Updated: Oct 9
The Kashmiri Trika ācārya Rajanaka Jayaratha (c. XIIIth Century), author of the Viveka commentary on Abhinavagupta’s Tantrāloka, also commented upon the Vāmakeśvarīmata Tantra, the root āgama of the tradition of Tripurasundarī. In what follows, we read portions of his commentary on this seminal text (IV..3-20), as translated by Louise M. Finn.
3. OH GODDESS! HEAR OF THAT GREAT KNOWLEDGE WHICH IS SUPREME AND SURPASSES ALL KNOWLEDGE! BY MERELY PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE ONE IS NO LONGER SUBMERGED IN THE OCEAN OF EXISTENCE.
“Supreme” means complete, hence great and unsurpassed. It is that knowledge of the joyful union of both Śakti and the possessor of Śakti which is the best because it reveals everything: manifestations and the Śiva, Śakti and human (kinds) of knowledge. Such are its qualities, (and) because of the Goddess’ abundant skill in questioning, (the Lord says) “Hear Oh Shining One!”, i.e. reflect carefully because from reflection alone the entire unpublicized delusion that all things have a separate identity is put to rest. On this, He says:
4. OH BELOVED! TRIPURĀ IS THE SUPREME ŚAKTI - THE FIRST BORN FROM THE FIRST. SHE IS THE MOTHER IN WHOM THE THREE WORLDS ORIGINATE WITH THEIR GROSS AND SUBTLE COMPONENTS.
5. THE WHOLE MULTITUDE OF SWALLOWED-UP TATTVAS ARE HER ESSENCE.
“From the first” because (in the way that has been mentioned) of Her inhering union with Him - the Supreme Śiva, the Ādisiddha who is a condensed mass of consciousness and bliss. She is “supreme” having a nature that is undivided by all the multitudes of Śaktis. She is without a name because She does not tolerate any definite designation. She is “first” because She is self-existent. Therefore because She does not evince the other determinants, She is the shining forth of all the swallowed-up tattvas and kalanās. She consists of the splendour of supreme I-ness and is the essence of Vimarśa. Strictly one, She is the absolute reality capable of (producing) the various manifestations and myriad phenomena. Due to her very own greatness and the desire to display Herself outwardly, the “Śakti” has the nature of Icchā, Jñāna and Kriyā in the supreme state. In the subtle state She is characterised by Vāmā, Jyeṣṭha and Raudrī, and in the gross state She is differentiated into Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. In keeping with the meaning (of the name), She is Tripurā of the three strongholds (in the way that has been mentioned) and of those states that are filled with creation, maintenance and destruction. By “the three worlds” is meant (the states) that have the nature of transcendence, of non-existence and existence. In their origination, i.e. manifestation, She is the mother, i.e. the begetter and She is therefore referred to by the expression “Ambikā”. “Born” means spontaneously arisen because that is her actual nature. Suspecting that one might say: “What is the use of postulating this particular kind (of Śakti) when creation is produced by ignorance and there exists the one, supreme, quiescent brahman? the Lord says:
5. INDEED, IN THE EVOLVED STATE OF HERSELF, THERE IS NO OTHER TO BE SOUGHT.
“Tu” has the sense of “indeed”. It means that in “Her”, i.e. in Śakti as existing, there is certainly no “other one to be wished for”, i.e. desired for the essential preserving and fulfilling. Not even the supreme brahman can accomplish such (things). This is the meaning.
In this matter, there is no difference of opinion about the fact that “pure Prakāśa” is reality and it is a universal rule that it is accompanied by Vimarśa. For otherwise, even in the manifestation of the variety of entities, (Prakāśa) cannot be differentiated from the inert, - crystals etc. As has been said: “One knows that the essence of a manifestation is Vimarśa, otherwise, even Prakāśa tinged by substance is like inert crystal.” (Iśvarapratyabhijñākārikā, I.5.11)
It (Vimarśa) has no superiority over (Prakāśa), rather, in the process of manifestation, the inadvertent activity of the other (Vimarśa) has Prakāśa pertaining to it; it is its very own essence. Without regard to “external objects”, “vāsanās” or avidyā, it is said that it is absolute autonomy actually capable (of producing) the myriad display of diverse manifestations as a result of which this whole universe comes into effect. “(If), differentiated because of ignorance and so on, (then) the (idea of the) ‘sole brahman’ is forsaken; (if) no differentiation exists, (then) there is ‘the brahman only’ which precludes (the existence) of the universe.” (In fact), “everything is brahman” whose nature is nothing but this sort of absolute autonomy.
As there can be no movement without Śakti, (the Lord) says:
6. DEVOID OF ŚAKTI THE SUPREME BEING IS INCAPABLE OF ANY ACCOMPLISHMENT. UNITED WITH ŚAKTI, OH SUPREME LADY!, HE (THEN) BECOMES EFFICACIOUS.
7. OH ŚIVĀ: WITHOUT ŚAKTI, NAME AND FORM ARE NOT TO BE FOUND IN THAT WHICH IS SUBTLE.
By “in that which is subtle” is meant in that which is unknowable because of its luminescence. For that which is self-luminous is the Supreme which is the inherently resplendent Prakāśa. Because of the self-luminescence, He is also never able to effect the revelation of something other. No knowledge of (Prakāśa) is to be found relating to conceptual “name” and conceptless “form”, and it means that because of its unique pramātr nature, (Prakāśa) cannot proceed to a state of objectivity. As Prakāśa is unknowable it cannot be connected with meditation and instruction etc., so enough of the pompous scriptures which say that “the Ātman is to be known, meditated upon and pondered over”. (Either) one should remain silent, or the śākta nature should be resorted to. Since in reality even though He is the one essence of supreme pramātr, out of his very own autonomous will, He causes his own nature [without forsaking that (prakāśa) form] to attain to the state of objectivity for the sake of instruction (about the supreme truth), as a result of which all these worldly and other-worldly activities are accomplished. As they say:
“Out of his own autonomous will and without deviating from his essence as Knower, God is clearly manifested bringing his own nature to the state of what is known for the sake of the Highest Reality and the merging into it through instruction.” (Tantrāloka, 12:11)
Thus, even in the attainment of objectivity, it is Śakti herself in this Supreme Prakāśa who is the producer of substances and actions. He says:
7. EVEN WERE IT KNOWN, OH GREAT LADY!, THERE WOULD BE NO REFUGE PROVIDING ACTIVITY.
As far as the supreme Prakāśa is concerned, it cannot reveal anything other than itself. “Everything indeed is Prakāśa”. In that state, what refuge providing activity can there be for the sādhaka? (So), it is only on entering into the Śakti state that (such activity) can be pursued as a result of which there arise all the siddhis such as omniscience etc. As they say:
“In the first instant (of time) everything in all respects is fulfilled and reaches a state of oneness. What is there to be known or done and what designations are therein? Hence, wisemen gather the primordial kalā of the flash of distinctions into an image of the Goddess in order to achieve the knowledge of all things.” (Tantrāloka, 10:210)
Therefore no meditation is enjoined on this (Prakāśa) and (the Lord) says:
8. AT THE TIME WHEN RECOURSE IS HAD TO MEDITATION THERE EXISTS NO NOTION OR ABSORBING INTEREST.
For “meditation” is one’s whole being undividedly intent on a specific subject of meditation, and the essence of (Prakāśa) is in the absence of distinctions. Man is attracted by entities that are distinguishable. As a result of fixing his attention thereon, an intensive kind of knowledge on the matter gradually arises. This cannot apply here (to Prakāśa) because of the homogeneous nature of Prakāśa who is absolute fulfilment, (and) because there is no connection between meditator and meditated upon. In our doctrinal school, it is the Śakti, resplendent in the reflection that is supreme “I”, who is to be desired – because She is the abode of rest. It is She who is acclaimed here, there and everywhere by words (like) “Tripurā”, “Saṁkarṣiṇī”, “true being”, “heart”, “sea”, “essence”, “burst forth” and “throb” (spanda).
So, as it is She who (because of her unique essence as the supreme pramātr) is the moving force of that which has the nature of vācya and vācaka, – i.e. of this whole universe in (its) creative, preserving and destructive manifestations, (the Lord) says:
8. ENTERING ON THE SUPREME INNER PATH (OF SUṢUMNĀ), HER NATURE TAKES A SUBTLE FORM.
9 & 10. AS VĀMĀ THE PEAK SHE REACHES THE SPROUTING STAGE OF ALL THE SEEDS THAT HAVE BEEN SWALLOWED UP; THEN THERE IS JYEṢṬHĀ, AND AS RAUDRĪ - THE SWALLOWER OF THE UNIVERSE - SHE ASSUMES THE SHAPE OF A PYRAMIDAL TRIANGLE, OH SUPREME LADY!
As a result of entering on the supreme inner path, She is “in a subtle form”, i.e. unknowable due to her being of one essence with the supreme pramātr. And because of her intimate association in this, She is first. Since She (ever) remains in her own essence, She is the supreme Śakti who is also the whole causal universe actualised in her self. (She is the supreme Śakti) who as a result of the greatness of her autonomous will desires to display outwardly. Due to the tendency to propagate all things, assuming the coiled-up form (kuṇḍalinī), (as) Vāmā She reaches the sprouting stage vomiting forth the entire swallowed-up universe. Thereafter desiring to arise She is the peak. Jyeṣṭhā attains the state of rod-like clear straight lines which are all the paths that exist up to the doomsday conflagration. By duly closing the boundary, Raudrī – who is the one desirous of annihilating the world – produces the pyramidal triangular form whose essence is the joyful commingling of the three Śaktis: Icchā” etc. It means that She is manifesting the foremost letter which breathes life into all the letters (and) which is the three states of creation, preservation and destruction depicted on the screen of her self. As they say:
“Positioned at the top is creation which instills the joy of supreme bliss. It is the supreme kalā in the form of bindu raining down a shower of nectar. It should be understood that down below is the great fire which terminates; it is a storehouse of lights, unassailable amidst its fearful flames. Between these two is the supreme radiance which is beautiful because of their mutual bliss. It should be looked upon as the Śivāvatāra pervaded by them both. They enter into one another. The fire into the moon and the moon into the fire. One should consider the moon as creation and the fire is said to be destruction. Oh Great Lady! Positioned in the middle is the sun called avatāra.”
Thus, She not only manifests all that which signifies, but also that which is signified and He says:
10. THUS SHE IS THE HIGHEST ŚAKTI - THE ONE - THE SUPREME LADY. 11. SHE IS THE THREEFOLD TRIPURĀ - THE GODDESS IN THE FORM OF BRAHMA, VIṢṆU AND ŚIVA; OF THE NATURE OF JÑĀNA ŚAKTI, KRIYĀ ŚAKTI AND ICCHĀ ŚAKTI, OH BELOVED WHO MERGES WITH THE THREE WORLDS! AND BECAUSE OF THIS SHE IS PROCLAIMED AS TRIPURĀ.
By “threefold” is meant that essentially She is creation, preservation and destruction. This is confirmed by the remark “in the form of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva”. It is said that as She does not deviate from her namelessness and supreme nature, She is “highest”, “the one”, “supreme lady” and “goddess”. By “three worlds” is meant her nature as existence, non-existence etc. By “merges” is meant that without deviation from her own nature, She manifests by means of a redundant projection in accord with the town and mirror analogy.
By “because of this” is meant because of the mingling with the three worlds, as a result of which She unites the three worlds (in Herself) and is spoken of as Tripurā. (…) He also discusses her inner appearances and disappearances:
12. WHEN THE SINUOUS ONE FLASHES FORTH FROM HER SEAT IN THE PYRAMIDAL TRIANGLE,
13. PIERCING THE CIRCLE OF THE ŚIVA SUN AND CAUSES THE ORB OF THE MOON TO DELIQUESCE, THEN THE YOUNG MAIDEN WHO IS REVELLING IN JOY FROM THE INTOXICATING SPIRIT OF FLOWING NECTAR THAT IS GENERATED,
14. ABANDONS THE KULA AND PROCEEDS TO THE SUPREME MALE WHO IS WITHOUT PARTICULARS AND ATTRIBUTES AND IS DEVOID OF KULA NATURE.
Indeed, it is the supreme Śakti – the “sinuous one” (as well as being the one in the form of the half-uttered letter “h”), resting in the state of prāṇa (and) lingering in the kula place, who, from “her seat in the pyramidal triangle” (which is the basis of origination and designated by such names as “the dispenser of manifestations” etc.) “flashes forth”, i.e. She proceeds upwards because it is conducive to reaching the position of Śiva; “piercing” (on the way) the “circle of the Śiva sun” which is prāṇa (and) causing “the circle of the moon (which is apāna) to deliquesce. As a result of the friction from stirring up (the moon) with its elixir and the two right- and left-hand currents, She is “revelling” in the joy produced by the intoxicating spirit that consists of the flow of nectar ever easily obtainable in the middle current. In line with the analogy of “the snake changed into a churning stick”, (She rises up) in a straightened form through the successive length of the udāna current. On leaving behind the kula body absolute fullness is established at the akula level. So, (this Absolute) is without attributes, i.e., it is without a fixed form because of the exclusion of any quality (leading) to the perception of a specific and determined conformation. As it is “devoid” of a kula body with its dharma forms, its true essence is undisguised. Therefore She “proceeds” to the ultimate Knower who is the “supreme male” without attributes; meaning that She attains oneness with Him.
He discusses the fact that She does not rest in this state indefinitely:
15 & 16. THEN WHEN, AT HER PLEASURE, SHE HAS AGAIN WANDERED THROUGH THE WIDE WORLD AND SATISFIED HERSELF WITH THIS EXCURSION, SHE ONCE MORE TAKES DELIGHT IN SOLITARY STATE. SHE THIS UNMANIFESTED TRIPURĀ ATTAINS MANIFESTATION INVESTED WITH THE THREE TATTVAS AND WITH THE NATURE OF THE THREE VARNAS AND ŚAKTIS.
And so again from the akula state which has the nature of the supreme void, She “at her pleasure”, i.e. through her own volition and without regard to any other, shines forth in the phase of creation; entering into the “wide world” with its kula characteristics. As a result of “this” creative “excursion” She is also participating in the satisfactions that arise in experiencing the kula plane. By the same token, it is out of her own pleasure that on leaving (behind) the kula plane (by the upward course that is essentially destruction), She is absorbed in “solitary state” into the akula void where, taking on a transcendent form, She “delights”. Meaning that She attains joyful union therein with the supreme Śiva.
“In the kula, leaving the akula and in the sphere of the akula the kula.”
From this point of view, in a state of impelling speed, She is at every moment manifesting through what consists of a rising and a setting with recourse to the order of creation and destruction; – which means that She does not manifest to anyone in a specific form. And then, there also exists a simile (type) figure of speech which says that “the way of a prostitute is hinted at here”. (For) at the end, (the prostitute) turned into a worn-out whore (though being all alone and inclined to be a penitent ascetic) also “takes” secret “delight”. As “the young woman of noble family (behaves) in a similar manner”, there is the suggestion of the contrasting (type) of figure of speech too. But enough! Why speak of what is irrelevant to the context?
As She (whose exact nature is unascertainable even from the causal beginnings) is shining forth outwardly of her own autonomous will, She has assumed the manifested state of finite forms (and) makes (Herself) the object of worship for all.
“She” is the supreme Śakti who, though really “unmanifested”, attains manifestation through her nature as the three tattvas, the three varṇas and the three śaktis, and according to our doctrinal school, She is the one said to be deserving of worship as Tripurā. That is the meaning of the verse.
17 &18. SHE WHO IS THE QUEEN OF SPEECH, THE ESSENCE OF LIBERATION AND THE VĀGBHAVA IS JÑĀNAŚAKTI. SHE WHO IS THE KĀMAKALĀ, THE ESSENCE OF DESIRE AND THE KĀMARĀJA IS THE ONE WHOSE NATURE IS KRIYĀ. (AND) THE SUPREME ŚAKTI, THE ESSENCE OF VIṢA (ūrdhvākuṇḍalinī) AND THE ŚAKTI BĪJA IS ICCHĀ HERSELF.
19. (THUS, THE THREE SYLLABLE GODDESS MAHĀTRIPURASUNDARĪ) IS ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE TRADITION OF GURUS TO BE THE ONE WHO RELEASES FROM THE BONDS OF EXISTENCE. (WHEN) SHE IS CALLED TO MIND - SHE IS THE DESTROYER OF SIN; PRAYED TO, SHE IS THE DESTROYER OF DEATH.
20. (WHEN) SHE IS WORSHIPPED, SHE IS THE SLAYER OF SORROWS, POVERTY, ILLNESS AND MISFORTUNE. WORSHIPPED WITH OBLATIONS OF FIRE, SHE ALLAYS THE HOST OF OBSTACLES; MEDITATED UPON, SHE BRINGS ALL THINGS TO FULFILLMENT.