In his recent book, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism: Amoghavajra, the Ruling Elite, and the Emergence of a Tradition (Columbia University Press, 2019), Geoffrey Goble examines the emergence and early history of esoteric Buddhism in China. In contrast to earlier scholarship, Goble contends that it was really Amoghavajra (rather than the two patriarchs preceding him in the lineage) who systematized esoteric Buddhism into a somewhat internally coherent collection of texts and practices. Goble looks at why the Tang-period elite found Amoghavajra’s system so attractive (which was in part due to esoteric Buddhism’s military applications). He also explores the way in which esoteric Buddhism managed to neatly fit into a larger system that Goble calls imperial religion, and examines the reasons why there was some confusion after Amoghavajra’s death as to whether or not his teachings constituted a distinct tradition. This book delves into political, military, and intellectual history to give us an account of the period that will be fascinating for anyone interested in Tang-period Buddhism, and for anyone interested more broadly in the relationships between religious traditions and elite patronage systems. I hope that you enjoy the interview.
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