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Interrogating Sacred Space

Richard Stanley-Baker

Prof. Drid Williams kindly invited me, with great charm and firmness, to expand on a theme only cursorily touched on in a recent paper for the Landscape Architecture series at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC, titled “Sacred Gardens and Landscapes: Ritual and Agency.” My paper, titled “Mythic and Sacred Gardens in Medieval Japan: Sacral Mediation in the Rokuonji and Saihōji Gardens,” faced anthropological critique and was my first real engagement with this field, one in which I am almost a total neophyte.

     I had become curious about anthropology’s refreshing use of experiential data from participant and respondents regarding issues of sacred space and its realization in Tantric Buddhist ritual and in Zen practice and its accounts of enlightenment. This inquiry led to questions about rulership and agency and to the Self in Buddhist and other nondual Indian traditions, especially Kashmir Shaivism.

     As an initiate and at different times practitioner of several religious traditions (Christianity, Zen and Yoga), and not having a firm foundation in anthropology’s disputes and terminology, whether ‘emic,’ ‘etic’ or otherwise,1 it seemed to me strategic to identify elements of commonality in their religious practices in terms of known experience.2 It seemed evident that much commonality exists between Buddhist canons and practice and those of Christianity (Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, especially) and those of Hindu or Yogic traditions. I have based, therefore, the following list of practices on participant-oriented observation, accounts of other initiates, material from some venerated texts, definitions by contemporary masters of Yoga, and scholars examining Eastern Orthodox practice and canons.3 Examining these practices in terms of the quotidian senses, for reasons discussed below, we find the following as elements (or acts) that are seen to purify, and thus sanctify:

Sound: sacred chants, mantras and prayers, ringing bells, playing musical instruments such as drums, gongs, conch shells

Scent: offering incense, flowers4

Sight: candles, flowers, lamps, colorful banners, flags, umbrellas, and standards

Touch and taste: lustration, sprinkling or applying holy water on the body of participants (Vedic, Yogic, Christian, Shinto); drinking and tasting the Host and wine in the Christian Communion rite and tasting holy water (Yogic, Christian, Shinto); using the sense of fiery heat, as in the (Vedic) yajña sacrificial fire tradition

Visible acts: Constructing altars and arranging symbols of the pure and the sacred in a prescribed manner—including crosses, icons of saints, statues of masters or saints (murti); elevating the Host in the Communion rite; waving sacred branches (sakaki, i.e., cleyera ohnacea) in Shinto; waving lights; hanging or creating paintings in inks or colored sands images meant as mandalas of the perfect (Tucci 1961) (see Fig. 1); constructing the architectural versions of an altar in its special form.5 Actions of offering to the divine, that is, making or arranging offerings of flowers, incense, fruit, or offering symbolic herbs as in (Vedic) yajna fire ceremony

Figure 1
Figure 1. Photo of a Chenrezig sand mandala created and exhibited at the House of Commons, London, on the occasion of the visit of the Dalai Lama, May 21, 2008. Photograph by Colonel Warden. Mandala, accessed July 2009.

Bodily movements: prostration; circumambulation of the sanctum (the tomb of Buddha or a saint, as found in Buddhism and Hindu practice; Fig. 2: Sanchi); (compare circumambulation of the Kaaba, at Mecca)

Figure 2
Figure 2. The Great Stupa at Sanchi; ca. second century BCE.

Sacred gestures such as Tantric gestures (mūdras) or the orantes gesture in the Dominican mass when the wafers and wine are consecrated.

Without enlarging further on details of these practices, it seems evident to me and to others that these practices do substantially affect, by direct appeal to the physical senses, the experience of participants, resulting in a tangible sense of the sacred.6

     I have focused on the appeal to the senses in rites of various kinds because the earliest historical records of rituals have laid much emphasis on this aspect as a route to establishing the presence of the sacred. In Byzantine Christianity, for instance, performative interpretations of icons of Christ and the saints have been viewed as indications of the “presence” or “imprints” of the divine. They present “a material manifestation of what is immaterial and ineffable (divine essence).”7 A related key issue has been that of “transubstantiation” in the Communion rite—as an example of direct sensory contact with the divine (eating the wafer and drinking the wine), which Protestant critiques have demoted since the Reformation.8

     However, we shall take as our main locus the nondual or advaita traditions that include Buddhism, Hinduism, and Yogic nondual Kashmir Shaivism. They are more explicit in their emphasis on the purification of the senses as a central means of reintegration into the divine and what is seen as a realignment to the core being of the participant or individual.

     The nondual Kashmir Shaivite tradition is finely articulated in the esoteric doctrines of the Pratyabhijñā-hṛ dayam [The Heart of Recognition], by the eleventh-century sage Kshemarāja).9 Here, the senses themselves are described as the tattvas, or limitations of supreme divinity; among them are named “the powers of sense perception” (jñānendriyas), including smelling (ghānendriya), tasting (rasanendriya), seeing (caksurindriya), feeling by touch (sparśanendriya), and hearing (śravenendriya). There are other forms of ritual action named by Kshemarāja’s text as “the powers of action” that are available to quotidian practitioners and include “speaking,” “handling,” and “moving.”

     In Kshemarāja’s text, these “powers” which are manifested in the quotidian jīva (the individualized soul)10 are seen as the ritual means by which the quotidian state of the jīva is transformed into a sacred state or a higher level of consciousness (Kshemarāja 1990 and Shantananda 2003). Kshemarāja also identifies five elements of perception (tanmātras)—namely, sound (śabda), touch (sparśa), form (rūpa), taste (rasa), and smell (gandha) (2003: 387). Here, the limited condition of having sense powers is, for the light of consciousness, a kind of reduction into the form of “a samsarin (an individual migrating from one conditioned existence to another), and “[it] may be observed . . . that one with limited powers [an individual soul]—in spite of having prāna and other [limitations]—when not deluded by those powers, becomes, according to the thesis of the sacred tradition, the Lord [Himself], with a body” (1990: 74). By overcoming the limitations of the sense-oriented consciousness, the individual saṃsārīn attains the state of jagadānanda: “[This is] jagadānanda where the whole universe appears as a visible form of the bliss of the Self” (ibid.: 110).

     As an initiate and participant in this tradition, I have found that this procedure reveals very clearly, in strictly nondualist terms, the more subtle aspects of ritual purification as an interior spiritual event. These are also manifested in the tangible world of the senses. In light of this, further questions about identity and agency can be addressed.

How and by Whom Is Sacred Space Created?

This may be of interest to readers who are familiar with Drid Williams’s studies on the semasiological space of the dance and its performative signification (Williams 1995).

     The evidence shows that the ritual practices described above tend to produce in the initiated participant the effect of an elevation of consciousness and a sense of the holy or sacred within and without. In passing, we may note that Shinto devotes much of its practice to purification and rededication to the perfect (Grapard 2000).11

     More significant and certainly more powerful in its perceived effects is the presence of a living master and submission to instruction regarding practice by a living, recognized master. This is particularly true of Yoga and possibly to a less perceptible degree Buddhist practice. Yoga masters assert with great authority the need for a living master in the path toward perfection. Here, the extraordinary powers of the shaktipat guru, who can at will command the “descent of grace,” or Śaktipāta, that awakens the seeker’s kuṇḍalini, is said to be the most efficacious form of initiation that a seeker can receive. This need not be confined to Yoga, as masters and mystics have reiterated, citing examples from Christian tradition such as Pentecost.

     I can personally report that being in the presence of a genuine shaktipat guru is electrifying, often resulting in individual internal changes that range from the dramatic to the subtle—but all are profound. The changes are not hypnotic in nature but overwhelming. One is often reduced to complete mental and physical silence—and a kind of “witness state” that is almost incomprehensible. There are numerous personal accounts of this.12

     The place in which a sage resides (an ashram, monastic center, or the locus of a tomb) can become so charged with sacred energy that seekers may receive the experience of the “descent of grace” from the least of the physical elements of the place, such as trees or leaves and the like. There are numerous accounts of this phenomenon.13 I could recount some minor events of this kind. One took place in the shrine of the thirteenth-century saint Jnaneshwar, at Alandi; another at the temple (after bathing in its sacred baths) of Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, long the abode of the Siddha master Bhagawan Nityananda. In both cases, I was suddenly rooted to the ground, immobilized for some moments, as the sacred energy—the shakti—totally enveloped me. It was an entirely blissful experience.14

Human Constructions of Sacred Space

The construction of Vedic temple space, the earliest design of Indian temples, and mandala space are also of great interest here, though much beyond the scope of this project. As Stella Kramrisch and Adrian Snodgrass have shown, Vedic temple space and Indian stūpa design are primary models for the man-made establishment of sacred spaces. These “write out” (build, raise, erect) observed relativities in space between the sun, moon, and earth (Kramrisch 1946 and Snodgrass 1985). Nonetheless, these and the mandalas discussed by Guiseppe Tucci (1961) address the construction in forms or paintings of a perfect space. Their formal constructs are viewed as “the writing into” physical form (‘diagram’, ‘plan’) of a microcosm of universal forces or entities—hence, as correspondence in both form and process—to a unitary identity and divinity: the Perfect and only Self of all (Fig. 3). Kak (2005: 3) observes,15 with reference to Viśvambharanātha Tripāthī (Tripāthī’s 1990 study outlining the origin in the Vedic Agnicayana (fire-altar ritual) of worship of deities including Siva, Vishnu, and Shakti, that “the [Vedic] temple is not merely the buildings, the deity, but also the complex of the yajña, pûjā, or other ceremonies performed there, so that in totality it presents both the being as well as the becoming.” See also Fritz Staal, The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar (Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1983).

Figure 3
Figure 3. Tibetan monks making a temporary sand mandala in the city hall of Kitzbühel, Austria. Photograph by Henryart, July 2002. Mandala, accessed July 2009.

     Kramrisch (1946), who has written extensively on the theology of the Indian temple design in its early forms, has said of the Garbagraha cosmic mountain form, the pinnacle-like tower that is the sanctum of the later Hindu temple (i.e., ca 1000 CE or later), that “it preserves the memory of a cult, the cult of caverns” (167) (Fig. 4). She mentions the importance of darkness and dark spaces, resembling those of the caves of Marabar in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India that presented a singular and disturbing challenge to English Christian women like Adela and the elderly Mrs. Moore. Here it was that the young woman, Adela, panics and believes she has been assaulted by her young Indian friend Aziz (Allen 1955). We may need to be reminded that the caves of such temples that abound in India are symbolic of the locus of the divine in the human, namely, the heart.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Visnavanatha Temple at Khajuraho; ca. eleventh century CE. Courtesy of Michigan Archives of Asian Art.

In the Kaṭ ha-Upaniśad, the teacher Yama says to his pupil, Nakiketas,

The ancient, effulgent being, the indwelling Spirit, subtle, deep-hidden in the lotus of the heart, is hard to know. But the wise man, following the path of meditation, knows him, and is freed alike from pleasure and from pain.16

We note that later in the same Upanishad,

Both the individual self and Universal Self have entered the cave of the heart, the abode of the Most High, . . . (Sw. Gambhīrānanda (1993: 28).

And again, in the Chandogya Upaniśad,

Within the city of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart there is a little house. This house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized.

            What then is that which, dwelling within this little house, this lotus of the heart, is to be sought, inquired about, and realized?

            As large as the universe outside, even so large is the universe within the lotus of the heart. Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, the moon, the lightning, and all the stars. What is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm.17

The sacred character of the heart is central to yogis. It was emphasized in the teaching of Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, who taught that “the heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there and roam.”18


Once a visual form such as a mandala (Fig. 5) or temple plan is drawn (or laid out), the directions indicated seem to have less significance as specifics and more as indexical signs that all spiritual entities and powers have been incorporated into the cosmic diagram, such that an entire universe of purity and perfection has been mapped out. The diagrammatic form, like that of the Byzantine icon, invokes experience of its core state of perfection and conveys a distinct sense of the “presence” of the perfect (Fig. 6).


Figure 5

Figure 5. Manjusri Mandala, Alchi; early twelfth century. Courtesy of Michigan Archives of Asian Art.

     One is led to examine the performative mystery of the form, which acquires more importance than its specifics. The performance of the mandala (its drawing, or its probable circumambulation as at Sanchi (Fig. 2) or Borobudur (Fig. 7) accomplishes the reintegrative function needed to express fully the formative and dynamic nature of the nature of divinity itself. This, in effect, performs bhairava, that is, expansion (or creation), maintenance, and withdrawal (destruction) in all its three major phases. These are described in more detail as the tattvas—relative degrees of illusion (māya)—in Kshemarāja’s Pratyabhijñā hṛdayam.

     The fundamental west-to-east directionality of Vedic temple compositions is important less in terms of directionality than as symbol of the spiritual progress from jīva (individualized soul) toward the ultimate state of the Self. Again, we depart radically from Durkheim.

     Otherwise, extremely common is the four-square, or circular, symmetry of layouts like the stūpa, as the exclusive domain of the perfect and sacred (Snodgrass 1985).19 The symmetry of drawn or built mandalas like Borobudur (Fig. 7) coexists with their primary function of indicating, dynamically and architecturally, the performative perfection of consciousness, that is, the progress from jīva to jīvanmukta (the fully liberated state) and identification of different levels of spiritual attainment (Snodgrass 1985).20 In Vedic temple and stūpa and mandala space, west-to-east directionality and square symmetry are less significant than their indication of the performative perfecting of consciousness.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Bhutanese Medicine Buddha; nineteenth century; painted mandala, with the goddess Prajnaparamita at the center. Rubin Museum of Art, New York. Mandala. Accessed Oct. 2009.

     Hence, the construction of a physical-cum-mental space, like that of a Vedic temple or a Tantric mandala, may be seen as primarily a theater, considered to have limited intrinsic reality, the central intention of which is to assist the unfolding of consciousness from jīva to jīvanmukta, the liberated state. Such space may be conceived as primarily performative, rather than strictly materially objective. This may be similar to saying that, in order for there to be time and activity in time, there must be a place (a space) in which this may be acted out. This is important if we assume the nondual position, namely, that time and place (or space) are viewed, at heart, as projections from the immutable state of the universal Self (Kshemarāja 1990: Sūtra 2, 49).

Figure 7
Figure 7. Borobudur, Java; ca 800 CE.

The Nondual Tradition

It is said that the secrets of the stūpa in Tantric Buddhism were discovered by the Indian saint Nagarjuna (fl. second century CE), who was directed in a vision to a stūpa. By performing rituals that were revealed to him in his vision, Nagarjuna was empowered to open the stūpa, “revealing a radiant interior, wondrously adorned with flowers, jewels and canopies, fragrant with incense and filled with the sound of chanting.” He then memorized the numerous sutras found there and committed them to memory. As Snodgrass (1985: 176) puts it,

[In] this doctrine the symbol is no longer a sensible image or a reflection of a supra-sensible Reality. It is, on the contrary, the Reality itself. The symbol and the referent coincide. The stūpa, just as it is, in its ephemeral, physical form, is in no way distinct or separate from the immutable, supra-physical Dharma-body of the Buddha.

Here semiosis is invalidated by what is known as the nondual, nonempirical Subject state, the Buddha state.21 This is normally characteristic of all Advaita or nondual traditions, since, in these expressions of truth, the immanent and nonempirical nature of the Subject or Absolute state is understood to be beyond reification or a need to prove its existence.

     Logical empiricism is here seen to be largely irrelevant; even Wittengenstein in his latest years (1974/69) distanced himself from these now-somewhat-outdated norms of early twentieth-century philosophic discourse.22 The problem of reification and its origins in dualistic consciousness have been extensively discussed by the sage of Kashmir Shaivism, Śankara (c. 788–820) in his commentary Vakyavritti.23

     On chanting the names of God, mantras, and sacred texts (those used by masters that are said to contain their power) as a powerful means of inner and outer purification, the twentieth-century master Swami Muktānanda says,

[Chanting] Swādhyāya increases inner radiance, mental vigor and agility . . . . Haridas says: . . . “The name of God can be repeated in all times, places, circumstances and by all people. It may be beneficial to chant other mantras silently, but the special power of the divine name lies in its being chanted loudly.” The louder the chant, the greater its effect. He who repeats the name silently or in a low voice purifies himself alone, while he who sings it aloud also cleanses all those who hear it, including the inanimate as well as the animate.24

     Chanting mantras25 is said to be highly effective all around when chanted loudly and when accompanied by very loud musical instruments such as gongs, bells, drums, and the like. Swami Muktānanda says that the trees and plants in the ashram benefit enormously from the purifying effects of this practice. An example is found in the great Upanisadic mantras of purification, which are recited prior to hearing a master speak to purify the hearts of those listening, and guarantee pure transmission:

Om pūrnamadah pūrnamidam

pūrnāt pūrnam-udacyate

pūrnasya pūrnam-ādāya


Om śāntih śāntih śāntih

Om. That is perfect. This is perfect.

From the perfect springs the perfect.

If the perfect is taken from the perfect,

The perfect remains.

Om Peace! Peace! Peace!26

     Further, while sacred dancing is not a topic within our scope or competence here, we might note that, among the traditions of Indian sacred dance, the dance of Shiva Nataraja, Ananda Tandavam, is said to signify how Shiva “dances the whole of creation into existence, sustains it, and then dances its destruction”; it is a dance that takes place “in the hall of consciousness,” “the dance of Bliss within the heart of man.”27

Rulership, Agency, and Realignment

The nondual traditions are also specific regarding agency, rulership, and ritual realignment to divinity. Roger Goepper’s study of a Japanese Shingon ritual has shown that rulership can be accomplished by way of ritual alignment of the performant’s identity with the divinity invoked; this is known as the uniting of the samayasattva (individual) with jnanasattva (the invoked perfection of the divinity). Chanting the mantra “Om. Sammaya sattvam” ([I have] the nature of Identity [with the Buddha]) accomplishes this in the Shingon Buddhist Great Ritual of Aizen (Jap., Daihō).28

     Rulership is at times seen as closely akin to the notion of World-Ruler (Rājā Cakravartin), which found much favor in Buddhist kingdoms from the time of the first Buddhist king Asoka (ca 269–32 BCE) and later those in Southeast Asia such as Cambodia (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom), and even Japan.29 The term Cakravartin, re-emphasizes a concept of dual rulership over realms seen and unseen, in a manner reminiscent of the divine right of kings. Here, the creation of sacred space, or a “golden realm of perfection,” should be seen as an aspect of divine rulership over all dimensions, including those of place and time.30

     In the nondual traditions (Advaita and Mahāyana Buddhism especially), there seems no doubt that ritual and practice effectively realign the participant in a tangible degree toward a conscious sense of identity with a perfect divine Self or perfected state of being (Zen).

Disciples and Consciousness

On more subtle issues, it may be asked, for instance, who and what—au fond—is the disciple, and how did the divided state of jīva consciousness come into existence? Why would a divine Self, perfect in every way, bring about lesser states, centered in egoic, demonic, or evil dispositions that cause endless suffering? Kshemarāja and many revered Yogic texts (including the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and the spanda texts of Kashmir Shaivism [Kshemarāja]) assert that the activity of the divine Self wills this to be so, out of sheer playfulness and the divine freedom of being, “svatantra” (Jnaneshwari). It is also asserted that it is possible to perceive the dual nature of this fundamentally divine reality as being totally free and blissful—even within the state of impurity and painful limitation of the quotidian jīva—once true freedom from egoic states is accomplished.31

     Moreover, does asking such questions necessarily constitute a step on a path of personal spiritual inquiry? Is objectivizing such an inquiry of any practical use whatever? Sw. Muktānanda states strongly that objectivizing is not useful and that a path of personal inquiry is a prerequisite to gaining insight and understanding. I have also witnessed myself the much-revered Zen master Yasutani Haku’un, then my master, inveighing with very pointed fury against any conceptualizing of Zen; to him, this was total corruption of Zen practice. This view seems widespread, perhaps a necessity within the nondual traditions, which—sui generis—regard with contempt or sorrow any move toward objectivizing such matters. Exceptions are found in the form of the principle of skill in meansupāya (in Mahāyana Buddhism), using narrative parables to convey what may be beyond the grasp of the uninitiated.

     Philosophically speaking, it is impossible to grasp the nondual as an object of thought or contemplation. It requires absorption in the heart of subjective experience. And it requires a form of inquiry that does not seek an empirical object, but the metempirical heart of consciousness itself: Abhinavagupta (1988: 19) says about Bhairava, the Highest Lord, the perfect I-consciousness,

Not like this is the highest, most perfect Consciousness of Bhairava (i.e., the Bhairava-Consciousness does not point to anything more or higher than itself), because of its essence being unrestrained, non-relative, delightful flash of knowership. (Ibid.: 20)

     As the translator Jaideva Singh notes, “The Highest Reality cannot be designated as ‘this’ for that would only objectify it, whereas the Highest Reality can never be objectified. It is the Eternal Subject” (Ibid.: 28n2).

     Who is the participant? Again, here it is constantly reiterated by masters of the nondual traditions of Yoga and Buddhism that the bound jīva, although limited in this state, is at the exact same time and place—fundamentally—totally one with the divine freedom and bliss of perfect enlightenment. So I “am God” and “not God,” too. Here, however, “not God” does not have a permanent reality, only a momentary and finite flashing forth.

     On agency, time, place, and all sensory dimensions, do time and place have any true reality, in this view? Apparently, as it is said in nondual Shaivism (Abhivanagupta; Kshemarāja), since these “limitations” are of the nature of “not God,” they both do and do not. Like places seen in a mirror, they have their particular, transient existence; nonetheless, the mirror on which and by which they are projected, corresponds to Supreme Consciousness—this alone being permanent and unchanged by any of the temporary images found on its surface.32 The nonduality of this mystery is perfectly expressed in the Upanishad mantras:

Om. That is perfect. This is perfect.

From the perfect springs the perfect.

If the perfect is taken from the perfect,

The perfect remains.


To sum up, we have looked at commonality in the practice of purification of domains in the different traditions of Christianity, Buddhism, Yoga, and Shinto. In addition, we have probed the nondual, often ekphrastic writings on such procedures and rituals and raised questions about identity, agency, and the nature of responses from the nondual practices and ontologies; these last, in particular, emphasize that there is fundamentally only one agency, the divine—as performed by its human face. Accordingly, these doctrines assert that purification is functionally based within the participant/individual and is projected—outward—onto transient elements such as space, objects, buildings, or domains, which themselves become—momentarily—the theater for reintegrative activity such as ritual. This space acquires the character of the sacred and holy because of such projection and is thus perceptible as such by others. For dancers and the study of dances, this might seem a little familiar.


I am grateful both to Syda Swami Kripananda who was kind enough to cast a wise glance over this, and further to my son, Michael Stanley-Baker, and his wife, Dr. Jennifer Cash, for their critique and comments on this essay at a formative stage.

1 While much here is ‘emic’ with regard to ritual practices, with debts to the universalizing tendencies of Arnold Van Gennep and Victor Turner, I remain nonetheless, as an art historian, sensitive to the dangers of ahistoric theorizing, as found in Geertz (1973): for a famous critique of Geertz, see Talad Assad (1993). I incline more to the critique found in Stanley Tambiah’s definitions of ritual that mediate between the “synchronic, continuous, traditional and ontological” and “the diachronic, changing, historical, and social” (Tambiah 1985: chap. 4, 123–66; and chap. 9), regarding agency and kingship where he takes a different position from Geertz on his concept of the theater state.

2 Here I include personally “known” experience. Wittgenstein (1974/69) has perceptively questioned the “certainty” of such knowing, but I remain in the perhaps common or garden camp of persuasion that what I ‘knew’ to be true at a certain moment holds true at least for myself and on occasion is said to be known as ‘true’—in participatory moments—for others of a like persuasion. Tambiah (1990) has written most cogently on the apparent permanence of “knowledge” of adepts in mystic traditions and argues for accepting the “psychic unity of mankind or human universals,” which he views as not contradictory to the “doctrine of diversity of cultures/societies.” He further allows for (ibid.: 96–97), regarding linguistic semiotics, reference to the triadic systems of signs proposed by C. S. Peirce and seems to have dissolved somewhat the binary prisons of strict empiricists. He identifies (ibid.: 105–10) a notion of participation in culture as “[p]articipation versus causality: two orientations to the world,” which he defines as “complementary and coexisting orientations to the world, perhaps best illustrated by complexes labeled as ‘religion’ and ‘science’”; here he is close to Wittgenstein’s later proposals, found in On Certainty (1974/69). While remaining sympathetic to Tambiah (1990), it may be proposed that these ‘two orientations’ are far more deeply divided from one another than most empiricists, positivists, fideists, or even Sanskritists like Harvey Alper would tend to allow. See n25 on Alper (1989) versus Grimes (1994) and Muller-Ortega (1989).

3 See Tambiah (1990).

4 On sensory definitions of the sacred in the pre-Reformation Church, e.g., incense, church bells, candles, ringing the sanctus bell, and visible elevation of the Host, see Spicer and Hamilton (2005: chap. 1).

5 That is, “writing into form” of the perfect geometry of sacred relativities, as architecture or altar. Here, a process of visualizing of the symbolic geometry precedes the actual building; see Snodgrass (1985: 1–66 especially) and Kramrisch (1946: Pt. II: “The Plan,” 19–64).

6 Mircea Eliade (1958) is noted for having transcended the bipolar distinctions of Durkheim (1915) in Elementary Forms. Eliade talked of hierophony or the manifestation of the sacred: “Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane” (1958: 11), and “we must expect a large number of techniques for consecrating space” (1958: 36). Eliade’s comprehensive, comparativist paradigm has proved useful to many, and some have emphasized behavioral elements as a key factor; see Eliade, (1958: 1–38).

7 Pentcheva (2006). Pentcheva’s study of Byzantine vision focuses on “synesthesia” of the senses as a key to “vision” or links between the senses and the spiritual; this includes the sound of prayer linked to dazzling visual elements, smell, and taste, linked to movements such as prostration, enunciation of prayer; she defines Byzantine mimesis as “the imitation of presence”; see also Susan Harvey (2006) on the effects of aromatics and incense as “a perfect means through which to experience the divine presence”; Pentcheva (2006: 650) states, “Like taste, incense affords a participatory, experiential approach to God.”

8 A striking ekphrastic statement on this by Hildegard of Bingen (1990[1141]) describes her vision of a mystical process at work in the Mass: “And when the Gospel of peace has been recited and the offering to be consecrated has been placed on the altar, and the priest sings the praise Almighty God, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts,’ which begins the mystery of the sacred rites, Heaven is suddenly opened and a fiery and inestimable brilliance descends over that offering” (243).

9 Kshemarāja (1990: 15), and Sw. Shantananda (2003: appendix B).

10 The term jīva refers simply to the state of being of the unenlightened ‘soul’ in this tradition, and this individuation, or deliberate descent from the Absolute, is attributed to the spontaneous will of the Self, a far cry from post-eighteenth-century Enlightenment definitions of the individual in Western tradition.

11 See also similar accounts in Darshan.

12 See Meditation Revolution (Brooks et al., 1997) and accounts in Darshan magazine.

13 Ibid.

14 See Brooks et al. (1997) for more accounts of this kind. At Ganeshpuri (1994), I had just taken part in bathing in the sacred baths of the site, instituted by Nityananda. In Syda Yoga gatherings where the Guru is present, especially at darshan where devotees have an opportunity to present themselves to the Master after a program or talk, the dancing energy of the shakti is quite a magical, even surreal, experience, brilliantly flashing out from every person or object in the vicinity. This phenomenon seems to accord with Eliade’s statement, that the presence of the divine simply manifests itself.

15 Kak (2005: 12) here explicates a study by Viśvambharanātha Tripātī (1990); in discussing the Agnicayana altar, “the centre of the great ritual of Vedic times that forms a major portion of the narrative of Yajurveda, is generally seen as the prototype of the Hindu temple and of Vāstu.” He also observes that “the Vedic philosophy of bandhu takes the numbers 360 and 108 to be central to the inner cosmos also. Therefore, walking the 108 steps to the sanctum, or doing the 108 beads of the rosary, is also a symbolical journey to the heart of consciousness, which is the inner sun” (ibid.). See also Kak (2000). As Snodgrass (1985: 1) observes, the advaita doctrine of the nonduality of the sensible and suprasensible domains is fundamental here: the “fully functioning building will aid the attainment of . . . that non-differentiated state of being ‘in which there is no longer any distinction of knower from known, or being from knowing.’” See also Coomaraswamy (1946).

16 Prabhavananda and Manchester (1975: 25–26). See also Sw. Gambhīrānanda (1993: Canto III, verse 1, iii. 1, 65). Shankarācarya notes that “parame [means] in the supreme: it [the space within the heart] is supreme in comparison with the space outside [the cavity] circumscribed by the human body.” See ibid. II i., verse 6, 91: “He sees this very aforesaid Brahman who sees the First Born (Hiranyagarbha)—born before the five elements from Consciousness (Brahman)—as existing in the cavity of the heart in the midst of body and senses.” Shankarācarya notes that praviśya guhām means “having entered into the cavity of the heart, of everybody.” See discussion on Forster’s positions in A Passage to India in Glen O. Allen (1955).

17 Chandogya Upanishad, in Sw. Prahavananda and Frederick Manchester (1975: 119).

18 Sw. Mukānanda Paramahamsa (1986: 78). This doctrine is apparently shared by the thirteenth-century Muslim sage Rumi, who says—in his Mathnawi, I, 3488–91—“Know the mirror of the heart is infinite. Either the understanding falls silent, or it leads you astray, because the heart is with God, or indeed the heart is He”; Mathnawi, translated by C. and K. Helminski 1994: 84.

19 The symmetry of layout, termed “plastic composition” by Inoue Mitsuo (1985) is found in many seventh-to-ninth-century Buddhist temple and pagoda plans, whose “space for the subject” is a taboo domain only entered into occasionally by monks and whose entirety may be viewed, like the stūpa and mandala, as the exclusive domain of the Buddha, and corresponds (Snodgrass [1985]) to the identity of Buddha.

20 See Snodgrass (1985). Note also that the nondual Saivite philosophy of Yoga states that ānavalamala, “the limitation of smallness,” can only be overcome by shaktipat initiation. This same process of shaktipat works on the māyīyamala, “the limitation of illusion,” and the kārmamala, “the limitation of action and the illusion of doership”; see Brooks et al. (1997: 435–37). The three malas are responsible for the sense of a small self, the sense of duality and diversity, and the sense that the small self is the “doer,” whereas it is found to be doership by the great Self, Siva.

21 What is often referred to as the Subject in advaita texts and their discourse constitutes the state of full enlightenment in which no Other is perceived; this is also called the Supreme Self (or God) who as such perceives only this Self, “the I-consciousness of the Absolute” (Kshemarāja 1992: 2) without a trace of objectification, or “the Supreme, the unsurpassable, the Absolute Consciousness” Abhinavagupta (1988 [tenth-to-eleventh century]: 5–6); Kshemarāja, 1990), Muller-Ortega (1989: 42–44). For the Absolute in Chan Buddhism, see Yasutani (1966) and Yamada (1980).

22 The all-too-familiar demonizing of subjectivism and forms of unquestioning validation of logical, reifiying discourse may be regarded, in light of the above, as somewhat atavistic, if not retrograde. One does not need a fideistic approach, even to Wittgenstein (Brenner 2007). It needs to be more widely recognized, in clear philosophic terms, that there is another, in its own terms, logically consistent language, that of the advaita or nondual language of the nonempirical Subject, wherein truth simply is, and there is no room, no possibility of questioning it or arguing for its existence or nonexistence. There is here often no signifying whatever, since the Absolute signifies no Other than itself; or where there is, it is promptly denied, as seen in Kshemarāja’s discursive texts. In Buddhist praxis, the Zen kōans, used in monastic practice to break down completely the normative reifying of quotidian thought, often display an equally unequivocal contempt for reifying discourse: a simple phrase, such as “Atop the Emerald Hall [‘Being’ at the summit of enlightenment], there is no knowledge [no delusion, no enlightenment; no secular, no sacred]” (from Biyanlu [The Blue Cliff Record], case no. 18) reveals the impossibility of reifying the state of being in quotidian terms (commentary from Master Yasutani Haku’un 1966: 104)). The sermons of the thirteenth-century Zen master Dōgen reveal an acute awareness of such issues: in a recent critical review, Steven Heine (1994: 120) notes,

From Dōgen’s standpoint, [Chan Master] Ta-hui’s illogical approach sees discourse as a skillful means used to cut off and defeat the “entangling vines’’ (J. kattō) of conceptual thought. Dōgen’s implication, also emphasized in the SZ [Shōbō genzō] “Kattō” fascicle, is that such a view fails to understand how language itself can effectively disentangle the vines of discrimination through the use of those very vines of word-tangles.

For insider comments on Dōgen, see also Yamada (1980).

     One may compare here the discussions by Muller-Ortega (1989: 174–75), who notes about the enigmatic āgamas, that siddhas [fully Self-realized adepts] find that the “something that has come forth, [āgamas] come forth as pure expressions of the supreme level of truth—parā vāk,” and that “these texts make available in understandable language the truths and totalities of the Ultimate. Hence, the texts are seen by the tradition as representing the pure essence of the Ultimate manifested and expanded into language . . . while at one level language may be the source of error, at another, it is the source and expression of enlightenment.” Such issues and the philosophic strategies of advaita expression have been nicely articulated by John Grimes (1994: chap. 5).

23 In a more obscure text by Shankarācarya, the Vakyavritti, the writer provides definitions of what might be called the inverted semiosis of such statements as the famous Vedic utterance “Tat tvam asi”—or “That Thou art,” where neither can be reified in the quotidian sense; see slokas 32–48, 22–35m (Jagadananda 1989); Grimes (1994: 133–46; 53–57) describes this phenomenon as a “two-level” language.

24 Muktānanda (1983: x).

25 On the special powers of mantras, chanted out loud or silently, see Padoux (1990), chap. 7. Padoux notes, “The divine consciousness and the Word are identical, and thereby that mantras are in the form of Consciousness-Word is underlined by Abhinavagputa . . .” (385). See also “The Potency of Mantras” (ibid.: 386–89).

26 As translated in The Nectar of Chanting (Muktānanda 1983: 68). The original text is from The Bradanyaka Upanisad ; see by Swami Madhavananda (1975) The Bradanyaka Upanisad; with the Commentary of Sankarācarya, V. 1 10: here the verse is translated as “This is fullness; that is fullness; From fullness fullness comes; when fullness is removed from fullness, fullness remains.”

     The power and efficacy of a mantra are described in the Śiva sūtras: “The luminous being of the perfect I-consciousness inherent in the multitude of words, whose essence consists of the highest non-dualism, is the secret of mantra”; Śiva sūtra 2.3, 88; see also Sw. Shantananda (2003: 248–53).

     On recent writing about mantras, their meanings and use, Harvey Alper remarked in the introduction to his multiauthor book Mantra (1989) that he and his fellow writers revealed a general conviction that progress in understanding and explaining mantras depended upon filtering the results of philological-historical analysis through the critical sieve of philosophy. This reifying approach, committed to designating mantras as ‘discourse,’ stayed close to Wittgenstein’s Sprachkritik, seeing value in defining mantras as redemptive; this approach lacks awareness of the logical fallacy of translating Parā vak as Transcendental Discourse; above all, it generally refuses to acknowledge the possibility of nondual consciousness or a nondual domain where objectivizing is hors de cours, and its tools are completely misleading. Such signal dedication to positivism is in itself fideistic, and faulty. See above, n22.

27 Alan Croker (1993: 108–23). The author notes here that, as he approached the sanctum of the Sri Nataraja Temple (Chidambaram), “the sense of light and energy radiating from the sanctum was overwhelmingly beautiful and beyond any form of description.”

28 Roger Goepper (1993: 19) and Tucci (1961: 94–95).

29 Richard Stanley-Baker (2007).

30 Tambiah (1976 and 1985) and Mannikka (c1996).

31 Kshemarāja (1990); Shantananda, (2003), and Abhinavagupta (1988: 2, N 4; 39; 108; 174, N27; 162; 163).

32 If all universes visible and invisible are fundamentally God/the Self, how can be this reconciled to quotidian notions of context, development, time, and space? What are dimensions, and are they real or important? Apparently not really; Sw. Shantananda states in his comments on Kshemarāja’s sutras on the spanda state that “there exists for the senses only the indefatigable ‘flashing forth’ of the universe, and its inseparable relationship with the invisible perfect Self, visible only when willfully and playfully expanded as such, maintained, and destroyed at last. Accordingly, Yes, God creates, Yes, we create for ourselves—hand in hand—everything that exists in every millisecond of our human consciousness” (Shantananda: 75–76). Abhinavagupta says in his Parārtrīsíka-laghuvrtti (discussed and translated in Muller-Ortega (1989: 90), “That perceiver, whose nature is consciousness and which is self-illuminating, is not in turn perceived by another subject: thus it is termed the Ultimate. For this reason, the Ultimate, formed of consciousness, is always present everywhere, and is devoid of spatial or temporal dimensions, of prior and subsequent; it is undeniable and unconcealed. What then can be said of it?”

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