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Siddhas, Munis and Yogins but no Naths: The Early History of Hathayoga

Wahlstrom Lecture
Dr James Mallinson
19 May 2009

The Nath order has long been credited with being the originators of hatha-yoga and the authors of the Sanskrit texts on its practice. Text critical study of those works and research into other sources for the same period show this not to be the case: not one of the twenty Sanskrit texts that make up the corpus of early (pre-1450 CE) works on hatha-yoga was written in a Nath milieu. Furthermore, no single sect can be credited with starting hatha-yoga. On the contrary, hatha-yoga developed as a reaction against the sectarianism and exclusivity of tantra and was available to all, regardless of sectarian affiliation.

Related: Tantra, Yoga

Readings in the Upanishads Part 3 of 4

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Patrick Olivelle
15 May 2009

Professor Patrick Olivelle is very well known and highly regarded for his work on early Indian religions. Among his many publications are The Asrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution (OUP 1993), The Early Upanishads (OUP, 1998), and The Laws of Manu (OUP, 2004). Among his research interests are ascetic traditions and the history of the idea of dharma. Professor Olivelle teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

Related: Sanskrit, Upanisads

Readings in the Upanishads Part 2 of 4

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Patrick Olivelle
4 May 2009

Professor Patrick Olivelle is very well known and highly regarded for his work on early Indian religions. Among his many publications are The Asrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution (OUP 1993), The Early Upanishads (OUP, 1998), and The Laws of Manu (OUP, 2004). Among his research interests are ascetic traditions and the history of the idea of dharma. Professor Olivelle teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

Related: Sanskrit, Upanisads

Readings in the Upanishads Part 1 of 4

Shivdasani Lecture
Professor Patrick Olivelle
29 Apr 2009

Professor Patrick Olivelle is very well known and highly regarded for his work on early Indian religions. Among his many publications are The Asrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution (OUP 1993), The Early Upanishads (OUP, 1998), and The Laws of Manu (OUP, 2004). Among his research interests are ascetic traditions and the history of the idea of dharma. Professor Olivelle teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

Related: Sanskrit, Upanisads

Hindu understandings of God 4: The theology of Utpaladeva and the monistic Shaivas

Professor Gavin Flood
12 Mar 2009

We find the idea of God in different religions and it is theologically interesting that semantic analogues of the category appear across the boundaries of traditions. This series of lectures explores Hindu ideas of God and raises questions about the meaning of God in human traditions and the idea of comparative theology.

Related: Hindu Theology, Saiva

Religious experience in psychology, anthropology and sociology Lecture 3: Sociology of religion and the force of the individual

Dr Jessica Frazier
6 Mar 2009

The necessity of analysing religious influences on society has meant that key sociologists from Marx to Durkheim and Weber insisted on the significance of mood, motivation, and individual agency as the heart of any idea of society change. Religious feeling is thus one of the cornerstones enabling their theorisation of social dynamics. Here we look at sociological models for studying subjectivity as an autonomous ‘centre’ of dynamism and force, the beating heart of grand-scale movements of history.

Related: Religious experience, Religious Studies

Hindu understandings of God 3: The theology of Jiva Gosvami

Dr Rembert Lutjeharms
26 Feb 2009

We find the idea of God in different religions and it is theologically interesting that semantic analogues of the category appear across the boundaries of traditions. This series of lectures explores Hindu ideas of God and raises questions about the meaning of God in human traditions and the idea of comparative theology.

Related: Hindu Theology, Vaisnava

Religious experience in psychology, anthropology and sociology Lecture 1: Anthropology of religion and the religious imagination

Dr Jessica Frazier
13 Feb 2009

Many of the canonical names in anthropology have been criticised for their literary style and their tendency towards evocative narrative. Here we argue that this is not a methodological weakness, but the autonomous development of a conception of understanding in terms of imaginative empathy and inter-subjectivity, which parallels hermeneutic philosophy. Religious experiences are literally recreated in the reader, forming an intimate bond between the scholar and his or her subject.

Related: Religious experience, Religious Studies

Hindu understandings of God 2: The theology of Ramanuja

Professor Keith Ward
12 Feb 2009

We find the idea of God in different religions and it is theologically interesting that semantic analogues of the category appear across the boundaries of traditions. This series of lectures explores Hindu ideas of God and raises questions about the meaning of God in human traditions and the idea of comparative theology.

Related: Hindu Theology, Vaisnava

Hinduism, non-violence and the costs of terrorism: towards an Indian mediation service?

Dr Thomas Daffern
5 Feb 2009

This talk will address research into the history and philosophy of non-violence in Indian religious traditions, including Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. It will ask whether the stress on ahimsa in the Indian philosophical tradition is something worth preserving, even in the face of terrorist attacks such as most recently in Mumbai, and if so, how can that be done? The proposal to launch an Indian Union Mediation Service will be presented as one intelligent way to square this ethical circle of idealism versus realpolitik.

 
Dr Thomas C. Daffern is a specialist in peace studies, comparative philosophy and the history of ideas who has taught at the Universities of London and Oxford and also works in the secondary school sector as a religious studies teacher. He founded and directs the International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy, as a unique international academic network for thinkers interested in research into peace, conflict prevention and global philosophical and intellectual discourse between different cultures and civilisations. A former educational coordinator of the Gandhi Foundation, he has travelled extensively in India and taught at the Jain University in Rajasthan. See www.lulu.com/iipsgp or www.educationaid.net or for further details.

Related: Modern India, Politics

The importance of religion Lecture 2: Religion and literature

Professor Gavin Flood
30 Jan 2009

This series of lectures continues the series started in Michaelmas Term 2008.

Related: Religious Studies

Hindu understandings of God 1: Ideas of God in Hinduism

Dr Jessica Frazier
29 Jan 2009

We find the idea of God in different religions and it is theologically interesting that semantic analogues of the category appear across the boundaries of traditions. This series of lectures explores Hindu ideas of God and raises questions about the meaning of God in human traditions and the idea of comparative theology.

Related: Hindu Theology

Ontology of Bhartrhari

Shivdasani Seminar
Dr Piyali Palit
20 Nov 2008

In Bhartrhari, we find the only exception who delves into explaining nature of mantra-s. He formalizes the Mantrabhaga through his unique theory of aksara-brahman or Sabdadvaita without violating the cardinal form of ekavakyata in tune with the traditionalists view. He spells this ‘linguistic contiguity’ through statements like ‘anadi-nidhanam brahma sabdadvaitam yadaksaram’ etc. The concept of aksara unfolded in Paniniya-Varttika and Mahabhasya is also found to be very much relevant in the context of Bhartrhari’s Sabdadvaitavada.

 
In the Brahmakanda of Vakyapadiya, he illustrates the algorithm of mantras lying in eternity as Para Vak, revealed to the Rsi-s through Yogaja pratyaksa or supersensory perception. At the pasyanti level their experience consumed (sphutya/sphota-bhava; while at the madhyama level these were stuffed in forms as grahya/grahaka which was considered to be transformation or parinama of Para Vak. These cognitive forms, while articulated through physical verbal organ, gained the status of vaikhari. The word ‘Veda’ itself reveals the truth as stated. The empirical world, both internal and external, are wrapped up in this form and remain to be identical with sabda, although referred to as padartha or artha in terms of their jnana-visayata and vyavahara-visayata. Asara-Brahma in assistance with Kalashakti presents them as real entities though padarthas are nothing but vivarta, illusory perception of shell-silver or rope-snake.

Related: Grammarians, Philosophy

The importance of religion 5: Religion and art

Professor Gavin Flood
17 Nov 2008

Shifting from explicit politics to implicit cultural politics, this lecture will focus on the relation of religion to art, raising questions about how religious art expresses tradition and links in to a cosmology absent from secular art. Questions of aesthetics and function will be raised. An exhibition in London by Gilbert and George in January 2006 presented religion through a pastiche of images that showed religions to be essentially oppressive. In the context of this radical juxtaposition between secular art in late modernity and religious art, the lecture will show how the problem of aesthetic appreciation in tradition and modernity is linked to the problem of the world seen as cosmology or as stripped of cosmological understanding. Thus icons, cathedrals and images of gods function only within religious cosmology in contrast to the work of Gilbert and George which draws on an aesthetic devoid of, and antithetical to, religious cosmologies.

 
But the religious imperative, while prototypically expressed in religious tradition, also finds expression through art. In the contemporary context this can be seen especially in the work of artists such as Bill Viola who deals explicitly with the themes of transcendence and being born and dying and whose work attempts to penetrate the world of life. The idea of the artist as shaman who shows human communities something from another place is relevant here. The religious imperative shows us the proximity of art to religion and in the context of modernity shows how art outside of religious tradition nevertheless still deals with questions of transcendent meaning in human life.

Related: Religious Studies

Two Kashmiri lives in the Calukya Deccan

Majewski Lecture
Dr Whitney Cox
13 Nov 2008

From the eleventh century, there is evidence of a remarkable pattern of the circulation of goods, men, and texts between two seemingly unlikely corners of southern Asia: the Valley of Kashmir and the western Deccan (in what is now Karnataka). The broad contours of this mobile world can be traced through a variety of methods, including political history, numismatics, archeology, and the history of art.

 
In this presentation, however, Dr Cox will concentrate on literary evidence, touching on the lives of two Kashmirian brahmans who found employment in the court of the Kalyani Calukya emperor Vikramaditya VI. One of these men was a state official whose public career took place in the midst of a period of great institutional change; the other was a leading court poet and biographer of his royal patron. Looking at these two emigres together, we can better understand the world and mindset of the cosmopolitan Brahman literatus, and can begin to better chart the changing nature of the early-second millennium South Asia social order.
 
Whitney Cox is lecturer in Sanskrit at SOAS. His research work focuses on the history of textual creation and dissemination in the far South of the Indian subcontinent in the early second millennium of the Common Era, focusing especially on Sanskrit and Tamil. Dr. Cox was awarded his Ph.D. in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago in 2006 for a doctoral dissertation on the medieval Saiva author Mahesvarananda. He is currently at work on a book manuscript tentatively entitled Empire of Wisdom: Mobility, Belonging, and Things Made of Language in Medieval India.

Related: History, Politics, Society

Ontological Issues in Samhita

Shivdasani Seminar
Dr Piyali Palit
13 Nov 2008

In Indian tradition, oral transmission of the Veda unfolds the mystery of perfect linguistic behaviour, i.e., maintaining formal contiguity of syllabic structures or ‘ekavakyata’ and thereby avoiding possibilities of ‘arthabheda’ or misunderstanding. Reasons for such linguistic structure have been well expressed in Taittiriya Aranyaka followed by the vedangas, namely, siksa, pratisakhya, vyakarana and nirukta. Illustrations in these texts reveal the fact that well-formed syllabic structures, learnt and pronounced in a fixed order, traditionally known as ‘krama’ or ‘anupurvi’ delivers the intended meaning as well as maintain the sanctity or authenticity of the Veda. Varna-s or aksara-s happen to be the micro units. On pronunciation in contiguity they form a string known as vakya, which also encases pada-s or short strings of varna-s. Formation of such syllabic strings has been noted as samhita, sandhi or santana in Taittiriiya Aaranyaka followed by Rk-pratisakhya and nirukta. In this context we may also quote the Panini-sutra– ‘parah sannikarsah samhita’. Paninian grammar expresses an algorithm of these syllabic forms in about 4000 sutra-s or operative rules composed as short strings. Narration of Mahesvara-sutra-s and discussions in Paspasha-kanda of the Mahabhasya distinctly expresses the motive and analytic mode of scanning sabda available in the Bhasa. While the Mahesvara-sutras display formal conjugation of varna-s, the vartika – ‘siddhe sabdarthasambandhe’ – brings forth nature of sabda, artha and their sambandha in contguity, which was presumably taken up by Bhartrhari on exposition of Paniniiya-darsana at a later stage (ref. Sad-darshanasamuccaya by Haribhadra Suri).

Related: Grammarians, Philosophy, Veda

The importance of religion 4: Religion and politics

Professor Gavin Flood
10 Nov 2008

Religion has always been deeply implicated with politics. While the claim of these lectures is that the religious imperative cannot be reduced to power, the formation of religions as institutions has always been closely implicated in the formation of states and the legitimising of particular social and political structures. Many contemporary thinkers, deriving inspiration from genealogical thinkers such as Foucault, claim that religion can be understood in terms of power relationships and that the discourse of religion hides a will to power. By contrast many religious communities claim that religion is the well spring of their life’s energy and that tradition cannot be explained only in terms of a politics of representation.

 
In this lecture we presented a particular view of the religious imperative as being expressed in a community’s reception of its revelation and the internalisation of the revelation. The lecture will develop the political implications of the religious imperative. We will discuss the externalisation of religious subjectivity through institutions and examine the interface between secular institutions and religious tradition. This is especially pertinent where there is a conflict between religious law and secular law. While the issue of this relation will be examined at a fairly abstract level, engaging with relevant philosophical literature such as Batnitzky’s work on Strauss and Levinas (Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas CUP 2006), the lecture also needs to discuss contemporary examples of the relation of the religious imperative to politics and the conflict of religious and secular law. For religions, adherence to revelation and the law that expresses it is primary, for secular modernity, adherence to secular law is primary. This might also be configured as a conflict between revelation and philosophy. The contemporary religious subject in the global context of late modernity needs to negotiate these complex identities and the success to which that occurs is the degree to which the religious imperative can locate itself within the modern context.

 

Related: Religious Studies

Cognition and Knowledge

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr Piyali Palit
6 Nov 2008

This lecture will continue the themes of the first. Here we will focus on the process of encoding/decoding (sabda-vyavahara) following Navya Nyaya language and methodology

Related: Nyaya, Philosophy

The importance of religion 3: Religion, text, and subjectivity

Professor Gavin Flood
3 Nov 2008

A religious community is defined and adapts to present conditions by the way it reads or receives its sacred texts realised in the present in a ritual space and internalised within subjectivity. The self becomes an index of tradition and subjectivity is formed through repeated liturgical acts which are enactments or embodiments of the revelation or text (broadly defined and not restricted to written document). The lecture will explore the internalisation of the text through the ritual process as the expression or realisation of the religious imperative. The realisation of the text in present speech (and it can only be realised in the present here and now) is accompanied by the internalisation of the text in subjectivity and also by the externalisation of the text in ethics, art and politics: the religious imperative comes to be articulated through ethical behaviour defined by a community, artistic expression and political institution. The ritual space within which the text is realised and brought to life for a present speech community, along with the internalisation of text and tradition, is the site of transcendence as instantiated in the history of religions. In technical terms from Linguistic Anthropology this is the subordination of the ‘indexical-I’ to the ‘I’ contained within the text, the implied reader or ‘I of discourse’ (Urban ‘The ‘I’ of Discourse’). The self of religions is formed through revelation mediated by tradition and realised in specific acts of ‘reading’ or the reception of texts. The argument will be that the central aspect of the religious self is the internalisation of the text and the alignment with the narrative of one’s own life with the tradition. This is to see life as quest for meaning through the internalisation of tradition. This internalisation is also an orientation towards the future.

Related: Religious Studies

The Lion of Durga

Dr Jim Robinson
30 Oct 2008

Dr Robinson did his D.Phil. research on the Worship of Clay Images in West Bengal. An important part of this was the study of Hindu iconography and the festivals of West Bengal, including Durga puja. Recently he has become a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and is working on an article on an ivory figure of Durga in the V&A which was part of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Photographs taken during fieldwork in Bengal and amongst the Bengali community in the UK are now in the British Museum Asia collection and in the archives of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Items such as pata paintings and saras collected during my research in Bengal are also in the Asia collection of the British Museum. He is currently a teacher of Religious Education in Oxfordshire. His fascination with Durga started from a very early age in India where he was born and brought up and he is now particularly interested in researching Durga puja in Calcutta during the British period from 18th–20th centuries.

Related: Goddesses, Iconography

The importance of religion 2: Towards a theory of religious action

Professor Gavin Flood
27 Oct 2008

On the one hand there is a critique of religion that sees religion in terms of propositions about the nature of the world. On the other there is a reaction to such claims by the rational defence of religion. But both positions fail to understand the true nature and function of religions as action and responses to life, as ways of life and kinds of action that provide frameworks for living and dying, especially in the context of late modernity and what Richard Roberts has called ‘the reconfiguring of the religious field.’ This lecture develops the idea of religion as action which is also an orientation towards meaning and transcendence; an orientation to understanding life as a journey for both individuals and communities, a journey that can have an end in a ‘liberation’ or a ‘heaven’ or some variation of an ideal of perfection. Religion is always teleological and orientated towards transcendence of the human condition; religion is predominantly soteriological. The theoretical apparatus behind some of this thinking lies in Bakhtin’s Towards a Philosophy of the Act in which he presents a distinction between the world of culture (which contains various theoretical frameworks such as philosophy, sociology, politics) and the world of life, the world in which we live our lives and die and in which acts are accomplished once and for all (and only once) as being is unrepeatable action (Being-as-event). The theory of religious action I am proposing claims that religious action is a penetration of being-as-event, that it is not restricted to the world of culture but is the only practice and discourse that attempts to penetrate, order and make sense of world of life. This world of life is a synonym for the strangeness of the world.

 
It follows from this is that the heart of religion is human action that forms a kind of subjectivity. This action and its accompanying subjectivity is formed only in inter-subjective, tradition specific ways that entail a particular kind of orientation towards the future. This orientation entails hope or anticipation of the future and a retrieval of meaning from the past (expressed as text) which are realised in present action. The sacred text from the past is brought to life through ritual in the living context of present speech for a particular speech community. Religious actions and their accompanying kinds of speech foster a subjectivity, inwardness, or interiority which is the realisation of a religion’s claims, a soteriology, and the projection of a narrative into the future. This kind of inwardness feeds back into the community as a source of life, of new interpretations, and of new vision.

Related: Religious Studies

Navya Nyaya language and methodology: Padartha

Shivdasani Lecture
Dr Piyali Palit
23 Oct 2008

The Indian model of philosophical analysis, technically devised by the Neo-Logicians, known as the Navya Nyaya school, places forth a PRAMA-oriented picture of the World (visva). This world features four basic constituents stated as (i) pramata, the knower, (ii) prameya, the knowables, (iii) pramana, the process of knowing, and, (iv) pramiti, the knowledge achieved by the pramana. Nothing in this world is left out of these broad categories, i.e., each and every entity in this world must find its place in any of those characters noted above. To speak more specifically, all worldly entities must fall either under the category of prameya, the knowables or under pramana, the process of knowing; in fact while we speak or even think about the process of knowing, pramana also happens to fall under the character of prameya. Hence, to take a definite look into this character – prameya, was of utmost importance for the Indian philosophers to get a clear picture of this world. Neo-logicians adopted the Vaisesika theory of padartha and developed it through linguistic elaboration since for them this world appeared to be not only a prameya but also as abhidheya – verbalisable – which was accepted by all the philosophical schools. Practically, knowability and verbalisability are two basic properties of this world of our experience, and, virtually our experiences tell us how we know and how we express our experiences through language or try to communicate with others. The neo-logicians marked the process of knowing as ‘encoding’, i.e., internalization of the external world, while the process of expressing verbally was marked as ‘decoding’ or ‘sabda-vyavahara’. Before we go into details of these two processes, a holistic picture of this world as ‘padartha’ following the Neo-logicians will be discussed.

 
Dr. Piyali Palit, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, did her Ph.D. thesis on ‘The Role of Syncategorimaticity as the Principle instrument in Linguistic behaviour in Vedic and Popular Usages’. She did her MA in Sanskrit from Visva Bharati, Santiniketan and Acharya in Advaita Vedanta from Rashtriya Sanskrita Sansthan, New Delhi. She was awarded a fellowship for the project on ‘Influence of Indian Tradition on Rabindranath Tagore’ at the Asiatic Society, Kolkata. She is also associated with the Centre of Advanced Studies in Philosophy at Jadavpur University. Presently she holds the chair of Principal Investigator, Major Research Project in Indian Philosophy and Research Methodology, sponsored by University Grants Commission, Govt. of India. Her recent research works extend in the areas: Analytic Research and Theory Development, Ontological Issues in Ayurveda, Advaita Vedanta, Vaisesika, Purva Mimamsa and Panini-Vyakarana. Apart from a number of articles published in various National and International journals, proceedings, and anthologies, she has authored titles including Basic Principles of Indian Philosophy of Language, A Treatise on Arthasamgraha, Samksepa-Sariraka (Trans. & Comm.), Panchikarana-Varttika, Vedanta-Sanja-Prakarana (both are transcribed from rare original manuscripts).

Related: Nyaya, Philosophy

The importance of religion 1: Religion and reductionism

Professor Gavin Flood
20 Oct 2008

Two tendencies in recent years have sought to provide explanations of religion in terms of a naturalist or eliminative reductionism, the realm of science, on the one hand, and a cultural reductionism, the realm of politics, on the other. Eliminative reductionism primarily refers to theories of cognition and evolutionary psychology along with their philosophical justification. By cultural reductionism I mean accounts that see religion only in terms of a politics of representation and structures of power. On this view, religion is a disempowering hegemony caused by a ‘false consciousness’ that has served the interests of the rich and powerful. Both kinds of reductionism share an incredulity to religious truth claims and offer explanation and critique that are rigorously externalist in their explanation of religion and thoroughly materialist in their ontological and ethical pre-commitments. On reductionist accounts, to explain religion is to locate a cause (in cognition, genetics, socio-political structures) and to explain religion is to present an external account of it, often antithetical to the internal claims of traditions. This understanding of explanation has been the predominant model in the natural sciences from Bacon through to the social sciences of our own time. Even Theology traditionally understood claimed to explain religion in this way, locating the cause of religion in God. Scientific explanations have generally been antithetical to Theology in locating causes of religion in nature and claiming superiority to theological accounts because, unlike such accounts, they are falsifiable and have predictive power. Both eliminative and cultural reductionisms offer external accounts of religion through the location of cause, the former in nature the latter in the genealogy of cultural politics, and so do not engage seriously with traditions’ claims and concerns.

 
But there is a different sense of explanation that is not the location of a cause. This is to draw on, or return to, the verstehen tradition in the history of social science where explanation is ‘understanding’ and to claim that the explanation of religion is the exposition of a meaning rather than the location of a cause: to explain religion is not to seek a causal account in the first instance but to show how something is connected to a broader sphere or context and to demonstrate or translate a tradition’s semantic density into a language which is implicitly comparative. This kind of account is both descriptive and interpretative in drawing out the implications of description in theory-informed, semiotically sophisticated ways, and reasoning within the horizon of the western academy. This account is akin to phenomenology in wishing to offer thick description yet like hermeneutics in wishing to inquire beyond description. Unlike eliminative reductionism it must recognise the autonomy of higher level processes in any hierarchy or multiple levels of organised systems and unlike postmodern, cultural constructivists and genealogists it must recognise the legitimacy of tradition and tradition internal concerns. In the context of this debate, the lecture will discuss the two kinds of reductionism and the idea of ‘explanation’.

Related: Religious Studies

Tantric traditions of Kerala

Majewski Lecture
Dr Rich Freeman
13 May 2008

Related: Tantra

Introduction to Sanskrit metrics and correct recitation of Sanskrit verses: Session three

Professor Gaya Charan Tripathi
12 May 2008

Related: Metrics, Sanskrit

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