14 Pages

Body, Breath and Representation in Śaiva Tantrism

Many tantric texts present ornate and complex accounts of the body and its relation to the wider cosmos and for many texts which claim to convey a transcendent message, the body is the locus of spiritual experience. One of the problems, not only of tantric traditions but of religion in general, is the relationship between experience in the lived body and the system of representation or symbolic system expressed in texts of revelation. That is, to what extent do the texts represent events and experiences of human beings in the world and to what extent do the experiences of human beings conform to the symbolic systems of texts? What are the mechanisms of mimesis whereby experience is mapped on to representation and vice versa? In this paper I wish to develop two interwoven lines of argumentation, one which develops the idea that there is a symbiotic relationship between lived body and symbolic representation which we can see particularly in relation to the breath, the other which argues that the textual source that bears witness to event or experience becomes integrated into a broader narrative of tradition and interpreted in particular, ideologically lead ways. That is, the text that bears witness to event becomes part of a narrative account or explanation which is, in fact, the object of the historian’s focus. The body is central to this process in being the location of experience and in bearing witness to history, in being integral to the way tradition measures itself and integrates the body into its narrative accounts, and is also central to “scientifi c“ historical concerns. I intend to ground these rather abstract ideas in a study of a particular text, chapter seven of the Netratantra and to show how in that text the body is understood as a symbolic system for mapping the cosmos and human beings’ place within it. Yet we also have the body as the locus of subjective, yogic experience, especially seen in the breath. These two analytically distinct realms-the body as symbolic system and lived body-are inseparably interconnected, each refl ecting the other. This relationship is furthermore embedded within a historical process in which the text that bears witness to the human body becomes integrated into the narrative of the tradition.