In this Café, we welcome Dr. Ben Williams, for an introduction to the writings of the medieval Kashmirian sage Abhinavagupta. Ben is a scholar-practitioner and intellectual historian of Indian religions, including the history of Śaiva tantra, and his dissertation examines the ways in which Abhinavagupta embodies the ideal of an enlightened guru in his autobiographical writings. In Abhinavagupta, Ben illuminates the portrait of a polymathic, cosmopolitan spiritual realizer with ongoing interest and relevance for the post-postmodern yogi and globally curious soul.
As a scholar of Sanskrit, Ben could also help us shed some light on some questions relating to language that arose in @Lisa’s Consciously Evolving Language sessions. And, the resonances between Abhinavagupta and Goethe, whose approach to science we explored in the Wholeness of Nature dialogues, may help us shed more light on the relationship between aesthetics and spiritual perception, since, like Goethe, Abhinavagupta was also a poet, dramatist, and cultural critic, albeit writing in a vastly different time and place. He had some especially interesting things to say about aesthetic experience in the process of spiritual formation.
We might also seek to constellate Abhinavagupta’s thought in relation to other spiritual philosophers who have sought to integrate vast fields of research and inquiry into a synthetic vision that elevates consciousness or prepares it for some fundamental transformation, such as Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, Rudolf Steiner, and Ken Wilber, all of whom we have studied here in the Café to varying degrees. However much we are conversant with or resonate with the specific models these thinkers provide, there seems to be a common pattern in them, which Ben also traces, of consciousness realizing itself through a fullness of intellectual embrace.
- Who is Abhinavagupta? (PDF)
- 6. Ben Williams | Śaiva Tantra, Abhinavagupta, and the Tantric Sahṛdaya
- Abhina-who? What might an 11th-century mystic have to teach us about spirituality today? Is there a transmission that is still alive in Abhinagupta’s texts, and how does that work across cultures and languages?
- How does the Sanskrit of Abhinavagupta differ from the English (or German, or Spanish…) we speak today in terms of its ability to hold and convey special forms or insights of consciousness? We have considered how a subject/object split or noun bias could may make it difficult to express certain notions in English; how is it with Sanskrit? Are some ancient languages, as some believe about Hebrew or Chinese, ‘closer to origin’ in some sense?
- Abhinavagupta paints himself as a Siddha, or fully enlightened guru, whose personal and intellectual embodiment is a fulfillment of his teaching lineage. Yet his example, and the metaphors he deploys in his writings, welcome a pluralism of wisdom streams and aesthetic experiences into the process of spiritual evolution. What inspiration could we draw from Abhinavagupta’s body of work which has become available to us, and what are the limits of that influence or relevance?
The immediate prompt for this session, came from an exchange in one of our Wholeness of Nature dialogues, in reply to Lisa…
However, it is also inspired by multiple conversations that Ben and Marco V have had in person exploring historical webs of relationships between art, spirituality, and culture.
This topic is a WIKI and open to revisions…