The High Court judge who became a tantra practitioner and author of books on tantra shashtra

Till date, the books by Sir John George Woodroffe are the most relied upon texts written in English for tantra sadhana enthusiasts.
Sir John George Woodroffe
Sir John George

A lot of us seek spiritual transformation, but few take on a journey towards that transformation. Depending upon the journey and the individual, the shashtras have given different paddhatis (techniques) to march forward on the chosen path. One of the most effective paths for the journey is that of tantra practice (sadhana).

To perfect the techniques of attaining a certain level of spirituality in tantra sadhana, it takes a sadhaka (practitioner) years of practice.

Seldom do we find a foreign national, more so a sitting judge of a High Court, taking on such a journey in India. Sir John George Woodroffe, a former judge of the Calcutta High Court, is one such distinguished sadhaka/upasaka.

The judge not only learnt Sanskrit, but also practiced tantra sadhana, translated Sanskrit texts to English and wrote authoritative voluminous commentaries and books on various theoretical and practical aspects of kundalini yoga and tantra sadhana.

Born on December 15, 1865, John Woodroffe was educated at Woburn Park School and University College, Oxford, where he graduated in jurisprudence and cleared the Bachelor of Civil Law examinations. In 1890, he moved to India and enrolled as an advocate before the Calcutta High Court. He was soon made a Fellow of the Calcutta University and also appointed a Professor of Law there. He was later appointed Standing Counsel to the Government of India in 1902 and two years later, he was elevated to the High Court Bench at Calcutta.

It is during his stint as a judge of the Calcutta High Court that Woodroffe became interested in tantra sadhana and later delved into translations and writings of multiple texts on the same. How he got initiated into the tantra sadhana is also very interesting. The anecdotal story narrates that one day, Woodroffe was in his court and had to dictate a judgment in a matter which was supposed to be easy to decide with his magisterial calibre. However, when he tried to dictate the judgment, he felt that his mind was very clouded and he was unable to dictate the judgment properly. On enquiry, he found that one of the parties to that litigation had engaged a tantric practitioner who was outside his court/chambers, and with his sadhana, he had clouded the mind of Woodroffe, making him unable to decide the case. Such a practice falls under the category of abhichaar in the tantra sadhana and is known as Stambhan. Woodroffe got the practitioner chased by his staff, to no avail. This made Woodroffe curious about abilities of tantra practitioners.

On his engagement with a lot of people into sadhana, Woodroffe got a glimpse of the depth of tantra (more particularly shakta tantra) and kundalini yoga. As he found that most of the texts were written in Sanskrit, he went to great lengths to learn the language so that he himself could read the texts.

Woodroffe chose the name Arthur Avalon as a pseudonym to write books and translations. The book titled ‘Introduction to Tantra Shashtra’, is to date one of the leading books for beginners on understanding the basics and foundational principles of Tantra Shashtra. He further wrote ‘The Serpent Power’, ‘The Garland of Letters’, ‘Principles of Tantra’, ‘Sakti & Sakta’, ‘The World as Power’ and ‘The Great Liberation – Mahanirvana Tantra,’ amongst other books.

Woodroffe simultaneously also got initiated (Deeksha) into tantric practice and became a notable practitioner under the aegis of various gurus, including the much known Lahiri Mahashay, who initiated him into the practice of Kriya Yoga.

Tantra Sadhana has no discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, caste or creed etc. It rather tells one that male and female is only a matter of percentages, and that anyone can practice tantra sadhana and become a guru. This enabled Woodroffe to enter into the spiritual realm of tantra sadhana while conducting his duties as a judge of the High Court.

Woodroffe’s writings on kundalini yoga and tantra sadhana not only present a simplified version of complex principles, but also introduce an enthusiast to insights on the path she should choose. Till date, the books by Woodroffe under the name Arthur Avalon are the most relied upon texts written in English for tantra sadhana enthusiasts. He remains perhaps the only English judge of a High Court to become a leading name in the realm of Tantra Sadhana texts!

Namit Saxena is an Advocate-on-Record practicing at the Supreme Court of India.

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