Re-making, Re-marking, or Re-using? Hermeneutical Strategies and Challenges in the Guhyasam?ja Commentarial Literature


  • Paul G. Hackett Columbia University



Tantra, hermeneutics, Guhyasamāja, śāstric commentary


This paper presents a case study in the exegesis of Buddhist tantric literature by examining a segment of the corpus of Guhyasam?ja literature and, in doing so, addresses both emic and etic approaches to the hermeneutics of tantric texts. On the most basic level, we discuss the mechanisms for interpreting statements within the root tantra internal to the exegetical tantric literature itself, as exemplified by Candrak?rti’s ‘Brightening Lamp’ (Prad?poddyotana) commentary and the extensive sub-commentary by Bhavyak?rti. On another level, however, these same exegetical moves can be viewed in terms of the ideas ‘re-use’ and reformulation of the root text, and how they shape the understanding of the role and function of tantric commentary.


Canonical texts and collections

n.d. Guhysam?ja Tantra. Sanskrit text: see Matsunaga 1978; Tibetan text: Dpal gsang ba ’dus pa zhes bya ba rgyud kyi rgyal po chen po. In Bka’ ’gyur (Snar thang). Rgyud, vol. CA, fol. 64a7–153a2; Chinese text: ?????????????????? [fú shu? y? qiè rú lái j?n g?ng s?n yè zuì shàng mì mì dà jiào wáng j?ng]. In Taisho Tripitaka. vol. XVIII, T. 885.

2004. ’Bras spungs dgon du bzhugs su gsol ba’i dpe rnying dkar chag. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

1742. Bka’ ’gyur (Snar thang). Tibet: Snar-thang Par-khang.

1742. Bstan ’gyur (Snar thang). Tibet: Snar-thang Par-khang.


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Bhavyak?rti. Prad?poddyotan?bhisa?dhi-prak??ik?-n?ma-vy?khy?-??k?. Tibetan text: Sgron ma gsal bar byed pa’i dgongs pa rab gsal zhes bya ba bshad pa’i ?? k?. In Bstan ’gyur (Snar thang). Rgyud-’grel, vol. A, fol. 1b1–338a7; vol. KI, fol. 57b5–227a3.

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How to Cite

Hackett, P. G. (2017). Re-making, Re-marking, or Re-using? Hermeneutical Strategies and Challenges in the Guhyasam?ja Commentarial Literature. Buddhist Studies Review, 33(1-2), 163–179.



Reuse in Buddhist Canonical Texts