Para-trisika-Vivarana of Abhinavagupta: The Secret of Tantric Mysticism

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  • Book Name Para-trisika-Vivarana of Abhinavagupta: The Secret of Tantric Mysticism
  • Author Jaideva Singh
  • Language, Pages English, 424 Pgs.
  • Upload Date 2022 / 07 / 26
  • ISBN 9788120804722, 8120804724
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Para-trisika-Vivarana of Abhinavagupta: The Secret of Tantric Mysticism
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The Paratrisika (or Paratrimsika) is a short Tantra which has been held in the highest esteem by Kashmir Saivism or Trika. After Somananda, Abhinavagupta has written two commentaries on it, a short one (Laghuvrtti) and an extensive one the present Vivarana which is presented here for the first time in an English translation.

The Paratrisika Vivarana is one of the most fascinating but also most difficult texts of the Kashmir Saiva School and of the mystical philosophical literature of India as a whole. It deals with Ultimate Reality (anuttara or para) and with the methods of realization, centred above all in the theory and practice of the mantra. Abhinavagupta displays here his great exegetical genius and presents a penetrating metaphysics of language, of the Word (vak) and its various stages in relation to consciousness. His language reflects in a luminous fashion the mystical experience contained in this text.

The present translation of Abhinavagupta's masterpiece will not only be a milestone in the study of Kashmir Saivism, but it also makes available one of the major mystical texts of the Indian tradition to readers interested in philosophy and spirituality


About the Author

Jaideva Singh (1893-1986) was a great scholar in musicology, philosophy and Sanskrit. A former principal of Y.D. College, Lakhimpurkheri, also acted as a Chairman of U.P. Sangit Natak Academi. He was awarded Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1974. His other works include Siva-Sutras, Spanda-Karika, Pratyabhijnahrdayam, and Vijnanabhairava.

Swami Lakshmanjee, Saivacarya, was the greatest exponent of the Kashmir Saiva tradition or Trika.

Dr. Bettina Baumer, a Sanskrit scholar from Austria, is at present the research director of the Alice Boner Foundation and Hon. Project Coordinator of the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts.


The last six years of Thakur Jaideva Singh's life were devoted to the study of the Paratrisika Vivarana of Abhinavagupta with that full concentration of which he was still capable at the ripe age of 93. He did not have the satisfaction of seeing the fruit of his labours in published form. After a short but severe illness, he passed away on 27th May 1986.

Jaideva Singh spent two summers in Kashmir (1980-81) to study this difficult text at the feet of his Guru Swami Lakshmanjee, the only living representative of the full Kashmir Saiva tradition both in its theory and practice, sastra and yoga. Without his understanding of the tradition and illuminating exposition, this text would have remained obscure. Swamiji has corrected the Sanskrit text published by the Kashmir Series (KSTS), which contained many mistakes, basing his emendations both on the available manuscript material and on the tradition. He has also devised charts illustrating the text. After completing the translation, Jaideva Singh spent two years preparing a lengthy introduction. He read many Sanskrit texts and other works of philosophy and mysticism, but unfortunately, he did not leave behind any notes for the planned introduction, which he had not committed to paper before his illness. The day before he was admitted to the hospital, he said to me, as if it were his final testament: "Kashmir Saivism is the culmination of Indian thought and spirituality." In a sense, this text led him to his own fulfilment, which may be expressed in the words of the Paratrisika: anuttara, Ultimate Reality, or khecari-samata, identification with the universal Consciousness.

After his death, the task of editing the book was entrusted to me. Pandit H.N. Chakravarty helped in revising the text and translation, for which we would like to express our gratitude. The author's translation, which was partly handwritten and evidenced many corrections, had to be edited and retyped. With the exception of very few corrections, his translation has been left unchanged. It should perhaps be mentioned that sometimes his own "exposition", without which the text would not be understandable, has been inserted in the translation. Except at a few places where brackets have been added to indicate the additions, no attempt has been made to change the style of the translator. In this last work, Jaideva Singh has shown his full mastery of the art of translation, which means more than a literal correspondence to the original. In spite of the great difficulties of both language and content, he has succeeded in bringing out the originality of Abhinavagupta's thoughts and the beauty of his language.

While Jaideva Singh was working on the text, two other translations of it were published: One in Hindi by Nilkanth Gurtoo which he saw before completing his work, and the other in Italian by R. Gnoli which he had no time to compare with his own since he received it when he was already ill.

The present Preface can in no way be a substitute for the author's introduction that he was prevented by illness from writing. It is only intended as a help towards situating the book in its proper context, without claiming to be a study of its contents, tempting though such a study would be. This is one of the deepest and most difficult texts of Kashmir Saivism or Trika in general and of Abhinavagupta in particular, and the present translation can become the starting point for further research, not only in the field of Kashmir Saivism but of comparative mysticism as well.



Abhinavagupta wrote two commentaries on this short and condensed Tantric text: one called Laghuvrtti (Short Commentary) and also called Anuttaratattvavimarsini ("Reflection on the Ultimate Reality"), and this present Paratrisika Vivarana, which he also calls Tattvaviveka or Tattvavivarana and Anuttaraprakriya in his Tantraloka (IX, 313 with Jayaratha's Comm.: anuttaraprakriyayam iti sriparatrisikavivaranadau ityarthah, Vol. VI, p. 249). Since this text is quoted in the Tantraloka, Abhinavagupta must have written it before his magnum opus. The two commentaries differ not only in length but also in interpretation. The commentated text, which consists of only 36 verses and which is supposed to be a part, or indeed the essence of Rudrayamala (Tantra) is generally known as Paratrimsika, "The Thirty Verses on the Supreme". Abhinavagupta however rejects this title because there are actually more than thirty verses, and because he prefers the title which indicates the meaning of the text: Paratrisika. This title, accepted by him, is explained as "The Supreme Goddess of the Three", or more explicitly: "The Supreme Goddess who transcends and is identical with the Trinity (Trika)." The "three" refers to the three Saktis: iccha (will), jnana (knowledge) and kriya (activity), or para, parapara and apara, or else the three states of srsti, sthiti and samhara, and a fortiori to the content of the Trika, i.e., Siva, Sakti and nara. Another possible title, one given by Abhinavagupta's predecessors, was Paratrimsaka, which is explained by them as: "That which speaks out (kayati) the three (tri) Saktis (sa) of the Supreme (para)."

The Paratrisika has also been called Anuttarasutra by the earlier teachers, "The Sutra or essence of the Unsurpassable, the Ultimate Reality" (p. 276, KSTS), and elsewhere Trikasutra, which Jayaratha explains as: sritrikasutra iti, trikaprameyasucikayamsri-paratrisikayam ityarthah (Tantraloka XII, 15, vol. VII, p. 101). This shows the great importance given by Kashmir Saivism to this revealed text as the "index to the entire subject-matter of Trika system. In fact it is one of the most authoritative and venerated texts, along with Malinivijaya Tantra (mostly called Purvasastra by Abhinava). This importance is also proved by the fact that Somananda wrote a commentary on the Paratrisika called Vivrti, which is unfortunately lost and to which Abhinavagupta frequently refers. Maybe some obscure passages of Somananda's Vivrti. Other commentaries quoted by Abhinavagupta are also not available at present, namely those of Kalyana and Bhavabhuti. There is a later commentary by Laksmirama (alias Lasakaka, 18th-19th cent.)", and others about which we have little knowledge.

The Tantra is in the usual form of question and answer-a fact which itself becomes the subject of metaphysical reflection for Abhinavagupta: Bhairava answers the questions of Devi, which are related to the "great secret" (etad guhyam mahaguhyam…, v. 2-this also justifies the English subtitle). Abhinavagupta also calls it trikasastra-rahasya-upadesa ("The teaching of the secret of Trika doctrine," p. 52, KSTS), and he makes it clear that this is not a text for beginners but for advanced disciples or even for enlightened ones: nijasisya-vibodhaya prabuddha-smaranaya ca (V. 5 of his introductory verses). He thus presupposes in his readers both knowledge of the Trika doctrines as well as a spiritual experience. This expression of his shows precisely the function of such a text: to enlighten those who are still on the way and to remind the enlightened ones of their own experience. Simultaneously.

The language of both text and commentary is very often a secret language, used on purpose to hide the real meaning from the uninitiated. Not only that, but most words, verses or passages have a double meaning and can be interpreted on several. Levels, e.g. on the levels of para, parapara and apara, or in the context of sambhava or sakta upaya, etc. The translation contains these different possibilities of interpretation. It should also be mentioned here that the verses in Apabhramsa have not been given in the translation because their language is no longer understood even by Kashmiri Pandits.

Abhinavagupta's interpretation of the verses is variable in the sense that he dwells at great length on the first nine verses but gives a much shorter commentary on the latter part of the Tantra. The interpretation of the very first verse alone covers 50 pages of the printed text in the Kashmir Series edition. In order to understand Abhinavagupta's approach we must be aware of the importance of sacred language and of a revealed text. Since the Tantra is also called a Sutra, he says that a Sutra contains manifold meanings and can be interpreted in a variety of ways which does not however means in an arbitrary fashion. He thus shows his full mastery of exegesis, taking every word of the Tantra to its extreme possibilities of interpretation. The best example of his hermeneutical genius is to be found in the sixteen interpretations of the term anuttara-even the number 16 is significant because it indicates completeness or fullness. Abhinavagupta's exegetic approach consists in combining fidelity to the text with an incredible freshness and originality. In the Indian tradition, there are certain commentators who distort the original text in order to superimpose their own view on it and others who blindly follow to the letter the text in question. Abhinavagupta's genius is to infuse life into each syllable of the text.



The Divine Consciousness is identical to the Supreme Word (para vak), and hence every letter or word is derived from and ultimately inseparable from this Consciousness. "She (the supreme vak) is, in the most initial stage, stationed in the Divine I-consciousness which is the highest mantra and which is not limited by space and time." (p. 3-4 KSTS). Therefore the analysis of language is inseparable from that of consciousness. Mantra and the whole metaphysics of the Word is at the centre of this text. Modern philosophy of language could learn a lot from Abhinavagupta's subtle speculation on the Word, vak (logos), which extends from its mystical dimension to the intricacies of Sanskrit grammar and linguistic speculation, from psychological subtleties to philosophical reasoning. Abhinavagupta is a master in all these finds and he has not left any aspect of the word. Because of the multiple dimensions of meaning contained in letters and words etc., language as a whole has been understood as a complete symbolical system. The Word is the symbol. The four stages of vak as para, pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari represent a gradual descent (or ascent) from the undifferentiated, transcendental level to the differentiated, gross level.

The Sanskrit language, of course, lends itself with particular clarity to the type of mystical-philosophical speculation on letters, words and sentences of which Abhinavagupta is so fond. For example, the very word aham, 'I', as the centre of consciousness, has been analysed as a standing for Siva and ha for Sakti. Aham is "the natural, innate mantra known as the Supreme Word (para vak) of the Light of Consciousness (prakasasya, i.e. Siva)." (p. 55, KSTS). In a kind of pun, it is turned around into ma-ha-a to show the return movement from external manifestations, represented by ma (standing of nara the Individual), through ha (standing for Sakti) to a (standing for Siva or anuttara). Thus the two movements of expansion and retraction of consciousness are contained in the two mantras aham and ma-ha-a. The very first letter of the alphabet, a, indeed stands for Siva or anuttara as the source of the whole manifestation: the external creation, the development of language (the alphabet) and the revelation of consciousness. Then follows the symbolical identification of the vowels with qualities or Saktis, e.g. stands for ananda (bliss), I for iccha (will), i for isana (lordship), u for unmesa (unfolding), etc. Another important symbolical understanding of the letters is that the vowels are called bija (seed) and are identified with Siva, while the consonants are yoni (womb) and are identified with Sakti. This implies the inseparability of Siva and Sakti, of vowels and consonants in language.

A great part of the reflection on the meaning of letters is centred around the two ways of arranging the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, Matrka and Malini. In the words of Jaideva Singh: "Trika philosophy maintains that the entire manifestation is an expression of para sakti or para vak or transcendental logos. This para vak is creative energy. Every letter of the alphabet represents energy in some form. The letters of the alphabet are arranged in two schemes in Trika, viz. Matrka and Malini. Matrka means the little mother or phonematic creative energy. Malini literally means the Devi who wears a mala or garland of fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. The main difference between Matrka and Malini consists of the arrangement of letters. In Matrka, they are arranged in regular order. In Malini, they are arranged in an irregular way, i.e. the vowels and consonants are mixed and no serial order is observed."

Another aspect of the mystical-philosophical meaning of language can be seen in the following example. The simple fact that Bhairava in the first person addresses Devi in the second person becomes for Abhinavagupta the starting-point for a deep philosophical reflection on the nature of the three grammatical persons and their pronouns: I, you, he (she, it) (aham, tvam sah). These three are a part of the triadic structure of reality (sarvam trikarupam eva, p. 73, KSTS), and they are related to the trinity of nara (he or it), Sakti (you) and Siva (I), and thus to the three levels of apara, parapara and para (the lowest or objective, the intermediate and the transcendent levels). But since the trinity does not consist of closed entities but of a relationship where one can be transformed into the other, and the lower can be assumed in the higher, all kinds of interactions between the three persons are possible. For example, the third person, which may even be a lifeless object, if it is addressed personally becomes a 'you' for the one who addresses it and thus shares in the Sakti-nature of the second person. The example given is the vocative: "You, O mountains!" But the same object in the third person can even be transformed into the first person, into an 'I', as in the words of Krsna in the Bhagavad Gita: "Of mountains, I am Meru." On the other hand, a person or 'I' addressing another person or 'you' experiences a kind of fusion of his 'I' with the 'I' of the person addressed, that (common) I-feeling being of the nature of delight (camatkara) and freedom (svatantrya). Communication is communion in the same ahambhava. The pure, unlimited, absolute 'I' is only Siva who is self-luminous consciousness. "The notion of 'you' i.e. the second person, though indicative of separateness, is actually similar to that of 'I'. Therefore both you and I are described as genderless." Abhinavagupta gives several examples from common speech of how the three grammatical persons are interrelated and merge with each other, in order to show that everything, even insentient objects, is ultimately related to the absolute I-consciousness of Siva. Even the three numbers of singular, dual and plural are related to the three principles of Trika: the singular being Siva, the dual Sakti and the plural nara, i.e. the level of multiplicity. The restoration of plurality into unity or of the objective world into Siva, is indeed the characteristic par excellence of release from bondage: anekam ekadha krtva ko na mucyeta bandhanat (p. 79, KSTS).

This may suffice as an example of how Abhinavagupta is able, by analyzing grammatical structures, to throw light on reality in toto, because, as he himself says, language and the rules of grammar reflect consciousness. This is not limited to Sanskrit but applies to all languages, for "there is no speech which does not reach the heart directly." (p. 80, KSTS).

Metaphysically speaking, the Paratrisika Vivarana explains and illustrates the Tantric principle or dictum: sarvam sarvatmakam, "everything is related to everything else." This awareness of the interrelatedness and oneness of all things as an expression of the freedom of the Divine is extended to the ultimate degree. What it implies is not a chaotic confusion of dimensions of reality, but an inner relationship which follows the principle of reality and its reflection: bimba-pratibimba. Just as in a mirror right becomes lift and left-right, in the order of creation the Ultimate Reality is inversed, and in order to return to the Source this inversion has to be rectified. Hence the highest principle is related to the lowest (Siva to the earth) and so forth (see the charts), in other words: transcendence is in immanence and immanence in transcendence. This is the key to the speculative (in the literal sense) play with the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and the tattvas or principles of reality. Therefore Abhinavagupta comments at length on the famous verse of the Mahabharata: (XII, 54, also Yoga Vasistha):



"In whom everything is, from whom everything comes, who is everything and everywhere, who is immanent in all things, eternal, him, the Self of all, do I adore?"
(my translation, is different from Jaideva Singh)

In the spiritual realm-which is, of course, inseparable from all else-the ideal is enunciated by the Tantra in the first verse as khecari-samata: sameness with the power of consciousness. Khecari is the Sakti moving in the free space (kha) which is an image of consciousness. The soul or individual knows in reality only two states: khecari-vaisamya, dissimilarity, estrangement from the Divine Consciousness-power or the essential nature, or khecari-samata (or - samya) which is a state of harmony and identity with the divine I-consciousness. The first is the state of pasu, the bound individual, the second is the state of a jivanmukta or of pati, the Lord himself, for: "Khecari-samya is the highest state of Siva both in life and liberation."

There are only a few hints at the content of this profound work from which the reader can draw direct inspiration. Even Abhinavagupta himself, after completing his commentary, says in all humility: "I have briefly concluded it according to (the teaching of) my guru and the Agama. As to what happens by resorting to this I-consciousness, ask about your personal experience. I have only shown a little bit of the path. One should not rest contented with this much…"

It has not been possible to print the Sanskrit text and translation alternately because most of the translated passages were too long to make such a division useful for the reader. However, the page numbers of the Sanskrit text printed at the end have been indicated before every passage of the translation, so that the reader can follow the text along with the translation.

Since both in the translation and in the notes every technical term has been explained, it was not found necessary to add a Glossary. The Index will be useful in tracing the explanations of the specific terms of Trika and of Paratrisika.

Finally, I would like to thank Swami Lakshmanjee for all his guidance and inspiration, and especially for blessing this book by giving it a dedication praising both Abhinavagupta's genius and Siva, the unsurpassable abhinavacamatkaratmane sivaya Namah!




Preface by Bettina Baumer xi
List of Abbreviations xxi
Part I: Paratrisika-Vivarana of Abhinavagupta: Translation with Note  
Preliminaries (Benedictory Verses 1-5) 1
Verse 1 of Paratrisika 5
Commentary 7
Different implications of the word Devi 10
The rationale of the past tense in 'said' (uvaca) 11
The Final Resting Place of all questions and answers 14
Sixteen interpretations of anuttara 20
Interpretation of kaulika-siddhidam 31
Exposition on Verse 1 and Commentary 47
Etad guhyam mahaguhyam…Text and Commentary 53
Verse 2 61
Commentary 61
Verses 3 and 4 65
Commentary 65
Verse 5 to 9a 87
Commentary 89
Verse 9 to 18b 202
Commentary 204
Verse 19 236
Commentary 236
Verse 20 239
Commentary 239
Verse 21 240
Commentary 240
Verse 22 241
Commentary 241
Verse 23 242
Commentary 243
Verse 24 243
Commentary 243
Verse 25 to 26 243
Commentary 244
Verses 27 245
Verses 28 248
Verses 29 248
Verses 30 249
Verses 31 to 33 250
Commentary 251
Verses 34 259
Verses 35 262
Commentary 262
Verses 36 268
Commentary 268
Verses 37 269
Commentary 269
Autobiographical Verses of Abhinavagupta 270
General Index 273
Part II: Paratrisika-Vivarana: Sanskrit Text 1-106
Index of Half – Verses of Paratrisika 107
Index of Quotations 110
1. The various anda or ellipses contained in anuttara 103
2A. The identity of the original source (bimba) and its reflection (pratibimba) 106
2B. The transposition of the tattvas (categories of existence) in reflection (pratibimba) 107
3. The arrangement of letters according to Matrka in parasamvitti in sarvagrarupata 132
4. Arrangement of letters according to Matrka in paraparasamvitti in sarvamadhyarupata 133
5. Letters of Malini together with their representation with reference to supreme consciousness or parasamvitti 138
6. Parasamvitti (supreme consciousness)-sarvagrarupata 143
7. In parapara-samvitti-supreme-cum-non-supreme  
consciousness, sarvamadhyarupata in the order of Matrka-letters 145
8. Arrangement of letters according to Matrka in paraparasamvitti sarvantya-rupata 146
9. Malini in apara samvitti and Matrka in pasyanti or parapara samvitti 147
10. The outline of the Mandala of the trident and lotuses (trisulabjamandala) 237

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