About Professor Sanderson

  • Alexis Sanderson

    Alexis Sanderson


    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.

About the Tantrāloka

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.
About the Tantrāloka

About Professor Sanderson's Translation

The project begins from the surviving manuscripts, evaluating the variant readings that they transmit in order to get back as closely as possible to the state of the text before copyists’ errors entered. The purpose is then to convey in English the author’s exact meaning for his audience at the time; and to this end the commentary seeks wherever possible to confront the Tantrāloka with its sources, many of which ceased to be transmitted in Kashmir but have surfaced through research in neglected manuscript collections, notably in the Kathmandu valley, whose relatively mild climate and isolation from culturally disruptive forces have allowed palm-leaf manuscripts, some penned as early as the ninth century ce, to survive down to the present. A detailed commentary on the Tantrāloka was composed in the thirteenth century by the Kashmirian scholar Jayaratha. It is of great value, not least because it often cites the relevant passages from otherwise lost works that Abhinavagupta is drawing on or paraphrasing. But he did not have access to all the sources that Abhinavagupta was using. Fortunately manuscripts of a number of these works, which seem to have ceased to be available in Kashmir even then, have come to light elsewhere. One of the main aims of the commentary on the translation is to use these materials to get closer than Jayaratha could to Abhinavagupta’s meaning.

About this Lecture Series

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
About this Lecture Series