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Abhinava Gupta

Post by: 06/05/2017 0 comments 257 views


Abhinavagupta was a philosopher, mystic and aesthetician from Kashmir. He was also considered an influential musician, poet, dramatist, exegete, theologian, and logician – a polymathic personality who exercised strong influences on Indian culture.
He was born in Kashmir in a family of scholars and mystics and studied all the schools of philosophy and art of his time under the guidance of as many as fifteen (or more) teachers and gurus. In his long life he completed over 35 works, the largest and most famous of which is Tantrāloka, an encyclopaedic treatise on all the philosophical and practical aspects of Trika and Kaula (known today as Kashmir Shaivism). Another one of his very important contributions was in the field of philosophy of aesthetics with his famous Abhinavabhāratī commentary of Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata Muni.
As an original thinker he shattered to pieces the established belief which laid heavy emphasis on caste and gender restrictions in relation to spiritual practice. He took to task those philosophical systems which held the prerequisite that spirituality required rigorous discipline–systems which made the quest for enlightenment the legitimate right of a chosen few. He abhorred the idea that spiritual revelation was only possible in a purely monastic surrounding, or that those caught in the householder way of life had to wait till the last portion of life before they could fully give themselves to spiritual pursuits. This idea was best expressed by Abhinavagupta in one of his concluding verses of Patanjali’s Paramarthasara:

“O my devotees! On this path of supreme Bhairava, whoever has taken a step with pure desire, no matter if that desire is slow or intense; it does not matter if he is a Brahmin, if he is a sweeper, if he is an outcast, or if he is anybody; he becomes one with Para-bhairava.” 

Abhinavagupta’s ideas were radical for his time, but since he spoke from the level of direct experience no one was capable of refuting him.
Having achieved the eight great siddhi powers he clearly exhibited the six illustrious spiritual signs: unswerving devotional attachment to Shiva; full attainment of mantra siddhi; control over the five elements; capacity to accomplish any desired end; complete mastery over the science of rhetoric and poetry; and the spontaneous dawning of knowledge of all philosophies.
The poet Madhuraja asserted that Abhinavagupta was the incarnation of Bhairava-natha Shiva. Swami Lakshmanjoo considered Abhinavagupta the pride of Kashmir and the final authority on all aspects of Shaivism. Even today his works and teachings continue to deeply influence discerning people worldwide.


Abhinavagupta’s principal teacher was Lakshmana Gupta, but he traveled widely, even outside of Kashmir, to study different Shastras (teachings) under different at least 19 different teachers, including Buddhist and Jaina masters. In his Tantraloka he says that even though one might be lucky enough to get a teacher who has attained perfection himself and can easily lead his pupil to it, that does not mean one should not approach other teachers for obtaining knowledge of other teachings and other paths. He successively practiced and contributed to the development of each of Kashmir Shaivism’s three great schools, Krama, Trika, and Kula. Abhinavagupta credited the teacher Shâmbhu Nâtha in Jâlandhara, from whom he received the practices of the Kaula tradition, with leading him to enlightenment and true peace.

Later in his life, Abhinavagupta rose to the position of Acharya of the Shaiva sects in Kashmir. When Abhinavagupta wrote Tantaloka (The Light of the Tantras) in his early middle age, he seems to have had just a small group of close disciples, almost all of whom were members of his family. He tells us that his brother Manoratha was one of the first to learn from him and that he was later joined by Karna, the husband of his sister Amba. When Karna died prematurely and left Amba alone with their only son, she devoted herself entirely to the worship of Lord Shiva and the service of her brother. Karna’s father, a minister who had left the court to become “a minister of the Lord;” her father’s sister, Almost all the other disciples he refers to were sons of his paternal uncle, Utpala, Abhinava, Chakraka and Padamgupta and one named ‘Kshema,’ who might have been Kshemaraja, his most distinguished disciple.

“There are dull-witted people who are confused themselves and throw the multitude of creatures into confusion. Having bound them fast with fetters, they bring them under subjection with tall talk of their qualities. Having thus seen creatures who are simply carriers of the burden of gurus and their blind followers, I have prepared a trident of wisdom in order to cut asunder their bondage.”

The date of Abhinavagupta’s death is estimated at around 1025 C.E.. According to Kashmiri tradition, he entered a cave while reciting the Bhairavastava along with 1,200 disciples, and was never seen again. This cave, alleged to be his burial place, is located at “Birwa” village some five miles from Magam on the Gulmarg range.


A Thousand Years Of Abhinava Gupta

A thousand years ago to the year one of the world’s most prolific and brilliant literary critics is said to have penned his final work. If our historical estimations on the birth date, the date of Abhinavagupta’s final literary work  his luminous commentary, Reflections on the Recognition of the Lord (Īśvarapratyabhijñā-vimarśinī) and death are accurate, then this brilliant Kashmiri polymath put down his pen around the age of 66 at the time of the winter solstice in 1015, some five years before dying, or as lore would have it, transforming back into his divine, Bhairava self.


Born of a Yoginī

It is safe to say that Abhinavagupta’s life both began and ended with a proverbial ‘bang’. In the opening verse to his Distillation of the Tantra (Tantrasāra) Abhinavagupta poetically links his own birth with the birth of creation itself. The preeminent Abhinavagupta scholar, Alexis Sanderson, brilliantly renders Abhinavagupta’s invocatory double meaning as follows:
May my heart shine forth, embodying the bliss of the ultimate one with the state of absolute potential made manifest in the fusion of these two, the ‘Mother’ grounded in pure representation, radiant in ever new genesis, and the ‘Father,’ all- enfolding.


With these words Abhinavagupta begins his brilliant synopsis of the spiritual tradition that he himself would bring to an apex, namely the Tantra, or specifically the Tantra of the Embodied Triad (Trika Kaula), which itself was a particular lineage within the broader spectrum of pan-Indian Tantra.
Abhinavagupta’s creative synthesis of the Embodied Triad placed emphasis on the use of the body as a means to attaining a non-dual state of recognition of the all-pervasive nature of divine consciousness, termed Bhairava or Parameśvara.


A Bearer of Many Lineages

Abhinavagupta’s cosmicized description of his own birth matches the claims that he was in fact an incarnation of the god Bhairava, conceived through extraordinary circumstances in which his mother and father engaged in ritualized sexual union. His birth, in other words, was not the beginning of his life-journey but rather the appropriate means by which a god-being entered into the world for the sake of revealing ancient wisdom toward the end of providing a path of liberation for worthy seekers. Similar to the narrative of the historical Buddha, Abhinavagupta lost his mother Vimala at an early age. Thereafter, he was raised by his father, Narasiṁhagupta together with his brother Manoratha and sister Ambā. His father was a pious Brahmin, devoted to the worship of lord Śiva.

Tantra and the Teachings of Abhinavagupta

Today we think of Kashmir as a battlefield, but a thousand years ago it was a haven of religious tolerance where Buddhist, Jain, and numerous different Hindu schools flourished together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Abhinavagupta steeped himself in the wisdom of these traditions, but he finally joined the lineage that resonated most deeply with his intelligent and passionate nature: the tantric tradition of Kashmir Shaivism.

Around 800 C.E. the Shiva Sutra, a set of aphorisms explaining the essential nature of consciousness and how you can experience it for yourself, was revealed to a north Indian sage named Vasugupta. Expanding on the Shiva Sutra, Vasugupta composed the Spanda Karika, which describes the limitless power of awareness and what happens when you master it. These two classics deal respectively with Shiva, the “male” or passive element of reality, and Shakti, the “female” or active component of the universe. To understand these teachings you need to keep in mind that while Western religions tend to picture the Supreme Being exclusively as male, in India it is seen as both male and female. Eternal pure awareness is called God in this system, while the ability of consciousness to know itself and to manifest the cosmos out of itself is described as the Goddess.

Credit – wikipedia
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Credit – sutrajournal
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