Lecture on the three Yogas of the Netra Tantra
Before there was “tantric sex” there was “tantric violence,” which saw tantric yogis venturing alone into cremation grounds and other fearsome landscapes in the dead of night to offer their bodies up to yoginıs and yakshinis, noisy hordes of nocturnal flesh-eating female creatures that preyed on the living and the dead. The early tantric scriptural record, which relates the conditions under which males voluntarily offered themselves up for possession and consumption by these ferocious shape-shifters, offers a window onto the unique tantric appropriation of a pre-existing South Asian (if not pan-Eurasian) demonological substratum. A remarkable proof text for this early form of tantric practice is the circa 850 CE Netra Tantra, which in its twentieth chapter gives an account of the “three yogas”: supreme yoga, subtle yoga and gross yoga. The first of these involves being eaten by yoginıs, the second taking over other people’s bodies, and the third sorcery and counter-sorcery. In my talk, I will complement the Netra’s word descriptions with art historical data to demonstrate the persistence of these demonological paradigms across South, Inner and East Asian tantric traditions.
David Gordon White received his Ph.D. (with Honors) from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago in 1988. He also studied Hinduism at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, France, between 1977-1980 and 1985-1986. A specialist of South Asian religions, he is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he taught from 1996 to 2021. Prior to coming to Santa Barbara, he taught at the University of Virginia between 1986 and 1996. There, he founded the University of Virginia Study Abroad Program in Jodhpur, India in 1994. White is the sole non-European member of the Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud in Paris, France, where he has been an active Research Fellow since 1992.
He is the author of six monographs, five published by the University of Chicago Press: Myths of the Dog-Man (1991); The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (1996); Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts (2003); Sinister Yogis (2009); and Dæmons Are Forever: Contacts and Exchanges in the Eurasian Pandemonium (2021). He also the author of The Yoga Sutra of Patañjali: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2013), and editor, at the same press, of Tantra in Practice (2000) and Yoga in Practice (2012). Myths of the Dog-Man was listed as one of the “Books of the Year” in the 1991 Times Literary Supplement’s end-of-year edition; Kiss of the Yoginī was on the cover of the same journal’s May 20, 2004 edition. Sinister Yogis received an honorable mention at the 2009 PROSE awards and was listed as a book of note by CHOICE in 2011. A Japanese edition of Myths of the Dog-Man was brought out by Kousakusha in 2001; Italian (Edizioni Mediteranee) and Indian (Munshiram Manoharlal) editions of The Alchemical Body appeared in 2004. A Russian edition is forthcoming.