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Who was Abhinava Gupta?


Abhinava Gupta's writings.


The Power of the Word: Double Meanings in the Tantrloka


The Opening Verses of the Tantrloka


On Bondage and Liberation.


Tantrik Philosophy for the Layman: What is Liberation?


Tantrloka: The Nature of Reality


Tantrloka: The Nature of God


Tantrloka: The Nature of God/dess


Tantrloka: God is the Self -- the Secret Teaching of Triirobhairava


Tantrloka: The Divine Name -- Bhairava


Tantrloka: The Divine Names -- Deva, Pati, Shiva


When studying the writings of nondual Saiva Tantra, there is one figure who stands
out above all others, who appears as the very lynchpin of the tradition, who is the
convergence point of much that had come before and the source of much that was
to come after: the unparalleled master Abhinava Gupta.
This great Tantrik master was active 9801020 CE in the Kashmr Valley: that
exquisite paradise on earth where, Abhinava wrote, 'saffron flowers scattered
everywhere seem to make the earth into a garden for the worship of the three
goddesses', that center of learning and literature 'where everyone is either a poet or
a scholar, where even warriors are eloquent!'

Abhinavas parents were advanced Tantrik practitioners who conceived him in Kaula
ritual; he was thus said to be yogin-bhu, 'born of an awakened yogin,' and thereby
possessing a special capacity for liberation.

1000 years ago today, Abhinava Gupta sent pen to paper for the last time,
completing his last great work, a multivolume commentary on the most profound
and erudite philosophical text in Indian history (the Stanzas on the Recognition of
the Divine). We know the date because he wrote it at the end of his manuscript: the
end of the month of Mrgara, in the year 4090 of the Saptari calendar
(corresponding to 1015 CE). Temperatures probably hovered just above freezing in
the Kashmr Valley on that Winter Solstice night. Why do we still remember and
revere this man 1000 years later? What makes him so powerful, so insightful, that
some of us alive today would call him our Guru?

Before we jump in to his life story, let me share with you one of my favorite
Abhinava verses of all time, so you can drink from the source; and be sure to read
to the end for more treasures (all translations in this blog are my own unless
otherwise noted):
"Spiritual experience is what we call it when that Divine Reality which we long for
spontaneously unfolds within, without a thought-process, suddenly subordinating
who you thought you werewhich turns out to be a mere reflection in the 'mirror' of
your real natureand continuously revealing ever greater degrees of its glory within
the abundant purity of your sacred Heart." (from Light on Tantra)
He blows my mind and opens my heart. Sometimes I can scarcely believe he really
lived. But he did, and I love him so much for it.

I've already published a blog on his justly famous signature verse, in which
Abhinava Gupta managed to weave together the key teachings that he would
expound over thousands of Sanskrit verses in five great works, including Light on
Tantra and The Essence of Tantra. That he did so while simultaneously honoring the
special circumstances of his own birth in that same verse, bowing to the siddha and
yogin who conceived him, makes the signature verse one of the most extraordinary
literary achievements of the tradition.

The death of Abhinavas mother, Vimal, at a young age contributed to his passion
for spirituality. Speaking both of himself and his sister Amb, who lost her husband
early, he wrote: "Among people that are assaulted by the power of fate (lit. 'what

must be'), an unfortunate and [seemingly] meaningless incident may lead them to
the truth of [spiritual] traditions of deep meaning."
Abhinava learned Sanskrit from his father, Narasiha Gupta, and received initiation
into the Kl-worshipping Krama lineage at an early age from his fathers Krama
Guru, Bhutirja, who had been a direct disciple of the famous Chakrabhnu (see
Tantra Illuminated p. 255). In his early twenties, he wrote his first work, a hymn to
the divine powers of consciousness personified as the goddesses of the Krama,
which is now unfortunately lost. Then he wrote a commentary on the BhagavadGt, which we do have, a work that shows the young Abhinava as learned but still
callow, his words lacking the power, precision, and mature wisdom of his later
works. However, in that commentary he quotes from a poem he wrote in which he
alludes to his early spiritual experiences:

"Taking refuge in the flow of goddess-consciousness (svarasavhin, from the

previous verse) that has been brought under its own control and that clearly
transcends the physical body, the Fire of Awareness (bodhnala) of its own accord
suddenly blazes forth without any fuel, sporting spontaneously, accompanied by
thrilling sensations, trembling, and tears." (provisional translation)

Elsewhere he tells us that his first spiritual experience came to him while reading
poetry: "while engaged in the intense pleasure of aesthetic emotion from poetic
works I was spontaneously seized by an intoxicating devotion to the Lord . . ." (T
37.58, translation by Ben Williams) and perhaps the verse above alludes to that
In time, Abhinava studied with many gurusmore than fifteen Saiva teachers in all,
plus teachers of logic, exegesis, Buddhism, Jainism, and Vaishnavism. He had a
passion for learning! He received direct transmission from masters in the Trika,
Pratyabhijn, Krama, and Saiddhntika lineages, a transmission which authorized
him to teach in those lineages. He tells us that it was sweet nectar to offer them the
service (sev) which effected their favour. (T 37.63) He describes himself as a bee,
going from flower to flower, collecting the nectar of each of these branches of the
tradition in order to make them all into the sweetest honey. (T 13.335) But it was
not until he met his true master (sadguru) that his realization was complete. It is
said in the Kaula tradition that full awakening can only be transmitted by a guru
who has himself attained it. This guru, for Abhinava, was a man named Sambhu
Ntha. Their meeting was like that of Rumi and Shams, for Abhinava was already an
expert scholar of the scriptures and not lacking in spiritual experience. Yet
something was missing: the final descent of grace (aktipta), triggering the
complete and permanent expansion into all-encompassing blissful nondual
awareness, expressed and grounded in embodiment.

Sambhu Ntha, a master of both forms of the Trika (Kaula and non-Kaula), came to
Kashmr from the great akti-pha or holy place of Jlandhara, in the Punjab. It was
to this master that Abhinava attributed his Self-realization, and thus he praised him
before all his other teachers. For example, introducing both his two major works on
Tantrik philosophy and practice (Tantrloka 1.21 and Tantrasra1.3), he invites the
reader to study the text by saying:
"As an act of divine worship, may all contemplate the lotus of the heart of Abhinava
Gupta, its blossom opened by the light falling from the rays of the sun that is to
say, its contraction forever banished by the wisdom descending from the feet of the
illuminator, [my master] Sambhu Ntha." (For more on this verse go here.)

Imaginative depiction of Abhinava Gupta by an unknown artist.

However, we should note that though Abhinava loved all his teachers, in the end it
was the inner Guru who reigned supreme in his heart: he describes his
enlightenment (more precisely, his abiding in nondual awareness) in these terms: as
'delighting in my own inner being' (svtmrma) and relishing 'the sweetness of
being in constant service to, and adoration of, Reality itself', using the very same
phrase, sev-rasa, that he previously used with reference to serving his gurus.
Having come fully into his attainment, Abhinava then wrote his mature works. All of
these are written from the perspective of the Trika, which was his primary reference
point due to the influence of his sadguru Sambhu Ntha. However, Abhinava
maintained his commitment to the teachings of the Krama, incorporating these as
the esoteric core of his theology. His primary works include his Commentary on the
Mlinvijaya, notable for its mystical explanation of the origin and nature of the
Saiva canon (published as Abhinavagupta's Philosophy of Revelation); his
commentary called Unfolding the Thirty Verses of Par (published as A Trident of
Wisdom); his multi-volume commentaries on the philosophical masterpiece Stanzas
on the Recognition of the Divine, and most notable of all, his magnum opus, the
Tantrloka Light on the Tantras. (The last two masterworks have not yet appeared
in English, though they are extensively studied in academic circles.)
When discussing why he wrote these works, he said it was for three reasons: out of
a desire to serve, because of the command of his sadgurus, and because, as he
puts it, "Sometimes, one who wishes to dance must take his own instrument down
off the wall." (T 37.71)

Illustration of Abhinava Gupta by Elke Avis, based on Madhurja's 11th-century

The influence of Abhinava Gupta, while not widespread, went deep. The Kaula
Trika/Krama synthesis he presented was compelling enough to have been adopted
by a number of other lineages. Not only that, other Saiva schools, like that of the
Srvidy, formulated their thought along the lines of Abhinava and his disciples. This
influence was felt even in other Indian religions: the Tantrik Vaiava scripture
called the Lakshm Tantra clearly borrowed ideas from The Heart of the teachings on
Recognition by Abhinavas disciple Kemarja.
It seems that a native of Madurai, an ancient city of the Tamil country, came 2,000
miles to receive initiation from Abhinava. This man, named Madhurja, wrote a
beautiful description of Abhinava as part of a set of verses he composed for
meditation on his guru. The stylized nature of this pen-portrait has led scholars to
question whether or not Madhurja really met Abhinava; but I would argue that
following standard literary forms in his paean to Abhinava hardly disproves that an
actual meeting took place. And we do know for certain that Abhinavas teachings
were known in the Tamil region shortly after his passing. Madhurjas description of
Abhinava follows, in Paul Muller-Ortegas translation:
"Out of his deep compassion, [Siva] has taken a new bodily form as Abhinava Gupta
and come to Kashmr. He sits in the middle of a garden of grapes, inside a pavilion
[adorned with] crystal and filled with beautiful paintings. The room smells wonderful
because of flower garlands, incense sticks, and oil lamps. It is constantly resounding
with musical instruments, with songs, and with dancing. There are crowds of yogs
and yogins, realized beings, and siddhas. . . . In the center of the room there is a
golden seat from which pearls are hanging. It has a soft awning stretched over it as
a canopy. Here sits Abhinava Gupta attended by all his numerous students, with
Kemarja at their head, who are writing down everything he says. . . . Abhinava
Guptas eyes are trembling in ecstasy. In the middle of his forehead is a conspicuous
tilaka made of sacred ashes. He has a rudrka bead hanging from his ear. His long
hair is held by a garland of flowers. He has a long beard and reddish-brown skin. His
neck is dark and glistening with musk and sandalwood paste. Two duts stand at his
side holding refreshments [wine etc.]. . . . He wears a silken cloth as a dhoti, white
as moonbeams, and he sits in the yogic posture known as vrsana. One hand is
held on his knee holding a japa-ml and his fingers make the mudr that signifies
his knowledge of the highest Siva. He plays on a resonating lute (ektr) with the tips
of his quivering fingers of his lotus-like left hand."

Image based on Madhurja's description, with Dal Lake in the background.

Let us close with three of Abhinava's most beautiful verses. He composed these, he
tells us, for use in his own personal daily practice; how fortunate we are that he
shared them! They are brimming with love, devotion, intensified awareness, and
poetic feeling.
1. "Those initiated into the inner teaching worship You as the experience of the
ultimate joy that flashes into view when they immerse themselves in the radiance
that is the true upsurge of creation." (trans. Sanderson) or "Those who know the
secret tradition worship You with the vision of supreme nectar that comes into play
when they immerse themselves in the radiant light flowing forth from the ultimate
state." (my trans.)
2. "Day and night, O Lord, I shall purify the inner worship ground with a shower of
the wine of aesthetic rapture and then worship You and Your consort in the shrine
that is my body, with flowers rich with the perfect fragrance of the Self,
contemplating them as one with its reality as I take them in imagination from the
priceless chalice of my heart that brims with the liquid nectar of Your bliss." (trans.
3. "I shall place this triple universe with the sap of its diverse experiences on the
wine press of my heart cakra, and bear down upon it with the weight of insight.
The awareness that flows forth is the ultimate nectar that ends [fear of] death, old
age, and rebirth forever. With this ultimate offering I shall gratify You constantly,
pouring it into the fire of deepest radiance." (trans. Sanderson)
If you're anything like me, you're melting by now, tasting the nectar of awakened
consciousness and the grace of the siddhas. Happy Abhinava Gupta anniversary!
Continued in Part Two: Abhinava Gupta's writings.
The Tantrik Studies blog features many posts by myself on the writings of this great
master. In celebration of this 1000th anniversary, I invite you to explore them:

Abhinav gupts Major writings

This is a follow-up post to "Who was Abhinava Gupta?" In this post I discuss some of
Abhinava's major writings, after presenting a new translation of his Fifteen Verses
on Awakening (Bodha-pancadaik). I translated from the critical edition prepared
by Christopher Tompkins, as well as borrowing a few felicitous phrases from his
translation (though we differ on some points).

There is a radiance that remains undimmed through all moments of light and
darkness; the One within, the end of all light and all darkness. || 1

That One is the Highest Divinity, the innate essence of all beings and states; for all
that comes into being is nothing but the expression of its sovereign Power. || 2
The Goddess (Energy) never wants to be separate from the One who holds Her; they
are eternally one Being as inseparable as fire and its heat. || 3
That Lord is none other than Bhairava, whose role is to sustain (bh) the world;
for through his Power, everything exists as a reflection in the mirror of the Self. || 4
That Supreme Goddess (Par Dev) is none other than his longing to be intimately
aware of his own nature, whose fullness & perfection in all beings is neither trifling
nor significant. || 5
This God is eternally eager for the sweetness of love-play with this Goddess;
[through it,] the Lord simultaneously accomplishes the wonderfully varied creations
and dissolutions [of all the objects of our experience]. || 6
This Absolute [Consciousness] which accomplishes what seems impossible has
autonomous sovereign awake awareness as its nature. || 7
It is said that the defining feature of insentience is a limited power of illumination;
so Awareness is distinct from insentience by the fact that it is unlimited. || 8
Thus, [the cycles of] creation and dissolution are innate [to Awareness], existing as
subdivisions of its innate power of Freedom; as expressions of its true nature. || 9
For within these [cycles] there exist an infinite variety of painful and pleasurable
worlds: higher, lower, and parallel [to this one] -- [all] aspects of this [unrestrained
power of freedom to create]. || 10
The state of being ignorant of all this is itself a construct of that Freedom. The
cyclical flux [of this autonomous Being] is indeed terrifying to those who are
unconscious. || 11
By what means [does one overcome ignorance]? Through His grace? Through the
power of a mantra? Through the testimony of your guru? Or through the scriptures
of the Supreme Lord? || 12
Recognition of the nature of reality is divine liberation. That state of fullness
experienced by the awakened ones is taught to be jvanmukti (living liberation). ||
(Commentator adds: Liberation is the manifestation of ones innate freedom,
bursting with wonder at the experience of the sense of I encompassing everything,
i.e. recognition of the nature of reality as unsurpassed consciousness.)

These two states bondage and liberation both derive from the nature of the
Highest Divinity; they are indivisible one implies the other for there can in
reality be no division within the Highest Divinity. || 14
Thus one should cultivate & cherish Bhairava, dwelling within the trident-and-lotusthrone whose prongs are the powers of Willing, Knowing, and Acting. || 15
(For notes on the critical edition see below.)
Abhinava lived in the cosmopolitan capital city of Srnagar (then called
Pravarapura). When his disciples and friends entreated him to write the Tantrloka,
he agreed and accepted their invitation to move out of the capital to a quieter
village in the valley, a village where all the inhabitants were faithful devotees
ofShaivism ("even children and cowherds render service to God in this place," he
enthused). In this unnamed location, in a house provided by a former government
minister who had retired to devote himself to religion, Abhinava composed his great
work, securing for himself a place in the world of Tantrik spirituality as prominent
and significant as that of St. Thomas Aquinas in medieval Christianity.
The purpose of writing the work, he said, was to teach the truth of the Tantra
through logic and revelation. By attaining the light (loka) of that system, people
may engage in all their actions joyously.
The Tantrloka is a monumental explication of Tantrik practice and philosophy in
over 5,800 verses. It is encyclopedic in its scope though not organized like an
encyclopedia, for instead of just enumerating theories and practices, it brings them
all into a coherent framework in which everything has its place and everything
makes sense in relation to the whole. It is, then, an awesome work of synthesis,
which presents to the reader a vision of Saiva Tantra as a unified system: farreaching in its scope, powerful in its cohesion, and complex yet clear in its
interrelations. To accomplish this synthesis, of course, he has to explain apparent
contradictions amongst the scriptures, which were originally addressed to differing
audiences in varying periods. He does so by creating a hierarchy of understanding.
For example, he explains that dualism is a valid view of reality at one level of
understanding and development and that, therefore, God compassionately revealed
the dualistic scriptures for those who could not yet comprehend or relate to
Nondualism, then, is both a higher understanding and experience that one can
progress to. However, Abhinava argues that his own view is that of paramdvaya or
supreme nondualism. This is the view that simultaneously encompasses and
subsumes both dualism and nondualism, the view that goes completely beyond the
notion of levels of understanding. It is the inexpressible experience of the totality

of reality in which no perspective is excluded, for each is seen as fitting into the
pattern of a greater whole.
However, it is very clear that in Abhinavas view, one must carefully ascend through
ever more refined levels of understanding in order to reach that all-inclusive state of
no-levels. One cannot attempt to leap straight to that realm, lest all understanding
decay into incoherent relativism.
The Tantrloka was such a significant work that Abhinava chose to rewrite it twice,
for the benefit of those who were less highly educated in the complexities of Indian
philosophy. The first rewrite was The Essence of the Tantras (Tantrasra), a work
mostly in prose with key summary verses at the end of each chapter. The main
purpose of the Tantrasra is to summarize the Tantrloka, but the ever-fresh
Abhinava also adds some new material. I would argue that the Tantrasra is a more
important work for those with a practical interest in the Tantra, for by mostly leaving
aside the discourse of intellectual/logical debate that we see in the Tantrloka,
Abhinava was able to write in a more tightly focused and powerful manner, with (in
my experience) every phrase resonating with Truth. The tone of the work is
precisely what one would expect if, having discovered that the Tantrloka was too
difficult for most people, Abhinava thought to himself, Okay, lets get down to the
essence (sra) of what really matters here. The result feels more like a
transmission than a dissertation. I am happy to announce that I will publish the
Tantrasra in my own translation in 2017.
Following the Tantrasra, Abhinava composed the shortest recension of this material
by taking just the summary verses of the Tantrasra and giving a short commentary
on each. This work is called the Tantroccaya. None of these works is available yet in
English apart from the Tantrasra, which has been recently published by Rudra
Press. The first five chapters of the Tantrloka are published in a good French
translation (by Andre Padoux) and the whole work in a flawed Italian translation by
Raneiro Gnoli. We expect an English translation from Pandit Mark Dyczkowski soon.
Abhinavas final major works of Tantrik philosophy were his commentaries on Utpala
Devas Stanzas on the Recognition of the Lord mentioned earlier. Abhinava also
composed a number of exquisite devotional-cum-philosophical poems, such as
theHymn to Bhairava and Fifteen Verses on Awakening (the poem that began this
Finally, we should note that Abhinava was quite a renowned philosopher of
aesthetics, writing a number of works on what makes art beautiful and affecting,
works that were (for the most part) separate from his spiritual writings. He
specialized in the study of poetry, and his most important work in that area was his
commentary on Light on the Theory of Suggestion (Dhvanyloka), an earlier work of
profound significance in the study of aesthetics. In Abhinavas erudite and
thoughtful commentary, he analyzes the nature of aesthetic experience in terms of

how it comes about, what it signifies, and what are its various dimensions. His
exposition of the nine rasas or flavors of aesthetic experience has become quite
famous. Indeed, his work in this area is better known amongst academic Sanskritists
than is his spiritual material.
(Notes to the Bodhapancadaik: Verse 2 accepts the Eds reading -bhvm in
pda a; verse 4 accepts the reading svtmdare in pda c; verse 5 translates in
such a way as to avoid deciding between the readings yasya (Ed.) and yasy
(KSTS); verse 10 retains the reading yat from the KSTS over the Ed.s hi, and retains
a over the Eds , but accepts the Eds reading sukhadukham iti bhavet in
pda d; verse 11 accepts the Eds readings of svtantryopakalpitam in pda b, and
janm yas tu bhaa in pda d; verse 12 accepts the Eds reading
prasdavad in pda a and upyata in pda d; and verse 15 accepts the Eds
read of icchkry- in pda a.)

The Power of the Word: Double Meanings in the Tantrloka

Many Western yogs are under the impression that every Sanskrit word has many
meanings, and therefore any given Sanskrit verse has innumerable possible
interpretations, which gives them license (they believe) to read a verse any way
they want. In fact, this is not true, because though Sanskrit words often do have
many meanings, only one of those meanings is valid in any given context, and thus
each verse has one correct interpretation, though we often can debate about what
that interpretation is (that is what the commentators do). Lack of understanding of
this leads some non-Sanskritists to believe they can create their own translations of
a Sanskrit text by putting the various English meanings of the Sanskrit words of a
given verse on a bunch of index cards and then mixing and matching them however
they like! (I am not kidding; there's even a published 'translation' of the Vijnnabhairava that used this dubious method.)
Of course, if a Sanskrit author is very skilled, there may be subtle implications to the
arrangement of words that need to be teased out. The power of words to
communicate what they do not explicitly say is called dhvani in Sanskrit. But
dhvaniis only operative in certain kinds of literary works (it is generally assumed to
be present only when the author intended it, as in erotically suggestive poetry).*
This is not the same as multiple meanings, and certainly does not imply that any
meaning the reader chooses is valid. The reader would need to be fluent in Sanskrit
grammatical rules to translate correctly.
However, some Sanskrit authors make use of another literary device, called lea or
paronomasia. This is something like punning or double entendre (but is not
necessarily humorous) -- the author chooses multivalent/polysemous words such
one reads the sentence one way at first, then realizes that there is a whole different
way to read the same sentence. Some clue alerts the reader to this secondary

reading. The secondary reading is coherent and intended by the author. Let's
illustrate this by way of the most famous example in classical Tantrik literature, that
of Abhinvagupta's "signature verse" with which he begins his Tantrloka,
hisTantrasra, and other works.
vimala-kalraybhinava-si-mah janan
bharita-tanu ca panca-mukha-gupta-rucir janaka |
hdayam anuttarmta-kula mama sasphuratt || 1 ||
Meaning 1: The [Divine] Mother is She who is the ground of pure power, radiant with
ever-new genesis. The Father is He who is filled [with all the aktis], maintaining his
Light through his five faces. May my Heart, one with the diverse creation flowing
forth from the fusion of these two, embodying the nectar of the Absolute, shine!
The verse is obviously about the union of Shiva and Shakti, and how that union
gives rise to all manifestation, and how the author experiences oneness with that
diverse creation. But the reader is puzzled by one thing: though Shakti is often
referred to as the Mother, Shiva is never referred to as the Father (janaka) in this
culture. So what's going on here? It slowly dawns on the reader that there is a
double meaning in the first three lines. Careful consideration (aided by biographical
information collected from the last chapter of the Tantrloka) yields this secondary
meaning, which is autobiographical, being about the author's parents:
Meaning 2: My mother Vimal is one for whom the birth of Abhinava was a festival
of joy; my father is renowned as Sihagupta, full [of the state of Siva]. May my
heart, formed from the emissions of the ecstatic state of their union, embodying the
nectar of the Absolute, shine forth [through this work]!
In this second meaning, then, Abhinava is obliquely telling us that his parents were
awakened beings who conceived him in Tantrik (Kaula) ritual. Rather than spend a
lot of space here analysing the meaning of this wonderful verse, I can refer the
reader to an especially brilliant piece by Alexis Sanderson, which constitutes the
most accomplished article in the field on this verse: pp. 89-102 of his "Commentary
on the Opening Verses of the Tantrasra". However, for ease of reference, I have
created an image which uses color-coding to show the reader precisely which words
have double meanings and what those are.

Obviously, I've used a single color for a given Sanskrit word and its two alternate
translations. Note that the alternate meanings of the words create two distinct
coherent wholes; one cannot arrive at valid alternative meanings through mixingand-matching dictionary definitions according to one's whim.

Let us take a moment to assess more thoroughly the incredible awesomeness of this
verse. It serves as a kind of nexus point for the whole of Abhinavas teaching as well
as his personal history, and in this, it perfectly expresses an idea that is central to
his theology: that the Divine is the transcendent source of all things and,
simultaneously, completely immanent as all thingsand most especially as selfaware embodied beings. These two modes interpenetrate in balanced dynamism,
eternally unified yet arising fresh in every moment of experience. Thus every
procreative sexual act of two humans in dynamic balance recapitulates the divine
act of the creation (and eternally arising re-creation) of the universe. The difference
in the case of Abhinavas parents is that they were fully aware of this truth and fully
embodying it at the moment of his conception (or so he tells us). Thus the two
different meanings of the verse are actually expressing one truth in expanded and
contracted modes that are reflexes of each other. This is a key teaching in the
Spanda and Pratyabhijn lineages.
The other central and key teachings that are embedded in the verse are these five:
All that exists expresses the nature of the Goddess, who is the stainless ground of
absolute Power from which all specific forms of power and energy emanate and into
which they return.
All things and states are aspects of the one Light of Consciousness that
continually arises in a dynamic play that expresses the creative intuition of that
Light in its self-aware mode.
God is that which gives unity and cohesion to all the diverse powers (aktis),
providing structure for the free-flowing dynamism of the Goddess.
The ultimate Deity, the ultimate Reality, is the fusion of these two (God and
Goddess, cohesion and dynamism) as the paradoxical two-in-one: the reality known
as the Heart (hdaya) or the Essence (sra), for all creation flows forth from it.
This Heart, when penetrating and pervading every level of our embodiment, is
experienced as unsurpassed nectar-sweet joy and eternal life.
Now let's turn to Tantrloka 1.21 (= Tantrasra 1.3), which also has a kind of
r-ambhuntha-bhskara-caraa-nipta-prabhpagata-sakocam |
abhinavagupta-hd-ambujam etad vicinuta mahea-pujana-heto || 21
"As an act of divine worship, may all contemplate the lotus of the heart of
Abhinavagupta, < its blossom opened by the light falling from the rays of the sun, ||
its contraction [forever] banished by the wisdom descending from the feet of the
illuminator, > [my master] the reverend Sambhuntha." ||

The phrase "as an act of divine worship" is not egotistical precisely because
Abhinava knows that the lotus of his individual heart is identical with the universal
Heart (as is the case for us all). The part between < > shows the two meanings of
the Sanskrit compound bhskara-caraa-nipta-prabhpagata-sakocam. The
double meaning is clearly intended by the author. In fact, strictly speaking, this is
not an example of lea but rather a well-constructed metaphor. For the analysis of
this verse, the reader is referred to p. 122 and following of the Sanderson article
cited above.
Note that the word nipta (falling/descending) clearly implies aktinipta
(oraktipt), transmission of essence-nature. Abhinava was a Rumi-like figure in that
despite all his considerable learning and attainment, it was only when he met the
Kaula guru Sambhuntha that he received the descent of grace to which he
attributes his full awakening, for which see Tantrloka 1.16:
r-bhaantha-carabja-yugt tath r-bharikghir-yugald guru-santatir y |
bodhnya-pa-vianut-tad-upsanottha bodhojjvalo 'bhinavagupta ida karoti || 16
"The transmission of the Guru-lineage from the lotus feet of the reverend
Bhaantha and from the lotus feet of the reverend Bharik (i.e. Sambhuntha
and his consort) is the antidote to the poison of the bonds of that which [seems]
other than Awareness. Ablaze with the awakening arising from adoration of and
service to that lineage-transmission, Abhinavagupta creates this work (the
"Ablaze with the awakening" (bodhojjvala) is the closest Abhinava ever comes to
declaring the nature of his own state/attainment. And what a beautiful way to say it:
his awakening arose from devotion and service (upsana).

He adds, in verse 20: "This composition is by Abhinavagupta, whose name was

elevated by his Gurus, and whose attainment came from contemplating the lotus
feet of the Three-eyed Lord."
I hope you enjoyed this discussion of double meanings, the nature of Sanskrit
translation, the authorship of the Tantrloka, and the cause of Abhinavagupta's

*(For an example of dhvani, see this famous verse, in which a young woman says to
a wandering mendicant: "Wander freely, sdhu, for the little dog that used to annoy
you has been killed by a lion which has come to these parts." Obviously, her

intended meaning is opposite to what the words actually say: she wants the sdhu
to stay away so she can have a liaison with her lover. This is a dramatic example
ofdhvani; often the suggested meaning is not an opposite one.)

Readers response :
Brian Kroeker 5 months ago
Great post. I'm curious, what are the "five faces" referred to in the first translation?

hareesh@mattamayura.org 5 months ago

Ah, those are the five faces that Shiva has throughout the Tantrik tradition, taken
over from the earlier Atimrga: Tatpurua, Vmadeva, Sadyojta, Aghora, and na,
oriented to the E, N, W, S, and Up respectively. Three of the five faces can be seen
in the famous image at Elephanta, mistakenly called "Trimurti", as well as in
depictions of Sadiva.


The Opening Verses of the Tantrloka

"Light on the Tantras" (Tantrloka) is Abhinavagupta's magnum opus, a masterly
encyclopedic survey of the whole of Tantra at its peak (c. 1000 CE). The Tantrik
View, practice, and fruit are presented in exquisite detail over the course of more
than 5,800 verses.
The first chapter of the work contains all the essential teachings in condensed form,
and thus is the most important one to study for someone learning the Tantrik path.
On this blog I will present a translation of that chapter. Currently there is no good
translation available in English (though Mark Dyczkowski will probably release one

In honour of Guru Purnim 2015, here are the first 21 verses, for in these verses
Abhinavagupta praises his gurus so beautifully.

Sr Tantrloka
Chapter 1. The Various Forms of Consciousness (vijnna-bhid): in which all [the
teachings of the work] are adumbrated.

Invocations: to Par (= svtantriya-akti and icch-akti)


naumi cit-pratibh dev par bhairava-yoginm |
mt-mna-prameya-ulmbuja-ktspadm || 2 ||
I praise the Supreme Goddess [Par Dev], the creative inspiration (pratibh) of
Consciousness, the yogic consort of Bhairava, | who has made her abode the lotusand-trident-throne, its prongs knower, knowing, and known.


To Apar (= kriy-akti)
naumi dev arra-sth ntyato bhairavkte |
prv-megha-ghana-vyoma-vidyul-lekh-vilsinm || 3 ||
I praise the Goddess in the body of the form of the dancing Bhairava,[3] playful like
a streak of lightning in a sky dark with monsoon clouds.


To Parpar as the Trident of Wisdom (= jnna-akti)
dpta-jyoti-cha-plua-bheda-bandha-traya sphurat |
stj jnna-ula sat-paka-vipakotkartana-kamam || 4 ||
May the Trident of wisdom, shimmering as the triad of dualistic bonds[4] scorched
by masses of blazing light, be capable of cutting off all that undermines the true
To the Triad of Goddesses
svtantrya-akti krama-sasisk kramtmat ceti vibhor vibhuti |
tad eva dev-trayam antar stm anuttara me prathayat svarupam || 5 ||
The Power of Autonomy, the Will to emit the sequence [of creation], and that
sequence [itself] are [together] the all-pervasive might (vibhuti) of the all-pervasive
Lord (vibhu). That itself is the triad of Goddesses revealing their ultimate nature
to me, may they make their home within.
To Gaea
tad-devat-vibhava-bhvi-mahmarci-cakrevaryita-nija-sthitir eka eva |
dev-suto Gaapati sphurad indu-knti samyak-samucchalayatn mama savidabdhim|| 6 ||
There is only one whose natural state is to behave like the Lord of the Circle, a great
ray of light manifesting the majesty of that Divinity: Gaapati, the son of the
Goddess, shimmering with the splendor of the moon. May he completely uplift the
ocean of my awareness.
To Macchanda-ntha

rgrua granthi-bilvakra yo jlam tna-vitna-vtti |

kalombhita bhya-pathe cakra stn me sa Macchanda-vibhu prasanna || 7 ||
May the [founder of the Kaula lineages,] Lord Macchanda, who made the Net within
the Outer Path,[6] red with passion, massive and extended, strewn with knots and
holes, full of powers (kal), be pleased with me.
To the Guru lineage
Traiyambakbhihita-santati-Tmrapar-san-mauktika-prakara-knti-viea-bhja |
purve jayanti guravo guru-stra-sindhu-kallola-keli-kalanmala-kara-dhr || 8 ||
Triumphant are those ancient Masters of the lineage called Traiyambaka, who share
in the exceptional luminosity of the row of pearls in the Tmrapar river! They are
the stainless helmsmen who comprehend the play of the mighty billows of the
ocean of the Gurus scriptures.
Abhinava honours his Gurus: of the Krama and the Kaula Trika
jayati gurur eka eva r-rkaho bhuvi pathita |
tadaparamurtir bhagavn Mahevaro Bhutirja ca || 9 ||
Triumphant is the one Guru known on earth as the reverend Srkaha in two great
embodiments: the Blessed Lords Bhutirja and [his son] Mahevara.
Of the Pratyabhijn
r-Somnanda-bodha-rmad-Utpala-vinist |
jayanti savid-moda-sandarbh dik-prasarpia || 10 ||
Triumphant are the compositionsdelightfully fragrant with consciousness,
spreading in all directionsarising from the reverend Utpala (|| the beautiful lotus),
who awakened due to the reverend Somnanda (|| which blossomed due to the
delight[ful rays] of the radiant moon).
Note: the symbol || indicates a pun (lea), with the alternate meaning in
tad-svda-bharvea-bahit mati-apadm |
guror Lakmaaguptasya nda-samohin numa || 11 ||
We praise the bee-mind of the Guru Lakmaagupta, its enchanting resonance
intensified by its total immersion in relishing that lotus (i.e. his teacher Utpala).

Honoring his father

He went to the far shore of the teachings of all the scriptures, and [now] reposes in
perfect bliss [having left his body]: that revered Cukhulaka, the best of Gurus,
taught me in every way. || 12
Honoring his Sadguru and consort
jayatj jagad-uddhti-kamo sau bhagavaty saha ambhuntha eka |
yad-udrita-sanubhir me prakao ya gahano ya stra-mrga || 13 ||
May the unique Sambhuntha, together with his consort, capable of rescuing the
whole world, be triumphant! | This impenetrable path of scripture was made clear
for me through the rays of his amplified[7] teaching.
Purpose of the composition
There are varied liturgical manuals in great number for all the various streams of
the tradition; but not even one is seen for the unsurpassed teachings and practices
of the Trika. || 14
Thus, repeatedly asked by my good students and peers, I am writing a systematic
treatise (prakriy) that is clear and comprehensive (purrtha). || 15
rbhaantha-carabja-yugt tath rbharikghir-yugald guru-santatir y |
bodhnya-pa-vianut-tad-upsanottha bodhojjvalo 'bhinavagupta ida karoti || 16
The transmission of the Guru lineage from the lotus feet of the reverend
Bhaantha and from the lotus feet of the reverend Bharik [i.e. Sambhuntha
and consort] is the antidote to the poison of the bonds of what [seems] other than
Awareness. Ablaze with the awakening arising from adoration of and service to that
[lineage-transmission], Abhinavagupta creates this work.
Source and canonicity
There is nothing here not taught by the God of gods in the [root-text of the
Trika],Mlin-vijayottara, whether in the same words or by allusion. || 17
The teaching of the Lord is divided into ten (= the Saiddhntika Siva-bheda),
eighteen (the Saiddhntika Rudra-bheda), and sixty-four [Bhairava-tantras], the
essence of which are the Trika scriptures; and the essence of those is the doctrine of
the Mlin. || 18

Thus, at the command of my Guru-ntha, I will make clear all that is contained
therein, [especially those teachings] that have not been noticed by those learned
men who are not of our tradition (sampradya). || 19
This composition is by Abhinavagupta, whose name was elevated by his Guru(s),
and whose attainment (prasiddhi) came from contemplating the lotus feet of the
Three-eyed Lord. || 20
Conclusion of the Preface and Benediction
As an act of divine worship, may all contemplate the lotus of the heart of
Abhinavagupta, < its blossom opened by the light falling from the rays of the sun, ||
its contraction [forever] banished by the wisdom descending from the feet of the
illuminator, > [my master] the reverend Sambhuntha. || 21
For more on verses 1 and 21, see the previous post on double meanings in the
For the next section of the Tantrloka (1.22-51), see On Bondage and Liberation.
[1] = vimara-akti.
[2] = the heart of the I.
[3] = Ardhanarvara (?)
[4] the malas.
[5] meter: Vasanta-tilaka
[6] the "Impure Universe" or realm of my.
[7] Note: I take udrita amplified as indicating that Sambhunthas teaching went
beyond that of the scriptures, and by so doing explained them.

On Bondage and Liberation.

This post continues the translation of "Light on the Tantras" chapter one (The
Aspects of Consciousness). Very little commentary for now; mostly just straight
translation, as clear as I can make it. However, commentary on four of the key
verses below (22, 24, 31, and 32) can be found here: Tantrik Philosophy for the
Layman: the Cause of Liberation.

A manuscript from Kashmr. Language: Sanskrit. Script: Srad.
Material in [brackets] is directly implied by the syntax without being expressly
stated (Abhinavagupta being an elliptical writer).
Introduction to the Work: On Knowledge & Ignorance and Bondage & Liberation
(Abhinavagupta here defends the spiritual necessity of study & contemplation.)
To begin with, in our system, it is declared in all the scriptures that lack of
awareness (ajnna) is the cause of sasra (the cycle of suffering) and insight
(jnna) the sole cause of liberation. || 22
It is taught in this way in the sacred Mlin-vijayottara: The [authorities] hold that
Impurity is [nothing but] ignorance (ajnna), and that is the cause of the sprout of
sasra. || 23
With this qualifier, [the scripture] refutes vain speculation (sambhvan) concerning
[which form of] intellectual [knowledge might liberate], [all of which is] subsequent
to [the activation of] sasra [and so cannot address its cause], and states [simply]
that when there is an absence of this [ignorance], there is liberation (etadabhve
mokam). || 24
Ignorance (ajnna) does not mean a total lack of understanding/awareness,
because that would overextend the scope of the word, and then it would also apply
to a clod of earth and the like, and there is no cycle of suffering for it! || 25
For this reason, the Siva-sutra teaches that the very knowledge which does not
illuminate the principle-to-be-known in its entirety is [in fact] ignorance of that
[principle]. || 26
This is the meaning demonstrated by the [first] two sutras, caitanyamtmjnna
bandha, when reading them both in conjunction and separately (Consciousness is
the Self; knowledge/ignorance is bondage). || 27
Consciousness is a word with an abstract ending (bhvnta), [indicating that] it
is nothing but [absolute] autonomous freedom, unparticularized [pure] Being
(ankipta-viea sat)this is said in the first sutra. || 28
But with the second sutra (jnna bandha), referring to either [the] action [of
knowing] and/or its instrument, it describes [those as bondage, i.e.] a division
within that pure Awareness. || 29
Re-reading [the sutra, and breaking the sandhi to read ajnna bandha], we learn
that the appearance of duality is ignorance. Because it is [in reality] an

insignificant trifle (tuccha), it is called a fetter. For that very reason, it can and
should be completely eliminated. || 30
Liberation is not different from the autonomous Self; it is neither a insignificant trifle
nor the opposite (something to make a big deal about). Thus a separate name for it
is not even needed. || 31
That which reveals an ever-fuller [vision] of the thing-to-be-known, together with the
principles (tattva) [that constitute it], is true insight, reaching higher and higher
[tattvas], and bringing to cessation the various cycles of suffering [operative on the
transcended levels]. || 32
I am free of the taint of desire and so on; I am the inner void; I am free from
doershipthese forms of insight, collectively or separately, liberate one only so far
[/only from the corresponding forms of bondage]. || 33
The commentator (Jayaratha) says that the three quotes above apply to the claims
of the Yogcra Buddhists, the Madhyamika Buddhists, and the Snkhyas
Therefore, though one is liberated from one source of separation (avaccheda), he is
really unliberated, because other sources of separation continue to exist. But he is
liberated when he is free of all forms of separation and limitation. || 34
(in logic, avaccheda is the property of a thing by which it is distinguished from
everything else. Under avachinna, Apte's dictionary has Separated or excluded
from all other things by the properties predicated of a thing as peculiar to itself,
and divided, detached; bounded; particularized.
My reflection on this verse The "takeaway" is this: vigilantly notice how you
become internally divided or divided from others, and vigilantly notice what helps
you step into your innate wholeness and connection to others. However far you've
come, whatever realizations you've had, don't imagine the process is complete until
every strategy of separation has been disarmed, every means of "protecting"
yourself has been abandoned, and you see with every cell of your being that
showing up for what IS, no matter how much it hurts sometimes, is truly the only

And, as verse 33 suggests, when you make the spiritual journey personal [this is
what *I* have realized, this is what *I* have overcome], you are still separating
That insight (jnna) into the thing-to-be-known together with its constituent
principles (tattva) which is completely free of all sources of separation can never be
partial (ajnna), [and therefore] it grants true liberation. || 35

In the teachings of Siva, it is said that insight and ignorance each have two kinds,
called personal/innate/spiritual (paurua) and mental/intellectual (bauddha,buddhigata). || 36
Of these, the innate ignorance is called impurity (mala). Though it arises from
Siva, it is the veiling of ones [innate] divinity, i.e., expanded (pura) awareness and
activity; || 37
that is, it is the contracted awareness and activity of the bound soul. It is
unconstructed (avikalpita, i.e. not culturally derived). This [type of] ignorance is not
a part of the intellect, because it does not entail mental determination
(adhyavasya) and so on. || 38
(The Snkhya-tattva-kaumudi describes adhyavasya as ascertainment or
determinate knowledge as consequent upon the manifestation of the essence of the
intellect, when the inertia of the intellect is overcome by the operation of the sense
organs in apprehending their objects (Sinha 1934: 121). At SK 23, adhyavasya is
associated with intellect (buddhi). Commenting on SK 23 in his Krik Bhya,
Gauapda explains this term as intellectual determination of the object of
perception as belonging to a definite class, such as this is a jar, this is a cloth
(Sinha 1934: 121).)
I know this [thing] as having such a naturewhen such a determinate cognition
comes into being, due to a reflection arising in the limited soul muddied by the six
obscurations, that kind of mental knowledge is [rightly] called ignorance [or partial
knowing]; [yet] spiritual insight can and should be nourished by it and is the
nourisher of it in turn [once the fundamental spiritual ignorance is severed by
initiation]. || 39-40
Spiritual insight is the expanding wisdom (vikasvara vijnnam) free of mental
constructs had by one who has attained the supreme state once the impressions of
his bound state have wasted away. || 41
Commentator Jayaratha quotes: For one who is immersed in desire, sorrow, etc.,
through cognitively synthesizing [the bhva in question] as one with himself,
unconditioned insight which has as its nature direct experience of the given reality
can arise.
To the extent that [knowledge arises] in alignment with the expanding nondiscursive [spiritual] insight, that is the [kind of] intellectual [knowledge] previously
mentioned that nourishes and is nourished by spiritual insight. || 42
On that point, though spiritual ignorance is destroyed by initiation and what follows
it, [for most people] the corresponding spiritual insight manifests clearly [only] at
the end of ones body. || 43

But when the increase of ignorance on the level of the mind is dissolved by the
knowledge appropriate to that level (bauddha-jnna) as well, then liberation-whileliving is in the palm of ones hand. || 44
Initiation, for its part, is truly liberating [only] when it is preceded by thorough
understanding on the level of the mind (bauddha-vijnna) [on the part of the
initiating guru]; therefore, even in that case, mental understanding is of the
foremost importance. || 45
And this two-fold distinction applying to both insight and the lack thereof has been
made by [a variety of] teachers, beginning with the venerable Kheapla
[Sadyojyoti] in [his commentaries on] the Svyambhuva, the Raurava, and
theMataga-pramevara. || 46
(So there is innate ignorance & innate insight and mental ignorance & mental
In mastering the mental understanding characterized by this kind of correct
discernment (avasya), it is scripture that is the primary factor, since [only it]
reveals the reality of that-which-is-to-be-known. || 47
Even after the inner spiritual ignorance is destroyed by initiation, [binding] mental
constructs may still persist if mental [ignorance] has not ceased. || 48
Since feeling that the mind is the self lasts as long as the body exists, but not past
its end, liberation occurs [only then] for one whose spiritual ignorance has been
removed [by initiation, but whose mental ignorance remains uncorrected]. || 49
But upon cessation of wrong understanding (bauddhjnna), because mental
constructs are [thereby] totally uprooted, liberation certainly follows just then [for
one who has also received initiation]. This is taught by the Creator in the
sacredNiana-tantra: || 50
One whose heart-mind is yoked to mental constructs attains God only at the fall of
the body; but someone else [who releases concepts does so] sooner, because [he
realizes] the primary [teachings] of the scriptures on this point. || 51
(According to Jayaratha, the full Niana quote reads: One whose heart-mind is
yoked to mental constructs attains God only at the fall of the body; but one whose
heart-mind is free of mental constructs sees himself as imperishable Siva, and by
the purity of his bhva, certainly is liberated in this life. This scripture is now lost.)

Tantrik Philosophy for the Layman: What is Liberation?

The great Tantrik scholar-sage Abhinavagupta (Kashmr Valley, c. 1000 CE) gave us
a most extraordinary definition of spiritual liberationthe goal of all yogain his
masterwork "Light on the Tantras" (Tantrloka), a definition that stripped it of its
religious and intellectual trappings:
"Liberation (moka) is not different from the Self as it is in its real nature, infinitely
free. It is neither a insignificant trifle nor something to make a big deal about. Thus
a separate name for it is not even needed." || 1.31
In other words, since liberation (in other contexts also called "awakeness" or
"awareness", bodha) is your already-existent true nature, we shouldn't really have a
technical term for it (like "enlightenment"), for that risks making it into anobject, a
thing-to-be-attained, distant from ourselves. In reality, it is already who You really
are. So how does one discover and fully access one's true nature? Through humbly
realizing our view of reality is woefully incomplete:
"To begin with, in our [Tantrik] system, it is declared in all the scriptures that
incomplete view (ajnna) is the cause of the cycle of suffering, and full insight
(jnna) the sole cause of liberation." || 1.22
This is the lynchpin of Abhinavagupta's whole philosophy. Since the only "problem"
is ignorance (which he defines as incomplete view in 1.25) the only cause of
liberation is INSIGHT into the true nature of reality. But this insight (jnna) is not a
thought; it is nonverbal, nonconceptual (nirvikalpa) clear seeing. That insight is the
only thing that must be sought after, he tells us: all other forms of religious activity
are simply ways to pass the time, like toys for children. (But Abhinava taught that
even ritual activity could be a way of cultivating insight, though it usually isn't.)
How do we know that Abhinava is not talking about any form of conceptual,
verbalizable knowledge when he uses the word jnna? Because he says:
"[Our root-scripture,] the Mlinvijayottara, refutes vain speculation concerning
which form of intellectual knowledge might liberate, [since all of it is] subsequent to
the activation of the cycle of suffering (sasra) [and so cannot address its cause];
it states simply that when there is an absence of this [ignorance], there is
liberation." || 1.24
So by removing ignoranceboth in the sense of firmly held beliefs that are out of
alignment with reality, and awareness which is not all-encompassing
insightautomatically arises. How could it be otherwise, if the insight we are talking
about is nonconceptual direct seeing of the nature of reality? Our focus should be on
expanding our view of things to be more all-encompassing (Abhinava would have
loved the "Blind Men and the Elephant" story), as well as dissolving mental
constructs (vikalpas; he discusses this in-depth elsewhere in his work). Note how
different both approaches are to the usual religious agenda of thinking the "right"

thoughts (call it dogma, belief, or doctrine, it's the same). He goes on to define
liberating insight in this way:
"That which reveals an ever-fuller awareness of the reality-to-be-known, together
with the principles (tattva) [that constitute it], is what I call "[true] insight," (jnna)
which [naturally] becomes ever more all-encompassing, and brings to cessation the
various cycles of suffering." || 1.32
My commentary on these four key verses:
So, in summary, the nondual Tantrik path presents us with a radical proposition: that
we are already liberated beings, and our only problem (ever) is lack of awareness or
misplaced attention. Consider this:
Simply put, we are conditioned to pay more attention to what is both peripheral and
ephemeral (that which can be named), and less attention to what is central and
abiding (that which cannot be named, and therefore is given no value by culture).
For example, by paying attention to our identity constructs ("I am an American", "I
am a Hindu", "I am good person", etc.), we give them energy (the power of
consciousness!), which makes them "grow" disproportionately in our awareness,
which makes us give them more energy, until we are convinced of their reality. We
forget that they are nothing but thoughts. But if we simply learn to give as much
(or, preferably, more) attention to the changeless ground of all thoughts, the "sky"
in which the clouds of thoughts and feelings and identities come and go, then over
time its stillness and presence become more and more powerful and tangible. Then
you realize directly what Abhinava is talking about: that you already ARE liberated,
in your real nature. The fact that you are currently using that freedom to strengthen
your "stories" until they appear real and binding only proves his point. You are so
free, you are free to be bound.
What, you ask, is the "changeless ground" of all your thoughts and feelings? Well,
that's impossible to put into words (the tradition just called it ivatva or "God-ness"),
so you have to find out for yourself. I call it the "ground" because all internal
phenomena (thoughts etc.) emerge out of it and merge back into it; it seems
"changeless" because it is a field of infinite potential, an emptiness pregnant with
the possibility of everythingso since it isn't a thing, a phenomenon, or an
experience, it is "changeless". As Ramana Maharshi put it: "Thoughts come and go.
Feelings come and go. Find out what it is that remains." When you see reality from
the perspective of the changeless ground of your being, THAT is "insight" in
Abhinavagupta's sense of the word.

These four verses can be seen in their original context here.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, that problem of misplaced attention is not so minor,

because it directly leads to all acts of cruelty in the world. Human beings hurt and
kill each other because they pay attention to and believe the thoughts in their
heads (especially their identity-constructs). It is the direct cause of all strife. How
could there be Hindu-Muslim violence (for example) without belief in the thoughts "I
am a Hindu" and "I am a Muslim"?
And lest you think this an anti-intellectual philosophy: you don't have to believe a
thought is reality in order to use it as a tool. Like any other tool, it is a way of
interacting with reality. You can use a hammer to kill or to build a shelter, or you can
just let it lie there. Every thought is the same. THOUGHTS ARE TOOLS, NOT TRUTHS.
Note: here are the Sanskrit verses I translate above (please note that Abhinava's
Sanskrit is highly elliptical and specialized, and can only be translated correctly by
someone intimate with his thought, as I've learned the hard way):

svatantrtmtiriktas tu tuccho 'tuccho 'pi kacana /
na moko nma tan nsya pthanmpi ghyate // 1.31

iha tvat samasteu streu parigyate /
ajnna saster hetur jnna mokaika-kraam // 1.22

vieeena buddhi-sthe sasrottara-klike /
sambhvan nirasyaitadabhve mokam abravt // 1.24

yat tu jneya-sa-tattvasya pura-pura-prathtmakam /

tad uttarottara jnna tat tat sasra-nti-dam // 1.32

Tantrloka: The Nature of Reality

Translation of Light on the Tantras chapter one ("The Aspects of Consciousness"),

continued: The Nature of Reality. Previous topic: Bondage and Liberation.

The ultimate reality of any thing-to-be-known is Siva (meaning both "God" &
"blessing"), i.e. the Light of Manifestation (praka)for if its ultimate nature were
otherwise, it would not be manifest (prkya), nor a really existent thing. || 52
My commentary: praka is a very difficult term to translate, but we must
understand it because it is the essence of Siva-nature, according to Abhinava. The
meanings of the word include: (adj.) visible, shining, apparent, manifest; out in the
open, public; (noun) light, splendor; manifestation; expansion, diffusion. The
meanings here group around two distinct concepts in English: light, on the one
hand, and appearance/manifestation on the other. These are not distinct in Sanskrit.
We can understand the connection between them by considering the fact that only
when something is illuminated does its existence become apparent (at least to our
visual sense, and 'illumination' must here be understood metaphorically). Light
becomes, then, the central metaphor for Awareness in nondual Tantrik philosophy.
This is a felicitous choice of metaphor, because it correctly implies that the whole of
manifest reality consists of various forms of energy. We can translate praka in the
current context as the Light of Manifestation, the Light of Creation, or even the
Light of Awareness, since we already understand that it is Awareness that
manifests all things and states of being.
Yet even the unreality of any entity has as its sole domain the delightful relishing [of
awareness]. Even the concept This does not exist, is [an expression of
awareness], not something [inert] like a wall. || 53
My comm: camatkra, the capacity of Awareness to relish itself in any given form, is
here equivalent to vimara-akti, the power of reflection, the capacity of Awareness
to represent itself in any and every way, endlessly reinventing itself, simply for the
joy of doing so.

And this is indeed the Light that shines absolutely everywhere, being manifest as
everything whatsoever. Since it can hardly be denied, what is the point of
fabricating methods of knowing it? || 54
As for the epistemological modes, they are the vital principle of all things; but the
Highest Divinity (= praka) is their ultimate vital principle. || 55
My comm: the "epistemological modes" (pramas) are the three valid means by
which we know whatever we actually know: direct perception, inference, and
For even one whose whim is to refute everything exists in just such a way (i.e., as a
manifestation of the Light of Awareness) when he denies that cognition implies a
self, saying It does not appear (bhsate) so to me! || 56
My comm: the Sanskrit of this verse is more difficult than the others; this is a
method Abhinava uses to force the reader to slow down and consider more carefully
what is being said. When we do so, we see that there is a subtle joke here: the
nstika (nay-sayer) who denies that cognition implies a cognizer already
demonstrates the existence of the cognizing self through his very denial ("It does
not appear so to me"), while simultaneously admitting that he does not recognize
the nature of that self ("It does not appear to me"). The word "appear"
here,bhsate, is the words that the Tantrikas use to describe the many "shinings" or
manifestations of the One Light. Abhinavagupta is of course thinking of the
Buddhists here, but his refutation is delightfully sly and playful. Here we begin to
get a sense of his real personality. Students of philosophy will note that this verse
anticipates the central insight of Rene Descartes (cogito, ergo sum) but in a
different mode -- it is the nonpersonal Light of Awareness whose existence is
demonstrated, not the thinking mind, which itself is only perceiveable because it
appears within and as a manifestation of that Light. [Textual note: emend dharmpi
to dharmo'pi, following Jayaratha's commentary.]
In the case of either refuting or establishing the reality of anything, such [Light of
Awareness] is the primary thing (i.e., is the pre-existent power of consciousness
necessary for any perception or conception); so what could be the propriety or
usefulness of [any] epistemological mode with regard to it? || 57
My comm: here Abhinava is simply saying that if we use any method to attempt to
know the divine Light of Awareness, we are already one step removed; it is the
power by which any method of knowing can operate, and for that reason it cannot
be known as an object of consciousness. In other words, you can't see your
essential nature as pure Awareness, because by definition it is the point from which
all seeing is done. It cannot be objectified. So when you go looking for your "true
self", you'll never find it. The one you are looking for is the One who is looking.*
Only through being thoroughly disarmed of all your strategies, and totally relaxing

all your grasping at self, will you eventually drop into your most natural mode of
pure, simple being. Though you cannot see your true nature, you can be it.
In summary, then, all that exists is one, infinite, self-aware field of energy, here
called the Light of Awareness. Everything that appears is simply the one Light
appearing as that. Nothing is more divine than everything else, for the divine Light
is all there is. When you perceive something beautiful, it's simply the Infinite
appearing as that; when you perceive something repellent, it's equally the Infinite
appearing as that. This is one of the least-understood spiritual principles of the
nondual path -- that whatever appears as good, bright, or beautiful, does not
express the divine Light any more fully than what appears as bad, dark, or ugly. This
doesn't seem so because of the power of your mental conditioning. However, there
is no point whatsoever in acting as if it is true before you directly experienceits truth
(it can even be dangerous to do so). To reach the paradigm where you experience
everything as fully expressing the divine Light, you must exercise discernment. This
only seems like a paradox before entering that paradigm.
To be continued . . . next topic: "The Nature of God"!

Tantrloka: The Nature of God

Continued from the previous passage on The Nature of Reality, this passage
constitutes the first 10 verses of a 34-verse discussion on the Nature of God.
For that very reason, it is said in the Kmika-tantra: This is beyond logical
argument. The High God amongst gods does not depend on any other; rather,
because the other depends on Him, he remains [eternally] free and independent. ||
59 -60ab ||
Commentary: the Kmika the Abhinava quotes here is a lost work, different from the
later South-Indian scripture of the same name. See pp. 88-89 of "The Saiva
Literature" (Sanderson, 2014).
The sequences of place, time, and form do not constitute limitations of the One who
is independent and self-containedthat is the all-pervasive Lord, the eternal Siva,
who adopts all forms. || 60cd-61ab ||
Because He is the all-pervasive Lord, He is in all things; because He is eternal, He is
without beginning or end; because He adopts all forms, He manifests the wondrous
variety of all conscious and unconscious things. || 61cd-62ab ||
For that reason, He is described as multiform (bahurupa) in the Dkottara and
other scriptures. Divided into [aspects] such as the Point (bindu) and the Resonance

(nda), Siva is said [there] to be six-fold: World, embodied Form, Light, Space (or
Void)*, Sound (abda), and Mantra. (Here Light corresponds to Bindu, and Mantra to
Nda in Abhinava's terminology.) || 62cd-63 ||
Comm.: Abhinava is here paraphrasing a very old text, forming the latest part of the
Nivsa, which is the oldest scripture of Saiva Tantra. The Dkottara chapter 2 gives
a sixfold goal-division (lakya-bheda), that is to say, six aspects of the Divine among
which the yog chooses one to fix his attention upon. As Vsudeva explains, "The
formless Siva has compassionately lowered himself into these 'targets' so that
earnest Yogins have something upon which they may focus." (2004: 255) These six
'teleological magnets' were adopted into the Mlin-vijayottara-tantra, Abhinava's
primary source text: there (at 12.9) we see the same six, if we presume that Light =
Bindu, Sound = Resonance, and Mantra = Phoneme (where the former term is that
used by the Dkottara and the latter that used by the Mlin; the other three are
exactly the same).
Being intently focused on the nature of any [of these six aspects], he [the yogin]
attains the state/reality (bhva) of that [aspect]. Supreme liberation certainly results
from direct experience (vijnna, = anubhava) of that to which the words Void and so
on refer. || 64 ||
Comm: the interpretation of this verse is not certain (as noted at Vsudeva 2004:
257n31). The verse is translated according to Jayaratha's interpretation, which may
indeed be correct as far as Abhinavagupta's intention goes; but the original source
(the Dkottara) tells us that, amongst the six goals, only absorption in the Void or
the Sound grant highest liberation. On the Void, it teaches: "The Yogin should
contemplate the supreme firmament, devoid of quality, beyond contact, without
lunar mansions and constellations, as resembling transparent crystal; fully merging
his mind into the Void, located in the Void, identified with the Void, attains final
liberation." (Dkottara 2.18-19, trans. S. Vsudeva)
In light of the [aforementioned] omniformity of God, [any of these six forms] is
[merely] a synecdochic aspect, a partial definition (upalakaa), [as is apparent]
when His unlimited, unconditioned nature has arisen and His particularized
aspect(s) has dissolved. || 65 ||
Comm.: This translation follows Dyczkowski; or we could translate this verse as
Vsudeva does: "This is only a partial definition, since the Lord is omniform, since
he transcends all limitation, and since he is merged into [any conceivable]
delimiter", though perhaps this translation risks redundancy.
And this is [also] declared in the Kmika-tantra: God is formless yet assumes all
forms, as in the case of still water or a mirror. Everything, moving and unmoving, is
pervaded by Him. || 66 ||

And these qualities of Hisall-pervasiveness and so onare not essentially

separate from one another, [so they do not constitute divisions within Him]. [In
fact,] He has only one [fundamental] quality (dharma), which alludes to all the
others. || 67 ||
Therefore, the true and straightforward precept is that He is united with the Power
of Freedom (svtantrya-akti, also translateable as the Power of Autonomy). The
fact that He is said to have many powers follows from his inseparable union with
that one Power. || 68 ||
Indeed, the power of any entity is its innate nature as understood by its Knower.
Thus, He is non-dual, though conceived as possessing many powers. || 69 ||
Commentary: some will be surprised to read what sounds like dualistic language
here. But this is part of Abhinavagupta's project to speak to all Tantrik Saivas,
dualists and nondualists alike. He will go on to say:

"In actuality, what we mean by 'God' is simply the unbounded Light of

Consciousness, reposing in innate bliss, endowed with its Powers of Willing,
Knowing, and Acting."** For more on this, see "The Five Powers of God", pp. 101-9 of
Tantra Illuminated.
Continued in The Nature of God, Part Two, which brings in discussion of the Divine
* Dkottara 2.7: vyoma, further defined as akti-vyoma (either 'the Void of Power'
or perhaps 'devoid of energy'), is said to be beyond abda-tattva, and thus the
highest of the six goals. In terms of yogic practice, three voids in the subtle body
are described in ch. 3 of the Dkottara: ayana-unya (from uvula to mouth),
pranta-unya (top of the head), and nikala-unya (above the head). Jayaratha,
writing centuries later, understands the three voids as the three stages of uccra
above the head and before the final stage: akti, vypin, and saman. The Mlin
has three voids in the head and three above it, which are crucial to its
understanding of khecar-mudr (see 7.15-17 and the parallel passage at Kubjikmata 7.81-6).
**eva mukhybhi aktibhi yukto 'pi vastuta icch-jnna-kriy-akti-yukta
anavacchinna prako nijnanda-virnta iva-rupa, from Tantrasra chapter 1

Tantrloka: The Nature of God/dess

Continued from the previous passage on The Nature of God.

So the beautiful forms of the Divine are conceived by knowing subjects variously
but how could that indicate an actual division [within Its nature]? Is it the case that
the fires capacity to burn and its capacity to cook mean it has a dual nature? || 70

Yet we cannot in truth say that [difference] does not exist, for this shining
manifestation (bhsana) includes everything (even apparent duality). So there is
some reality to the difference between God and his Power (akti). || 71
For Power is that which, due to its oneness [with God], generates an abundance of
powers innate to itself; we also call it the Goddess. Though manifesting in this way,
her ultimate nature is other [than anything which can be conceptualized in human
terms]. || 72
My commentary: the Goddess appears in many forms, for there are many Powers of
Consciousness; all these forms are valid, yet Her ultimate nature is not
encompassed by any human conceptualization.
And likewise, through his [power of] freedom, God can and does manifestwith
undiminished poweras the 'created entity' [one visualizes] in meditative
contemplation (bhvan) and other practices, appearing in the mirror of the Knower
the awareness [of the individual practitioner] that is [one with] His own. || 73
My comm.: We can and do experience the Divine through our spiritual practices,
even though they are based in culturally-created forms, because through the power
of His freedom (svtantrya-akti), Divine Consciousness (aka Siva) appears in the
'mirror' of the individual's awareness, since that awareness is in reality inseparable
from Siva's. Note: my understanding of this verse and the following have benefitted
from Mark Dyczkowski's as-yet unpublished translation. See also the parallel
passage in Stanzas on the Recognition of God (vara-pratyabhijn-krik I.5.16),
which Jayaratha quotes, since Abhinava likely had it in mind: "The Lord, due to His
freedom, creates a nondual Self with such forms as vara in [the practitioner's]
meditative contemplation and other practices, and thus can carry out practical
activity [such as meditation]." (Note that the version of the verse Jayaratha quotes
is different from that in the received transmission.) Abhinava comments on this
verse (in his Pvv, vol. 1, p. 108), saying, "The objective component of differentiated
representations created by the Highest DIvinity -- such as vara, the self, etc. -makes them able to become the object of meditation, worship, teaching and so on,
and, on the other hand, their unveiled subjective component ensures the
attainment of their true nature."
Therefore, whichever means (lit., 'face') He manifests throughthough He remains
partlessis a Power (akti). Thus this succession (krama) from Power to [the Divine
Consciousness] which holds [all Powers] is clearly a reality. || 74

My comm.: Abhinava is clearly referencing the Vijnna-bhairava-tantra here (verse

20), which teaches that Siva can only be accessed through one of the many forms
of Sakti. Though the 'faces' of the Divine, or the methods to access it, are many, it
remains One and indivisible (anaa).
And in the sacred Kiraa-tantra, [we find this issue addressed] in its question-andanswer section: Belief (anubhva) is but a mental construct, [and] the mind cannot
approach God; but without knowing God, how could there be[any seeking or giving
of] initiation? The answer follows: The experience(anubhava) of hunger and the
like is not at all a mental construct, for it is not derived from the mind. Though it is
not perceptible to the sense of taste or [hearing], one may directly know a tree
because it possesses an appearance(rupa). In the same way, a mental construct
[may lead one to] apprehend God[in one of His comprehensible aspects such] as
Resonance (nda), Point (bindu), etc. || 75-77
The full Kiraa passage that Abhinava is referring to here reads as follows: Garua
asked: How can the Siva-tattva be Void (unya), when the Void is not perceptible to
the senses, and no reality can [be said to exist if it] be beyond direct perception?
The Lord replied: My is to be discarded, and God is to be grasped; the grasper is
the soul (purua), it is taught. God is empty (unya) of the qualities of my,
because He is free from Impurity (mala) and the state of being bound (pau). (2) He
is called Void not in the sense of non-existence but in that of being utterly free of
the need for anything outside himself. Without sttvik qualities, He/It would be like a
temple without a god. (3) The Point, the Resonance, and Power are all considered
[aspects of] the Void. For the sake of stabilizing the mind, there will always be fixed
forms [such as this]. (4)
It is beyond the senses, due to being exceedingly subtle; [but] one may know [It]
through merging with the subtle Power. The Power of Knowing is held to be the very
thing known, because it is [simply] the knowledge of it [there being no actual
'objective' reality]. (5) Can one not have an experience of something beyond the
senses? The mind, [or] a belief (anubhva) is perceptible, just as hunger and thirst
are clearly apparent [despite being beyond the five senses]. (6)
Garua said: A belief arises from a thought (vikalpa), and a thought is mental.
Thus, something mental is knowable, something non-mental is formless [and thus
not knowable]. Without knowing the Reality [of God], how can a teacher give
initiation? That matter/goal must be thoroughly known, and it cannot be thoroughly
known [by the mind]. (7-8)
The Lord said: A thought need not arise for the experience of hunger and [thirst to
be known]. A thought has an object for its substrate, but that object need not be
something like a pot. (9) A subtle mental construct (vikalpa) may merge with the

Power of the Void. Having done so, one is free from otherness. Therefore, one is said
to be freed from the mind. (10)
Due to the contact of ones senses [with their objects], there is cognition, there is
[the appearance of] a doer, there is a mind, action, and a sense of self. God must
be attained (iva sdhya), [and] the Lord can be understood in this [same way],
though it may be through but one quality. (11) Just as a tree can be grasped as
directly perceivable, simply through its appearance, though its taste etc. are not
known, in the same way, due to the Power of Knowing, the Lord is known through
the sense of His reality (tattva-bhva), though without perception through the
normal five senses. . . . (12-13) The Void, which has such a nature, is to be known
through ones Guru, through the scriptures, and in oneself. (14ab)
It is taught that Siva has many aktis, since the great extent of [his] diversity
encompasses cosmic powers (kals), principles of reality (tattvas), and
worlds(bhuvanas); phonemes, mantras, and words; [the divine acts of] creation,
stasis, dissolution, concealment, grace, and more; as well as the Fourth state. All
this is the unfolding of the many Powers of God. || 79
My comm.: Abhinava here enumerates some of the fundamental categories of
Tantrik Saiva thought. The Sixfold Path of Reality, consisting of kals, tattvas,
worlds, and phonemes, mantras, and words, is discussed on pp. 164-5 of Tantra
Illuminated. The Five Acts of God are discussed on pp. 111-123 of the same book;
the Fourth State is found on p. 179.
So too the states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, and other [states] beyond
themall constitute the abundant mass of 'waves' of the infinite Freedom of that
Lord. || 80
The [Seven Perceivers, i.e.] the Mahmantrevaras, the Mantrevaras, the Mantras,
with Siva at the head [of all them], and the Vijnnkalas, Pralaykalas, and Sakalas
(embodied beings), are [also nothing but] all-pervading powers of Siva alone. || 81 ||
My comm.: The Seven Perceivers are covered in detail in chapter three of my
forthcoming book, The Recognition Sutras.
Translation of Tantrloka continues in the next post, which spectacularly concludes
Abhinava's discussion of 'the Nature of God' with a secret teaching from a lost

Tantrloka: God is the Self -- the Secret Teaching of Triirobhairava

This is part of a series of posts translating Chapter One of the 1000-year-old

masterpiece called 'Light on Tantra' (Tantrloka). This post continues from
theprevious post on 'The Nature of God/dess' and concludes the present section.
After citing the more conservative, orthodox Saiddhntika texts (see previous
posts), Abhinavagupta now cites a lost Kaula Trika scripture that appears (from the
scattered citations we have of it) to have been a mysterious, powerful, even
astounding work. This whole section, which climaxes the teaching on The Nature of
God, is based on this scripture:
The sacred Triirobhairava-tantra teaches that the indestructible nature of the entire
collection of Principles of Reality (tattvas) is simply the Self, for they have the Self
as their essential nature. || 82
My commentary: the nature of all the thirty-six tattvas (see Tantra Illuminated pp.
124-49) is the Self in the sense that the Self is Awareness (caitanyam tm, Sivasutra 1.1) and all phenomena are simply forms of that singular divine Awareness. In
other words, everything is internal to Consciousness and nothing but
The exceedingly subtle collection of Principles situated in the Heart, in the whole
body, in the essence-nature (svabhva), is known [in this tantra] by the word grma
(the 'village' or 'community' or 'collectivity'). || 83
Its nature (dharma) is simply the Self, it is taught, [the awareness of which
is]flooded with the immortal nectar (amta) of Siva. True insight (jnna) has its
abode in the Light of Awareness (praka), in the Center (madhya) between Being
and Non-being, between feeling and absence of feeling, and [between all other
pairs of opposites]. || 84
My comm.: the view of reality from the Center of the Self is very different from all
other views. There crystal-clear insight into the ineffable nature of things arises, and
we experience everything flooded with ivmta, the divine nectar -- which refers to
the experience of awareness blissfully relishing itself in the form of whatever it
perceives, moment-to-moment. (Kinda like what this guy describes in his blog.) As
the verse implies, one way to access the Center is letting go of attachment or
aversion to both of any pair of opposites, such as existence/nonexistence,
pleasure/pain, love/loneliness, etc.
That which must be known is [the state of] abiding in ones true home, which is a
state of seeing free of all obscurations. One who has become stainless (= free of
mala) by virtue of this pure insight (uddha-vijnna) described as clear naked
Reality is said [in this tantra] to be one whose conduct follows the 'way of the
village' (i.e., the collectivity of tattvas)." Everything is achieved for him. || 85-86ab
My comm.: that-which-must-be known refers always to the goal of spiritual practice,
usually equated with God, but here said to be "abiding in one's true home" or

"abiding in one's natural state" (sva-sthna), a state of clear seeing, free of 'stories'
and mental projections. 'The way of the village' translates grma-dharma, which
could also be rendered (in this context) as 'upholding the Whole', because of the
special definition of grma noted above. The phrase grma-dharma-vtti is
intentionally multilayered: such an awakened being is "engaged in commmunitydharma"; s/he "moves in alignment with the Whole"; his "activity upholds the
Note also that the original text of the Triirobhairava (as quoted by Jayaratha) has a
different reading than the one paraphrased by Abhinava: . . . an abiding which is
said to be an activity (vtti), but an activity which is described as [abiding in] the
state of the Seer, having recognized ones own abode (svapada jntv
dratvam). And it adds, before the next line Abhinava quotes, One should know
that fully awakened [state], free from external coverings, liberated from [thoughts
of] higher and lower . . . The last phrase in the verse above ('Everything is
achieved for him') seems to be Abhinavas addition, if we follow Jayaratha.
Abandoning the upper and lower [breaths (pra and apna)], he should enter[the
Center]. He [then] abides in beauty & delight (rma), situated in the Center. [Then,
even while] moving about, staying still, opening or closing [the eyes?], dreaming or
in the waking state, running, jumping, toiling, feeling[currents of inner] energy
(akti-vedana), and likewise [in] countless diverse states of mind, feelings, thoughts,
and actions, this delight & beauty (rma)pervades. It is God (iva) [who is] the
supreme cause in all this. || 86cd-88
My comm.: Abhinava plays with the words here, equating rma with iva (note that
Sanskrit has no capital letters which would distinguish the literal meanings of the
words from the names of the deities).
The original text (or Jayarathas version) of the Triirobhairava has Frequenting
the upper and lower [breaths], his mind ascends due to [the fusion of] pra and
apna. Abandoning the upper, he should enter [the Center]. Here, by virtue of doing
so, he abides in delight. The Center, yogically speaking, is the central channel
(madhya-n), as Jayaratha suggests. Another text quoted by him at this point
teaches that "meditating on it as the Inner Void which is the Goddess causes God to
manifest." On the use of the word rma, which the Goddess queries, Triirobhairava
explains, Abiding in rma (delight/beauty) is proclaimed by Me as [the attainment
of] yoga, O Great Queen. This delight, adds Jayaratha, is "not different from the
divine play which manifests the whole universe." The Triirobhairava teaches This
is known as the 14-fold delight, pervaded by Siva, the supreme Self, existing within
all bhvas (entities and states of being), and characterized by countless forms.
With the minds impurities having waned, and due to [his ability to] restrain [the
activity of] memory, he meditates on the supreme goal of meditation, [that] which
remains steady in [all] coming and going. || 89

My comm.: The correspondence of this verse with Ramaa Maharhi's teaching

"Thoughts come and go. Feelings and experiences come and go. Sit and find out
what is it that remains." is startling! Commentator Jayaratha adds that memory is
the basis of all thought-constructs. This is a good point without your memories,
who are you? Sit for a moment and sense/feel yourself without reference to your
memories. Are you still there? If so, how can your real self be dependent on, or
formed from, memories?
He then attains supreme Siva, who is called Bhairava, through his japa. Japa is
taught to be Sivas own form, free from the states of existence and non-existence.
|| 90
My comm.: 'Japa' usually means mantra repetition, but here it probably means
repeated connection with the ground of one's being: that which remains still &
steady as everything else comes and goes. This verse (90) seems to conclude the
Triirobhairava quote (Abhinava almost never tells us exactly when a quote or
paraphrase concludes). If so, the following words are his.
Thus, here too, any [apparent] divisions such as [imagining one's true nature to be]
distant or close are conceived out of His Freedom, relying [solely] upon the
[absolute] Autonomy of Awareness. Thus, due to the all-encompassing fullness of
his Freedom, he accomplishes what seems impossible. Indeed, in what form does
the Highest Divinity not shine? || 91-92
My comm.: "what seems impossible" -- i.e. that God can appear as something
thatseems not Divine; that one's ever-present true nature can appear to be near or
far. The last question is of course rhetorical.
He shines without veils; [yet] veiling his own nature, he appears [to the senses, as
whatever is perceived]. He appears veiled and unveiled, [becoming] manifold by
joining with differentiation. || 93
My comm.: the Divine, the ultimate Reality, is simultaneously immediately apparent
and yet veiled. The truth of Being is right in front of you (and is you) every moment,
yet it can go unrecognized. The paradox is that there is no paradox. Isn't that the
damnedest thing? :)
Thus the triad of Powers within the LordWilling, Knowing, and Actingare
[collectively] known by another name, that is, Freedom, as was made clear by the
gracious Masters [of our lineage]. || 94
Abhinavagupta argues that the highest (= most all-encompassing) akti
issvtantrya-akti, the Power of freedom or autonomy, because it is the context in
which all the other aktis operate.
This concludes the passage on the Nature of God.

Next: 'The Divine Name: Bhairava'.

Tantrloka: The Divine Name -- Bhairava

This is part of a series of posts translating Chapter One of the 1000-year-old

masterpiece called 'Light on Tantra' (Tantrloka). This post continues from the
previous one, called God is the Self. In the five verses below, Abhinavagupta seeks
to explain why Bhairava is the appropriate name for the nondual Deity of Saiva
Tantra. Of course, Bhairava is a divine name inherited from an earlier, dualistic
tradition, so here Abhinava is reinterpreting it in light of the nondual philosophy of
his lineage. In India and (especially) Nepl, Bhairava is worshipped as one deity
among many, but Abhinava Gupta uses the name to denote the Absolute
Consciousness that is the ground of being, as we will see below.
This is the first of two sections on the Divine Names. (The next will explain the
names deva and pati, 'God' and 'the Lord'.) All words in bold are Abhinavagupta's;
bracketed terms are directly implied by the structure of the Sanskrit. Readers should
be aware that these verses are examples of the exegetical/hermeneutical science
called nirukta, or 'interpretive etymology'. The finest study on nirukta is the book
Indian Semantic Analysis, by Eivind Kahrs, which I have cited several times below.
The Deity is fully indicated with names that are given in scriptures and that conform
to [His] reality: He who is Supreme Siva is [called] 1) Great Bhairava,2) God (deva),
and 3) the Lord (pati). || 95 ||
[He is called Bhairava because] he bears (bh) or holds the universe through
nourishing and supporting it and is borne & held by it; and because his form is
the Roar (rava), which means he is Self-awareness (vimara, = the roar of AHAM).
He is also [called Bhairava] because he is the benefactor of those who are terrified
(bhru) by the cycle of suffering. || 96 ||
Abhinava's commentator Jayaratha (12th cen.) comments as follows: "He bears,
that is, he supports and nourishes [the universe], because he manifests it as fused
with the screen or canvas which is his very own Self. 'He is borne', that is, he is
[also] sustained and nourished by the universe; because he is manifest in
everything, inasmuch as it is he that is embodied as the universe." (translated by
Eivind Kahrs, minor amendments by me)
That is to say, the universe supports and nourishes him because he is not
himself unless embodied. Thus he is equally transcendent and immanent. NOTE: the
English word bear is actually cognate with Sanskrit bh both go back to the
same ancient Indo-European root.

E. Kahrs cogently writes in his Indian Semantic Analysis: Bhairava is aware of

himself in this inner language which is the instinct of consciousness, the instinct of
the light of reality. So his nature is a constant roaring of the great mantra of I,
AHAM. Thus the term Bhairava refers to unconditioned subjectivity as the essence
of all phenomena.
In the Vijnna-bhairava, we find this parallel passage (v. 130), which gives a specific
practice: "One will become Siva by constantly contemplating in mental utterance
(uccra) the term Bhairava, understanding that it means: he who sustains
everything, he who produces it, who bestows all and pervades everywhere. (trans.
Kahrs, with minor amendments)
Back now to the Tantrloka:
He is born in the Heart from the 'Roar' (rava)or intensified awarenessarising
from the dread (bhti) of the cycle of suffering (sasra). He is the one by whom
awareness of the [beneficial] fear of mundane existence is manifested through the
Descent of [his] Power (aktipt). || 97 ||
Jayaratha comments: "The roar which is produced by that [fear] means a crying out
to the Lord, or rather, awareness [of Him]. Being born from that [cry or awareness],
he is Bhairava. So this means that He is manifest within the Heart that is, on the
level of ultimate reality [within] of those who call out in terror or those who direct
their awareness [to the Lord]. . . . [Furthermore] He is the cause throughaktipta
of that roar, that discernment, that awareness of ones [natural] fear of mundane
existence (bhava); hence he is called Bhairava." (translated by Eivind Kahrs, minor
amendments by me)
[Bhairava] is He who is manifest in those [yogins] whose minds savor the meditative
state which devours timethat is, those who [through centering their attention in
meditation] wither the Principle of Time (kla-tattva) which impels the celestial
bodies (nakatras). || 98 ||
The derivation goes like this: [bha (= nakatra) + ra (= preraka)] = Time (bhera), +
va from vyanti (= oa kurvanti) = bherav, meaning the yogins who wither
Time and whose lord is Bhairava; they who directly experience Bhairava (prakaa =
sphurita) thus Jayaratha explains. In other words, since successful yogis
transcend time in meditation, they are bheravas, and thus Bhairava denotes the
Reality they experience in that state of pure consciousness

The face of Bhairava as worshipped in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepl.

The Master of the goddesses of ones own faculties whose roar (rava) serves to
strike fear (bh) into the hearts of contracted bound souls and also of the four
inner and outer collective Powers beginning with Khecar He is called Bhairava,
[for] He is truly awesome (bhma) in his capacity to break the cycle ofsasra. ||
99-100b ||
This verse alludes to esoteric Krama teachings, for which see chapter 12 of my
forthcoming book The Recognition Sutras. Jayaratha comments: roar = awareness
of the phonemic powers arising from the mass of sounds (abda-ri); fear = the
fear that gives rise to happiness, misery, etc. Of the four Krama goddesses, Khecar
is the Knower, Gocar is the mind, Dikcar the 10 faculties, and Bhucar is the field of
knowable objects. Each of the four is a 'collective' Power because She presides over
subsidiary aktis (i.e., each is a devat-cakra).
Thus, with these verbal codes, [the Divine] is celebrated as Bhairava in scripture
by our teachers. | 100cd |
We see Abhinavagupta's successor Kemarja reiterate some of the niruktas
(interpretive etymologies) we saw above, plus adding a couple of special twists, in
his introductory verse to his commentary on the Vijnna-bhairava-tantra:
"[Shiva is also called Bhairava] because he is the cause of crying out from fear of
remaining in the cycle of suffering (bhava-bhaya), and from that [longing cry]he
becomes manifest in the radiant domain of the heart, bestowing absence of fear
(abhaya) for those who are terrified; and because he is the Lord of those who
delight in his awesome roar (bhrava), signifying the death of Death! Being the
Master of that flock of excellent Yogins who tire of fear [and seek release], he is
Bhairavathe Supreme, whose form is Consciousness (vijnna). As the author of
nourishment, he extends his Power throughout the universe!"

A modern painting of the deity Bhairava, by Tejomaya.

Tantrloka: The Divine Names -- Deva, Pati, Shiva

This section of the Tantrloka continues from the previous section on 'The Divine
Names'. The last post explained why Bhairava is an appropriate name for Supreme
Consciousness; in this set of verses, Abhinavagupta tells us why the names Deva
('God'), Pati ('the Lord') and Shiva ('the Benevolent One') are appropriate. In this, he
draws on the ancient practice of nirukta or nirvacana or 'interpretive etymology',
which means breaking down a key term to show how its components and/or roots

tell us more about the referent of the word (in this case, the nature of Divine
Please remember that though Abhinavagupta is a nondualist, he wrote 'Light on the
Tantras' for Shaivas of all stripes -- dualists and nondualists alike. He also wrote it as
a compilation of Shaiva Tantrik wisdom up to his time. Therefore, before proceeding
to more esoteric doctrines, Abhinava is here explaining the Names of God in a
traditional manner -- actually, he gives a subtle nondualist spin on them, while still
appealing to those who experience God as separate, the way most Christians do. In
fact, he quotes here a Saiddhntika guru, and the Saiddhntikas were Tantrikas who
had a theology that was very similar to Christianity's. (See Tantra Illuminated p.
217.) Now we continue with Sr Tantrloka:
As a divine play, He surges up [into manifestation] as [an expression of His]pure
innate bliss, free of any story of what is desirable and what is not [and so,
because the root div can mean play and joy, He is called Deva the Divine].
[Because He] exists with a will (icch) to transcend all, such is His freedom [to do
so] [and so, because the root div can mean urge to transcend, He is
calledDeva]. || 101
Though His essential Being is undivided, in everyday life [He manifests] as the
various forms of [human] discourse [and so, because the root div can mean
everyday conduct, He is called Deva]. Because he manifests as all things, he is
constantly shining [and so, because the root div can mean radiant, He is
calledDeva]. || 102
Praise of him [is rendered] because everything, from the moment it has a self,
inclines toward Him [and so, because the root div can mean praise, He is
calledDeva]. Even in the midst of all [the everyday] duties, there is a movement
consisting of consciousness which informs all actions and [innately] possesses the
qualities of Knowing and Acting [and so, because the root div can mean
movement, He is called Deva]. || 103
With these nirvacanas, [the term] Deva is explained by our teacher [Bhaspati]in the
Siva-tanu-stra (the Treatise on Sivas Form). | 104ab
He helps all [beings] by teaching, restraining, protecting, and maturing [them]
thus He is called Lord (pati). Being auspicious & beneficial and never inauspicious
or malefic (aiva), He is called the Benevolent (iva). || 104c-f
Since He manifests in a similar form under the names Rudra, Upendra, and so on,
the adjectival words supreme or great [as in Parama-iva or Mah-bhairava]are
used to avoid [the implication that we are referring to a] limited [deity]. || 105