The Nature of God: Tantraaloka 1.59-69

This is part of a series of posts translating Chapter One of the 1000-year-old masterpiece called “Light on the Tantras” (Tantrāloka). 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 Kāmika-tantra: “This [Primordial Reality] is beyond logical argument. The God beyond [all] gods does not depend on any other; rather, because the other depends on him, he exists as the autonomous [source of all]. || 59-60ab ||

My commentary: the Kāmika 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 Śaiva Literature” (Sanderson, 2014).

The sequences of place, time, and form do not constitute limitations of the One who is independent and self-contained—that is the all-pervasive Lord, the eternal Śiva, 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’ (bahurūpa) in the Dīkṣottara and other scriptures. Divided into [aspects] such as the Point (bindu) and the Resonance (nāda), Śiva is said [there] to be six-fold: World, embodied Form, Light, Space (or Void)*, Sound (śabda), and Mantra. (Here Light corresponds to Bindu, and Mantra to Nāda in Abhinava's terminology.) || 62cd-63 ||

Abhinava is here paraphrasing a very old text, the Dīkṣottara, forming the latest part of the Niśvāsa, which is the oldest scripture of Śaiva Tantra. The Dīkṣottara chapter 2 gives a sixfold goal-division (lakṣya-bheda), that is to say, six aspects of the Divine among which the yogī chooses one to fix his attention upon. As Vāsudeva explains, “The formless Śiva 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 Mālinī-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 Dīkṣottara and the latter that used by the Mālinī; 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 (bhāva) of that [aspect]. Supreme liberation certainly results from direct experience (vijñāna, = anubhava) of that to which the words Void and so on refer. || 64 ||

The interpretation of this verse is not certain (as noted at Vāsudeva 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 Dīkṣottara) 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.” (Dīkṣottara 2.18-19, trans. S. Vāsudeva)

In light of the [aforementioned] omniformity of God, [any of these six forms] is [merely] a synecdochic aspect, a partial definition (upalakṣaṇa), [as is apparent] when His unlimited, unconditioned nature has arisen and His particularized aspect(s) has dissolved. || 65 ||

This translation follows Dyczkowski; or we could translate this verse as Vāsudeva 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 Kāmika-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 His—all-pervasiveness and so on—are 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 (svātantrya-śakti). 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 ||

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 Śaivas, 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 Feminine.

* Dīkṣottara 2.7: vyoma, further defined as śakti-vyoma (either 'the Void of Power' or perhaps 'devoid of energy'), is said to be beyond śabda-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 Dīkṣottara: ayana-śūnya (from uvula to mouth), praśānta-śūnya (top of the head), and niṣkala-śūnya (above the head). Jayaratha, writing centuries later, understands the three voids as the three stages of uccāra above the head and before the final stage: śakti, vyāpinī, and samanā. The Mālinī has three voids in the head and three above it, which are crucial to its understanding of khecarī-mudrā (see 7.15-17 and the parallel passage at Kubjikā-mata 7.81-6). 

**evaṃ mukhyābhiḥ śaktibhiḥ yukto 'pi vastuta icchā-jñāna-kriyā-śakti-yuktaḥ anavacchinnaḥ prakāśo nijānanda-viśrāntaḥ śiva-rūpaḥ, from Tantrasāra chapter 1