About the Author:
DR. SANJUKTA GUPTA is a leading authority on the early Pancaratra (Vaisnava) cult and sectarian system. She is also a specialist in Hindu Tantra. She has published extensively on these topics. She began her scholarly career with a study in Advaita Vedanta focused on the great sixteenth-century savant Madhusudana Sarasvati. She taught for almost twenty years at the University of Utrecht (Netherlands), and is now teaching, in the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford.
About the Book:
Otto Schrader in 1916 recommended the Lakshmi Tantra for the study of Pancaratra philosophy. Among the vast number of Pancaratra Agamic text the Laksmi Tantra stands out because it deals almost exclusively with Lakshmi, the divine creative impulse, intelligence, potency, potentiality, power, majesty and speech. The focus of the text is on Pancaratra philosophy (including cosmogony) and the practice of yoga based on it, with its attendant Mantra Sastra. It records the earliest Vaisnava speculation on the paradox of a Supreme God who is totally identified with Brahman, the unique and transcendent Conscious Reality, and is at the same time the creator of a dualistic universe which cannot be related to Him. The key to solving this riddle is the Divine Sakti. By dealing with the role of Sakti in the creation and maintenance of the world, and in the saving of devotees who totally rely on God's mercy and benevolence, the Laksmi Tantra succeeds in overcoming sectarian boundaries.
Visnuism is one of the chief religions of the Hindu and the Pancaratra is the oldest surviving Visnuite sect. The influence of its tenets on later Visnuism has undoubtedly been great, but has never been thoroughly explored. Despite change and corruption the ritual worship described in the old Pancaratra texts is still performed today in many of the famous temples in southern India and in some in the North. A deeper insight into the historical development of the Visnuite sects, into their ritual, occultism and building of temples and images can only be obtained from the scientific study of these ancient Pancaratra texts which formulate the relevant basic concepts.
The theological and ritualistic aspects of the Pancaratra system have attracted scholars form some time past 1 and a number of texts have been edited 2. Some of these publications are of a high standard and include illuminating introductions. Amongst these, Professor F. O. Schrader's Introduction to the Pancaratra still ranks as the most comprehensive. So far only one Pancaratra text has been translated into English, 3 but the omission of Explanatory notes on the meaning of special terms detracts from its usefulness to the layman. In recent years valuable work in this field is being done by H. Daniel Smith.4
The reason why I have chosen to translate the text of the Laksmi Tantra is because its philosophical pronouncements incorporate many of the sect's earlier traditions. I shall elaborate on this point later on. A second reason is because of its occultism, which throws light on an aspect of the Pancaratra system that is not dealt with in any other known text. Since however the size of this book has grown to be quite alarming, I have here been obliged to refrain from discussing the interesting topic of ritualistic esoterism1.
Before starting on my apologetics, certain preliminary explanations about my method of work are briefly called for. My translation is based entirely on the Sanskrit text edited by Pandit V. Krishnamacharya and published in the Adyar Library Series, No. 87. I have not used any manuscript of the Laksmi Tantra. Therefore, whenever I mention the text or the editor's commentary on it, I refer to Krishnamacharya's edition. Although I have studied the only other publication of this text, printed in Telugu and published at Mysore in 1988, I have not based my translation upon it since Krishnamacharya has utilized it in his edition.
I have aimed at accuracy in my translation often unfortunately at the expense of style and when explanation is needed, it is supplied in a footnote or inserted in parenthesis in the of my translation. I have used parenthesis also to distinguish English words I have used in my translation to make a sentence complete. However the reader must not expect to find that every Sanskrit word has been translated consistently by the same English term. As words are affected by the context in which they are used, I have used alternative meanings when and as the sense required. Despite care, some irregularities may still persist in transcription of Sanskrit words. These are unintentional.
From chapter XXXIII onwards I have not translated the clues given for constructing the mantras, but have confined myself to supply the constructed the mantras only. My translation of the first ten verses of chapter XXXII should, I think, suffice to demonstrate how the mantras are construed.
Amongst the vast number of Pancaratra Agamas, 2 the Laksmi Tantra stand out because of its almost exclusive treatment of the Visnuite mother-goddess Laksmi, the Sakti of Visnu-Narayana. The text not only glorifies Laksmi, but also women in general as beings created in the cherished form of Laksmi, and it advocates their worship. Moreover it alludes to the particular sadhana of the left-handed Tantras that requires a female partner 1. Our text is somewhat reticent about the details of that practice, perhaps because it was apprehensive about how the majority of Pancaratra followers would react. It even launches into a lengthy discourse upon its ethics and the cautionary measures to be taken. Nevertheless at the end of this discussion it asserts that, though not free from the moral danger involved in disregarding strict convention, the practice is not sinful since the participants are lifted to a supra-mundane level 2. Undoubtedly this reveals the text's sympathy with left-handed Tantric practices, which is not at all surprising considering how prevalent the worship of Sakti was in India. Later scholars of Saktism, such as Bhaskararaya, the commentator of the Lalitasahasranamam, Nagesa Bhatta, the commentator of the Durgasaptasati and Appaya Diksita, the commentator of the Candrakalastuti, not only mention the Laksmi Tantra but cite it 3. Obviously by that time, i.e. the sixteenth century, the text had gained firm recognition as a standard Sakta Agama. Inspite of its predominantly Pancaratra Character, its undivided concentration on the worship of Sakti and its assertion that Durga, Bhadrakali and Yogamaya are merely other names for Mahalaksmi, who is Visnu's dynamic power, 4 enabled out text to overcome sectarian boundaries.
The Laksmi Tantra deals mainly with Pancaratra philosophy and cosmogony (which are inseparable in texts of this kind), and with the mantra-sastra ('linguistic occultism'). A minimum is said about the ritualistic side of worship, and iconography is discussed only in the form of the dhyanas of the most important deities, such as Laksmi-Narayana, the Vyuhas, the main emanations of Laksmi, her retinue etc. Temple architecture and temple worship are totally omitted. The text also ignores public festivals, sraddha dharma (death rites) and expiratory rites. This silence about rites connected with society and its conventions indicates that the Laksmi Tantra concern itself with the individual adept, who desires to be released from the miseries of worldly existence. This can be achieved by practising yogic sadhana (worship of God and meditation visualizing Him as the personification of a mantra accompanied by the repetition of that mantras), which enables the initiate to receive divine grace, without which salvation is not possible.
In from, the Laksmi Tantra follows the tradition of both the Sattvata and Jayakhya Samhitas. It deals exhaustively with the Vyuha theory. In that connection, it not only mentions the Sattvata Samhita but proceeds to elaborate on its philosophy. Thus the concept of Visakhayupa only briefly referred to in the Sattvata is explained in detail in the Laksmi Tantra. The metaphysical implications of the Vyuha theory and their bearing on the mantra sastra are put very clearly 1. The basic need supplied by these concepts of divine manifestations is to provide the devotee with an object he can worship in accordance with his spiritual capacity and meditate upon whilst repeating the relevant mantra. This is the most important topic in the Sattvata Samhita, which is classified amongst the texts known as Agama-siddhanta 2. But in regard to the ritualistic aspect of worship, the Laksmi Tantra follows the tradition of the Jayakhya Samhita, which accords a central position to the worship of Visnu and His consort Laksmi. Texts of this nature, advocating the worship of a single deity, are called Tantra-siddhanta. Indeed the Laksmi Tantra depends so largely on the Jayakhya Samhita that it frequently quotes lengthy passages of it. And moreover one is often obliged to consult the Jayakhya Samhita in order to clarify many of the actual procedures of worship described in the Laksmi Tantra. For example, the description of the mystic diagram called 'nava-padma-mandala'1 is so terse and obscure that, without recourse to the Jayakhya Samhita, it is incomprehensible. But the Laksmi Tantra's point of departure from the Jayakhya Samhita is the emphasis it lays on the worship of Laksmi, rather than on that of Visnu. It is her retinue that is described and only the Tara-mantra is prescribed for almost all the various rites included in the full programme of worship. The text admits no ambiguity on this point. For instance, in chapter XVI it is said that the way to obtain liberation from the bondage of the material of the world is to worship Laksmi, the Visnu-sakti. One should abandon all others activity and concentrate solely on propitiating the goddess either directly, or indirectly through Visnu, in order to obtain spiritual release. Our of compassion she then comes to the devotee and liberates him by removing all his impurities.
The most striking feature of the Laksmi Tantra is its treatment of Pancaratra Philosophy. Like most texts of this nature, ours is also basically eclectic. This point is accentuated by its preoccupation with establishing Sakti as the supreme metaphysical principle. At the same time, it attempts to make a synthesis out of all the various concept current in the Pancaratra and Tantric milieu. It does not always succeed in blending all these notion smoothly. Sometimes contradictory ideas, such as Samkhya realism and radical monism (Advaitavedanta), are presented side by side 3.Nevertheless at least some degree of harmonization has been achieved, particularly in the delineation of the cosmogony. This has given the Laksmi Tantra a revered position amongst the Pancaratra Agamas.
The next important question is when and where did this text originate. The Laksmi Tantra mentions the Sattvata Samhita by name and quotes extensively from the Jayakhya Samhita. It also bears a close resemblance to the Ahirbudhnya Samhita. But none of these Samhitas has been precisely dated. Seeking information from sources other than the Agamas, we find in the Laksmi Tantra one list of divine incarnations which are Joint manifestations of Laksmi and Narayana. In that list the Buddha and Tara (otherwise called Dhara) are mentioned as one these joint incarnations. It is generally conceded that the inclusion of the Buddha's name in a list of Visnu's incarnation appeared fairly late in history. The other interesting point is that the text records the worship of Tara as the Buddha's Sakti and, at the same time. Identifies her with Dhara or Vasudhara, another Buddhist female deity representing the earth. It is true that in the usual list of Vyuha, Vibhava etc, of the pure creation, the Buddha is not mentioned. But when no loyalty to Pancaratra tradition is involved and purely tantric notion are discussed, the Buddha appears together with his Sakti Tara. This point is significant for purposes of assessing the date of our text. In its present form the Laksmi Tantra cannot claim to be a very early text. In fact according to E. Conze, 2 the Buddhistic Tara worship was not openly practised before 500 or 600 A.D. The acceptance of the Buddha as an incarnation of Visnu is prominent in the Bhagavata Purana. If the ninth century A. D. is accepted as the date of this last mentioned text, 3 then the date of the Laksmi Tantra cannot be much earlier.
The first author to quote the Laksmi Tantra was Vedanta Desika. This celebrated Sri-vaisnava preceptor lived in the latter half of the thirteenth century 4. It seems that although he attributed some importance to our text, in his view it had not yet attained the status of a fully recognized Agama. However, by the time of Bhaskararaya and other commentators previously mentioned it had acquired that status, and we find it mentioned alongside the Markandeya Purana1. Hence, at latest it probably dates from the twelfth century. Since it is impossible to fix more than an approximate date for texts of this nature, we may assume that the Laksmi Tantra was compiled at some time between the ninth and twelfth centuries.
The geographical problem of locating the origin of the Laksmi Tantra presents still greater difficulty. Although the text recommends that the bark of the Himalayan birch tree (bhurja-patra) should be used for scribbling mantras on in order to endow amulets with magical properties, we have no evidence that the complier ever actually saw that tree. Mention of bhurja-patra as a material which can be written on, crops up so frequently in Sanskrit literature 2 that he may have only read about it. It is quite possible that this quaint bark was popularly thought to be suitable for magical purposes. Hence we cannot be sure that the text originated in the tree's natural region of growth. Since however Vedanta Desika mentions the Laksmi Tantra by name, it is plausible to presume that in his day the text was available to devotees in his homeland, which was South India. The text also mentions the Malaya range situated in the South, which may be a later addition. (cf.ch. I, 19.) But whether or not it was actually complied there still remains as open question.
In structure the Laksmi Tantra attempts to follow the classical pattern of four divisions, jnana, kriya, yoga and carya. In fact however, the kriya section has been omitted altogether and the carya section has been reduced to a minimum. A curious sidelight explaining this omission can possibly by traced to the Appendix (ch. LIII), where the world kriya pada is used in the unusual sense of the ritualistic performance of upasana and aradhana, as met with in Buddhistic Tantras 3. The Jnana pada, or theological section, occupies almost one third of the entire treatise, which opens with the traditional introductory chapter and then passes on to discuss the jnana pada until well into the eighteenth chapter. But within these chapters other topics often creep in, and likewise theology crops up rather persistently in chapters dealing with other subjects.
After theology, the mantra-sastra (the science of 'linguistic occultism') figures next in importance. Third in importance come upasana or the yoga pada, and a short description of aradhana (the ritual worship of God) or the carya pada. The only part of the kriya pada that is mentioned is the rite of installing of image to be worshipped privately by the initiate 1. Pancaratra ritual requires the devotee to worship the deity in four places, viz. in the image, in the water pitcher, on the mystic diagram and in the sacrificial fire-pit. The text briefly touches on these points and describes the daily religious duties of an initiate. These observations help to explain the nature of Laksmi Tantra as predominantly a Sakta Tantra. It has two objectives in view: Firstly, to establish the supremacy of Laksmi as a philosophical principle ranking, if not higher than Visnu, then at least as equal to Him. This is achieved by emphasizing the mystic tenet of unity in duality, the two-in-one accepted by the Sakta sects 2. Laksmi as an integral part of Narayana, the supreme Being, is the embodiment of His sovereign will and the instrumental cause of all creation. The Laksmi Tantra presents a systematic exposition of Pancaratra theology, which is firmly embedded in its description of the cosmogony with Laksmi at the head of it.
The second objective is to set down a full record of exclusive Sakti-upasana within the frame-work of the Pancaratra religion. On these grounds it has to be admitted that the Laksmi Tantra can scarcely claim to be a full-fledged Pancaratra Agama in the usual sense of the term, because all four categories of the Pancaratra Agamas (viz. Agama-siddhanta etc.) share the common characteristic of worshipping Narayana in a single or multiple form. This istic of worshipping Narayana in a single or multiple form. This may explain why the text is sometimes classified in the list of secondary books. As in the Adyar Library catalogue and in Dr. Satyavrata Singh's list 1. Nevertheless its exclusive nature did not diminish its value to the Pancaratrins, who always showed a leaning towards Tantrism. Their rivals, the Vaikhanasas, directed Pancaratra worshippers to practise their special type of Visnu worship in some solitary and secluded place 2.
As pointed out, the main contribution of the Laksmi Tantra to Pancaratra theology and cosmogony lies in its systematic treatment of these subjects. There are thirty-five Sattvata realities 3. (Brahman of course transcends al these realities). Starting from the highest these are Bhagavan (God), the absolute void, Purusa (the Person), sakti, niyati, kala, sattva, rajas and tamas, maya, prasuti, prakrti, the three component parts of the inner organ (buddhi, manas and ahamkara), the ten cognitive and conative organs, the five subtle and the five gross elements. These represent the basic stags of the creation generally accepted by Agama tradition. Among these, the term Bhagavan includes all divine emanations. The absolute void is the paramam dhaman, where God lives and with which He is identical 4. This is also a transcendental category not influenced by the limitation of time. Purusa is the collective Man (i.e. living being) 5 and his sakti is Mahalaksmi, the kriyasakti or the active aspect of God 6. Niyati is Mahavidya, who represents the cosmic wisdom recorded in the Vedas and who control law and order in the universe 7. Kala is Mahakali, who is in fact primordial nature or the material source of creation. The further realities are variations of the Samkhya categories. The subtle distinctions in the stages of primordial nature from kala to prakrti enable the Pancaratra system to achieve some degree of consistency in incorporating the Puranic concept of creation.
The cosmogony of the Laksmi Tantra coordinates various streams of ideas which were prevalent in the diverse religious traditions.
Some of these are: the Vedic concept of the anthropomorphic creator God Purusa of the Purusa-sukta; the mythological concept of Prajapati Brahma, who creates the cosmic embryo or egg and is then reborn in it as Hiranyagarbha; the Upanisadic concept of the undifferentiated, unlimited, immutable, transcendental, supreme Being, Brahman, which is absolute consciousness and bliss and which, through Its own will, became qualified and started manifesting Itself as the variegated creation; the Samkhya concept of the ultimate duality of inert consciousness and evolving unconscious primordial matter (prakrti); and finally the Agamic concept of creation, coming into existence in three gradual stages, the pure, the mixed and the impure.
There were also many other ideas and factors that contributed towards the making of this synthesis. Thus, the creation of Brahma and the pure creation (the Pancaratra's own contribution to the theory of creation) and the Samkhya cosmogony of tattvas are all fitted into a well balanced pattern. The Upanisadic unqualified Brahman retains It is position as absolute transcendental Being, Consciousness and Bliss. It is one and integral, but the identification of this Brahman with Purusa of the Purusa-sukta is quite obvious 1. Moreover, the qualified Brahman, styled Laksmi-Narayana (Becoming and Being) is by no means lower in existential status, as It is in the Upanisads or rather in Sankaracarya's philosophy. The eternal unchangeable reality has two aspects. In one it is devoid of polarity, yet all God's qualities are preset there I total suspension like a 'waveless ocean'. In the other aspect, all these divine qualities are manifest. Thus Brahman is Absolute Being, whereas Laksmi-Narayana is both Being and Becoming, or in other words manifested being. No reason for Brahman's manifestation or Becoming is proferred and none may be asked for. It is just a will, a pleasure or sport (lila) of the Supreme Being that it undergoes change and limitation.
This will, this pleasure and the qualities that are manifested in the second aspect of the supreme Being are combined into one concept, which is that of Laksmi, God's Sakti who is knowledge, bliss and activity. Thus in the second aspect Brahman is polarized into the divine power (Sakti), and the possessor of the divine power (Sakti-mat). Sakti is inherent in God just as light is inherent in the moon. She is inseparable from God, yet not absolutely identical with Him 1. Two phrases are frequently used in the text to denote this relationship existing between Sakti (Laksmi) and God: bhavat-bhavatmaka (Being and Becoming) and ahamartha ahamta(I entity and I-hood). These terms exactly describe the relationship. Laksmi is the Becoming, or the subsistence of the absolutely existing God. She is also the self-hood of the supreme self (paramatman), i.e. of God. In other words Laksmi, God's Sakti, is His essential nature. She is the divine presence. She forms the so-called body of Narayana consisting of the six divine, or ideal, qualities (gunas). Knowledge, the first of these, forms her essence, which is also the essence of Brahman. Her other qualities emerge from her first and do not constitute Sakti's essence, but are her attributes. These six gunas are absolute knowledge (jnana), sovereignty (aisvarya), potency (sakti), strength (bala), virility (virya) and splendour or might (tejas). The precise implications of these terms are explained in the text together with the cosmic and moral concepts attached tot hem 2. It is clear that these gunas contain all the Pancaratra concepts of a supreme God. Hence Sakti, embodying these gunas, actually replaces God by performing all His divine functions yet, being inseparable from Him, never supersedes His. This is a unity in duality, or two-in-one, the advaya tattva.
Once this is acknowledged, it becomes clear that every manifestation of God is Sakti's manifestation, be it transcendental as in the case of the Vyuhas, Vibhavas, incarnations, etc., or be it the material creation. Our text contains a striking statement about the nature of Sakti. She is not inert, she is not active, she does not even follow the middle course (i.e. of being periodically active). This declaration makes it clear that no specific characteristic can be pinned on to her. She is as unqualified and transcendental as Brahman. She is God's supreme will and she acts under His direction. Or this may simply mean that she has no separate existence from God and yet possesses an identity of her own 1.
The universe is a manifestation of this Sakti, and she is absolutely independent in translating her will into action. She possesses five functions. These are tirodhana or delusion, srsti or creation, sthiti or sustenance, laya or dissolution and anugraha or grace. These are also called her five saktis as they sum up the different ways in which she excercises her power of action (kriyasakti). The first is also known as maya 2 or avidya and, through its influence, part of her citsakti (consciousness) undergoes limitation (sankoca) and is called jiva (an animate being). These jives are numberless. They are affected by three limitations, namely that of space, of knowledge and of action. The reason for this degeneration of the jives is their karma-vasana, the Beginningless accumulated potential effects of their deeds stored within themselves. Although Sakti's will is totally free, she has to create according to the requirements of these karma-vasanas and the absolute citsakti becomes limited as bhoktas (i.e. those who experience the accumulated results, Sakti creates inanimate objects which are the medium through which jives obtain their experience of pleasure or pain. Thus basically transcendental and unlimited, citsakti becomes entangled in the process of creation and consequently in the recurrent cycle of life and death.
The second, third and fourth functions of Sakti are naturally connected with her function. We shall revert to these when discussing the cosmogony. Like her first, Sakti's fifth function is an Agamic innovation introduced to establish God's (here Sakti's) absolute control over living beings. It is Sakti who, by deluding them, subjects them to the ever-flowing stream of life and death. Again it is Sakti who has role power to release them from that bondage, which she does out of compassion or the suffering jives. She performs this in two ways. On the One hand, she creates ways and mean for the jives to bring about their own liberation and, on the other hand, she instills in them the inclination to seek her favour in order to obtain emancipation.
There are three types of creation: the pure, the mixed and the impure. The first is the purely transcendental creation. It consists of all the emanations and incarnations etc. of God's Sakti. The sole purpose of this type of creation is to facilitate the release of living beings from the shackles of life, death and other miseries of this world by providing them with objects to worship and meditate upon. The mixed type of creation is purely mythological (the Jayakhya Samhita refers to it as Brahma's creation). Here the traditional divine triad Brahma, Visnu and Rudra are created simultaneously with their consorts. Brahma creates the cosmic embryo, Rudra breaks it, and Visnu then sustains pradhana (primordial nature transformed into the primordial waters) within this embryo. Within the cosmic embryo, Visnu floats on these waters with Laksmi, and remains asleep. Brahma is then reborn in the lotus stemming out of the reposing Visnu's navel. Brahma is now identified with Hiranyagarbha and Virat (the cosmic Person or the collective jiva, who contains all the jives of the world whilst still retaining his own divine nature). The position of Rudra within the cosmic embryo is not stated by the text.
The third type of creation starts from this collective jiva stage. This is the evolution of the Samkhya categories. The lotus bearing Hiranyagarbha with his consort Trayi is Time, which evolves out of the three divine gunas, viz. bala, virya and tejas. This is the primeval evolving nature whose vibration results in material creation. Time is the primary limitation of the material world. Hiranyagarbha, who is the conscious principle, stirs primeval nature into activity. He excercises his own power of discretion or wisdom to regulate the activities of the evolving primordial nature. The wisdom of Hiranyagarbha (here his sakti) is called Trayi since, according to mythology, Brahma first created the three Vedas (collectively called Trayi), and then the world on the pattern recorded in the Vedas. These three (viz. the lotus, Hiranyagarbha and his wife Trayi) 1 were the first to be transformed into the category called mahat (the great). Mahat consists of the cosmic life-principle, the cosmic intelligence and the cosmic Person. Vibration is the attribution of the cosmic life-principle, discretion is that of the cosmic intelligence, and the cosmic Person possesses two sets of attributes. Morality, knowledge, detachment and majesty constitute his first set. The four opposite qualities from his second set. Mahat evolves into ahamkara and from its three components (the three gunas sattva, rajas and tamas) are created the sense organs, the motor organs, the mind with its three components, and the subtle and gross elements. From ahamkara onwards, the process differs slightly from both the Samkhya and the Vedanta concepts of creation. In the Laksmi Tantra, each subtle element is transformed into its own gross form and the succeeding subtle. There are five subtle elements: sound potential, touch potential, form-potential, liquid potential and smell potential. The corresponding gross elements are ether, air, fire water and earth respectively. Now the sound potential transforms itself into ether as well as into the touch potential, and so on. At every stage of evolution Sakti enters the category and activates it into the next transformation 1. Direction (dik), lightning, the sun, the moon and the earth are the respective presiding deities of the five elements, ether etc.; Agni, Indra, Visnu, Prajapati Mitra are the five presiding deities of the motor organs.
Besides dividing creation into the above-mentioned three types, the Pancaratra also divides it into six stages called kosas or sheaths. This term implies that in each stage Sakti projects herself into various manifestations while yet remaining the transcendental inner principle. These stages are the saktikosa, mayakosa, prasutikosa, prakrtikosa, brahmandakosa and jivakosa. The first sheath consists of Sakti herself in her transcendental form. This contains everything that belongs to the pure creation. Vasudeva is the primary figure at this stage of creation. He has all his divine attributes and is on the verge of creating the diverse universe. He is manifest but not polarized. Samkarsana springs from him and represents the stage where creation still lies dormant, yet is dimly apprehensible. Pradyumna appears from Samkarsana and represents the mind of Samkarsana, while Aniruddha emanates from Pradyumna and represents Samkarsana's ahamkara or sense of individuality 1. After the Vyuhas, appear the manifestations called Vyuhantaras, Vibhavas and other incarnations both divine and human. Pervading these diverse manifestations of God's Sakti. His essence remains immutable and impervious to diversity. This is then called the Visakhayupa. Even though the Vyuhas show a tendency to represent a progressive manifestations from indeterminate existence to more determinate modes of being, the saktikosa as a whole transcends material existence. Hence it is called the saktikosa when Sakti, i.e. God's essential nature, remains basically unchanged.
Maya, the second sheath, represents the starting point of the material creation based on the three material gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas). It should be noted that here Sakti combines both the Agni and Soma aspects of God. The former represents God's kriyasakti or dynamic power, and the latter His bhuti-sakti or power to sustain. Sakti is here called Mahalaksmi and possesses both female and male characteristics 2. Amongst other names she is also called Durga, Bhadrakali and Yogamaya. Possessing all three gunas, she is the material source of the universe. When the perfect equilibrium of these three gunas is disturbed, each guna manifests itself as a separate sakti, springing from Mahalaksmi, the first transformation of a part of God's Sakti into matter. These three saktis are named Mahasri, Mahakali and Mahavidya and respectively represent the rajas, tamas and sattva gunas. These three deities are the components of the third sheath called prasuti, or the mother. Each of these three mothers gave birth, as it were, to twins. With a part of Pradyumna, Mahasri created the twin deities Brahma and Laksmi. With a part of Samkarsana, Mahamaya (or Mahakali) created the twin deities Rudra and Trayi. With a part of Aniruddha, Mahavidya created the twin divinities Visnu (Krsna) and Gauri. Thus whereas in the Saktikosa, the three Vyuhas Samkarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha have Sri, Sarasvati and Rati as their respective saktis, in the prasutikosa the same male deities are consorted with three other female divinities and become parents of the three Puranic primary gods Brahma, Visnu and Rudra and their respective sakti consorts. At Sakti's bidding. Brahma married Trayi. Visnu married Laksmi and Rudra married Gauri. This traditional divine triad and their consorts together with primordial nature form the components of the prakrtikosa. Brahmandakosa consists of the Samkhya categories, while all the bodies of animate beings belong to the jivakosa.
Creation is in fact a gradual condensation (styanata) of Sakti. From absolute transcendence, she finally transforms herself into determinate beings. Side by side with this material creation there is the sonic creation in which, from indeterminate absolute sound, Sakti becomes the determinate speech of everyday use. This aspect of creation is also divided into six stages called the six courses (sad adhvanah). These are varna, kala, tattva, mantra, pada and bhuvana. Resembling the absolute Being (Brahman), absolute sound is called Sabdabrahman. The next stage of sound is known as pasyanti. Here sound stands on the brink of polarization. The third stage is called madhyama, when sound is polarized into world and its meaning, without however the polarization being fully manifest. The fourth stage is called vaikhari, which is the polarized state of sound. These four stages of sound-polarization form the varna course. Kala consists of the six divine attributes. The tattva course contains the Vyuhas. The mantras, starting from the letters called matrkas, form the mantra course, and this is the topic that is of second special importance I the Laksmi Tantra. This is Tantric 'linguistic occultism'. The pada course contains the four levels of consciousness viz. jagrat or the waking state, svapna or the dream state, susupti or the state of deep sleep, and turiya or the transcendental state. The bhuvana course consists of the material creation. Strictly speaking, out of the six courses, only the varna and mantra courses deal directly with Sakti's sonic creation. The others are only variations of the general cosmogony.
Jiva, or the animate being, is the self-imposed limited state of the absolute consciousness which is God's essence. All conscious beings belonging to the five kosas starting with mayakosa and ending with jivakosa are called jiva. The three primary divine pairs (Brahma-Trayi, Visnu-Laksmi, Rudra Gauri) and all God's incarnations manifested within the cosmic embryo possess transcendental bodies. Apart from these all others conscious beings, from the celestial gods to plants, have material bodies resulting from the fruition of their deeds. Fundamentally speaking, jiva is not different from Sakti. Just as Sakti creates the universe based on herself as its support, so also does jiva manifest the universe reflected on him in the same way as a mirror reflects a mountain 1. Like Sakti, jiva too has five functions. His cognition of objects is his creative function. His attachment to material objects is his function of sustenance. His satiation by those objects is his destructive function. His desire for material objects is his function of delusion, and his detachment from that desire is his function of divine grace. There are three types of jives: those who are fettered to worldly existence; those who are liberated from that bondage, and those who are ever free. Jiva's liberation always depends on Sakti's compassion which persuades her to bestow her divine grace on the initiate. This occurrence is called 'saktipata'.
Liberation from worldly bondage means that the jiva has been freed from his three limitations of space (anu), of knowledge (asarvajna) and of power to act (anaisvarya). There are four ways whereby a jiva may seek to attain liberation. These are karma, Samkhya, yoga and saranagati the first three are the traditional paths. In describing the first, our text follows the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita where it is called the karma yoga. The second path is the jnana marga, or the path of knowledge, which involves exact knowledge of truth about everything, i.e. knowledge of the categories, of the system of evolution, and of the nature of God, the supreme and essential consciousness. The third path is the way of meditation. This is of two kinds, samadhi and samyama. Samadhi means merging into the existence of the absolute Brahman and entails direct realization of Brahman, the absolute Being 1. This is achieved by practising introspective meditation (yoga). Samyama, the second type of yoga, is in fact the Pancaratra's ritual worship of God and His Sakti. This involves visualizing the rituals as well as actually performing them. This is the path that is most pleasing to Sakti 2.
The fourth path to liberation is called the middle way because it steers clear of both conventionally good and bad deeds. It is the complete dedication of oneself to God's will, which leads one to His presence. This is the path of self-surrender (saranagati) to God in six different forms. Resolution to perform only those acts that please God; total abstention from any deed displeasing to God; unwavering faith that ultimately God will always come to one's rescue; throwing oneself on the mercy of God alone; unconditional surrender of oneself to God and absolute humility these are the six components of the fourth path to liberation.
The nature of liberation is proper enlightenment about the essence of the Supreme Being (Paravasudeva), which is absolute consciousness. Upon receiving enlightenment one enters Sakti, the divine presence. She alone grants this enlightenment through her grace. The first path (karma), when scrupulously followed by a person pleases Sakti who, satisfied with his steadfastness, then bestows enlightenment on him. He who pursues the second path (Samkhya) obtains indirect knowledge of ultimate truth. His proximity to that truth which is one other than herself, pleases Sakti and she blesses him with enlightenment. The first variety of the third way is only for persons of great spiritual capacity, which indicates that they are already favoured by God. The second variety is obviously meant for the propitiation of Sakti. The fourth way is the best one because here the initiate sheds the last trace of his ego. He depends on divine grace with such complete faith that Sakti has no option but to reveal herself to him, and then the initiate becomes united with her. This shows, however, that the ultimate goal of each of the four paths is to win Sakti's favour. She then excercises her fifth function, viz. that of bestowing grace and, consequently, enlightenment on the initiate.
The word knowledge (jnana) has various connotations in Pancaratra philosophy as, for that matter, it has in every system of Hindu philosophy. As the essential nature of conscious being, it means consciousness; in the context of liberation, it means realization or enlightenment; whereas in ordinary usage it simply means both understanding and cognition. The Laksmi Tantra describes the process of cognition as follows; knowledge is of two types, indeterminate and determinate. The first is the preliminary contact a person makes with an object through one of his senses 1. In the case of determinate knowledge, the mind acts in the following manner. Its manas part cognizes the object along with its attributes; its ahamkara (ego) part connects the experience with the personality of the cognizer who has the experience; this object appears before me and I am experiencing it. Finally buddhi (the discriminating faculty of the mind) takes a decision about the experience. The Laksmi Tantra recognizes three means of acquiring valid knowledge (pramana): pratyaksa or direct experience, anumana or inference and sruti or verbal authority 2.
Although sustenance is primarily Sakti's function, yet she herself carries this out directly only up to the creation of the cosmic egg. Then the traditional pattern is faithfully followed, and Visnu, the great cosmic god, takes over the responsibility. On the worldly level the responsibility is vested in Manus, the primary rulers of kalpas, and then in Manu-putras 3. The burden of day-to-day responsibility falls on ordinary mortal king.
The dissolution of creation is of seven types: nitya, the natural destruction of every being; naimittiki, the dissolution of the three worlds i.e. of the visible universe; prakrti, the dissolution of all cosmic categories in the category of mahat; prasuti, where avyakta prakrti dissolves in the prasutikosa; mayi, where everything belonging to this prasutikosa is dissolved in the mayakosa; sakti, where all that of belongs to the mayakosa is dissolved in the Saktikosa; and finally atyantiki, the emancipation of the yogin who merges in Sakti. But this is not a total annihilation of the Yogin's existence. He continues to exist in a transcendental form. This is the true nature of Vaisnava emancipation. The emancipated being is not absolutely extinguished in the existence of the Absolute Being, but is lifted up to the level of transcendental existence. This existence is identical with that of Sakti. The concept of emancipation basically depends firstly, on the concept of Sakti and her relation to God in the sense of two-in-one; ad secondly, on the concept of jiva and jiva's relation to God as being parts of a whole. These concepts have been further elaborated by the later Vaisnavas and, more especially, by the followers of Caitanya of Bengal 1.
Summing up, it is not possible is claim that the Laksmi Tantra has followed any particular philosophical system. As in the case of most Agamas, here too concepts have been borrowed freely from various sources with the intention of working them into a synthesis, which has not entirely succeeded in producing a well-knit system. Besides combining the two important philosophical systems, Samkhya and Vedanta, which are generally accepted by the Pancaratra religion, the text reveals traces of Mahayana Buddhism 2. The influence of the Bhagavad-Gita is also clearly apparent and passages from it have sometimes been quoted literally 3. But advocacy of Sakti's supremacy is the Laksmi Tantra's primary objective, and hence it has freely borrowed various concepts prevalent amongst all school of Sakti worshippers. The text quotes extensively from the Devi-mahatmya section of the Markandeya Purana, gives a detailed and repetitious exposition of Sakti's identity with Narayana, introduces the Tara-mantra whenever possible in the performance of rituals, and discourses at length on the Sri-sukta 1. All this is done for the sole purpose of underlining the major significance of Sakti worship in the Pancaratra system. The main discourse closes by stating that it is an abridgement of the original Laksmi Tantra: 'this is a summary of the Laksmi Tantra which contains hundreds of millions of verses (?)
2, and then from chapter LI to the end it goes on the provide a still more compact summary of the whole. Whether or not these last chapters were added at a later date is uncertain, but the advantage of being provided with a ready-made synopsis condensing arguments scattered all over the text cannot be denied. These chapters also confirm my assertion that the main burden of the text is to establish the supremacy of Laksmi as the basic philosophical principle and to centre ritual worship upon her.
This completes my attempt to outline the philosophy found in the Laksmi Tantra. As the scope of this introduction is necessarily limited, I have not dealt with the different stages in its development. Certain points of importance have been relegated to footnotes. The main purpose of this introduction is to offer the reader a rough tracing of the philosophical system upon which the religious beliefs of the Pancaratra sect are based. Some guidance seemed called for before tackling the text itself.
In conclusion, I wish to express my profound gratitude to Professor J. Gonda, who has been my unfailing source of inspiration. Without his valuable assistance and encouragement it would have been quite impossible for me to have undertaken the present work. He has carefully checked my translation and suggested innumerable improvements. I also wish to thank Professor Th. P Galestin most warmly for his kind support in promoting the publication of this book. I am indebted to Professor V. Raghavan, Sri K.K.A. Venkatachari, Sri R. Raghava Bhattar and Sri Periyathiruvadi Bhattar for the useful advice they have given me; to Mrs. C.R. Strooker-Dantra for improving my English; and to my colleagues Dr. (Miss) J. L. de Bruyne and Dr. E. te Nijenhuis for typing the MS and correcting proofs. I am deeply obliged to the Netherlands Organization for the Advancement of Pure Research for contributing towards the costs of publication. My thanks are also due to Mrs. C. Hoekstra-Vos and Miss M. Kruk for kindly giving the final forms to the coloured diagrams. Last but not least, I affectionately recall all the help so readily given me by my colleagues at the Instituut voor Oosterse Talen and at the University Library of Utrecht.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend