By admin on Nov 22, 2015 | In Darshana
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.
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