Skip to navigation | Skip to content



  1. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XI

    “Likely, o beloved, [by meditating on Devi] in the form of Kāmakalā emerged in the sprout of madana, with the light-circle of the rising sun, a luminous body with an expanding flame top. She exists while gulping all the beings manifested to enjoy the world.
    Existing in I-ness, keeping herself within her own supreme glory, and manifesting successively down to the ground of kāma, which is within the body, manifesting in two forms whilst being alone.”
    Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava, 4.34 – 4.37 (transl. Lidke, 2000)

    Now to verse 20 of Saundaryalahari:

    Whoever contemplates You in his heart,
    O essence of ambrosia,
    abundant and radiant like an image carved in moonstone,
    will quell the pride of serpents
    as if he were the king of birds,
    he will cure those afflicted by fever,
    with the streaming nectar that showers from his glance.
    (transl. Clooney, 2005, p.52)

    Continue reading »

  2. Jottings: On tantra and heteronormativity

    “To fit perfectly a man needs a woman, a woman needs a man. They are polar opposites, and that polarity is needed. It is just as if you are trying to create electricity without polar opposites, without positive and negative.”
    Osho

    If liberation could be attained simply by having intercourse with a śakti then all living beings in the world would be liberated just by having intercourse with women.
    Kularnavatantra

    In the wake of some of my posts discussing approaches to gender in a variety of Indian contexts, I’ve been engaged in some thought-provoking correspondence. One correspondent recently commented – “don’t you find that traditional tantra is well, really heteronormative?” Continue reading »

  3. On the perils of becoming a Gopi – II

    Then, smiling, Prabhu showed to him his true form: Rasaraja (Krishna) and Mahabhava (Radha), the two in one form. And when he saw this, Ramananda was faint with joy; he could not control his body and fell to the earth. … Embracing him Prabhu comforted him. “Except for you, no one has seen this form. It is because of your perception of the tattva of the rasa of my play (lila) that I have shown this form to you. The golden-coloured body is not mine but is the touch of the body of Radha: she touches no one except the son of Gopendra. I experience in my heart and soul everything she feels; then I taste the rasa of the sweetness of myself.
    Caitanya Caritamrta

    Continue reading »

  4. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – X

    In this non-dualist tradition, adepts affirm the distinction between subject and object (in this case between human and divine) through darśan in order to dismantle distinctions between human and divine natures. The ritual’s aim is not to affirm a sacred space occupied by the śrīcakra in order to distinguish its “sacrality” from the “profane” ordinary world but to affect a transformation in understanding concerning the everyday world by identifying it as structured through the cakra’s form.
    Douglas R. Brooks, The Srividya School of Sakta Tantrism: A Study of the Texts and Contexts of the Living Traditions in South India

    “In this way the united Kāma and Kalā are the (three) letters whose own form (Svarūpa) is the three Bindus. It is She who is the Mother manifest as the three Gunas (Triguṇa-svarūpiṇī) and who assumed the form of the triangle.”
    Kāmakalāvilāsa, v25

    Continue reading »

  5. On the perils of becoming a Gopi – I

    India has many religious traditions in which both female and male practitioners seek to become goddesses or are oriented towards exemplary female models which represent the ideal devotee in relation to the divine. As a follow-up to Ardhanarishvara and other conundrums of gender I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the Gauḍīya Vaisnava tradition – in which both male and female devotees seek to identify themselves with the gopis – the “cowherd maidens” who participate in Kṛṣṇa’s sacred drama – and how this identification is approached in theology and practice – and its limits. For this first post, I’m going to briefly discuss some of the key elements in Gauḍīya Vaisnava theology and practice which relate to the ideal of becoming a gopi. In future posts, I will examine some issues which circumscribe the “limits” of this practice – such as the so-called “heresy” of Rūpa Kavijāra in the eighteenth century, and heterodox movements influenced by Gauḍīya Vaisnavism – such as the Sakhibhavas and Sahajiyās. Continue reading »

  6. Announcement: Old stones and ancient bones, poems from the hollow hills

    oldstonescoverGordon MacLellan, writer, storyteller, environmental artist and occasional contributor to enfolding.org has just published a new book of poems: “Old stones and ancient bones, poems from the hollow hills”. Inspired by visits to prehistoric sites, old quarries and other wanderings, these poems move from the Orkneys to Derbyshire, inviting the reader to enter a world of chambered tombs; kelpie-haunted streams and faerie rings.

    Old stones and ancient bones, poems from the hollow hills is available from Lulu or Amazon uk, priced £8.

    More about Gordon’s work and the book at Creeping Toad

  7. Heart practice: On the Adoration of the Senses – II

    The worship of oneself must be done with elements that are pleasing to the senses.
    Yoginīhṛdaya, 3.8a

    Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual movement the execution of ritual gesture, my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other acts the rite of sacrifice, my lying down, prostration in worship, my every pleasure enjoyed with dedication of myself, let whatever activity of mine be some form of worship of you.
    Saundaryalahari, 27

    In the previous post in this series I gave a brief discussion on what could be thought of as a ‘tantric’ perspective on the senses. Now I will move onto describing the “short form” of this practice, which takes the form of a short puja sequence. Continue reading »

  8. Book Review: Śāktapramodaḥ of Deva Nandan Singh, edited by Madhu Khanna

    Madhu Khanna should need no introduction from me. She was one of the first contemporary scholars to produce a comprehensive examination of Srikula with her Ph.D dissertation – The Concept and Liturgy of the Śricakra Based on Śivānanda’s Trilogy (Oxford University, 1986) – and her publications include: Yantra: The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity (1994), Rta, The Cosmic Order (2004), and Asian Perspectives on the World’s Religions After September 11 edited with Arvind Sharma, (2013). She is currently the director of the Tantra Foundation. Continue reading »

  9. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – IX

    “The understanding of Śaivism can only aspire to objectivity if it includes a sincere effort to see how things are in the subjective perception of its practitioners. One has to be able to enter into the spirit of their world, to be with them intimately, to see what they are saying and why they are saying it, to go beneath the surface of their texts. There has to be empathy.”
    Alexis Sanderson

    In the opening post to this series examining Saundaryalahari I noted that, as a text, Saundaryalahari “works” in a variety of ways: it can be read simultaneously as a literary work (Kavya); as a ritual manual (prayoga), as a work of devotion (bhakti) and as a text which hides/encodes tantric “secrets”.

    When Saundaryalahari is sung, recited, listened to, contemplated upon, these multiple registers coalesce, offering a vision/encounter with the goddess (Tripurasundari Devi). As hymn or prayer, Saundaryalahari opens, points the way to – a direct encounter with Devi – an encounter which requires and produces transformation in all whom it touches. To speak, to hear, to contemplate Saundaryalahari is to enter into a direct relation with Devi – to attend Her and be attended to by Her. Continue reading »

  10. One from the vaults: The Fantastic World of Lobsang Rampa – III

    In this final part of The Fantastic World of Lobsang Rampa I will discuss the Rampa books’ portrayal of Tibet; briefly explore the UFO-related themes in his writings, and round up with some general conclusions. Continue reading »