with the salvation of others.
Towards the middle of the 5th century AD Indians began to take more and
more interest in the cults of feminine divinities and in the practice of magico-
religious rites, which were believed to lead to salvation or to supreme human
power, and which often contained licentious or repulsive features.
The new magical Buddhism, like magical Hinduism that arose at about
the same time is often known as Tantrism, from the Tantras or scriptures of
the sects, describing the spells, formulas, and rites that the systems
advocated. Probably Tantrism did not appear in organised Buddhism until the
seventh century, when Hiuen Tsang reported that certain monastic
communities were given to certain magical practices. Tantric Buddhism was
of two main branches, known as Right Hand and Left Hand, as in tantrik
Hinduism. The Right Hand (dakshinachara), though it became very
influential in China and Japan, has left little surviving literature in Sanskrit; it
was characterised by devotion to masculine divinities. The Left Hand
(vamachara) sects, to which the name Vajrayana (Vehicle of the
Thunderbolt) was chiefly applied, postulated feminine counterparts or wives
of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other divinities of the mythology of later
Buddhism, and devoted their chief attention to these Taras or ‘Saviours’.
Among the chief features of the ritual of Vajrayana was the repetition of
mystical syllables and phrases (mantras), such as the famous Om mani
padme hum. Yoga postures and meditation were practised. But the tantric
groups also followed more questionable methods of gaining salvation. It was
believed that once the adept had reached a certain degree of spiritual
attainment the normal rules of moral behaviour were no longer valid for him,
and that their deliberate breach, if committed in an atmosphere of sanctity,
would actually help him on the upward path. Thus drunkenness, meat-eating
and sexual promiscuity were often indulged in, as well as such practices as
eating excrement, and sometimes even ritual murder.
With the gradual decline of Buddhist philosophical scholarship by the
fifth-sixth century AD, the mantraic literature and the ritualistic worship was
revived along with the appearance of a number of distinguished Tantric