The Divine Method (Tantrasaara Chapter Three, Part 1)

This post presents the first part of Chapter Three of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of The Divine Method (śāmbhava-upāya)” (note: chapter titles may not be original to Abhinavagupta). Chapter Three is significantly longer than the previous chapters, and so it will be 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. This chapter is more mystical and abstruse than the previous chapters, so it requires explanation, and that explanation will appear in the forthcoming book version of my translation. In this post, all the words that follow are those of the great master Abhinavagupta (translated by Christopher Wallis—all rights reserved). Enjoy! 



We have taught that the Divine Principle (śiva-tattva) is the Light of Consciousness (prakāśa). If one is not able to enter into its undivided wholeness (akhaṇḍa-maṇḍala) all at once, then, simply focusing on its most fundamental potency, the Power of Autonomy (svātantriya-śakti), one may experience Immersion into the Absolute (bhairava-samāveśa, = śāmbhava-samāveśa) without any [need for] conceptualization. This is the teaching for such a one:

This entire conditioned reality is simply a reflection in the space of Awareness.

We use this metaphor because it [i.e., what people call ‘reality’] possesses the characteristics of a reflection. For a reflection is that which, being unable to appear on its own, manifests only by virtue of being intermingled with another—like the appearance of one’s face in a mirror, like the [‘sympathetic’] flavor in saliva [when seeing or remembering delicious food], like smell in the nose, like the sensation of sexual union in the organs of pleasure [when remembering making love with one’s beloved], like the feeling of a spear in one’s organs of internal sensation [when witnessing someone being impaled], or like an echo in the sky.[1]

For example, the ‘flavor’ [in this case] is not primary [but rather is a ‘reflection’], as is obvious by its lack of an observable effect, such as the soothing of an ailment.[1] Neither are sympathetic smell or sensation like their primary causes, because they fail to catalyze a series of effects, being disconnected from the substances that they are qualities of, the latter not actually being present.

But it cannot be said that these sympathetic reflections are unreal, because we see shuddering of the body [in the case of a smell that triggers a samskāra], ejaculation [in the case of a pleasurable sexual memory], and so on. Sound, too, is not the primary thing, because it is only someone who speaks that hears an echo returning, as it were.[2] Thus, just as each these sense-experiences manifests as a reflection, in the same way, the universe manifests as a reflection within the Divine Light of Consciousness.

Here an objection might arise, to wit, “What would be the original [that is reflected in the space of awareness]?” There is no such thing whatsoever. “What, you mean the reflection has no cause?” Oh, then your question concerns a cause! Then what’s the point of using the word ‘original’? The cause is simply the Power of the Divine Consciousness, which will be [explained as] another synonym for its Autonomy.

Because he holds everything [within himself] as a reflection, the Blessed Lord is everything. Indeed, the universe consisting of [his] Consciousness is the foundation for the manifestation of conscious agency (caitanya). “Surely, that very universe within Consciousness appears in opposition to it.” —It is in just this sense that it/he ‘holds a reflection’.

And insofar as the very nature of the Highest Divinity (parameśvara) is the fact that ‘he’ consists of the universe, the universe is not and could never be ‘untouched’ [i.e., he is not, and could not be, unaware of it]. This is so because it is impossible that one whose essential nature is Awareness could be unaware of that which he is. For if he were unaware of that which he is, he would in fact be insentient.

And this self-awareness is not like conventional thought, but rather is taught [in the scriptures] as filled with the Supreme Resonance (para-nāda), inseparable from its essence-nature as pure Awareness.


Abhinavagupta’s summary verse for Chapter Three

The entire world shines here within the Self, just as a complex creation appears in a single mirror. However, Awareness articulates & touches the universe [of its experience] in accordance with the flavor (rasa) of its own self-awareness—no mirror can do that. ||

~ ~ ~

[1] The idea here concerns sympathetic experiences: the seeming flavor in one's saliva when merely seeing or remembering delicious food one has eaten before; the painful contraction in one's own innards when seeing someone impaled [not so uncommon 1000 years ago], the feeling of pleasure in one’s genitals when remembering sexual union with one’s beloved; and so on.

[1] Note: Āyurveda teaches that “food is medicine” and this seems to be in Abhinava’s mind here. It is perhaps a point of interest that for Abhinava, it goes without saying that the very food that would soothe someone’s ailment would be mouth-watering to that person—and this is very much not the case (or at least not intuitively true) for most people today.

[2] Text uncertain for this sentence.