Some Aspects of the Philosophy of Śākta Tantra

The (Śākta) Tantras hold that the Supreme Reality or Parā Śakti, before the manifestation of the Universe and the souls, remains in a state of what may be described as Quiescence or Repose, devoid as it were of the light of self-reflection implied in the nature of Caitanya. The unmanifest universe remains then absorbed in Caitanya, dissolved, but retaining its self-existence in the form of saṁskāra or potentiality. The souls, too, retain their individual continuity, though incapable, owing to disembodied condition, of asserting themselves as self-conscious and self-acting monads. This pre-creative state of the Supreme Śakti is beyond the so-called Parā Vāk of the Yogins, which is the universal Matrix and from which the Vedas and the worlds emanate.

This Transcendent Śakti is co-eternal and consubstantial with Para Brahman which is ineffable, indescribable, unlimited and immeasurable. There is no way to reach this Transcendent State except through the Grace of the Causal Śakti or Mother of the worlds referred to above. Hence every form of spiritual discipline prescribed in the Śāstras is in the eye of Tantras a sort of propitiation of the universal Power.

The Reality as such, called in one phase by the name of Parā Śakti and in another by that of Parā Vāk, is in a sense free from action (akriya). How can the creative process then start into being out of this Entity which is by nature inactive? The universe is made up of what in the language of philosophy is known as the Tattvas or ultimate constituent of things and is verily a machine (cakra). It is said with reference to the origin of motion and to its universal manifestation that the whole process is initiated by Will (svecchā). The universe lies merged in the Causal Power as identified with it in a mysterious way as an idea in the Mind and it continues in this condition so long as the Supreme Will does not appear and necessitate its alienation from and within the Infinite. As to when this Will arises and how, no answer can possibly be given except that it is spontaneous. As the universe rises with Will, so does it sink back during Pralaya under the operation of the same Will.

It has to be observed that when creation proceeds the causal aspect of the Absolute unfolds itself as the objective world, whereas the transcendent aspect remains fixed in itself as an indifferent, unmoved and silent witness of the play of its own Causal Power. Before creation the Causal Power remains one with the Power beyond, undivided and in a sense unmanifest. But its self-manifestation (sphurattā) begins with the manifestation and subsequent projection of the universe lying involved in it. In the technical language of the Tantras, the Causal Power is called Śakti or Vimarśa and the transcendent Power Śiva or Prakāśa. The two are essentially identical. What is popularly known as Caitanya is really due to the eternal relation between the two aspects of the Supreme Substance. This relation which never ceases may be either one of equality or of inequality. The former represents the truly Transcendent Condition (Turyātīta), and the latter the Supreme Causal Power, working in the direction of self-expression or self-concealment.

When the Parā Śakti tends to look into the Prakāśa with which it is identified, i.e., into the universe which emerges into and is unified with itself, then comes into manifestation a bindu which represents the union of Śiva and Śakti (in mātrās) in equilibrium and which reflects the Caitanya as a Luminous Liṅga. Technically this bindu is called KāmarūpaPīṭha and the Liṅga is known as Svayambhū.

Before we proceed further we wish to dwell at some length on this phenomenon which may not be clearly intelligible to persons not initiated in the secrets of Tantric Yoga. The Transcendent Śakti, which may well be called Śiva, is really something of which we can have nothing to say or think. Truly speaking, it is describable neither as Śiva nor as Śakti, though it is the source and life of both. The so-called Śiva or Prakāśa and Śakti or Vimarśa referred to above are, therefore, two correlated, though polarised, aspects of the same Śakti, and hence each of them is a Śakti. The Śiva aspect is known as Ambikā and the other as Śānta. These two appear as two only when their union is not sufficiently compact. But, in the event of the union being perfect the duality disappears and the resulting unit, which now is a neutral background, serves as a medium fit to reflect as it were what cannot be reflected otherwise, viz., the Transcendent.

This is the Parā Vāk and constitutes the Essence of Praṇava or Veda which is still undifferentiated. The subsequent differentiation leads to the union of Prakāśa and Vimarśa, in its further stages, as icchā and vāmā, as jñāna and jyeṣṭhā and as kriyā and raudrī, representing three additional Pīṭhas (viz., Pūrṇagiri, Jālandhara and Uḍḍiyāna) reflecting the Caitanya as Vāṇa, Itara and Para Liṅgas respectively. These correspond to the Paśyantī, Madhyamā and Vaikharī stages of Vāk.

In the supreme state of Parā Vāk the universe, which in the transcendent state had been unmanifest, is apparent in Caitanya and is in a sense identified with it, in the same way as a reflected image is one with the reflecting mirror. The Parā Śakti on this Eternal Plane has an eternal vision of this eternal universe not as an object outside of itself, but its very self. This eternal vision is, therefore, a self-vision of the Śakti beyond the limitations of Time, Space and Causality, and is a state of Perfect Quiet and Peace. With the rise of Will sets in a commotion which projects forth a part of the universe lying within the Caitanya as of its very essence. This projection is technically known as Sr̥ṣṭi or Creation. It happens in time; space and causal factors also begin to appear at this stage. The universe, as projected, maintains itself for a time and then returns to the Primitive Caitanya from which it emanated. These three functions are symbolised by the three Vedas, the three constituent letters of the Praṇava and in fact all triple manifestations in Nature, and are graphically represented by a triangle. The centre point of this triangle is the ParāVāk which is synonymous with the equilibrium of Śiva and Śakti.

The supreme Śakti, as one with Śiva, transcends all tattvas and as differentiated from, though associated with, Śiva, is the source of all tattvas and is identical with them. In its latter aspect it is the eternal matrix of the worlds and is of the Essence of Joy.

It is likened in the Āgamas to a mirror, serving to reflect the Self-knowledge of Śiva; for it is through it that Śiva eternally knows himself which Self-knowledge constitutes the essence of Caitanya, and without it Śiva is no more than a śava, a lump of lifeless matter. This Self-knowledge is technically known as Aham or 'I'. To see one's own Śakti is to see and enjoy one's own self. This Aham is in reality the Supreme Self revealed in and to itself as Infinite Delight (Pūrṇāhantā-camatkāra). The Self, as thus revealed, is infinite, because of the non-manifestation of limiting non-self ('This' or idam) at this stage. A mirror cannot reflect a vision within itself without the presence of the object outside, or even if the object is there no reflection is possible without light. The Parā Śakti too requires the presence of Para Śiva to reveal the world within itself, though in truth the two are one and the same.

Hence Śakti has a double aspect; in one it is identical with Śiva. At this stage Śiva alone shines. There is another aspect, in which the tattvas, the universe made of the tattvas and the devatās appear from it, both simultaneously and successively. For the Śakti to see its own manifestation is the same as the appearance of the world. Both dr̥ṣṭi and sr̥ṣṭi are practically the same. But, the appearance in succession follows a certain order or sequence.

by Mahāmahopādhyāya Gopinath Kavirāj

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