The Modes of Realization (Tantrasaara chapter 1)

This post presents Chapter One of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of the Modes of Realization” (chapter titles may not be original to Abhinavagupta). Abhinavagupta's Introduction to the text should be read first. 

I've been working on this text for sixteen years, and finally have reached a translation that I'm satisfied with. I think it's clear enough as to need little explanation. (Please note: all the words that follow are those of the great master Abhinavagupta, translated by Christopher Wallis. All rights reserved.) Brief explanations, if any are needed, have been relegated to the footnotes. Enjoy! 

Tantrasara - The Essence of the Tantras

[Chapter One:] Illumination of the Modes of Realization

On this path, the first thing to be grasped and understood is the nature of the goal. In our way, the ultimate goal is simply recognition of one’s own fundamental nature. That is what is most worth seeking in this world.

And that fundamental nature is the same in all beings and all conditions: it is simply the Light of Creation (prakāśa[1]), because it is impossible that anything uncreated (aprakāśa) could be one’s fundamental nature.

And that Light is one, not many: its fundamental nature could not be divided, since since it is not possible for anything having a nature different from it to enter it.[2] Not even time or place divide it, because both have that very Light as their fundamental nature. Thus the Light of Creation is singular, and it is simply Consciousness. For consciousness is the act of illuminating/manifesting whatever is perceived (artha-prakāśa)—all can agree on this point.

And that Light of Consciousness is not dependent on anything else, for dependence is specifically the quality of needing to be illuminated/manifested, and that quality would demand the requirement of another light [= source of creation], and there is not any other light whatsoever.[3]

Thus the Light of Consciousness is both singular and independent. Because of that very independence it is free of divisions & limitations of place, time, and form; therefore it is all-pervasive, eternal, and retains its formless nature even while assuming all forms.

Its independent freedom is its Power of Bliss (ānanda-śakti); its relishing of that freedom is its Power of Will (icchā-śakti); the fact that it is the Light of Creation is its Power of Awareness (cit-śakti); the fact that its nature is to reflect on itself is its Power of Knowing (jñāna-śakti);[4] and the fact that it can assume any form is its Power of Acting (kriyā-śakti).

Though conjoined thus with these principal Powers, in actuality it is the unbounded Light of Consciousness (prakāśa), reposing in its innate bliss [of self-awareness], endowed with the Powers of Willing, Knowing, and Acting, that we call God.[5]

When Śiva (i.e. the Light of Consciousness), in his independent freedom, causes himself to appear in a contracted form, we call him ‘the individual self’ (aṇu). And through that same freedom he again illuminates/manifests his real being (svātman) so that his nature as Śiva—the unbounded Light of Consciousness—shines forth.

When that occurs, he may illuminate his real being without needing any method to do so or with such methods—again as an expression of his independent freedom.

When this process unfolds with recourse to methods, all those methods may be subsumed within three categories: Willing, Knowing, or Acting. Thus three modes of Immersion (samāveśa) are taught [in the Mālinī]: the Divine (śāmbhava), the Empowered (śākta), and the Embodied (āṇava).[6]  Therefore in this work the four modes of realization will be taught sequentially [the modes are four when we include realization without method].

Summary verse:
The Self is an embodiment of the Light of Consciousness; it is the free and independent Divinity made manifest. As an expression of the vigorous joy of the divine play of its freedom, the One conceals its own nature; and also certainly reveals its innate fullness once again. That may occur spontaneously or through a process; and if the latter in three modes. || 5

Thus ends the first day teaching’s in The Essence of the Tantras, composed by the revered Abhinavagupta, entitled ‘Illumination of the Modes of Realization’. || I ||

NEXT: Chapter Two, How realization may happen with almost no effort or method.

[1] The word prakāśa has no precise equivalent in English, as it means on the one hand light, illumination, shining, and on the other created, manifested, displayed, visible, made apparent, brought into the open.

[2] Because anything that entered into the Light of Creation or Manifestation (prakāśa) would thereby be illuminated/ manifested, and thus one with that Light.

[3] That is to say, only consciousness, by definition, has the power to manifest/illuminate objects of experience, and it need not be illuminated by anything else in order to serve this function. (As Sanderson has it: “to be dependent is to be the object of manifestation; and to be the object of manifestation would be to be determined by something other than manifestation, but nothing other than manifestation exists.”)

[4] Or we could translate: “the fact that its nature is to become aware of itself is its Power of Cognizing & Experiencing.”

[5] Or we could translate “What we mean by Śiva is in actuality . . .”.  Here Abhinava is simply asserting that of the five powers, Consciousness and Bliss are the intrinsic being (svabhāva) of God/Śiva, while the other three are his śaktis; the distinction then is between what he/it is and what he/it does.

[6] The names are derived from Śambhu [= Śiva], Śakti, and Aṇu [= Nara] respectively. 

Key points in Chapter One:

  • The essence-nature of all beings is the Light of Consciousness, one, indivisible, independent, unlimited, all-pervasive, eternal, and formless.
  • Its powers are Awareness, Bliss, Willing, Knowing, and Acting.
  • That Light appears in a contracted form as the individual self, which is itself a means to know the true Self.
  • The method of manifesting the unbounded Light of Consciousness in and through an individual being is that of actualizing the powers of Willing, Knowing, and Acting as the three modes of Immersion into reality.