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SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies

Jürgen Hanneder – Early Manuals of Meditation

About this event

SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies was delighted to host Jürgen Hanneder, Professor at Philipps-Universität Marburg and principal investigator of the Light on Haṭha project, for a lecture entitled “Early Manuals of Meditation.” This is a recording of the event which took place on Monday, 10th June 2024 in the KLT at SOAS University of London.


Meditational practices are ubiquitous in Indian religions. In Buddhism meditation ranks among the most important practices, in many other religions within Hinduism it seems to occur in a bewildering multitude of forms.

Quite contrary to this Indologists would be hard pressed to produce many manuals of meditation that go beyond a typical form of name dropping. We do find many texts with stages of meditation, sub-stages and other scholastic differentiations, but these are usually based on or even merely consist of listings of doctrinal terms and their definitions. In frustration about this some Indologists have asked whether such texts were the product of scholastic philosophers with no practical knowledge of meditation.

So why not read the lesser known old texts? In this lecture Prof. Hanneder is intending to introduce two texts (Sanskrit and Tibetan) that for my taste do not fall into this category, but are not widely known. One describes a practice that has become, or perhaps remained, one of the preferred entry level techniques in Zen meditation, the other claims to capture the meditation technique of famous meditator, who is otherwise shrouded in mystery.


Jürgen Hanneder is Professor of Indology at Philipps-Universität Marburg (University of Marburg). Prof. Hanneder researches the languages, cultures and history of the Indian cultural area. He is the Principal Investigator of the Light on Haṭha project, which is a three-year research project that aims to bring together arts and humanities researchers in the UK and Germany to conduct outstanding joint research. The project recently published a digital critical edition and English translation of the Haṭhapradīpikā, authored by Svātmārāma in the early 15th century, which is arguably one of the most widely cited and influential texts on physical yoga, and is instrumental for the flourishing of haṭhayoga on the eve of colonialism.

Prof. Hanneder has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant for his project “K-S-H-Raksa”, which is dedicated to preserving the Kashmiri Sanskrit heritage. He is receiving 2.5 million euros in funding over five years. The Kashmiri literary heritage has recently come under threat, not least due to political conflicts such as the expulsion of the Hindus in 1989. Recent research shows that the manuscript heritage of Kashmiri Sanskrit literature, which is scattered around the world and is no longer being catalogued in Kashmir itself, contains spectacular works. These include the largest picture poem known to date in world literature, recently published by Jürgen Hanneder.


Dr Karen O’Brien-Kop is a lecturer in Asian Religions at King’s College London. She researches early South and Central Asian Sanskrit texts and culture on meditation, philosophy of mind, and mind-body practices – in particular exploring the interconnections of Hinduism and Buddhism. Her books include Rethinking “Classical Yoga”: Meditation, Metaphor, Materiality and, along with Dr Suzanne Newcombe, she co-edited the Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies. She is co-convenor of the Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions and a co-editor at the Religions of South Asia journal.

We will look at the key figures who are influential in modern mindfulness, reflect upon the controversies, and critique the public discourse –– such as public policy, social values, and social vision –– that surrounds modern mindfulness.

– Tessa Watt


This PodCourse entitled Mindfulness in the Modern World is taught by Tessa Watt, PhD at SOAS University of London.

In this course we will look at the rise of the modern mindfulness movement from its roots in Buddhist traditions to its role in 21st century public discourse.

This PodCourse focuses specifically on Mindfulness in the Modern World and is divided into three modules:

  1. The Roots of Modern Mindfulness.
  2. Controversies in Modern Mindfulness.
  3. Mindfulness in Public Discourse.

Module 1: The Roots of Modern Mindfulness.

In the first module, we will consider: definitions of modern mindfulness, the difference between mindfulness and meditation, the roots of mindfulness practice in Buddhism, and the key figures and practices of modern mindfulness in therapeutic and clinical settings.

Module 2: Controversies in Modern Mindfulness.

In the second module, we will examine some of the critiques and criticisms that modern mindfulness has encountered during its rise in popularity. We will consider scholarly debates about its definition, whether it is a religion by stealth, the potential dangers and ethical challenges, and its role as a tool for/against capitalism and activism.

Module 3: Mindfulness in Public Discourse.

In the third module, we will consider the suggestion that mindfulness is ‘an essential skill’ that can help with the pressing challenges of our age. We will attempt to answer the important question ‘what is mindfulness for? ‘ to determine whether it assists or impedes social resilience and innovation.

Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes anticipated for this PodCourse are:

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