The Taming of the Demons

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Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism

Jacob P. Dalton

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The Taming of the Demons examines mythic and ritual themes of violence, demon taming, and blood sacrifice in Tibetan Buddhism. Taking as its starting point Tibet’s so-called age of fragmentation (842 to 986 C.E.), the book draws on previously unstudied manuscripts discovered in the “library cave” near Dunhuang, on the old Silk Road. These ancient documents, it argues, demonstrate how this purportedly inactive period in Tibetan history was in fact crucial to the Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism, and particularly to the spread of violent themes from tantric Buddhism into Tibet at the local and the popular levels. Having shed light on this “dark age” of Tibetan history, the second half of the book turns to how, from the late tenth century onward, the period came to play a vital symbolic role in Tibet, as a violent historical “other” against which the Tibetan Buddhist tradition defined itself.

Jacob P. Dalton is assistant professor of Tibetan Buddhist studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

"Dalton offers clear and concise explanations and provides background information, thus making the content accessible to upper-level undergraduates or graduate students with only a minimal understanding of tantric or Tibetan Buddhism . . . Highly recommended."—A.L. Folk, Choice

 “This well-documented study is a great contribution to our understanding of how Tibetan Buddhism was formed and goes a long way to explain some of the more unusual aspects of this tradition. Dalton’s work displays impressive scholarship and provides a very innovative and original take on an important and yet not well-understood aspect of Tibetan Buddhism.  It will be an important book.”—Georges Dreyfus, Williams College

“Shining a light on esoteric texts from the seldom-studied “dark” period of Tibetan Buddhism, this important book follows their ritual and rhetorical legacy into modern times, bringing us face to face with one of the greatest challenges to our interpretive abilities in all of Tibetan religious history.  The incisive questions it raises, not only about the difference between symbols and the real, but also the very valence of violence in the religious – and ethical -- life of humankind, will be ours to ponder for a long time.”—Janet Gyatso, Harvard University

“Jacob Dalton's Taming the Demons is the single best book to date on Buddhists' (and especially Tibetans')  struggle to come to terms with the religious sanctioning of violence. Staggering in its breath, and covering 2000 years of Buddhist textual history, the book explores Buddhist attitudes toward violence in literature as diverse as Indian monastic texts, tantric myths and rites, moral treatises, biographies, and legal speculation. A major contribution to our understanding of Buddhism.”— José Ignacio Cabezón, UC Santa Barbara

"This is a complex book that is sure to provoke specialists, but also a very fluent, erudite and compelling race through the history of Tibetan civilization...Jacob Dalton has done a great service to the field."—George Fitzherbert, Times Literary Supplement

Shortlisted for the 2012 Academy of Religion Book Awards in the Historical Study of Religion category.

Winner of the 2013 E. Gene Smith Book Prize on Inner Asia given by the China and Inner Asian Council, both are regional councils of the Association for Asian Studies.

Winner of the 2013 Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize sponsored by the South Asia council, a regional council of the Association for Asian Studies.
ISBN: 9780300187960
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
328 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
6 b/w illus.