Visualization in Some Bengali Hindu Contemplative Traditions: Vaishnava bhakti, Shakta Tantra, Baul songs and Raja Yoga (MT22)

Location: OCHS Library and Online meeting
Speaker: Dr June McDaniel
Date: November 3, 2022
Time: 2.00pm – 3.00pm

Visualization is an important practice in many Bengali religious traditions.  For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, we can explore two styles of visualization:  creating one’s own spiritual body in the form of a young girl or manjari and creating one’s inner body in the form of a young devotee of the saint Caitanya Mahaprabhu, as the gaur deha.  The devotee must transmute the substance of instinct or kama into a more condensed form of divine love or prema.  For Shaktas, we have tantric visualization of the cakras and bodily channels of energy, which allows cleansing of the elements (bhutasuddhi), and the ritual placement of deities into parts of the body (nyasa), leading towards union with the deities.  For Bauls, the inner body is visualized as a place:  a garden, a house, a birdcage, a whole landscape with rivers, ponds and mountains.  For Sahajiyas or Vaishnava Bauls, the inner body is seen as both the emanation of a deity (Radha for women, Krishna for men) and a network of centers of power.  In raja yoga, the siddhis or supernatural powers are developed through samyama, in which visualization acts within the practices of dharana, dhyana and samadhi (shifting one’s focus from external to internal, subtle objects).  In all of these cases, visualization brings a special form of altered perception (siddha-darshana) and acts as a technique for inner exploration. 

Dr June McDaniel is Professor Emerita in the field of History of Religions, in the Dept. of Religious Studies at the College of Charleston, in the USA. She is the author of three books on India, a co-edited volume on mysticism, a co-edited volume on Hindu religious experience, a book on current views of ecstasy in the field of Religious Studies, and many articles. Her MTS was in Theological Studies from Emory University, and her PhD was in History of Religions from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. She spent two years in India, on grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies and as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar.  She also did research in Indonesia on a Collaborative International Research Grant from the American Academy of Religion, as well as on shorter research trips.