Readings in the Netratantra: Chapter 7 on Subtle Visualising Meditation (sūkṣmadhyāna) (HT23)

Location: Campion Hall, Brewer St, Oxford, OX1 1QS
Speaker: Dr Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen
Date: February 28, 2023
Time: 12.00pm – 12.30pm

The lecture will present a reading and discussion of significant passages from the Netratantra’s chapter 7 on subtle visualising meditation. The chapter is significant in that it presents two different anthropologies and systems of visualization, which the Trika commentator Kṣemarāja refers to as the tantric system (tantraprakriyā) and the Kula system (kulaprakriyā). As opposed to the more body-rejecting practices of classical yoga, the Kula system or what may be termed a ‘Śākta anthropology’ of tantric yoga aims at the affirmation and divinization of the body. This Śākta model of the human is first mentioned in the Netratantra’s chapter 7 on subtle visualising meditation (sūkṣmadhyāna). The Netratantra is also the first to mention the Kulamārga and to teach a system of six bodily centers called cakras, which the meditating yogi is supposed to pierce with his inherent power or śakti. This Śākta anthropology is introduced in the first few verses of chapter seven and then elaborated. The text presents an early Śākta appropriation of older yogic models of ‘knots’ (granthis), ‘supports’ (ādhāras) etc. foregrounding the central channel (suṣumnā) and the notion of how the yogi causes the ascent of his inner power as an early form of kuṇḍalinīyoga. Furthermore, the yogi’s inner power (śakti) was also conceived of in terms of sound or inner vibration (nādasūcī, ‘the needle of sound’).

Bjarne Wernicke-Olesen is Research Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and a member of the Theology and Religion Faculty where he teaches Sanskrit, Pali and Indian religions. He is the research director and manager for the Śākta Traditions research programme. His book publications include an introduction to Hinduism (2015), translations of the Bhagavadgītā (2009) and the Haṭhapradīpikā (2022) as well as a Danish Sanskrit Grammar and Reader in two volumes (2014). He is the editor of Goddess Traditions in Tantric Hinduism (2016) and has written a number of articles on Śāktism, yoga and meditation in Danish, German and English. He is currently working on several book projects, including an English translation and annotated edition of the Netratantra (based on the oldest available Nepalese manuscript, NAK MS 1-285, NGMPP Reel No. B 25/5 from 1200 CE) in two volumes for the Routledge Tantric Studies series together with Dr Rajan Khatiwoda and Professor Gavin Flood.