Sri Abhinavgupta The Light of India

Sunil Raina Rajanaka
Kashmir has been the melting pot of various schools of knowledge where philosophy, grammar, literature, dance, drama and other aesthetic pursuits emerged and held an everlasting impression in the Indian subcontinent. The knowledge-based society of Kashmir where the presiding diety was Sharda- The Goddess of knowledge made it a distinct crucible for learning and education. It was in this land that great scholars like Udbhatt, Vaman, Rudratt, Bhatta Lollat, Bhatta Shankuk, Anandvardhan, Vasugupta, Somamnand, Utpaldev, Bhatta Narayan, Bhatta Totuk, Bhatenduraj, Mammat, Kshemendra, Jayratha, Kshemraja, Sharnagdev and many others evolved and presented their work for the future generations to deliberate upon.
It was in this beautiful valley,that a line of masters over a period, evolved which laid the foundation of wisdom seekers and philosophers who dived deep to unravel the nature of existence and evolution. In this succession in around 11th CE a great polymath Abhinavagupta came on the scene who with his sharp intellect and inquisitive mind distilled the philosophy, polished the concept of Rasas and synthesized the philosophical streams in such a manner that it connected all this phenomenal existence to Supreme Shiva, the one on which the universal existence hinges upon.
Abhinavagupta continued with intellectual tradition of thinkers of Kashmir and touched all spheres of life which includes,” aesthetic experience, tantric praxis and universal consciousness.” It was the encyclopedic genius of Abhinavagupta which endeared him from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He was an exponent of Trika philosophy, theory of art and literature, poetics, nature of sound, etc. We may refer him the greatest jewel of ancient India who glorified Kashmir immensely. There are about almost forty four different works which he had authored, though many have been lost due to upheaval in Kashmir, but whatever is available to us is so profound and scholarly that even after thousand year we are unable to fathom the genius of this super human being. Many scholars have referred to him as an incarnation of Dakshnamurthy-Shiva and some refer to him as Sheshnaga. By whichever name we may refer him, we are simply awe struck by his genius expositions, clarity of thought, depth of understanding, approach to natural laws and above all his methodology of convincing arguments with facts and logic.
Early Years
Abhinavagupta’s mother was Vimala and his father was Narsimhagupta, who also was his guru. The early death of his mother had a deep influence in the mind of young Abhinava which led him to become more reflective and evoked an interest in metaphysics. During his lifetime Abhinavagupta is credited with learning from various masters and his sharp innovative disposition made him the dearest disciple of all those with whom he learnt various subjects. Abhinavagupta emphasized that one should keep learning from various guru’s and enhance one’s wisdom. On learning under different masters, He writes,
“It is only the black bee and not the honey bee which has the enormous appetite for the fragrance of the Ketaki flower. Similarly, only those rare people who are guided from within by the grace of Siva, find interest in absolute non dualistic worship of Bhairava the One perfect whole of everything.” (Abhinavgupta, TA, IV, 276)
Abhinavagupta and Non-Dualism
Among the various works of Abhinavagupta is his ‘magnum opus- Tantraloka’. According to it one can understand his rationale which essentially explains the unity of human beings, sentient and insentient objects and highest reality Param Shiva, all bound together. Abhinavagupta referred this connection as non- dualism (Advaita) and explained that phenomenal world is an extension of Consciousness which can appear in diverse forms by its own free (Swatantra) nature. According to him the reality is one and because of its blissful nature(Anugreh) it creates universe of diverse forms. So, in Abhinavagupta’s view the existing phenomenon is the outward manifestation of the Absolute Param Shiva whose nature is pure, blissful, independent, playful activity, which involves Creation, Preservation, Absorption, Obscuration and Revelation. Abhinavagupta lays emphasis that one not only needs to know what Absolute is, but Shaivite must feel the presence of Supreme to enable them to rise above mundane existence and merge their beings in the Divine being. This is what Abhinavagupta means;
“There within the cosmic spheres, the universe resides, a series of worlds, organs and various bodies. It is there that Shiva Himself becomes a patient with a body, clothed in the condition of the individual soul.” (AG,Parmarthsar 2)
Works of Abhinavagupta
There are about two forty-eight manuscripts of Abhinavgupta’s work in various libraries of India. The thirty seven chapters of Tantraloka are one of the greatest Sanskrit works both in terms of content and poetic expression.
The important works of Abhinavagupta are;
* Bodhapancdasika
* Paratrimsikavivarna
* Malinivijayavartika
* Tantraloka
* Tantrasara
* Dhavanalokalocana
* Bhagvadgitarthasamgrah
* Bhairavstotra
* Devistotravivarna
* Biamba-pratibimbavada, etc.
To understand various schools of esoteric theories and practices one needs to go through Abhinavgupta. His analysis in terms of psychic-physical analysis of human mind is very insightful. It was because of these intricate understanding of human evolution and human mind that set him apart among the other scholars of his time. His fame spread to various parts of South Asia which made the learners flock to him and make them travel all the way to Kashmir.
Integration of Shaivite Schools
Since ancient times Kashmir was fully following the various distinctive branches of Shaivism. This included schools of Pratyabhijna, Spanda, Krama, Kaula which are referred as Trika or lately as Kashmir Shaivism of which Abhinavagupta is credited with synthesizing them and integrating them under single entity, thus reducing any friction or future discord. Abhinavagupta explained that all these schools may have different esoteric practices, but the goal is the same, that is to achieve Supreme Consciousness to which he refers as Annutara or Samvit. This integration prevented any drift among the believers and in fact united the society both in philosophy and practice.
The treatment given to tantra praxis by Abhinavagupta is such that the difficult philosophical and esoteric expositions became so simple and rational so much to the help of seekers and scholars. This simplification of various existing works is because of his own experience, learning and practice which enables him to present them in a simple manner to a learner.
Abhinavagupta’s Kashmir
The coming of genius like Abhinavagupta was possible only in Kashmir where scholarship and merit was the only criteria of excellence. He writes about his countrymen in glowing tribute, –
“Where everybody is a learned person, where even a warrior is capable of worthy discourses, where women of the cities are remarkable with luster of the moon and charming gait, where the band of yoginis (female adepts in tantric practice) , just like the clear sky, are remarkable, having got the sun and the moon ( prana and apana or ida and pingala symbolized) eclipsed, with their opening of the infinite path of susumna blazing like the burning charcoal.” Abhinavagupta loved Kashmir and treats valley as divine place and he refers to it in following words.
“Where, here and there the sages make their dwelling, where in every place resides Siva himself, except such a place as Kashmir, I feel, for the fulfilment of all wishes and for the achievement of the perfect spiritual realization, there is no other place in the world”
Remembering Abhinavagupta on 2nd June
The great human being Abhinavagupta is a valued heritage of mankind. It is a matter of pride that genius like Abhinavagupta is known to the world as a man of millennium. Indians in general and Kashmiris in particular are proud of this great multifaceted polymath. Perhaps he was too much ahead of his time, perhaps he was too far away from the ordinary crowd, perhaps his teachings and philosophy were so esoteric and subtle that ordinary mind was unable to comprehend. Indians need to study and dedicate their time and resources in learning the teachings of the Great Abhinavagupta as he is tallest among the saint -scholars of India. In fact, Kashmir will be poorer if we do not know this great personality. Therefore, on his birth Jayanti falling on 2nd June – Nirjala Ekadashi we are remembering this great saint scholar throughout world as many universities across the globe are organizing special webinars and paper presentations to commemorate the Jayanti of Abhinavagupta. Let the light of the supreme master remove the darkness of ignorance and transform our ignorant life to the life of wisdom and knowledge so that we get holistic self-development besides spiritual solace from the myriad abyss of material world.