In this seminar we examine two tendencies or spiritual languages in esoteric medieval Hindu traditions. On the one hand we have a style of mysticism that emphasizes a realisation or awakening in the world, usually accompanied by a monistic metaphysics, on the other we have a style and language of meditative ascent; that there is a journey from this world to the state of liberation through stages of development, often conceptualized as occurring within the body. The seminar will examine these tendencies with reference to particular texts. Gavin Flood is academic director of OCHS. Among his publications are The Tantric Body (2006), The Ascetic Self (2004), and The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism (2003).
Drawing from a range of examples, this seminar will present a thesis about the ways in which the goal of meditation within specific spiritual traditions affects practice. It will raise questions about the nature of meditation and other spiritual practices and about individual and communal experience. Christopher Wood is a DPhil student in the Theology Faculty. His background is in Theology (Birmingham) and he has research interests in the history of ideas, comparative religion, and the interface between Theology and Psychology.
Simultaneity has been a critical analytical issue in studies of Bengal-Vaishnavism and the theology of achintya-bhed-abhed (concurrent sameness-and-difference between devotee and god), but its exact phenomenology has not been duly developed. In this paper, I offer a meditative analysis of the term, uddanda, and also chitram and shavalya, to analyse whether Vaishnava emotional and aesthetic experience is one or many or both simultaneously. I develop the philosophy of simultaneity through the phenomenology of Vaishnava ecstatic dance, in particular. I primarily focus on a significant episode described in the Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya Lila, Chapter 13, of Chaitanya’s ecstatic dance (uddanda nrtya) with his followers in Puri (1512), before the deity Jagannath, on Rathyatra day. I use the term danda and specific connotations of it, to argue that they tell us of complex ideas of simultaneity: the dancing body as both meditative and mad, divine and human, and of times contemporary and others. While the ecstatic dimension of uddanda nrtya has been highlighted in the said passage itself and in several commentaries, I am adding the issues of meditation and time in uddanda, for the first time. The linguistic and phenomenological universe of uddanda, as the creative interplay of meanings worlds including pole/stick, discipline, yogic concentration or mental stillness, momentum, emotional medley, excess, and time, produces tensions in the dancing body which are productive, essential, and impossible to overcome. The uddanda state has become exemplary in the world of bhakti mysticism, and been passed down through devotional texts and practices. So the paper also theorises the critical orthodox Vaishnava practice of manjari sadhana as an uddanda state, where the phenomenology of imagination produces simultaneities of times, selves, discipline, and affects. Finally, I reflect on exemplary incidents from lives of ecstatic saints, and ways in which they contribute to the discourse of uddanda.
Sukanya Sarbadhikary works at the interface of the anthropology of religion, religious studies, and philosophy. In her first work she did an intensive ethnography among different kinds of Bengal-Vaishnavas, focusing on diverse experiences of religious place and sensory affective discourses. Her book, The Place of Devotion: Siting and Experiencing Divinity in Bengal-Vaishnavism’ (University of California Press) was published in 2015. She is also passionately interested in the sociology and philosophy of aesthetics and music, and their relations with sacred embodiment. She is currently working on a range of devotional instruments and traditions of sonic metaphysics.