The disclosure of Sakti in aesthetics: remarks on the relation of Abhinavagupta's poetics and nondual Kashmiri Saivism.
visargasaktirya sambhoh settham sarvatra vartate. tata eva samasto'yamanandarasavibhramah tathahi madhure gite sparse va candanadike. madhyasthyavigame yasau hrdaye spandamanata anandasaktih saivokta yatah sahrdayo janah.
--Abhinavagupta, Tantraloka 3.208b-210 (Dwivedi and Rastogi 1987, 2:551-552)
My research specialty is in the Pratyabhijna philosophy of Abhinavagupta and his predecessor Utpaladeva, and related areas of non-dual Kashmiri Saivism and tantra. Actually, I first became interested in these traditions through studying Hindu poetics with Edwin Gerow in the early 1980's, and researching further its religious and philosophical backgrounds. Since then, though not doing much research focusing primarily on Abhinava's poetic writings, it has become increasingly evident to me that his Pratyabhijna commentaries and symbolic-ritual writings such as the Tantraloka and Paratrisikavivarana, provide important clues to what is happening in his aesthetics.
Recently, I have returned to Abhinavagupta's aesthetics in formulating the brief remarks for this essay, which I wish further to elaborate in the future. This has led me to a renewed appreciation of the integrity and complexity of Sanskrit poetics. I hope these comments and suggestions will make some small contribution to the growing body of work on the relations of Abhinava's aesthetics to religion and philosophy by scholars such as Kanti Chandra Pandey (1963, 1972), Navjivan Rastogi (2013), Raniero Gnoli (1968), J.L. Masson and M.V. Patwardhan (1969, 1970), Ingalls (Ingalls, Masson and Patwardhan 1990), Edwin Gerow (Gerow and Aklujkar 1972, Gerow 1994), Gerald James Larson (1974, 1976), Donna Wulff (1986), Priyawat Kuanpoonpol (1991), K.D. Tripathi (1995), Bettina Baumer (1997) and others.
Though none of the sets of Abhinavagupta's writings provides a simple magical key to the others--it has become ever more clear to me that Abhinava gives philosophical and symbolic-ritual frameworks a primacy within his corpus. When his works are approached as expressions of a broadly cohesive system, it is evident that he subsumed aesthetic enjoyment within basic non-dual Saiva mythic and ritual structures, although the latter in certain ways incorporate aesthetic theories. My remarks here will focus particularly on Abhinavagupta's understandings of poetic suggestion (dhvani) and the universalization (sadharanikarana) of emotions, though I will briefly mention some other topics.
Non-dual Kashmiri Saivism and the Overarching Tantric Quest for Divine Power
Now, in contemporary scholarship from Sir John Woodroffe through Gopinath Kaviraj, Alexis Sanderson and David White, one of the most definitive characteristics of what is called "tantra," is the pursuit of power. The theological designation for the essence of such power is of course Sakti--a concept of the Goddess with complex textual and popular roots (Woodroffe 1981; Kaviraj 1963; Chakravarty 1997; Sanderson 1985; White 2000, 7-9; Lawrence 1999, 53-65; Lawrence 2008a, 3-19; Flood 2004, 95-103).
The manifestations of Sakti pursued by the practitioners of tantra vary greatly, from limited magical proficiencies (siddhis or vibhutis), through royal power, to the liberated saint's omnipotence of performing the divine cosmic acts. Sanderson and others have elucidated the ways in which the tantric pursuit of such power transgresses mainstream, orthoprax Hindu norms regarding caste, sexuality, diet and death that delimit agency for the sake of symbolic and ritual purity (suddhi) (1985). White has argued that the tantric quest for power originated in siddha practices that endeavored to gain benefits from yoginis through the offering and ingestion of sexual fluids (2003).
As the appellation "non-dual Saivism" suggests, in this stream of tantra Sakti is encompassed by or, as Sanderson would say, "overcoded" within the metaphysical essence of the God Siva. Siva is the saktiman, "possessor of Sakti," encompassing her within his androgynous nature as his integral power and consort. According to the predominant non-dual Saiva myth, he out of a kind of play divides himself from Sakti and then in sexual union emanates, embodies himself within, and controls the universe through her.
The basic pattern of practice, which reflects the mythic-cum-historical appropriation of Saktism by Saivism, is the approach to Siva through Sakti. As the Vijnana Bhairava says, Sakti is the door or face (mukha) of Siva. One pursues identification with Siva as the saktiman by assuming his mythic agency in emanating and controlling the universe through Sakti. Thus, in the sexual ritual a man realizes himself as the possessor of Sakti immanent within his partner. In Krama tantra one contemplates oneself as the possessor of sakticakras, circles of Saktis. The Spanda Karikas pursue the engrossment of sakticakras understood as Spanda, "Creative Vibration."
Within the historical elaboration of non-dual Saiva theology, a great number of reciprocally encompassing codes, and codes of codes (if A=B and B=C, then A=C, and so on), were propounded for the same mythic and ritual process in terms of mantras, mandalas, and theosophical and philosophical contemplations. In her study of the hermeneutics of the great 20th century tantric adept, exegete and philosopher, Gopinath Kaviraj, Arlene Mazak has referred to this reiteration of underlying accounts as "patterns of structural replication" (Mazak 1994, 328-372, perhaps repeating or "replicating" in a different interpretive framework Levi-Strauss' well-known conception of the repetition of mythic structures, 1955, 443).
What Mazak describes is actually found in numerous varieties of Hindu hermeneutics and is common in tantra. Building upon Utpaladeva and other predecessors, Abhinavagupta expressly engages every area of inquiry in terms of its distinctive requirements, while nevertheless endeavoring to justify the replication in it of the mythico-ritual drama of Siva-Sakti, and conversely to reinterpret that drama with the codes of a new replication.
The Pratyabhijna philosophy of Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta thus replicates in terms of sastraic philosophy the mythico-ritual modus operandi of the disclosure of Siva's Sakti (saktyaviskarana). (2) To address a variety of philosophical problematics, the Pratyabhijna thinkers interpret Sakti epistemologically as self-recognition or recognitive synthesis (ahampratyavamarsa, pratyabhijna, anusamdhana), identified with the principle Supreme Speech (paravak) derived from Bhartrhari; and interpret Sakti ontologically as universal creative agency (kartrtva, svatantrya) (Lawrence 1999). Abhinava also develops a correlative philosophical hermeneutics of grammatical persons, in which the discursive audience and all discursive referents are reduced to Siva as agent of the universal speech act indexed by the first person (uttama purusa) (Lawrence 2008b). The student learns to participate in Siva's enjoyment of Sakti as self-recognition/Speech/agency/discursive agency, by contemplating her as the reality underlying all immanent experiences, and objects of experience or discourse.
The importance of Sakti to Abhinavagupta's aesthetics was observed by Pandey in his Comparative Aesthetics (1972, 1:103-104). Larson, in his article on "The Sources of Sakti in Abhinavagupta's Kasmir Saivism" (1974) acknowledged the tantras and agamas as a background, but primarily discussed the Vedas, Vyakarana and poetics. Rastogi also has recently been studying this issue.
The symbiosis of tantra with aesthetics (as with Vyakarana and other philosophical theories) actually predates Abhinavagupta, and is evinced in texts such as the Vijnana Bhairava and Siva Sutra, Anandavardhana's poetics and even Utpaladeva's Pratyabhijna theories (Rastogi 2013) and devotional poetry (Stainton 2013). Sanderson (1985, 1988), Biernacki (1999) and White (2003, especially 219-257) variously interpret the broader philosophical rationalization of tantra, along with its assimilation to aesthetics, as expressions of a historical "domestication" of tantric transgressiveness by brahmanical culture. (3)
The effort historically and philosophically to sort out the interweaving strands of tantric symbolism and ritual, pramana sastra, and sahitya sastra, involves one in a complicated dialectics of many replicated chickens and eggs. In the remainder of this essay, I will observe ways in which Abhinava structures central concepts in his aesthetics--particularly, suggestion and universalization--with overarching codes for the disclosure of Sakti.
Suggestion and Intuition
Abhinavagupta's elaboration of the ninth century Kashmiri, Anandavardhana's theory of the suggestion (dhvani) of rasas by the formal structures of literature has been more widely discussed; hence, I will say less about it. Anandavardhana's concept of suggestion is itself an elaboration of the linguistic philosopher Bhartrhari's semantics of manifestation (sphota) and intuition (pratibha) by which linguistic usage accesses the transcendental unity of signifiers and signifieds in the Word Absolute (sabdabrahman) (on the concept of pratibha, see Kaviraj 1966; on the development by Abhinavagupta, see Kuanpoonpol, 1991). (4) Bhartrhari already invokes a conception of Sakti to describe the Word Absolute's emanation of fragmented words and objects, as well as subsidiary modes of linguistic meaning. Gaurinath Shastri (1959) and others have speculated that in Bhartrhari's thought there was already an influence of early tantric as well as Vedic traditions.
The foundational character of Sakti for Anandavardhana is indicated by his own hymn to the Goddess, Devisataka (see Ingalls 1989). In the Dhvanyaloka, Anandavardhana affirms that the Goddess Sarasvati inspires the poet with pratibha and a flowing of sweet things, and Abhinava interprets Sarasvati as having the form of Speech (R. Tripathi 1975-1981; Ingalls, Masson and Patwardhan 1990). Both thinkers refer to the skill of the poet as a Sakti (kavisakti), which Abhinavagupta further identifies as semantic intuition (pratibhana). This identification of pratibha with Sakti is later continued in the Kavyaprakasa of Mammata (Jha 1985) and the different, though still indebted, Rasagangadhara of Panditaraja Jagannatha (Bhanja 2004).
Abhinavagupta frames his own theorization on suggestion within the Pratyabhijna system's reformulation of Bhartrhari's linguistic holism and idealism in its conceptions of Siva's Sakti as his self-recognition (ahampratyavamarsa), Supreme Speech (paravak) and semantic intuition (pratibha). In his symbolic-ritual works, Abhinava further develops these Pratyabhijna conceptions in explaining the essential nature of mantras and agamas (Lawrence 1999, 85-106; Utpaladeva identifies pratibha with the Great Lord himself in Torella 2008, 1.7.1, 31; on this, see Abhinava's commentary in Subramania Iyer and Pandey 1986, 1.7.1, 1:348; Abhinava in Nagar and Joshi 1981-1984, 6, 1:278-279, citing Kalidasa on memory in Sakuntala, equates pratibhana with a higher form of memory; he identifies pratibha with Para Devi in Dwivedi and Rastogi 1987, 1.2, 2:16). We may say that, within the broad context of Abhinava's thought, poetic dhvani derives its semantic force from Siva's cosmogonic and soteriological self-recognition and revelatory utterance, both of which replicate or encode the disclosure of Sakti. Abhinava underscores the importance of Sakti asSpeech to suggestion by concluding each of the chapters of the Locana with verses praising Sakti as constituting each of the four levels of emanating Speech, according to the Pratyabhijna interpretation of Bhartrhari (R. Tripathi 1975-1981, 1.301, 2.285, 3.524, 3.614). (5)
Another prominent feature of Abhinavagupta's aesthetics is his development of Bhatta Nayaka's theory of aesthetic sentiments as universalizations (sadharanikarana) of ordinary emotions (Pollock 2010; see the discussion of the grammar below). According to Abhinava, through sympathetically witnessing the represented feelings of a narrative character such as Rama, one comes to experience the sentiments as universalized emotions akin to spiritual bliss, transcending the identities of individuals in place and time. One also resolves to act according to the ethical lessons provided by the narrative, which function analogously to scriptural injunctions. Abhinavagupta elaborates this theory by formulating linkages between it and diverse non-dual Saiva conceptual and practical codes for the disclosure of Sakti.
To review some relevant ideas, we may say that the disclosure of Sakti is a contemplative reduction of all items in various spheres to universal subjectivity, by which these items are further identified with each other (Lawrence 1999, 51-55, and 61-65; Lawrence 2008a, 32-37). Pandey (1963, 1972) and Kuanpoonpol (1991) have thus observed associations between Abhinava's descriptions of the experience of rasa and the conceptualization of Sakti as spanda, "creative vibration." Abhinava describes aesthetic relishing as an immersion in spanda. The Spanda sastra (Dyczkowski 1987, 1992) propounds a contemplative transformation of the modes of emanated, particularized cosmic vibration (visesaspanda) to universal cosmic vibration (samanyaspanda), which restores its character as the emanatory potency of the Self/Siva.
The process of sakyaviskarana is articulated as an insight informing speculation and practice, in the Pratyabhijna conception of Pure Wisdom and the related Tantraloka notion of pure reasoning (sattarka) (Lawrence 1999, 51-55, and 61-65). In these, all forms of objective "this" are absorbed into the universal "I" in the realization "I am this" (aham idam). There is no difference between I and you or this and that. In his Rasadhyaya, Abhinava explains the experience of rasas in a very similar way, in terms of a dissolution (vigalana) of all items of experience into, or removal of a veil (avaranabhanga) regarding their resting in consciousness (samvidvisranti, a term also equated with pratibha) (Nagar and Joshi 1981-1984, 6, 1:260-336; Masson and Patwardhan 1970). He gives similar explanations of aesthetic sensitivity (sahrdayata) in his Isvarapratyabhijnnvivrtivimarsini (M.K. Shastri 1987, 1.5.11, 1:178).
Likewise Abhinava invokes the Pratyabhijna rationalizations of Sakti as self-recognition in his frequent explanation of processes of recognitive synthesis (anusamdhana) and apperception (anuvyavasaya) in synthesizing the vyabhicaribhavas, anubhavas and sthayibhavas in a character such as Rama. This is also the case in the very process of the suggesting and experiencing rasa through the relishing of the sthayibhavas (see Kuanpoonpol 1991, who describes this in her own vocabulary).
Teleology of Perfection
A particularly important theme in these bridges Abhinavagupta makes between aesthetic universalization, and philosophy and symbolic-ritual exegesis, is his conception of a soteriological, epistemic and psychological teleology towards the "perfection" or "completeness" (purnata) of the Self as Siva, the Sakti-possessor, containing the emanated world within himself. Abhinava's theorization on perfection greatly elaborates the ideas of Utpaladeva and replicates the disclosure of Sakti in several contexts. Following Utpala, he frequently describes soteriological identity as a state of perfect egoity (purnahamta) and in the Tantrasara he equates purnata with Sakti herself (M.R. Sastri 1982, 4, 27).
Abhinava and Utpala describe the Pratyabhijna epistemological and ontological reduction of all distinct objects to Sakti as the comprehension of them in their perfection or completeness (purnata). Things such as pots and cloths, colors such as red and blue, and qualities such as high and firm are all thus absorbed into the universal I.
In his Pratyabhijna and symbolic-ritual works, Abhinava further describes how rival scriptures and their claims are rectified and harmonized within the purnata of the Saiva agamas, embodying Siva's perfect self-recognition (on the epistemology of perfection, see Rastogi 1986, Lawrence 2013; on the exegetics, see Lawrence 2000; on the philosophical psychology, see Lawrence 2008a). (6)
Abhinava situates tantric sexual and other physical pleasures as well as aesthetic experiences in the same trajectory. All of our desires arise out of a sense of incompleteness (apurnata). When satisfied, we have a glimpse of the self-relishing or bliss (svatmasvada, svatmananda) of the purnata that actually always exists within us. Because of identification with the limited ego engrossed in mundane contingencies, however, the sense of incompleteness returns and one again falls into desire for new things.
Nevertheless, proper meditation on the source of physical enjoyment, which overcomes the subject-object dichotomy and all spatiotemporal diversity, is the basis for the ritual approach to liberation. Abhinava is clear that the same cultivation informs both the sexual ritual and the relishing of universalized emotions through aesthetic experience (see the now-paradigmatic discussion in M.K. Shastri 1987, 1.5.11, 2:177-179).
Further Examples of the Relations between Aesthetic Universalization and the Transformation of Physical Pleasures
To mention a couple other examples outside the purnata scheme, K.D. Tripathi has indicated the relevance to aesthetic universalization of Abhinava's discussion of khecarisamata in his Paratrisikavivarana. Khecari is Sakti understood as moving through the kha, "sky," or "void" of the Absolute. The vaisamata, "heterogeneity," of Sakti is the condition of the disempowered and deluded subject, dichotomized from the diversity of other people and things. This typifies the condition in which Sakti functions ordinarily, as the hedonic "seminal energy" (virya, ojas) in various sorts of bodily enjoyment.
Abhinava explains that through the contemplation of Sakti's essential nature in the appreciation of beauty, and in sexual and other forms of pleasure, one has the liberating realization of her samata, "homogeneity," "sameness," or "universality." This reintegrates the contents of such experiences as emanations of the Self (K.D. Tripathi 1995).
Abhinava also articulates linkages between his aesthetics and tantric thought in his uses of the metaphor of reflection (pratibimba). As I have explained elsewhere, Abhinava established the contemplation of the whole universe as one's own reflection, as another basic non-dual Saiva code for the disclosure of Sakti. In his Tantraloka, Abhinava describes how participants in the sexual rite known as the congregation of yoginis (yoginmelaka), find immanent media for the reflection of their divine identity in each other, and thus de-individualize their bodies. He asserts that the same occurs in the communion of the audience of singing and dancing (Dwivedi and Rastogi 1987, 28.373-378a, 7:3264-3266; Lawrence 2005, 596).
The Grammar of Universalization
Abhinava also provides indications of how universalization may be situated within his linguistic philosophy. He does this by reworking the semantic theory that Bhatta Nayaka had himself extrapolated from the Purva Mimamsa conception of the "motivational significance" (bhavana) of Vedic descriptive statements (arthavada). This explains the audience reception of universalized emotions and the impulsions to action as analogous to those conveyed by injunctions (vidhi).
In his Paratrisikavivarana, Abhinava propounds a theoretical contemplation of grammatical persons, correlated to what I have described as his "mythico-ritual syntax of omnipotence" that privileges the role of the agent. One contemplates all people and things referred to in the second and third persons as absorbed into the perfect, Sakti-emanating, first-person agent. I as the universal enunciator of Speech, Siva, subsume within myself all interlocutors and referents of discourse (Singh 1989; Lawrence 2008b).
Abhinava in his Pratyabhijna commentaries explains, along the lines of the Mimamsa hermeneutics of bhavana, that when a qualified person hears Utpaladeva's announcement that he is establishing the recognition of Siva, that person conceives a transference (samkranti) of it into a first person perspective in the realization that he or she has already attained that recognition. Abhinava analogizes this to the first-person resolution to follow practical advice stated in the second or third person in the optative or imperative. Our thinker explains in a closely analogous manner the semantics of aesthetic universalization by identification with characters such as Rama, and the resolution to act according to the ethical lessons that they provide. He recounts the same transference (samkramana) from a third person to a first person perspective by which he articulated the Saiva agenda of realizing an empowered, divine first-person egoity (Lawrence 2008b).
One of Abhinavagupta's favorite maxims, "Everything has the nature of everything" (sarvam sarvatmakam) well describes what is experienced in attempting to understand the relations of the various areas of his thought. This makes it difficult both to begin and to end any study of him. The topics on which I have focused here lead into numerous others: conceptions of tanmayibhavana, camatkara, sahrdayata, visranti, smarana, santarasa (on this concept, see Masson and Patwardhan 1989, Gerow and Aklujkar 1972, Gerow 1994) and vighnas. Thus, there are many problems that I have not addressed, including exactly how close Abhinava believes aesthetic experience can take one to liberation. Nevertheless, I hope that I have shown some of the ways in which how Abhinava is over-coding, or replicating within, his aesthetics basic structures of non-dual Saiva symbolism, doctrine and practice.
DAVID PETER LAWRENCE
University of North Dakota
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(1) An earlier version of this essay was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Dharma Association of North America in San Diego November 2007. I have been benefited over the years by helpful advice and suggestions on this subject from Navjivan Rastogi, Hemendra Nath Chakravarty, Kailash Pati Tripathi and Sthaneshwar Timalsina.
(2) While Abhinavagupta thematizes this process in the more intellectually contemplative sakta upaya, it characterizes all his means-types.
(3) See Timalsina 2007 for a contemporary critical effort to apply poetics to the interpretation of tantra.
(4) Anandavardhana also links his theory to processes of recognition in a manner that provides some background to Abhinavagupta's later synthesis utilizing Pratyabhijna philosophy. See R. Tripathi 1:8, 1:161.
(5) This is discussed in Ingalls, Masson and Patwardhan 1990, 200n.5. Cf. references to the Saiva emanated tattvas in Abhinavagupta's benedictory verses to Nagar and Joshi 1981-1984.
(6) I understand that Nihar Purohit is writing a Ph.D. dissertation at Banaras Hindu University on purnata.
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|Author:||Lawrence, David Peter|
|Publication:||Southeast Review of Asian Studies|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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