"Ritual manuals are among the most common and most personal forms of Buddhist literature. Since at least the late fifth century, individual practitioners―including monks, nuns, teachers, disciples, and laypeople―have kept texts describing how to perform the daily rites. These manuals represent an intimate counterpart to the canonical sutras and the tantras, speaking to the lived experience of Buddhist practice.
Conjuring the Buddha offers a history of early tantric Buddhist ritual through the lens of the Tibetan manuscripts discovered near Dunhuang on the ancient Silk Road. Jacob P. Dalton argues that the spread of ritual manuals offered Buddhists an extracanonical literary form through which to engage with their tradition in new and locally specific ways. He suggests that ritual manuals were the literary precursors to the tantras, crucial to the emergence of esoteric Buddhism. Examining a series of ninth- and tenth-century tantric manuals from Dunhuang, Dalton uncovers lost moments in the development of rituals such as consecration, possession, sexual yoga, the Great Perfection, and the subtle body practices of the winds and channels. He also traces the use of poetic language in ritual manuals, showing how at pivotal moments, metaphor, simile, rhythm, and rhyme were deployed to evoke carefully sculpted affective experiences. Offering an unprecedented glimpse into the personal practice of early tantric Buddhists, Conjuring the Buddha provides new insight into the origins and development of the tantric tradition."