An Advaitin View of Srividya Tantra

An Advaitin View of Śrī Vidyā Tantra
March 2 - 3, 2018
Loyola Marymount University

  • Introduction &

    Significance of Śrī Vidyā in Shakta Tantric Tradition

    Christopher Key Chapple, Ph.D. &

    Yajneshwar Shastri, Ph.D.

    The Goddess’ Body, Wonder and the Self in Tantra

    Loriliai Biernacki, Ph.D. 

    At Play with the Goddess in Śaṅkara’s Śrī Lalitā Triśatī Bhāṣyam and Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabhārati

    Geoff Ashton, Ph.D.

    Śrῑ Vidyā: An Original Śāstra

    Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Ph.D.

    Comparing Nondualism of Advaita Tantra with Neoplatonic Oneness (henosis)

    Purusottama Bilimoria, Ph.D.


    The Creative Goddess in the Yogavāsiṣṭha and at the Gayatri Temple, Haridwar

    Christopher Key Chapple, Ph.D.


    A Goddess for the Second Millennium: Why Did Śrī Vidyā Flourish?

    Anna Golovkova, Ph.D.

    Constructing and Engine of Praxis: Sri Aurobindo and Sri Chakra

    Debashish Banerji, Ph.D. (Presented by Christopher Key Chapple, Ph.D.)


    Morning Invocation

  • The Yoga Studies program at Loyola Marymount University will offer a two-day conference exploring An Advaitin View of Śrī Vidyā Tantra - Śrī Lalitā: Honoring the Goddess in Sri Vidyā Tantra

    This conference in honor of Dr. Sunanda Shastri, will explore the Śrīvidyā tradition from multiple perspectives. It will include the release of a new edition and translation of  Ādi Śaṅkarācārya’s Śrīlalitā-Triśatī-Bhāṣyam. This event is made possible by the generous support of Malli and Rani Varanasi and Navin and Pratima Doshi.

    Yoga Studies

    Loyola Marymount University offers the first Master of Arts in Yoga Studies in America. Graduate students engage in deep study of Yoga philosophy and history, Sanskrit, elements of physical practice, comparative spirituality, and study of India. LMU also offers a selection of Yoga Studies certificates which are open to the public. Topics range from Yoga Therapy to YogaEd/Yoga in Schools, Mindfulness and Social Change, and Philosophy courses. Each summer master teacher Ramaswami visits campus to teach in the Krishnamacharya tradition, and twice a year the University offers 200-hour teacher trainings called Yoga and the Healing Sciences. 

    Learn more about Loyola Marymount University's Yoga Studies program.

    Loyola Marymount University

    LMU is a private Catholic university with 6,000 undergraduates, 2,200 graduate students and 1,100 law students from diverse backgrounds and many perspectives. Our seven colleges and schools boast best-in-the-nation programs in film and television, business, education and more. Our stunning campus in West Los Angeles is a sun-soaked oasis overlooking the Pacific coast and a model of sustainability. We're rooted in the heart of Los Angeles, a global capital for arts and entertainment, innovation and technology, business and entrepreneurship. Our mission is grounded in a centuries-old Jesuit educational tradition that produces extraordinary men and women dedicated to service and social justice. We're proud of more than 85,000 LMU alumni whose professional achievements are matched by a deep commitment to improving the lives of others.

  • Friday, March 2

    2:00 p.m. | Registration and Welcome

    2:30 p.m. | Significance of Śrī Vidyā in Shakta Tantric Tradition

    Yajneshwar Shastri, Ph.D. 

    3:15 p.m. | The Goddess’ Body, Wonder and the Self in Tantra

    Loriliai Biernacki, Ph.D. 

    In the Parātrīśikā Vivaraṇa, Abhinavagupta tells us, “The powerful mantra of this visible world is the Goddess of Speech, Parāvāk. She is the mantra "aham," ("I"). Her innate and spontaneous essence is the rapture of wonder (camatkāra). As it is said, 'all visible phenomena rest in the Self, which is the "I"- feeling.' This is a secret beyond all secrets." Images of the Goddess within India traditionally associate her with matter, materiality and bodies. The secret that Abhinavagupta points to here is the capacity that the Goddess, who is pure consciousness, has to transform herself into matter, into bodies. Indeed, this is also a secret, or a mystery for our own contemporary culture struggling to understand how mind can be derived from matter, from neurons in the brain. In this Tantric understanding, wonder is the link that connects consciousness to the body; it is, as Abhinavagupta tells us, the power of the Goddess as Consciousness (Citiśakti) to perform a wonder manifesting pure subjectivity into the things, “this-ness” (idantā) that make up the world.

    4:00 p.m. | Break

    4:15 p.m. | At Play with the Goddess in Śaṅkara’s Śrī Lalitā Triśatī Bhāṣyam and Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabhārati

    Geoff Ashton, Ph.D.

    The recent critical edition to Śaṅkara’s Śrī Lalitā Triśatī Bhāṣyam by Yajneshwar S. Shastri and Sunanda Y. Shastri represents an important and timely intervention. Through compelling demonstration that Śaṅkara is the veritable author of this text, they help to not only rejuvenate the worship of Śrīvidyā, but to refocus our attention on the powerfully feminine, heart-felt, and playful aspects of Indian religions and philosophies. This paper echoes the spirit of the Shastris’ wonderful introduction to and translation of Śaṅkara’s commentary. By examining classical Indian debates in philosophical aesthetics, it challenges still-prevailing views that Indian art is essentially spiritual, transcendental, and hence anti-realistic or anti-naturalistic (in contradistinction to Western art). This involves consideration of the prominence of anukti vāda (mimesis theory, or the doctrine of representation) in Indian art practice and commentarial literature. It then turns to the Abhinavabhārati of Abhinavagupta (Abhinava), the 11th century Kashmiri Śaiva who is often lauded as India’s most influential philosopher of art. Curiously, Abhinava rejectsmimesis theory in order to accommodate his view that the art experience entails a transcendence of all duality. But his aesthetic theory does not confirm exoticist views of Indian art as other-worldly or anti-realist. To the contrary, by formulating the art experience as a replication of the myth of Śiva (consciousness) in relation with his consort and power, Śakti (the other), Abhinava anticipates contemporary Western insights into themimetic workings of creative imagination. The artwork is not to simply mimic objects in reality with a view to enacting a free display of illusions. Rather, it appropriates objective representations in order to celebrate the essential drama of reality as an unending play of the “I” forgetting and re-cognizing its union with the goddess, Śakti.

    5:00 p.m. | Śrῑ Vidyā: An Original Śāstra

    Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Ph.D. 

    5:45 p.m. | Reception and Release of New Book by Sunanda and Yajneshwar Shastri:

    Śrῑlalitā-triśati-bhāṣyam by Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, Sunanda Shastri, tr.; Sunanda and Yajneshwar Shastri, eds. (Ahmedabad: Sri Yogi Publications, 2016)

    6:00 p.m. | Memorial for Dr. Sunanda Shastri, Professor of Sanskrit at Gujarat University and Dean of Faculty, Sanchi University

    7:00 p.m. | Dinner


    Saturday, March 3

    9:00 a.m. | Comparing Nondualism of Advaita Tantra with Neoplatonic Oneness (henosis)

    Purusottama Bilimoria, Ph.D.

    The presentation begins with a survey of current studies on the mystical tradition of Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy or Theology – of which there have been a few, the best known being Frits Staal’s classic book Advaita and Neoplatonism (1966).  Why this interest if there wasn’t grounds for comparison in the first place between the two (at least geographically) disparate traditions? So what could the common ground, as it were, be between Nondualism of the Hindu traditions and of the Hellenic-Gnostic philosophical theology that begins with Plotinus (3rd C. CE)?  I will next examine how the conception of ‘advaita’ is understood in the tantric metaphysics of Abhinavagupta and, of course, that underlying the LalitāTriśatī with the bhāṣyam of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya, with passing reference also to Buddhist ideals of Nondualism as  advaya or divitiya nāsti. While in Hindu theology one can proclaim (e.g. in the Brahmasūtrabhāṣyam, following the Upaniṣads) the complete identification (abheda; ekavastuvāda)of Brahman (n) and ātman in the absolute nirgua plenum, it is difficult to see that occurring in quite the same way in the emanationist or emergentist panentheism/panpsychism of Neoplatonism. In the latter, the Oneness seems to pertain more to what might appear (from the Advaita Vedānta standpoint) to be at the sagu level, or better tatastha (contingent) state marked by mithyāāna.  Does the Neoplatonism conception of ‘The One’ (Τὸ Ἕν) then go counter to the nirgua principle and other supposed conditions or characteristics of nondualism (read as neither one nor two a lá Rambachan)? But might there be a closer parallel here with the advaita of Tantra where the nondual suturing is readily able to encompass or embrace the unity of the human and the divine in one inseparable (though distinguishable) reality? :  Hence the unity of the ātman and the manifest world with the divinity of Śiva (in  Abhinavagupta) or Śakti as Devī (in Lalitā Triśatī).

    9:45 a.m. | The Creative Goddess in the Yogavāsiṣṭha and at the Gayatri Temple, Haridwar

                Christopher Key Chapple, Ph.D.

    10:30 a.m. | Break

    10:45 a.m. | A Goddess for the Second Millennium: Why Did Śrī Vidyā Flourish?

                Anna Golovkova, Ph.D.

    In this presentation, I discuss some of the reasons why the worship of the Goddess Tripurasundarī /Śrīvidyā flourished in the first half of the second millennium in Kashmir and south India and continues to thrive in the Indian subcontinent and in the diaspora. Examining Sanskrit tantras and commentaries to trace innovation and continuity, I discuss the non-threatening and pleasing nature of Tripurasundarī and her associations with love magic; the visually stunning Śrīcakra ritual diagram and the complementary mantra system, both viewed as exceedingly powerful; the tremendous range of practices from external ritual to yogic visualizations built upon a rich foundation of ritual and mantra system; and, finally, creative and skillful exegesis, which repeatedly adapted this tradition to its changing environments.

    11:30 a.m. | Constructing and Engine of Praxis: Sri Aurobindo and Sri Chakra

        Debashish Banerji, Ph.D.

    Yantra literally means "instrument," "machine," or "engine" and refers to a visual representation of praxis. Chakra and mandala mean "circle" and refer to a cosmic system. In this talk, I will consider the yantras/mandalas of Sri Aurobindo, The Mother and the Sri Chakra as engines of integral praxis, leading to a divine life on earth.            

  • Headshot of Ayurveda Conference speaker Christopher Key Chapple

    Christopher Key Chapple, Ph.D. | Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology, and Director, Master of Arts in Yoga Studies, Loyola Marymount University

    A specialist in the religions of India, he has published more than twenty books, including the recently released edited and co-edited volumes, Yoga in Jainism (Routledge publishing) and Engaged Emancipation: Mind, Morals, and Make-belief in the Moksopaya/Yogavasistha. Chris serves on the advisory boards for the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, the Ahimsa Center at Cal Poly Pomona, the Centre for Jain Studies at SOAS, University of London, and the International Summer School for Jain Studies in Delhi. 

    Learn more about Professor Chapple


    Yajneshwar Shastri, Ph.D. 

    Vice Chancellor of Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies is internationally known scholar of Indian Philosophy, Religion and Sanskrit. Dr. Shastri is former Director, University School of Psychology, Education and Philosophy, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, India. Dr. Shastri holds Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral Degrees from Bombay University. He also holds traditional Bachelor's (Shastri) and Master's (Acharya) degrees in Sanskrit language. He is nominated member as one of the Eminent Philosophers of India to Indian Council of Philosophical Research (MHRD, Govt. of India). He is Honorary Director of Som-Lalit International Centre of Thought and Nalanda International, India. He is President of World Peace Foundation, Gujarat, Vice President of International Social Philosophy Congress and Jt. Secretary of Indian Philosophical Congress.

    Learn more about Dr. Shastri

    Loriliai Biernacki, Ph.D.| University of Colorado, Boulder

    Loriliai Biernacki teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research interests include Hinduism, gender and the interface between religion and science. Her first book, Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex and Speech in Tantra (Oxford, 2007) won the Kayden Award in 2008. She is co-editor of God’s Body: Panentheism across the World’s Religious Traditions (Oxford 2013). She is currently working on a study on the 11th century Indian philosopher Abhinavagupta within the framework of wonder, the New Materialisms and conceptions of the body-mind interface.

    Learn more about Lorilai Biernacki


    Geoff Ashton, Ph. D. | University of San Francisco

    Geoff Ashton recently joined the Department of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where he also held an appointment as Assistant Professor of Asian Philosophy. Geoff Ashton has studied Sanskrit, Thai, and Spanish, and conducted research at numerous institutions of higher learning abroad (twice as a Fulbright scholar), including Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi, India), Deccan College (Pune, India), the Jñāna-Pravaha Institute (Varanasi, India), Chiang Mai University (Chiang Mai, Thailand), Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand), and La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Madrid, Spain). He has authored numerous articles, book chapters, and essays on Indian Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Comparative Ethics, and Comparative Aesthetics. He has three main research agendas: Indian Philosophy of Religion, Buddhist Philosophy and Comparative Ethics, and Comparative Aesthetics. He is currently revising a manuscript titled, Whose Suffering? Whose Freedom? A Phenomenological Reconstruction of the Philosophy of the Sāṃkhya Kārikā (under review). Interpreting Classical Sāṃkhya philosophy through the lens of José Ortega y Gasset’s existential phenomenology, this book attempts to shed new light on the interrelation between the traditional Indian concepts of suffering, freedom, selfhood, and action. 

    Learn more about Professor Ashton

    Purushottama Bilimoria, Ph. D. | Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley

    Purushottama Bilimoria teaches at the Ajai and Mira Shingal Center for Dharma Studies, Graduate Theological Union; at University of California, Berkeley, he is Visiting Professor and Chancellor’s Scholar; and also Honorary Research Fellow with University of Melbourne and Deakin University, Australia. He is an Editor-in-Chief of Sophia and Journal of Dharma Studies.  

    Learn more about Professor Bilimoria


    Debashish Banerji, PhD | California Institute of Integral Studies

    Debashish Banerji, PhD is Haridas Chaudhuri Professor of Indian Philosophy and Culture and Doshi Professor of Asian Art at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is also the program chair in the department of East-West Psychology. Professor Banerji obtained his PhD in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles. Later, he served as Professor of Indian Studies and Dean of Academics at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles. He has taught as adjunct faculty in Art History at the Pasadena City College, University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Irvine. From 2005-2009, he was the Director of the International Center for Integral Studies in New Delhi, India, which he took through accreditation under the Indira Gandhi National Open University system. From 1992-2006, Banerji served as the president of the East-West Cultural Center, Los Angeles, an institution dedicated to academic research and presentation of Indian philosophy and culture in the US. He is presently the Executive Director of Nalanda International based in Los Angeles. Banerji has curated a number of exhibitions of Indian and Japanese art. He has edited several books, including one on the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, and is the author of two books: The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore (Sage, 2010) and Seven Quartets of Becoming: A Transformational Yoga Psychology Based on the Diaries of Sri Aurobindo (DK Printworld and Nalanda International, 2012).

    Learn more about Professor Banerji


    Anna A. Golovkova, PhD | Bowdoin College

    Anna A. Golovkova teaches at the Department of Religion at Bowdoin College. She received her M.A. in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University and an M.St. with distinction in Oriental Studies at Oxford University. She completed her doctoral studies at Cornell University in Asian Religions and South Asian Literature and Culture in 2017. Dr. Golovkova's research focuses on the history of Hindu tantric traditions, conceptualizing how religious groups negotiated their identities in pre-modern India. Her book project, A Goddess for the Second Millennium: Transgression and Transformation in the Hindu Tantric Worship of Tripurasundarī, explores unstudied transformations in a popular trans-regional tradition, now known as Śrīvidyā. Mapping ritual, philosophical, and doctrinal developments onto regional dissemination, she uncovers vibrant religious communities in Kashmir and south India, which renewed and revitalized the worship of Tripurasundarī through innovative re-examination of earlier texts and ideas.

    Learn more about Professor Golovkova


    Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Ph.D. | San Diego State University

    Sthaneshwar Timalsina obtained his Master’s degree in 1991 from Sampurnananda University in Varanasi, India, and taught for several years at Nepal Sanskrit University, Kathmandu. He completed his PhD from Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany (2005) with a focus on the history of the philosophy of Advaita. His dissertation is published under the title, Seeing and Appearance (Shaker Verlag, 2006). Before joining San Diego State University in 2005, Timalsina taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Washington University in St. Louis. His areas of research include classical Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain literature and philosophies with a specific focus on consciousness studies. His book, Consciousness in Indian Philosophy (Routledge, 2008) is  a comparative study of Advaita and Buddhist understandings of the self and consciousness. Timalsina also works in the area of Tantric studies and his recent publications, Tantric Visual Culture: A Cognitive Approach (Routledge, 2015), and Language of Images: Visualization and Meaning in Tantras (Peter Lang, 2015), explore the cognitive and cultural domains of Tantric visualization. Timalsina has published over forty articles, book chapters, and review essays on religion, culture, literature, aesthetics, and philosophy. Timalsina teaches courses on Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious, philosophical, and literary traditions, and his teaching interests include ‘Religion and Science’ as well as ‘Yoga Philosophy and Practice.’ His current areas of research include theories of mind, with a particular focus on the cognitive aspects of recognition, memory, imagination, and emotion.  

    Learn more about Dr. Timalsina