Shakti and Shakta

by John Woodroffe | 1929 | 243,591 words

A collection of papers and essays addressing the Śakti aspect of the Śākta school of Hindu philosophy by John Woodroffe, also known as Arthur Avalon....

Preface to Third Edition

THIS edition has been revised and corrected throughout, and additions have been made to some of the original Chapters. Appendix I of the last edition has been made a new Chapter (VII) in the book, and the former Appendix II has now been attached to Chapter IV. The book has moreover been very considerably enlarged by the addition of eleven new Chapters. New also are the Appendices. The first contains two lectures given by me in French, in 1917, before the Societé Artistique et Literaire Francaise de Calcutta, of which Society Lady Woodroffe was one of the Founders and President. The second represents the substance (published in the French Journal “Le Lotus bleu”) of two lectures I gave in Paris, in the year 1921, before the French Theosophical Society (October 5) and at the Musée Guimet (October 6) at the instance of L’Association Francaise des amis de L’Orient. At this last meeting Professor Dr. Sylvain Lévi was present and M. Nasson Oursel, also of the Collège de France, in an introductory speech said that, “as one increasingly explored the Tāntrik literature, hitherto almost unknown, discovery is made not of more and more dissimilarities, but of a closer and closer connection between these Scriptures and the other Religions.” The Tāntrik cult was not, he said, “a mere superstitious imposition” (Simagrée superstitieuse). “Its belief that man can realize the divine in him and outside him is the postulate also of all those who have divinised the ritual word as Brahman and of all who seek in Yoga a theurgic equivalent.” The Press Notices (to which I might have added various addresses and letters of approval) are reprinted not merely to serve their usual purpose as recommendatious to a possible reader, but also as showing, firstly, the state of Indian opinion on the Śāstra, as an integral part of Hinduism and not merely a pathological excrescence on it and secondly, the effect produced on Western minds to which the Scripture was presented for the first time. Thus, Professor Evola (“Il Nuevo Paese”) has recently very truly remarked that the Tāntrik system here described “offers many suggestions to the West in virtue of its accentuation of Will and Power.” (Offrono grande suggestione per gli Occidentali in virtù del loro accentuare essenzialmente la parte della volontà e della potenza). To him (“Bilychnis”, October 1924) this Śākta system is one of the most important of Eastern systems (ora uno dei sistemi Orientali piu importante) raising on a grand foundation a vast ensemble of metaphysic, magic and devotion (Su questo sfondo grandioso i Tantra svolgono un vasto insieme metafisico, magico, e devozionale). Noteworthy too are the observations of Professor Dr. Winternitz in the “Ostusiatische Zeitschrift” (1916 Heft 3. See Chapter V of this book) that (as I have all along contended) the Tāntra Śāstras deserve a study which they have previously not received, and that they have been judged without knowledge. (Aus dem gesagtem erhellt dass Avalon recht hat wenn er erklärt dass mas bisher über diese literatur allzu oft geurteilt und noch mehr Abgeurteilt hat ohne sie zu kennen und dass die Tantras es verdienen, besser bekanut zu werden, als es bisher der fall gewesen ist). This statement is the more weighty, as this critic is not attracted by the Scriptures which he takes to be predominantly magical. As to this see what I have said in Chapter V post.

The philosopher Herman Keyserling in his now celebrated work “Das Reise Tagebuch Einer Philosophen”recently translated into English (“The Travel Diary of a Philosopher”), writes (pp. 223-224) of the Tantras that “however extravagant some of its sayings may sound, their meaning is clear and their fundamental ideas are in accordance with reason”. And again (p. 231), “I personally am convinced that the teachings of the Tantra are correct on the whole, but that it is nevertheless in the order of things that they meet with less and less observance for the development of humanity tends away from ritualism.” I have my doubts as regards this last point. A strong ritualistic revival is in force today and there is likely to be always the reciprocal reaction of Puritanism and Ritualism.

I cannot do better than conclude these foreign criticisms with a note of the recent observations of a French writer in the Journal “L’Humanite” in which, referring to the French edition (Bossard, Paris) of A. and E. Avalon’s “Hymns to the Goddess”, and other works on the Śāstra, he has nothing to say about its “puerility” or “worthlessness” but, on the contrary, writes: “These conceptions display an astonishing philosophic subtlety (Une étonnante subtilité philosophique). This volume and others of the collection show the interest which Oriental research has for all those who are interested in the evolution of humanity, the future cohesion of which may be expected because of the community of origin. We have still to learn much of Asia. Some Russian revolutionaries have called their country Eurasia, as being the junction of the two Continents. There is truth in this. If we persist in our Western decadence, it may be that the seat of civilization will pass to the East, the great primitive source of generations of men. Some poets have already said:—“Europe is no more and that Asia alone contains the future in its secret valleys.” With such poets and their prophecies of Western decadence I disagree. Nevertheless, it is rightly said that we, Occidentals, can complete our own culture and render our thoughts more complete and humane by observation of the Orientals and establishing contact with the conscience of modern Asiathat between these extreme points of time, past and present, we shall discover fecund traditions, and our desire for a spiritual universality will find its satisfaction. It is to such minds that the great concepts of India will make appeal. I am glad to report that years of work have borne some fruit in the shape of a more discriminating judgment. For myself it is enough, as it has always been, to my here in the words of the French writer Dunoyer, “I do not oppose. Nor do I propose. I merely expose.” But for this last we must both know the facts and understand them. “Get knowledge, and with getting get understanding.” This process on my own part has led to the revision of some of the matter reprinted so as to bring it into accordance with my present knowledge and opinions.

8th August 1927.


[Note: The list of works translated / edited by “Arthur Avalon” which appeared at the end of the 1929 edition is retained. The 25 pages of Press Notices following, alluded to above, are here omitted, as some pages were missing in my copy-text. They may be restored in a later edition. The works of John Woodroffe and “Arthur Avalon” on the Tantra Śāstra have for the most part remained in print in various editions from the 1950s to the present date. In case there is any doubt, it should be pointed out that the volumes of the Tāntrik texts series are editions of the Sanskrit texts and do not include English translations unless this is explicitly stated in the listing. — T.S.]

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: