Techniques of Transmission in Kashmir Saivism

by Lilian Silburn

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

Siva seated, statue

9. The Path of Cognitive Energy

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Knowledge that Leads to Union

The path that sets the energy in motion exists on the level of knowledge that leads to union. It applies to those privileged beings who, blessed with a more powerful grace than that of the lower path, attain a fully inward-looking consciousness and an illumined heart.

If the divine path is that of transcendence and a reality without forms, the path of energy is that of great abundance and immanence. In this lies the great distinction between these two approaches. The divine path, in effect, concerns only Bhairava, [a] the divine essence that enfolds all the dissolved and unified energies.

[a. ]

In great contrast, the path of knowledge encourages adoration of a personal God which corresponds to the universe, stressing divine qualities like majesty, omnipotence, and omniscience. And this God Mahesvara [b] has innumerable qualities or energies through which he reveals himself, whether the devotee is aware of one or of many of them.

[b. (Skt., 'Great Lord'). Another epithet of Śiva, the source of knowledge (jñāna), will (iccha), and action (kriya).]

Mahesvara, endowed with all these energies, is all-powerful and free, because his activity depends upon nothing outside himself. Omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, he possesses the energies of knowledge, differentiation, and activity. He freely manifests his energies in many ways, thus giving rise to the universe's diversity. His freedom, not different from his own nature, consists of creating diversity in unity and unity in diversity. By his cognitive energy, he simultaneously brings into being the knowing subject and the known object. The differentiating energy manifests the glints and glimmers that are individuals and things, separate from absolute Consciousness and separate from one another. [23]

All endnotes appear in a separate page: endnotes.htm   Brief endnotes are reproduced in the text as footnotes (as below). Where suggested, click on the blue link to see the full endnote on the Endnotes page.

[Endnote 23. Cf. here p. I.P.v., vol. II p. 261, Karika 7.]

Abhinavagupta notes the difference between Paramasiva (the Absolute) and Isvara – the latter manifesting undifferentiated objectivity (prameya) without verbal expression and identical to consciousness. But in Paramasiva, there is no prameya, the flow of things being completely immmersed in him who is undivided Consciousness and bliss, pure unity characterized by repose in the Self.

Jili, as we will later see, [?] makes a similar distinction between the unity of the Essence and the divine unity upon which all qualities depend. [24]

 [Endnote 24. Cf. here p. 205.]

The obstacle to the expansion of an integral, free energy is no longer to be found within dispersed activities as it was before. It exists in polarized thought, vikalpa, the doubt, dilemma, or hesitation which paralyzes one's awareness and keeps one from continual contact with Reality.

To become convinced of Reality, one must replace one's rigid, dry ideas about it with its vital experience. Purified thought then becomes penetrating and insightful, capable of dispelling misconceptions.

The yogi begins by disassociating the structures of knowledge that are tied to language and upon which one's attachment to objects depends. He forges a path between two opposing ideas (vikalpa). When the energy which once nourished these structures has been recaptured, it becomes so intense that it, in turn, erases duality. Thus one goes back to the source of conscious energy and shakes the ego's structures to its very foundation. The Self, free of all determination, recovers its universality.

But such work cannot be accomplished as long as that which feeds one's doubts and dilemmas still exists, e.g., the latent predispositions and deeply buried tendencies and complexes rooted in one's deep past. One must bring these residual traces to the surface in order to act upon them and, through a subtle discernment made possible by the energy, make them accessible and finally, dissolve them.

Zeal, ardor, and vigilance are indispensible in purifying consciousness of its last impressions of duality.

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In attaining this goal, this path makes use of lucidity, a highly developed intuitive Reason (sattarka) capable of discerning a true master capable to teach the right path. This master not only assures liberation from bondage but also endows knowledge with its undifferentiated brilliance.

"Those who are knowledgeable," Abhinavagupta declares, "use the hatchet of intuitive reason, made extremely sharp, to chop at the roots of the tree of fatal differentiation – they thereby attain certainty." (T.A., IV. 13)

After an increasingly subtle investigation, they see only oneness, for their consciousness is clear, dynamic, and global. Purified intelligence reveals to them quite obviously the undifferentiated essence. At this summit, the sattarka experiences an awakening (bodha).

Since this path tends toward simplicity and non-distinction, it is understood that all the practices described by the Yogasutras – prohibitions, postures, breathing exercises, the withdrawal of the senses and of thought, meditation, concentration, and even samadhi – are of no use to realize Consciousness. They serve only to eliminate polar tendencies, and, above all, to promote discrimination. In effect, every practice has as its objective the acquisition or perfection of something, and Consciousness is perfect in itself and has already acquired everything. Only knowledge based upon discrimination can help, because "it consists of an extremely acute dynamic awareness which becomes increasingly internalized," (T.A., IV. 86) and ends by rejoining pure science (suddhavidya).

Abhinavagupta considers withdrawal of the senses and of thought as an arbitrary and harmful exercise "which only makes stronger the bonds of that which has never been bound," that is, free Consciousness (92). True pratyahara consists in completely forgetting even liberation itself, because there are in truth no shackles that tie beings.

To the question, "What is the value of mentioning the limbs of yoga if they serve no purpose?" Abhinavagupta replies that each of them assists in attaining the higher limb and finally achieving true discrimination (sattarka). As for the limbs which concern the body and individual consciousness, they serve only to fortify the body or to obtain mental mastery.

But these limbs of yoga, including the highest, are absolutely ineffective as far as the essence is concerned, for in reality it is not the different limbs that lead to Consciousness, but Consciousness which gives rise to yoga.

Abhinavagupta declares: "What is truly established in Consciousness can, through consciousness, be transmitted to breath, intelligence, and the body in the form of pranayama, etc. But the inverse process cannot occur." (IV. 97)

And he cites on this subject the Viravalitantra to show that it is not breathing exercises that sustain the absorption of Consciousness. On the contrary: "It is through the absorption of consciousness that the inhaled and exhaled breaths are immersed in Siva, pure and simple Consciousness, and the sun of life comes to the top of our own consciousness. This is called true deliverance, in which breath control plays no part." (T.A., IV. 89-90) Therefore all duality is dissolved in the Center or middle pathway and the yogi enjoys the conscious light. Furthermore, Abhinavagupta offers this advice: let us not therefore devote ourselves to breath control which does no more than exhaust the body. (91)

These practices are henceforth but the spontaneous behavior of free living beings and in this sense take on an entirely new meaning.

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Utpaladeva sang of the same idea: "The great feast that is Your Union can be obtained only through putting aside the effort of meditation. Such is the true way that Lovers adore. Let it be mine forever." (S.U., VII.4)

And al-Halaj: "It is You who are my entrancer. It is not prayer which enraptures me! Far from my heart is any notion of holding onto my prayer! Prayer ... hides you from my eyes, when thought allows itself to become encircled by my attention." (Diw. a. 35)

Contemplation of the wheel of the energies demonstrates how this path, which yields the highest spiritual riches, reaches the simplicity and unity of the Self. When doubts, rigidity, and conscious fluctuations disappear, the wheel of energies loses its slow, jerky movement and begins to turn at a prodigious speed, dissolving the last unconscious vestiges of duality. Then all the purified and intensified energies converge spontaneously beyond distinction into unity, fusing at their source, the wheel's calm center. The yogi capable of keeping himself in the immobile hub no longer perceives distinct spokes, diversity having dissolved in the vibrant, undifferentiated energy of the Self.

But if he directs himself towards the periphery (the perceptible world apprehended through his sense organs), his control of the wheel is relaxed. The wheel slows and the multiple energies reappear, tending to crystallize around the ego. He needs then to return to the center, in complete inwardness, and to open his eyes again to the universe without injuring his absorption in Siva. "If, with the help of the heart, you project sight and all the other energies simultaneously and in every direction upon their respective objects (color, odor, etc.), all the while remaining firmly planted like a golden pillar even in the midst of (your activities), you will appear as the One, the very foundation of the universe." (P.H., sutra 18)

It is not easy to remain at the center, so one must delve into oneself again and again until the state becomes permanent. The yogi then discovers in his own heart a universal energy full of joy, accompanied by unbounded power.

Because of this practice, the universe having penetrated into Consciousness and consciousness into the universe, the mystic spontaneously enjoys true adoration, all his activity becoming devotional in nature. And even without preparation of the body, the attention, the breath, or the word, the various currents of the spiritual faculties, joined at the Center of divine Consciousness, can expand everywhere without harm/loss.

The great yogi stands firm in the immmutable Center of the universal vibrant Heart, where everything is necessarily pure, and where all things are equal. When he surrenders to the heart's pulsation, with its ebb and flow, he finds that the enslaving vascillation between two opposlng poles (vikalpa) becomes a divine play of expansion and contraction, in which he participates fully. "Praise to Him (Siva) whom the devotee, even when involved in the most varied states, contemplates with heart overflowing in Love," sings Utpaladeva. (XIV, 21)

Extraordinary is one capable of such adoration, who attains the Reality of the Self in its undivided nature. "The bee, and not the fly," writes Abhinavagupta, "appreciates the ketaka flower's perfume. Equally exceptional is he who, incited by the Sovereign, is involved in the supreme adoration of Bhairava without duality!" (T.A., IV. 276)

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Having made light of the various rituals involved in worship, Abhinavagupta defines what he considers to be true, total adoration:

"As for adoration, let it be accomplished only through those things which expand thought. The marrow of Consciousness is nothing but freedom, and freedom, but a mass of bliss. Thus, activities of adoration which look toward identification with consciousness can be described as those that bring joy to the heart. Whatever the substances or qualities, whether real or imaginary, they will lead to the Supreme Good if they are a source of joy."

"In order to venerate the supreme realm, let the awakened being offer juice that is distilled from the totality of things, and whose fullness is due to identity with Siva. It is this which I have often expressed in a hymn:

'Resting in the conscious Light which arises from the ultimate essence; and seeing through the immortal nectar, splendid and shining, I adore You, Who knows Your mystical secrets!'

'Constantly sprinkling the earthly receptacle, I adore You with drops from the juice of my wonderment; spiritual and innate flowers exude their own joys.'

'My God united with divine Energy, I adore You day and night within my own body, my heart the precious cup overflowing with the nectar of bliss.'

'I have thrown the heavy burden of discrimination from the heights. And I have pressed the triple universe with all its tastes and attractions in order to extract from it the juice. This universe is machined by the wheel of the heart and the flood that issues forth from it is the supreme nectar of the destructive Consciousness of birth, old age, and death. It is with this nectar, in the guise of supreme oblation, that I satiate You night and day, Oh Supreme One.'" (T.A. XXVI. 54, 58-65)

The various practices of worship are spiritualized: "True worship consists of unification of the torrents of differentiated modalities that are identified with the infinite Consciousness of Bhairava, free and immaculate." (T.A. IV. 122)

"There is no oblation (homa) other than sacrifice of the entire universe including one's own body, its organs, its thoughts and objects. Which offering are poured into the fire of ultimate Consciousness, the illuminated heart playing the part of sacrificial spoon." (V.B., verse 149)

Yet more profound are the words of Abhinavagupta: "Without fuel, the blazing fire of all the sensory organs burns in us perpetually as the fire of consciousness penetrates the forms of the universe. These become more and more inflamed, thus bringing the oblation to fire." (T.A. IV., 201)

"For those who succeed in remaining calmly in this oblation, all the useless cacophony of becoming melts spontaneously, like a pile of snow in the hot season." (IV., 277)

Renunciation is here performed even in daily activities. Slowly one becomes detached from the ego by hurling the vestiges of duality into the fire of conscious energy. But this is still not the complete and definitive surrender that involves annihilation of the ego. Such complete abandon belongs to the path of Siva.

In discussing the behavior of renunciates who travel the path of the energy, Abhinavagupta draws the following parallel: an untrained horse is attached to a post and circles the bumpy terrain, obedient to the horsemans's will until he becomes a well-trained horse capable of running anywhere. Similarly, consciousness leaves duality and becomes identified with Bhairava through various, roundabout ways – peaceful experiences, frightening ones, etc. (IV., 205-206)

Then everything becomes stabilized and unified: there is neither pure nor impure, duality nor non-duality. Thus, diverse practices – vows, initiations, pilgrimages, baths – are neither prescribed, for they do not lead directly to Siva, nor prohibited, for they cannot introduce the least fissure in undivided Reality. (213-217) Whatever the activity, the only requirement is to fix one's heart calmly on Reality, regardless of the method. Then, impurity is that which is far from Consciousness, and purity is that which aids one in becoming identified with it. (242-243)

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Take the Closest Path

Whosoever wishes to ascede to the supreme Reality, let him take the path that is closest to him, leaving aside all others. Here there is no constraint, for the Trika school proclaims the equality of divinities, treatises, and paths, all being Siva.

Master Eckhart cites the words of Saint Paul: "All men are not called to God in the same way." And further, "If your path is that which is closest to you, you need not go through numerous external works, nor through great suffering and privations. Quite simply, there is nothing very great in these. If you do not find anything like that in yourself, stay completely at peace and do not dwell upon it anymore." (P. 180)

This path of immanence insists upon the harmony of a world in which the internal and the external are equalized, and which the divine energy transforms to the extent that it fully penetrates it. But even if the limits do widen to infinity, they do not fall away completely. The mystic does not lose himself in the "naked" [25] essence of the divinity (paramasiva): he remains at the level of the divine qualities inherent in the energy, such as immortality, power, majesty, etc.

[Endnote 25. According to Ruysbroeck's expression.]

On this subject, the Vijnanabhairavatantra says: "Eternal, omnipresent, without support, omnipenetrating, the sovereign of everything that is ... Meditating every instant upon these words, he realizes their meaning in accordance with the signified being (Siva) ." (stanza 133)

Although different in this from the path of Siva, the path of the energy could in fact lead there. Abhinavagupta shows how: "These who adore the omnipresent Lord by sharpening their thought upon one of his attributes (or on all reunited) expose themselves to the interior of their previously purified thought. They end by resting in the substrata of the attributed, where they are contained in their undifferentiated totality. Similarly, in perceiving an object, one first has a partial vision of its qualities, then a complete, undivided awareness." (1. 200)

Thus, Siva can-be revealed by his various energies or qualities, the energy being the means of identifying with Him: "Depending upon their proximity to the Consciousness of the adored being, some embrace the energies in limited number, others in unlimited number. This process has to do with the path of the energy, belonging to differentiated thought; but there is no such thing in the divine path." (I. 70-76 and 207)

Utpaladeva expresses it clearly in these verses addressed to Siva:

"Even if your Self contains distinct attributes and even if it is attained by gradual means, it manifests itself purified of attributes, once and forever, to those who share Your Love." (XVI. 2)

If the yogi who follows the lower path arrives at the threshold of intuitive Reason and sound discrimination, the mystic, thanks to this discrimination, passes beyond all knowledge. At the threshold of the divine path, enjoying one of the most intense forms of grace, he is ready to hurl himself into the very Essence of the One, all his energies freed and harmonized. His one desire to escape – from dilemma and hesitation – is so intense that he enters into the higher path of the undifferentiated. But if the mystic benefits from a less intense grace, he does not leave the path of the energy; and if he becomes attached to contemplation of the divine attributes and still possesses self-absorption, his personal consciousness, although awakened, does not entirely disappear and he enters the universal Heart only at rare moments. Only with death does he ascede to Siva and enjoy universal glory.

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