"Light on the Tantras" (Tantrāloka) is Abhinavagupta's magnum opus, a masterly encyclopedic survey of the whole of Tantra at its peak (c. 1000 CE). The Tantrik View, practice, and fruit are presented in exquisite detail over the course of more than 5,800 verses.
The first chapter of the work contains all the essential teachings in condensed form, and thus is the most important one to study for someone learning the Tantrik path. On this blog I will present a translation of that chapter. Currently there is no good translation available in English (though Mark Dyczkowski will probably release one soonish).
In honour of Guru Pūrnimā 2015, here are the first 21 verses, for in these verses Abhinavagupta praises his gurus so beautifully.
Chapter 1. The Various Forms of Consciousness (vijñāna-bhid): in which all [the teachings of the work] are adumbrated.
Invocations: to Parā (= svātantriya-śakti and icchā-śakti)
Parā Devī (lit., "supreme goddess"), as traditionally visualized, by Ekabhumi Ellik
naumi cit-pratibhāṃ devīṃ parāṃ bhairava-yoginīm |
mātṛ-māna-prameyāṃśa-śūlāmbuja-kṛtāspadām || 2 ||
I praise the Supreme Goddess [Parā Devī], the creative inspiration (pratibhā) of Consciousness, the yogic consort of Bhairava, | who has made her abode the lotus-and-trident-throne, its prongs knower, knowing, and known.
The triśūlābja-mandala of the Trika, Parā's "throne"
To Aparā (= kriyā-śakti)
naumi devīṃ śarīra-sthāṃ nṛtyato bhairavākṛteḥ |
prāvṛṇ-megha-ghana-vyoma-vidyul-lekhā-vilāsinīm || 3 ||
I praise the Goddess in the body of the form of the dancing Bhairava, playful like a streak of lightning in a sky dark with monsoon clouds.
"playful like a streak of lightning…". Art by Dinesh Shreshtha.
To Parāparā as the Trident of Wisdom (= jñāna-śakti)
dīpta-jyotiś-chaṭā-pluṣṭa-bheda-bandha-trayaṃ sphurat |
stāj jñāna-śūlaṃ sat-pakṣa-vipakṣotkartana-kṣamam || 4 ||
May the Trident of wisdom, shimmering as the triad of dualistic bonds scorched by masses of blazing light, be capable of cutting off all that undermines the true teaching.
To the Triad of Goddesses
svātantrya-śaktiḥ krama-saṃsisṛkṣā kramātmatā ceti vibhor vibhūtiḥ |
tad eva devī-trayam antar āstām anuttaraṃ me prathayat svarūpam || 5 ||
The Power of Autonomy, the Will to emit the sequence [of creation], and that sequence [itself] are [together] the all-pervasive might (vibhūti) of the all-pervasive Lord (vibhu). That itself is the triad of Goddesses — revealing their ultimate nature to me, may they make their home within.
tad-devatā-vibhava-bhāvi-mahāmarīci-cakreśvarāyita-nija-sthitir eka eva |
devī-suto Gaṇapatiḥ sphurad indu-kāntiḥ samyak-samucchalayatān mama saṃvid-abdhim || 6 ||
There is only one whose natural state is to behave like the Lord of the Circle, a great ray of light manifesting the majesty of that Divinity: Gaṇapati, the son of the Goddess, shimmering with the splendor of the moon. May he completely uplift the ocean of my awareness.
rāgāruṇaṃ granthi-bilāvakīrṇaṃ yo jālam ātāna-vitāna-vṛtti |
kalombhitaṃ bāhya-pathe cakāra stān me sa Macchanda-vibhuḥ prasannaḥ || 7 ||
May the [founder of the Kaula lineages,] Lord Macchanda, who made the Net within the Outer Path, red with passion, massive and extended, strewn with knots and holes, full of powers (kalā), be pleased with me.
To the Guru lineage
pūrve jayanti guravo guru-śāstra-sindhu-kallola-keli-kalanāmala-karṇa-dhārāḥ || 8 ||
Triumphant are those ancient Masters of the lineage called Traiyambaka, who share in the exceptional luminosity of the row of pearls in the Tāmraparṇī river! They are the stainless helmsmen who comprehend the play of the mighty billows of the ocean of the Gurus’ scriptures.
Abhinava honours his Gurus: of the Krama and the Kaula Trika
jayati gurur eka eva śrī-śrīkaṇṭho bhuvi pathitaḥ |
tadaparamūrtir bhagavān Maheśvaro Bhūtirājaś ca || 9 ||
Triumphant is the one Guru known on earth as the reverend Śrīkaṇṭha in two great embodiments: the Blessed Lords Bhūtirāja and [his son] Maheśvara.
Of the Pratyabhijñā
jayanti saṃvid-āmoda-sandarbhā dik-prasarpiṇaḥ || 10 ||
Triumphant are the compositions—delightfully fragrant with consciousness, spreading in all directions—arising from the reverend Utpala (|| the beautiful lotus), who awakened due to the reverend Somānanda (|| which blossomed due to the delight[ful rays] of the radiant moon).
Note: the symbol || indicates a pun (śleṣa), with the alternate meaning in parentheses.
tad-āsvāda-bharāveśa-baṃhitāṃ mati-ṣaṭpadīm |
guror Lakṣmaṇaguptasya nāda-saṃmohinīṃ numaḥ || 11 ||
We praise the bee-mind of the Guru Lakṣmaṇagupta, its enchanting resonance intensified by its total immersion in relishing that lotus (i.e. his teacher Utpala).
Honoring his father
He went to the far shore of the teachings of all the scriptures, and [now] reposes in perfect bliss [having left his body]: that revered Cukhulaka, the best of Gurus, taught me in every way. || 12
Honoring his Sadguru and consort
jayatāj jagad-uddhṛti-kṣamo ’sau bhagavatyā saha śambhunātha ekaḥ |
yad-udīrita-śāsanāṃśubhir me prakaṭo ’yaṃ gahano ’yaṃ śāstra-mārgaḥ || 13 ||
May the unique Śambhunātha, together with his consort, capable of rescuing the whole world, be triumphant! | This impenetrable path of scripture was made clear for me through the rays of his amplified teaching.
Purpose of the composition
There are varied liturgical manuals in great number for all the various streams of the tradition; but not even one is seen for the unsurpassed teachings and practices of the Trika. || 14
Thus, repeatedly asked by my good students and peers, I am writing a systematic treatise (prakriyā) that is clear and comprehensive (pūrṇārtha). || 15
śrībhaṭṭanātha-caraṇābja-yugāt tathā śrībhaṭṭārikāṃghir-yugalād guru-santatir yā |
bodhānya-pāśa-viṣanut-tad-upāsanottha bodhojjvalo 'bhinavagupta idaṃ karoti || 16 ||
The transmission of the Guru lineage from the lotus feet of the reverend Bhaṭṭanātha and from the lotus feet of the reverend Bhaṭṭārikā [i.e. Śambhunātha and consort] is the antidote to the poison of the bonds of what [seems] other than Awareness. Ablaze with the awakening arising from adoration of and service to that [lineage-transmission], Abhinavagupta creates this work.
Source and canonicity
There is nothing here not taught by the God of gods in the [root-text of the Trika], Mālinī-vijayottara, whether in the same words or by allusion. || 17
The teaching of the Lord is divided into ten (= the Saiddhāntika Śiva-bheda), eighteen (the Saiddhāntika Rudra-bheda), and sixty-four [Bhairava-tantras], the essence of which are the Trika scriptures; and the essence of those is the doctrine of the Mālinī. || 18
Thus, at the command of my Guru-nātha, I will make clear all that is contained therein, [especially those teachings] that have not been noticed by those learned men who are not of our tradition (sampradāya). || 19
This composition is by Abhinavagupta, whose name was elevated by his Guru(s), and whose attainment (prasiddhi) came from contemplating the lotus feet of the Three-eyed Lord. || 20
Conclusion of the Preface and Benediction
As an act of divine worship, may all contemplate the lotus of the heart of Abhinavagupta, < its blossom opened by the light falling from the rays of the sun, || its contraction [forever] banished by the wisdom descending from the feet of the illuminator, > [my master] the reverend Śambhunātha. || 21
For more on verses 1 and 21, see the previous post on double meanings in the Tantrāloka.
For the next section of the Tantrāloka (1.22-51), see On Bondage and Liberation.
 = vimarśa-śakti.
 = the heart of the ‘I’.
 = Ardhanarīśvara (?)
 the malas.
 meter: Vasanta-tilaka
 the "Impure Universe" or realm of māyā.
 Note: I take udīrita ‘amplified’ as indicating that Śambhunātha’s teaching went beyond that of the scriptures, and by so doing explained them.