A twilight language
) is a polysemic
language and communication system associated with tantric
traditions in Buddhism
. It includes visual communication
, verbal communication
and nonverbal communication
texts are often written in a form of 'twilight language' that is incomprehensible to the uninitiated reader. As part of an esoteric
tradition of initiation
, the texts are not to be employed by those without an experienced guide and the use of 'twilight language' ensures that the uninitiated do not easily gain access to the knowledge contained in these works. According to Judith Simmer-Brown:
As has often been said, tantric texts are written in "twilight language" (sandha-bhasa, gongpe-ke), which, as the Hevajra-tantra states, is a "secret language, that great convention of the yoginis, which the shravakas and others cannot unriddle". This means that the texts of Buddhist tantra cannot be understood without the specific oral commentary by authorized Vajrayana teachers
The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism
is a 1986
book by Roderick Bucknell and Martin Stuart-Fox. The authors explore the existence of a "Twilight language" (Sanskrit ) employed in the exegesis of sacred texts and communication systems within dharmic traditions
. This 'twilight language' is employed to simultaneously evoke a spectrum of sub rosa
meanings and concealment of esoteric
truths through intentionally opaque
, gesture, codes and signs.
To provide a cypher of the code of , the authors drew upon: semiotics, symbolism, iconography, Asian religions, Asian Philosophy, Indian religions, Indian philosophy, Buddhist symbolism, temple architecture, cosmology, mathematical notations, Zen Buddhism, Japanese Art, meditation, personal sadhana, tantra, macrocosm-microcosm parallelism, dialogue with many teachers including Anagarika Govinda and senior members of the Krishnamurti community. (1986: p.vii-xiii)
Classifications and numerology
Numbers, numerology and the spirituality of numerals is key to the twilight language
and endemic to Vajrayana
as it is throughout Indian religions
. Numbers that are particularly frequent in classification are three, five and nine. As Bucknell, et al.
(1986: p.110) state:
The fivefold classification presented in the tantras is remarkably comprehensive, embracing objects of every conceivable type; it includes the infamous set of 'five Ms' (fish, meat, wine, mudrā, sexual intercourse) and even a set of five 'body fluids' faeces, urine, blood, semen, flesh. In addition it includes sets of doctrinal principles, such as the five skandhas (factors of existence), the four kāyas (Buddha-bodies) and the triad prajña, upāya, bodhicitta (wisdom, means, enlightenment-mind). For example, prajña, upāya, and bodhicitta are identified with the triads female/male/union, Amitābha/Akṣobhya/Vairocana, and so on, and are thus implicitly assigned to the water, fire, and space groups respectively.
Although 'twilight language' is primarily a feature of esoteric
traditions such as the Vajrayana
, Bucknell, et al.
(1986: p.vii) cite the Thai bhikku Buddhadasa
as having explored "the importance of symbolic language in the Pali canon...in a number of lectures and publications.. Twilight language is a more highly codified form of the symbolic
language that is prevalent in much religious
As Bucknell, et al.
(1986: p.vii) concisely state in implying a dichotomy between Indian Vajrayana and Himalayan Vajrayana:
In the Vajrayana tradition, now preserved mainly in Tibetan sects, it has long been recognized that certain important teachings are expressed in a form of secret symbolic language known as , 'Twilight Language'. Mudrās and mantras, and cakras, those mysterious devices and diagrams that were so much in vogue in the pseudo-Buddhist hippie culture of the 1960s, were all examples of Twilight Language [...]
In Tantric Practice
As well as providing a means of protecting the secrecy of esoteric
teachings, 'twilight language' is also, in itself, a means of instruction. According to Layne Little:
Tantrism plays with language much like it plays with the social conventions and the ethical structures which it subverts. It employs an enigmatic language which is said to project the yogin into the "paradoxical situation" which is "indispensable to his training.
- Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism. Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4
- Nordstrom, L. (1989). Philosophy East and West. Pp: 104-106. (A detractory review of Bucknell et al's The Twilight Language.)
- Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin, Response to Lou Nordstrom's Review of "The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism", Philosophy East and West (1989).