Sri Abhinavgupta – The Light of India
Kashmir has been the melting pot of various schools of knowledge where philosophy, grammar, literature, dance, drama and other aesthetic pursuits emerged leaving an everlasting impression in the Indian subcontinent. The knowledge-based society of Kashmir, with its presiding deity Sharda, the Goddess of knowledge, made it a crucible for learning and education. It was here that great scholars like Udbhatt, Vaman, Rudratt, Bhatta Lollat, Bhatta Shankuk, Anandvardhan, Vasugupta, Somamnand, Utpaldev, Bhatta Narayan, Bhatta Totuk, Bhatenduraj, Mammat, Kshemendra, Jayratha, Kshemraja, Sharnagdev and many others evolved as great thinkers.
It was they who delved deep to unravel the nature of existence and evolution. In this lineage around 11th CE, a great polymath, Abhinavgupta, came on the scene. With his sharp intellect and inquisitive mind, he distilled the philosophy, polished the concept of Rasas and synthesizedthe philosophical streams in such a manner that it connected all this phenomenal existence to Supreme Shiva, the one on which the universal existence hinges upon.
Abhinavgupta continued with intellectual tradition of thinkers of Kashmir and touched all spheres of life which includes, “aesthetic experience, tantric praxis and universal consciousness.” It was the encyclopedic genius of Abhinavgupta which endeared him to people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He was an exponent of Trika philosophy, theory of art & literature, poetics, nature of sound, etc. He was the greatest jewel of ancient India, who glorified Kashmir immensely. There are almost forty four different works which he had authored, though many have been lost due to upheaval in Kashmir. But whatever is available, is so profound and scholarly that even after thousand years, we are unable to fathom the genius of this super human being. Many scholars have referred to him as an incarnation of Dakshnamurthy-Shiva and some refer to him as Sheshnaga. By whichever name we may refer to him, we are simply awe struck by expositions, clarity of thought, depth of understanding, approach to natural laws and above all to his methodology of convincing arguments with facts and logic.
Abhinavgupta & Non-Dualism
Among the various works of Abhinavgupta is his ‘magnum opus- Tantraloka’, which essentially explains the unity of human beings, sentient and insentient objects and highest reality, ‘Param Shiva’, all bound together. Abhinavgupta referred this connection as non- dualism (Advaita) and explained that phenomenal world is an extension of consciousness which can appear in diverse forms by its own free (Swatantra) nature. According to him, the reality is one and because of its blissful nature (Anugreh) it creates universe of diverse forms. So, in Abhinavgupta’s view the existing phenomenon is the outward manifestation of the Absolute Param Shiva, whose nature is pure, blissful, independent, playful activity, which involves Creation, Preservation, Absorption, Obscuration and Revelation. Abhinavgupta lays emphasis on the fact that one does not only need to know what Absolute is, Shaivites must feel the presence of Supreme to enable them to rise above mundane existence and merge their beings in the Divine being. This is what Abhinavgupta means;
“There within the cosmic spheres, the universe resides, a series of worlds, organs and various bodies. It is there that Shiva Himself become a patient with a body, clothed in the condition of the individual soul.” (AG, Parmarthsar 2)
Works of Abhinavgupta
There are about two forty-eight manuscripts of Abhinavgupta’s work in various libraries of India. The thirty seven chapters of Tantraloka are one of the greatest Sanskrit works both in terms of content and poetic expression.
To understand various schools of esoteric theories and practices one needs to go through the works of Abhinavgupta. His analysis in terms of psychic-physical analysis of human mind is very insightful. It was because of this intricate understanding of human evolution and human mind that sets him apart from the other scholars of his time. His fame spread to various parts of South Asia, attracting seekers to travel all the way to Kashmir.
Integration of Shaivite Schools
Since ancient times, Kashmir was following the various distinctive branches of Shaivism. This included schools of Pratyabhijna, Spanda, Krama, Kaula which are referred to as Trika or lately as Kashmir Shaivism Abhinavgupta is credited with synthesizing them and integrating them under single entity. Abhinavgupta explained that all these schools may have different esoteric practices, but the goal is the same to achieve Supreme Consciousness; Annutara or Samvit. This integration prevented any drift among the believers and in fact, united the society both in philosophy and practice.
The treatment given to tantra praxis by Abhinavgupta is such that the difficult philosophical and esoteric expositions became so simple and rational, eventually helping seekers and scholars.
Abhinavgupta’s mother was Vimala and his father was Narsimhagupta, who also was his guru. The early death of his mother had a deep influence on the mind of young Abhinav, which led him to become more reflective and evoked in him an interest in metaphysics. During his lifetime, Abhinavgupta is credited with learning from various masters and his sharp innovative disposition made him the dearest disciple of all those with whom he learnt various subjects. Abhinavgupta emphasized that one should keep learning from various gurus and enhance one’s wisdom. He writes,
“It is only the black bee and not the honey bee which has the enormous appetite for the fragrance of the Ketaki flower. Similarly, only those rare people who are guided from within by the grace of Siva, find interest in absolute non dualistic worship of Bhairava the One perfect whole of everything.”(Abhinavgupta, TA, IV, 276)
It is a strange fate that genius like Abhinavgupta is not known to the world or among the Indians or even to Kashmiri Hindus. Perhaps, he was much too ahead of his time. Perhaps his teachings and philosophy were so esoteric and subtle that ordinary mind was unable to comprehend these. Indians in general and Kashmiri Hindus in particular, need to study and dedicate themselves to learning the teachings of the Great Abhinavgupta. In fact, Kashmir will be poorer if we do not know this great personality. Therefore, by dedicating this special issue of Naad we shall try to remove the darkness of ignorance and transform our life to wisdom and knowledge.
– Sunil Raina Rajanaka