This article uses theory developed in the study of NRMs to analyze strategies of legitimation employed by the Chinese Buddhist Wang Xiangliu (1876–1937) as he sought to spread a new form of esoteric Buddhism in 1930s China. It discusses the specific historical and religious context in which Wang was operating in order to identify the particular tensions between the new Heart-of-Mind Method and the dominant culture. This context resulted in the specific issues that Wang focused on in arguing for the legitimacy of this nascent tradition, which included: 1) claims in society that esoteric Buddhism is “superstitious;” 2) changing cultural and political attitudes toward Japan and Tibet, which were the sources of much esoteric teaching in circulation in China during that period; and 3) the religious demand that any esoteric lineage be based upon a legitimate, traditional lineage which had the potential to undermine apparently sui generis traditions like Wang’s.

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