How a Nondual Tantrika Practices (Tantrasaara Chapter Four, Part 3)

This post presents the third part of Chapter Four of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of the Empowered Method (śākta-upāya)”. The first part is here and the second part is here.

I’ve been working on this text for over sixteen years, and finally have reached a translation that I’m satisfied with. Like Chapter Three, Chapter Four requires some explanation, and that explanation will appear in the forthcoming book version of this translation. In this post, all the words that follow are those of the great master Abhinavagupta (translated by Christopher Wallis—all rights reserved). Enjoy! 



“Accurate discernment (sat-tarka) alone is a direct means to that [goal of Awakening and Liberation]. It alone is Pure Wisdom (śuddhavidyā), and it is refined in many ways, such as through Tantrik worship (yāga or pūjā), fire-offerings (homa), mantra-repetition (japa), disciplined observance (vrata), and yoga. [These practices will now be defined in their nondualistic, śākta-upāya mode.]

YĀGA/PŪJĀ: Worship is [in reality] offering everything (things, beings, & states) ‘into’ the Highest Divinity, in order to attain the firm understanding that everything exists within the Highest Divinity alone and there is nothing other than That. Those things that tend to spontaneously dissolve into blissful awareness are easy to offer to God, because they are delightful. For this reason, we are taught in scripture to use in external practice those things which delight the aesthetic senses that converge in the Heart, such as flowers, scented pastes, refreshments such as wine and so on.

HOMA: All existent beings, things, & states consist of the effulgent energy of the Highest Divinity. It is to attain a firm & stable understanding of this that one makes fire-offerings into the effulgent ‘fire’ that is Consciousness—the Highest Divinity—hungering for the aesthetic joy of devouring all things.[1] Such a ‘fire-offering’ is in truth the dissolution of every experience without remainder, leaving only that radiance, that effulgent energy (tejas).

JAPA: In the same way, mantra repetition has the purpose of giving rise to that state of self-awareness consisting of the Heart.[2] This practice consists of cultivating within oneself the understanding that the ultimate reality exists as one’s own essence-nature (svasvabhāva), and that remains just as it is, fundamentally unaffected by the differentiated things that constitute the objects of consciousness, whether internal, external or other.

VRATA: Disciplined observance is here understood as regarding the body, and even external objects like vases and so on, with the conviction that they they are the same as the Highest Divinity, in order to attain an identification with the Highest Divinity that continues at all times and in all circumstances without requiring any further practice to maintain it. As it is said in the sacred scripture Nandi’s Crest, “. . . the ultimate observance is seeing the equality of everything.”[3]

Thus, though the ultimate reality that inheres within as one’s essence-nature exists independently of any concept (vikalpa), it may manifest through the various forms of understanding (vikalpa) taught above, each being an aspect of the same Pure Wisdom.

YOGA: In this context, Yoga is the cultivation of a particular form of understanding: it is an investigation into the nature of our innermost being, in order to develop nothing less than its constant and uniform radiant manifestation. [More about Yoga in Chapter Five.]

In this [nondual Tantrik] system, the Highest Divinity has as its essence all-inclusive expanded Awareness, and its Power is this very inclusive wholeness (pūrṇatā), denoted by sacred utterances in the scriptures such as:

  • the Totality (kula),

  • Potency (sāmarthya),

  • the Wave (ūrmi),

  • the Heart (hṛdaya),

  • the Essence (sāra),

  • Pulsation (spanda),

  • Pervasive Power (vibhūti),

  • the Triple Goddess (Trīśikā),

  • the Black One (Kālī),

  • She Who Devours Time (Kālī Sankarshinī),

  • the Fierce One (Caṇḍī),

  • the Word (vāṇī),

  • Experience (bhoga),

  • Perception (dṛk), and

  • the Constant One (nityā).

Each name denotes an activity of Divine Consciousness related to its meaning, such that She may be meditated upon in one or another of these aspects and so become seated in the heart of each meditator.” [ . . . to be continued!]

~ ~ ~

Abhinavagupta’s summary verses for Chapter Four

A bound soul who has any of these convictions—‘I am dense, I am inert matter,’ or ‘I am completely bound by my karma,’ or ‘I am impure,’ or ‘I am a pawn of others’—may seek to attain the steady conviction of the opposite of these views. If s/he succeeds in this, s/he immediately becomes the Lord whose body is the whole universe and whose soul is Consciousness. || [4.1]

In whatever manner such a conviction may be attained, a Tantrik Yogi should cultivate it at all times. He should not allow his perspective to become divorced from the real nature of things and thus be led into doubt by the mass of foolish teachings in the world. || [4.2]

[1] Or perhaps we should understand abhimata not as ‘hungering’ but as ‘understood/imagined’, as in “the effulgence of the ‘fire’ that is Consciousness . . . is here understood to be the aesthetic joy of devouring all things.”

[2] Reading hrdayātmaka- for ubhayātmaka-.

[3] Jayaratha quotes the full passage ad TĀ 12.12.