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Tantrasara of Abhinavagupta

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Item Code: HAL526
Author: H. N. Chakravarty
Language: English and Sanskrit
Edition: 2023
ISBN: 9789381120354
Pages: 283
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 370 gm
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Book Description
About the book

Indian Tantric practice has an unbroken tradition dating back thousands of years. One of its greatest exponents was Abhinavagupta, the 10" century spiritual teacher, scholar, poet and mystic whose masterwork, Tantraloka, is encyclopedic in length. We present here the Tantrasara, Abhinavagupta's own brief prose guide to Tantraloka, in a masterful English translation by the renowned Pandit H. N. Chakravarty, who completed it shortly before his death. This long-awaited volume takes us directly into the world of esoteric Tantric philosophy and practice. Dealing with topics such as the nature of the ultimate reality, consciousness itself, the creative energy underlying all manifestation, and the ritual and inner practices that awaken, sustain, and bring this awareness to fruition, it lays a solid foundation for understanding Tantric spiritual practice with clarity and depth.


One day in May of 1980 in South Fallsburg, I was sitting in my room in between programs at the Siddha Yoga Ashram reading some science fiction book, when Muktananda came in the room. As always, when Swami Muktananda came in the room, every- body's foreheads immediately hit the floor, and that day was no exception. Mine was on the floor immediately. The first thing Muktananda did in looking around the room while I was on the floor was to note there was a book on the bed. He asked me what it was. I told him, and he said, "Don't read that; read Kashmir Saivism." And that began my decades-long interest in the study of what is now called Sakta-Saivism.

One of the great deficiencies that those of us who have an inter- est in Śaivism have suffered under is the absence of qualified scholars who are willing to engage in translation projects. The Buddhists are fortunate enough to have living traditions-esoteric Saivism lost its last living lineage holder with the passing of Swami Lakshman Joo-and a great deal of reserve of both cultural and financial capital in the organizations that promote Vajrayana Buddhism, and none of this has existed in support of those of us who have great interest in esoteric Saivism. Because of that, I have caused many different works to become translated.

This particular project has been going on so long, I can't even remember when it started. After Swami Muktananda passed away, I began visiting Swami Lakshman Joo in Srinagar. I was never really able to stay there long enough to really study with him or to consider myself a student of his, but I was and am a great admirer of him. His blending of intellectual development and a uniquely human quality of compassion was really extraordinary, and he was an extremely beautiful person. Sometime in the early 1990s, how- ever, it became too difficult to go to Kashmir, because of the poli- tics of the place. Still intent on continuing my reading and study of Kashmir Saivism, and having met all the Kashmiri pandits, I went to Benares to meet Pandit H.N. Chakravarty. In doing so. I also met many of the people associated with him in Benares, such as Bettina Bäumer and Pandit Kamalakar Mishra, whose work on Kashmir Saivism I published more than a decade ago. At the time I met Pandit Chakravarty, I requested him to translate the Tan- trasära into English, and he agreed. And so we launched on the project, and it was a couple of years later that he delivered a manu- script which, in fact, was absolutely unreadable. While his knowl- edge of Saivism was deep, his English was extremely limited, and there was really nothing I could do about the publication of the manuscript; it was just impossible. So it languished for years, until there was pressure from Chakravarty's side and from some of his friends in Canada for us to do something about the manuscript. What eventually came about was that Boris Marjanovic took on the project, and it was really his effort to bring a readable English translation of the Tantrasara out that has given renewed life to this project and ultimately brought it to the extremely fine state that it is in.

Boris Marjanovic deserves an enormous amount of credit for the existence of this manuscript in the quality that it is. I am grate- ful to Pandit H.N. Chakravarty and to all of his friends, including Bettina Bäumer, for her support, and I am especially grateful to Boris Marjanovic.


Tantrasara (TS), as its name suggests, is the summary of impor- tant notions, principles, doctrines, and practices found in the Tan- tras in general and in the Tantraloka (TA) in particular. The TA is Abhinavagupta's most extensive work on the principles of nondual Saiva doctrines written in verse, while the TS, which is its sum- mary, is significantly shorter and written in prose.

It was the tradition of some of the ancient pandits belonging to different schools of Indian thought to write brief and simplified versions of the main principles and doctrines of their schools. The purpose of this practice was to provide those interested in the sub- ject but were unable to devote years of study to Sanskrit grammar and logic, deemed prerequisites for the study of any other branch of learning, with a simplified and comprehensible overview of the main principles of their respective schools. Abhinavagupta and his disciple Kṣemaraja wholeheartedly embraced this practice. As early as the second benedictory verse of the TS, Abhinavagupta declares the complexity, vastness, and depth of the topics dis- cussed in the TA as the main reason for writing its short version.

The primary aim of the TS is to make knowledge easily acces- sible; thus, Abhinavagupta avoids getting into complex and lengthy philosophical arguments and elaboration, and lays out the subject matter smoothly and concisely. For us, on the other hand, who are attempting to study and to understand this text a millennium later, the brevity of the style of the TS presents a significant chal- lenge. Furthermore, the Sanskrit used by Abhinavagupta in the TS is not easy, and the notions and practices found in it are obscure and sometimes incomprehensible.


The Tantrasara begins by stating that perfect knowledge (purna- pratha) is the cause of liberation. It is the revelation of Šiva-nature in one's own Self. Śiva, who by His power of freedom (svátantrya sakti) appears to be limited in knowledge and action, removes all veils by the same power. As a result of this, He shines in His pris- tine, self-refulgent, pure consciousness. On the dawn of supreme knowledge of the nature of light (prakasa), marked by reflective self-knowledge (vimarsa), everything shines nondifferently in the mirror of consciousness. While describing the nature of moksa, Abhinavagupta writes in the Paramartha-sara that there is no separate region of it, nor is one to proceed toward it, but it is to be realized by piercing the knots of ignorance by virtue of the full development of one's own power of freedom. However, moksa should not be taken as the effect of knowledge (jñāna) and the lat- ter the cause of it, but as the manifestation of the real nature of the Self (atman).

According to this Savādvaya system, ignorance is accepted as the cause of samsara, yet the nature of ajñāna is known as änava mala, a limitation innate in the individual. It originates from the absolute freedom of the Lord. The anavamala operates in the indi- vidual soul in two ways: (i) the loss to consciousness of its free- dom, and (ii) the sense of agency without bodha. This limitation of jñāna and kriya is known as spiritual (pauruşa) and intellectual/ scriptural (bauddha) ignorance (ajñāna).

Ignorance, known as bauddha ajñāna, is of the nature of inde- termination (aniscayasvabhavam) and determination of contradic- tory nature (viparitaniscaya). Because of the presence of the first, the individual soul in bondage fails to definitely know the real nature of the Self, and because of the second one, experiences and feels himself to be the experiencing subject of what is really non-self, such as: body, intellect, prana, etc. Pauruşa ajñāna, characterized by limited knowledge brought into existence by áṇavamala, is considered by Abhinavagupta and his tradition to be the cause of worldly existence.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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