How Awareness Expresses (Tantrasaara Chapter Three, Part 3)

This post presents the third part of Chapter Three of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of The Divine Method (śāmbhava-upāya)”. The previous part is here. Chapter Three is significantly longer than the previous chapters, and so it is being presented in multiple posts.

This section of Chapter Three presents the profound mystical significance of the phonemes (sound-units) of the Sanskrit language and how they represent the fundamental powers (śaktis) of awareness. A thorough explanation of Abhinavagupta’s revelatory teaching 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! 



This Emission (visarga) is the singular Power of the Blessed One in the birthing of the universe.

It can be reckoned thus: when Awareness (parāmarśa) is totally undivided, then there is only One: the Blessed One (bhagavān).* When Awareness is divided into masculine and feminine aspects (lit., “in terms of seed and womb”), there are [two]: Power (śakti) and one who holds Her (i.e., Śiva). When perceiving in terms of the eight groups [of phonemes, presided over by the Eight Mothers], there are nine classes [in total], with [Śiva as the ninth,] the Lord of the Circle.[1] When one perceives predominately in terms of each individual [phoneme], It has a fifty-fold nature. Regarding those same [phonemes], when one perceives in terms of the subdivisions that are present [for some of them], It takes the form of eighty-one aspects (ardhamātras or “syllabic instants”).  

But in fact, there are really six [fundamental] ‘reflections’ (a, ā, i, ī, u, ū) that develop & maintain the perfect fullness of the universal Power of the Highest Divinity, becoming twelve (those six plus e, ai, o, au, aṁ, aḥ) by diffusing and reabsorbing. These are the very [twelve] powers that, due to their quality of articulating awareness (parāmarśa),[2] are interpreted as “the 12 Blessed Little Kālīs” (Śrī Kālikās). These pure reflections are simply [aspects of] Power (śakti); they assume an intermediate form on the level of Pure Wisdom (i.e., śuddhavidyā-tattva), that of Mantras and Lords of Mantra (Vidyās and Vidyeśvaras), due to being contracted by the incipient expansion of Creative Projection (māyā). (To understand this teaching, please see The Recognition Sutras, Chapter Three.)

Further, within the realm of plurality (māyā), their diversification into distinct phenomena becoming clear and explicit, they assume the quality of concrete language-units — which, having taken on their everyday aspect [as the phonemes of language] on the Visionary, Intermediate, and Articulate [levels of the Word (see Tantra Illuminated p. 166)], conclude by assuming their nature as external principles (the tattvas that correspond to and express those phonemes). These phonemes, despite being ‘māyic’, become potent when viewed as almost like bodies that can be resuscitated with the pure articulations of awareness (parāmarśa) that are the life-breath [to those inert ‘bodies’]. Then they become enlivened mantras that can bestow both enjoyment and liberation. [That is to say, mantras are only effective if infused with the fundamental potencies of Awareness, Will, and Insight.]

Thus it is that a person attains embodied liberation through the Divine Immersion (śāmbhava-samāveśa) by nonconceptually seeing himself as nothing but the ground in which all these Reflections (parāmarśa) come to rest, and in which all the various Principles (tattvas), beings, and worlds are reflected.

Here too, as before, there is no necessity whatsoever for actual mantra-japa and other [such external forms].

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.** ||

~ ~ ~

* Here Abhinavagupta names the One as Śiva; but elsewhere (e.g., Tantrāloka 3.234) he names the One as the Goddess. This interchangeability of divine names, also seen in The Recognition Sutras (first chapter), is theologically significant. The proliferation of names for the One shows

[1] The eight groups being the velar consonants, the palatal consonants, the retroflex consonants, the dental consonants, the labial consonants, the semivowels, the sibilants, and the aspirate (see The Recognition Sutras, pp. 275-276).

[2] One meaning of the verbal root kal is ‘to sound’, here interpreted as ‘to articulate’: so Kālī can mean ‘She who articulates’.

** The translation of the last phrase is Sanderson’s suggestion.