concept of the bioplitical. A biopolitical regime puts much focus on the wholeness and maintenance of the human body in addition to the notion of an individual consciousness. Western oriented biopolitical systems can then be viewed as capitalizing on the innate trepidations held within the psyche to accomplish ends resulting in the increased value and production of existing and future human capital.

Through ritual practices such as deity yoga, an individual can veritably if not conventionally change themselves to a deity. By individually transcending the human condition through ritual one may attain the attributes of the desired deity by visualizing and subsequently dissolving the deity back into oneself, thus absorbing that being’s knowledge and other ideal attributes. The practitioner may then utilize the deity’s knowledge and attributes to circumvent and leave the realm of the biopolitical through realization that fascilitates the attainment of nirvana.

This realization allows one to break samsara, the cycle of rebirth and re-death in this lifetime, but also allows one to circumvent an existing biopolitical regime.  Through the practice of Deity Yoga, one realizes true nature, that of not self. By realizing one’s true nature, one realizes that it is only their mind that potentially binds them to the world and subsequently, a biopolitical regime by the notion of clinging to the physical form, which is one of the roots of worldly suffering[15].

Shamanism in Mongolia
Shamanism in Mongolia

The realization of true nature and subsequently the realization that the human body is both permeable and not ultimately real through yogic practice can then be shared with others and spread throughout a community, which can potentially lead to the construction a micro biopolitical framework centered around the original individual or group of ritual practitioners who may then further instruct others in this yogic practice. The spreading of ritual knowledge and doctrine, centered around an individual or small group of individuals can thus further expand the micro-biopoltical field within the macro and enable this growing group of practitioners to circumvent the ideals of the larger regime.

The efficacy of visualization may be truly taken advantage of when the practitioner becomes cognizant of reality and their own perceptions. This harkens back to the concept of impermanence, it is a human tendency to think of themselves as having a central essence, or ego, something relatively immune to the shifting vagaries of the surrounding real[16].

The innate desire to protect this ego from surrounding factors causes suffering to arise, which itself is centered in clinging, primarily clinging to the idea of the human form and desiring to protect it from various external factors. This concept of clinging as the cause of suffering can be summed up in the emotion of jealousy; “jealousy itself as an emotion would be unable to exist without a sense of self-importance held by the individual”[17].

The practice of deity yoga can be held to accomplish two tasks; the realization that the concept of the self is in fact malleable and based in the center of the mind, and the adoption of the enlightened deity’s attributes by becoming that being and dissolving it into your consciousness, thus ideally preserving qualities held by the being such as enlightenment and compassion within the individual upon the completion of the yogic practice.

The practice itself is a ritual and as such, preliminary activities must be performed before the central performance may take place. The practitioner must first cleanse themselves with water and enter into a seated meditation. The ritual thus begins with the practitioner seeking refuge in the highest concepts of the Dharma and beings which embody these concepts such as deities and celestial bodhisattvas, in addition to “one’s innate mind, where emptiness and compassion are truly realized”[18]. By doing this, the practitioner “opens themselves to the prospect of enlightenment” and is thus then able to take a bodhisattva vow to “save all beings”[19].

Following these preparatory steps, the practitioner may then begin to manifest the deity. Primarily, the being is envisioned either in front of or adjacent to the practitioner. If the individual is practiced in this meditation, he or she may envision their own form dissolving into nothingness and subsequently arisen as the deity being venerated. Subsequently the method involved in the popular “For All Beings throughout Space” sadhana, a deity yoga meditation in honor of Avilokitesvara, has the practitioner envision the deity manifesting above the head of the meditator[20].

Ritual and Visualization

Regardless of the practice level of the ritual performer and their visualization abilities, the next primary step within deity yoga practice is the complex visualization of the deity manifesting out of a seed syllable envisioned as either in close proximity to the meditator or replacing the meditator’s body entirely. During this process, the practitioner is simultaneously maintaining the generated image of being surrounded by the multitudinous beings of the various realms of existence.

The seed syllable will differ depending on the deity invoked; for example, in the “For All Beings throughout Space” sadhana dedicated to the celestial bodhisattva Avilkotesvara, the deity is manifested out of the syllable “HRIH”[21], whilst in a similar meditation dedicated to Cakrasamvara, the deity is made manifest out of the syllable “HUM”[22]. The seed syllable is a key part of deity yoga, as the syllable itself is thought to “encode the enlightenment of the figure that it symbolizes”[23]. One may find a parallel with contemporary biopolitical matrices in this practice, which enables the meditator to see the human corpus as no longer a whole entity but rather a conglomerate of interchangeable parts, something to be addressed in the coming paragraphs.

The seed syllable coalesces out of emptiness, as if being perfectly drawn by a phantasmal calligrapher whose ink is brilliant light. As the syllable manifestation becomes whole, the deity is seen to gradually arise out of the same amorphous light that makes up its corresponding seed syllable. When the deity is fully manifest, the practitioner intensely scrutinizes all aspects of the being’s form, as each aspect possessed by it holds a significant meaning, particularly the being’s skin color, attire, and handheld implements.

For instance, if the deity being manifested holds a lotus, it symbolizes bodhisattva nature; just as a lotus blooms in a mire, so to do bodhisattva beings appear among the laity to radiate their enlightenment as the bloom’s beauty is magnified by the surrounding swamp[24]. Upon the contemplation of the deities attributes, the practitioner then envisions both themselves and the rest of the beings in all of the worlds simultaneously reciting prayers and acclamations towards the summoned deity, who is thus envisioned as being pleased with the praise. Within the Avilokitesvara Sadhana, the deity is envisioned as emitting amorphous light beams that are envisioned to enter all beings, including the practitioner, thus transforming all beings and the practitioner into Aviokitesvara, who is the lord of all compassion and whose demeanor and ways will now exist within the practitioner as they are now the deity.

Subsequently, the envisioning of all beings in the multiverse transforming into Avilokitesvara serves as symbolizing the reality of the meditator as being transformed into the pure land, or the home realm of Avilokitesvara[25]. The envisioned transformation of surrounding reality thus facilitates the transference of the bodhisattva’s attributes to the practitioner and all other beings who for all intents and purposes are manifestations of Avilokitesvara himself, symbolizing the inborn ability possessed by all beings to realize the bodhisattva’s attributes[26].

While maintaining the multi-layered visualization, the meditator will chant a mantra associated with the summoned deity, endeavoring to focus on the words of the mantra, themselves thought to be imbued with the power and encoded with the enlightenment of the deity just as the seed syllables are. The mantra serves as an offering to the invoked deity, an incantation recited to empower the being, and also as a reminder of emptiness; “and on top of my head is HE, on my neck is RU, on my heart is KA”, For HE is the causelessness of all events, RU is the impermanence of all events, and KA is the abodelessness of all events. And I awaken compassion when I contemplate these things, for I think: It is because they are ignorant of these things that beings fall into the world; when I have become the Lord Heruka may all beings become aware of them[27].

Individuals well versed in the practice of deity yoga may invoke multiple deities at once or at least envision multiple seed syllables which subsequently represent other deities and their associated attributes. These syllables will then melt into the practitioner as the yoga is performed, thus empowering the practitioner and all envisioned beings. An example of multiple syllables being envisioned can be found in The Meditator Becomes the God; “and on the top of my head is AH, on my heart is HUM: and light radiates forth from these syllables and arouses the body and speech and mind of all Those Who Have Come. And their body and speech and mind cleanse the three poisons of beings, and return into me with the light, and dissolve into the three syllables”[28].

The ritual comes to fruition with the act of dissolution. When ready, the meditator, whilst chanting the mantra of the summoned deity, slowly begins to dissolve the reality and the beings which they have envisioned back into themselves, enough performance of which alters the practitioners awareness, letting them realize that reality itself is in a sense a manifestation of their own mind; the mind assigns values to the various aggregates that it is presented by way of the five senses[29].

The dissolution of the environment, the beings within the environment, and the deity itself is a multi-tiered process in which the meditator visualizes the simultaneous dissolution of all factors into themselves, beginning with the envisioned reality and the envisioned beings, which dissolve into one focal point, which may be either a seed syllable or an object of importance to the conjured deity such as a lotus of Vajra[30]. This syllable or implement is thus absorbed into the practitioner, who will thus take on its qualities in this reality.

Finally, there remains the deity in empty space, who becomes amorphous light and dissolves into its associated seed syllable, which subsequently is “erased”, or dissipates in the reverse of how it was envisioned to be formed, as if painted by an invisible brush with light for ink. The syllable then is said to be erased and all that remains within the mind is “pure sound” and perfect emptiness, upon which practitioner contemplates and to whose mind the sound is thus bound[31]. The sound thus reverberates into the practitioner’s body and is fully absorbed, upon which the meditator slowly arises from the meditative state into waking life.

The envisioning of the deity, all extant beings, and the deity’s abode and the subsequent absorption of all these things is held to impart the powers and qualities of the deity into the conventionally real body of the practitioner. However, within the ritual itself and the various sadhana texts regarding different versions of the ritual there exists not only a method for circumventing the biopolitical, but also parallels with concepts inherent to contemporary biopolitics that may thus be subsequently countered or even used to enhance the teachings of the Dharma as it is seen in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.

Parallels with Genetics

One may see similarities with modern concepts of genetics in the seed syllable of the deity, which is said to encode its own being and qualities just as a strand of DNA contains the template for qualities possessed by individual humans. In addition, this ritual highlights both the impermanence and permeability of the human form, which can then be seen to counter the various ideals held within Western biopolitical systems that seek to enforce the idea of a whole, singular body that must be protected and nurtured for the ultimate fulfilment of the nation state.

With concerns towards the biopolitical, the contemporary fields of genetics and medicine can open up a debate concerning the wholeness of the human body; current advancements in genetics and other medical technologies that allow human modification such as organ transplants and various grafting techniques allow for the alteration and modification of existing human beings seen as whole individuals, thus bringing the wholeness of the individual into question.

yoga-657051_960_720This quandary coincides with Buddhist thought as far as the theory of no-self is concerned, as it teaches that very few things, human beings especially, can be thought of as ultimately real and permanent fixtures of reality. The deity yoga ritual can thus serve to draw attention to a metaphysical aspect of modern biopolitics in relation to contemporary biomedical pursuits which highlight the interchangeability of forms inherent to both the deity yoga ritual and the modern medical sciences. With current advances in the biomedical field there has come a “rupture with the perception of an integral body. The body is increasingly seen not as an organic substratum but as molecular software that can be read and rewritten”[32].

The practitioner envisioning the summoned deity and all the beings of the universe dissolving into his or herself and granting their collective attributes to the practitioner can be seen as spiritually modifying the practitioner’s body with the ideal, perfected attributes of the summoned deity. This can be seen as the rewriting of one’s “spiritual” DNA by which one’s inner nature is altered[33].

With this thought one may conjecture that this ritual practice can also aid an individual or group of individuals in recognizing the biopolitical matrix in which they either dwell or are adjacent to, and allow them to circumvent it by either gaining realization which will allow them to either cease reincarnating in a biopolitical system, reincarnate as a bodhisattva who will continue the propagation of doctrine and ritual practice that can help other beings achieve the realization to escape the cycle of re-birth and re-death, or utilizing the knowledge gained from envisioning and reabsorbing a deity into oneself to spread ritual and doctrine to the surrounding community, planting the seeds to grow a micro biopolitical system within the macro biopolitical system.

By conjuring a being of immense power out of nothingness within the mind’s eye and then reabsorbing this being back into oneself, an individual may thus impart the lessons learned to others, subsequently formulating a field of micro biopolitics within the larger biopolitical matrix that can then be used to counter the larger biopolitical hegemony. Practices of envisioning and the granting of attributes are not localized exclusively to deity yoga within a Tibetan Buddhist context, such qualities may also be found in other rituals, particularly Chod, a practice with many shamanic elements which focuses on the impermanence of the human form by envisioning the practitioners own graphic death.

The practice of such a ritual serves to not only focus the practitioner’s mind upon the inevitability and liminality of the death experience, it also serves to dispel fear and the concept of clinging as practiced by the ego.


Padraic Fitzgerald received his MA degree in religious studies from the University of Denver.   His interests, according to Facebook, include “fitness, heavy metal, the esoteric and occult content of religions, wizardry, and casual nihilism.”

[1] Michel Foucault and Michel Senellart, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-79 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 30.

[2] Foucault and Senellart, The Birth of Biopolitics, 4.

[3] Foucault and Senellart, The Birth of Biopolitics, 5.

[4] Foucault and Senellart, The Birth of Biopolitics, 9.

[5] Foucault and Senellart, The Birth of Biopolitics, 14.

[6] Foucault and Senellart, The Birth of Biopolitics, 5.

[7] Anya Bernstein, “More Alive than all the Living: Sovereign Bodies and Cosmic Politics in Buddhist Siberia,” Cultural Anthropology 27 (2012): 264

[8] Bernstein, “More Alive than all the Living,” 267.

[9] Mircea Eliade, “Initiatory Sicknesses and Dreams,” in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964), 33-64.

[10] Mircea Eliade, “Initiatory Sicknesses and Dreams,” 63.

[11] Mircea Eliade,Obtaining Shamanic Powers,” in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964), 69.

[12] Anya Bernsteain, More Alive than all the Living, 268-270.

[13] Yeshe Tsogyal, “Vajrayana Mind Training,” in Dakini Teachings: Padmasambhava’s Instructions to Lady Tsogyal, trans. Erik Pema Kunsang (Boston & London: Shambhala, 1990), 113.

[14] Patrul Rinpoche, Words of my Perfect Teacher, trans. Padmakara Translation Group (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), xlii-xliii.

[15] Matthieu Ricard, “Buddhist Perspectives on Mental Imagery,” in The Dalai Lama at MIT, ed. Anne Harrington and Arthur Zajonc (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 70.

[16] Ricard, “Buddhist Perspectives on Imagery,” 70-72.

[17] Ricard, “Buddhist Perspectives on Imagery,” 70.

[18] Stephan Beyer, “The Vision and the Word,” in The Buddhist Experience: Sources and Interpretations, ed. Stephan Beyer et al. (Encino & Belmont: Dickenson Publishing Company, 1974), 140.

[19] Beyer, “The Vision and the Word,” 140-141.

[20] Janet Gyatso “An Avilokitesvara Sadhana,” in Religions of Tibet in Practice, ed. Donald S. Lopez Jr. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 267.

[21] Gyatso, “An Avilokitesvara Sadhana,” 268.

[22] Beyer, “The Vision and the Word,” 141.

[23] Gyatso, “An Avilokitesvara Sadhana,” 268.

[24] Gyatso, “An Avilokitesvara Sadhana,” 268.

[25] Gyatso, “An Avilokitesvara Sadhana,” 266-269.

[26] Gyatso, “An Avilokitesvara Sadhana,” 268.

[27] Beyer, “The Vision and the Word,” 145.

[28] Beyer, “The Vision and the Word,” 149.

[29] Ricard, “Buddhist Perspectives on Imagery,” 73-78.

[30] Beyer, “The Vision and the Word,” 152.

[31] Beyer, “The Vision and the Word,” 153.

[32] Thomas Lemke, “The Disappearance and Transformation of Politics,” in Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction, trans. Eric Frederick Trump (New York & London: New York University Press, 2011), 93.

[33] Lemke, “The Disappearance and Transformation of Politics,” 94. Lemke goes into further detail on the increasing “interchangeability” of the human body here and the contemporary ability to modify and edit the human form. I took the liberty of viewing the outcome of the deity yoga ritual through this particular lens of modern biotechnology.

One thought on “Biopolitics and Vajrayana Buddhism, Part 1 (Padraic Fitzgerald)

  1. To be considered, also, the buddhist counter-biopolitics of not giving birth, not bringing into existence other humans. Not in the sense that bringing humans to life should be a blamable act, but in the sense that this is not representative and a priority for human beings, the priority being the liberation from suffering and from samsara.

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