On Bondage and Liberation: Tantraloka 1.22-51

This post continues the translation of "Light on the Tantras" chapter one (The Aspects of Consciousness). Very little commentary for now; mostly just straight translation, as clear as I can make it. However, commentary on four of the key verses below (22, 24, 31, and 32) can be found here: Tantrik Philosophy for the Layman: the Cause of Liberation

A manuscript from Kashmīr. Language: Sanskrit. Script: Śāradā.

A manuscript from Kashmīr. Language: Sanskrit. Script: Śāradā.

Material in [brackets] is directly implied by the syntax without being expressly stated (Abhinavagupta being an elliptical writer).

Introduction to the Work: On Knowledge & Ignorance and Bondage & Liberation

(Abhinavagupta here defends the spiritual necessity of study & contemplation.)

To begin with, in our system, it is declared in all the scriptures that lack of awareness (ajñāna) is the cause of saṃsāra (the cycle of suffering) and insight (jñāna) the sole cause of liberation. || 22

It is taught in this way in the sacred Mālinī-vijayottara: “The [authorities] hold that Impurity is [nothing but] ignorance (ajñāna), and that is the cause of the ‘sprout’ of saṃsāra.”  || 23

With this qualifier, [the scripture] refutes vain speculation (sambhāvanā) concerning [which form of] intellectual [knowledge might liberate], [all of which is] subsequent to [the activation of] saṃsāra [and so cannot address its cause], and states [simply] that when there is an absence of this [ignorance], there is liberation (etadabhāve mokṣam). || 24

“Ignorance” (ajñāna) does not mean a total lack of understanding/awareness, because that would overextend the scope of the word, and then it would also apply to a clod of earth and the like, and there is no cycle of suffering for it! || 25

For this reason, the Śiva-sūtra teaches that the very knowledge which does not illuminate the principle-to-be-known in its entirety is [in fact] “ignorance” of that [principle]. || 26

This is the meaning demonstrated by the [first] two sūtras, caitanyamātmājñānaṃ bandhaḥ, when reading them both in conjunction and separately (“Consciousness is the Self; knowledge/ignorance is bondage”). || 27

“Consciousness” is a word with an abstract ending (bhāvāntaḥ), [indicating that] it is nothing but [absolute] autonomous freedom, unparticularized [pure] Being (anākṣipta-viśeṣaṃ sat)—this is said in the first sūtra. || 28

But with the second sūtra (jñānaṃ bandhaḥ), referring to either [the] action [of knowing] and/or its instrument, it describes [those as “bondage,” i.e.] a division within that pure Awareness. || 29

Re-reading [the sūtra, and breaking the sandhi to read ajñānaṃ bandhaḥ], we learn that the appearance of duality is “ignorance.” Because it is [in reality] an insignificant trifle (tuccha), it is called a “fetter.” For that very reason, it can and should be completely eliminated. || 30

Liberation is not different from the autonomous Self; it is neither a insignificant trifle nor the opposite (something to make a big deal about). Thus a separate name for it is not even needed. || 31

That which reveals an ever-fuller [vision] of the thing-to-be-known, together with the principles (tattva) [that constitute it], is true insight, reaching higher and higher [tattvas], and bringing to cessation the various cycles of suffering [operative on the transcended levels]. || 32

“I am free of the taint of desire and so on;” “I am the inner void;” “I am free from doership”—these forms of insight, collectively or separately, liberate one only so far [/only from the corresponding forms of bondage]. || 33

The commentator (Jayaratha) says that the three quotes above apply to the claims of the Yogācāra Buddhists, the Madhyamika Buddhists, and the Sānkhyas respectively.

Therefore, though one is liberated from one source of separation (avaccheda), he is really unliberated, because other sources of separation continue to exist. But he is liberated when he is free of all forms of separation and limitation. || 34

(in logic, avaccheda is the property of a thing by which it is distinguished from everything else. Under avachinna, Apte's dictionary has “Separated or excluded from all other things by the properties predicated of a thing as peculiar to itself,” and “divided, detached; bounded; particularized.”

My reflection on this verse — The "takeaway" is this: vigilantly notice how you become internally divided or divided from others, and vigilantly notice what helps you step into your innate wholeness and connection to others. However far you've come, whatever realizations you've had, don't imagine the process is complete until every strategy of separation has been disarmed, every means of "protecting" yourself has been abandoned, and you see with every cell of your being that showing up for what IS, no matter how much it hurts sometimes, is truly the only way.
 
And, as verse 33 suggests, when you make the spiritual journey personal [“this is what *I* have realized, this is what *I* have overcome”], you are still separating yourself.)

That insight (jñāna) into the thing-to-be-known together with its constituent principles (tattva) which is completely free of all sources of separation can never be partial (ajñāna), [and therefore] it grants true liberation. || 35

In the teachings of Śiva, it is said that insight and ignorance each have two kinds, called personal/innate/spiritual (pauruṣa) and mental/intellectual (bauddha, buddhi-gata). || 36

Of these, the innate ignorance is called “impurity” (mala). Though it arises from Śiva, it is the veiling of one’s [innate] divinity, i.e., expanded (pūrṇa) awareness and activity; || 37

that is, it is the contracted awareness and activity of the bound soul. It is unconstructed (avikalpita, i.e. not culturally derived). This [type of] ignorance is not a part of the intellect, because it does not entail mental determination (adhyavasāya) and so on. || 38

(The Sānkhya-tattva-kaumudi describes adhyavasāya as “ascertainment or determinate knowledge as consequent upon the manifestation of the essence of the intellect, when the inertia of the intellect is overcome by the operation of the sense organs in apprehending their objects” (Sinha 1934: 121). At SK 23, adhyavasāya is associated with intellect (buddhi). Commenting on SK 23 in his Kārikā Bhāṣya, Gauḍapāda explains this term as “intellectual determination of the object of perception as belonging to a definite class, such as this is a jar, this is a cloth” (Sinha 1934: 121).)

“I know this [thing] as having such a nature”—when such a determinate cognition comes into being, due to a reflection arising in the limited soul muddied by the six obscurations, that kind of mental knowledge is [rightly] called ignorance [or partial knowing]; [yet] spiritual insight can and should be nourished by it and is the nourisher of it in turn [once the fundamental spiritual ignorance is severed by initiation]. || 39-40

Spiritual insight is the expanding wisdom (vikasvaraṃ vijñānam) free of mental constructs had by one who has attained the supreme state once the impressions of his bound state have wasted away. || 41

Commentator Jayaratha quotes: “For one who is immersed in desire, sorrow, etc., through cognitively synthesizing [the bhāva in question] as one with himself, unconditioned insight which has as its nature direct experience of the given reality can arise.”

To the extent that [knowledge arises] in alignment with the expanding non-discursive [spiritual] insight, that is the [kind of] intellectual [knowledge] previously mentioned that nourishes and is nourished by spiritual insight. || 42

On that point, though spiritual ignorance is destroyed by initiation and what follows it, [for most people] the corresponding spiritual insight manifests clearly [only] at the end of one’s body. || 43

But when the increase of ignorance on the level of the mind is dissolved by the knowledge appropriate to that level (bauddha-jñāna) as well, then liberation-while-living is in the palm of one’s hand. || 44

Initiation, for its part, is truly liberating [only] when it is preceded by thorough understanding on the level of the mind (bauddha-vijñāna) [on the part of the initiating guru]; therefore, even in that case, mental understanding is of the foremost importance. || 45 

And this two-fold distinction applying to both insight and the lack thereof has been made by [a variety of] teachers, beginning with the venerable Kheṭapāla [Sadyojyotiḥ] in [his commentaries on] the Svāyambhuva, the Raurava, and the Mataṅga-pārameśvara.  || 46

(So there is innate ignorance & innate insight and mental ignorance & mental understanding.)

In mastering the mental understanding characterized by this kind of correct discernment (avasāya), it is scripture that is the primary factor, since [only it] reveals the reality of that-which-is-to-be-known. || 47

Even after the inner spiritual ignorance is destroyed by initiation, [binding] mental constructs may still persist if mental [ignorance] has not ceased. || 48

Since feeling that the mind is the self lasts as long as the body exists, but not past its end, liberation occurs [only then] for one whose spiritual ignorance has been removed [by initiation, but whose mental ignorance remains uncorrected].  || 49

But upon cessation of wrong understanding (bauddhājñāna), because mental constructs are [thereby] totally uprooted, liberation certainly follows just then [for one who has also received initiation]. This is taught by the Creator in the sacred Niśāṭana-tantra: || 50

“One whose heart-mind is yoked to mental constructs attains God only at the fall of the body; but someone else [who releases concepts does so] sooner,” because [he realizes] the primary [teachings] of the scriptures on this point.  || 51

(According to Jayaratha, the full Niśāṭana quote reads: “One whose heart-mind is yoked to mental constructs attains God only at the fall of the body; but one whose heart-mind is free of mental constructs sees himself as imperishable Śiva, and by the purity of his bhāva, certainly is liberated in this life.” This scripture is now lost.)

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