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358 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 an academic activist, such as one of the contributors/ to say/ 'I have not attempted to show that anthropocentricismis an ethic that should logical1y be rejected. Regardless of reason, rationality, and logic [and fact, we might ask?] my ethical stance comes from the heart and not the mind.' Properly understood, there is no sharp dichtomy between heart and head; we need both. As another contributor- a philosopher, educator, activist- says: to slogans such as 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,' we need to add 'Reflect'. This book is a welcome and much needed aid in that endeavour. I look forward to new and improved editions of it. (J.T. STEVENSON) David Kinsley. Tantric Visions ofthe Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas University of California Press. 318. us$45.00 cloth, us$16.95 paper The kitschy, bizarre, mostly sugary and sometimes frightening representations of gods and goddesses that one comes across all over India in prints and calendars arebound to intrigue the non-Indian traveller. 'Who are these gods and goddesses? What meaning do these pictures convey? David Kinsley has a long-standing interest in Hindu and other goddesses, as we can see from his previous books The Sword and the Flute (1975), Hindu Goddesses (1986)/ and The Goddesses' Mirror (1988). In this book, he has selected for study one particular group from the Hindu pantheon, the ten Mahavidyas, ten goddesses who indulge in necrophilia, are worshipped in cremation grounds, and display generally disconcerting behaviour. Kinsley treats the goddesses first as a group and mentions some particular temples where they appear in wall paintings and carvings. Stressing that most devotees believe that all the ten goddesses are in fact only one, who is the same as the Great Goddess, Kinsley then goes on to give detailed descriptions of the forms and functions of each individual goddess. However, the pervasive question in Kinsley's study is why these 'anti-social' goddesses are worshipped at all. They certainly do not conform to the general Hindu idea of female behaviour: they are not mothers and nurturers, they are not obedient consorts of a male god. On the contrary, they indulge in sex and drink and are offered blood and semen by the worshippers. Interestingly, all the tantras and puranas describing the worship of these goddesses seem to take for granted that the devotee is male. Kinsley speculates on 'The Potentially Liberating Nature of Social Antimodels' and conjectures that 'The Mahavidyas, as antimodels, are awakeners, visions of the divine that challenge comfortable and comforting fantasies about the way things are in the world.' It seems to me, however, that a great part of this tantric worship, which includes sexual intercourse, is a quest for magical powers. Kinsley indeed spends several pages on 'The Mahavidyas and Magical Powers' and then devotes three pages to 'The Significance of the Term Mahavidya,' but nowhere does he mention that vidya also means 'magic,' a fact that could HUMANITIES 359 have been easily established by consulting a Sanskrit dictionary. Instead Kinsley concentrates on the meaning 'knowledge' which the noun vidyii (derived from the root vid 'to know') undoubtedly has. He also fails to see the nexus of knowledge-magic-power which pervades classical Indian religious thought, a topic superbly treated by Franklin Edgerton in his presidential address to the American Oriental Society in 1929, printed in volume 49 of its journal The practical consequences of the realization that knowledge is power is palpable in a caste society which denies the lower castes and untouchables access to knowledge. By acquiring /great knowledge ' (malwvidyii) one also acquires 'great magic [powers]' (mahiividya), both dangerous to a traditional, caste-bound society. Even though the tantrics were always on the fringe of society, they nevertheless represented a potential danger for the established order. The 'liberating' effect ofnnconventional worship can easily by seen not as a real spiritual endeavour but as an attempt to release oneself from the shackles of a repressive society. Although Kinsley presents us with vivid descriptions and generally good reading, there is something fundamentally disturbing in his approach. I hasten to say that this is not something peculiar to Kinsley; it is common to the whole field of Indian Religionswissenschaft...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 358-359
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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