Universal Patterns of Energy (Tantraaloka 1.106-116)

Universal Patterns of Energy: The Tantrik View of Reality
(translation of Abhinavagupta's Tantrāloka, chapter one, verses 106-116; with translator's commentary)

So, by Śiva’s command, I will teach the nature of that-which-must-be known (jñeya) according to [these five sources of wisdom]: my own awareness, valid reasoning, the Lord’s scriptures, and [particularly] the Trika and Krama [lineages]. || 106

1. Traditionally, the first three sources of knowledge given here--logical reasoning, scriptural revelation, and one's own experience--must agree on any given proposition for it to be considered 'true'. 2. Note that Abhinava uses the term jñeya (literally, 'that-which-ought-to-be-known') to mean both God and the Goal of the spiritual path. The following verse shows that here jñeya = God, which of course means transindividual Consciousness in this view.

[According to the Trika and Krama lineages,] He has three [primary] powers — the Higher, Median, and Lower (śaktis), which manifest in Emission, Stasis, Dissolution, and the [transcendent] Fourth, and thus are said to be twelve. || 107

In the Trika lineage there are three primary Goddesses, embodying the three primary potencies (śaktis) of consciousness: Parā, Parāparā, and Aparā, expressing the Powers of Willing, Knowing, and Acting respectively. In the Krama lineage 12 Kālīs are worshipped, and Abhinavagupta sees these as the śaktis that emerge when the three primary Powers are multiplied by the four primary phases of cognition in the Krama, which are Emission, Stasis, Dissolution, and the transcendent ground of the process (the "nameless Fourth") which eternally abides. Each cognition has these four phases, so it is reasonable to argue, as Abhinava does, that when Consciousness 'wants' to express itself in form and movement, it does so in these 12 phases: Emission of Will, Stasis of Will, Dissolution of Will, the transcendent Ground of the Will; Emission of Knowing, and so on. (For more on this, see Tantra Illuminated p. 181.) Of course it is not actually a linear sequence, but a kind of interference pattern (in the Physics sense of that term) of waves of energy, since each of these 12 śaktis is interrelated with all the others. Note that Abhinava specifically uses the term 'waves of awareness' below.

A classic interference pattern. A small number of wave-emitting sources can create a very complex pattern.

A classic interference pattern. A small number of wave-emitting sources can create a very complex pattern.

However, the 12 Kālīs are visualized in Tantrik practice in a more manageable form: as a 12-spoked Wheel of Fire, with Shiva (or rather Bhairava) as the hub of the Wheel. (This meditation is described on p. 385 and following of Tantra Illuminated)

To the extent that He comprises [these twelve] and his nature is fulfilled [by those powers], Śiva is said to be supreme. Therefore, those who venerate [the Divine] in this way are directly established in That itself and perfected in That alone. || 108

Moreover, the activation of those powers in greater and lesser aspects is said in the scriptures to be due [entirely] to the Power of His Freedom (svātantrya-śakti). || 109

[Thus He is said to be] the One Hero, the Couple, the Triple Power, the Fourfold Self, the one who has Five Forms, or Six Aspects, or Seven, or Eight, or Nine; He who has the powers of the ten directions and the eleven energies (kalā); [and as] Bhairava, the Lord of the Great Wheel of twelve spokes. || 110-111

These 'interference patterns' of energy give rise to countless diverse forms of the One divine Consciousness. This is how Abhinavagupta explains the many forms and aspects of the divine that are worshipped in various Tantrik lineages. The Kaulas venerate the divine Couple, Kuleśvara & Kuleśvarī (Shiva & Shakti); the followers of the Trika venerate the Triple Power (mentioned above); in the Pratyabhijñā philosophy, Consciousness is said to diversify into the Fourfold Self of every human being; in the Siddhānta, five faces of Shiva are worshipped; the Kaubjikas venerate Shiva in nine aspects (navātman) and so on.

Thus the Lord [manifests in forms] as great as the thousand-spoked [Wheel] or even the Universal Wheel of countless ‘spokes’. The Great Lord whose powers comprise the whole universe expands into [these countless forms]. || 112

Moreover, this division [of Divine Consciousness] into these Wheels [of energy] is taught in various places in the scriptures, [each such teaching describing] a complete and coherent system subdivided into [specific] cakras in accordance with the classes [of reality taught in that specific tantra]. || 113

Abhinava here explains that all of the many different cakra systems taught in the scriptures are valid and are not mutually contradictory, because they each map different aspects of the complex pattern of reality. Of course cakras are also the primary centers of the energy body of a human being, because each human being is a microcosm of the Whole, and contains the pattern of the Whole. Western yoga is only aware of one cakra system, and thinks it is the only one, whereas original Tantrik Yoga features many systems, and the practitioner works with a single one of these at a time, dependent on lineage and the type of practice he wishes to pursue.

[For example,] in the doctrine of the Triśirobhairava-tantra [of the Trika lineage], the Lord of wondrously diverse nature has lordship of six cakras, due to his union with [‘wheels’ of] four, six, eight, twelve, sixteen, and twenty-four [powers]. || 114

The tantra here named is a lost scripture of the Trika which Abhinavagupta quotes as an authority on the nature of the DIvine. Though we don't have its energy-body description, several other six-cakra systems have survived in other texts. Each cakra has a certain number of 'spokes' or rays of energy, also visualized as petals of a flower, each being associated with a specific syllable of a mantra or a specific bhāva (mental-emotional state). Each cakra is presided over by a deity in the center.

The names of the goddesses of the cakras are connected with visualizations of gentle or sweet images [of them, and so] vary according to their function, being created [by men] in accordance with their referents. || 115

Somewhat surprisingly, here Abhinavagupta implies (with the word kalpana) that the names of the deities are not absolute or divinely revealed but invented by humans. This invention is not random, however; the names correspond with certain aspects of the realities they denote, which are, as already noted, patterns of conscious energy.

For the ‘inner body’ of the One Lord who is Consciousness is intuitive inspiration (pratibhā). [She] is venerated as the ‘Wheel of the Waves of Awareness’ [in either of two forms]: peaceful, quiescent [and unlimited] or in a different, limited [form]. || 116

One's primary deity can be visualized above the crown of the head or in the heart center. The primary deity is the 'inner body', as it were, of Divine Consciousness, here said to be the power of intuitive awareness, instinctual wisdom, and creative inspiration -- all three phrases translate the Sanskrit word pratibhā (cf. Tantrāloka verse 2). Abhinavagupta's primary deity, then, is Parā Devī, who is said to embody pratibhā. Note that here the Goddess is pictured as the inner core of the masculine deity, Śiva, which is typical in the Krama lineage. 

Pratibhā/Parādevī is to be worshipped inwardly as the samvid-ūrmi-cakra, the ultimate Wheel of the Waves of Awareness. Those seeking liberation visualize Her in a peaceful, sweet, quiescent, unlimited form (saumyā, śāntā, amitā) and those seeking pleasure and powers (bhoga, siddhi) visualize Her in fierce (ghora) form for a specific limited purpose. (cf. verse 1.123) Indeed Parā emanates two lower fierce forms, Parāparā and Aparā, as seen on p. 236 of Tantra Illuminated.