Jianfu Lu

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2013/2014
discipline Religious Studies
Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for Religious Studies, Shaanxi Normal University

Research project

Dhāraṇīyāna Studies: Chinese and Tibetan Tantric Buddhism


Dhāraṇīyāna is a tradition of the esoteric Buddhism, based on faith in Dhāraṇī (ritual speech formulas similar to mantras), which represents the earliest stage in the development of the esoteric Buddhism. Esoteric Buddhism, often called Tantric Buddhism, is the school of Buddhism, which appeared during the latest stages of the history of the Indian Buddhism. Buddhists in China and Tibet understood the concept of Esoteric Buddhism differently; the usage of this term in the western scholarship also differs from that in the East. In the Tibetan Buddhism, the Esoteric Buddhism is known as “Tantra” and is divided into four classes: Kryā tantra, Caryā tantra, Yogā tantra, and Anuttara Yogā Tantra. Western scholars often based their definition of the Esoteric Buddhism on this classification and called it “Tantra” or “Tantric Buddhism.”


Scholars developed the concept of the “Esoteric Buddhism” in order to distinguish between the Esoteric Buddhism in the tradition of Chinese Buddhism, and the Tantric Buddhism of the India-Tibetan Buddhist origin. According to the Chinese Buddhist sources, the concept of the “three secrets” has been developed in its full form by the 8th century. We think that the history of the Esoteric Buddhism could be described as gradual formation of the tradition based on the “three secrets.” It has been originated in tradition of using techniques of dhāraṇī inside the Mahāyāna Buddhism. Thus the earliest Esoteric Buddhism was a school centered around dhāraṇī, but of all “ three secrets” only the secret of speech was present (Dhāraṇiyāna), therefore this earliest version of the Esoteric Buddhism could only be referred to as the primeval Esoteric Buddhism. Later, mudras has been added and the new system of the Esoteric Buddhism has been developed – the Vidyādhārayāna, the system which included the “secret of body” and represented by the text named Vidyādhāra-piṭakaṃ. Finally, yoga meditation (the secret of mind) has been formed and the so-called Mantrayāna has been established. Thus, the process of formation of the full system of the Esoteric Buddhism has been finished.


In this research, I shall develop the concept of Dhāraṇīyāna as the primeval form of the Esoteric Buddhism. This project will take full advantage of using early Chinese translations of the Buddhist texts and compare it with later Tibetan and Sanskrit sources. In the research, I shall define the meaning of the concept of dhāraṇī and track its evolution, explain the differences between dhāraṇī and other forms of speech formulas (vidyā, mantra, pada etc.) and connections between them, shall study functions and significance of the forms of dhāraṇī in the Mahāyāna school and other forms of dhāraṇī (dhāraṇī-mukha, dharma-pada etc.) and explain influence of Dhāraṇīyāna on the later Esoteric and Tantric Buddhism. 



Jianfu Lu is Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for Religious Studies, Shaanxi Normal University. He holds a Ph.D. on Philosophy from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He has been awarded numerous prestigious research grants, and is currently directing the Chinese Social Sciences Research Project on the History of Buddhist Tantric Philosophy.


He is mainly engaged in the research and teaching of Religion, Buddhism, focuses on study of the Esoteric Buddhism, teaches courses on principles of religion, Buddhism History, Intellectual History, Buddhist Literature.

Selected publications


Mijiao lunkao 密教论考 (Discussion and Research on the Esoteric Buddism, Collected Essays on Tantric Buddhism), Zongjiao wenhua (Religious Culture Publishing House), Beijing, 2008.


Tuzu shi 土族史 (History of Tu’nationality), Zhongguo shehui kexue (China Social Science Press), Beijing, 2002.


Zhongguo mijiao shi 中国密教史 (History of Chinese Tantric Buddhism), Zhongguo shehui kexue (China Social Science Press), Beijing, 1995; revised ed. 2002.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Art History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Mathematics