Awareness is everything

Awareness is everything:  Recognition Sutra #1

One thousand years ago, an extraordinary work of spiritual philosophy was composed in the valley of Kashmīr. This masterpiece, consisting of just fifty pages in the original Sanskrit, must rank amongst the finest works of its class. If merit is a determining factor, within our lifetimes it will come to be read as frequently as the Yoga-sūtras, a work it far surpasses in quality and clarity (IMHO). It is called “The Essence of the Recognition Philosophy” (Pratyabhijñā-hṛdaya), and it was written by a fully realized master known as Kṣhemarāja, ‘the King of Contentment’, the disciple and successor of the great Abhinavagupta. Next year I will publish a complete translation of this work, under the title The Recognition Sūtras, so titled because the text's teachings are anchored by twenty mnemonic sūtras (terse aphorisms) that describe both the essential nature of reality and the spiritual path to recognizing it. The very first post here on was my translation of the first verse of this masterwork, and now I'll be presenting a series of posts on the sūtras themselves. 

An early 20th-century paper manuscript of the  Pratyabhijñā-hṛdaya  in Śāradā script, a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of the original manuscript. An arrow points to where sūtra #1 occurs; the rest is the author's explanation of it. Thanks to Christopher Tompkins for the manuscript.

An early 20th-century paper manuscript of the Pratyabhijñā-hṛdaya in Śāradā script, a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of the original manuscript. An arrow points to where sūtra #1 occurs; the rest is the author's explanation of it. Thanks to Christopher Tompkins for the manuscript.

The first sūtra is simply stunning for its multivalence. While the Sanskrit is simplicity itself, it admits of several possible readings—which contrary to popular belief is rare in Sanskrit philosophical literature, which generally strives for clarity. Here, though, the author has actually told us that he intended the sūtra to be read at least five different ways. Let's first consider the sūtra itself, in its primary reading:

चितिः स्वतन्त्रा विश्वसिद्धिहेतुः ॥१॥

citiḥ svatantrā viśva-siddhi-hetuḥ || 1 ||

Awareness, free and independent,
is the cause of the attainment of everything.

The first word is the key word of the entire text: Awareness (citi, pronounced 'chi-tee'). The Sanskrit word is feminized, because the author suggests that we should venerate Awareness as a Goddess (how very Tantrik of him). Furthermore, Goddess Awareness is said to be svatantrā, totally free, independent, and self-reliant; and it is precisely this autonomous Awareness that is here brazenly declared to be the cause of the attainment of everything whatsoever. ~ That is to say, in this view, divine Consciousness or transpersonal Awareness is the ground of being, the substratum of reality, the basis of the universe, and that power by which sentient beings attain whatever experiences and understanding they do. Not only that, but Goddess Awareness brings about the emission, sustenance, and reabsorption of all things as an expression of herself, Kṣhemarāja tells us. Thus the sūtra’s scope ranges from the entire cosmos of time and space down to the most trivial and ordinary of human experiences—and furthermore, it dissolves the apparent gulf between those two extremes. As the master himself said, based on the scriptures, his teacher's words, and his own direct experience,

It is the blessed Goddess who is nothing but Awareness, pure and free, who vibrates as the various infinite worlds: the condition of ‘‘cause and effect” has only this much reality.

The word that stands out as somewhat unusual in the sūtra is 'attainment'. Kṣhemarāja chose this word, or rather its Sanskrit equivalent siddhi, precisely because of its multivalence, or several layers of meaning. It also means 'manifestation', 'fulfillment', 'perfection', 'magical performance', and 'accomplishment'. (For a word to be multivalent, it must have several commonly used meanings in the author's era.) So let's contemplate some alternative translations of this all-important first sūtra, the initial revelation of the text. All of the following possibilities are allowed, even suggested, by the Sanskrit. Indeed, most of them are discussed by Kṣhemarāja himself.

If you read this blog for spiritual reasons, I suggest that you take your time with these: savor them, feel their vibration, and ask yourself, “What experience of reality might give rise to these words?” Instead of answering that question with more words, simply explore the feeling that arises when you gently hold it in awareness.

Sūtra One alternative translations

  • Awareness independently brings about the performance of every thing.
  • Awareness voluntarily causes all things to become what they are.
  • Awareness, needing nothing outside itself, is the cause of the manifestation of all things (see #2 below).
  • Awareness, of its own accord, is the cause of the [ultimate] fulfillment of all things (see #3 below).
  • Autonomous awareness is the source of all attainments (see #4 below).
  • Autonomous awareness can be accessed through the experience of anything (see #5 below).
  • Awareness, free and independent, is the cause of the magic of the universe.

Unusually for a Sanskrit author, Kṣhemarāja articulates multiple interpretations of his own sūtra. To me  this implies that he might have received the sūtra as a transmission or revelation which he then contemplated at length. These are the other interpretations that he gives, in his exact words (in bold); note that the word siddhi (the various translations of which are italicized below) is the multivalent pivot on which these different interpretations turn, with the unwavering ground the same in all of them: the power of Awareness. 

(2) This Awareness alone is the cause of the attainment of everything, which means the manifestation of [the three interdependent aspects of consciousness]: knowers (like you and I), the means by which they know (like thinking and seeing), and the objects they know (like thoughts and visual objects). The function of the everyday, feeble means of knowledge [like observation or logical inference] is to make apparent some previously unknown fact. Therefore, these are neither useful nor capable of establishing Awareness, which is independent, undivided, and continuously revealing itself.

(3) This Goddess Awareness is the cause of the completion of everything, meaning its reabsorption; that is, She brings about fusion with complete nonduality, causing one to relish all things as a seamless Unity. For this very reason, She is [said to be] independent.

(4) When its independence is [fully] recognized, this Awareness becomes the cause of all attainments, i.e., both worldly happiness and spiritual liberation.

(5) Furthermore [reading the compound as a bahuvrīhi], this Awareness can be ‘caused’ through the ‘attainment’ [i.e., experience] of anything. That is, Awareness can be recognized whenever any object of perception—the color blue, the feeling of happiness, the body, the breath, etc.—enters and merges with any self-aware knower by ascending through the path of perception. Through this reading, the sūtra teaches that there is a easy means of realization.

All these interpretations are explained in accessible language in my forthcoming book. This is just a taste of the sublimity of the text; when fully unpacked and understood, its philosophy is seen to be precise, brilliant, and mind-blowing yet practically applicable. 

For the online course to accompany the book, go to The Sutra Project

The “The Essence of the Recognition Philosophy” (Pratyabhijñā-hṛdaya) was first brought to my attention 26 years ago (when I was but a teenager) by my first teacher and root-guru, Gurumayī Chidvilāsānandā, so I am gratified at the 'coincidence' that she is inviting her students to focus on this text's teachings throughout 2016, which I didn't know when I planned last year to do the same. You can view her offering here.

tasmai shrī gurave namaḥ! ~