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  1. Group Book Review: Modern Yoga Studies – II

    But yoga is known to be of two kinds.
    The first is considered the yoga
    of non-being. The other is the great yoga, the very best of all yogas.

    The yoga in which one’s own essence
    is known to be empty, free from all
    false appearances, is named the yoga
    of non-being. Through it, one sees the self.

    The yoga in which one discerns the self
    as eternally blissful, free from blemish,
    and united with me is called
    the great yoga of the supreme lord”.
    Īśvara Gītā 11, 5-7. (transl. Andrew J. Nicholson)

    David Gordon White’s The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography (Princeton University Press 2014) – part of Princeton’s “Lives of Great Religious Books” series – may seem a little out of place here. However, given that many contemporary Yoga movements (and commentators) see the Yoga Sūtra as the ur-text from which all yoga springs – and often claim a direct chain of transmission to it – I thought it was worth including. Continue reading »

  2. Group Book Review: Modern Yoga Studies – I

    “Whether a Brahmin, an ascetic, a Buddhist, a Jain, a Skull-Bearer or a materialist, the wise man who is endowed with faith and constantly devoted to the practice of yoga will attain complete success.”
    Dattātreyayogaśāstra (transl. James Mallinson)

    Modern Yoga has been going through some “interesting times” of late. There has been a wave of sex scandals – most recently in Australia and there are growing calls for a Decolonisation of Yoga Practice, including some strident claims that Yoga was banned under the Raj. I thought it’d be timely, then, to review some of the scholarly works on Modern Yoga. Continue reading »

  3. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XVI

    Just as Devī,
    Your most beloved, endless pool of bliss,
    Is inseperable from you,
    So may your devotion alone
    Be inseperable from me.
    Utpaladeva, Shivastotravali 1.9

    Now for some brief notes on verses 28-29 of Anandalahari. Continue reading »

  4. Book review: from Yoga to Kabbalah

    A common refrain in contemporary western culture is that “traditional” religions and roles are in decline and, supplanting them, is a turn to the “spiritual” in which individuals discover and shape their own sources of meaning through a playful and eclectic “pick and mix” approach to religious traditions and practices. This is sometimes referred to as the “subjectivist turn” in social studies, and frequently hailed as a “spiritual revolution” (and occasionally, lamented). But how does this eclecticism – often characterised by the French term bricolage – operate? Why is it that some religious traditions and practices are appropriated, and others not? Why are people attracted to “foreign” religious resources and what role do these practices play in people’s lives?

    Véronique Altglas addresses these issues in From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage Oxford University Press 2014). Drawing on her transnational research on two neo-Hindu movements – Siddha Yoga and Sivananda Centres in France and Britain; and the Kabbalah Centre in France, Britain, Brazil and Israel – Altglas uncovers the hidden “logics” of bricolage, and in doing so, presents some intriguing and – possibly – uncomfortable conclusions. Continue reading »

  5. Heart Practice: approaching the tantric body-in-practice – II

    “Enveloping, embracing, and caressing me both inside and out, moving in ripples along my skin, flowing between my fingers, swirling around my arms and thighs, rolling in endless eddies along the roof of my mouth, slipping ceaselessly through throat and trachea to fill the lungs, to feed my blood, my heart, my self. I cannot act, cannot speak, cannot think a single thought without the participation of this fluid element. I am immersed in its depths as surely as fish are immersed in the sea.”
    David Abrams, on air, The Spell of the Sensuous

    “The tantric practitioner lives within the maṇḍala, lives within the yantra, lives within the vision of divinity such that the symbolic world of the text becomes the lived world of the body. Representation in text, icon and rite coalesce in the experience of the lived body.”
    Gavin Flood The Tantric Body

    To continue from the previous post in this series I now want to focus on approaching particular tantric body-practices. Continue reading »

  6. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XV

    “…those who always ponder over this [fivefold act of the Lord], knowing the universe as an unfoldment of the essential nature [of consciousness], become liberated in this very life. This is what the [sacred] tradition maintains. Those who do not ponder like this, seeing all objects of experience as essentially different, remain for ever bound.”
    Kṣemarāja, Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam

    Now for some brief discussion of verses 26-27 of Anandalahari. Continue reading »

  7. 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 »

  8. 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 »

  9. 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 »

  10. 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 »