Review: Vajrayogini – Elizabeth English

Vajrayogini: Her Visualizations, Rituals, and Forms – Elizabeth English
Wisdom Publications. 2002. 563pp. 086171329X.

Vajrayogini is one of the primary female figures of Vajrayana Buddhism. Her practice stems from the earliest reaches of Tantric Buddhism and continues to be popular to this day. Beautiful and fierce, loving and powerful. This massive tome is all about her. Let me make this clear though, this text is academic, it’s adapted from a thesis, nearly 600 pages. If you’re curious about Vajrayogini, this isn’t the book for you, if you’re a practitioner of her sadhanas, this still might not be the book for you, but if you’re very serious about understanding her, this is the book for you. (Or if you have a lama like mine who insisted I read this as part of my preparation for her empowerment.)

This book isn’t about Vajrayogini in general, but specifically focusing on her appearance in a twelfth or thirteenth century manuscript that collected sadhanas devoted to her. English states that “I hope the book will serve a double purpose: examining, from out textual evidence, the cult of Vajrayogini in India prior to 1200 C.E., and shedding light on tantric sadhana meditation” (xx). She accomplishes both goals quite well, it’s dense and academic, but thorough and well laid out.

The text follows the origins of the wrathful and erotic in Tantric Buddhism to Saiva praxis. Saiva mythology being adapted into a Buddhist cosmology is explained in a way that really clarifies a lot of the history and connection between the traditions. For those of us who practice Vajrayogini sadhanas and/or rituals of emanations of her (like Machik in some conceptions) there is an explanation of 17 different forms and emanations of Vajrayogini and what they mean and represent and where they came from. For the symbolism of figures like Vajrayogini this is the most detailed and complete writing on the topic I’ve ever come across.

Moving from the figure of Vajrayogini herself English explores the sadhana, breaking it down into smaller parts, while offering remarkably in-depth analysis of these sections. From benedictions, to creating the Circle of Protection, to Generating Vajrayogini to the mandala, and into specific practices. This is 110 pages of how to do the basic rituals, while that might sound like it will teach you, it requires a lot of prior knowledge to understand how to assemble and use all this information.

As someone who has been practicing chöd for coming up on two years, this book was very insightful due to the connection of Machik (founder of chöd) being an emanation of Vajrayogini. This is a book that takes a lot to read, it is long, complicated, and dense, but for those serious in their practice it is a great text to read, though one that will constantly have to be referred to in order to make use of the massive amount of information there in. If you’re interested in the tradition and history of Tantric Buddhism this text also has a lot to offer.

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One Response to Review: Vajrayogini – Elizabeth English

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