Remembering Ourselves: On Some Countercultural Echoes of Contemporary Tantric Studies
Issue: Vol 1 No. 1 (2007) June 2007
Journal: Religions of South Asia
Through a brief cultural genealogy of the West’s encounter with Asian Tantric traditions from the late 1880s through the early 1980s and some personal reflections on the controversies surrounding the author’s Kali’s Child, this essay suggests that contemporary Indology’s orienting turn to Tantric texts and traditions and its occasional “excessive” focus on sexuality and gender do not derive in any direct or primary sense from Western colonialism, as is often argued, but rather from the altered states and newly won freedoms of a shared American-British counterculture. That is to say, Euro-American scholars turned to Tantric subjects in the 1980s and 90s because the counterculture from which they had just emerged in the 60s and 70s had earlier turned to these same traditions as “Asian countercultures” in which historical actors, accurately or no, saw their own convictions and experiences ecstatically reflected and religiously authorized. This thesis is then fleshed out through brief studies of Pierre Bernard, Sylvais Hamati, Sir John Woodroffe, Atul Behari Ghosh, Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Agehananda Bharati. Some final reflections on the poignant integrity of both the controversial scholarship and its critics conclude the essay.
Author: Jeffrey J. Kripal