God is the Self: the secret teaching of the Trishirobhairava

This is part of a series of posts translating Chapter One of the 1000-year-old masterpiece called “Light on the Tantras” (Tantrāloka). This post continues from the previous post on 'The Nature of God/dess' and concludes the present section. After citing the more conservative, orthodox Saiddhāntika texts (see previous posts), Abhinavagupta now cites a lost Kaula Trika scripture that appears (from the scattered quotations we have of it) to have been a mysterious, powerful, even astounding work. The whole section translated below, which climaxes the teaching on The Nature of God, is based on this scripture: the Triśirobhairava-tantra.

Now our study/contemplation of Light on the Tantras continues . . .

तत्त्वग्रामस्य सर्वस्य धर्मः स्यादनपायवान् ।
आत्मैव हि स्वभावात्मेत्युक्तं श्रीत्रिशिरोमते॥

The sacred Triśirobhairava-tantra teaches that the indestructible nature of the entire collection of Principles of Reality (tattva-grāma) is simply the Self, for they have the Self as their essential nature. || 82 

My commentary: the nature of all thirty-six tattvas (see Tantra Illuminated pp. 124-49) is the Self in the sense that the Self is Awareness (caitanyam ātmā, Śiva-sūtra 1.1) and all phenomena are simply forms of that singular divine Awareness. In other words, everything is internal to Awareness and nothing but Awareness.

“The exceedingly subtle collection of Principles situated in the Heart, in the whole body, in essence-nature (svabhāva), is known [in this tantra] by the word grāma (the ‘village’ or ‘community’ or ‘collectivity’). || 83 

“The nature (dharma) of that collectivity is simply the Self, it is taught, [the realization of which is] flooded with the immortal nectar (amṛta) of Śiva. Realization resides in and is incumbent upon the Light of Awareness (prakāśa), [which is discovered] in the Center (madhya) between Being and Non-being, between feeling and absence of feeling, and [between all other pairs of opposites]. || 84 

The view of reality from the Center, the inmost Self, is very different from all other views. There crystal-clear insight into the ineffable nature of reality arises, resulting in the experience of everything flooded with śivāmṛta, the divine nectar: awareness blissfully relishing itself in the form of whatever it perceives, moment-to-moment. (Kinda like what this guy describes in his blog.) As the verse implies, one way to access the Center is letting go of attachment or aversion to both of any pair of opposites, such as existence/nonexistence, pleasure/pain, feeling/numbness, love/loneliness, etc. (Note: both these verses are quotes or paraphrases from the Triśirobhairava-tantra.)

“That which must be known is [the state of] abiding in one’s true home, which is the state of seeing free of all obscurations. One who has become ‘stainless’ ( = free of mala) by virtue of this pure insightdescribed as clear naked Realityis said [in this tantra] to be one whose conduct follows the ‘way of the village’.” For such a one, everything is accomplished. || 85-86ab  

That-which-must-be known (jñeya) refers always to the goal of spiritual practice, usually equated with God, but here said to be simply “abiding in one’s true home” or “existing in one’s natural state,” a state of clear seeing, free of stories, confabulations, and mental projections. But what’s all this about the “the way of the village” (grāma-dharma)? First off, this phrase has a double meaning: I could have translated it as “the nature of the collectivity (of tattvas),” which, we have seen, is the Self. So we are talking here about the truth-seer as one whose conduct follows the nature of the universal Self. But I translated “the way of the village” because in the Sanskrit that sense is also there, implying naturalness, an earthy, organic, spontaneous way of being. The phrase grāma-dharma-vṛtti is intentionally multilayered: such an awakened being is “engaged in community-dharma,” “moves in alignment with the Whole,” and “behaves in a villagey way” while his or her “activity upholds the Whole” (these being four translations of the same Sanskrit phrase). Note that the last phrase in the verse above (“For such a one . . .”) may or may not be Abhinava’s addition to the quotation.

Abandoning the upper and lower [breaths, i.e. prāṇa and apāna)], he should enter [the Center]. He [then] abides in beauty & delight (rāma), situated in the Center. [Then, even while] moving about, staying still, opening or closing [the eyes], dreaming or in the waking state, running, jumping, toiling, feeling [all the currents of] energy (śakti-vedana), and likewise [in] countless diverse states of mind, feelings, thoughts, and actions, this delight & beauty (rāma) pervades.”  It is God (śiva) [who is] the supreme cause in all this. || 86cd-88 

Abhinava cleverly plays with the words here, equating rāma with śiva (note that Sanskrit has no capital letters which would distinguish the literal meanings of the words from the names of the deities). For the first two sentences of this passage, cf. Vijñāna-bhairava-tantra verses 62-64.

Note: Abhinavagupta’s commentator, Jayaratha, often quotes directly from the original scripture that Abhinava is paraphrasing. This is important when the original has been lost to us since Jayaratha’s time (c. 1200), as in this case, but also because it allows us to see the difference between the original scripture and Abhinava’s pedagogically-motivated rephrasing of it. Here we see a different reading in Jayaratha’s quotation from the Triśirobhairava: “Frequenting the upper and lower [breaths], his mind ascends due to [the fusion of] prāṇa and apāna (cf. VBT v. 64). Abandoning the upper, he should enter [the Center]. Here, by virtue of doing so, he abides in delight (rāma).” The Center, yogically speaking, is the central channel (madhya-nāḍī), as Jayaratha suggests (he quotes VBT verse 35 in this connection). On the use of the word rāma, which in the original text the Goddess queries, Triśirobhairava (the deity of the scripture) explains, “Abiding in rāma (delight/beauty) is proclaimed by Me as [the attainment of] yoga, O Great Queen.” This delight, adds Jayaratha, is “not different from the divine play which manifests the whole universe.” Triśirobhairava teaches “This is known as the 14-fold delight, pervaded by Śiva, the supreme Self, existing within all bhāvas (entities and states of being), and characterized by countless forms.”

“With the mind’s impurities having waned, and due to [his ability in] restraining [the activity of] memory, s/he meditates on the supreme goal of meditation, [that] which remains steady in [all] coming and going. || 89 

The correspondence of this verse with Ramaṇa Maharṣhi's teaching — “Thoughts come and go. Feelings and experiences come and go. Sit and find out what is it that remains.” — is startling!

Commentator Jayaratha adds that memory is the basis of all thought-constructs. This is a good point — without your memories, who are you? Sit for a moment and sense/feel yourself without reference to your memories. Are you still there? If so, how can your real self be dependent on, or formed from, memories?

“He then attains supreme Śiva, who is called Bhairava, through his japa. Japa is taught to be Śiva’s own nature, free from the states of existence and non-existence.” || 90

‘Japa’ usually means mantra repetition, but here it probably means repeated connection with the ground of one's being: that which remains still & steady as everything else comes and goes. This verse (90) seems to conclude the Triśirobhairava quote (Abhinava almost never tells us exactly when a quote or paraphrase concludes). If so, the following words are his.

Thus, here too, any [apparent] divisions such as [imagining one’s true nature to be] ‘distant’ or ‘close’ are conceived out of His Freedom, relying [solely] upon the [absolute] Autonomy of Awareness. Thus, due to the all-encompassing fullness of that Freedom, it accomplishes what seems impossible. Indeed, in what form does the Highest Divinity not shine? || 91-92 

“What seems impossible” -- i.e. that divine Consciousness can appear as something that seems not Divine and one’s ever-present true nature can appear to be near or far. The last question is of course rhetorical.

He/it shines without veils; [yet] veiling its own nature, it appears [as whatever is perceived]. He/it appears veiled and unveiled, [becoming] manifold by joining with differentiation. || 93 

The Divine, the ultimate Reality, is simultaneously immediately apparent and yet veiled. The truth of Being is right in front of you (and is you) every moment, yet it can go unrecognized. The paradox is that there is no paradox. Isn’t that the damnedest thing? :)

Thus the triad of Powers within the Lord—Willing, Knowing, and Acting—are [collectively] known by another name, that is, Freedom, as was made clear by the gracious Masters [of our lineage]. || 94

Abhinavagupta argues that the highest ( = most all-encompassing) śakti is svātantrya-śakti, the Power of Freedom or Autonomy, because it is the context in which all the other śaktis operate.

This concludes the passage on the Nature of God.  

Next: The Divine Name: Bhairava.