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  1. One from the vaults: The Fantastic World of Lobsang Rampa – I

    A version of this article first appeared in the first edition of Abraxas journal in 2009.

    1956 saw the first British publication of a book called The Third Eye – described in glowing terms by the Times Literary Supplement as “becoming a near work of art” whilst The Observer called it “an extraordinary and exciting book.” Continue reading »

  2. Towards a Tantric bibliography

    A few people have asked me of late if I could provide a bibliography of key tantric texts and studies – no easy task, given the seemingly exponential growth of new translations and studies. Fortunately, I’ve just found a very comprehensive bibliography of contemporary tantric works over at Oxford Bibliographies. Compiled by Glen A Hayes, this is a really useful starting-point for anyone looking for key texts and themes. Whilst there are a few omissions, and the resources listed are definitely slanted towards users with access to academic journal repositories, it’s still a great resource.

  3. Heart practice: On the Adoration of the Senses – I

    “Just as one who sees something out of the ordinary experiences a feeling of amazement, so the feeling of amazement in enjoying contact with the various manifestations of knowable reality is continually produced in this great yogin with the whole wheel of the senses increasingly revealed, motionless, disclosed, by virtue of penetrating into its most intimate nature, the compact union of ever-renewed consciousness and wonder, extreme, extraordinary.”
    Ksemaraja, commentary on Śivasutra, 1.12, quoted from Torella, 2012

    “All wisdoms have celebrated the instant, the wise man leaves aside memory; he has few projects, makes himself at home in the present, inhabits its differential.”
    Michel Serres, The Five Senses

    I’ve been taking this foray into “heart practice” slowly, beginning with a central theme in tantra practice – that of the goddess dwelling in the heart. I’m now going to progress things slightly, with a look at a practice I tend to refer to as the “adoration of the senses”. But first, some thoughts on the senses themselves. Continue reading »

  4. Announcement: Online Tantra courses from Mark Dyczkowski

    Anuttara Trika Kula – a web site set up recently to promote the work of renown tantric scholar Mark Dyczkowski, has recently announced a forthcoming series of online courses by Dr. Dyczkowski. These will be composed of audio and video content, together with support materials and online discussion forums. A free introductory course – consisting of two audio lectures and two video segments – exploring the historical development of the tantras and historically locating the works of Abhinavagupta is available now. Register at www.anuttaratrikakula.org/locating-trika/

  5. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – VII

    When She, the Supreme Power, [becoming] out of her own desire, embodying all that exists perceives herself as flashing forth, the chakra then appears.
    Yoginihrdaya, 9

    For this post, I’m going to briefly discuss verses 14-16 of Anandalahari. Continue reading »

  6. Book Review: Sir John Woodroffe, Tantra and Bengal: ‘An Indian Soul in a European Body?’

    Sir John Woodroffe (1865-1936) is sometimes called the “father” of modern tantric studies. As Hugh Urban comments in his 2003 book, Tantra: Sex, Secrecy Politics and Power in the Study of Religion Woodroffe “surely stands out as one of the most remarkable and enigmatic figures in the entire history of British India. While maintaining his public profile as a judge and scholar of British Indian law, Woodroffe was also a private student of the tantras, who published a huge body of texts and translations and thus pioneered the modern academic study of Tantra in the West.” Continue reading »

  7. Krishna in the dock: the 1862 Maharaja libel case and its consequences – II

    “Amongst other articles of the new creed, Vallabha introduced one, which is rather singular for a Hindu religious innovator or reformer: he taught, that privation formed no part of sanctity, and that it was the duty of the teachers and his disciples to worship their Deity, not in nudity and hunger, but in costly apparel and choice food; not in solitude and mortification, but in the pleasures of society, and the enjoyment of the world.”
    Horace H. Wilson Sketch of the religious sects of the Hindus (1846, pp76-78)

    Before I get down to examining the 1862 Maharaja libel case in detail, I thought it would be useful to take a brief look at the particular sampradaya – at the heart of the case – the Vallabhacharyas – and examine aspects of its doctrines, practices, and historical development. Continue reading »

  8. Book review: Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition

    Women's Lives, Women's Rituals in the Hindu TraditionThe anthology Women’s Lives, Women’s Rituals in the Hindu Tradition edited by Tracy Pintchman (Oxford University Press, 2007) explores the ways that Hindu women’s engagement in ritual holds agentive and transformative capacity beyond the immediate ritual context, and complicates the limited idea of “domestic” space as an analytic category. As Tracy Pintchman points out in her introduction “In many cultural and historical contexts, including contemporary India, women’s everyday lives tend to revolve heavily around domestic and interpersonal concerns, especially care for children, the home, husbands, and other relatives; hence women’s religiosity also tends to emphasize the domestic realm, and the relationships most central to women. … the domestic religious activities that Hindu women perform may not merely replicate or affirm traditionally formulated domestic ideals; rather these activities may function strategically to reconfigure, reinterpret, criticize, or even reject such ideals.” (p6) Continue reading »

  9. Some reflections on Heart Practice

    “Salutations to Sri Mata
    Salutations to Sri Maharajni
    Salulations to the Queen seated upon the lion-throne
    Salutations to She who resides in the fire of consciousness
    Salutations to She who shines with the red brilliance of a thousand rising suns
    Salutations to She who bears the noose, the goad, the sugarcane bow; the five sense-arrows
    Salutations to She whose red brilliance engulfs the universe.
    Lalitasahasramana

    One of the ways in which I have, for some years now, approached tantra sadhana is to start with something (relatively) simple, and then extend it with other practices as time, circumstances, and insights allow. There’s a tendency in western occulture to make a distinction between “basic” and “advanced” practices – where “basic” practices constitute something that you do for a set period and then never bother with again, and the “advanced” practices which are really, where the action is. In terms of my approach to tantra practice, I tend to think instead of “core” practices – which can be deepened and enriched over time. Continue reading »

  10. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – VI

    Devi & YantraThere are many “origin stories” for Saundaryalahari. As I noted in a previous post, the text is traditionally ascribed to Sankaracarya. One of the origin stories has Sankara visiting Siva’s home on Mount Kailasa, where he notices a divine book lying on Siva’s throne – a treasured possession of Parvati. Sankara picks up the book and hastens towards the exit, but is prevented from leaving by Siva’s doorkeeper – Nandikesvara. He and Sankara fight over the book, and Sankara manages to get away with the first portion of the book – the Anandalahari – to which he later adds another 59 stanzas of his own. In another version, Sankara finds the entirety of Saundaryalahari inscribed in stone on Mount Kailasa (having been carved by Nandikesvara who overheard Siva eulogising the goddess with them) but the goddess erases the words, so that Sankara (again) – only memorises the Anandalahari section. These origin stories make a clear distinction between the Anandalahari and the remainder of the poem. Continue reading »