The subtle body in the esoteric Buddhist art of the Himalayas
Ethridge, Lindsay Lewis
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The visual culture related to yoga and the subtle body is gaining popularity at a remarkable rate. Surprisingly, however, within this new field of inquiry, Buddhist material has been largely ignored. Unfortunately, the few attempts that have been made to study Buddhist representations of the subtle body are problematic at best, employing the limited and ultimately inappropriate strategy of viewing images as illustrations of specific canonical texts. This study, in contrast, aims to shed such methods and first consider the visual evidence in isolation. It takes into consideration three nearly identical nineteenth-century Himalayan thangkas, one nineteenth-century Nepalese painting, and one double-sided eleventh-century Tibetan painting, exploring the ways in which these five images reflect the philosophy and practice of Vajrayāna Buddhism. It is hoped that an examination of these didactic tools helps to illuminate one of the ways in which esoteric knowledge was transmitted within traditions that celebrate transformative yogic practice.