A Journey in the World of the Tantras by Mark S.G. Dyczkowski

A Journey in the World of the Tantras

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A Journey in the World of the Tantras
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The past thirty years have witnessed dramatic developments in the study of Agamic Saivism in general. Progress has been made on several fronts. On the one hand there has been a substantial increase in the historical and anthropological data. On the other hand there has been a substantial increase in the historical and anthropological data. On the other, access has been cleared to vast reserves of unedited and unpolished sources. This book is a collection of essays which document in their own way the author's personal journey in these years through parts of the Saiva and, to some extent, the Vaisnava Tantras. Anyone who has traveled on similar paths knows how vast and marvelous the lands of this extraordinary world are.

Self-awareness, Own Being and Egoity studies the history of the notion that the one, unique reality which is equally Siva, the Self and all that appears and exists in any form, is pure, universal 'I' consciousness (ahambhava).

Abhavavada, the Doctrine of Non-being focuses on a little known doctrine taught in the Bhairava and Kaula Tantras that Siva, who is inherently beyond characterization, is Non-being.

The Samvitprakasa is an important text for monistic Kashmiri Vaisnavism. Its author, date and teachings are the subject of chapter three.

The Inner Pilgrimage of the Tantras deals with sacred geography. Sacred geography is not only divine. It is also human. It is more than physical, social or cultural geography. It is the geography of the land in which we live. It is not just about space or places, it is about our home. The more esoteric early Tantric cults were concerned with the roaming ascetic. But now the places he has to travel to are much increased in number. Moreover, they are no longer just simply called 'sacred lands' - ksetra - they are specific seats - pithas - of deities and meeting grounds for male initiates and Yoginis, their female counterparts. The development of the sacred geography of India we witness in these sources is paralleled by that of their public, exoteric counterparts - the Puranas.

Kubjika, the Androgynous Goddess and The Cult of the Goddess Kubjika deal with the secret goddess of the Malla kings, who ruled the inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley up to about the middle of the 17th century. The king's deity is that of his country and people. With two faces, the inner secret goddess and the outer public god, the king's deity transmits its energy and grace both in the outer domain and through the network of esoteric familial goddesses who, energies in their own right, are thereby inwardly charged. Thus the king, his goddess and his priest together are the axis of this inner secret which, although close to its end, still survives today.

About the Author

Mark S. G. Dyczkowski is a renowned scholar in the field of Tantra. He is engaged at present by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Living in India for over thirty years, he combines in his books a Western academic base with deep Indian insight.


This book is a collection of essays, the first of which was published in 1986 and the last in 2001. They are, for the most part, presented in chronological order and so document in their own way my personal journey through parts of the Saiva and, to some extent, the Vaisnava Tantras. Anyone who has travelled on similar paths knows how vast and marvellous the lands of this extraordinary world are. Like a pilgrim travelling barefoot carrying nothing but a staff and provisions for the journey, like many other fellow travellers of the past and present, I have been guided and inspired by the wonder of this world. Putting my trust in the principle that "al1 things are by nature everything" (sarvam sarvatmakam), my hope is that the deities of the few sacred sites I have managed to visit will grace me with a glimpse of the All, too vast to grasp except in its individual manifestations.

The past thirty years have witnessed an immense growth in the numbers of my fellow pilgrims. Each one of us, without distinction of birth or culture, has been graced. But even as we have been illumined we have been led to contemplate increasingly vaster expanses of the Unknown.

Self-awareness, Own Being and Egoity

The first three essays were the result of research into the development of Kashmiri Saivism, which was required for the work I was engaged in on the Spanda school. The first of these is a brief historical study of what can be said to be the hallmark of Kashmiri Saivism. This is the notion that the one, unique reality — which is equally Siva, the Self and all that appears and exists in any form - is pure, universal ‘I’ consciousness (ahambhava).

Although the Upanisads had already proclaimed the oneness of the Self — Atman — and the Absolute — Brahman — centuries before, the formulation of this fundamental identity in this way is truly unique in the history of Indian thought. Patanjali teaches in his Yogasutra that the highest, most subtle object of concentration is the sense of ‘I-ness’ (asmita). But in the ultimate liberated state this gives way to the pure consciousness of the Self (purusa). The Buddhist Anuttarayoga Tantras teach forms of what has been termed ‘deity Yoga’, in which the aspirant develops the ‘divine pride’ (divyagarva) of being the deity. But this too must ultimately give way to the ineffable experience of Voidness; that is, the realisation of the dependent origination of all things and hence their lack of independent existence. The Upanisads teach that the Self is the ‘knower’ who ‘sees’ and ‘perceives’ but, according to Sarikara at least, it is such only in relation to a provisional object of knowledge. The latter appears to have an independent existence only as long as the individual perceiver has not realised his true identity with the one absolute Brahman which can have no outer or inner relationship with any other reality. Once the true nature of the Self is realised to be the absolute Brahman which is ‘one without a second’, this subjectivity is abandoned. In all these cases the ego is given a positive valency, but only insofar as it serves as means to the realisation which ultimately annuls it. For the same reason Sankara insists that the Brahman is not a personal creator God. There can be no real world that the Brahman may create, just as there can be no object in relation to which the Brahman may be a subject. Just as the Brahman does not create, the Self does not perceive. The Self-cum—Brahman is simply the reality behind illusory creation and perceptions.

Although Kashmiri Saivism agrees with Advaita Vedanta that the Self is the one absolute reality, it neither denies the reality of the world nor the ultimate, absolute status of the one God. In the first stages of the development of the monistic metaphysics developed by the Kashmiri masters in the 10th century, it was essentially a dynamic pantheism. Reality is a ‘process-less process’. It is a process which, in the temporal terms of its individual manifestations, is a perpetual succession of creation and destruction. In terms of its own essential nature, and that of its manifestations, it maintains its own ineffable identity, unchanged and untouched by time and space. As Abhinavagupta puts it "the principle of consciousness, very pure, is beyond talk of succession and its absence". ‘The Buddhists also espouse a process theory of reality, but they come to the conclusion that the manifest world generated and sustained through, and as, this process is illusory, which the Kashmiri Saiva schools do not. The earlier ones, the Spanda and the Kalikrama along with the budding Pratyabhijna represented by the Sivadrsti of Somananda, accepted this paradox as it stands. The bipolar unitary consciousness engaged in this process spontaneously forms itself into all the polarities that sustain the business of daily life (vyavahara) including subject and object, cause and effect, continuity and change, transcendence and immanence, the one who graces (anugrahitr) and the one who is graced (anugrahya).

At this early stage in the development of Kashmiri Saivism, the contradictions inherent in this ‘idealistic realism’ are resolved a priori by the axiomatic postulate that the one reality is a ‘union of opposites’; the prime one, from which all the others are derived, being Siva and his divine power. This view, common to all the sastric theistic traditions of India, is here coupled with an uncompromising monism which allows for the continued integrity of the male polarity — that of the power—holder —— even as the female polarity — that of his power —— ebbs and flows in consonace with the rythmn of constantly renewed manifestation. And this manifestation is never any- thing but that of Siva himself.

About the middle or second half of the ninth century, Somananda developed this view, applying it systematically to the resolution of the cardinal problems with which philosophers and theologians are concerned and engaging vigorously in reasoned argument against its possible opponents. Siva is Siva because he is free in every respect to act and to know by virtue of the omnipotent power of his will. By virtue of his power of action, Siva is an agent. As such he is the cause of all things, insofar as effects are the products of the activity of the agent. Similarly, Siva is a ‘knower’ by virtue of his power of knowledge which allows him to know the object he has generated himself into.

At this point Utpaladeva, Somananda’s devoted disciple, intervenes to open up what he rightly calls a ‘new path’ by developing his philosophy to its ultimate conclusion. But to do this he had to depart from the substance model of consciousness. Although everybody agrees, of course, that consciousness is insubstantial, it nonetheless retained many properties of a substance. The relationship between Siva and Sakti can be understood as one between substance and its essential attributes. As the foundation of manifestation, it is like the formless clay in relation to the objects fashioned from it, or the screen upon which the cosmic picture is projected. The analogy is particularly pertinent when consciousness is understood, as it is by the Advaita Vedanta, to be devoid of cognitive activity. A pure lucid awareness devoid of objectivity is like a ‘pure’ substance devoid of attributes. Indeed, Abhinavagupta would say that it is so much like a substance that its conscious nature is negated. While Sankara boasts of his perfectly inactive Brahman, these monists denounce it as being inert and powerless, like a stone. This is why the Spanda and Krama schools, along with Somananda, posit the ultimate existence of a cognative consciousness which generates itself into the world and its individual perceivers. From the perspective of these three schools, it expands out to its object and retracts from it, passes through the phases of perception and flows with the current of its cognative and conative energies, respectively. However, the substance model has not been fully abandoned even though consciousness is fluid — it pulses, heaves and flows, like an expanding and contracting gas, waves, or streams of water.

Utpaladeva adopts a new, more satisfactory model. Cognative consciousness is like light. It illumines even as it lights itself up. The physical body, cognative apparatus, concepts, cognitions, objects, all that appears in any form is the shining of this divine Light. This is Siva. His powers to will, know and act, already extensively described by Somananda, fuse into the one power of reflective awareness. This is the awareness that consciousness has of its own nature - by virtue of which it is a subject and of its contents, by virtue of which it is the object. This is Sakti. The interplay between these two polarities is the one universal, absolute I-ness.

This, according to Abhinavagupta, is the highest, subtlest view of reality which, although never directly articulated in the Tantras, must be, nonetheless, implicitly accepted by them if Tantric rituals and Yoga are to be effective. Thus he makes use of this insight as a golden hermeneutical key to unlock the innermost meaning of the Tantric traditions he examines. He applied his hermeneutic so thoroughly that Utpaladeva’s brilliant and unique contribution could only be noticed when the time was ripe for a detailed analysis of early Kashmiri Saiva monism, and access was achieved to what remains of Abhinavagupta’s scriptural sources.

Abhavavada, the Doctrine of Non-being 

This short excursion into an obscure doctrine espoused by several Saiva schools appeared to me in the early eighties to be particularly rare and unusual. According to this view, Siva, who is inherently beyond characterization, is characterized as Non-being. But further research has revealed that, although not very common, this ‘positive apophansis’ is not as rare as it seems.

A major area of research, as yet hardly touched, are the various concepts of Emptiness taught first in the early Upanisads, and subsequently in the Saiva and Vaisnava Tantras and the later so—called Yoga Upanisads. The interplay between the formless transcendent reality — the deity beyond time and space — and the manifold forms generated within it through its own inherent power is a major recurrent paradigm represented in a vast number of ways. Remeniscent of the early identifications of the Brahman with Space, the image carries over into the Tantras where this transcendental emptiness is the Sky (variously called vyoman, kha, or akasa). Despite the logical contradictions, which cannot anyway affect it, the supreme Void is located, as it were, at the end of a long series of lower more ‘concrete’ principles. The Siddhanta reserves this level for the Siva principle. Similarly the Kaula Tantras of the Kubjika school praise Bhairava, the wrathful form of Siva, as the Void which, although above all things and supremely vacuous, is the foundation that sustains all things:

I praise that Bhairava who is eternal bliss, supreme, tranquil, formless (niskala), free of defects; beyond the firmament he is the supreme Void. Superior to the supreme, tranquil, pure, extremely pure, I praise that Bhairava who sustains the whole universe?

Although Bhairava is all things (visvarupa) he is ‘more void than the Void’. We may define this characterization of the transcendent as so strongly apophatic that in phenomenal terms it is even more than the ‘nothing’ we experience as the absence of something. Supremely passive and transcendent, and yet attainable by Yoga and even ritual because this Non-being is not a pure antithesis of Being, it is its transcendental aspect. Experienced directly in the most elevated state of consciousness of the deity, it is not amenable to the binary dichotomy of reason:

"Free of mind and beyond mind, devoid of being and non—being, free of merger and verbalization, devoid of logical cause and reason, what is to be abandoned and instrumental means, scripture (sruti) and example, it is endowed with the condition of non-being (nastikya-bhava). It is the Void free of defects, the transcendent lord of all causes (karanesvara), beyond the senses and speech; (the wise) know it to be the Supreme Sky. The means to its (attainment) is all this path of Yoga and ritual."

Alongside this passive transcendent there is a dynamic one. Non-being is the active, creative source of Being. In the Void of transcendental consciousness — Non-being — we experience the plenitude of manifestation —- phenomenal Being. The Trisiro-bhairava, an important Tantra of the Trika school, explains that the Void of Consciousness (cidvyoman) is the final and supreme plane beyond the gross, elemental vacuum. It is the Void of Siva which is the supreme state, Non-being which is the pulse of the experience of Being

The Kubjika tradition teaches that the Divine Current of the energy of the supramental energy of consciousness courses through the Void of Non-being. The energies of this flux are aspects of the contemplation of Non-being that leads to the Transmental through which the Yogi becomes one with the supreme deity, his authentic and innate nature. As the Manthanabhairava Tantra teaches: "One should constantly contemplate Non—being. (This) is the teaching concerning the arising of one’s own nature."

Similarly, Kalikrama sources teach that the spheres of the five-fold flux (pancavaha) of consciousness — transcendental, mental, sensorial, biophysical and objective —flow through Non-being. Thus what the Kalikrama characterizes as five spheres of emptiness unfold perpetually in the Great Void of Non-being. Praising the goddess Kali who is all this, the Tantra exclaims: "Salutation to you who are the Non-being of all things".’ Kali is Bhairavi — Bhairava’s con- sort- whose form is fierce and is established in the essential nature of Non-being."

Apart from these essentially mystical formulations, occasionally found in many of the major early Saiva Tantric traditions in which Siva is worshipped in his fierce form as Bhairava and the goddess in hers, ‘non—being’ is also an important logical category. Any entity can be said to be the positive correlate of the non-existence of everything else. This is not idle sophistry. Each thing is specifically itself because it is not anything else. Absence or ‘non-being’ is thus an extensive subject of philosophical enquiry. For the philosophers of the Kashmiri Saiva tradition, it is also a way of establishing the existence of the Self us pure substratum consciousness which must necessarily exist to explain our daily experience. How is that? If we reflect on what we mean by the absence or non-existence of an entity, we find that it coincides with a perception of a place or sustaining ground devoid of that entity. If we divest ourselves of all thoughts, recollections, feelings, perceptions and the like, what must remain is their underlying ground — the ‘place’ where they are absent — that is, the substratum consciousness. The same reasoning holds good for the entire cosmic order. Its ‘non- being’ is the non-finite ground of its existence, that is, Deity. 





1. Self-Awareness, Own Being and Egoity


2. Abhavavada, the Doctrine of Non-Being
A Forgotten Saiva Doctrine


3. The Samvitprakasa - the Light of Consciousness


4. The Inner Pilgrimage of the Tantras
The Sacred Geography of the Kubjika Tantras with Reference to the Bhairava and Kaula Tantras


5. Kubjika, the Androgynous Goddess
Potency, Transformation and Reversal in the Theophanies of the Kubjika Tantras


6. The Cult of the Goddess Kubjika
A Preliminary Comparative Textual and Anthropological Survey of a Secret Newar Kaula Goddess




  Index 303


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