“What if I met the great Sage Abhinavagupta? – An Imaginary Dialogue with Abhinavagupta during COVID 19 times” by Niharika Sharma
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA
Every night on the bank of the river Vistastā, eight-year-old Ved, sneaked out of his parents’ ancestral house to gaze at the stars. He sat here for hours beside the calming river wondering about the stories of Abhinavagupta’s childhood that his grandfather narrated to him before bedtime. Like the great sage Abhinavagupta, Ved was also born in the house by the riverbank in Kashmir, his parent’s names were also the same, Narmīṁhagupta and Vimalakalā, who were ardent devotees of Lord Shiva. However, he felt unfortunate for not being able to meet his idol. He never got the opportunity to meet him. Now due to the lockdown, he can’t go anywhere. He thought to himself that when he sees Abhinavagupta, he would ask him about reality and truth? But talking to him seemed like a distant dream. The noise of footsteps approaching startled Ved. He feared that if his father finds him yet again outside the house in the dark, he would be punished severely this time. He quickly hid behind a tree, praying that his father would not find him. The footsteps became more and more prominent. His heartbeat elevated but he kept praying. To his wonder, a man came and sat at the same spot he was sitting a few seconds ago. There was something about this man, thought Ved as he couldn’t look away from him. His hair tied into a knot above this head, wearing a thread and dhoti, carrying some brick barks, a feather, and some ink. He too started gazing into the night sky as Ved. He then spoke….
Abhinavagupta – Ved! You can stop hiding now. Your father is not here.
Ved – How do you know my name? Did my father send you here to look for me? Is he angry?
A – I travel on my own accord. I think your father is sound asleep.
V – So how do you know my name?
A – Well I know many things.
V – I don’t understand. Who are you?
A – People call me Abhinavagupta.
V – Ohh! I was…
A – I see you like gazing at the night sky like me.
V – Yes. It is calming here. I can hear my thoughts in peace.
A – Which thought is troubling you so much?
V – What is reality? Is what I see true?
A – Trika ideology propagates techniques which are non-formal, such as looking vacantly at the night, high mountains, watching the condition of consciousness in a see-saw movement, the condition of consciousness before falling asleep, intently looking at a vase without partition and more. I sense your great attraction towards the Truth. Am I wrong?
V – Who am I? My parents named me Ved. But I ask you, O Great Sage! Who am I?
A – I remember some words for my Supreme.
Looking for the light,
Of a million million suns,
A ganglion of lightnings
For my wonder.
O Lord of Caves!
If you are light,
There can be no metaphor. (Allama 972)
V – What do you mean?
A – For me, Reality and Truth is my Lord Bhairava! He is everywhere. Everything resides in him. You are him! You can philosophically understand the Truth but I must tell you, without your faith and ardent desire to know and achieve him, you are far from him.
V – I am him? What do you mean?
A – You should understand the concept of Self-recognition (Pratyabhijñā) first then the theory of appearance (Ābhāsavāda).
V – Please enlighten me.
A – Recognition (Pratyabhijñā) of the Self is the beginning and end of the tantric pursuit. When you ask me “Who am I?” I see this as a multi-dimensional question. You often wonder about being nothing more than a psychophysical organism bound by its limitations. Or analyzing yourself as an independent being, free from the limitations and clutches of the body and environment, but being accidentally captured within it for a time being. Or the realization of freedom hits you narrating the tale of your true nature of svātantrya but you are confused about achieving it. Even in our limited state of experience, we feel partially free. But in all our endeavours, consciously or unconsciously we strive to completely free ourselves from the shackles of our present state. The dissatisfaction you feel in your present state stems from you not belonging to this state. All tantric texts talk about the nature and origin of the world, which is important to know as we are related to it, we can’t know ourselves without knowing the world. The question is not to know the essence of creation but to know it to know the Self. The phenomenon of consciousness that appears at the surface level is just the tip of a bigger reality lying deeper in us. You can consider yourself as the artesian spring that is invisibly connected to a deeper and vaster underground water reserve or like this beautiful river which is directly or indirectly connected to the ocean in a way. We are not the poor self – suffering in the limitations of life or growing in the state of “anguished freedom”. We all are really Śiva, a state of svātantryā (complete freedom from all limitations), a state of perfection, and complete fulfillment or the state of bliss.
V – Oh! What is svātantryā? Am I really free? Am I unbounded?
A – prakāśātmatayā satatam avabhāsamāne’pi ātmani bhāgena aprakāśanavaśād anupalakṣite … pūrṇatāvabhāsanasādhyām arthakriyām akurvati, tatpūrṇatāvabhāsanātmakābhimāna viśeṣasiddhaye pratyabhijñā … pradarśyate. (I.P.K 1.1.3) Our real identity is different from the identity which appears. What appears to be our identity is the state of imperfection or limitations. But the real picture is the state of complete freedom (svātantryā) or perfection. You know that you exist but are still unaware of perfection. So we don’t behave as perfect beings. We exist but we don’t know who we really are or about our real identity. It is the Guru or Āgama or śruti that enlightens us about our real identity, that declares the reality of us being Śiva and points towards the pathways of Śivahood (realization of real identity). The mahāvākyas of the Upaniṣads also tend to make pratyabhijñā of oneself. They state the identity in all three grammatical persons of the self – first, second, and third. Ahaṁ brahmāsmi – “I am Brahman” in the first person. Tattvamasi – “That thou art” in the second person and ayamātmā Brahma – “This self is Brahman” in the third person. The Self in all its three persons is nothing but Brahman.
V – Why are you standing? I want to listen further.
A – In tantra, the Self (and its real nature) is Śiva, which is Pure Consciousness (śuddha saṁvit), the state of freedom and perfection. We find ourselves in the state of paśu but we are not limited. The moment we realize this, we are free.
V – But is it so simple? Is ignorance of the Self the only reason for the colossal misfortune that is the human limitation? And is knowledge of the Self a miracle cure for ignorance?
A – Ātma-pratyabhijñā is the answer.
V – But what is the meaning of pratyabhijñā? What is the difference between intellectual knowledge and existential knowledge? And how does pratyabhijñā help to solve the mystery of appearances?
A – Introspect a little on Śiva and feel the essence of him in you. I will be back soon to answer these questions. But you need to be prepared to comprehend them. Go now. I will come to visit you soon.
Stay tuned for more about “Dialogues with Philosophers during COVID-19 times” 😊
With Conscious Care, Together we shall overcome!
Care Consciously! #DefeatCorona !
Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.