The Pathless Path (Tantrasaara Chapter 2)

This post presents Chapter Two of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of Spontaneous Realization” (chapter titles may not be original to Abhinavagupta).

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 Two:] Illumination of Spontaneous Realization

Now (atha), then, we will explain the spontaneous mode [of realization], requiring no method. A person who has truly been ‘pierced’ by a strong Descent of Power (śaktipāta)[1] may receive verbal transmission from his teacher only once, and with no further support discern the true nature of reality. When this occurs, his Immersion into Reality becomes permanently active (nityodita), ever-refreshing itself without any necessity for [formal] practice.[2]

If it be asked “Given that in this system, discernment is itself one of the ‘limbs of yoga’,[3] how can it be said that he discerns the truth without method?” To this we reply [that his spontaneous realization proceeds thusly]:

“This very Highest Divinity, the self-manifest Light of Consciousness, is what I am—when that is the case, what could any method of practice achieve? Not the attainment of my true nature, because that is eternally present; not making it known, because it is already illuminating itself; not the removal of obscurations, because no obscuration whatsoever exists;[4] and not the entry into it, because [to enter it I would have to be other than it and] nothing other than it exists to enter it. What method or practice can there be here, when there is an impossibility of anything separate from that which I am?

Therefore, everything is One: all this is a single reality consisting of Consciousness alone, free and blissful, unbroken by time, uncircumscribed by place, unclouded by attributes or adjuncts, unconfined by forms or appearances, unexpressible by words, and not unfolded by the ordinary means of knowledge. For it is the cause, through its own will alone, by which time, space, forms and so on each attain their own natures.

This Reality is free & independent, a mass of bliss, and That alone am I; everything is reflected within it—within me.”

For one who discerns thus, with firm certainty, there quickly comes about a Highest-Divinity Immersion (pārameśvara-samāveśa) without the need for any further practice. Such a one is bound by no constraints relative to mantra, pūjā, meditative visualization, observances, and so on.   

Summary verse

“The whole network of methods could not reveal God. Can a pot illumine the thousand-rayed sun?” Discerning the truth thusly, one with the highest insight can immerse into the state of the self-luminous Śiva in an instant. || 6 [2.1]

Simpler Prākrit (vernacular) version of the same verse:

“Any manifestation that manifests is the complete and stainless Highest Divinity shining in me. Ultimately, that is my very own Self.” Having known this, there is nothing more to be done. ||

Thus ends the second day’s teaching in The Essence of the Tantras, composed by the revered master Abhinavagupta, entitled Illumination of Spontaneous Realization. || 2 ||

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[1] See my monograph on the subject, “The Descent of Power”, published in the Journal of Indian Philosophy 36.247-95.

[2] See The Recognition Sutras, Chapter 19, for an explanation of the key term nityodita.

[3] Though the correct translation of yogāṅga is actually ‘aid to yoga’, the widely-recognized translation ‘limb of yoga’ has been retained here. Note that the aids to yoga in Śaivism are not eight but six, i.e. a ṣaḍaṅga-yoga consisting of pratyāhāra, dhyāna, prāṇāyāma, dhāraṇā, tarka, and samādhi (not necessarily in that order; see Vasudeva 2004: 367-82).

[4] Because, as already established in Chapter One, nothing other than the Light of Consciousness exists, so nothing could possibly obscure it.