Though Hinduism has now virtually been rooted out of Kashmir , the region was , at onetime , a renowned center of learning . And, its erudite and enlightened scholars such as Abhinavagupta (10th century), Augusta (8th century), Somananda (9th century), Utpaladeva (9th century), Anandavardhana (9th century) and others made immense contribution to the development of Indian Philosophies, literature and art.
The most outstanding of them was Abhinavagupta Acharya (c. 950 to c. 1020 C.E) a great philosopher, intellectual and a spiritual descendant of Somananda the founder of the Pratyabhijna, the “recognition” metaphysics school of Kashmiri Saivite monism. Abhinavagupta was a many sided genius and a prolific writer on Shaivism, Tantra, aesthetics, Natya, music and a variety of other subjects. Among his most notable philosophic works are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarshini and the more detailed Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvara-pratyabhijña (Recognition of God) by Utpaladeva , an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school .
Abhinavagupta’s works on poetry , drama, and dance, include the Lochana a commentary on the Dhvanyaloka by Anandavardhana; and, the Abhinavabharati a detailed commentary on Bharata Muni’s Natyasastra , covering almost every important aspect of Indian aesthetic and poetics . His theory of Rasa is a land mark in Sanskrit art and literature.
Abhinavagupta was born in Kashmir, probably around 950 A.D. The tradition has it that after his 70th year Abhinavagupta entered the Bhairava cave near the village Bhiruva, along with his 1200 disciples; and , was never seen again.
What little is known of him comes from his works , in his own words. At the end of Ishwar Pratyabhijna Vimarshini, a commentary on Kashmir Shaivism text ascribed to Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta states that his remote ancestor Attrigupta, a great Shaiva teacher, who lived in Antarvedi – a tract of land lying between the Ganga and the Yamuna – migrated to Kashmir at the invitation of the King Lalitaditya (700-736 A.D) . He was followed, many generations later, by Varahagupta another great scholar of Shaiva philosophy. His son, Narasimha Gupta, a great Shaiva teacher , was the father of Abhinavagupta. And Vimla or Vimalkala was the mother of Abhinavagupta (vimalakalāśray ābhinavasṛṣṭi mahā janan) . His father’s maternal grandfather, Yashoraja, was a man of great learning and wrote a commentary on Paratrinshika . a dialogue between Bhairava (Shiva) and Bhairavi (Shakti) .
Abhinavagupta always described himself as kashmirika, as one hailing from the land of Kashmira.
It is believed that Abhinava was a Yoginibhu, i.e. born of a Yogini. The Kaula system believes that a progeny of parents who are sincere devotees of Lord Shiva is endowed with exceptional spiritual and intellectual prowess; and ,will be a depository of knowledge.
Abhinava might not have been his real name, but one assigned to him by his teachers , because of his brilliance. He describes his work Tantraloka (1.20) : ‘This is the work written by Abhinavagupta, who was so named by his Gurus”- abhinavaguptasya kṛtiḥ seyaṃ yasyoditā gurubhirākhyā. The name Abhinava suggests the virtue of being “ever-new and ever creative, progressively innovating oneself”.And, it also suggests competence and authoritativeness. Abhinavagupta was, in fact, all these and more.
He was also referred to as Abhinavagupta-pada. The suffix pada signifies a reverential form of address. There is also a clever explanation of the term “gupta_pada” which translates to “one with hidden limbs” , a poetic synonym for snake. Thus, Abhinava was also regarded as an incarnation of Sesha , the legendary serpent.
Abhinava lost his mother Vimalakala when he was just two years of age. The pain of separation and the longing for his mother haunted him all his life. He, later in his works, frequently referred to his mother with love and reverence. The relation between the mother and the child, he said, is the closest that nature can forge. The bond of love and friendship between the mother and the child is the strongest ; and, is the most enduring bond in the world.
His father Narasimha gupta, after the death of his wife Vimalakala, assumed an ascetic way of life; and yet continued to bring up his three children. He became more focused on his spiritual endeavor. He was Abhinava’s first teacher. Abhinava, later, recalled with gratitude the training he received from his father in grammar, logic, literature and music (geya vidya).
Abhinava was a diligent pupil ; and, put his heart and soul in to his studies. By one account, Abhinava had as many as fifteen teachers; Narasimha Gupta, his father being his first teacher. Among them was Lakshmana Gupta, a direct disciple of Somananda, in the lineage of Tryambaka. He taught Abhinavagupta the monastic subjects: Krama, Trika and Pratyabhijna (except Kula).
The most prominent of his teachers was , of course, Shambhu Natha of Jalandhara (in the present-day Punjab). Guru Shambhu Natha who preached monistic shaivism, initiated Abhinava in to Ardha_thrayambaka , a doctrine of Kaula school of Tantric tradition. It is said that Shambhu Natha asked his wife to act as a conduit (dauti) for transmitting the initiation through Kaula process (having sexual connotations). It was at the instance of Shambhu Natha that Abhinava authored his monumental Tantraloka, in which he compared Shambhu Natha to the sun in his power to dispel the darkness of ignorance; and to the moon shining over the ocean of Trika knowledge.
śrī śambhunātha bhāskara caraṇa nipāta prabhā pagata saṃkocam abhinavagupta hṛdambuja metad vicinuta maheśa pūjana hetoḥ //1. 21
As regards his immediate family, it is said, Abhinava had a younger brother Manoratha and an elder sister Amba. Manoratha was one among Abhinava’s earlier batch of disciples. And, one of his fellow students was Karna married Amba. Karna and Amba had a son Yogeshwar–datta , who was precociously talented in Yoga. After the death of her husband, Amba too devoted herself entirely to Yoga and to the worship of Shiva. Later, Amba’s in-laws too became devote followers of Abhinava.
A cousin of Abhinava was Kshema who later became renowned as his illustrious disciple Kshemaraja. Mandra, the cousin and childhood friend of Karna, too became Abhinava’s disciple. Vatasika, Mandra’s aunt, took exceptional care of Abhinava and offered him support to carry on his life’s work. It was while staying in her suburban house at Pravapura (present-day Srinagar) that Abhinava wrote and completed his Tantraloka, in which he recorded his gratitude towards Vatasika for her concern, dedication and support. Abhinavagupta also mentioned his disciple Rāmadeva as being faithfully devoted to scriptural studies and for serving his master.
Abhinava did not become a wandering monk nor did he take on Brahmanical persuasions. He did not marry ; followed an ascetic way of life; and yet, he lived in his ancestral home surrounded by the members of his family, loving friends and disciples. He lived the life of a scholar, a teacher and a Yogi immersed in Shiva. Referring to the atmosphere in his family, Abhinava said,” All the members of the family regarded material wealth as a straw and they set their hearts on the contemplation of Shiva”.
He lived in a nurturing and a caring environment. An epoch pen-painting depicts him seated in Virasana, surrounded by devoted disciples and family, performing on Veena while dictating verses of Tantrāloka to one of his attendees, as two dauti (women yogi) wait on him. He was ever surrounded by his friends and disciples.
No wonder that about 1,200 of his friends and disciples faithfully followed Abhinavagupta, as he marched in to the Bhairava cave, reciting loudly his Bhairara_stava, never to be seen again.
A prolific writer on a wide ranging subjects , Abhinava authored more than about 40 works, some of which survive to the present day.
Abhinavagupta’s works are sometimes classified according the branches of his triad (trika) will (icchā) – knowledge (jnana) – action (kriya).
But according to another classification, Abhinavagupta’s works fall into four broad groups. The first group of his works deals with Tantra. His monumental encyclopedic work the Tantraloka or Light on the Tantras is an authoritative text. It explores doctrine and the inner meaning of rituals in the Shaiva and Shakta Agamas . The text enumerates the Tantrik Agamas and the three methods of realizing the Ultimate Reality: Sambhavopaya, Saktopaya and Anovapaya. The other important work of this group is Malini-Vijaya Vivrti , a commentary.
A third group includes his works on art of the theatre and art of writing plays; poetics; aesthetics and the rhetoric. The great scholar Prof. P.V. Kane remarked “his two works, i.e. Lochana and Abhinavabharati are monuments of learning, critical insight, literary grace and style.” Lochana, his commentary on Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana is a highly regarded work in aesthetics. Abhinavabharati is an extensive commentary on Natyasastra of Bharata Muni. His analysis of Rasa is very appealing and distinguishable from other interpretations. For example, Bharata talks about eight types of Rasa, while distinguishing it from sthaayibhaava. The Abhinavabharati and Lochana suggest that bhoga (pleasure) is produced not only by the senses but also by the removal of moha (ignorance). They also suggest that art and literature are not mere vinoda (entertainment) but are outpourings of the ananda arising of knowledge
Abhinavagupta emphasized that intuition (prathibha), inner experience was the lifeblood of good poetry. He said , creativity (karaka) was the hallmark of poetry as it brings into the world a new art experience. Poetry need not aim to remind (jnapaka) what is already present; that , he said , was the function of sastras. A poet need not seek justification or approval of scriptural authority. He is the lord of his domain. He is the creator. Abhinava recommend, the poet need not allow himself to be bound by logic, propriety and such other restrictions.
Abhinavagupta , in his Lochana, says prathibha the intuition might be essential for creation of good poetry . But , that flash of enlightenment alone is not sufficient . He explains , what sustains that vision is the “unmeelana_shakthi” which is something that charges the mind, opens up or awakens the potent faculties. Abhinavagupta clarifies that prathibha is inspirational in nature and it does not, by itself , transform automatically, into a work of art or poetry. It needs a medium to harness it, bring it forth through lively , delightful or forceful expression . And , that medium has to be cultivated, honed and refined diligently over a period to produce a work of class.
In this context, Abhinavagupta mentions three essentials that a poet has to keep in view. They are Rasa (rasa_vesha), Vaishadya and Soundarya. The rasa concept is well known ; and, ls expounded by Bharata muni. The second one refers to clarity in thought, lucidity in expression and comfortable communication with the reader. The third is the sense of poetic beauty . A good poetry can manifest, according to him, only when the delightful combination of these three essentials are charged or supported by prathibha.
He cites Valmiki and kalidasa as classic examples; and, states it is the wonderful combination of those poetic virtues and prathibha that sets them apart from the rest of the tribe.
The fulfilment of poetry is Ananda, joy. It therefore needs a good reader (Sah_hrudaya) who can understand, appreciate, empathize and enjoy the beauty of the poetry. He is an integral part of poetic experience.
Subash kak remarks “Abhinava emphasized the fact that all human creativity reveals aspects of the seed consciousness. This explains his interest in drama, poetry, and aesthetics.”
The last group constitutes his work on the Pratya–bhijnyasastra, the monistic philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. In this group , we have his matchless contributions to this system. Among his most notable works in this category are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarsini and the concise Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvara–pratyabhijna (“Recognition of God”) by Utpaladeva, an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school.
Abhinavagupta was a devotee of Lord Shiva ; and, he led a celibate life. He is considered the greatest exponent of the Kashmiri Saivite monism. This school viewed Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one. The philosophy of pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity.
Kashmir Shaivism is intensely monistic. It is not much concerned with worshiping a personal god ; its emphasis is upon meditation , reflection and guidance by a guru. It aims at attaining the transcendental state of Shiva consciousness.
It explains the creation as Shiva’s abhasa, shining forth of himself in his dynamic aspect of Shakti. Abhasavada is therefore another name of the system . Shiva the Supreme Self is immanent and transcendent; and performs , through Shakti , the five actions of creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing. During this process , Shiva as the Universe Vishwanatha, on his own will creates , expands, flourishes , retracts in to a most minute form till the next cycle of creation and expansion.
Kashmir Shaivism is called Trika philosophy because all its interpretations are three fold. Trika stands for threefold science of the individual, the energy and the universal consciousness. It also represents three modes of knowledge of Reality, viz. non-dual (abheda), nondual-cum-dual (bhedabheda), and dual (bheda). The Trika School also argued that reality is represented by three categories : transcendental (para), material (apara), and a combination of these two (para_apara) . This three-fold division is again reflected in the principles of Shiva, Shakti, anu or pashu. The Trika is also known as Svatantrya vada, Svatantrya and Spanda expressing the same concepts.
The purpose of Trika is to show how an individual rises to the state of universal consciousness through Shakthi. Shiva represents pure consciousness, Shakti its energy, and anu the material world. Pashu is the individual who acts according to his conditioning, almost like an animal; pashas are the bonds that tie him to his behavior; and pathi or pashupathi (Lord of the Flock) is Shiva personified whose knowledge liberates the pashu and makes it possible for him to reach his potential.
Abhinavagupta classified Trika philosophy into four systems : Krama system, Spanda system, Kula system and Pratyabhijna system.
The mind is viewed as a hierarchical (krama) collection of agents (kula) that perceives its true self spontaneously (pratyabhijna) with a creative power that is vibrating or pulsating (spanda)
Explaining the Spanda system, Abhinavagupta says whatever that appears to be moving is actually established in the unmoved point. Although everything seems to be moving , actually, they are not moving at all.
As for the Kula system, he says that Kula means the science of totality. In each and every part of the universe totality shines . Take an infinitesimally small object, in that you will find the universal energy. A macrocosm resides in microcosm .
The fourth , the Pratyabijnya system deals with the school of recognition. This school conceived Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one; pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity. Abhinavagupta, while explaining this school of recognition, says, man is not a mere speck of dust but an immense force, comprising a comprehensive consciousness and capable of manifesting through his mind and body limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti). The state of Shiva-consciousness is already there, you have to realize that and nothing else.
His non-dual philosophy, in essence, is similar to the one expounded by Sri Shankara. He considers the universe completely real, filled with infinite diversity and not different from Shiva , the supreme consciousness. He expands on this concept and shows that the various levels of creation, from the subtlest to the grossest, are all the same and Shiva.
He conceived Shiva, the I or Consciousness (Aham) , as an expression of the supreme freedom This concept of freedom (Svatrantya) is one of the principal achievements of Kashmiri Shaivism .
Kashmir Shaivism, reached its culmination in the philosophy of Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja (10thcentury) ; and, in the theory of Recognition , Shaivite philosophy found its full flowering .
Together with Somananda’s disciple Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta is the most important representative of the School . Many believe Shiva himself appeared in Kashmir in the form of Abhinavagupta to enlighten the people. In any case , Abhinavagupta is a precious jewel of our heritage . His works and teachings continue to influence our thoughts.
Abhinavagupta talks about Shadanga_yoga, a system of yoga comprised of six aspects. According to him, prana (life force) and manas (mind) are interdependent. The Yoga consists in harnessing these two together. The disciplines of yama, niyama and aasana prescribed by Patanjali are meant for conditioning the body; they are the indirect methods.
Whereas, the methods that help directly are dhyana (meditation), dharana (contemplation), tarka (reasoning) and Samadhi (absolute identity with the ideal). Contemplating on the identity of self and the Shiva is essential; and it can be achieved through divine grace. It leads to emancipation and freedom from ignorance; and roots out the sense of duality. This he called it Pratyabhijna the new method (margo navaha).