Guru, Diksha, Mantra and Symbolism

- Prof Gavin Flood

Shared realities, which at the higher levels are deities, are expressed in symbolic forms. By symbolic form I mean a structure disclosed at one level of the cosmos which is a projection of and participates in a higher reality. Certain forms expressed at one level embody or reflect the qualities of a higher level from which they are derived. There is an order of meaning disclosed by symbolic forms which reflects the order of the cosmos. In one sense, all forms are symbolic in so far as they are the consequence of and share in the omnipresent reality of the body of consciousness, but in a different sense symbolic forms reflect the cosmical hierarchy and so some are more central to the Trika tradition, by which I mean more transformative, than others.

The Trika concept of 'symbol' has a western semantic equivalent in this expression 'symbolic form'. My use of this term, borrowed from Cassirer, is not disconnected with his in so far as for him:

(i) symbolic forms are grounded in the activity of consciousness
(ii) they lead to a determinate order of meaning
(iii) what can be known depends upon the symbols consciousness creates, and
(iv) any perceptive act is 'symbolically pregnant', by which he means interwoven with or related to a 'total meaning'.

In other words, and the Trika authors would agree, consciousness is transformable through symbolic forms which reveal a determinate order of meaning and open levels of reality which would otherwise be closed.

Furthermore, every perception, and therefore every form, is potentially transformative. Where the Trika authors would differ from Cassirer is in what that determinate order of meaning is, and in their conception of consciousness which is far wider. The Trika understanding is also, as Muller-Ortega has observed, close to Eliade's. As Muller-Ortega notes, this is hardly surprising given Eliade's interests in India and the influence of tantric traditions upon his work.

A symbolic form is an expression at one level which discloses a higher level, revealing a structure of reality not immediately apparent. For the Trika higher realities, by which I mean the shared realities of the universe, reveal themselves in symbolic forms and are therefore channels of communication between and within shared realities or collective bodies. For example, the term linqa, which can designate both 'symbol' in our sense and 'sign' in the sense of outer emblem, as well as denoting the particular 'phallic' symbol of Siva, has, according to Abhinavagupta, a manifest and unmanifest or hidden meaning. That is, the symbol is a hierarchical structure whose outer form points to and is derived from its higher, and ultimately its supreme, form. Abhinavagupta classifies the term 'symbol' (liṅga) into the categories of unmanifested (avyakta), manifest-unmanifested (vyaktāvyakta) and manifested (vyakta). These form a hierarchical sequence of meaning.

The unmanifested symbol is equated with the 'supreme heart of tranquility' (viśrāntihṛdayaṃ paraṃ) which Jayaratha furthermore equates with other synonyms for the absolute, such as awareness of subjectivity (ahaṃparāmarśaṃ) whose nature is the vibration of consciousness (samvitspandātmakaṃ) and so on. This is the real meaning of linga for Abhinavagupta, leading to true perception (sākṣāt), to which the manifested or external symbol points and of which it is an expression. This unmanifested symbol is defined by Abhinavagupta as that into which 'this universe is dissolved (līnaṃ) and which is understood(gamyate) as abiding within (antaḥsthaṃ). This is characterized by the consciousness of the divine fullness of power'. The manifest-unmanifested symbol is equated with the individual body pervaded by the cosmos (adhvan), while the manifested symbol is a form of vibration which is particularized (viśeṣaspandarūpa), that is, an outer form (bahīrūpa).

A similar structure can be seen with the term mudrā ('seal') which denotes a ritual hand gesture, but also higher levels of the cosmos derived from Shiva. For example, Utpaladeva says that the mudrā of Shiva has been placed on everything in the universe.

The unmanifested symbol corresponds to the essential cosmic body, the manifested-unmanifest symbol to the totality of shared realities within the body, and the manifested symbol to particular forms external to the body. (Thus the term linga is distinct from the term cihna, 'sign’, which denotes the outer manifestations of being a yogi.)

Another example can be found in the letters of the alphabet which are symbolic forms for communicating within a horizontal shared reality (i.e. the shared reality of the language community) and also between vertical shared realities as the diachronic cosmogony of the varṇādhvan. Different symbolic forms reach different shared realities or collective bodies. The symbolic forms which are thought to be derived from the highest, most embracing levels of the universe will therefore be the most transformative, though in the idealistic metaphysics of monistic Shaivism all forms are, of course, ultimately derived from and rest in supreme consciousness: the manifested or outer linga is an expression of and participates in the unmanifested or hidden linga, which is its source.

The lower levels of the cosmos, as we have seen, are more diffuse and diversified and therefore more prolific in symbolic forms. Yet simultaneously they are more solid and distinct, and are therefore more exact or clearly defined. Within the logic of these systems, the need for symbolic forms at the lower levels is far greater. At these lower levels there is more distinction between body, person and world, therefore more ignorance, and more need for guidance and direction which traditions say that some symbolic forms give. In claiming divine origin, Tantric religious traditions, such as the Trika, also claim that their symbolic forms give access to higher echelons. In this way the tradition provides guidance and context for the individual regarded as being cut-off from higher realities.

There are also symbolic forms of the essential cosmic body thought to be direct expressions of it and giving direct access to it. Such a form is, of course, the most transformative and has the most soteriological value. I shall call this a direct symbolic form; a form, such as a sat guru, giving direct access to the essential cosmic body and contrasted with an indirect symbolic form giving access only to higher shared realities. This is an important distinction in the Trika, for only some forms are thought to give direct access to the transcendent. As there is a hierarchy of shared realities, so there is a hierarchy of symbolic forms, some being more spiritually efficacious (i.e. more transformative) than others.

These two kinds of symbolic form, the direct and the indirect, are distinguished within the Trika according to the level to which they grant access and of which they are a manifestation. An initiation which gives access to the body of consciousness, the Nirvāṇa dīkṣā, is higher than an initiation which gives access only to the body of the tradition, the Samaya-dīkṣā. Such a direct symbolic form will hold a central place in the tradition and other symbolic forms will be defined in relation to this. Arguably the guru is the most central (thought to be the most transformative) symbolic form in the Trika, and other symbolic forms take on meaning only in relation to this central figure. Dīkṣā and mantra, religious forms of central importance, take on meaning only in relation to the guru who imbues them with power.

The guru is a symbolic form who endows the other symbolic forms with his power. The relationship between these can be shown in the following diagram: the guru receiving his power from the essential cosmic body through the lineage, and thence endowing other symbolic forms with his power.

The importance of the guru in the Trika, indeed as in other Indian religious traditions, cannot be underestimated. Since the time of the Upaniṣadas the guru or teacher (ācārya) has held a central position as the conveyor of a tradition or body of teachings, and as the conveyor of spiritual power. These two, the conveyor of the tradition and the conveyor of power, are not necessarily the same. Indeed, two kinds of guru can be discerned, the conveyor of the teachings on the one hand and the conveyor of power on the other, though both roles might be combined in any one individual or lineage. This distinction might correspond to that between 'ācārya' and 'guru', though these terms can be used synonymously. Hoens notes that 'the ācārya is in charge of the interpretation of the texts and of their transmission to the next generation', the guru as the conveyor of power on the other hand, is responsible for the spiritual well-being of his disciples and ultimately for their liberation. In the terminology I have developed, the ācārya in this sense would be an indirect symbolic form, giving access to a body of teaching, whereas the guru would be a direct symbolic form, giving access to higher or even the highest level of the cosmos.

This distinction roughly corresponds to Abhinavagupta's distinction between maṭhikā and jñāna gurus, the former representing a preceptoral line, though with the rider that they are not necessarily purely conveyors of power, the latter representing teachers, perhaps of other disciplines. Rastogi defines the maṭhikā gurus as 'teachers representing a preceptoral school and thereby a definite spiritual approach', and the jñāna gurus as 'teachers imparting knowledge in general in some specific area'. This is indicated by Abhinavagupta's reference to a Dharmaśiva, regarded as a jñāna guru, who taught an 'indirect initiation' (parokṣa dīkṣā), i.e. an initiation which did not give access to the absolute, but only to some lower level of teachings.

Within the maṭhikā category are included two guru traditions of importance, the Traiyambaka maṭhikā, the lineage of the tantra prakriyā, the liturgical system of the ordinary Trika Shaiva, and the Ardhatraiyambaka maṭhikā identified with the esoteric kula prakriyā. Abhinavagupta was initiated into both lineages, the Traiyambaka gurus including the line of Pratyabhijñā teachers, Somānanda, Utpala and Lakṣmaṇagupta, the Ardhatraiyambaka lineage coming from Tryambaka through his daughter and including a certain Shambhunātha. This guru seems to have been Abhinavagupta's inspiration in writing the Tantrāloka and is evidently a powerful figure.

Abhinavagupta says of him that he is like the sun who has removed the darkness of ignorance from Abhinavagupta's heart, and is the moon on the ocean of the Trika doctrines. Through him Abhinavagupta was initiated into the secret kula prakriyā, or more specifically through Shambhunātha’s consort, Bhagavatī, who was a 'messenger' (dūtī) in the secret Kula rite; that is, Abhinavagupta received the Kula teachings from Shambhunātha through Bhagavatī in liturgical love-making.

What this shows is that the guru is both/either a conveyor of power and/or a conveyor of teachings. Three possibilities emerge. Firstly a tradition in which the teachers convey only a normative, formal teaching or doctrine, Abhinavagupta's jñāna gurus, which might include orthodox vedic teachers and the orthodoxly aligned Shaiva Siddhānta. Secondly, a guru lineage which conveys both teaching and endows spiritual power, a mainline tantric tradition such as the Trika preceptoral lines of the Traiyambaka maṭhikā. Thirdly, a guru tradition of only power, such as the Ardhatraiyambaka maṭhikā, indicating a hard or 'left- hand' tantric tradition. Indeed a characteristic of power lineages is that their teachings are secret, which means not only that they are not telling, but that they cannot be told in any formal presentation of doctrine; power being regarded as immediate and non-discursive.

These lines of transmission are traditionally traced back to a divine source. The guru paramparā or santāna can be viewed as a current of power issuing from the essential cosmic body and manifested in the particular forms of the gurus. The KMT, for example, says that Bhairava manifests himself (sampravartate) in the line of Siddhas (siddhasantāna) and in the form of the guru (gurumūrti). In Shaiva traditions the transmission of these lineages is thought to pass from Shiva to his Shakti and then to a group of intermediate ṛṣis who pass it on to human gurus. In the MVT the transmission issues from Shiva's mouth (Aghora) to Pareśa and thence to Devī, from her to Kumāra who transmits the doctrine to Brahmā's four sons and thence to the human world with the ṛṣis Nārada, Agatsya and so on. Or again, Abhinavagupta gives the lineage of the Kula tradition which he traces back to four mythical figures Khagendra, Kūrma, Meśa and Macchanda (Matsyendra) who are to be worshiped. 

The santāna is an extension or expression of the deity's power and is in many ways similar to the concept of viṣaya as a sphere of power or range of influence. Indeed, the santāna might be regarded as an extension in the human realm of a deity's viṣaya. It is also akin to the idea of 'clan' or 'family' (kula) of a deity; for example, the clans of the eight mātṛkās. Jayaratha furthermore equates kula with both gochara and body (śarīra).

Kula is a multi-levelled term, as are all other technical terms in the tradition. It refers to the spiritual family of the adept, i.e. his lineage, the larger 'sphere' within which he exists, and to the absolute body of consciousness. We have here the idea of a guru tradition which is within, or expresses the sphere or clan of a deity. This is corroborated in the PTV where Abhinavagupta says that the Mantras (acting through the human guru) can give mantras because they are not completely absorbed in Shiva, whereas Mantramāheśvaras cannot. As is the sphere of the deity, this clan is called a body.

Transferred into the terminology I have been using, the 'santāna' is an expression of a vertical shared reality - a higher deity - or even of the essential cosmic body. The shared reality of the guru- santana is an extension of a vertical shared reality, a higher level of the cosmos. The individual guru in such a lineage is a direct symbolic form of both that higher level from where his power stems and of the tradition of previous gurus. As the individual body is a result of and embodies the cosmos, so the individual guru is a result of and embodies the tradition. The purely teaching guru embodies a tradition of teachings but does not embody a higher power, whereas the power guru embodies a higher power which flows through him. The power guru is thus linked both synchronically with his source of power, say Shiva, and diachronically with that power through the santāna. Being so connected with the essential cosmic body, the power guru is a means of transformation for his disciples, for through him they have contact with that divine source. Such a guru, who is at one with the body of consciousness, who can bestow grace, and, indeed, who might present a formal teaching as well, is the true or sat guru.

This is illustrated in the DH which says that the sat guru, who is without pollution (amala), reveals (bhāti) the universe as a path of Siva (śivapatha). Such a one is transformative. The SS says that the 'guru is the means' (gururupāyaḥ) - the means of liberation - of gaining access to the essential cosmic body. Kṣemarāja in his commentary on this verse writes:

The guru proclaims and teaches the meaning of tattva. He (shows) the way by revealing the pervasion (vyāptipradarśakatva) (of Shiva).

Here tattva can mean either absolute consciousness, as in the sense of spanda-tattva or para-tattva, or the constituent of the cosmical hierarchy, the manifest cosmic body. The guru, according to this passage, can reveal the all­pervasiveness of the body of consciousness, and in revealing reality he is a channel for grace (anugraha). Kṣemarāja continues:

...or the guru is the supremely majestic power of grace. It is said in the MVT: 'That called the wheel of power (śakticakra) is (also) called the mouth of the guru' and in the Mantraśirobhairava: 'the power coming from the mouth of the guru is greater than the guru himself'.

These passages are good examples of the guru as a direct symbolic form. Here the guru is a channel for śakti and not merely a teacher. Bhāskara commenting on the same passage refers to the guru as the 'supreme means of power' (śaktirupāyaḥ paramaḥ). Again the same idea is expressed in the image of the wheel of power, the totality of manifestation, which is revealed through the guru's mouth. This reality (tattva) - revealing power, which is the guru greater than the guru, a power higher than the physical manifestation, is regarded as cosmic sound which, as it were, comes from or is revealed through the guru’s mouth. The guru's speech or word, can also mean his subtle or mantric speech; a power which flows through him. This is again suggested by Kṣemarāja who writes 'by the grace (prasanna) of the guru (there arises) the realization (sambodha) of the wheel of the mothers (mātṛkācakra), The guru reveals the wheel of the mothers, which is a wheel of sound, and so reveals the totality of the cosmos, the totality of synchronic and diachronic cosmogony.

As a direct symbolic form the power guru has access to all levels of the cosmical hierarchy and so is beyond māyā and can bestow grace and liberate beings from samsāra. The MVT says that:

He who understands the meaning of all these tattvas, illuminating the energy of mantra, he is called the guru, equal to me (Shiva). Men who are touched, spoken to and seen by him with a delighted mind (prītacetasā) are released from sin (pāpa) even in seven lifetimes'.

This high regard for the guru is seen in the KMT which extols the characteristics of the guru over a number of verses. The true guru, says the KMT, the sight of whom is dear (priyadarśanaṃ), is born in a beautiful place (śubhadeśa samudbhavaṃ), has a good birth (śubhajāti), is endowed with consciousness and knowledge (jñānavijñāna sampannaṃ), experienced in the path of the worlds (lokamārgaviśāradaṃ), tranquil (śāntaṃ), possessing all his limbs and bereft of bodily imperfections (sarvāyavasampannaṃ vyaṅgadoṣa vivarjitaṃ). He gives to his disciple with compassion and through initiation (dīkṣā) he destroys all bondage (pāśakṣaya).

From these passages we can see that sound and power are embodied in the guru. The symbolic form of the guru has limited extension at the level of the individual body, but is infinite at the level of the essential cosmic body. Sound (mātṛkā, nāda) is that power which flows through the guru and is identical with grace. The power guru exists entirely for the dispensation of grace: grace, sound and power are united in the form of the guru who knows the tattvas, knows the way (adhvavid) and is a universal giver.

The passage quoted by Kṣemarāja from the MVT says that the guru manifests the energy (vīrya) of mantra and his commentary on the passage quoted from the SS, says that guru is the means 'in the practice (sādhanā) of the power of mantra and mudrā. Mudras, as we will see, are physical representations of mantras and at the same time - as are mantras - are levels of the cosmos. What I wish to look at here is the notion of mantravīrya.

It could be argued that the central role of the power guru is to reveal the mantravīrya or empower the mantra of gross speech, which power is derived from the body of consciousness. The SS says that 'the experience of the energy of mantra is due to union with the great lake’, where the 'great lake' refers to the lake of consciousness, the essential cosmic body. Mantra, therefore, entails the concept of the guru, for without the guru the mantra has no power. Abhinavagupta says both that mantra repetition (japa) has to be well taught (suśikṣita) and that the power of mantra rests in absolute consciousness or tranquillity (viśrānti). Although the mantra comes from the mouth of the guru, its source is in the body of consciousness, for like the guru, the mantra is a symbolic form giving access to higher realms, although it needs a guru to empower it. Indeed, depending upon its source of power the mantra can be either a direct or indirect symbolic form.

Symbolic forms, such as certain mantras, are condensed appearances of the forces which gave rise to them. This same principle is demonstrated by mantra which both points to and participates in that to which it points. Expressed in spoken language mantra is a symbolic form of its higher reality, giving access to that reality and is a means of transcending the limited experience of bound person, body and world, to wider more inclusive levels of the cosmos. Transformation through the mantra means becoming a different person through taking on a different body, i.e a collective body, and therefore experiencing a different world. At one level mantra is thought to be identical with its deity, and through concentrating on its form at the level of gross speech, one can merge with this deity at a higher level. Gonda writes:

A mantra containing the name of a god - for instance namaḥ śivāya - is indeed regarded as embodying the energy of the god which is activated by pronouncing the formula. The knowledge of and meditation on, a mantra enables the adept ... to exercise power over the potencies manifesting in it to establish connections between the divinity and himself, or to realize his identity with that divinity.

In an excellent article on mantra in the SSV, Alper has shown how they must be understood in a number of contexts. Firstly, that the use of mantras occurs in a social context, the use of mantra 'presupposes that one has already acquired the proper attitudes, demeanor, and expectations - that is, the proper frame of mind - by having been successfully socialized in the society that recognizes mantric utterance as an "authorized" technique. Secondly they have an epistemological dimension which means that they are 'tools for engendering (recognizing) a certain state of affairs'; mantra is intended to change perception and give knowledge of both manifestation and its cause. Thirdly they have a theological dimension, in that mantra repetition makes implicit claims about the universe.

With regard to these last two contexts, the redemptive character of mantras can only be understood in relation to a hierarchical cosmos; mantra repetition entails a hierarchical cosmology. As Padoux emphasizes, different mantras correspond to different levels of sonorous vibration81 and therefore different shared realities. Each shared reality has a certain vibrational frequency ranging from supremely subtle and rarefied to very solidified and coagulated. Mantras embody the vibrational frequency of a higher body and their transformative power is constrained by the level from which they derive. By repeating a mantra the adept is attempting to change his limited, individual vibrational frequency to the vibrational frequency of the mantra (which is a deity or higher shared reality).

This is a general principle within Trika soteriology and within yoga traditions generally, namely that the mind takes on the qualities of that which it contemplates. Abhinavagupta cites the case of a mantra 'This poison cannot kill me, I am indeed Garuda' (naitat viṣaṃ māṃ mārayati garuḍa eva ahaṃ), which will protect from snake bites if it is truly realized, for there is conformity (ānukūlya) of awareness (vimarśa) to what is experienced/pursued (bhajate). Awareness conforms to the object of contemplation, so if one has understood, i.e. realized, the level of the deity Garuda, the devourer of snakes, then consciousness takes on the qualities of that level and therefore has control over snake bites, because control over snakes. Abhinavagupta explicitly states that whatever the state of consciousness, so will be the experience (bhoga). This idea is lucidly expressed by Woodroffe when he writes: 'By worship and meditation or japa and mantra the mind is actually shaped into the form of the object of worship and is made pure for the time being through the purity of the object...which is its content'. It therefore follows that through contemplating a mantra derived directly from the essential cosmic body, the mind will take on its qualities; that is, the particular individuality will be dissolved and the omni-penetrating, omniscient and omnipotent power will reveal itself. By contrast contemplation of a lower mantra will lead to awareness of a lower level. Kṣemarāja writes that one attains identity (sāmarasya) with the deity through awareness of its presence in mantra.

At a high level mantra and deity are identical, yet from a lower perspective it appears as a distinct representation. A mantra of Sadāśiva is a symbolic form at the level of gross speech, representing the level of the Sadāśiva-tattva where it is his body, the vidyāśarīra. By repeating the mantra the yogi can merge with the reality where the mantra ’truly’ reverberates. Another example can be found with the Mantras, the beings beyond the māyā-tattva, who take their devotees (i.e. repeaters of their mantras) with them when they dissolve into Shiva. 

Mantra is identical with devatā and with tattva at the higher echelons of the cosmos. At their source they are one, yet become diversified in lower levels. Iconographic representations of Sadāśiva, or his gross mantra, are gross symbolic forms of the god Sadāśiva who is a shared reality, a body of sound, and a tattva with a certain range or sphere of influence. The collective body or shared reality of Sadāśiva is expressed in the symbolic form of his mantra.

The idea of shared reality or collective body cannot be fully understood without that of symbolic form which is the means of communicating between and within shared realities. Mantra, in giving access to higher levels of the cosmos, is a channel of communication between two shared realities, while ordinary language is a means of communicating within a shared reality. Symbolic forms, such as a mantra given by the guru, are transformative firstly because they share in the qualities of a shared reality and secondly because the mind takes on the qualities of that which it contemplates; so true perception of a symbolic form results in transformation to the level it intends to disclose. True perception of a symbolic form such as mantra, results in transformation to a higher level and transcends the limitations of lower shared realities.

Because different mantras are empowered from different levels through human gurus, all mantras are not equally efficacious. It is their transformative power which distinguishes mantra from ordinary (laukika) speech, and this power which makes them instruments of salvation. The variable power of mantra is contingent upon the power of the guru who gives it. The guru as a direct symbolic form empowers the mantra with the power of the body of consciousness. But a guru who is an indirect symbolic form, a teaching guru, is thought only to have the ability of endowing a mantra with the power of his own level of attainment.




व्रातामोघमहास्त्रनाशितजगद्विद्वेषिवंशाटवीम् |
वन्दे भार्गवमुग्रकार्मुकधरं शान्तं प्रसन्नाननं
वीरश्रीपरिचुम्ब्यमानमहितस्वब्रह्मतेजोनिधिम् ||

vrātāmoghamahāstranāśitajagadvidveṣivaṃśāṭavīm |
vande bhārgavamugrakārmukadharaṃ śāntaṃ prasannānanaṃ
vīraśrīparicumbyamānamahitasvabrahmatejonidhim ||

Pranava Avarana Krama

The Praṇava Mantra is composed of sixty-four Kalās and each of these Kalās manifest as a mantra to result in sixty-four Mantras of Srīvidyā Krama. The sixty-four Kalās of Shuddha Praṇava are dealt with by Srī Lakṣmaṇa Deśikendra in his Shāradātilaka.

The procedure is to worship Praṇavāvaraṇa in Srīcakra on Kārtika Pūrṇimā. The worship involves only tarpaṇa and not pūjana. For the purpose of tarpaṇa, equal quantities of Bhasma, Chandana and Bilvajala are used. The Bhasma is prepared specifically by deploying the ūrdhva pāśupata Mantra (as opposed to Aghora in the case of Kālīkula). Five pātras are used of which two are dedicated to Svaguru and Kāraṇaguru Mahāsvacchandabhairava.


- Siddhilakṣmī, Bharatopāsitā Guhyakālī, Rāmopāsitā Guhyakālī, Hiraṇyakopāsitā Guhyakālī, Kāmakalā Guhyakālī (uttarāmnāyeśvarī)
- Pūrṇeśvarī, Bhuvanasundarī, Bhuvaneśī, Bhuvaneśvarī, Unmanī (pūrvāmnāyeśvarī)
- Samayakubjukā, Ghorakubjikā, Vīrakubjikā, Aghorakubjikā, Kramakubjikā, Vajrakubjikā (paścimāmnāyeśvarī)


- ādyākālī, Mahādyākālī, Smaśāna Kālī, Siddhikalī, Dakṣiṇā Kālī (dakṣiṇāmnāyeśvarī)
- Tāriṇī, Ekajaṭā, Ugratārā, Mahānīlasarasvatī, Mahogratārā (adharāmnāyeśvarī)
- Shāradā, Bālā tripurā, Bālā sundarī, Bālā bhairavī, Bālā Tripurasundarī, Tripurabhairavī (ūrdhvāmnāyeśvarī)


- Chaṇḍikā, Chāmuṇḍā, Bhadrakālī durgā, Mohinī mātaṅgī (nairṛtyāmnāya)
- Viparīta Pratyaṅgirā, Bhadrakālī, Mahāsarasvatī, Kātyāyanī, Sṛṣṭi cāmuṇḍā (vāyavyāmnāya)
- Mahālakṣmī, Tārā, Aṣṭādaśabhujī Mahālakṣmī, Ugracaṇḍā (āgneyāmnāya)
- Sthiti cāmuṇḍā, Pañcavaktrā Māhākālī, Raktadantikā, Daśavaktrā Mahākālī, Triśakti Mahācāmuṇḍā (īśānāmnāya)


Dakṣiṇākālī, Mahogratārā, Bālā tripurasundarī, Guhyakālī, Siddhikapālinī, Kāmakalākālī, Bhuvaneśvarī, Vajrakubjikā, Aghorakubjikā, Triśakti Chāmuṇḍā, Pañcadaśī, Laghuṣoḍaśī, ṣoḍaśī, Mahāṣoḍaśī, Parāṣoḍaśī, Anuttaravādinī


- Pañcadaśī (kādi, hādi, sādi)
- Laghuṣoḍaśī (kādi, hādi, sādi)
- ṣoḍaśī (kādi, hādi, sādi)
- Mahāṣoḍaśī (kādi, hādi, sādi)
- Mahāsaptadaśī
- Aṣṭādaśī
- Kāmesvarī, Vajreśvarī, Bhagamālinī, Tripurabhairavī (catuḥ samayāḥ)
- Pañcasundarī
- Sapta Mahāśāmbhavāḥ)



- Shrīvidyālakṣmī, Ekākṣarī, Mahālakṣmī, Triśaktilakṣmī, Sarvasāmrājyalakṣmī
- Shrīvidyākośeśvarī, Parañjyoti, Parā niṣkalā, Ajapā, Mātṛkā
- Shrīvidyākalpalatā, Pārijāteśvarī, Tvaritā, Tripuṭā, Pañcabāṇeśvarī
- Shrīvidyākāmadughā, Amṛtapīṭheśvarī, Sudhāsū, Amṛteśvarī, Annapūrṇā
- Shrīvidyāratnāmbā, Siddhalakṣmī, Rājamātaṅgī, Bhuvaneśvarī, Mahāvārāhī


- Bālābhairavī, Sampatpradā bhairavī, Chaitanyabhairavī, Chaitanyabhairavī (2), Kāmeśvarī bhairavī (pūrve)
- Aghora bhairavī, Mahābhairavī, Lalitabhairavī, Kāmeśī bhairavī, Raktanetrā bhairavī (dakṣiṇe)
- Shaṭkooṭā bhairavī, Nityā bhairavī, Mṛtasañjīvinī bhairavī, Mṛtyuñjayaparā bhairavī, Vajraprastāriṇī bhairavī (paścime)
- Bhuvaneśī bhairavī, Kamaleśvarī bhairavī, Siddhakauleśa bhairavī, ḍāmara bhairavī, Kāminī bhairavī (uttare)
- Prathamasundarī, Dvitīyasundarī, Tṛtīyasundarī, Chaturthasundarī, Pañcamasundarī (ūrdhve)


Tripurā, Tripureśinī, Tripureśī, Tripurasundarī, Tripuravāsinī, Tripurāśrī, Tripuramālinī, Tripurāsiddhā, Trripurāmbā, Mahātripurasundarī


- Pūrvāmnāya Nirvāṇa Bhuvaneśvarī
- Paścimāmnāya Nirvāṇa Kubjikā
- Dakṣiṇāmnāya Nirvāṇa Dakṣiṇākālī
- Uttarāmnāya Nirvāṇa Guhyakālī
- Adharāmnāya Nirvāṇa Mahogratārā
- Upāmnāya Nirvāṇa Triśakti cāmuṇḍā
- ūrdhvāmnāya Nirvāṇa Mahātripurasundarī
- Anuttarāmnāya Mahānirvāṇasundarī


- Aghorakubjikā, Vajrakubjikā, Samayakubjikā, Ghorakubjikā, Vīra kubjikā, Siddhikubjikā, Bhogakubjikā, Mokṣa kubjikā
- Srīvidyā, Bagalāmukhī, Kālarātrī, Jayadurgā, Chinnamastā
- Kāmasundarī, Tārasundarī, Ramāsundarī, Māyāsundarī, Vāksundarī, Divyasundarī, Parāsundarī, Mokṣasundarī, Nirvāṇasundarī


- Kālī, Tārā, ṣoḍaśī, Bhuvaneśvarī, Chinnamastā, Tripurabhairavī, Dhūmāvatī, Bagalāmukhī, Mātaṅgī, Kamalātmikā
- Sṛṣṭi pāśupata, Sthiti pāśupata, Samhāra pāśupata, Anākhyā pāśupata, Bhāsā pāśupata, Nirvāṇa pāśupata, Guru pāśupata

The profound Journey of Compassion

GaNAdhinAthaM sharaNaM prapadye

Sri Ucchishta Mahaganapati

वामाङ्कन्यस्तकान्तां कुचतटविलसत् मौक्तिकोद्दामहारां
वामेनालिङ्ग्य दोष्णा चिबुककृतमुखं योनिदेशे च शुण्डाम् |
कृत्वा मत्तेभलीलं करतलविलसत्पानपात्राङ्कुशादिं
वन्दे स्वर्णाभिधानं गणपतिममलं वल्लभोच्छिष्टदेवम् ||

श्वेतार्कमूलसञ्जातमूर्त्यां पूजनतोषितः |
उच्छिष्टगणपो मह्यं मन्त्रसिद्धिं प्रयच्छतु ||

मूनीश्वरैर्भार्गवपूर्वकैश्च |
संसेवितं देवमनाथकल्पं
रूपं मनोज्ञं शरणं प्रपद्ये ||

vāmāṅkanyastakāntāṃ kucataṭavilasat mauktikoddāmahārāṃ
vāmenāliṅgya doṣṇā cibukakṛtamukhaṃ yonideśe ca śuṇḍām |
kṛtvā mattebhalīlaṃ karatalavilasatpānapātrāṅkuśādiṃ
vande svarṇābhidhānaṃ gaṇapatimamalaṃ vallabhocchiṣṭadevam ||

śvetārkamūlasañjātamūrtyāṃ pūjanatoṣitaḥ |
ucchiṣṭagaṇapo mahyaṃ mantrasiddhiṃ prayacchatu ||

mūnīśvarairbhārgavapūrvakaiśca |
saṃsevitaṃ devamanāthakalpaṃ
rūpaṃ manojñaṃ śaraṇaṃ prapadye ||

Vedanta and Agama

- Sri L N Sharma

The two approaches, Vedānta and Agama, might be described as the two paths: the right path and the left path (vāma and dakṣiṇa), the path of knowledge and bliss (jñāna and ānanda). Left path is the path to utilize all the human potencies, faculties etc., and maintain the state of bliss and thus to liberate oneself. The Right path, on the other hand, is to use these potencies and live discriminatively in order to attain liberation. The Vedānta approach regards knowledge as more fundamental; knowledge is sui generis for it. Will and feeling presuppose knowledge. These elements depend upon knowledge for their very existence. But knowledge need not depend upon them. In the Agama tradition, will is accepted as more fundamental than knowledge. Knowledge is generated by will, as is observed in our everyday life.

The concept of Freedom or Perfection is fundamental to the approach of the āgamas. Although freedom and perfection have been attributed to Brahman in the Vedānta tradition also, yet this approach is more or less negative. Perfection or Pūrṇatva essentially means the purity of Being in the Vedānta. Perfection of Brahman denotes its freedom from all becoming. To the followers of the āgamas, the exclusive separation between the spirit and the world by the Vedāntin does not appear to be consistent with the notion of Perfection, which consists essentially in omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence etc. This is why the absolutism of Vedānta is no considered all-inclusive by the āgamikas. As there is hesitation in regarding māyā as real, the Advaita Vedānta is exclusive and is based upon renunciation or elimination, it is thus not all embracing. Generally speaking, there are two ways in which the term ‘freedom’ might be used; it might be referred to as ‘freedom from’ if used in a negative sense, and as ‘freedom to’ when used in a positive sense. ‘Freedom to’ is a positive description of the capacity of something to bring about the occurrence or non-occurrence of certain events. On the other hand, ‘freedom from’ denotes the purity or transcendence of a thing from the others. Absolute freedom can be explained as the stage where one is ‘free to’ and ‘free from’ with respect to every occurrence or non-occurrence.

There are certain fundamental differences between the two approaches. Firstly, the Vedānta tradition seems to be based upon an exclusive or absolute separation of the Real and the Unreal. The distinction between the Real and the and the illusory is the very presupposition of spiritual awakening. Illusion is the datum for philosophy according to the Vedānta. The experience of illusion provides the criterion of the Real as non-cancellable (abādhya) and the illusory as cancellable (bādhya). It is significant to note in this context that Shaṅkarācārya not only begins his commentary of the Brahma Sūtra with an analysis of illusion but also insists upon certain essential requirements for spiritual realization. The first and the foremost essential qualification of seeker of truth is to have the sense of discrimination between the real and the unreal, the eternal and the false (nitya anitya viveka). The emphasis upon this qualification brings out clearly the difference of the Vedānta with the non-eternalists (the Buddhists), on the one hand, and the followers of Tantra, on the other. While nothing is eternal or permanent for the Buddhists, everything is real for the Tāntric integralists, even the unreal is real for them. The Tāntrikaa who has attained liberation in life sees the entire World as his own Self. He develops an x-ray vision in which the phenomenal events appear to be mere sport of his own conscious energy (citśakti). Doubts do not trouble him any more; for he realizes the identity between the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’. Both internal and external are aspects of one and the same process. The realization of this identity is itself regarded as the attainment of the highest bliss, the unity of sāmarasya of Shiva and Shakti. In the world whatever enters into consciousness is a manifestation of the Self. And the reality of whatever enters into consciousness cannot be denied. The objects shine, they do not cease to be by a mere emphatic denial. As opposed to this, one does not deserve to be taught about Brahman, in the Vedānta approach, unless one possesses the powers of discrimination etc. To understand the real import of the Vedānta, one must have the consciousness of the illusoriness of the world. If this consciousness of illusoriness of the world be not in him, the meaning of the teachings about Brahman would not be clear to the student of Vedānta.

Secondly, the Vedānta tradition presupposes opposition between knowledge and ignorance. According to it, knowledge and ignorance are opposed to each other like light and darkness. The concept of ignorance or avidyā is of fundamental importance for the spiritual discipline prescribed in the Vedānta. If something like avidyā, which is negated at the dawn of right knowledge, be not admitted, there would be no possibility of freedom. Final emancipation is possible only if the bondage of the soul is due to nescience. For, if the soul is really and truly bound, its real bondage cannot be done away with and, consequently, the scriptural doctrine of final freedom would become absurd. In fact, truth and falsity are qualitatively different and absolutely opposed to each other. The transition from error to truth is like transition from darkness to light. Knowledge and ignorance cannot exist simultaneously; with the dawn of knowledge ignorance disappears altogether.

In Tantra, on the other hand, knowledge and ignorance are not accepted as absolutely separate. According to the Agama, knowledge is ignorance self-revealed and ignorance is knowledge self-concealed. Since the Supreme Self is of the nature of pure consciousness, what differentiates it from matter is its self-awareness which consists in freedom through which ignorance is manifest, and through ignorance is manifest the world. Ignorance is, thus, a manifestation of divine freedom itself. The principle of ignorance lies midway between the supreme consciousness and the total inconscience. But ignorance and inconscience are the exclusive and separative movements of the same Conscious Force which assumes these apparently opposite and contradictory forms in order to proceed with the work of creation. Ignorance is a manifestation of the power of the freedom of Self. It is the light which gives rise to darkness through self-friction. Ignorance is nothing but a self-limitation or self-concentration of consciousness or knowledge.

Thirdly, in the sphere of sādhanā or spiritual discipline also there is a great difference in the outlook of the two approaches. The distinction between the pure and the impure and the emphasis upon the pure (means) constitute a conspicuous feature of the Vedānta. Through the Vedānta, there is present a highly contemptuous attitude towards the impure. On the other hand, there is not only a lack of enthusiasm to draw any distinction between the pure and impure in the āgama tradition, but there are positive suggestions and directions not to distinguish the two. The devotee is repeatedly asked to develop the attitude to regard everything as pure. Self-realization is possible only if the sādhaka is able to accept everything, including the impure, as a real manifestation of the divinity. The follower of the Tantra goes directly through the sphere of greatest danger. By breaking within himself the tension of the ‘forbidden’, the Tantra practitioner resolves everything in light. The uniqueness of the Tāntric tradition lies in the fact that while the followers of other traditions, especially the followers of the Vedānta, try to attain liberation by avoiding what they regard as impure, the Tāntric gains emancipation through enjoyment or realization of the so-called impurity.

This gives rise to another point of difference between the two traditions. Bhoga and Yoga, sensuous joy and union with the Divine, are taken to be identical in the Tāntric approach. On this point the Tantra discipline differs radically from other spiritual disciplines. Through proper discipline, Bhoga itself is transformed into Yoga. Tantra, thus, represents a stupendous Dionysian affirmation in Indian culture. It is an erotic life philosophy, precisely the opposite and exactly complement of sterilizing, stern, sublime, ascetic thinking of the Vedānta tradition.

In conformity with these differences there is further difference in the two approaches as regards the admissibility of an individual for initiation. While the Vedānta tradition is open only to the Dvijas or twice-born, Tantra insists upon the eligibility of a persons, castes and sexes for spiritual realization.

yasya kasyacijjantoriti nātra jātyādyapekṣā kācit | (īśvarapratyabhijñāvimarśinī 4-1-18)

Precise knowledge of the origin and mutual relationship between the two traditions lies buried in the depths of antiquity. It is now generally recognized that the origin of these traditions is much older than was formerly supposed. Shiva and Shakti worship has been traced to the Mohanjodaro and Harappan age. According to H. Zimmer, the antiquity of the concept of Shiva Paśupati and Shiva Naṭarāja can be traced at least till Indus Valley civilization. Efforts have also been made to trace Shaiva worship in the Vedas (śiśnadevaḥ etc.) It has been suggested that among the ancient gods the Vedic Rudra might be regarded as the original form of Shiva.

There are two kinds of attitudes towards the Vedas in the āgamas: attitude of antagonism and attitude of allegiance. Appayya Dīkṣita and some other scholars divide the āgamas into two classes, those which are in agreement with the Vedas and those opposed to the Vedas. Antagonism is clearly noticeable in those āgamic passages in which the Veda or Vedānta have been frequently criticized. On the other hand, there are many passages in the āgamas which give the impression that the āgamas might have been derived from the Vedas.

It may be thought that though the āgamas were originally based upon the Vedas, they have developed independently of the latter. They have branched out from the same stem of the Vedic tree which produced the earlier Upaniṣadas. According to the Tantras, the āgamas constitute truest exegesis of the Vedas and their origin is certainly as ancient as some of the classical Upaniṣadas. Both the Vedas and the āgamas belong to the same Hindu culture and both have the same root. Their differences are confined only to certain points. According to some āgamas, while the Vedas have been issued forth from four, out of five mouths of Shiva, the Tantras of the higher tradition issued forth from his central or fifth mouth. Thus, śāstras are classified into śruti, smṛti, purāṇa and Tantra. The last three assume the first as their base and are in fact merely special presentment of it for their respective ages. The relation of the Vedas and āgamas is sometimes compared with that of jīvātman and Paramātman; the Tantra is said to represent the inner core of the former. The main purport of the āgamas is to represent the Veda correctly. They deal also with subjects which are not dealt in the Vedas. While the Vedas represent the ‘quest’, the āgamas stand for the ‘attainment’. The āgamas also deal with the fifty state of Turyātīta, in addition to the other four states of experience, viz. Waking, dreaming, deep sleep and the fourth.

Saint Tirumūlas holds that the Vedas and āgamas are both true, as both are divine revelations. The only difference between them is that while the Vedas are general, the agamas are special. According to Srīkaṇṭha, though both of them are of equal authority, the Vedas are to be studied only by the Dvijas. The āgamas, on the other hand, are open for study by all castes. He states that he does not see any difference between the Veda and the āgama, and in fact sees Veda itself as an āgama due to its origin in Shiva. The only difference, according to him, is that the former is for Dvijas, while the latter is for all.

The other view may be that both Vedas and āgamas have entirely different roots and traditions and have nothing in common between them. The āgamas represent the essence of the Dravidian culture and the Vedas, on the other hand, originate from and represent the Aryan culture. However, this view is based upon the much disputed theory of two different races. The theory involves many unsound and absurd assumptions.

In the absence of any definite historical data, it would be safer to regard both Vedas and āgamas as belonging to the same Indian roots. Both currents of though appear to have been running parallel to each other since ancient days. Although sometimes they appear to be antagonistic to each other, on the whole there prevails the spirit of harmony and regard between them.

Kashmira, Kerala and Gauda Sampradaya

There are three specific sampradāyas of Srīvidyā: Kāśmīra, Kerala and Gauḍa.

Shaktisangama Tantra divides the entire Indian sub-continent into 56 regions based on either Kādi or Hādi classification. The land between Tibet and Neplāla encompassing the entire Himalayan region is said to belong to Kāśmīra Sampradāya. In this school, Tripurā is worshiped based on Hādimata and Ugratārā based on Kādimata. The chief characteristic of this school is the Dīkṣā into ūrdhvāmnāya accomplished mainly through Shaktipāta. There seem to be two schemes of sub-categorization within this school, each with a specific set of Tantras:

The first categorization is quasi-Vedic:

1. Rk-kāśmīra
2. YajuHkāśmīra
3. Sāmakāśmīra
4. Atharvakāśmīra

The worship of Tripurā is specific to the first two, while Tārā and to an extent Kālī are important to the latter two schools.

There is yet another categorization:

1. Shaiva kāśmīra or Shuddha-mata
2. Shākta kāśmīra or Ugra-mata
3. Shiva-Shakti kāśmīra or Gupta-mata

I have my own theory about mapping these to Spanda, Krama, Kula etc., but that is a different topic.

Kerala Sampradāya is valid from Angadeśa all the way till Mālava. Here, Tripurā is worshiped based on Kādimata and Kālikā based on Hādimata. The peculiarity of this Sampradāya is Shaṭśāmbhava paddhati, and the sādhaka goes through various levels of dīkṣā up to Medhā. tThere are various sub-schools, more or so heterogeneous, such as: Bhavasiddha, Harasiddha, Kalhāṭa, Gomukha, Vijnānī, Pūrvakerala, Uttarakerala, Divya, Satya, Chaitanya, Chidghana, Sarvajña, Isha, Māheśvara, Vishvarūpa, Venkaṭeśākhya etc. Obviously, this classification is not based on one single criterion. Some are based on specific teachers, some others on region, and yet others are centered around deities such as Venkaṭeśvara. It is stressed that though Divya, Mishra and Kaula are all followed in this school, the core method is that of Dakṣiṇācāra and Vedic sanction is critical to this school in terms of rituals, owing to a strong Smārta influence.

Gauḍa Sampradāya is prevalent between Silahaṭṭā to Sindhudeśa. Here, Tārā is worshiped based on Hādimata and Kālikā based on Kādimata. Pūrṇābhiṣeka is of highest significance to this school. This school is also categorized into Shuddha, Ugra and Gupta. While both Dakṣiṇācāra and Vāmācāra are taught in this school, importance is greatly laid upon Vāma. While the other schools are quasi-Vedic, this particular school proudly declares itself as purely Tāntric in nature.