Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


see Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Kashmir Shaivism Fellowship

The Ubiquitous Śiva : Somānanda's Śivadrsti and his Tantric Interlocutors by John Nemec (AAR Religions in Translation: Oxford University Press) (Hardcover) John Nemec examines the beginnings of the non-dual tantric philosophy of the famed Pratyabhijna or "Recognition [of God]" School of tenth-century Kashmir, the tradition most closely associated with Kashmiri Shaivism. In doing so it offers, for the very first time, a critical edition and annotated translation of a large portion of the first Pratyabhijna text ever composed, the Śivadrsti of Somānanda. In an extended introduction, Nemec argues that the author presents a unique form of non-dualism, a strict pantheism that declares all beings and entities found in the universe to be fully identical with the active and willful god Siva. This view stands in contrast to the philosophically more flexible panentheism of both his disciple and commentator, Utpaladeva, and the very few other Saiva tantric works that were extant in the author's day. Nemec also argues that the text was written for the author's fellow tantric initiates, not for a wider audience. This can be adduced from the structure of the work, the opponents the author addresses, and various other editorial strategies. Even the author's famous and vociferous arguments against the non-tantric Hindu grammarians may be shown to have been ultimately directed at an opposing Hindu tantric school that subscribed to many of the grammarians' philosophical views. Included in the volume is a critical edition and annotated translation of the first three (of seven) chapters of the text, along with the corresponding chapters of the commentary. These are the chapters in which Somānanda formulates his arguments against opposing tantric authors and schools of thought. None of the materials made available in the present volume has ever been translated into English, apart from a brief rendering of the first chapter that was published without the commentary in 1957. None of the commentary has previously been translated into any language at all.


The Teachings of the Odd-Eyed One: A Study and Translation of the Virupaksapancasika, With the Commentary of Vidyacakravartin (S U N Y Series in Hindu Studies) by David Peter Lawrence (State University of New York Press) book offers the first published translation of the contemplative manual Virupaksapancasika written circa the twelfth century CE, and the commentary on it, Vivrti by Vidyacakravartin. These late works from the Pratyabhijna tradition of monistic and tantric Kashmiri Saiva philosophy focus on means to deindividualize and disclose the primordial, divine essential natures of the human ego and body-sense.

David Peter Lawrence situates these writings in their medieval, South Asian religious and intellectual contexts. He goes on to engage Pratyabhijna philosophical psychology in dialogue with Western religious and psychoanalytic conceptions of identity and "narcissism," and also demonstrates the Saiva tradition's strong concern with ethics. The richly annotated translation and glossary illuminate the texts for all readers.

"I think this is a marvelous book, filled with original insights into the mystical dimensions of the divine-human subject and the cosmicization of the human body. I know of no other book about South Asian philosophy or comparative theology that so deftly addresses the themes of subjectivity and embodiment and is able to relate them to contemporary debates in the fields of religious studies, psychology, and philosophy. There are few real comparativists working today. David Lawrence is certainly one of them, and he is one of the most gifted." -- Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion

This book is an introduction to and translation of a circa twelfth century C.E. contemplative manual, the Virupaksapancashika (VAP) with the commentary Vivrti (VAPV) of Vidyacakravartin. The VAP purports to give the teachings of an incarnation of Siva, under the name Virupaksa. Virupaksa, from virupa and Asa, meaning "the Odd-Eyed One," is a common name for Siva. It refers to the notion that Siva's eyes are odd in either number or form, as he possesses in his forehead a third eye that is also awry, perpendicular to the other two.1

Whether or not either is actually from Kashmir, the VAP and VAPV may be situated within the Trika stream of tantric, monistic "Kashmiri Saivism." They are important historically as late works from the tradition of Trika philosophical theology called Pratyabhijna, which was created by Utpaladeva (c. 900-950 C.E.) and further advanced by Abhinavagupta (c. 950-1025 C.E.). Substantively, the VAP and VAPV are valuable for their elucidation of the distinctive Pratyabhijna psychological approach to empowering and divinizing the human ego and body.

The present chapter will provide basic information about the religious and intellectual contexts of the texts. The second chapter will discuss the narrative framing the VAP as a dialogue between Virupaksa and the Vedic deity Indra, and how this narrative continues the South Asian legacy of myths of the instruction of Indra. The third will exposit the basic teachings of the VAP and VAPV, and the fourth will make suggestions about how the texts may be engaged dialogically by means of comparative or intercultural philosophy. The short fifth chapter will address issues pertaining to the translation.

and cosmic principles, mandala iconography, and various other symbols, metaphors, and analogies. In the remainder of this chapter, I will review certain of these expressions of monistic Saiva doctrine and practice that will be helpful in understanding the background to the teachings of the VAP and VAPV.

As may be gathered from the appellation "monistic Saivism," a basic doctrinal position of this stream of tantric traditions is that the only reality is the God Siva. Siva is thus the true Self of all beings. These traditions overcode the fundamental tantric principle of power, Sakti, within Siva's metaphysical essence. Siva is the shaktiman, the "possessor" of Sakti, encompassing her within his androgynous nature as his integral power and consort. According to the central monistic Saiva myth, Siva divides himself from Sakti and then in sexual union emanates and controls the universe through her.

Liberation, the realization of one's true Self as Siva, is accomplished through a great variety of ritual and contemplative practices. The basic pattern of praxis, which Sanderson has suggested also reflects the appropriation of Saktism by Saivism, is the approach to Siva through Sakti. As the Vijnana Bhairava states, Sakti is Siva's "door" or "face" (mukha). The adept strives to attain identity with Siva through the recapitulation of the myth, to become the shaktiman, the possessor and enjoyer of Sakti. Thus, in the Kaula sexual ritual a man realizes himself as the possessor of Sakti immanent within his partner.37 In the monistic Saiva appropriation of Kali Krama tantrism, one contemplates oneself as the possessor of shakticakras, circles of Saktis. The Spanda tradition pursues the possession of Sakticakras understood as Spanda, "Creative Vibration."

Within the historical elaboration of monistic Saiva theology, and especially in the grand syntheses of Abhinavagupta, an astonishing number of what might be called secondary codes were propounded for the same basic mythic and ritual pattern—in the terms of philosophical theories, pantheons of higher and lower deities, hierarchies of emanating mantras

Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta, belying the Western dichotomy of faith (or mysticism) and reason, conceive the Pratyabhijna system simultaneously as a philosophical apologetics and an internalized tantric ritual. They structure its discourse according to the most widely accepted Sanskritic standards for publicly assessable philosophical argument, which had been systematized as a set of sixteen categories by the Nyaya school of philosophy. Their proclaimed goal is through this discourse to lead students to the soteriological recognition (Pratyabhijna) "I am Siva."

Utpaladeva describes the primary modus operandi of the Pratyabhijna in accordance with the basic monistic Saiva mythico-ritual pattern described earlier, as the "revealing of Sakti" (shaktyaviskarana). In this case, as Abhinavagupta explains, the process is rationalized as a Nyaya syllogism, known as the "inference for the sake of others" (pararthanumana). The inferential subject is oneself, "I," and the predicate is "Siva." Sakti is now the inferential reason, which is supposed to identify a quality in the subject known to be invariably concomitant with the predicate. Thus, the Pratyabhijna demonstrates that I am Siva because I have his quality, that is, Sakti, the capacity of emanating and controlling the universe.

The Pratyabhijna thinkers also identify the insight gained by the revealing of Sakti with the experience comprehended in a monistic Saiva cosmological principle called "Pure Wisdom" (suddhavidya). According to them, Pure Wisdom is the awareness of oneself as the emanator of the universe, expressed "I am this:" Abhinava further elaborates that this insight animates what he calls "good reasoning" (sattarka) which, counteracting ordinary deluded and dualistic thinking, leads to a "purification of conceptual constructions" (vikalpasarnskara).

, The central moment of the Pratyabhijna system is the explanation of Siva's emanation and control of the universe through Sakti as an act self-recognition (Pratyabhijna, ahampratyavamarsa). As will be discussed further, Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta further identify Siva's self-recognition/Sakti with the principle of Supreme Speech (pardvak), which they derive from the linguistic philosopher Bhartrhari. Another key category with which they identify it is omnipotent agency (kartrta).

According to Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta, Siva emanates through differentiating his self-recognition (or Speech or agency) into discrete acts of recognitive-linguistic apprehension43 that idealistically constitute all objects of experience.44 Siva recognizes himself even through limited objective judgments such as "This is blue" and "This is yellow." Various epistemological, metaphysical, and linguistic theories, by demonstrating the necessity and foundational status of the recognition "I am Siva," attempt to lead the student to experience and possess the recognition that "I am Siva."

In the area of philosophical psychology, the Pratyabhijna thinkers describe the empowered Siva-identity recognized by the practitioner as a higher sense of I (aham) or, more abstractly, I-hood (ahambhava), which also came to be called "perfect I-hood" (purnahamta). Michel Hulin and Mark Dyczkowski have demonstrated the historical innovativeness of this theory and its great influence on later tantric traditions. Dyczkowski describes it as a conception of "absolute" or "super" "egoity" (not to be confused with the Freudian superego). He explains:

This concept of Self as pure, absolute ego-consciousness is quite unique in the history of Indian thought. It is found only in monistic Kashmiri Saiva schools and those traditions (like the Sakta Srividya) that have been directly influenced by them.

A sense of egoity precursory to the Pratybhij na theory is, in my view, found in earlier tantric and even some Upanisadic realizations of empowerment." Nevertheless, Dyczkowski's contention is valid with regard to the Pratyabhijna philosophical psychological understanding of egoity. Contrary to earlier Hindu and Buddhist thought, the Pratyabhijna system and Pratyabhijna-inspired tantrism do not advocate the surrender of ordinary egoistic identity, referred to by such terms as "I-concept" (ahamkdra), "pride" or "self-conception" (abhimana), "I-am-ness" (asmita), and "I-hood" (ahamta). For this mode of thinking, the human ego is an immanent expression of God's identity that must be universalized and transfigured into its essential nature as perfect I-hood."

Abhinavagupta further elaborates that integral to the perfect egoity of God is a state of satiety he variously describes as "rest in the self" (svatmavishranti), "self-enjoyment" (svatmopabhoga), and "self-relishing" (svatmacamatkara, svavisayasvada). Through practices ranging from the Kaula sexual ritual through aesthetic appreciation and philosophical and theosophical contemplations, ordinary selfish pleasures are transfigured into that divine satiety. The richness and profundity of the Pratyabhijna interpretation of the divinization and empowerment of egoity account for much of the influence of the system on later tantric doctrine and practice.

As mentioned, the Pratyabhijna thinkers identify the Sakti and self-recognition of the Self/Siva with the principle, Supreme Speech, derived from the Grammarian Bhartrhari. They accordingly follow Bhartrhari in explaining emanation as occurring through a bifurcation of Supreme Speech into ordinary expressive speech (vacaka) and the objective referents of that speech (vacya). The origination of this polarity from a common superlinguistic source makes the entire universe of experience inherently linguistic, and provides the ground for the reconnection of words and objects in conventional linguistic reference. The complete reversal of the cosmic fragmentation occurs in the soteriological recognition.

Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta expound many philosophical as well as "theosophical" ramifications of this theory throughout their writings. Important to the VAP and VAPV is Abhinava's contemplation of the nature of perfect egoity as encompassing all speech and referents, in terms of an occult etymology of the word aham, "I," itself. This also justifies the choice of aham as a favorite monistic Saiva mantra. To mention the relevant aspects of this complex scheme, according to it, aham encompasses all Sanskrit phonemes from the first in the traditional enumeration, a, through the last, ha, and the graphemic bindu, m—along with the corresponding cosmic cycle of emission and reabsorption.

An overlapping scheme describes emanation and return in terms of two triads of cosmic courses (adhvan)—phonemes (varna), mantras and words (pada) on the side of expressive speech (vacaka), and cosmic segments (kala), cosmic principles (tattva) and cosmic realms (bhuvana) as the referents of that speech (vacya).5' On the basis of the conception of semantically foundational Supreme Speech as the essence of scriptural traditions (agama), Abhinavagupta also justifies the overcoding of the authoritative oral and written texts of competing schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. According to him, the scriptures of other traditions provide their followers with progressively more "perfect" or "complete" (purna) realizations of the monistic Saiva perfect I-hood.

Such semantic speculations are only the beginning of the monistic Saiva linguistic theory. Correlative to their identification of Sakti and self-recognition as Speech, Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta further interpret monistic Saiva empowered identity with a philosophical theory of syntax that I have previously described as a "mythico-ritual syntax of omnipotence." The relevant considerations pertain to how verbs expressing action (kriya) relate to declined nouns referring to the concomitants of action (karakas).

Edwin Gerow and I have separately argued that there is a tendency in many traditions of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy to denigrate the role of the agent in the syntactic nexus.56 Among Hindu schools, this tendency appears to be strongest in Advaita Vedanta, while Buddhists from Nagarjuna to Dharmakirti entirely negate the role of the agent in the syntax of dependent origination. In Gerow's view, this tendency culminated in the late Hindu grammarian Nagesa's treatment of passive intransitive syntax as most paradigmatic. This denigration of agency seems to reflect not only the agent's bondage to karma in rebirth for Hindus and Buddhists—as emphasized by Gerow57—but also its subordination to the order of objective ritual behavior—pertaining to sacrifice, caste, life cycle, and so on—in orthodox Brahmanic norms.

Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta develop a grammar of omnipotence by taking up and radicalizing earlier understandings of the positive albeit delimited role of the agent, particularly from the Vyakarana and Nyaya traditions. Through his self-recognition, Siva forms the intention (iccha) for action, and is the instigator (prayojaka) and encompassing locus (vyaparairaya) of all processes in the universe along with all their accessories. Whereas God/the Self is "self-determined" or "independent" (svatantra) in relation to the operations of all the other factors of action, the latter are "determined by another" (paratantra), namely, the agent.

The Pratyabhijna syntax of agency not only interprets the monistic Saiva myth, but it is also ritually axiomatic. Utpaladeva describes the Pratyabhijna philosophy as leading to salvation through the contemplation of one's status as the agent of the universe. Abhinavagupta likewise explains that the aspirant's goal in more concrete ritual action is identification with Siva as the agent impelling all things indicated by nouns declined as nonagents—the ritual paraphernalia manipulated by the adept epitomizing all other cosmic entities.

There is more to the Pratyabhijna grammar of empowered identity than the theory of noun-verb relations that I exposited in my first studies.

The VAP and VAPV also advert to Abhinavagupta's further elaboration of this grammar in terms of the semantics and syntax of grammatical persons. As expressed in conjugations, personal pronouns, and sometimes declensions, the grammatical persons are the familiar triad of He/She/It/They (called in Sanskrit the "first person" and in English the "third person"), You (Sanskrit "middle person," English "second person") and I/We (Sanskrit "final person," English "first person"). Abhinava's views about grammatical persons are remarkable for ways in which they anticipate theories of later thinkers such as Charles Peirce and Emile Benveniste, although his overarching intellectual and religious agenda is quite different.

Like contemporary thinkers, Abhinava acknowledges that the three persons in ordinary discourse are defined by their mutual distinctions and are arbitrary in their reference. However, he also ranks the persons hierarchically. He affirms the privilege of I/We as indicating the enunciator of discourse, over the addressee You and the noninterlocutory He/She/It, with an observation—anticipating Benveniste—about their degrees of extension. That is, what is called in English the second person You can include the third person He/She/It/They. The first person, as We, can also include You and He, She or They. The wider extension of the first person points to its still much greater, ultimate significance.

According to Abhinava, the ranking of the three persons reflects the basic triadic structure of emanation according to Trika: Siva, Sakti, Human (nara). That is, I as the enunciator of discourse corresponds to the omnipotent Self as Siva, as the whole universe is ultimately My Supreme Speech. The addressee, You, is identified with Sakti according to the model of Siva's dialogues with Sakti in tantric scriptures. The noninterlocutory He/She/It represents the unenlightened human reduced to the condition of inert objects. Abhinava prescribes a contemplation of return in which all forms of He/She/It are personalized as absorbed into You as Sakti. And You as Sakti are realized to be My integral power and consort.

Another approach to empowered identity in monistic Saivism that is especially important to the VAP and VAPV is the transformation of the sense of embodiment. Tantric traditions resonate with contemporary cultural theories in conceiving embodiment as integral to human identity. They do not, however, celebrate the status quo experience of the human body. For them, rather, the ordinary experience of the body is an extremely limited

and inadequate realization of much greater possibilities. Developing precedents in the Vedas, Upanisads, Bhagavad Gita, and earlier tantrism, the monistic Saivas interpret the Self's/Siva's entire cosmic emanation through Sakti as the true body. The Siva Sutra thus proclaims that all that is observable (drsya), that is, the universe, is one's body.

The limited human body is a microcosm that replicates the macrocosmic body emanated by Siva through Sakti. Gavin Flood explains how the fleshly body manifests the transcendent-cum-immanent Ultimate Reality:

The human body, which is a consequence of the contraction of consciousness, is thought to contain the higher universe beyond it and also the absolute consciousness of Siva with which it is ultimately identical and of which it is a projected form. The human body is, therefore, homologous with the cosmical hierarchy, which we might call the 'manifest cosmic body,' and contains within its transcendent source, which we might call the 'essential cosmic body.'

By such reasoning the human body becomes one of the primary foci for monistic Saiva transformative practices:

The body is regarded as the vehicle of transformation, being of central importance in Saiva yoga and in the Trika liturgies, during which awareness of identity with supreme Siva is thought to expand and to fill the body. Such an expansion of awareness is, for the Saiva monist, an expansion of awareness through the cosmos and a recognition that both universe and absolute are identical with the body.

The monistic Saivas thus employ various tantric techniques for what may be described equally as the "universalization" of the human body and the "corporification" of the universe. Such techniques in effect "overcode" the routine cultural techniques—of action, rest, washing, life cycle, and so on—that Marcel Mauss described as constituting the bodily "habitus" of ordinary men and women. This transformation is evinced in the purification of the elements (bhutasuddhi and the projection of divinizing mantric syllables (nyasa) on the body and ritual implements, which are performed as preliminaries to worship. Through these practices, the adept resolves the gross elements of his or her physical body into their subtle essences. The adept symbolically burns away the limitations of the physical body, and through the contemplative infusion of divine nectar manifests his or her divinized body.

A variety of tantric practices are conceived to awaken Sakti as Kundalini, often symbolized in the form of a serpent, dormant in the energy center (cakra) at the base of the spine. As she ascends through higher energy centers she divinizes the subtle physiology of the human body. In the sexual ritual, the male and female partners physically become Siva and Sakti, and realize their primordial unity in their very genitalia and sexual fluids. I also mention that the transformation of embodiment in tantric traditions is often understood greatly to improve the health or strength of the practitioner's human body, or even to make it immortal.

Another important monistic Kashmiri Saiva code for the myth and ritual of Sakti possession, closely related to those of egoity and embodiment, makes use of the metaphor or analogy of reflection (pratibimba). Although this code is not directly addressed by the VAP and VAPV, I believe that a review of it will help us to understand those texts.

The analogy of reflection actually has a long and complex history in South Asian religious and philosophical traditions for explaining the relation of the Ultimate Reality, God, or the higher Self to the multiplicity of limited subjects and objects that constitute the universe. Moreover, as Phyllis Granoff has shown, reflection is often said to constitute the body of the Ultimate Reality or of the enlightened being. As manifest in iconography or imaginary forms the reflection (pratibimba, pratima) provides Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions an accessible mode of approach to the Ultimate.

It was Abhinavagupta who fully established the use of the model of reflection to articulate the basic mythic and recapitulatory ritual structures of monistic Saivism. The pattern is similar to that observed by Granoff regarding images or reflections as the body and immanent mode of access to the divine. For Abhinavagupta, however, just as the whole universe is the Sakti-body of the Self as Siva, it is also one's own reflection.

Abhinava thus interprets various modes of practice as leading to identification with Siva through the realization that the entire emanated universe is one's reflection. Techniques that he describes in this manner include the Pratyabhijna philosophy itself, theosophical meditations in the Tantraloka, Tantrasara, and Paratrisikavivarana on emanating mantric phonemes and cosmic principles, and even the Kaula congregation (yoginimelaka) and aesthetic experience.

Abhinava's explanations of the myth and practice of empowered identity in terms of reflection were further diffused along with the rest of his theology to other intellectual traditions of Hindu tantrism. The authors of the VAP and VAPV would certainly have been aware of these interpretations, even though they do not mention them. It will be useful to keep these teachings on reflection in mind as we recount  an Upanisadic teaching on reflected identity, and endeavor to engage the Odd-Eyed One's instructions on divine egoity with Western conceptions of "narcissism."


Kashmir Shaivism is a comprehensive, but vague, term. It came into currency with the publication in 1913 of the book bearing the same title by J. C. Chatterji (reprint edition SUNY). Today, the term is frequently used to cover all those currents of thought, which, in the past, went by the designation of Shaiva Monism, in the hands of Kashmir authors, along with all subsequent developments which derive their basic thought-structure and conceptual framework from those traditions. In the traditional parlance, the term Trika may also be used in its generic sense (drawn from its generic and specific meanings) to denote Kashmir Shaivism.

The logical structure of Kashmir Shaivism may be said to be rooted in recognition (pratyabhijna); its ontic structure, in autonomy (svatantrya); its metaphysical structure, in the synthesis of Being and self-referential consciousness (prakasha-vimarsha); its process of spiritual practice (sadhana), in the refinement of the mental constructs (vikalpa-samskara); its yogic framework, in the awakening of the spiral energy (kundalini); and its empirical and epistemic transactions, in synthetic activity.

All of these processes derive their sustenance from the notion of perfection (purnata). Moreover, in actual practice, whether they pertain to cognition, creation, yoga, or aesthetic apperception, each of these represents the well-known Upanishadic idea of emanating from, and returning to, the same source while never losing their original, undifferentiated identity:

It is full, this is full, the full proceeds from the full. Even after
Subtracting the full from the full, what remains is the full

REDISCOVERING GOD WITH TRANSCENDENTAL ARGUMENT: A Contemporary Interpretation of Monistic Kashmiri Saiva Philosophy by David Peter Lawrence ($21.95, paperback,306 pages, State University of New York Press, SUNY, ISBN: 0791440583) HARDCOVER

The value of this work is the clarification of the transcendental argument for God as it occurs in the  formal explanations of Abhinavagupta in his Tantraloka and the poetry of Utpaladeva. This argument is popular in current Catholic theology and the realism of Lonergan is quite simpatico with Trika nondualist assertions at the level of saving appearances. Lawrence provides some citations from Abhinavagupta that detail the transcendental  contention that is not otherwise available in English. The resulting philosophical theology is the most sophisticated to-date to suggest deep congruencies in the Catholic via mystica and in the pratyabhijna, recognition, as they respectively provided the contemplative experimental basis for transcendental premises that act as a grounding for the argument and its development. Though there are exciting points of convergence in this analysis Lawrence by no means discounts some serious divergences in a monotheism and a panentheism. REDISCOVERING GOD WITH TRANSCENDENTAL ARGUMENT is a well-reasoned exploration of aspects of pratyabhijna ideas as they are mirrored in part in contemporary Catholic theology. It is an important comparative study.

INDIAN SEMANTIC ANALYSIS: The Nirvacana Tradition by Eivind Kahrs ($64.95, hardcover, Cambridge University Press; ISBN: 0521631882)

The Indian tradition of semantic elucidation known as nirvacana analysis represents a powerful hermeneutic tool in the exegesis and transmission of authoritative scripture. Nevertheless, it has all too frequently been dismissed by modern scholars as anything from folk etymology to a primitive forerunner of historical linguistics. Eivind Kahrs argues that such views fall short of explaining both its acceptance within the refined grammatical tradition of vydkarana and its effective usage in the processing of Sanskrit texts. He establishes his argument by investigating the learned Sanskrit literature of Shaivite Kashmir, and explains the nirvacana tradition in the light of a model of substitution, used at least since the time of the Upanishads and later refined in the technical literatures of grammar and ritual. According to this model, a substitute takes the place of the original place holder On the basis of a searching analysis of Sanskrit texts, the author argues that this holding ‘place’ can be interpreted as ‘meaning’, the model thereby providing favorable circumstances for reinterpretation and change. Kahrs deals with some classical Indian theories of meaning focusing on the Kashmir Shaivite use of those theories in the classic commentaries of Sivopadhyaya, Abhinavagupta, and Ksemaraja as they analysis of "Bhavairava." It is an excellent account of how sacred terms carry meaning through semantic contexts. It offers some ways that metaphors can serve functions that are often too easily overlooked in a too empirically bound linguistics.

Eivind Kahrs is lecturer in Sanskrit at the University of Cambridge.

Kashmir Shaivism, in its basic outline, is a Tantric system. By designating it as Tantric, the intention is not to project it as an opponent or antagonist of the mainstream Upanishadic ideology but to focus on a particular emphasis of Indian thought and religion. One such emphasis is evident at the level of values, according to which nothing in life is to be rejected or looked down upon, impregnated as everything is at all times with the meaningfulness of its source or content.

The other emphasis discloses itself on the plane of existence, in the intrinsic potentiality inherent in each and every entity that is, in the possibility of each one’s flowering into infinite forms and relationships, and contributing to the authenticity of each instant of being. The fundamental philosophical assertion of Kashmir Shaivism is that our existence is nothing but the boundless energy of consciousness.

All the cultural traditions of India have literally been linear successions-- one following the other — and have been transmitted without interruption through the teacher-taught lineages. Unfortunately, it has not always been possible to maintain this unobstructed flow over the past few centuries. Kashmir Shaivism is no exception to this phenomenon.

The nondualistic principle which is posited as being at the heart of all existence is also the synthesis of pure being and consciousness, of awareness and freedom. Put differently, it pulsates, vibrating by virtue of its inner potential. Each time our consciousness fails to grasp it completely, we are said to be in bondage. The state prior to such bondage is called that of "complete comprehension", while the state of bondage itself is called "noncomprehension". These two states represent the twin divine phases of grace, or self-disclosure, and self-concealment, respectively.

The comprehension and non-comprehension of this totality both have two dimensions, namely cosmic and individual. In the cosmic dimension, both are powers, or potencies, in their essence. The total self-disclosure of consciousness is the power of grace; the event of self-alienation is the power of concealment (also one of the five powers of consciousness).

At the individual level, both comprehension and non-comprehension express themselves in two ways namely, as being and as intellect. At the level of being, comprehension signifies Spiritual Knowledge, consisting in the full realization of freedom, while non-comprehension signifies Spiritual Ignorance, consisting in imperfect knowledge and freedom. Similarly, at the level of intellect, comprehension stands for Intellectual Knowledge, consisting in the awareness of freedom, while non-comprehension stands for Intellectual Ignorance, consisting in intellectual in-determination.

YOGA OF THE HEART: Ten Ethical Principles for Gaining Limitless Growth, Confidence, and Achievement by Alice Christensen ($21.95 hardcover, Daybreak [Rodale Press] ISBN 087596429X)

Well known hatha yoga teacher lays bare the deeper teachings of yoga ethics as given to her by her Guru Swami Lakshmanjoo, late authority of Kashmir Shaivism.

People in America typically use yoga for its strengthening and meditative purposes, so most books usually have focused on the bending and stretching aspects of Yoga. Yet the more exciting and transformative aspects of Yoga are often down played by popular teachers.

YOGA OF THE HEART is the first book to explain why the philosophy of Yoga is the key to developing well-being, courage, and confidence. YOGA OF THE HEART reaches deep into the heart of this philosophy to explain its ten essential ethics in an easy-to-understand style. It includes such precepts as: Do no harm. Learn more about who you really are. Simplify the things you want and need. Encourage heroic capability in yourself.

Alice Christensen who founded the American Yoga Association in 1968, shows the vital relevance of these fundamental principles, demonstrating to us how they apply daily in yoga practice and in life. Over time one finds that life grows richer and more satisfying. We become more focused, relaxed, and aware of what we truly want from life. Suddenly, what we do and what we aspire to do have real meaning and greater congruence.

The key message of YOGA OF THE HEART is that living happily in a world overwhelmed with uncertainties is the pinnacle of achievement, for within uncertainty lies possibility. This book equips readers with the confidence and courage to persevere even in the face of obstacles and uncertainty are added bonus to Yoga’s other more recognized benefits of strength, relaxation, and peace of mind.


The philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism had intrigued me from the very beginning of my study of Yoga. Everything in the universe, according to this thought, has both male and female qualities. Although it is impossible to describe these qualities exactly, some words that could be associated with the male principle are consciousness, energy, mind, and potentiality. The female principle could be described in terms such as manifestation, movement, and form. Many other Yogic philosophies, such as Vedanta, recognize only the male principle, saying that the female aspect that is, the manifest world is unreal; that is why you often see pictures of ascetics attempting to negate their bodies through suffering and self-denial. They are attempting to prove to themselves that the world, or the female aspect, is not important.

Kashmir Shaivism, on the other hand, recognizes that these male and female principles are an equal partnership, that they are so interdependent, they cannot be separated. They are, in fact, one thing. The feeling of attraction between them creates the immense complexity of the universe that we enjoy and celebrate.

Also unlike other philosophies, Kashmir Shaivism is based on emotion rather than intellect. In fact, Shaivism says that intellectual understanding by itself will never lead us to "realization," the summit of Yoga, because it blocks our ability to experience the full power of that male/female consciousness in ourselves.

In this book, I present this concept of the male/female consciousness that resides in you by using a fantasy picture of a second body, the spiritual body. I pretend that its limbs are various emotions and feelings, and its voice is intuition. In order for you to hear this voice of intuition speak, the intellect and ego must fall silent.

In Yogic texts, this second spiritual body is often evoked with the image of a heart. Even in casual speech, we often say that we are speaking "from the heart" when talking about some deep emotional or spiritual experience. When your spiritual body reveals itself and joins with your physical consciousness, the result is a powerful, enlightened individual who has not one heart but two with which to celebrate spiritual awareness. Our hands are the active, creative expression of our hearts, and so I have used a photograph of hands on the cover of this book to symbolize the meeting of your two hearts. This joining of the spiritual and physical hearts is what is meant by the title of this book.

The easiest way to invite your spiritual body to reveal itself is through the practice of Yogic ethics. The word ethics often implies a moralistic or religious prescription. Kashmir Shaivism uses this term in a different way. Ethics are the attitudes and behaviors that help you to welcome the spiritual being. They smooth the path to realizing your spiritual potential.

I have chosen ten ethics that represent a part of those discussed in classical Yogic texts. These are done even before the exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation that are more familiar to us in the West. The ten ethics of Yoga that I will introduce in this book are Nonviolence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Celibacy, Non-hoarding, Purity, Contentment, Tolerance, Study, and Remembrance…

Most people associate Yoga with the physical postures and movements that are taught in classes or learned from books. The physical aspect of Yoga, however, is only a small part of the great body of thought and technique that is the tradition of Yoga. In fact, the physical exercises and breathing techniques were originally designed simply to keep the body strong and healthy so that the practitioner could more easily reach for some of the deeper aspects of Yoga.

Many practitioners begin to realize after some time that there is something else to be discovered in Yoga that speaks to our universal desire for meaning. While the daily exercises are tuning the physical body into shape, mystical awareness begins to emerge. This happens most often when the ethical practices of Yoga, which are detailed in this book, are combined with the physical routines. Often, feelings of inner strength, self-confidence, and inner peace begin to emerge as this other aspect of Yoga starts to reveal itself.

DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part I: The Practice of Trika Yoga by Swami Chetanananda ($15.95, Paperback, Rudra Press, ISBN: 0915801191)

DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part II: The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part II: The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part II: The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part DYNAMIC STILLNESS Part II: The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga by Swami Chetanananda ($18.95, Paperback, Rudra Press, ISBN: 0915801272)

Dynamic Stillness, a two volume series, aims to bring the Indian tradition of Trika Yoga into a Western idiom. The two volumes present a comprehensive overview of the meditation practice taught by Swami Chetanananda, a practice which involves working with a teacher, meditation itself, and extending what we learn through our spiritual practice into every area of our lives. Together, these volumes present what is both an ancient system and a contemporary, living one, with the two elements complementing and illuminating each other.

The first volume, The Practice of Trika Yoga, discusses in some depth the questions likely to face a person as he or she begins a spiritual practice. It reviews the elements of Trika Yoga from the perspective of the beginning student. This second volume, The Fulfillment of Trika Yoga, briefly reviews the contents of Part One, giving an overview of the beginning phase of practice. It then explores how the groundwork laid in beginning practice unfolds into an increasingly refined awareness.

Part Two is not merely a discussion for advanced students, however. The beginning student will discover that this refined awareness is already a part of his or her daily experience. The issue is one of training ourselves to sustain that awareness regardless of what is going on around us. Therefore both volumes provide useful orientations to a student at any point in his or her inner work. In this sense they function together as a practitioner’s manual.

The discussion as a whole also raises broader questions about spiritual practice in general. Issues such as a person’s relationship with a spiritual mentor, how one’s awareness changes through meditation, and what kind of life one lives as a result of that experience cut across the boundaries of all specific traditions and practices. This book will thus be of use to people engaged in a wide range of spiritual disciplines.

Swami Chetanananda’s work represents the effort not only to find meaning in a tradition drawn from a particular cultural setting but also to transpose that meaning into the idiom of another culture. This places him in the company of teachers like Indian Marpa in Tibet, who brought aspects of Buddhism into Tibet, or Kumarajiva, who helped bring it into China. Chetanananda’s work is thus significant to the scholar of world religions, and of new American spiritual traditions in particular.

The focus of these books is on mastery through the practice of meditation. There are many spiritual practices available today, including many approaches to meditation. What, then, have the people who practice Trika Yoga found to be particularly meaningful and important to them about this tradition? As one student pointed out, the underlying question is how long you want the process of refining your awareness to take. The practice of Trika Yoga is a direct approach. It draws on your own immediate experience instead of relying on an external body of knowledge or an external regulatory structure that you have to tolerate as part of some package.

For many, one of the most important dimensions of Trika Yoga is its practicality. It gives a person concrete tools with which to address the challenges in his or her life. The lack of such tools and the understanding of how to use them leaves one with little to alleviate the experience of suffering. As one practitioner who is also a doctor observed, when people live from a sense of resignation or grimness, they do not make the best of any of their circumstances. The highs are too high and the lows too low. What is enormous difficulty in the best of times becomes exponentially more so. Without the perspective of there being something greater, the highs just get you into trouble or mark the loss of the good times as they pass.

Many people are now giving up their successes and their high-powered jobs and are looking instead for a simpler way of life. This may be a good step, but a spiritual practice is more than an issue of lifestyle. The point, as the philosophers of Trika have been explaining since the eighth century, is that spiritual work is not about denying anybody their life, but about asking them to understand its source. This means there is only one thing we can take seriously, and that is our creative energy.

The philosophy of Trika Yoga corroborates this without putting down the life you have to live. It suggests a way to integrate your physical, intellectual and emotional, and spiritual life. There is nothing particularly right or wrong about the physical life, for example, but your practice puts it into perspective. It is not asking us to give up anything but our ignorance and our tension.

The practice of Trika Yoga enables a person to experience everything from powerful feelings of Joy to powerful experiences of anguish without being thrown off center by either of them. It gives you a place to return to that is beyond those individual moments so that you don’t get lost in them any longer than necessary. This, in fact, is a second aspect that many practitioners talk about. Trika Yoga involves achieving a balance in your life, enabling you to view things in their proper proportion and to rise above the disequilibrium in which we find ourselves. It is a practice that trains you, instead, to see and accept life as it is. You learn to separate out the romantic, unrealistic conceptions that many of us have grown up with, and become able to live life with less disquiet. We find that there is no reason not to be cheerful. We not only have everything that we need; we have so much more than we need.

FROM EARLY VEDANTA TO KASHMIR SHAIVISM: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta by Natalia Isayeva ($16.95, paper, 197 pages, notes, index, SUNY, State University of New York Press, 0-7914-2450-2)


This book deals with one of the most innovative periods of the development of Indian religious and philosophical traditions. Starting with the teaching of the protovedanta philosopher Gaudapada, and then analyzing the ideas of his famous contemporary, the grammarian Bhartrhari. Isayeva suggests an entirely new approach to the whole history of Vedanta. Gaudapada and Bhartrhari are presented as founders of an independent trend within Indian orthodox philosophy, a trend that culminates later in the theistic tenets of Kashmir Shaivism. This relationship between Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Sankara has not been heretofore explored. By tying in the grammatical tradition to the mystical we are offered continuities in Indian worldview too often segmented by modernist assumptions. Her analysis demonstrates a major continuity of thought from Gaudapada through Bhartrhari to Abhinavagupta and Kashmir Shaivism, a line of continuity hinted at by others but so fully worked out as here.

Isayeva shows that, in contrast to Sankara, early Vedanta philosophers regarded the higher Brahman as a kind of continuous reverberation of a peculiar phonic energy that was ever producing the same constantly renewable structures and patterns of the universe. This idea found its continuation in the metaphysical and aesthetical concepts of Abhinavagupta, where the ultimate ontological reality is manifested through the rhythmical outbursts of Shiva’s creative power.

Note on Sources
Pt. I. Gaudapada - The Mind and the Cosmos: Reflection or Prototype?
1. Gaudapada: Life and Works
2. Mandukya-karika: The Gradations of Consciousness
3. Mandukya-karika: The Illusory World and the Problem of Creation
4. Mandukya-karika: The Shimmering of Cosmos
Pt. II. Bhartrhari - Speech and the World: Creation or Expression?
5. Bhartrhari
6. Vakya-padiya
7. Manifestations of Speech
8. Language and Being
9. The Structure of the Universe and the Place of Man
Pt. III. Further Developments: The Interplay of Energies and Artistic Creation
10. Early Vedanta and Kashmir Saivism
11. The Concept of Energies: Neoplatonist and Hesychast Parallels
12. Abhinavagupta's Aesthetics
The Name and the Voice: Some Concluding Unscientific Remarks

Natalia Isayeva is Senior Researcher in the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. She has also published Shankara and Indian Philosophy in SUNY Series in Religious Studie.


The book deals with early Vedanta, that is, a pre-Sankara Vedanta, which was characterized by a deeply ingrained belief in the power of the word, when the higher reality was often approached through painstaking grammatical studies. It presented an exquisite analysis of consciousness and, at the same time, often relied on esoteric meditation practice verging on Tantrism. It was powerfully influenced by Buddhism, and yet, had an equally powerful sense of being rooted in Brahmanical orthodoxy. Judging from these different views, early Vedanta was nothing but a tangled mess of poorly disguised contradictions. Of course, in just a few centuries, the gap dividing these early Vedanta teachings from Sankara’s mature Vedanta was bridged; roughly molded joints and connections were smoothed down, harsh contrasts were resolved within the all embracing fold of Advaita Vedanta.

Yet one cannot totally escape the feeling that in every synthesis, in every harmony, however perfect it might be, something is missing. Every time philosophers try to bring together or connect diverse trends of thought, something is sacrificed, often the more colorful and intricate details, more exquisite embellishments. And it is often the case that those very details, presumed to be purely ornamental and superfluous, could have given birth to new ideas and theoretical notions.

Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta is undoubtedly an impressive enough philosophy, an elaborate pyramid of escalating concepts and images. Let us take a look at some of the foundational elements that ultimately came to be discarded—perhaps they were necessary and indispensable only for the initial stages of its construction. We naturally want to take a closer look at Sankara’s predecessors, at his forerunners who were trying to propound their own ideas about God, the creation of the universe, or the nature of the human soul.

This book deals mainly with the ideas and teaching of Gaudapada, the teacher of Sankara’s master, Govinda, and with the ideas of the grammarian and philosopher, Bhartrhari . In my view, these two thinkers should be regarded as predecessors of certain schools of non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism, which proved to be quite theistical in their essence, rather than immediate forerunners of Sankara’s Vedanta.

Generally speaking, the concepts of early Vedantins became natural bridges or links which connected the Advaita system to other religious and philosophical systems. It is well known, for instance, that Mandanamisra was deeply attracted to Mimamsa point of view. At first glance, Gaudapada presents a phenomenal example of a mediation between orthodox Vedanta and "heretical" notions of Buddhism. Meanwhile, Bhartrhari , probably the most interesting and original philosopher of the whole pre-Sankara orthodox tradition, succeeded in using some of the Buddhist ideas, as well as in supplying a necessary link between the emerging Advaita Vedanta and a venerable grammar tradition of ancient India. Finally, all of these early Vedantins were much more proficient than their relatively moderate successor in blending philosophical concepts with the religious, mystical, and ritualistic side of their respective teachings. Again, Bhartrhari seems to provide the most compelling example of that blending, since his theoretical tastes and prophetic revelations have found themselves a direct continuation within the fold of various mystical and Tantric schools of non-dualist Kashmir Shaivism.

But however colorful and interesting these ritualistic traits might have been in their own right, it was nevertheless absolutely necessary to anchor the recurrent mythological and psychological images of early Vedanta in a solid ontological foundation; it was important to show their compelling and indispensable character, as well as to determine a possible direction of their eventual development. In fact, when analyzing the notions and concepts of any religious and philosophical school, one should always try to look for ontological implications, even if the latter did not seem to be entirely transparent to the adepts themselves. And that inevitably calls for certain interpretations, certain additional suggestions that might contribute towards revealing the inner logical structure of the system in question.

BODY AND COSMOLOGY IN KASHMIR SAIVISM by Gavin D. Flood ($109.95, cloth, 441 pages, notes, bibliography, index, Mellen Research University Press, 0-7734-9974-1)

This book is an exploration of a way of regarding the human subject within the Hindu philosophical and religious traditions, popularly known as Kashmir Saivism. Although still present in an attenuated sense in the contemporary world, these traditions flourished in the early medieval period, finding their most articulate theological expression in the works of Abhinavagupta and his student Ksemaraja. These thinkers presented a view that consciousness is the primary reality, both beyond and pervading the cosmos, and that the perceivable, manifest universe, along with the world of daily transaction, is a coagulation of this subtle power. They expressed their ideas in commentaries on ‘revealed’ texts, the Tantras, and in independent works written in Sanskrit, which is sometimes beautiful though often recondite.

This study attempts to unravel the religious systems presented by these and other Saiva thinkers. For them the universe is a manifestation of supreme consciousness in its modes of self-illumination and self-representation. Although consciousness is the key term in understanding the metaphysics of these traditions, Flood emphasizes the centrality of the body in both their conceptual schemes and in their religious practices.

The structure of the body reflects the structure of the cosmos and becomes a central image in expressing a monistic metaphysics. It is also the central focus of religious practices intended to transcend the limitations of the human condition. Put simply, when speaking about the body the monistic Saivas are speaking about consciousness and when speaking about consciousness they are speaking about the body. Furthermore when acting to transform the body they are acting to transform consciousness.

That consciousness is the principle reality and that distinctions are ultimately false, a position which might be labeled as Objective idealism, is a view which is counterintuitive to predominant, contemporary western culture (in both its secular and religious dimensions). There are, however, parallels in some western philosophical traditions, particularly in German idealism and in aspects of Heidegger’s thought. Flood considers in particular of Heidegger’s idea of the ‘concealedness’ and ‘unconcealedness’ of Being, which is akin to the Saiva concept that pure consciousness simultaneously conceals and reveals itself. Apart from philosophy, the soteriological aspects of the Kashmiri traditions have parallels in new religious movements whose origins are Indian. Indeed, more than systems of philosophy, the gaiva traditions claim to be systems intended to transform individual consciousness to the existential realization of their truth claims.

In this study Flood argues the centrality of the body in understanding these soteriologies and their theology. The body functions on a number of levels in monistic Saivism: it is the form which particularizes consciousness in a certain world and is one of the main constraints in determining experience. That is, the kind of body we have constrains the kind of world we experience. Body terminology is also applied to higher cosmic levels or worlds, which comprise the Saiva cosmos and which constrain the particular forms or events of the universe.

The body provides a framework for a Saiva theology of consciousness. We live and experience our worlds in a body; the layers of the cosmos, or spheres in which consciousness operates in varying degrees of particularity, are regarded as bodies; and the pure consciousness of which they are a projection is called a body of consciousness. Not only this, the body is the medium and instrument for experiencing liberation from the cycle of birth, old age and death through initiation into the gaiva systems of yoga and liturgy. Through initiation into various esoteric traditions, the Saiva monist hopes to gain access to these higher ‘bodies’ and eventually be liberated.

Excerpt: About two centuries ago the West discovered the spiritual teachings of the East and tried to make sense of them. Many of these teachings were (and still are) quite different from the worldviews of the three traditions that are indigenous to the West: Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), humanism and what might broadly be called esotericism; and not surprisingly it has taken a long time for them to be properly understood. But I think we could say that Westerners, with a little effort, are now as capable as any Easterner of understanding the general idea of karma, the Buddhist doctrine of no-self and emptiness and the Hindu idea that the world is an illusion — to give a few of the most obvious examples of Eastern teachings that have no western counterpart.

There is, however, one dimension of Eastern still having trouble with — and that is cosmology. And of all the cosmologies of all the traditions of the East, none can equal that of Kashmir Saivism. Not only is it stupendously vast and intricately precise, but it is also a teaching of salvation. In fact, it is a cosmological soteriology.

The principles of this cosmology that are so challenging and so new to most Western ears that they are worth summarizing. The universe consists of a series of layers that are manifested out of the original body of consciousness of give. Each layer comes into existence by being projected through a lens which contains all the elements that will be used to construct the world that is to be manifest, including all its objects and the beings who inhabit it. However, these elements are not like building blocks, already assembled and waiting to be distributed, but are more like seeds which blossom into — that is, actually create — the world or layer that is manifest. And just as an acorn must give rise to an oak tree, so the various elements in the lens necessarily express themselves in the forms of the level of the cosmic hierarchy that they govern. Or to put it another way, the lens contains within it the principles or blueprints or archetypes of all the forms that are created when the light of consciousness shines through it.

Nor is this all. To talk of lenses and seeds and blueprints is to imply that the process of manifestation is impersonal. But it isn’t .No world can come into existence without consciousness, which precedes it. In other words, every layer of the cosmos is brought into existence — indeed, willed into existence - by a being who governs it; and every world is an expression of the qualities which that being embodies. These beings are gods, of course. And that is what a god is: the ruler of a level of the universe; someone who has created it through the lens of his mind and is responsible for it. That is why gods must be worshipped; it is entirely natural (which is to say lawful) that they should be. They have their place in the hierarchy and are as duty bound — or perhaps we might say, dharmically bound — to fulfill their function just as much as any other being.

The hierarchical nature of this cosmology is an integral part of it and needs to be understood. The principle here is that differentiation increases the lower down the hierarchy we go. As manifestation becomes more and more gross, so there is greater separation between the point of origin of that world (its lens, seed, principle or god) and the objects and beings in it. At the higher levels, however, this separation is much less and hence the beings in these higher worlds do not experience themselves as distinct entities but rather as expressions of the qualities that govern that world - just as the leaves of a tree are part of the tree and not separate plants.

Moreover, at the top end of the hierarchy, worlds are practically indistinguishable from the gods who create them, and the beings who inhabit them are also so intimately connected with their god that they can be regarded as the organs of perception, used by the deity to experience his world, which is really his body or self. And on the largest scale of all, the whole cosmic hierarchy, from top to bottom and containing all worlds and all gods, is nothing other than the body of Diva.

And it is at this point that the soteriological dimension of this cosmology comes into play — and in two ways. First, these teachings are themselves derived from a higher source — as all forms are and are therefore both a necessary expression of the laws of creation (to use impersonal language) and divine revelation (to use impersonal language). Secondly, because every level of the hierarchy recapitulates all that has gone before it, the human world contains all the elements that are needed in order to return to the original pure consciousness of give. These elements are both inner (for which yoga is created - in the special cosmological sense that I have outlined above) and outer (for which puja is created), and each is a reflection of the other. In short, the tradition of Kashmir Saivism is an instance of its own teaching: a ‘form’ that is an exact replica of the reality it describes.

Gavin D. Flood has also writen An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press. (Paper) It is a well balanced account of Hindu religions.

List of illustrations
A note on language and transliteration
Abbreviations and texts
1. Points of departure
2. Ancient origins
3. Dharma
4. Yoga and renunciation
5. Narrative traditions and early Vaisnavism
6. The love of Visnu
7. Saiva and tantric religion
8. The Goddess and Sakta traditions
9. Hindu ritual
10. Hindu theology and philosophy
11. Hinduism and the modern world

THE ALCHEMICAL BODY: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India by David Gordon White ($49.95, cloth, 614 pages, notes. bibliography, index, University of Chicago Press, 0-226-89497-5)

Beginning in the fifth century C.E., various Indian mystics began to innovate a body of techniques with which to render themselves immortal. These people called themselves Siddhas, a term formerly reserved for a class of demigods, revered by Hindus and Buddhists alike, who were known to inhabit mountain tops or the atmospheric regions. Over the following five to eight hundred years, three types of Hindu Siddha orders emerged, each with its own specialized body of practice. These were the Siddha Kaula, whose adherents sought bodily immortality through erotico-mystical practices; the Rasa Siddhas, medieval India’s alchemists, who sought to transmute their flesh-and-blood bodies into immortal bodies through the ingestion of the mineral equivalents of the sexual fluids of the god Siva and his consort, the Goddess; and the Nath Siddhas, whose practice of bathe yoga projected the sexual and laboratory practices of the Siddha Kaula and Rasa Siddhas upon the internal grid of the subtle body. For India’s medieval Siddhas, these three conjoined types of practice led directly to bodily immortality, supernatural powers, and self-divinization; in a word, to the exalted status of the semidivine Siddhas of the older popular cults. In THE ALCHEMICAL BODY, David Gordon White excavates and centers within its broader Indian context this lost tradition of the medieval Siddhas. Working from a body of previously unexplored alchemical sources, he demonstrates for the first time that the medieval disciplines of Hindu alchemy and hatha yoga were practiced by one and the same people, and that they can only be understood when viewed together. Human sexual fluids and the structures of the subtle body are microcosmic equivalents of the substances and apparatus manipulated by the alchemist in his laboratory. With these insights, White opens the way to a new and more comprehensive understanding of the entire sweep of medieval Indian mysticism, within the broader context of south Asian Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Islam.

This book is an essential reference for anyone interested in Indian yoga, alchemy, and the medieval beginnings of science. This work reads like an adventure novel. Full of esoteric lore mixed with history and gossip, it is a pleasure to read.


In the new age India of the 1990s, it has become popular, even fashionable, to have the name of a tantrika, a kind of all-purpose sexologist, medicine man, and shaman, in one’s little black book of phone numbers. This same phenomenon has brought with it the appearance, preceding the title page of books on magic and tantra, of "disclaimers" to the effect that said book does not guarantee the results of the techniques it is treating and that its editors are not responsible for unhappy side-effects of said techniques when they are practiced in the privacy of one’s home. The present work carries no such disclaimer because it in no way purports to be a "how-to" book for realizing immortality. Nor is this a study in the history of Indian medicine or science: a great number of Indian scholars and scientists as well as a growing number of western authors have written excellent works on the matters I will be treating from these perspectives, incorporating into their writings comprehensive overviews of Indian chemistry, human physiology, pharmacology, and therapeutics.

The present work is rather a history-of-religions study of the medieval Siddha traditions of Hindu alchemy and hatha yoga, which formed two important fields of theory and practice within the vast current of Indian mysticism known as tantra. It is the religious and, more specifically, tantric features of these interpenetrating traditions that I will be treating in these pages, from both a historical and a phenomenological perspective. In the main, this will be a study of the language of mystic experience and expression, and it will be from the standpoint of language that I will chart out the theoretical, symbolic, and analogical parameters of the alchemical and hatha yogic disciplines within their broader tantric and Hindu contexts. And, working from the semantic and symbolic fields of meaning that the alchemical material generates, this study will also look at a much wider array of Hindu and Indian phenomena through "alchemical eyes."

This will furthermore be a scholarly work, nearly entirely divorced from any ground of personal mystical experience. Apart from a short period schooling in hatha yoga undertaken in Benares in 1984-85, I have never experienced anything that one could qualify as a genuine master-disciple relationship. I have never levitated, read other people’s minds, or even seen auras. This being the case, it may well be that I belong to the great mass of those who "must go on blundering inside our front-brain faith in Kute Korrespondences, hoping that for each psi-synthetic taken from Earth’s soul there is a molecule, secular and more or less ordinary and named, over here—kicking endlessly among the plastic trivia, finding in each Deeper Significance and trying to string them all together like terms of a power series hoping to zero in on the tremendous and secret Function whose name, like the permuted names of God, cannot be spoken . . . to make sense out of, to find the meanest sharp sliver of truth in so much replication."’

Ultimate reality is beyond my reach, either to experience or express. I nonetheless hope that these pages may serve to bridge a certain gap between raw experience and synthetic description, and thereby contribute to an ongoing tradition of cultural exchange that is at least as old as the Silk Road.

In reading these pages, the reader may come to experience a sensation of vertigo, as the horizon of one mystic landscape opens onto yet another landscape, equally vast and troubling in its internal immensity. It may be that these landscapes, with their dizzying multitudinous levels of self interpretation, may inspire analysis by psychologists of both the armchair and professional varieties. I believe, however, that the most useful western companion to the present study is the work of the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard entitled The Poetics of Space. Bachelard’s work is a phenomenological study of literary depictions of the experience of space, from cellar to attic, from Chinese boxes to the interiors of seashells. In these pages I will endeavor to follow just such a phenomenological approach, pointing out homologies where the sources would seem to indicate connections internal to the traditions themselves, without attempting to force the textual data into any preconceived models.

I treat alchemical and tantric discourse as self-referential, as part and parcel of a self-enclosed network of specifically Indian symbols and signs, my assumption being that the words and images of these traditions are always referring, before all else, to other words and images. Therefore, the best way to formulate a theory concerning the nature of the experiences for which these words and images are so many signposts is to generate a symbolic lexicon from the multitude of intersecting words and images the sources offers. Rather than exposing the doctrines of any single school, movement, or exegetical tradition, this study seeks to lay bare the words, images, and logic that a wide swath of the Hindu, and particularly Diva (and tantric), population always already assume to be the case prior to giving voice to their doctrines.

This is, in the main, a study of a pervasive Indian worldview from a tantric and alchemical perspective. Now, if we follow Douglas Brooks when he maintains that Hindu tantrism has been treated as "an unwanted stepchild in the family of Hindu studies"; and if, as Betty Dobbs has written with regard to its rejection of alchemy as so much fuzzy mysticism, that "modern science, like adolescence, denies its parentage," then the subject of this study has a troubled family life. Perhaps it is the stepparents’ and adolescents’ judgment that one ought to question here…

DAVID GORDON WHITE is associate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Myths of the Dog-Man, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Headline 3

insert content here

WT Main | About WT | Review Links | Contact | Review Sources | Search

Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Special Contents

insert content here