Tantric Saivism and Bhakti: How are they related? by Dominic Goodall

Paper given at the International Workshopcum-Conference Archeology of Bhakti: Royal Bhakti, Local Bhakti, organisé par Emmanuel Francis, Valérie Gillet et Charlotte Schmid at the EFEO Centre in Pondichéry from 31st July to 13th August 2013.

Abstract: The words “bhakti” and “Śaiva-siddhānta” are often pronounced in the same breath, as though they belonged naturally together, and several publications can be found that assert bhakti to be central to the Śaivasiddhānta. (For a recent example, see: GANESAN T. & SATHYANARAYANAN, R., 2013, “Bhakti as a fundamental element in Saivism”, Bulletin d’Études Indiennes 28-29 (2010-2011) pp. 51–62.) Certain forms of devotion certainly have a rôle in the Śaivism of the Mantramārga, the dominant current of which was, for several centuries, the Śaivasiddhānta; but in the works of the theologians who shaped the classical Siddhānta this rôle was relatively minor: bhakti had no soteriological value. Expressions of religious fervour — pilgrimage, religious suicide, the composition or recitation of hymns of praise, religious mythology — could have no large importance in a system characterised by the claim that liberation (mokṣa) was only possible by means of a certain ritual of Śaiva initiation (dīkṣā). This goes some way to explaining why there are so very few Saiddhāntika hymns (stotra), and why such few hymns as there are should be emotionally so very dry (Vyomavyāpistava, Pañcāvaraṇastava, Śivapūjāstava). The hymns of the Tēvāram are not dry, of course, but they were not in any sense considered to be works of the Śaivasiddhānta in the period in which they were composed, or indeed for several centuries afterwards. This paper will explore the shifting importance of bhakti in some works of Śaiva literature that were composed or that circulated in medieval South India.

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Categories: Bhakti, Saivism, Tantra
Tags: article
Author: Dominic Goodall

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives