This post presents the first part of Chapter Four of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of the Empowered Method (śākta-upāya)” (note: chapter titles may not be original to Abhinavagupta). Chapter Four 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. Like Chapter Three, Chapter Four 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!
TANTRASARA - THE ESSENCE OF THE TANTRAS
CHAPTER FOUR: ILLUMINATION OF THE EMPOWERED METHOD (śākta-upāya)
When a person intends to gradually refine & purify their understanding [of reality] in order to enter into an experiential realization of his true nature as described above, s/he employs a process of contemplation (bhāvanā-krama) that presupposes sound reasoning & discernment (sat-tarka), access to authentic tradition (sad-āgama), and instruction by a teacher of Reality (or ‘a true teacher’—sad-guru).
To explain: due solely to the power of conceptualization (vikalpa), living beings imagine themselves bound, and this egoic conception is the cause of the repeated bondage that is the cycle of suffering (saṃsāra). Thus, [when] a thought-form (vikalpa) that opposes that egoic conception has arisen [and become stabilized], it crushes the thought-form that is the cause of saṃsāra, and thereby [indirectly] causes success [in one’s practice, i.e. liberation].
And that [liberating vikalpa] has such a nature:
“The one and only ultimate reality is pure unlimited Awareness—transcending all the Principles (tattvas) that are by nature limited, up to [and including] Shiva. THAT is the ground upon which all things are established. THAT is the life-force of the universe. By THAT the universe lives & breathes, and THAT alone am I. Thus what I am is one with everything and yet transcends everything (viśvottīrṇo viśvātmāham).”
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Abhinavagupta’s summary verses for Chapter Four
A bound soul who has any of these convictions—‘I am dense, I am inert matter,’ or ‘I am completely bound by my karma,’ or ‘I am impure,’ or ‘I am a pawn of others’—may seek to attain the steady conviction of the opposite of these views. If s/he succeeds in this, s/he immediately becomes the Lord whose body is the whole universe and whose soul is Consciousness. || 8 [4.1]
In whatever manner such a conviction may be attained, a Tantrik yogi should cultivate it at all times. He should not allow his perspective to become divorced from the real nature of things and thus be led into doubt by the mass of foolish teachings in the world. || 9 [4.2]
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NOTE: this teaching of Abhinavagupta should not be taken to mean that all one must do is think the right thought or affirmation—the “liberating vikalpa” above—repeatedly to actualize liberation. Indeed, in this section of the text, the first paragraph, which sets the context, must be studied closely. The liberating vikalpa cited above is liberating only if it engenders a process of contemplation (bhāvanā-krama) that is empowered by three key factors: access to an authentic lineage-based tradition (sad-āgama), instruction by a ‘true teacher’ or a ‘teacher of Reality’ (sad-guru), and rarest of all, the capacity to exercise sound reasoning & discernment (sat-tarka), which will be explained further in the rest of Chapter Four. When these three factors empower one’s bhāvanā, then the process engendered by the contemplation of the liberating vikalpa will be successful. As the summary verse says, one must attain a steady conviction, a wordless understanding of the truth, before it can manifest as nonconceptual direct experience. That mode of experience is pointed to by the phrase viśva-vapuś cid-ātmā — the One whose body is the whole universe and whose soul is Consciousness.