The central philosophy constitutive of the Sarvāmnāya Tantra, around which all other philosophies are subsumed, is the Mahārtha, coming within the Kālīkrama lineage or Uttarāmnāya. In what follows, we read some excerpts of Lilian Silburn's presentation of this philosophy as it appears in Maheśvarānanda's Mahārthamañjarī.
According to the title of two of his works, the Mahārthamañjarī and the Mahārthodara, and numerous allusions he makes in his commentary, Maheśvarānanda belonged to the mystical school Mahārthadarsāna also called Mahānaya, Kālīnaya, Devīnaya, Atinaya, Atimārga and Krama ; the latter, being native of Kaśmir (Uttarapīṭha), is also known under the name of Uttarāmnāya. Maheśvarānanda moreover expressly says in the Mahārthamañjarī that the Mahārtha system he explains hardly differs from the Trikadarśana. Mahārtha, absolute sense, designates the Reality which does not admit any distinction between superior and inferior; on the other hand, paramārtha means transcendent - in relation to a lower state.
(...) The Krama system admits as ultimate Reality the conscious Energy conceived as the goddess Vyomavāmeśvarī, Mātr̥sadbhāva, or even Bhāsā, Splendor, the All outside of which nothing exists, both Raudra and Raudreśvarī. When she engenders the universe by imprinting life on it, she is called Kālī and when she reabsorbs it into herself, Kālasaṁkarśaṇī, 'she who squeezes Time', to empty it of its content.
(...) Thus centered around the universal energy, the Krama brings to their highest degree the dynamic tendencies of the various śaivite systems. This self-aware energy, spontaneous and free, transforms itself tirelessly taking on multiple aspects although it remains equal to itself, like the immutable ocean whose waves do not stop surging and reabsorbing. However, these waves of consciousness do not form an incoherent eddy: the sheaf springing from the undifferentiated - the Heart - crosses more and more distinct zones, those of the subject then of knowledge and its means to reach the object. It then returns to the original undifferentiated - bhāsā - and immediately rebounds from it. It is therefore at every instant that this prodigious sparking of forces which form the self and the universe is produced. But these forces arise and subside with such rapidity that their succession cannot be apprehended by the ordinary man, as the flame of a lamp, although made of an unbroken succession of similar flames, appears continuous to the untrained eye.
On the other hand, the siddha who is fully aware of this subtle and vibrant succession (kramaparāmarśa) apprehends the Self, the inexhaustible source from which it proceeds. The Self then manifests itself in its infinite freedom, as cosmic Splendor because it contains all the energies that form the universe.
In order to bring this dynamic conception of the universe within reach of the adept, the Krama system uses the symbol of an immense Wheel with a thousand spokes, that is to say infinite, Wheel of the indescribable (anākhyacakra) or Universal Consciousness. Inside the wheel, interlocking circles offer an exhaustive classification of reality and allow the adept to grasp at a single glance the energy in all its aspects, first unified in the center, then dispersing towards the periphery: inner wheel with four spokes, that of the pramiti, pure self-knowledge; then the wheel with eight spokes, that of the conscious subject (pramātr̥); more external, a wheel with twelve spokes, that of the means of knowledge (pramāṇa) or wheel of the twelve kālī-s associated with mystical practices, while the two preceding wheels do not include any; finally the outer wheel with sixteen spokes, that of the known object (prameya). It is not known whether the Krama worshiped the sixteen kālī-s - energies or functions - that it contains.
The wheel of the object corresponds to ordinary perception where the subject stands facing the object that he seizes by knowledge. In the wheel of knowledge, the subject and his knowledge remain alone in presence. With the wheel of the subject, object and means of knowledge disappear, swallowed up by it, and only the pure subject endowed with self-consciousness (pramiti) remains. With the wheel of pramiti, the subject sinks into the supreme conscious Subject which contains, well developed, the three aspects of knowledge, a feature which it shares with the circle of the object, except that this Subject has a perfect self-awareness and knows all things in their true perspective. Energy scattered on the surface, or energy collected in the center, it is always the same energy: it is enough for the one who aspires to cosmic energy to break his individual limits and to intensify his own energies so that these recover their natural spontaneity and infinity. Contrary to the Pratyabhijñā school which goes straight to the point and insists on true intimacy which only supposes an immersion in oneself, in perfect tranquillity, the Krama system wants to embrace everything and, through the path of energy accessible to everyone, seeks to recover energy at all levels, thought, body and its organs, and to restore its vibrant, efficient, integral nature. The return to the cosmic plane is thus made from the intensified and released energy.
To this end, the way of energy implements various evocations and practices, adoration of Śiva, contemplation of the wheel of energies, ritual with a partner (dūtīyajana), large meetings of men and women (mahāmelāpa) having for purpose to naturally revive slumbering energies and bring them together into one of exceptional intensity (vīrya).
(...) The Krama deviates in many respects from the Pratyabhijñā system. Contrary to the latter, which makes a large part of metaphysical speculations, based it is true, on a mystical experience, the Krama-Mahārtha limits itself to practice.
These schools also differ in their method of approach: the first is situated from the outset in Reality and descends from level to level, the lower degree drawing its efficiency and its intelligibility from the higher degree of which it is the manifestation. It adopts the same method in its philosophical explanations and in practice; it follows that the partisan of this school lets himself be carried away by grace and never has to make an effort. The Krama school, on the other hand, obeys an upward dynamism, and if its partisan appeals to effort, it is not to a systematic effort such as a Gorakṣanātha understands it; it uses energy spontaneously and by obeying innate and natural tendencies (sahāja). Śivānandanātha seems to us to be one of the first propagators of the sahāja current which was later to break over India. We find this spontaneity at all levels of the system: in the movement of the wheel of energies, in that of the centers of kuṇḍalinī, the cakras moving without any effort as soon as pure consciousness is developed during samādhi. The same concern for spontaneity can be seen in the kramamudrā attitude, the movement of which takes place on its own, as well as in the natural way of intensifying energy through sexual initiation or kramacaryā practices.
Maheśvarānanda exposes, from śloka 34, various aspects of the Krama system: he insists on the universal energy, Kālasaṁkarṣiṇī, on the three eyes of Śiva and especially on the classification by pentads, characteristic of the school: five currents, five wheels , five types of siddha, all comprised within the total wheel (vr̥ndacakra), the most important of the Mahārtha-Krama wheels. He also brings out clearly an essential feature of the Krama system which probably goes back to its founder, Śivānandanātha: a fine and subtle analysis which breaks down into discontinuous elements as well the apparently uninterrupted energies, as the movement, the purification of the vikalpas, or any sensation, in order to attain awareness of the Self.
(...) Maheśvarānanda expands on the three practices of the path of energy: contemplation of the wheel of energies by focusing on all functions simultaneously; heroic behavior which tends to balance opposing tendencies and then level them; finally the contemplative exercise (bhāvanā) which has as its end non-differentiation: the yogin considers the whole universe by the descending path (from the supreme conscious Subject to the individual) then by the ascending path, seeking to convince himself that the two processes have no difference. These three practices have the same goal: the bhairavīmudrā attitude which grasps the world in its interiority, in the Self, and which ends in kramamudrā.
(...) To fix the thought on the Master of efficiency, the Krama system recommends the follower to adore Śiva in his own body by evoking the wheel of energies or wheel of consciousness, that is to say a harmonious cosmos where all the points of the periphery are connected to the center, the divine Heart. Standing at the center of the cosmic wheel and governing its movement, the divine couple churns the universe: the goddess creating it and the god reabsorbing it. Source of all, the Splendor spread throughout the world, this couple delights in uniting and separating knowledge and making it appear as external. Around the God and the Goddess, the divine energies or sensory functions of the adept radiate in all directions, which form a unified whole. These energies are constantly busy hiding their true essence from the ignorant, but to the devotees they reveal this unspeakable wheel of consciousness in all its brilliance and allow them to enter into Śiva.
The image of the cosmos, a universal wheel set in motion by conscious energy, seems well chosen in more than one respect: a grandiose vision of a world identical to the Self, it offers those who evoke it the means of escaping to its own limits. On the other hand, the hub (khe), intimate and deep center, whose emptiness offers no obstacle, gives access to the absolute. Although immobile, it imprints its movement on the wheel.
The rim that turns in an uninterrupted circular motion is made up of the energies of the cognitive and sensory faculties. The superficial periphery, place of dispersion, is connected to the Center by its many rays, the energies of the organs going and coming from the heart to the periphery. Several concentric circles are also staged from the center to the periphery, moments of becoming. This wheel thus makes it possible to embrace at a single glance the cosmos and the human being arranged in a coherent set of concentric circles so perfectly subordinate to each other that placing one of them makes it possible to find all others. This circular sequence still has the advantage of having neither top nor bottom, unlike the hierarchical plans where the supreme state crowns the summit of a progression.
Finally, this symbol illustrates particularly well the exceptional dynamism that the path of energy strives to arouse in order to achieve the ardent momentum of the path of Śiva. Because it is not a question of a wheel in the concrete sense but of a circle of fire generated by a brand which is swirled and which projects bright sparks towards the periphery, an image which accounts for both the circles swirling rapidly and also movement which ceaselessly vibrates from the centre, the Heart, where the energy is most fiery.
This living wheel has another peculiarity: similar to the lotus which opens in the morning and closes in the evening, its rays emanate from the center and return there according to whether the master of the wheel emits the universe or reabsorbs it into himself: 'Also in the ordinary course of life, the Lord, even though he has entered a body endowed with organs, creates and dissolves a world made up of five sense objects etc. accordingly as he awakens or slumbers, that is, directs his organs outwards or brings them back inwards.'
When the lotus, symbol of Splendor, blossoms, it unfolds in fifty phonemes which engender a differentiated universe, because language is the instrument of our servitude, constituting an insurmountable screen between reality and us. When the lotus withdraws, it does so in several stages: at the first, it takes on the aspect of nine wheels: the three eyes of Śiva and the wheel of Totality as well as the five activities of creation, resorption etc. At the second stage, it assumes the appearance of five streams. At the third, he becomes the seed of the cosmic variety arising from the Word. At the fourth, it constitutes the supreme energy (anuttarakalā) corresponding to illumination. It finally reveals itself as pure self-awareness.
Splendor therefore appears as the source and foundation of all successive energies; each constitutes a swirling circle whose whole is articulated in the form of a cosmic wheel, which symbolizes the infinite and inexhaustible recurrence of multiple energies. Thereby everything vibrates and quivers in a universe drawn into the immense whirlwind of the wheel of Consciousness.
The practice concerning the contemplation of the Wheel comprises two distinct phases: one appeals to temporal succession, the other to simultaneity. At the beginning, in the lower path, the adept concentrates constantly on the wheel in order to perceive its rotary movement in each of his activities: whether he hears a sound, breathes in a perfume, experiences any sensation, he must, unshakeable like the invisible axis planted in the very center, to pierce to the heart without losing self-awareness.
Thus concentrated, he will gradually steer the wheel, instead of being its slave. But that is not enough. The yogin achieves his goal only in the path of energy, during the second phase, by destroying all the residues and unconscious vestiges of duality when, simultaneously (akrama), all his intellectual and sensory functions come together at the Center. He is then absorbed in the very act of consciousness and there discovers the energy at its source, acquiring mastery of the wheel of energies.
Abhinavagupta recommends: 'Let one concentrate on the great whirling wheel as the revealing vibration of the Self.' The vibration designates here the spanda, movement propagated by the Self, so strong and so fast that it gives the impression of total immobility. Drawn into such a whirlwind, the set of frozen acts that have become unconscious as well as the conscious fluctuations dissolve: the vikalpa recovers its free and vibrant nature (spanda); the immense Wheel, by the discontinuity it engenders, brings out the permanent Self better.
Introduction to the French translation of Maheśvarānanda's Mahārthamañjarī