Through the Eyes of the Goddess: How a Popular Divination Ritual Found its Way into Unexcelled Yoga Tantra

02.02.2022 - 02.06.2022

Georgi Krastev

  • Betreuung: Klaus-Dieter Mathes

Among the many arcane allusions in the Kālacakra corpus of texts, the comparison of the visions of “one united with Reality” (tattvayogī) to the nature of a prognostic image (pratisenā) is one of the most intriguing. However, limited attention has been devoted to it with a single article being exclusively devoted to it (Orofino 1994) and several other prominent researchers either simply mentioning it (i.e. Newman 1987) or exploring it in other contexts (i.e. Vasudeva 2014, McGrath 1993, Strickmann 2002). The ritual of pratisenā (or, more commonly, prasenā) was not invented by the author of the Kālacakratantra, but has much older, deeper and more complex roots, perhaps partly even in the Greco-Roman world. Some permutation on the practice is attested in Śaiva, Buddhist and even Jain sources. This thesis strives to build upon the previous scholarship on the topic, locate and examine further texts related to prasenā and seek a preliminary answer to the question why prasenā was of such prominence and how it came to be so.

Although the word pratisenā itself is very rare in Sanskrit, it very likely derives from an over-Sanskritisation of the word prasenā, which in turn is a corruption of praśna - 'question’. The term prasenā refers to the oracular possession of a maiden or a young boy by a deity, most commonly a goddess, which medium then looks into a reflective object (very commonly a mirror) and is made to answer questions. Traces of it can be found in the Dīghanikāya, the Jātakas, the Subāhuparipṛcchātantra, and many other texts, including the Vimalaprabhā, and the Hevajratantra. This thesis will concentrate on the latter two.

In Kālacakra texts, the notion of pratisenā is especially relevant for its use to describe the images that appear to the adept after the successful completion of prayāhāra, which are are unimagined (acintita) and of the same nature as prognostic images (pratisenāsvarūpaka). However, then the need arises to explain how it is possible to have a visible manifestation of emptiness, without the involvement of conceptual effort (kalpanā). Thus the metaphor of the pratisenā comes to play its key role.

Among the many mantra rituals taught in the second chapter of the Hevajratantra, the one named “vajra divination” (vajrajyotiṣa) - a ritual for the retrieval of stolen or lost things with the help of a maiden - is of particular interest, since the ritual of prasenā has never been related to the Hevajratantra before.

Demonstrating that the vajrajyotiṣa is a form of prasenā would mean that some form of the practice has influenced more than one of the highest yoga tantras (the other being the Kālacakratantra), changing its status to that of a more significant pan-tantric phenomenon and by means of the other numerous examples demonstrate how the practice of prasenā was apparently both more widespread and much more influential than previously suspected.

Keywords: Buddhism, tantra, divination, prasenā, Kālacakra

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