'Elevating the Prana' ~ a key practice of Tantrik Yoga (Tantrasaara Chapter Five, Part 2)

This post presents the second part of Chapter Five of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of the Individual/Embodied Method (ānava-upāya)”. Chapter Five, like Chapter Three and Four, is being presented in multiple posts.

I've been working on this text for over sixteen years, and finally have reached a translation that I'm satisfied with. Chapter Five requires much explanation, and that explanation will appear in the forthcoming book version of my translation (but some explanation can be found in the footnotes of this post). Please note, all the words that follow are those of the great master Abhinavagupta (translated by Christopher Wallis—all rights reserved). Enjoy! 



Practice #2: Elevation of the life-force (prāṇa-uccāra)

In this practice, one who wants to cause the vital energy to rise first reposes in the Heart, i.e. the spaciousness [of awareness-being-presence].  (1) Then, through the rise of the exhale (prāṇa), awareness flows out and comes to rest on an external object.  (2) Then, filling oneself with  the lunar inhalation (apāna), internalizing the object, one sees everything within oneself, and thus becomes free from any desire for the ‘other’.[1] (3) Next, due to the activation of the equalizing vital energy (samāna) [in the central channel], one experiences repose in unity [of the two breaths].  (4) Then, when the ‘fire’ of the ascending breath (udāna) arises, one ‘devours’ the operations of the perceiver, the perceived, and the process of perception.  (5) When the fire devouring them subsides and the pervasive vital energy (vyāna) arises, then one scintillates & vibrates [with pure dynamic Awareness], free of all limitations.[2]  

Thus, these six states of repose, from the space of the Heart up to the pervasive vital energy, are taught [in our scriptures] as the six levels of joy: (0) innate joy (nijānanda), (1) external joy (nirānanda), (2) the joy of the ‘other’ (parānanda), (3) intensified joy [or the joy of the fusion of the whole objective reality, brahmānanda],[3] (4) the great joy (mahānanda), and (5) the Joy that is fully expanded and all-encompassing Awareness (cidānanda). Of all these there is one unifier, the Bliss of Totality (jagad-ānanda), never rising or setting, whose ultimate nature is internal centered repose (antar-viśrānti).[4] [The numbers indicate the correspondence of these ānandas with the prāṇa-vāyus in the previous paragraph.]

Reposing in these stages of the uccāra practice, one by one, in sets of two or three, or all together, one reaches the higher reality of grounded and centered awareness (viśrānti-tattva), independent of one’s body, prāṇa, mind, and [Void].

That is precisely the secret of performing uccāra (‘elevation’) with the seed-syllables of creation and dissolution; contemplating that secret, one will refine, purify, & perfect one’s understanding [until it is perfectly aligned with, and thereby dissolves into, nonconceptual direct experience].

And relating to these stages of centered repose, there are respectively five mystic states, because [as one’s practice develops] there are gradations of penetration [into the Divine Mystery]. Of these, the first is Bliss, arising from touching an aspect of the absolute Fullness.[5]

Next, from attaining ‘bodilessness’ for a moment comes the Leap. Then, Trembling, due to one’s identification with the body loosening upon accessing one’s [inner] strength. Then extroversion falls away, giving rise to the Trance ( = nirbīja-samādhi).

These states culminate in the dissolution of the sense of selfhood in what is not the self [i.e., body, mind, prāṇa, and Void]; [but] because the real Self in fact comprises all things, the sense of anything not being the Self is subsequently dissolved. Thus, due to the arising of this Great Pervasion [of the Self-that-is-Awareness in and as all things], there is the final state, called Disorientation or Whirling [referring to the experience of the initial onset of that final state].

These five mystic states are associated with the five phases of awareness, from the waking state to that Beyond the Fourth. And these states and/or phases are experienced when one enters the subtle centers (cakras) called the Triangle [at the perineum], the Bulb [at the cervix], the Heart, the Palate, and the Upper Kuṇḍalinī [at the crown of the head].

All the homologies (associations) found in Chapter Five.

The ultimate Vibration (spanda) experienced in centered repose in these stages of uccāra, is the very same as the Triad of inner Focal-points (liṅga): the unmanifest liṅga in which all knowables [such as body] are dissolved, the manifesting liṅga in which a knowable is in the process appearing, and the manifest liṅga in which it has appeared.[6]—This will be explained in due course. [These three ‘lingas’ (see image below) are located in the center of the head, heart, and low belly respectively.]

An inner ‘linga’ of pure subtle energy as depicted by the Tantrik folk artists of Rājasthān (from the book Tantra Song).

In our system, the supreme Focal-point is called ‘the Heart of the Yoginī(s)’.[7] In that [practice], the primary thing is Vibration, in the form of an oscillation between contraction and expansion which is the arising of the experience of the Divine Couple, because of which one attains the state of centered repose in the power of Emission (visarga). [I’ve said] enough—entry into this [secret Heart] is not to be revealed [all in one place]. (For more on practice, see Tantrāloka 29.)

Prāṇa-uccāra summary verses:
Reposing first in self-awareness and next on an object, one should completely fill oneself with that object. One then reposes in the expanded state; then rapidly dissolves the distinction of Knower and Known. || 13 [5.4]  

Then, through the Great Pervasion, one reposes [in the Absolute]. These levels of the sixfold uccāra method—six with the initial repose in space of the heart—are correlated with the five prāṇa-vāyus from the out-breath (prāṇa) to the diffuse-breath (vyāna), which are themselves merged with the five states of consciousness beginning with the waking state [and ending with turyātīta]. || 14 [5.5]

One who is committed to this practice quickly enters the radiant abode of reflective awareness of Creation and Dissolution. | 15 [5.6]

~ [TO BE CONTINUED in Chapter Five, Part 3] ~


[1] Cf. ĪPvv vol 3, where Abhinava teaches: “The outgoing breath is called the Sun and its duration the day because through [its function of] illumination it illuminates the object at the same time that it empties the body etc. The ingoing breath is called the Moon and its duration the night because through [its function of] reflectivity (vimarśa) it bestows the bliss of [the object’s] coming to rest within (antar-viśrānti) and [in so doing] nourishes the state of identification with the body [, prāna] and [mind].” (trans. Sanderson)

[2] Cf. the Shaiva Tantrik definition of liberation offered by Jayaratha: “Liberation, the highest good and the final beatitude, is that extraordinary mode of experiencing that comes about with the arising of the self-manifest & self-luminous pure Awareness (bodha) that is awake to itself (sva-bodhaka). This occurs when the ‘Sun of the soul’, also known as ‘Fire’ because it absorbs all objects and experiences as its fuel, has risen by stages to the highest point of the subtle body, flowing up through the Center, and so culminates in the Knower (pramātā) through the cessation of the everyday activity of cognitions (pramāṇa) and their objects (prameya). [In other words, the epistemological triad collapses into unity.] This rise of the soul comes about when the Sun and Moon (prāṇa and apāna, the outgoing and ingoing flows of the breath) have dissolved into the radiant Center (madhya-dhāmā)—and that is achieved through the repose (viśrānti) that is the conditioned mind’s dissolution into subjectivity through the process of ‘devouring’ the objects of consciousness. That very state of repose is the ‘bandha’ consisting of undivided knowing.” ~ commentary on Abhinavagupta’s Tantrāloka (translation by Christopher Wallis, with reference to an unpublished translation by Alexis Sanderson)

[3] The term brahma can denote the objective universe (from Earth to Māyā) grasped as a single nectar-like essence (see PTlv) or it can be understood as derived from the root √bṛṃh ‘intensify’, as Jayaratha takes it in his viveka (“the bliss whose form is produced by ‘Brahman’, that is to say, by [the field of] the object intensified (bṛṃhitena) by being massed together.” (trans. Sanderson)

[4] Cf. Mālinī-vijaya-vārttika 2.31c-33, where Abhinava teaches: “The Great Bliss (mahānanda) [of the udāna-vāyu or upbreath] reaches [in śiva-dvādaśānta] the sublime light of Bhairava that knows all consciousness as its own; and there becoming the Bliss of Consciousness (or Joy of Awareness, cidānanda) it flows on. Then in this triad that has assimilated the triad of the left, right and upward [channels/paths/breaths] and [so] is duality, nonduality, and their fusion, [all] phenomena, which were dual, nondual, or both when connected with the five states of bliss beginning with the Innate (nijānanda), partake of the unbound state of the Bliss of the Universe (jagadānanda).” (trans. Sanderson)

[5] or “first intimation of the state of plenitude” (Sanderson).

[6] See MVT 18.

[7] or “the ultimate concentration in these [three] is [what we term as] . . .” (Sanderson).