Alexis G. J. S. Sanderson (b.1948) is a renowned expert on the history of Śaivism and on tantric traditions. After taking undergraduate degrees in Classics and Sanskrit at Balliol College, Oxford, he spent six years in Kashmir studying with the celebrated scholar and Śaiva guru Swami Lakshman Joo. From 1977 to 1992 he was Lecturer in Sanskrit in the University of Oxford, and Fellow of Wolfson College. From 1992 to 2015, he held the Spalding Chair of Eastern Religions and Ethics in the University of Oxford, and was a Fellow of All Souls College. He is currently the academic director of The Institute for Śaiva and Tantric Studies, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon.
The Tantrāloka (‘Light on the Tantras’) is the greatest and most comprehensive work of the Tantric tradition and arguably the richest and most intellectually penetrating of all the many works produced in the Indian subcontinent in its numerous religious traditions. Composed in Kashmir around 1000 ce, it offers a penetrating analysis of the whole range of Śaiva Tantric practice at that time, grounding it in the nondualistic perspective of the Trika, an esoteric tradition of goddess-oriented (Śākta) Śaivism strongly influenced in its presentation by the tradition of contemplative Kālī worship known variously as the Krama, Mahānaya or Mahārtha.
This series of lectures will begin with Verse 4.84. Two topics at least will be covered. The first is the question of what value, if any, the elements of Yogic meditation have for someone engaged in śāktopāyah. (4.84-114b). Abhinavagupta will argue that their benefit is at best indirect. They cannot directly promote the mode of awareness that drives this route to self-realization. The second concerns the external rituals of worship (4.111c–122b). These too have no direct value here. A practitioner should accomplish the rituals of bathing, worship, and the rest metaphorically rather than literally, as so many modalities of his refining his conceptual awareness of reality. The key here is that worship is reconfigured as intensified awareness of the dynamic process through which consciousness, having projected its objects, draws them back into itself in every act of awareness, offering them, as it were, to the deity Bhairava that is the core of every perceiver. This leads into his next topic, that of the arising of the twelvefold cycle of cognition (4.122c–181b), in which he works into his Trika a novel reading of the twelve Kālīs that are venerated as the deities of the culminating cycle of worship in the Krama system, the cycle of the Nameless. Cost for the series: $100