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The Dialogical Manifestation Of Reality In Agamas – Part I

Tantric āgamas, considered to be divine revelation, are in dialogical format. In their monistic philosophy, Abhinavagupta and Kṣemarāja exploit this unique aspect of Āgamas and apply it to address the nature of the self that is identical with consciousness as well as the supreme divinity, Śiva. This theological assumption derives from the linguistic philosophy where consciousness and speech are inseparable. When applied in the context of the mantra speech, this concept provides a theological foundation for explaining the eternal dialogue of Śiva and Śakti, where the truth is constantly expressing itself. This understanding contrasts not only with the idea that truth is revealed in a monologue by the transcendent entity, but it also makes the manifestation of the absolute an eternal process. In other words, truth is dynamic, is constantly being revealed, and is always manifest dialogically.

Preliminary remarks: Śrutis in the Āgama literature

Within the parameters of a broader discourse of what constitutes Hindu theology, this article addresses the way certain texts, Śruti or revelation in general, are considered authoritative. Even when we bracket the aspect of orthopraxy, Hindu traditions do not rely on a single text, and even when certain texts are considered authoritative, different theologians give different reasons for their validity. The issue here, therefore, is the way textual authority is framed within Hindu systems. A particular focus here is the authority of the Śaiva and Śākta Āgamas. Tantric theologians argue for the validity of the Āgamas based on the premise that these texts are a dialogical emanation of the absolute and therefore are the very absolute in a tangible form.

Tantras and Vedas broadly adopt the same cultural presuppositions with regard to the power and efficacy of mantra speech. This is not to argue that both are identical, as on many occasions, they also reflect a cultural shift.2 It is thus not reasonable to address the concept of Śruti in the Tantras by isolating the broad parameters outlined in the Vedic tradition. This is just the beginning. Both Vedas and Tantras do not give a single narrative regarding the origins of the revelations, or the manifestation of the mantra speech, otherwise addressed as Śruti. Without entering into technical detail, Hindu theological traditions in general consider Vedas as eternal, comparing them to the breaths of the creator God, or the expression of the absolute, the Brahman, in phonetic form. While Nyāya philosophers consider God as the author of the Vedas, the rest of the Hindu traditions that accept Vedic testimony consider it un-authored, as an expression of the truth on its own. The Vedas, following the Purāṇic understanding, are revealed to Brahmā, the creator god, who brings the world into reality by articulating the mantras. Brahmā shares this wisdom qua speech with Rṣis, the ones who have recognised the reality. This Purāṇic depiction is itself a modification to the Vedic understanding, where, according to the Puruṣas+kta, the Vedas – Og, Sāma, and Yajus, and also the Vedic meters – come into existence through the sacrifice of the cosmic being (puruṣa).3 In all accounts, there is no human endeavour in revealing the Vedas, as creation succeeds the Vedic manifestation. As Sāyaṇa states, Vedas are the breath of the supreme Lord and are the instruments in creating the entire world.4 Starting from Yāska’s etymology of Rṣis as the ‘seers’ [of the mantras],5 Sabara’s standing that Vedas are not originated,6 or the Vedānta understanding of Śruti,7 the Vedic traditions in general maintain that the testimony of the Vedas comes from it being un-authored, that it is self-manifest in the beginning of creation, that words precede the world, and that there is no inter-subjectivity (not even subjectivity, except for the Naiyāyikas who consider the Vedas as authored by `Śvara) in the Vedic revelation.

The Āgamic depiction of Śruti also contains some of these nuances. The preeminence of mantras, where mantras are the expression of the very absolute, the transcendental reality, is common to both systems. Mantras or the manifest body of the transcendent reality, in both Vedic and Tantric Āgama (revelation) systems, are not categorically different from the supreme being, as they embody the absolute. Since creation follows the emanation of mantras and speakers succeed the formation of speech, there is no human agency in these paradigms. Where the Āgamic understanding varies is in the process: (i) the absolute assumes agency and in this sense becomes somewhat similar to `Śvara of the Naiyāyikas. However, this God (Śiva, Bhairava, etc.) is the very speech manifest, and so is not identical. (ii) The agency of Śiva or Bhairava in the Āgamic paradigm is inter-subjective and dialogical, and the collection of Āgamas (ten Śaivaþeighteen Raudraþsixty-four Bhairava¼ninety-two) are revealed in dialogue with the supreme being, whether the subjects are ‘seers’, deities, or Śakti. Āgamas have an explicit teleology, whether it is for Śakti to recognise Śiva or for humans to realise the absolute reality. Following the Śaiva understanding, the body of Śiva is comprised of five seminal mantras (and of course all the mantras that emanate from these), and Śiva performs five acts of creation, sustenance, reabsorption, concealment, and grace, conceived of as the very expression of the mantra speech.Śruti, in this sense, is the self-reflexive nature of Śiva that manifests itself in its actualisation of being which comes through a division, an interface between the manifesting aspect of Śiva matched by His own self-awareness, identified with Śakti. This understanding is non-dual, and so is the scope of this article. While I will trace the concept of Āgama as found in multiple Śaiva sources, the underlying philosophy in this discourse is non-dual, and in this sense Abhinavaguptian.

Śruti in Siddhānta literature

In order to limit the scope of this article, I will examine the way Āgamic revelation is outlined by Sadyojyoti (around eighth century) and address some key passages from other Siddhānta8 literature in this section, before initiating the discourse on Āgama in Trika literature. Although this examination is very brief, it provides a picture of the way the authority of the Āgamas is maintained in Śaiva traditions. The most frequently cited passage from the Svāya:bhuvas+trasan˙ graha (SSS) regarding the revelation of the Āgamas follows:

athātmamalamāyākhyakarmabandhavimuktaye j

vyaktaye ca Śivatvasya Śivāj jn˜āna: pravartate jj SSS 1. 2.

Now, in order to liberate the individual selves from the [threefold] bondage of mala, māyā, and karma, and to reveal the absolute (Śiva) nature, the wisdom is set in motion through Śiva.

Sadyojyoti’s exposition of this passage is crucial to ground the status of Āgama. He maintains that the wisdom that liberates individuals suffering from bondage manifests through Pati, the Master, and since Śiva and the selves are of the same class (samānajātaya), the wisdom imparted by Śiva is capable of eradicating bondage (Sa 1.2). This wisdom is revealing the self, and if the individual selves were not of the same class, Śiva’s revelation of his essential nature would not assist the individual selves recognise their true identity. This wisdom, in Sadyojyoti’s understanding, is twofold: of the character of speech (Śabda) where Śabda is referring to mantra, and of the character of realisation (avabodha). Superimposed upon the knowledge of the character of word, the wisdom of the character of realisation activates in the field of meaning.9 This hierarchy of wisdom outlined by Sadyojyoti in terms of word and meaning encompasses both ritual activities and contemplative practices. This twofold wisdom eliminates twofold ignorance (avidyā): the ignorance of the outside world, i.e. affecting intellect (buddhi) that provides false notions, and the ignorance of the self, i.e. the avidyā that is affecting the self (pu:s) and causing limitation to self-awareness.

After this brief exposition, Sadyojyoti introduces an alternative reading to the above passage with a new insight upon the concept of ‘wisdom’ (jn˜āna). This wisdom, according to Sadyojyoti, is the veryŚakti of Śiva that manifests in twofold forms of realisation and ritual-initiation.10 Sadyojyoti compares this twofold revelation of Śiva with the twofold energies of light and heat inherent to the sun that illuminates and burns objects. In this metaphor, ritual initiation is compared with the heat of the sun. Initiation, following the earlier comparison, is of mantras, and while these mantras are of the character of speech, they cut through the bondage and manifest Śiva nature, and are, in this sense, of the character of wisdom.11

While commenting upon the above passage, Sadyojyoti raises the issue that if the grace of Śiva is possible only through twofold wisdom, the grace bestowed by Śiva by his mere will (icchā) will fall outside this scope. He responds to this objection by maintaining that even this will is the power of Śiva and thus falls under ‘initiation’, or dakṣā that is etymologically analysed as bestowing knowledge and destroying bondage. Therefore even the will of Śiva, although a separate power, is still within a broader understanding of wisdom due to its self-revealing nature.12 Sadyojyoti adds: this wisdom is unitary, given the identity between Śiva and Śakti. It is singular, although this wisdom attains manifoldness due to its distinction in transcendent and immanent forms.13 WhatŚiva reveals, along these lines, is himself, and he carries this out by imparting his inherent power (Śakti) to individual selves that are identified as belonging to the same class as Śiva (sajātaya). Āgama, along these lines, is the power of Śiva, where Śiva and his power are inherently linked and are not two distinct categories. And what this power in the form of wisdom contains is ‘revelation’ or manifestation of the self-nature of Śiva. In essence, Āgama is an extension of Śiva and thus can be considered the body of Śiva. Paving the path to the later development of the concept of prakāŚa and vimarŚa in Trika literature and the identity of consciousness with the self and Śiva, Sadyojyoti maintains that consciousness is the very act of knowing, a power of the self.14 This threefold relation of the self, consciousness, and the power in the form of action, provides the foundation that maintains that both the realisation and ritual acts that in consequence grant realisation are Śakti, the manifest body of Śiva.

Siddhānta literature categorises the power of Śiva identified as realisation (avabodha) into two: the power that is inherent toŚiva (samavāyavartina) and the power that surroundsŚiva or is in contact with the Lord (parigrahavartina). Between these two, even the first power inherent to Śiva is twofold: of the form of awareness (bodha) and action (kriyā). The first in them, the power of the character of awareness, circumscribes all objects, as all that exists has the potential to be cognised. The second in them, the power in the form of action, is twofold: of the form of grace (anugraha) and concealment (tirodhāna). Śiva, in the beginning of creation, manifests this wisdom of the character of realisation, assuming five forms. Since this wisdom of the nature of Śiva transmits or metaphorically ‘flows’ through five faces of Śiva, these are also called ‘streams’ (srotas). This wisdom in its original form is of the character of the cosmic sound (nāda) which is transformed by SadāŚiva in the form of Āgamas.15

In order to counter the argument that the wisdom imparted by Śiva is distinct from the means, speech, distilled in the form of Āgamas, Nārāyaṇakaṇbha (1090 CE) identifies this wisdom with the Śāstras, or the revelatory texts.16 This interpretation adds yet another aspect to this discussion, that the Āgamic texts are the very Śakti of Śiva that he has revealed, or imparted to the subjects of his class so that they can actualise their true nature or realise that they belong to the same class as Śiva, and in so doing, embody the divine Śakti.

This Siddhānta position on Āgamas brings multiple factors into discourse. Following this understanding, when creation begins, or when Śiva emanates himself in the form of the world, the power of grace (anugraha) is embedded in the very act of creation, and this power causes Śiva to impart his liberating wisdom, which, in turn, is the very Śakti that is identical to Śiva. Guru and Śiṣya, or the preceptor and the learner, are thus the one body of transcendent awareness that separates in the process of knowing, with one revealing the truth and the other, receiving this wisdom. This process begins with the separation of the transcendent being and culminates with an actualisation of the oneness of Śiva and Śakti. What has been cognised in this process of revelation and the very act of cognising, are both considered to be Śakti, an extension or aspect of Śiva. This identity of Śiva with kriyāŚakti, the power of action or the power found in the form of dynamism, implies that both what is being revealed and the act of revelation are of Śiva nature.

It has been mentioned above that Śiva assumes fivefold forms to transmit the wisdom that manifests his essential nature. This numeric link has a maṇnalic correlation in subsequent Tantric development. This also has a philosophical foundation: Śiva assumes the fivefold actions, from creation to grace, through these emanations; grace (anugraha) is embedded in each of these actions, as each of these faces reveal their own Āgamas. Each of these faces mirror the complete form of Śiva in that they all carry out the fivefold actions of Śiva. That each of the faces embodies the rest of the actions, and in essence, also the teachings of the other faces, is affirmed with twenty-five Śiva emanations, with five manifestations from each of SadāŚiva’s faces.17 The wisdom transmitted through these faces involves the instructions identified as ‘worldly’ (laukika), Vedic, subjected to the self (ādhyātmika), trans-path (atimārgika), and mantra orders.18

In contrast to this horizontally spatialised transmission of the authoritative texts, there also is a vertical, fivefold order of transmission,. This structure gives a hierarchy of teachings, where the wisdom flows from Śiva to SadāŚiva, and from him to NidhaneŚa, and successively from NidhaneŚa to Svayambhu, to Bālakhilyas (the seers), and through them to the humans. The twofold wisdom of mantra and realisation, along these lines, circulates from top to bottom in a dialogical order.19 As Dviveda (1983, p.120) points out, this sequence of revelation is rejected in the Trika/Anuttara system, which has a single ‘transcendent’ order of revelation reaching to all subjects, and Śiva is thus in dialogue with all subjects simultaneously.20 In both these sequences, the revelation of Āgamas, with Śiva assuming fivefold forms, does not rely on temporality.

The question is, can the pure wisdom manifest to the bottom of the strata, the humans, directly from the transcendent Śiva nature? As has been observed, there are two different positions regarding this issue. If we analyse further, the Śaiva texts overwhelmingly support a fivefold strata (Dviveda 1983, pp.120–21), with the single flash of awareness spreading to all subjects simultaneously is the concept predominant to the Trika system.

A further question arises: is this wisdom of Śiva that manifests in the form of the self-revealing awareness and the power of action (kriyā-Śakti) expressed in the form of ritual-initiation (including the will of Śiva that directly reveals Śiva nature by His grace without going through a chain of initiation), somewhat different from theŚakti that gives rise to the material world? This question is due to not realising that Śiva and his fivefold actions are not two separate entities, as Śiva and Śakti are not two distinct categories. The fivefold energies inherent to Śiva – powers of awareness, bliss, will, cognition, and action – are expressed in each of the fivefold actions of creation, sustenance, reabsorption, concealment, and grace. Divine grace is embedded in this revelation, as both the receiving subject (i.e. the supreme Śakti) and what is being revealed (i.e. the mantras and the wisdom of the self) are in essence the ‘acts’ of Śiva’s grace. In conclusion, the power that gives rise to the world and the awareness of the self are two aspects of the grace of Śiva and therefore identical. Teleology thus becomes a meta-issue that weaves ontological and epistemological questions. Śiva’s grace, in this paradigm, is both the foundation and the act of dialogue, where the dialogue stands for the selfrevelation of Śiva. Creation is no longer understood as a platform for grace, but as an act of grace itself. Accordingly, Śiva’s fivefold emanations and His acts are the expressed forms of His power of grace, anugraha Śakti.

Another question emerges: if Śiva’s nature is purely gracious, why are individual souls bound in the world, transmigrating from one to another body and eternally suffering? Siddhānta and Trika texts have the same answer to this question and so do many other Dharma traditions, that this bondage is not given by the Lord, or that he did not create individual selves. Just likeŚiva, individual selves are eternal, and applying Siddhānta terminology, they belong to the same class as Śiva. Following the Siddhānta pantheon, the difference lies in the individual selves being bound, with limited experience of powers that are found limitless in Śiva. Being in the world is the beginning of contemplation and the grace of Śiva is the path. For the infinite number of selves, Śiva thus provides a platform upon which they manifest their desires, actualise them, and eventually liberate from their attachments and desires. This schema of revelation also affirms a teleology of creation: not just that creation has a purpose but that the act of creation is itself a grace. It is in creation that Śiva manifests his powers and when these energies enter the heart, individual selves experience the gracious nature of Śiva. This is explained in varied terms: the emission of powers (Śakti-pāta) or the gaze of Śiva (ŚivadPṣbi). This grace is at the foundation of individuals seeking liberation and seeking a master, receiving initiation and so on.

The paper was first published in The Journal of Hindu Studies 2014;7:6–24 and has been republished with author’s permission.

Featured Image Credit: Saivism

(This article was published by IndiaFacts in 2019)

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