This book offers a social–scientific interpretation of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of Tantra dating back 15 centuries. It is a self-reflexive study approached with an insider’s empathy and the perspective of an Indologist, anthropologist, mystic and practitioner of the cult.
The work includes a discussion of non-modern Indic themes: mandala as a trope and its manifestations in South Asian regions such as Nepal; yoga and Indic individuality; the concept of bhoga; disciplined wellbeing; gender; and Indic axiology. Using personal praxis to inform his research, the author examines three core themes within Tantra — a ‘holonic’/mandalic individuality that conduces to mystical experience; a positive valorisation of pleasure and play; and cultural attitudes of gender-mutuality and complementarity, as neatly encapsulated in the icon of Shiva as Ardhanariswara. This analysis, as captured by the Tantric mandalas of deities in intimate union, leads to his compelling metathesis that Tantra serves as a permanent counterculture within the Indic civilization.
This second edition, with a new Afterword, will greatly interest those in anthropology, South Asian studies, religious studies, gender studies, psychology and philosophy, as also the general reader.
Table of Contents
Preface. Foreword by Jeffrey J. Kripal. 1. Introduction: Three Non-modern Indic Themes 2. The Kathmandu Valley: The Mandala as Indic Trope 3. Yoga and Indic Individuality 4. Bhoga and Disciplined Eudaemonism 5. Ardhanariswara and Indic Gender 6. Tantra as Counter-culture: The Core Axiology of Indic Culture. Afterword to the Second Edition: The Aesthetics of Tantra and the Re-enchantment of the World. Bibliography. Index
Prem Saran is a former member of the Indian Administrative Service (1978–2012) and served in Assam. In 1981 he was initiated into a traditional Tantric cult that his mentor, the Austrian-American scholar Agehananda Bharati, was also initiated into. He has researched Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions of South Asia at the Universities of Pennsylvania and of California at Santa Barbara. His MA thesis at the University of Pennsylvania resulted in the well-received monograph, Tantra: Hedonism in Indian Culture (1994). This book is based on his doctoral fieldwork in the traditional Indic ambience of the Kathmandu Valley towns.
‘In this wonderfully imaginative and ludic study, Prem Saran prescribes Tantra as a synesthetic tonic for a disenchanted world. Read it, and you will wake up re-enchanted.’
David Gordon White, author of Sinister Yogis and Kiss of the Yogini: "Tantric Sex" in its South Asian Contexts
‘While there are many poor and misleading books written about Tantra, Prem Saran’s is by far one of the best and most reliable. Saran combines the personal, first-hand experience of a practising insider with the scholarship and erudition of a trained academic. His book is not only a masterful study of Tantric symbolism and ritual, but it makes a powerful argument about the key role that Tantra has played in South Asian history and culture.’
Hugh B. Urban, author of Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics and Power in the Study of Religion and The Power of Tantra
‘Saran presents here a unique and precious offering: a work on Tantra that is at once personal and erudite, private and scholarly; and encompassing Tantra's Indic past, present and future as a counter-cultural ethos and practice. Indeed, his book adds a balancing perspective on Tantra that avoids both the sensational hedonism of pop-culture appropriations and the puritanism of religious and academic orthodoxies.’
Patricia Dold, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada
‘Prem Saran’s beautiful book is at once a historical and theological description, a theoretical analysis, and a spiritual transmission of a particular global vision of Tantra. Tantra here becomes a gift to the world capable of re-enchanting a digitally exhausted modernity, a ritual performance of divine erotic play aimed at aesthetic nondual bliss, and an erotic counterculture and esoteric anatomy that, in different but related forms, has flourished throughout Asia (and now Europe and the Americas) for at least fifteen centuries. There are no borders and boundaries here. There are only bodies, all alike, all different, all portals of mystical energies and states of cosmic consciousness we have only begun to fathom and understand.’
Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions