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  1. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XIV

    “I bow always to she who is the very self
    of Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra,
    the real form of the three gunas!
    I bow always to she who is the form of moon,
    sun and fire, her eyes restless with desire!
    I bow always to she who is the very self of Brahma,
    Vishnu and Siva, bestower of liberation whilst living,
    Giver of knowledge and consciousness!”
    Matrikabheda Tantra (transl. Mike Magee)

    Now to verse 25 of Saundaryalahari. Continue reading »

  2. Krishna in the dock: the 1862 Maharaja libel case and its consequences – III

    “Through a long night of superstition and darkness, vile creatures like this Maharaj have been able to make their dens of vice and debauchery seem to their spell-bound followers to be the holy temples of God. But as soon as the morning light comes, the place is found in full corruption and uncleanness; magical spells lose all effect; and men of a better sort rise disgusted, and at any cost break loose from such a haunt.”
    Times of India May 2, 1862

    Some recent correspondence has reminded me that I had more to say about the Maharaja libel case. For this post, I’m going to examine some of the intersecting factors which allowed Gujurati social reformers to enter into a strategic alliance with Imperial law, with far-reaching effects. Continue reading »

  3. Heart Practice: approaching the tantric body-in-practice – I

    “The most immediate and concrete means of persuading people of the reality of divine power is to involve their bodies.”
    Thomas Csordas, Somatic Modes of Attention

    I’m going to progress this series by considering various themes related to the “tantric” body-in-practice. This is a massive subject, and I’ll begin by outlining what I mean by the “body-in-practice” and why this is a useful way of considering practice(see Tantra keywords: Embodied for some earlier reflections). Attempting to discuss the various different modes of tantra practice can be a tricky proposition, as it is, I often find, difficult to seperate them easily – as they work across different domains. In exploring Nyasa for example, at some point one will have to deal with how nyasa intersects with mantra-vidya. In considering mudras, it might be desirable to discuss how mudras ‘work’ across several registers simultaneously – from the broadly cosmological, the social, and the personal; as energetic movements through space and and at the same time, public, dialogical gestures. Continue reading »

  4. Towards a SriVidya Bibliography – I

    “To be a knower of Sri Vidya one should be grounded in the Trika; to be a knower of the Trika one should be immersed in the Saiva Siddhanta; to understand Saiva Siddhanta one should be rooted in Samkhya.”
    Shudranath

    A friend asked me recently if I would provide her with a select bibliography for the SriVidya tradition. Approaching tantric traditions such as SriVidya as an “outsider” can be a daunting challenge, particularly if you don’t have access to practitioner communities or networks. But trying to organise even a basic “reading list” can be equally daunting, if only because SriVidya, as with most other South Asian religious currents, is heavily influenced by other traditions (tantric and otherwise). The epigraph above illustrates this, albeit tersely – that Sri Vidya, in its development, drew on many themes and concepts from the Trika traditions of Kashmir (a.k.a Kashmir Shaivism) and these in turn, require some understanding of the wider Saiva Siddhanta tradition – which was, in turn, heavily influenced by Samkhya philosophy.

    This is one of the difficulties of getting to grips with tantra – there has been tendency has been to treat it as something entirely abstracted and seperate from the broader Indian cultural landscape rather than, as contemporary scholarship tends to view it – as the “esoteric wing” of wider Indian traditions (be they Buddhist, Jaina, Śaiva, Śhakta, Viṣṇu, etc.). Tantra also builds on historically earlier traditions (such as Classical Samkhya) but re-interprets them in novel ways.

    So here’s a starting point – it is not intended to be comprehensive, and I’ll try and return to it periodically with updates. For the moment, I’m going to focus on scholarly works in English. Continue reading »

  5. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XIII

    “She is thus the beginning and end of the process of divinization, enabling all beings, gods and humans, to become more, even up to a final blissful immersion within Her. To participate in Her bliss, novice practitioners – including attentive readers – must assent to a gradual but ultimately complete deconstruction and enhancement of their own bodies, sensations, pleasures, and relationships. One loses all of this, regains it, and then is able to see Her directly and completely. The key to entering Her world seems to be a combination of reverence, intellect, and intense curiosity, which together make deepening interior vision possible.”
    Francis X. Clooney, Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary p177

    “She the primordial Śakti who excels all and who in Her own nature is eternal, limitless bliss, is the seed of all the moving and motionless things which are to be, and is the pure mirror in which Śiva experiences Himself.”
    Kāmakalāvilāsa verse 2

    Now for some brief notes on verses 23-24 of Saundaryalahari. Continue reading »

  6. Book review: Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism

    Last August, in a opening shot examining the relationship between tantra and transgression I made a few references to the work of Christian K. Wedemeyer, so I thought it would be pertinent to review his most recent book – Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism : History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions (Columbia University Press, 2013). I’m reviewing the Kindle edition here, so all citations made will reflect that. Continue reading »

  7. Book review: More than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India

    When I began my commentarial series on Saundaryalahari I quickly realised that I’d have to give myself a ‘crash course’ in Indian poetics. This led me into pondering the relationship between imagination, visualisation, speech, metaphor and ritual production. Unlike western philosophies, which tend to a hard distinction between the imaginary and the “real”; between mental cognition and objective truth, the imagination has a central place in Indian philosophy and religion. There are many accounts of yogis, for example, who are able to directly transform reality by the power of their minds; similarly many tantric texts stress the capacity and power of internal ritual exclusively. The Cidvilāsastava for example, is a 40-verse text detailing the mental worship of the goddess Tripurā. Continue reading »

  8. Book review: Mindful Counselling and Psychotherapy

    I’m probably not alone in feeling somewhat hysterical about the extent to which “Mindfulness” is being talked about. My employer is “a mindful employer” (they must be they have a logo telling me as much!), and apparently one can increase both business and combat productivity by making use of these techniques. Continue reading »

  9. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XII

    In twining creepers I see your body,
    in eyes of startled does your glance,
    in the moon the glow and shadow of your cheek,
    in the peacocks’ crested plume your hair,
    in the flowing waters’ quick ripples
    the capricious frown on your brow,
    but no single object holds
    an image of your likeness.
    Kalidasa, Meghadūta

    Desire (kāma) is the will to take possession [of the other] (to make the other oneself). Veiling everything with his desire, the desirer can accomplish everything, since everything has as its ultimate principle desire itself.
    Abhinavagupta, Mālinīvijayavārttika (1.281)

    Now to verses 21-22 of Saundaryalahari. Continue reading »

  10. Practice notes: glittering

    The ancient masters have shown how to suppress it [the mind] through detachment and repeated practice. [Instead], we will teach how to obtain suppression with no effort. (v.12)
    This is just like what happens when a rumbling thunder gradually vanishes: once the thunder has completely vanished, the mind too, due to its resting on it, becomes extinguished. (v.14)
    The adept should fix his exclusive attention on any pleasant sound coming to his ears, till the moment in which the sound, having disappeared, becomes the cause of the supression [of the mind]. (v.15)
    In this practice, the sensorial faculties, which are the instruments of perception, are to be brought to a state of ‘equality’. Equality comes from escaping from attachment, as well as from the extinction of aversion. (v.18)
    If one is running without being determinately aware of his own efforts in making steps, and, consequently has his mental activity free from intentions and constructs, the supreme Self shines in him.(v.24)
    Whatever longing he may experience for any object, like food and so on, he should satisfy it as far as possible. Thus he will become full and without support.(v.28)
    Verses from Svabodhayamañjarī (transl. Raffaele Torella)

    Continue reading »