Light on Tantra: Tantraaloka 1.1-21

“Light on the Tantras” (Tantrāloka) is Abhinavagupta's magnum opus, a masterly encyclopedic survey of the whole of Śaiva Tantra at its peak (c. 1000 CE). The complete Tantrik View, practice, and fruit are presented in exquisite detail over the course of more than 5,800 verses.

The first chapter of the Tantrāloka is 333 verses and contains all the essential teachings of the work in condensed form, and thus is the most important one to study for someone learning the Tantrik path (and this chapter could easily be studied for five years before full comprehension arrives!). On this blog I will present a full translation of that chapter (over the course of, you guessed it, five years). I am undertaking this difficult task because currently there is no good or reliable translation available in English (though Mark Dyczkowski and/or Alexis Sanderson might release one soonish). And now, without further ado, my translation of . . .

श्री तत्रालोकः
Śrī Tantrāloka

by the great master Abhinavagupta

Chapter 1. The Aspects of Consciousness (vijñāna-bhid): in which all [the teachings of the present work] are adumbrated.

Verse 1: mangala-śloka (verse of auspicious benediction)

For an in-depth analysis of verse 1 and its paronomasia, see here.
* The “pure power” associated with the Divine Mother is vimarśa-śakti.
† = the ‘Heart’ mentioned in verse one, meaning one is the Universal Heart, the power of awareness within all sentient beings that is their source and ground; whereas the ‘heart’ in verse one, meaning two is specifically Abhinavagupta’s heart.

Invocation of Parā ( = svātantriya-śakti, icchā-śakti, and pratibhā)
naumi cit-pratibhāṃ devīṃ parāṃ bhairava-yoginīm |
mātṛ-māna-prameyāṃśa-śūlāmbuja-kṛtāspadām || 2 ||

Parā Devī (lit., "supreme goddess"), as traditionally visualized, by Ekabhumi Ellik

I praise the Supreme Goddess [Parā Devī], the creative inspiration (pratibhā) of Consciousness, the yogic consort of Bhairava, who has made her abode the lotus-and-trident-throne, its prongs knower, knowing, and known. || 2

The triśūlābja-mandala of the Trika, Parā's "throne"

Invocation of Aparā
( = kriyā-śakti)
naumi devīṃ śarīra-sthāṃ nṛtyato bhairavākṛteḥ |
prāvṛṇ-megha-ghana-vyoma-vidyul-lekhā-vilāsinīm || 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. ||

"playful like a streak of lightning…". Art by Dinesh Shreshtha.

Invocation of Parāparā, as the Trident of Wisdom
( = jñāna-śakti)
dīpta-jyotiś-chaṭā-pluṣṭa-bheda-bandha-trayaṃ sphurat |
stāj jñāna-śūlaṃ sat-pakṣa-vipakṣotkartana-kṣamam || 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 teaching. ||

Invocation of the Triad of Goddesses
svātantrya-śaktiḥ krama-saṃsisṛkṣā kramātmatā ceti vibhor vibhūtiḥ |
tad eva devī-trayam antar āstām anuttaraṃ me prathayat svarūpam || 5 ||

The Power of Autonomy, the Will to emit the sequence [of creation], and that sequence [itself] are [together] the all-pervasive majesty (vibhūti) 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. ||

Invocation of Gaṇapati (meter: Vasanta-tilaka)
tad-devatā-vibhava-bhāvi-mahāmarīci-cakreśvarāyita-nija-sthitir eka eva |
devī-suto Gaṇapatiḥ sphurad indu-kāntiḥ samyak-samucchalayatān mama saṃvid-abdhim || 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:  Gaṇapati, the son of the Goddess, shimmering with the splendor of the moon. May he completely uplift the ocean of my awareness. ||

Invocation of the lineage-head, Macchanda Nātha 
rāgāruṇaṃ granthi-bilāvakīrṇaṃ yo jālam ātāna-vitāna-vṛtti |
kalombhitaṃ bāhya-pathe cakāra stān me sa Macchanda-vibhuḥ prasannaḥ || 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 (kalā), be pleased with me. ||

Invocation of the Trika lineage Gurus
Traiyambakābhihita-santati-Tāmraparṇī-san-mauktika-prakara-kānti-viśeṣa-bhājaḥ |
pūrve jayanti guravo guru-śāstra-sindhu-kallola-keli-kalanāmala-karṇadhārāḥ || 8 ||

Triumphant are those ancient Masters of the lineage called Traiyambaka (aka Trika), who share in the exceptional luminosity of the row of pearls in the Tāmraparṇī river! They are the stainless* helmsmen [steering the ship] who comprehend the play of the mighty waves on the ocean of the Gurus’ scriptures. ||

* free from mala. †karṇadhāra, helmsman or pilot, is also a pun here, for it literally means “those who have ears to hear,” i.e. have heard the wisdom of the scriptures.

Abhinava honours his own Gurus: of the Krama and the Kaula Trika

jayati gurur eka eva śrī-śrīkaṇṭho bhuvi pathitaḥ |
tadaparamūrtir bhagavān Maheśvaro Bhūtirājaś ca || 9 ||

Triumphant is the one Guru known on earth as the reverend Śrīkaṇṭha in two great embodiments: the Blessed Lords Bhūtirāja and [his son] Maheśvara.

Of the Pratyabhijñā

śrī-Somānanda-bodha-śrīmad-Utpala-viniḥsṛtāḥ |
jayanti saṃvid-āmoda-sandarbhā dik-prasarpiṇaḥ || 10 ||

Triumphant are the compositions—delightfully fragrant with consciousness, spreading in all directions—arising from the reverend Utpala, who awakened due to [his Guru] the reverend Somānanda (poetic double meaning: the Lotus which blossomed from the delight [of the rays] of the radiant Moon).

tad-āsvāda-bharāveśa-baṃhitāṃ mati-ṣaṭpadīm |
guror Lakṣmaṇaguptasya nāda-saṃmohinīṃ numaḥ || 11 ||

We praise the bee-mind of the Guru Lakṣmaṇagupta, 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 (aka Simhagupta), the best of Gurus, taught me in every way. || 12

Honoring his Sadguru and consort
jayatāj jagad-uddhṛti-kṣamo ’sau bhagavatyā saha śambhunātha ekaḥ |
yad-udīrita-śāsanāṃśubhir me prakaṭo ’yaṃ gahano ’yaṃ śāstra-mārgaḥ || 13 ||

May the unique Śambhunātha, together with his Blessed Lady, capable of rescuing the whole world [from bondage], be triumphant! This impenetrable path of scripture was made clear for me through the rays of his amplified*[7] teaching. ||

Purpose of the present 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 (prakriyā) that is clear and comprehensive (pūrṇārtha).  || 15

śrībhaṭṭanātha-caraṇābja-yugāt tathā śrībhaṭṭārikāṃghir-yugalād guru-santatir yā |
bodhānya-pāśa-viṣanut-tad-upāsanottha bodhojjvalo 'bhinavagupta idaṃ karoti || 16 ||

The transmission of the Guru lineage from the lotus feet of the reverend Bhaṭṭanātha and from the lotus feet of the reverend Bhaṭṭārikā [i.e. Śambhunātha and his consort, here given equal status] is the antidote to the poison of the bonds of what [seems] other than Awareness. Ablaze with the awakeness arising from adoration of & 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,] the Mālinī-vijayottara, whether explicitly or implicitly. || 17

The teaching of the Lord is divided into ten ( = the Saiddhāntika Śiva-bheda corpus), eighteen (the Saiddhāntika Rudra-bheda corpus), and sixty-four (the Bhairava-tantra corpus), the essence of which are the Trika scriptures; and the essence of those is the doctrine of the Mālinī. || 18

Thus, at the command of my Guru-nātha, I will make clear all that is contained therein, [especially those key teachings] that have not been noticed by those learned people who are not of our tradition (sampradāya). || 19

This composition is by Abhinavagupta, whose name was elevated by his Guru(s), and whose attainment 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 Śambhunātha. || 21

Meaning if you really want to worship the Divine, contemplate Abhinava’s expanded awareness manifest in this sublime text, for comprehending it can bring about realization. (Note: this verse also appears as Tantrasāra 1.3!)

Note: the symbol || indicates a double meaning (śleṣa), with the two meanings enclosed by < > and divided by ||, for example < its blossom opened || its contraction banished >. For more on verses 1 and 21, see the previous post on double meanings in the Tantrāloka.  

< end of the ādi-vākyam >

~ ~ ~

For the next section of the Tantrāloka (1.22-51), see On Bondage and Liberation.


[3] = Ardhanarīśvara (?). Why Abhinava seems to associate Aparā with Ardhanarīśvara is unknown.

[4] the three malas, for which see Tantra Illuminated and The Recognition Sutras, chapter 9.

[6] the "Impure Universe" or realm of māyā.

[7] Note: Following Sanderson, I take udīrita ‘amplified’ as indicating that Śambhunātha’s teaching went beyond that of the scriptures, and by so doing explained them.