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  1. 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 »

  2. 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 »

  3. 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 »

  4. 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 »

  5. Tantra, sex, and the transgressive imagination – I

    “Like the concept of the primitive or the shaman, Tantra is a profoundly Janus-faced category: attacked in some historical periods as uncivilised or subhuman, and celebrated in other periods (particularly our own) as a precivilised unsullied original state, a sort of Eden before the Fall when harmony prevailed, when sex was free and unrepressed, when the body had not been subjected to modern western prudishness and hypocrisy.”
    Hugh Urban, Tantra: Sex, Secrecy Politics and Power in the Study of Religion

    Sometimes You Gotta Break the Rules
    Burger King

    Continue reading »

  6. On Queering deity: Ardhanarishvara and other conundrums of gender

    “Her body is dance preparing for the creation of differentiation,
    his is the dance of destruction that destroys everything.
    I bow to Śivā, mother of the universe.
    I bow to Śiva, father of the universe.
    Her ear ornaments are radiant precious stones giving light,
    his adornments are hissing snakes.
    He is embracing her, and she is embracing him.
    I bow to Śivā and I bow to Śiva.
    Ardhanarinatesvara stotra (Ellen Campbell, 2002, p105)

    If they see
    breasts and long hair coming
    they call it woman,
    if beard and whiskers
    they call it man:
    But, look, the self that hovers
    in between
    is neither man nor woman
    O Ramanatha.
    Dasimayya(10th century Virasiva poet)

    Continue reading »

  7. Heart Practice: Tantra as ethical practice – I

    “Using the plow of truth,
    sowing the seeds of love,
    plucking the weeds of falsehood,
    pouring the waters of patience;
    they look directly into themselves
    and build fences of virtue.
    If they remain rooted in their good ways,
    The Bliss of Siva will grow.”
    Appar (seventh-century Tamil poet-saint, from Pandian, 2009, p21)

    “Ethical encounters are jubilant, joyous encounters of both affectivity and liberty.”
    Patricia MacCormack, Posthuman Ethics

    A great deal has been written about tantra as a transgressive practice and the perceived necessity of moving beyond normative values in order to discover “freedom”. However, the idea of tantra as an ethical practice seems to me to be relatively unthought. For this post then, I want to make some preliminary reflections on the possible ethical dimensions of contemporary tantra practice. Continue reading »

  8. Reading the Saundarya Lahari – V

    “When she, the supreme power, [becoming] by her own free will embodied as all that exists, perceives her own throbbing radiance, the chakra is then being produced.
    The Heart of the Yogini Tantra

    “I worship that goddess who is supreme Siva, whose form is the indestructable a-letter, manifesting the tides of the waves of the kulas.”
    Nityasodasikarnava 1:10

    Continue reading »

  9. East meets West: New Thought, Thelema, and The Holy Order of Krishna

    We are once again being taken to task for some of our writers quoting often the slogan of verse I8.63 of the Bhagavad Gita “Yatha ischasi tathha kuru” – of which we accepted Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” as the best English paraphrase; and if there is so much public opposition to the very mention of Crowley’s name we have to bow thereto, and do so. But that is not to deny that Crowley had been trained in India of men who were great Yogis such as Karunananda, Sabapati Svami’s disciple. In deference to occidental opinion we shall paraphrase the Gita dictum by the English in “Fulfill thy Will”.
    The Kalpaka, Volume 26, 1931, issues 4-5

    Much has been written about the westward transmission of Indian esoteric themes in the early twentieth century – via movements such as the Theosophical Society, esoteric groups such as the OTO, and charismatic teachers such as Pierre Bernard, but instances of transmissions in the other direction – of Indian esotericists engaging with western occultism, seem to be rarer. Continue reading »

  10. Some useful online resources – II

    Back in 2010 I did a brief review of some online resources I’d found useful. Here’s a few more. Continue reading »