Attaining Your Innate Power


Chapter Fifteen of The Recognition Sūtras (the Pratyabhijñā-hṛdaya) contains one of the most powerful teachings that the text has to offer. It initiates the triumphant and revelatory final arc of the text. So let’s cut to the chase and encounter the empowering Sūtra Fifteen:

बललाभे विश्वमात्मसात्करोति ॥१५॥

Attaining one’s innate power, one absorbs everything into oneself. || 15 ||

What is this innate power or force (bala) of which Kṣhema speaks? As he goes on to explain, it is Awareness in its awakened/inflamed/activated mode. In this mode, Kṣhema says, viśvam ātmasātkaroti—‘one absorbs everything into oneself’, or, we could equally well translate, ‘one makes the whole universe one’s own’. This is the state of unity-consciousness, the state of the all-inclusive ‘I’. Though you may have had a spiritual experience of unity-consciousness that came over you in a moment, coming to abide in unity-consciousness as your default state is a process that takes time, as we shall see.

So now the question is, how does one attain one’s innate power? Here we see the problem with separating the sūtras from their context, as Shantānanda and others have done, because in fact Kshemarāja introduces Sūtra Fifteen with a when/then clause. He clearly tells us: when you do this particular mindfulness practice (explained below), then you attain your innate power. So that’s pretty darn important.

This is a key practice in Kṣema’s system, and for reasons best known to him, he slips it in here with little fanfare. Though it is subtle and perhaps elusive, he will give us more concrete techniques in Chapter Eighteen that will help us connect more fully with what he says here.

When one immerses oneself in the practice of mindfully attending to the process of emission and reabsorption while bringing about the [normal] expansive outflow [toward ‘objectivity’] and contraction [inward to subjectivity] of the goddesses of the senses, then… (Sūtra Fifteen)

The ‘sense-goddesses’ are the faculties of visual perception and so on, understood not as passive receptors of data, but as vital energies that flow in two directions. When they flow outward, they expand, and function as the means by which Awareness creates a world for itself to experience. When they flow inward, they contract—in the sense of pulling in toward the Awareness-core—and if they are allowed to contract sufficiently through meditative practice, Awareness can joyfully repose in innate subjectivity, tasting the sweetness of pure Being. This is the spanda, or natural oscillation, of the sense-goddesses: outward toward Becoming, inward toward Being. This is happening all the time on different scales: such as in the cycles of waking and sleeping, and in the alternation of introversive contemplative moments (where the world, if still seen, is like background wallpaper) and extroversive active moments (which often include a kind of benign self-forgetfulness).          

Here, though, Kṣemarāja invites a somewhat advanced nondual mindfulness practice: throughout any example of this spanda, pay devotional attention to it as a process of the emission and reabsorption of the Power of Awareness that you are. This entails a kind of reconditioning or reconfiguring of your very sense of the nature of reality. Instead of your habitual mental image of a more-or-less static world ‘out there’ that you encounter with your passive senses, here you open to the possibility of experiencing that what-you-are blossoms forth into whatever you see (or hear, etc.) at the moment that you see it. When you open your eyes, what-you-are manifests as everything you see. When you close your eyes, those phenomena dissolve into what-you-are. As quantum physicists have now thoroughly demonstrated, it is meaningless to talk of the existence of even a particle of matter without an observer; before observation, there is only probability, potentiality. Observation is creation. When we open the sense-gates, we emit phenomena, in the sense that nothing coalesces into definable existence without an observer. Each embodied locus of Awareness (you and me) manifests a unique world of experience that overlaps with all the other ‘worlds’ to a greater or lesser extent, but always to some extent, because no form of Awareness is separable from any other.

When we close the doors of perception, phenomena relinquish their manifest form and dissolve into the field of absolute potential; the part that physics has not yet demonstrated is that in your deepest nature, you are that field of absolute potential. Therefore, whatever dissolves, dissolves into what you are. Now you might say, “When I close my eyes, things don’t really dissolve into me, because someone else is observing them and thereby maintaining them.” But this objection pivots on your conditioned belief in objective reality. Each of us constitutes a unique vantage point that the One has on itself, which means that no one else sees phenomena exactly the way you do—so when you close the sense-gates or go unconscious, phenomena as seen uniquely by you do in fact dissolve, reabsorbed into the field of absolute potential that you ultimately are.

Test this out: wherever you are, close your eyes and put down the book, then orient yourself to the possibility that when you open your eyes, Awareness flashes forth and becomes everything you see. When you close your eyes again, don’t you feel the impression of those visual phenomena inside you? If you hear a sound, just after it ceases, don’t you feel its vibration within you? If you smell a redolent scent, doesn’t it perfume your awareness for a few moments after it’s gone? Taste, touch, words, all the same. Phenomena are dissolving into you. That’s where they go. There’s nowhere else for them to go.

Once you’ve got the feel of things dissolving into you, it’s easier to start experiencing that things arise from you, as an expression of what-you-are. But that’s the advanced practice, because it takes a strong energy body to digest the realization that everything—all the beauty and all the misery that you directly experience—is an ever-changing kaleidoscopic expression of what you are.[1]

The more basic practice, then, was already described in the first paragraph of this section: simply pay attention to the spanda by which the energy of your awareness moves outward, then inward. Outward toward ‘objectivity’; inward toward subjectivity. It happens dozens or hundreds of times a day. When awareness pulls inward, whenever that happens in your day, let it pull further in then you usually do; if possible, all the way in to the core. Let it rest there for a timeless moment. A sacred still point. You may find that when it moves outward again, reality is a little clearer, a little fresher, a little more vivid. Contemplate the implications of that fact.  

Doing this mindfulness practice leads us to the attainment of our innate power. Next Kshemarāja defines that power.

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Awareness is [referred to as] ‘innate power’ (bala) when it submerges the veils of [identification with] the body, prāṇa, etc. and allows its true nature to expansively emerge.

Again we return to the theme of the predominance of Awareness versus the predominance of habitual identification with the body, mind, prāṇa, etc. (for which see Sūtra Five). Here we learn that when Awareness is predominant or ‘emergent’, it intensifies and is then referred to as bala, innate power. Spacious Awareness and flowing Energy become the primary context for life-experience, as opposed to dense matter or thought-content being primary.

Next Kshema glosses the sūtra, which means he provides a word-by-word explanation of each phrase. First he cites a phrase from the sūtra, then he gives alternate words that express the same idea, to make sure we’re clear on the meaning. Note that in the sūtra and in the following paragraph, the actual subject-word is left unstated: I supply the abstract third person (‘one’), referring to the hypothetical practitioner, but could just as easily have put ‘it’, referring of course to Awareness.

Thus, upon attaining [one’s] innate power, i.e., upon taking refuge in [one’s] emergent essence-nature, one absorbs everything, from Earth to Sadāśiva, into oneself, i.e., causes it to appear as [it really is,] non-different from one’s own essence-nature.

As said by an earlier master in the Krama-sūtra, which uses its owns technical terminology:

Just as a fire inflamed burns all its fuel, he will certainly devour the bonds of the sense-objects. |

‘Attaining one’s innate power’ is here glossed with ‘taking refuge in one’s emergent essence-nature’, where emergent (which I’m using here as the opposite of submerged) refers to the mode in which Awareness is predominant and therefore potentiated. In other words, having awakened (to some degree) to the truth of Awareness as your essence-nature, you attain your innate power by focusing on, seeing the significance of, and centering in that Awareness. Increasingly accessing your innate power thereby, you become capable of digesting any experience and becoming one with anything. These two are intimately related, because when by virtue of your increased power and capacity, you can recognize that whatever you experience is an aspect of what-you-are, then you are able to ‘digest’ that experience fully, which means allow all its energy to pass through your system without resistance. Remember that resistance not only means the attitude ‘I don’t like this and don’t want to feel it’ but also can take the subtler form of making a story out of the experience, even a ‘positive’ story, if the latter helps you avoid feeling a painful experience fully. Now if you say that you can recognize that experience X is an aspect of what you are, but you still resist it, I would respond that you’re only thinking or believing that it’s an aspect of what you are; if you actually recognize that truth, resistance naturally falls away. If then you ask exactly how to recognize it, the only answer is to continue to marinate in the spiritual teachings and practices. Recognition comes when it comes. However, it helps to thoroughly divest yourself of the wrong view that there are certain kinds of energy that are somehow fundamentally other than your essence-nature. When you have that view, this recognition is not possible. Note that Kṣemarāja tells us that to ‘absorb’ anything into oneself is to see it (literally, cause it to appear) as non-different from one’s essence-nature (sva-svarūpa). He tells us that this includes anything and everything from tattva three to tattva thirty-six, in other words, the entirety of reality. In this way he teaches that nothing is other than what-you-are. Only when this is truly recognized can you absorb/digest/process anything.

Notice, by the way, that Kṣema indirectly tells us what our essence-nature is: by describing the ‘absorption’ of everything into oneself in terms of tattvas three to thirty-six, he clearly yet indirectly states that our essence-nature is tattvas one and two, that is, Śiva/Śakti, cid-ānanda, Awareness blissfully reposing in itself. Everything that appears is an appearance within Awareness and a vibration of Awareness, and therefore everything is an expression of your essence-nature. (The bliss element only becomes apparent through the direct recognition of that truth.)

A metaphor for this absorption process is given in a citation from the Krama-sūtra (a scripture now sadly lost), in which awakened Awareness is compared to intensified fire that more effectively burns through its fuel (note that the word udbodhita can mean ‘awakened’ or ‘intensified’). Here the ‘fuel’ is the ‘bonds of the sense-objects’. The things our senses perceive become like bonds when we see them as other than self, for then we grasp after them in desire or push them away out of fear. To ‘devour’ the bonds of the sense-objects is to dissolve their binding properties by seeing those objects as an expression of what you are. If the whole universe is yours, what’s the point of grasping after anything or pushing anything away?

If we wish to abide in this state of unity-consciousness as our default state, we must gain full access to our innate power, since it takes energy to absorb everything into oneself, or as Nisargadatta put it, “devour the world”. Why should it take energy when in actuality this seamless unity is already the way things are? Because to stabilize this as our default state, we have to overcome our ingrained tendency to identify with a tiny portion of the whole, a portion called ‘me’—a tendency reinforced over countless lifetimes. Ultimately, as Kṣema describes in Chapters Sixteen and Nineteen, everything has to be re-seen and recalibrated in light of your essence-nature. Recalibration (also called integration) is a subtle process not adequately addressed in most nondualist literature that wrongly imagines the attainment of unity-consciousness as being like the flip of a perceptual switch. To put this teaching simply, once you have recognized what you are, then everything that was previously experienced in the dualistic mode of being must be re-seen as an expression of what you are, then it is recalibrated and integrated. And it doesn’t work to just think of something and realize, “Ah, that too am I,” because in that case you are recognizing only your mental image of the thing, not the thing-in-itself. Post-awakening, the saṃskāras of duality are gradually effaced through the process of seeing everything, internal or external, with fresh eyes and recalibrating each perception and experience in the light of your true nature, until a tipping point is reached and the totality integrates in a flood.

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This post is an excerpt from Chapter Fifteen of my forthcoming book, The Recognition Sutras

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[1] Notice I said “that you directly experience”. If you read about horrors in a country far away, it would be wrong to say that those horrors are an expression of what you are, because they are not arising in your field of experience; only a vikalpa (mental construct) about them is arising in your field. So only the vikalpa is an expression of what you are. But, you might say, “those things are really happening!” Perhaps so, but not the way you’re imagining them. A vikalpa sometimes partially represents reality, but it never presents reality. More on this in Chapter Eighteen.