The Touch of Sakti (A Study in Non-dualistic Trika Saivism of Kashmir)

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Item Code: IHE028
Author: Ernst Furlinger
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2022
ISBN: 9788124604632
Pages: 310 (7 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8” X 5.8”
Weight 580 gm
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The Kashmirian Saiva tradition in its non-dualistic form in particular is one of the richest philosophical traditions of India that have survived to the present day. This book by the noted scholar, Dr Furlinger, deals with the bodily experience of the transcendent power, the Sakti, in the context of the Saiva Kundalini-Yoga. In an insightful introduction, the scholar presents an overview of the historical development of the Kashmirian Saiva traditions, especially of the non-dualistic system, Trika, made famous by the work of its famous proponent, Abhinavagupta. He studies the theme of Saktisparsa in selected texts of non-dualistic Trika Saivism of Kashmir, focusing on Utpaladeva’s Sivastotravali of the tenth century and Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka of the eleventh century. The texts are analysed along with a noted commentary associated with each to shed light on the different contexts and meanings in which the word sparsa occurs in connection with Sakti, the divine power, revered as the Goddess. The study examines sparsa as one of the highest stages in the spiritual ascent in the Tantraloka and its corresponding description in the Sivastotravali. The difference in the notion of sparsa in the two texts is also brought out. It thus reveals the liberating and critical potential of the non-dualistic Saiva tradition of Kashmir.

The book will interest scholars and students of Indology associated with Indian religious-philosophical traditions.

Dr. Ernst Furlinger is an expert on Ksshmir Saivism and Sanskrit. He has lived in Varanasi for some years studying non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism with traditional pandits and Sanskrit at the Banaras Hindu University. He is at present University Lecturer at the Institute for Religious Studies, University of Vienna. He is a member of the academic staff at Center for Intercultural Studies, Danube University, Krems (near Vienna).


The Kashmirian Saiva tradition, especially in its non-dualistic form, is perhaps the richest philosophical one in India. It is among the few that have survived to our days. It has even spread (if in not always very valid versions) to the Western world. A study such as this one, on the particularly interesting subject of saktisparsa, cannot therefore but be welcome.

In his introduction, Dr. Furlinger gives very usefully an overview of the historical development of the Kashmirian Saiva traditions, and especially of the Trika, the non-dualistic system made famous by the work of its most remarkable exponent, Abhinavagupta. In this overview, he relies to a large extent on the work of Professor Sanderson, the best expert on the subject, who however does not fail to remind us that due to the lack of explicit and datable documents our knowledge of this tradition is far from perfect. One goes on discovering manuscripts of hitherto unknown texts which sometime open new perspectives: the work is in progress. We however know enough to allow some conclusions, and the well-grounded examination of some particular points - as is precisely the case here.

Dr. Furlinger’s study is based mainly on Abhinavagupta’s most well-known and in many respects the richest and most fascinating work, the Tantraloka, in which, adding to the Trika elements from the tradition of the Krama, he expounds, on the basis of the Malinivijayottaratantra, his vision of the nature of ultimate reality together with the means to attain and experiment directly this reality. In this work, an important place is given to ritual, in spite of the fact that for Abhinavagupta (as in non-dualist Saivism generally), in opposition to the Saiddhantika’s view, it is knowledge (jnana) which liberates, not ritual. Abhinavagupta however knew and said that non-ritual ways toward liberation were not meant for the majority of believers. The way of pure spiritual, mystical, intuition, the way of Sambhu (sambhavopaya) as he called it, or that of power or knowledge (the saktopaya or jnanopaya), are meant only for a few elects. All others, ordinary limited human creatures (anu), need the help of rites and follow the naropaya or anavopaya, which is also kriyopaya, the way of ritual action. But rites are not mere actions. They are not merely visibly acted out, they are also consciously experienced, they are a body-mind experience. The movements of the body in ritual action as performed, felt and lived out both physically and mentally, infused as they are by logically experienced mental representations, are total experiences identifying the worshipper with the deity he worships. This Abhinavagupta of course knew, and he sometimes alludes to it in the Tantraloka and in the Paratrimsikavivarana: the very process, and the beauty, of the ritual performance help to bring about the performer’s, if not experience of, at least, orientation toward the transcendent. Worth mentioning in this perspective are also the mudras described in chapter 32 of the Tantraloka on the basis of the ancient Devyayamalatantra. These mudras are complex bodily postures associated with mental concentration and visualizations which both identify the performer with the deity he evokes, since the mudra he acts out reproduces the appearance of the deity (which is being mentally visualized by the performer), is its reflection (pratibimba), and brings about the presence of the deity, a presence arising from that reflection.

This, I admit, is a very special case, it is however a form among others of the bodily experience of the transcendent power, the sakti, of the deity, an experience which is the theme of Dr. Furlinger’s study: ‘saktisparsa. The body, in the present case, is not in the forefront. But mystical experience is most often (if not always) to a large extent a bodily experience. This, Abhinavagupta, who was also a Tantric yogin, would not have denied, even if he privileged the spiritual way, a way upheld by Swami Lakshman Joo to whose teaching Dr. Furlinger often refers. The religious ritual aspect of the Trika as a system of Saiva worship as it was practiced in Kashmir in Abhinavagupta’s time, had indeed since long-perhaps since the thirteenth century - disappeared. Only the spiritual tradition, the theoretical superstructure, survived to our days, which Swami Lakshman Joo was the last and only one to embody, all the other contemporary (mostly Western) versions of the so-called Kashmir Saivism having no real traditional validity or textual basis. The other saiva tradition, which is sometimes mentioned since its tenets were to a large extent taken over by Abhinavagupta, the Krama, seems also to have disappeared comparatively early from Kashmir as a system of practice, only some of its theoretical, Gnostic aspects having survived until recently. Of the ancient Kashmirian Saiva traditions of the Kula, only the Tripura or Srividya cult is still active in India today albeit in a vedantised “de-tantricised” form, with the Sankaracaryas as spiritual guides.

In his “Hermeneutical Reflexions” (Part II of the volume), Dr Furlinger cautions us very wisely against the risk of translating Sanskrit terms into English (or into any other language). Cit is indeed untranslatable, as well as samvit, two terms both usually “translated” as consciousness, a word that does not in any way reflect their nuances of meaning nor the scope of their semantic fields, and especially not their “cosmotheandric” dimension, this being especially the case in the samvidadvaya, “non-duality of consciousness” system, of the Trika. The term vimarsa, essential to the understanding of the Trika’s conception of consciousness, is also untranslatable (perhaps even more so). But can we abstain from translating, and thus write for those only who know Sanskrit? Dr Furlinger underlines also very appositely the multidimensionality of the metaphorical language of Abhinavagupta (or of other Saiva authors) whose concrete-abstract richness is for us both an opening to new vistas and, often, a tantalizingly closed field.

The imbrication or coalescence of the abstract and the concrete, of the spirit and the flesh (if one may use these terms), is continuously to be seen in part III of this study, which deals with its central theme, the touch of Sakti, saktisparsa. This main and fundamental part of the work I shall not attempt to present or discuss here, for one must not simplify a new complex and subtle subject. This part beings very appositely with a survey of Utpaladeva’s (and other exegetes’) frequent use of terms made on the Sanskrit root spars, to touch, which they use to describe or evoke the spiritual approach of the absolute. Such terms were indeed sometimes used metaphorically. But not always. And when not, they have concrete connotations. In the works of such authors, one is never in the idealistic realm of “pure” spirit, but in that of spiritual experience. Metaphysical or philosophical, often very subtle, reasoning is never cut off from life and experience. The living body of the devotee is there, which feels sensuously the divine presence he approaches and by which he will be penetrated - possessed. We may remember in this connection that the samavesa - shall we say fusion, absorption? - though conceived of in the Trika as an essentially mystical experience, was heir to the avesa, the bodily possession of a worshipper by a deity, of the older Tantric Saiva cults; and that in Trika works samavesa is often a synonym of avesa, implying possession rather than mystical experience. Such is in all likelihood, for instance, the case in the Malinivijayottaratantra (2.13-24) which mentions 50 forms of rudrasaktisamavesa. This is of course also to be found in several places in the Tantraloka, passages which are sometimes quoted here. We may mention also, looking at ritual, the case, in the nirvana diksa/sadhakabhiseka, of the Initiator who is brought in front of a mandala where the mantras of deities have been placed and who is immediately possessed by the power of these mantras and falls to the ground. The total - bodily and mental - nature of the saktisparsa experience appears in the many instances quoted inn this study. The conception of spiritual life as implying the whole person, body and mind, is in fact, I feel, not proper to non-dualist Kashmirian Saivism but something more general and, I would say, typically Indian. It is to be found almost everywhere in Indian religions. And not only in the course of spiritual or mystical experiences, as we see here, but also in a number of rites. Let us think, for instance, of rites where the ontological status of the performer is transcendentally transformed - divinized or cosmicized - by mantras placed on his body by the rite of nyasa. Or the uccara, the uttering of a mantra linked to the ascent of kundalini in the susumna, where the yogin or devotee is identified with the deity, thus experiencing in body and mind higher transcendent planes of consciousness. Admittedly, such practices are more imaginary (imagination, of course, in its creative form - as Einbildungskraft) or visionary than really ‘embodied”: they are not physically perceptible. But a number of other bodily signs are however to be found throughout the history of India’s religious life: they are sometimes of a surprising intensity - see for instance Caitanya’s extraordinary body distortions. But I am perhaps giving now too much importance to bodily reactions to spiritual experience when, on the contrary, precedence should be given to the “participability” of the absolute, to the fact that the absolute lets itself be touched. This study is in fact of cases where the body is not affected or modified but transcended. The body is an intermediate, the base and receptacle of effects, an accessory to the fact of experiencing the supreme, not the main actor. Dr. Durlinger comments here with a fine penetrative understanding the varieties of sparsa - the sensual touch, the touch of the mirror, the touch of fullness, the touch of anuttarasamvit, the touch of ants - noting, as he proceeds, some analogies to be found among Christian mystics. (Concerning the touch of ants - pipilikasparsa - I know this particular experience exists also in at least one Sufi Indian transmission.). The notion of vapus (one more untranslatable term!) too, is a very interesting one since the vapus can be understood both as the cosmic body of Siva and as an essential level of the embodied human creature. On this subject, I have found particularly illuminating his analysis, with reference to Ksemaraja’s commentary of Utpaladeva’s Sivastotravali of what he calls “the ‘cit-dimension,’ or ‘deep-dimension’ of the physical senses” which permits the human contact with the absolute. Many other points would be worth mentioning here. But a foreword must not be too long. The book is to be read. Much is to be found in this very perceptive study.


This volume contains a study of the theme of touch (Skr. sparsa), focusing on the “touch of Sakti” (saktisparsa), that is, in the context of Saiva Kundalini-Yoga. Kundalini is here not understood in the modern sense of a mere spiritual phenomenon in the modern sense of a mere spiritual phenomenon in the body of the practitioner, but rather according to the traditional understanding of the Tantras as both microcosmic and macrocosmic, immanent and transcendent Divine reality. I study this theme of sparsa in selected texts of non-dualistic Trika Saivism of Kashmir, especially Utpaladeva’s Sivastotravali (tenth century) and Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka (eleventh century).

The following text is the English translation and revised version of the first chapter of my dissertation which I concluded in June 2005. The full text of my Ph. D. thesis is published in German under the title: Understanding by Touching: Interreligious Hermeneutics - the Example of Non-dualistic Saivism of Kashmir (Vienna/Innsbruck: Tyrolia, 2006).

This is the place to thank all who have supported and encouraged my study over the last four years. Above all I must thank, with deep respect, Pandit Hemendra Nath Chakravarty, with whom I studied Sanskrit texts of non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism from 2002 till 2004 in his house in Bhelopur, Varanasi. It was he who opened the fascinating world of Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka for me, and shared his stupendous insight into the Tantras. Once I compared him with a mountain guide in the Himalayas of this monumental work of Abhinavagupta, and he answered with his dry humour: “At least you have arrived at this mountain/” I dedicate this book to him.

I must equally express my gratitude to Dr. Bettina Baumer. She inspired me in 2001 to start with a dissertation on non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism in the field of Religious Studies at the University of Vienna under her supervision. It was a privilege and joy to study with her some texts of Ksemaraja and Abhinavagupta in Varanasi. This time with her was a beautiful experience of friendship, sharing, learning, spiritual practice, and diving into the spirit of this ancient holy city.

I was lucky to study in Varanasi with another eminent scholar of non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism, Dr. Mark Dyczkowski. I participated in his study group beginning in November 2003, and afterwards in private lessons on a text of the Krama-school, in his red house at Narad Ghat. I thank him for infecting me with his passion and enthusiasm for Kashmir Saivism and Indian philosophy in general, and his Support.

I thank Dr. Sadananda Das, my first Sanskrit teacher - who introduced me to the “forest of grammar” (Tantraloka 37.58) - for his encouragement and patience, also his family, with whom I could live together in Samneghat, at the bank of the Ganges. I express my gratitude to Professor Dr. Johann Figl, head of the Institute for Religious Studies at the University of Vienna, who was extraordinarily supportive during my doctorate studies.

I should not forget to thank my colleague and friend in Varanasi, Borghild Baldauf, who read the whole text carefully and discussed her comments with me, on the stairs of the Ghats. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the University of Vienna and the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute.

It is a great honour and joy for me that Professor Andre Padoux, on of the foremost scholars in the field of non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism, was ready to write the Foreword. I am glad about his encouragement and his interest in my work.

Last but not least I thank my friend and colleague Michael lanuzielo (Varanasi/Montreal) for his engaged, repeated language proof-reading and for his encouragement to create an English version, and Mr. Susheel K. Mittal, director of D.K. Printworld, for his co-operation in publication of this work.



Trika Saivism of Kashmir

NON-DUALISTIC (Advaita) Trika Saivism of Kashmir is one of the distinct systems within Saivism, along with the Pasupatas, Saiddhantikas, the Virasaivas (or Lingayatas), and other Saiva sects. It flourished in Kashmir and other parts of India from about CE 900 until the thirteenth century. In the tenth century, Saivism in Kashmir was characterized by the opposition of two schools: a group of non-dualistic (Advaita) traditions, most notably the Trika and Krama, on the left, and the dualistic, conservative (more Veda-congruent) Saiva-Siddhanta on the right. While Saiva-Siddhanta teaches that salvation can only be attained by rituals, their non-dualistic opponents criticised ritualism and claimed that one can also attain liberation through spiritual insight (jnana), a mystical unfolding of one's true nature as identical with Siva, be it spontaneous or gradual. According to these schools, liberation can be attained not only at death, but in this life too one can become a jivanmukta ("liberated in life"). The non-dualistic traditions culminate in the works of Abhinavagupta (c. CE 975-1025) which represent the definitive formulation of the doctrines of these schools on the left. This stream has been denoted as "Kashmir Saivism"? - an unfortunate term, since it does not take into account that Saiva-Siddhanta was the dominant Saiva doctrine in the tenth and eleventh centuries in Kashmir, whereas the principal Saiva cult in that region was, as it has remained, the worship of Svacchandabhairava and his consort Aghoresvari.

Scriptural Authority

Trika Saivism belongs to the Tantric traditions within the Hindu religion; it is based on the scriptural revelations called Tantras or Agamasastra. The Kashmir authors distinguish three groups within the Saiva scriptures:

Siva-Agamas: 10 dualistic Tantras

Rudra-Agamas: 18 non-dualistic Tantras

Bhairava-Agamas: 64 non-dualistic Tantras

The first two groups build the canon of the 28 Tantras of Saiva-Siddhanta. The third group is less defined and variously listed; it includes several texts which contributed to the elaboration of Abhinavagupta's Trika doctrine. The primary division within this third group of Tantras is between the "seat of the mantras" (mantrapitha) and the "seat of vidyas" (vidyapitha). The latter group is divided into Yamala-Tantras (Picumata-Brahmayamalatantra, etc.) and Sakti-Tantras. Within the Sakti- Tantras one can distinguish among the Trika- Tantras (Siddhayogesvarimata, Tanirasadbhava, Malinivijayottaratantra), the scriptural authority for the system which is later called Trika, and texts dealing with the esoteric cults of the goddess Kali (Jayadrathayamalatantra, etc.). The authors of non-dualistic Trika Saivism consider the Bhairavasastra to be superior to the other Saiva texts, and within this group of 64 Tantras they view the Tantras of Kali, followed by the Sakti- Tantras, as the highest revelation.


Historical Development

(1) In the early period, probably before CE 800, Trika Saivism is characterized by a cult of supernatural power which is centred on a "triad" (trika) of goddesses, Para, Parapara and Apara. They are worshipped alone or with subordinate Bhairavas. Part of this system of ritual is the cult of the eight mother-goddesses and their embodiments in "clans" or "families" (kula) of wild female spirits (yoginis), invoked with offerings of blood, flesh, wine, and sexual fluids by the adepts, to share their supernatural power and occult knowledge with them. The most efficacious place for its practice was the cremation ground. The leader of the hordes of yoginis is Siva in the archaic, four-faced form as Manthana-Rudra or Manthana-Bhairava, The cult of yoginis permeates all levels of the Trika- Tantras.

(2) In the second phase, the cult of the goddess Kali is incorporated into Trika: Trika assimilates the cult of Kali as the "Destroyer of Time" (Kalasamkarsini), whose hundred-plus manifestations are described in the Jayadrathayamalatantra. In this Kali-based stratum of Trika, Kalasamkarsini transcends the three goddesses of Trika and is worshipped above them (see Devyayamalatantra). This second phase includes texts such as the Devyayamala, the Trikasadbhaua and the Trikahrdaya.




  Foreword by Andre Padoux ix
  Preface xvii
  Abbreviations xxi
  List of Plates xxiii
1 Introduction  
  Trika Saivism of Kashmir 1
  Scriptural Authority 2
  Historical Development 4
  The Different Meanings of Sparsa in Indian 19
  The Term Sparsa in Early Texts of 28
  Non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism  
2 Hermeneutical Reflections  
  Is Cit “Consciousness”? 40
  Is Vimarsa “Reflective Awareness”? 53
  Remarks on Tantric Language and its Interpretation with the Example of Tantraloka 57
3 The Touch of Sakti (Saktisparsa): Selected Texts of Non-dualistic Saivism of Kashmir  
  Utpaladeva: Sivastotravali With  
  The Commentary (Vivrtti) By Ksemaraja 71
  Introduction 71
  Abhinavagupta : Tantraloka With Commentary 133
  (Viveka) By Jayaratha  
  Introduction 133
  The Sensual Touch 139
  The Touch of the Mirror 148
  The Touch of Anuttara-Samvit 154
  A Note on Anuttara 156
  The “Touch of Ants” (Pipilikasparsa) 174
  The “Touch of Fullness” (Purnatasparsa) 191
  Sparsa as Consonant 199
  “Sakti, of the Nature of Touch” 203
  A Note on the Touch of the Sexual Fluids 207
  “Uccara of Om” 215
  The Practice of Uccara according to the Tantraloka 219
  The twelve main stages of the Power 223
  Sparsa in the process of manifestation: 237
  Svacchandatantra 11  
  ‘Light,’ ‘Sound,’ ‘Touch’ as Stages of 240
4 Conclusion: The Question of the Liberating and Critical Potential of Trika Saivism 247
  Bibliography 259
  Index 275


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