The Rite of the Phonemes (Tantrasaara Chapter Five, Part 3)

This post presents the third and final part of Chapter Five of Abhinavagupta's Tantrasāra (“The Essence of the Tantras”), titled “Illumination of the Individual/Embodied Method (ānava-upāya)”. Chapter Five, like Chapter Three and Four, is being presented in multiple posts. This part of Chapter Five teaches, in code, the ‘secret’ Heart-mantra of the Trika, the bīja of Goddess Parādevī.

I've been working on this text for over sixteen years, and finally have reached a translation that I'm satisfied with. Chapter Five requires much explanation, and that explanation will appear in the forthcoming book version of my translation. Enjoy! 



Practice #3: The Rite of the Phonemes (varṇa-uccāra)

‘Varṇa’ is a kind of resonance vibrating within this very uccāra practice as a nearly imperceptible semblance of the primary [mantric] forms, i.e. the seed-syllables of Creation and Dissolution [taught in the Trika]. Due to this practice, one may realize fundamental Awareness (para-samvitti).

To explain: when the phonemes from ka to sa, either with or without vowel accompaniment,[1] are pronounced internally or [simply] contemplated [intensely], there is direct contact with the innate vibrancy of Awareness, distinguished by its constancy. This contact is complete & perfect, because in it there is no dependence on conventional meaning. Even [ordinary] words which depend on conventional meaning can manifest their referents, as in the case of daydreaming and so on.[3]

The secret of the practice of varṇa is this: by contacting unsurpassed Awareness, the heart, throat, and lips are made as one, and the Heart and the pair of dvādaśānta are made as one.

Note: This cryptic statement can only be understood with reference to the parallel passage in the Tantrāloka. There Abhinava teaches that contacting (sparśa) unsurpassed Awareness (saṃvit) means to seize the first intuition (saṃvedana) of a state of awareness, whether of (e.g.) pleasure (sukha), astonishment (sītkāra), being (sat), utility (samyak), or equanimity (sāmya). This contact with prediscursive awareness is denoted by the phoneme s of the bīja mantra of Parādevī indirectly given here.  The subtle centers (cakras) of the heart, throat, and palate are here associated with the triad of Will, Knowledge, Action and the triadic phoneme auThe pair of dvādaśānta are at the crown of the head (śakti-dvādaśānta) and twelve finger-widths above that (śiva-dvādaśānta), denoting the aspirated phoneme called visarga (, which is denoted by two dots in Sanskrit scripts). All these phonemes are aligned along the central channel (suṣumnā nāḍī) and are to be fused with it, actualizing the Heart-mantra of Creation as a subtle awareness of unified pulsation.

According to some authorities, varṇa refers to [a vision of] internal colors—white, yellow, blue, and so on—that arise as an immediate result of the inner ‘representation’ (vimarśa of the bīja) in its full vibrancy. The arising of that vision causes one to experience innate Awareness.

Varṇa-uccāra summary verse:
Awareness expands to complete wholeness in the varṇa rite of bīja- and piṇḍa-mantras, because they activate it without any referents, moving and pausing with both the moon (inhale) and sun (exhale), until one enters the state of balanced equipoise.[5] ||

Chapter Five overall summary verse:

When one’s conceptualization [of reality] does not reach perfect fullness spontaneously, it may be refined and purified through Methods. Such Methods are manifold in our system; in the spheres of imagination, prāṇa, the body, and lastly external things [the Method] is taught as the Individual/Embodied Method. There is absolutely no difference among these methods in terms of their practice [yielding] the [same] supreme result [i.e., liberation]. ||



[1] As Jayaratha notes, bīja-mantras with vowels are creative and without vowels (aka pinda mantras) are (beneficially) destructive.

[3] The thought is completed in Tantrāloka 5.140: “How much more so these seed-syllables (bījas and piṇḍas), independent of conventional meaning, that vibrate as Awareness?”

[5] This verse seems to be corrupted with scribal errors; need to consult the manuscripts.