Techniques of Transmission in Kashmir Saivism

by Lilian Silburn

Based on the works of Abhinavagupta (AD 950–1016)

Siva seated, statue

1. The Role of Grace

The relationship between teacher and disciple can only be understood if we are sensitive to the nature of this relationship. Abhinavagupta perceived two classes of humanity: those who are touched by grace and all others. The issue of teacher and disciple only arises for the former and then, as a function of grace: "The supreme Ruler who forever projects the world in his own energy, is grace; he emanates the world and reabsorbs it. He is supremely free." (Trikanridaya).

According to this monistic system, Siva, by his impetuous free play, first veils his true nature by dissimulating himself in his energy's ever-renewed forms, and from his own freedom becomes limited and enslaved. With equal freedom it is He who dispenses his grace and reveals himself in his true essence. Whether he mystifies or bestows his grace, Siva's essential nature is nothing but grace. He is the only master, universal Consciousness, the absolute I. His supreme energy – Grace – is perpetually awake in all conscious subjects and constitutes the true relationship between teacher and disciple.

It is the same Consciousness which poses questions in the form of the disciple and responds to them as teacher. As the former, He is imperfect and unclear consciousnesss, full of doubts and uncertainties (vikalpa). As the latter, He is intense and lucid, bringing an end to all doubts (I, 233 and 253 s1.). [a] The appearance of teacher and disciple in two different bodies, being a construction of the imagination, disappears when the single, same Knowledge of liberation illuminates the one and the other.

[a. As stated in the Introduction, this book by Silburn is based on the Tantraloka by Abhinavagupta. Numbered references to the text have not been verified.]

It matters little that the lineage of teachers stretches infinitely in time, for the Guru is one; when he liberates his disciple, it is in truth himself that he liberates (235).

Siva, the first guru, assumes the form of many masters, divinities, sages, supermen and men alike; to each corresponds a disciple from the category immediately below. Thus Siva's disciple is Sadasiva, [b] barely distinct from himself, and at the other end of the scale is the teacher and his disciple, both human beings. But everywhere and always, the supreme relationship must be regained at each level: even if the guru is a man, he must be considered to be Siva and oneself, Sadasiva (I, 273).

[b. The highest aspect of Shiva. The Sanskrit prefix, sada, translates as "always" and "forever." ]

In this relationship, grace is critical because it permeates a human being and transforms him into a teacher, determining as well various techniques of mystical transmission. The term 'guru' signifies 'heavy.' It is used because the weight of grace draws out the disciple's important and enduring qualities. Without grace, there is no genuine guru.

One Tantra declares that if Siva does not grant his grace, the guru in spite of all his efforts cannot instruct the disciple and, even if he could, the disciple would lack vigilance and would not retain that which he had received; or, if he did retain it, that he would lose its benefits by becoming attached to fleeting joys which would consequently halt his progress.

Siva bestows or withholds his grace without regard to the merits or faults of men nor to their knowledge or ignorance. It may be objected that some make efforts to purify themselves or to show themselves worthy, but in fact the desire to purify oneself is already a sign of grace.

Although the Essence is one, it is called Grace inasmuch as it is gratuitous, a living force which encites the heart and spirit, causing vibrations of sound, light and the like. It is also designated by the name pratibha, spontaneous illumination. This term is essential to Trika, [c] and emphasizes grace's radiation, the brusque [abrupt] awakening of divine power which lies dormant within the human heart.

[c. Trika is another name for Kashmir Shaivism, a representation as three goddesses:   Although often called Kashmir Shaivism, Trika was actually a pan-Indian movement. ]

In reality every conscious being is eternally immersed in this beneficent energy, but he hoards it up and utilizes it for profit; in so doing he separates it from its source and deprives it of its efficiency, limiting it, isolating it, orienting it towards the external, subjugating it to particular desires and feelings. The single energy disperses itself into multiple energies, the cosmic body into distinct bodies, the supreme vibration (spanda) into limited movements, and life (prana) into vital breaths. Thus the energy of the Self, infinite and undifferentiated – Absolute I – appears fragmented and dependent.

But as a human being is never really separate from his true essence (which consists of grace), he can regain consciousness of the Self and recover his original liberty. To bring this about, his dissociated energies must join at their center, the Heart. The guru's duty is to encourage this return to the source by instilling himself in his disciples through various procedures: he joins his breath with theirs, awakening the forces which lie dormant in them and allow them to rejoin the undifferentiated breath which returns them to the total life. The guru may permeate a disciple's heart, enciting vibrations of the universal heart; or, merging consciousness with consciousness, he may render his disciple capable of recognizing the Self. Such are three aspects of the return to unity:  merging the breaths, awakening the life force (kundalini), and illumination.

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