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Yoga and Māyā in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa

Graduate Seminar
Gopal Gupta
3 Feb 2011

Among Puranic literature, the Bhagavata Purana has been most influential, both in intellectual circles and in popular Hinduism. The Bhagavata offers a unique form of yoga that is indebted to earlier texts, such as the Mahabharata and Patañjali’s Yoga-sutra, but is nevertheless distinct from them in an important way—the Bhagavata blends its characteristic emotional bhakti with the otherwise staid practice of yoga. This paper argues that the shift from the normative bhakti of the Mahabharata to the emotional bhakti of the Bhagavata is made possible primarily through the concept of yoga-maya. The paper examines the relationship between yoga, the yogi, yoga-maya, and yogesvara in the two texts, and shows that without maya, the intensity of the emotional yoga between the devotee and Krsna found in the Bhagavata cannot take place. While non-dualist Vedanta philosophy often sees maya as a negative force, this paper argues the Bhagavata affirms just the opposite – the devotee’s place under the veil of maya is a desirable situation as it allows for the experience of intimate love.

 
Gopal Gupta is currently pursuing a D.Phil. in Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford.

Related: Bhagavata, Yoga

Mysterium Horrendum: Mysticism & the Negative Numinous

Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Study of Religions/Mysticism Seminar
Dr Simon Podmore
28 Jan 2011

According to Rudolf Otto’s ‘Idea of the Holy’, while elements of a so-called ‘mysticism of horror’ are well-acknowledged in Hindu traditions, this remains an under-recognised, yet undeniably present, strain in Western Christian mysticism. This paper explores Otto’s account of the ‘negative numinous’ with specific reference to the under-examined notion of the mysterium horrendum: a variant of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans in which the element of dread is ‘cut loose’ and ‘intensified’ to the point of ‘the demonic’. Drawing particular attention to accounts of the darkness, absence, and wrath of God in Western Christian mysticism, the lecture questions the essential relation between the demonic and the divine elements encountered in the numinous.

Dr Simon D. Podmore is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Theology and Gordon Milburn Junior Research Fellow at Trinity College. He is author of Kierkegaard & the Self Before God: Anatomy of the Abyss (Indiana University Press, 2011). His current research explores notions of ‘spiritual struggle’ in Western Christian mysticism.

Related: Christianity, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Hinduism II: Hindu Traditions, Lecture Two

Professor Gavin Flood
26 Jan 2011

These lectures will begin from where Hinduism 1 left off. We will trace the development of devotion (bhakti) and examine bhakti and yoga in the Bhagavad-gita before moving into the medieval period. Here the lectures will describe some developments of bhakti in vernacular literatures, focusing both on texts that advocate devotion to iconic forms and the later texts that advocate devotion to an absolute without qualities. Here we will also examine the importance of ritual texts and the relation between ritual, devotion, and yoga. We will then trace the themes of liberation and path with examples from selected tantric traditions within Vaisnavism and Saivism. Lastly we will examine the development of Hinduism in the nineteenth century with the Hindu reformers and the development of a politicised Hinduism in the twentieth century.

Related: General

Development and elaboration of Śaivasiddhānta doctrines in the Tamil country: Śivāgrayogī’s contribution in the middle of 16th century CE

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr T. N. Ganeshan
29 Nov 2010

The sixteenth century in south India witnessed enormous output of literature composed in Sanskrit on many subjects and systems of philosophy. Sivagrayogi was a very great Saivasiddhanta teacher belonging to this period who had enriched the Saivasiddhanta literature by composing many independent texts as well as commentaries. Some of them are voluminous and they have been exerting great sway among the devotees and learned scholars. This seminar will analyse briefly his contribution for the development of Sivasiddhanta during the pre-modern period.

Related: Saiva

Text Migration: Translation and Modern Reception of the Bhāgavata Purāna in Bengal and Beyond

Dr Ferdinando Sardella
25 Nov 2010

This event marks the launching of a newly started project at the OCHS called "Bengali Vaishnavism in the Modern Period", which undertakes the mapping, collection, translation and investigation of literature and other relevant material related to or dealing with the modern development of Caitanya Vaisnavism in Bengal from the late 18th century to the present. The presentation addresses in particular the migration of the Bhagavata Purana  - one of the core theological text of Vaishnavism/Hinduism in India - as a sacred text to the West during the 19th and 20th century. It is divided into three sections: the first presents the historical context for the reception of the Bhagavata in 19th century Bengal—at the time the most prominent intellectual centre of the British Empire in South Asia—among the Bengali middle classe and some of the controversies that surrounded its popular usage as a sacred text. The second discusses the text as part of a process of religious and cultural negotiation between India and the West, with particular reference to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (1874-1937) - the founder in Calcutta of a modern religious institution called the Gaudiya Math - and his successors. The third section will trace the gradual transformation of the Bhagavata from a sacred text read by the literate among the Hindus to an instrument for diffusion of religious ideas and practice during the period following World War II. The presentation ends with a brief discussion of the function of the text within its indigenous religious tradition, and the ways in which this function has transformed through the dynamic social and cultural interactions between India and the West.

Related: Bhagavata, Modern Hinduism

To Be or Not-To-Be: The Rise of Durga in Bengal

Dr Susmita Chatterjee
25 Nov 2010

According to popular belief, the celebration of Durga Puja in Bengal, as the great festival of Bengalis, started roughly from the late medieval period onwards. This paper shows that the celebration of the great festival of goddesses in autumn had been prevalent in the region for more than fifteen hundred centuries, and that the practice itself was pluralistic. It looks into four Upapuranas of early medieval Bengal and delineates the politics of the appropriation of local goddesses by brahmanism. The paper argues that the process of emergence of Durga as the brahmanical Great goddess of the region was essentially linked with the loss of the local goddess matrix, and the meanings and symbolisms related to it. Brahmanical patriarchy in early medieval Bengal retained the local goddesses as the primary symbol of the Ultimate, but played down their earlier subjectivities and the cultural ethos which had sustained them. The paper focuses on four brahmanical strategies through which the making of Durga was achieved: ‘identification’, ‘hyphenated- disjuncture’, ‘disembodiment’, and ‘circumscription of the goddesses within family relationships’. It explores traits and trails of other local goddesses that were either wiped off or modified in the process and locates various levels of changes in the mythic and ritual content of the goddesses in the Upapuranas.

 
Susmita Chatterjee is a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, the University of Edinburgh. Currently, she is working on the the ritual of Kumari Puja in contemporary Bengal and exploring discursive modalities of treating the female as divine. She has completed her Ph.D. at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her Ph.D. thesis, entitled, "The Politics of Subordination: Transformations of the goddess and worship of Durga in Bengal" focused on the making of Durga as the brahmanical Great Goddess of the region at the cost of the local goddess matrix and its cultural ethos. It looked into the changing mythic and ritual content of the worship of the goddesses in four Sakta Upapuranas of Bengal and historicized the transformations in the phenomenological and gender roles of the goddesses in the context of early medieval Bengal.

Related: Sakta

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 7: Liberation through Yoga

Professor Gavin Flood
24 Nov 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: Yoga

Parallel Systematisation of Śaivism based on the Veda and the Purāṇa: Haradatta, Appayadīkṣita and Nīlakaṇṭhadīkṣita

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr T. N. Ganeshan
22 Nov 2010

In the 16th century there was a revival of Śaivism fully based on the Vedas and the Purāņas. Also to refute the attack of Vaishnava teachers and to firmly establish that Śiva is the supreme reality expounded in the Vedas and the allied texts great Śaiva teachers such as Haradatta, Appayadīkşita, Nīlakaņţhadīkşita, to cite a few, have composed many texts. A brief analysis of these important but less studied texts will be the subject of this lecture.

Dr. T. Ganesan is a researcher at the French Institute of Pondichery where he is also Director of the History of Śaiva Siddhānta project. He is an expert in the Sanskrit and Tamil sources of the Śaivism generally and the Śaiva Siddhānta in particular and is engaged in writing a history of Śaivism and preparing a critical edition of the Sūkmāgama. Among his recent publications are Two Saiva teachers of the sixteenth century. Nigamajnana I and his disciple Nigamajnana II (IFP – Publications Hors série n° 9, 2009), xviii, pp. 274;  Sarvajnanottaragama (Yogapada) with the commentary of Aghorasivacharya, critically edited for the first time with introduction and Tamil translation, (Sri Aghorasivacharya Trust, Chennai, 2009); and the Acintyavisvasadakhyagama (2 chapters) along with the Tamil versified adaptation Civapunniyattelivu of Nigamajnanadesika, (Sri Aghorasivacharya Trust, Chennai, 2009).

Related: Saiva

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 6: The Bhagavad-gita

Professor Gavin Flood
17 Nov 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: General

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 5: The Epics and the Early Development of Theism

Professor Gavin Flood
10 Nov 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: General

Ñāṉāmirtam: The first available Tamil systematisation of Śaivāgama doctrines

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr T. N. Ganeshan
8 Nov 2010

Saivism with its important branches such as Pasupata and the Saivasiddhanta was widely popular in many parts of India from the beginning of the first millennium of the common era. Of them, the Saivasiddhanta had many royal dynasties as its support. The basic tenets of the system were enuncitated in the canonical texts called Agama believed to have been revealed by Siva Himself. In the course of its spread to south India and especially to the Tamil country the essential teachings of the Agama-s were taught by the teachers to their disciples. In order to easily grasp those essentials one Vagisa belonging to the 12th century had composed a Tamil digest called Ñanamirtam basing on the Agamas. This is the only available first Tamil text belonging to such an early period which has been influencing the subsequent developments of Saivasiddhanta. A comparative and analytical study of this text will be a very fruitful one which would help trace the early development of Saivasiddhanta

Related: Saiva, Tantra

Comparative Mysticism Seminar 2: Tasting God: The Ascetical and Mystical Theology of Rupa Gosvami

Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
5 Nov 2010

This seminar explores Jiva Gosvamin’s theology and raises the question of whether he could be described as a mystic.

 
Dr Lutjeharms holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Oriental Studies (Indology) from the University of Ghent, Belgium and a DPhil from the University of Oxford (Theology). His DPhil was on the poet and theologian Kavikarnapura.

Related: Comparative Theology, Hindu Theology, Mysticism

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 4: Ascetic Traditions

Professor Gavin Flood
3 Nov 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: General

Pauṣkarāgama: The Śaivasiddhānta Doctrinal Base in its Later Developments–Two commentators, Umāpati and Jñānaprakāśa of Śālivāṭi, Jaffna

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr T. N. Ganeshan
1 Nov 2010

Among the available Saivagamas the Pauskaragama is a very important and interesting in many ways. The eight chapters deal with some of the fundamental doctrines of Saivasiddhanta in a thorough fashion. Its importance is also evident by the existence of two elaborate commentaries of which one is still unpublished. In my lecture I will highlight some of the salient features of this text based on those commentaries.

Related: Saiva, Tantra

Comparative Mysticism Seminar 1: Flowing Milk. A Lost Meditation, Tradition from the Silk Road

Lance Cousins
22 Oct 2010

This lecture examines a Buddhist meditation tradition exemplified particularly by visualisation text from central Asia. This is a seminar in our series on Comparative Mystical Traditions.

 
Lance Cousins is an expert in Buddhism, particularly the Theravada tradition and Pali commentarial literature, and Buddhist meditation traditions. He taught for many years at the University of Manchester where, among other things, he taught a course in comparative mysticism.

Related: Buddhism, Comparative Theology, Mysticism

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - 2: The Veda and Vedic Traditions

Professor Gavin Flood
20 Oct 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: General

Hinduism I: Sources and Development - Introduction: The Indus Valley Culture and the Controversy of Origins

Professor Gavin Flood
13 Oct 2010

These lectures offer a thematic and historical introduction to the sources and early development of ‘Hindu’ traditions from their early formation to the early medieval period. We will explore the formation of Hindu traditions through textual sources, such as the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the practices and social institutions that formed classical Hindu traditions. The lectures will include an introduction to Hindu philosophy.

Related: General

Readings from the Bhagavata Purana: Session Two

Dr Ravi Gupta
27 May 2010

In these seminars, we will read sections of the Bhagavata Purana that are relevant to the theme of the Shivdasani lectures – creation and chaos. We will focus on the account of Jaya and Vijaya’s fall from Vaikuntha, paying special attention to issues of translation as well as theological concerns raised by commentators.

Related: Bhagavata

Readings from the Bhagavata Purana: Session One

Dr Ravi Gupta
20 May 2010

In these seminars, we will read sections of the Bhagavata Purana that are relevant to the theme of the Shivdasani lectures – creation and chaos. We will focus on the account of Jaya and Vijaya’s fall from Vaikuntha, paying special attention to issues of translation as well as theological concerns raised by commentators.

Related: Bhagavata

Radical Monotheism of the Qur’an and Equitheism of the Bhagavata Purana: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Allah and Krishna

Wahlstrom Lecture
Professor Carl Olson
17 May 2010

This narrowly focused essay proposes to compare the Islamic god Allah as depicted in the Qur’an with the Hindu deity Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana. This paper concentrates on how these two respective texts define the two deities. More precisely, this essay focuses on such issues as transcendence and immanence, creative power and play, obedience and love, and the relationship between God and humans. These various themes are examined from the perspective of comparative theology, which can be defined as an articulation of truths and a realization of a more complete knowledge of God in so far as it is possible by means of theology conceived broadly as inter-religious, comparative, dialogical, and confessional. This paper proposes to use a hermeneutical dialogue, which is an interpretative approach that is intended to lead to better cross-cultural understanding. Such a dialogue is risky because it entails entering the margins between oneself and the other. When the interpreter brings together the representative texts of different traditions, she forms a triadic relationship and dialogue with the context of a marginal situation.

 
Professor Carl Olson teaches Religious Studies at Allegheny College where he offers courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Religions of China, Zen Buddhism, and comparative phenomena, such as the self and death. Besides over a hundred and eighty reviews and essays in journals, books and encyclopedias, he has published over a dozen books on such topics as the goddess, Mircea Eliade, methodology, comparative philosophy, the Indian renouncer, and the Indian holy man Ramakrishna. His more recent books include the following: Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy: Two Paths of Liberation from Representational Mode of Thinking (SUNY Press, 2000); Indian Philosophers and Postmodern Thinkers: Dialogues on the Margins of Culture (Oxford University Press, 2002); The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction (Rutgers University Press, 2005); Original Buddhist Sources: A Reader (Rutgers University Press, 2005); The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-Historical Introduction (Rutgers University Press, 2007); Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader (Rutgers University Press, 2007); Celibacy and Religious Traditions (Oxford University Press, 2008), Historical Dictionary of Buddhism (Scarecrow Press, 2009), and Religious Studies: The Key Concepts (Routledge, forthcoming 2010). While at Allegheny College, Professor Olson has been appointed to the following honors and positions: Holder of the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair, 1991-1994; Holder of the Teacher-Scholar Chair in the Humanities, 2000-2003; Visiting Fellowship at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, 2002; and elected Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge 2002.

Related: Bhagavata, Comparative Theology, Islam

Creation and Chaos in the Bhagavata Purana (Lecture Two)

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr Ravi Gupta
13 May 2010

A potter gently shapes a lump of clay upon his wheel. A carpenter hews and joins measured pieces of wood. Creation, we see, is often a process of reasoned thought and careful construction. And yet, just as often, creation arises in far more unpredictable circumstances—from chaos, transgression, and failure. This lectures series will examine the interplay of creation and chaos in narratives of the Bhagavata Purana. We will pay special attention to the Bhagavata’s account of the churning of the ocean (a fine example of creation from chaos), as well as the narrative of Jaya and Vijaya’s fall from grace (chaos from creation).

 
Dr. Ravi M. Gupta is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at The College of William and Mary (USA) and an alumnus of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. He completed his D.Phil. in Hindu Studies at Oxford, following which he was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at Linacre College. Dr. Gupta has taught a variety of courses in Hinduism and World Religions, and is the recipient of the David Hughes Award for excellence in teaching. Dr. Gupta is the author of The Chaitanya Vaishnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami (Routledge, 2007) as well as several articles in academic journals.
 
At present, he and Dr. Kenneth Valpey are working on an abridged translation of the Bhagavata Purana, to be published by Columbia University Press. Dr. Gupta lectures widely in India and the United States, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies.

Related: Bhagavata

Comparative Theology in Global Perspective

Professor Keith Ward
10 May 2010

Professor Keith Ward has developed comparative theology and religion in many of his publications over the years. He is particularly interested in comparative theology, the dialogue between religions and the interplay between science and faith. Keith has had a renowned and rich academic career; he taught at Glasgow, St Andrews, London, he was Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he was the F.D. Maurice Professor of Moral and Social Theology at the University of London, Professor of History and Philosophy of Religion at King’s College London, and Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. He was also visiting professor at the Claremont Graduate University, he has delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow, and was the Gresham Professor of Divinity at Gresham College. In this seminar Keith will share some of his thoughts on comparative theology and its future direction.

Related: Comparative Theology

Creation and Chaos in the Bhagavata Purana (Lecture One)

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr Ravi Gupta
6 May 2010

A potter gently shapes a lump of clay upon his wheel. A carpenter hews and joins measured pieces of wood. Creation, we see, is often a process of reasoned thought and careful construction. And yet, just as often, creation arises in far more unpredictable circumstances—from chaos, transgression, and failure. This lectures series will examine the interplay of creation and chaos in narratives of the Bhagavata Purana. We will pay special attention to the Bhagavata’s account of the churning of the ocean (a fine example of creation from chaos), as well as the narrative of Jaya and Vijaya’s fall from grace (chaos from creation). Dr. Ravi M. Gupta is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at The College of William and Mary (USA) and an alumnus of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. He completed his D.Phil. in Hindu Studies at Oxford, following which he was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at Linacre College. Dr. Gupta has taught a variety of courses in Hinduism and World Religions, and is the recipient of the David Hughes Award for excellence in teaching. Dr. Gupta is the author of The Chaitanya Vaishnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami (Routledge, 2007) as well as several articles in academic journals. At present, he and Dr. Kenneth Valpey are working on an abridged translation of the Bhagavata Purana, to be published by Columbia University Press. Dr. Gupta lectures widely in India and the United States, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies.

Related: Bhagavata

Hindu Theology: Session Seven - Theological Reasoning Across Traditions

Professor Gavin Flood
11 Mar 2010

The last session will focus on the nature of theological reasoning that we have been engaged with in the course and the nature of theological reading. The last session will raise questions about whether reasoning is universal, the nature of Hindu theological truth, and the place of Hindu theological reasoning within the western academy. 

Reading:
MacIntyre, W. Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry: Encyclopedia, Genealogy and Tradition (University of Notre Dame Press, 1990).

Related: Hindu Theology

Mystical Traditions in Comparative Perspective: Session Five - The Jewish Roots of Christian Mysticism

Professor Guy Stroumsa
5 Mar 2010

Mysticism is a term that has fallen out of use in recent years, partly due to the critique of essentialism in the history of religions, partly due to the recognition that mysticism is particular to tradition and culture and partly due to the orientation to understand religion in terms of a politics of culture that sees religion purely in constructivist terms. The abstraction ‘mysticism’ is a problematic category that has been developed from Christian mystical theology (in contrast to dogmatic or natural theology). Viewing other religions through the lens of ‘mysticism’, particularly the religions of India and China, has tended to give a distorted picture to the West, underlined by Radhakrishnan’s claim, among others, that the east is ‘spiritual’ while the west is ‘material’. Of course, the historical reality of religious traditions is much more complex than this. Nevertheless, religious traditions are interested in, and develop, keen senses of inwardness that lay stress upon a direct understanding or experience of transcendence. While acknowledging the problematic nature of the category ‘mysticism,’ this series of seminars intends to explore the mystical traditions of specific religions in dialogue with Hinduism. The series is seen as an exercise in comparative theology. Short lectures on the mystical traditions would be followed by a response from a Hindu perspective and general discussion.

Related: Christianity, Comparative Theology, Judaism, Mysticism

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