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The 5 Mahārtha Levels of Mastery

Updated: Sep 2


In what follows, we read Lilian Silburn describing the classification of five levels of Siddhas or perfected beings as comprehended in the Mahārtha philosophy, which is the central view adopted by Nepalese Sarvāmnāya Tantra.



Maheśvarānanda offers an interesting classification of spiritual masters who have apprehended the pure conscious subject through one of the three liberating paths; each of these five types, having made a breakthrough at the intersection of two circles or planes and reached the interstitial void, will by these same paths strive to arrive at the Center or cosmic Heart, after having imbued the universe with samādhi. To this end the siddhas use a set of practices specific to each of them and they reach the higher levels, either gradually or suddenly.


Initially, for Maheśvarānanda, the siddha or yogin is the one who has recognized the Self and therefore no longer confuses it with the body, the intellect, the breath or even with the states of emptiness relating to certain spiritual experiences. Freed from his bonds, his ignorance dissipated, he is called kaivalya, isolated in his own nature and his bliss. But if he experiences the bliss of the Self during ecstasy, he cannot settle there permanently, because he has not succeeded in eradicating the residues of ignorance, inveterate habits or subtle attachments. Thus, as soon as he emerges from samādhi, he comes into contact with the world and, taken up by everyday life, whose joys and pains mask the inner plenitude from him, he falls back into customary darkness. He does not perceive things as identical to the Self, unable as he is yet to imbue them with consciousness and bliss. "Yet, writes Abhinavagupta, as one who has discovered the secret of a magic trick is no longer fooled by it, even when he sees it at work, so one who has recognized the Self is no longer the plaything of illusion and at bodily death he will attain the state of Lordship."


How can the yogin enjoy this divine state during life and destroy the last vestiges of duality? Abhinavagupta tells us: "Wholly devoted to diving in Śiva, through diligent practice he manages to identify his body and the external world with the Lord; he acquires the divine attributes from this life and without leaving his body." It is not enough indeed to have perfect knowledge of the Self, it is also necessary to possess its attributes of omniscience, of free power and to control the wheel of energies. With Somānanda and Utpaladeva, these attributes take on a new meaning: universal power does not consist in acting on a given world and omniscience in knowing it in its smallest details, but in creating it at will by bringing out the various aspects of knowledge. One thus arouses the desired universe; only then do we really know it and have power over it, like Śiva "almighty who does and knows everything he wants". One must therefore become acutely aware that knowledge and activity do not differ from the completely efficient Self, and thus cross the difficult passage which leads from interiority to the cosmic.


The energy tends to reveal itself in them and through them, but these siddhas stand in the way of it, each in their own way, setting limits on it at the very moment they try to escape the limits, for it is on their ' own' energy that they seek a prop; one relies on the sensory faculties, another on thought and the mental faculties, yet another on the extreme point of the will, at the moment when it is set in motion, still entirely immersed in the universal "I", at the confines of the individual will and of the universal Will. After having acceded to the universal Will by an impetus of the heart, the true siddha, identified with energy, no longer leans on anything, cares for nothing and, since he no longer depends on anything, enjoys infinite freedom.


Thus beyond liberation and illumination, multiple possibilities are offered to the siddha: adventure, conquest, exercise of divine powers where the Self shows itself in its most varied manifestations: at will it can make the universe arise or support it in the duration or even reabsorb it into itself; he will arouse illusion, through play, by veiling his real nature or spread his grace by identifying the world with Self; the freedom regained in this life being reduced to deploying this fivefold activity, that of Śiva himself.


"He becomes a siddha, who recognizes himself as the creator of the universe when he is absorbed without interruption in the Śiva with whom he identifies." Commenting on this verse of Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta specifies: "the siddha becomes aware of his omnipotence which consists in creating the universe by his unshakeable conviction, and such conviction identifies him with Śiva. Liberated alive and having sunk body, breath, intellect and emptiness into the Self - one, two of them or all of them - he obtains all powers up to the supreme."


It is therefore by the very exercise of his extraordinary powers that a yogin gradually convinces himself of his innate efficiency and acquires identity with Śiva; his free power only reigns at first over the sphere of the universal conscious Subject; it then extends to the pure subject, then to cognitive activity and, step by step, nearby, the yogin imbues his organs with energy, all his activity, as well as the aspects of the universe which depend on them. At the end he no longer detects any impurity anywhere, the Self having absorbed into itself what previously seemed foreign to it. The siddha discovers that the limiting conditions, body and others, do not differ from the Self, that all conscious subjects form a single subject: "Śiva alone exists, knowing itself through the multiplicity of things", says Somānanda.


But before reaching such perfection, and with a view to obtaining the reciprocal interpenetration of the Self and the daily experience, each group of siddhas devotes itself to an assiduous practice designated according to the schools: by reciprocal interlocking of the highest in the coarsest principle, by contraction and expansion of energy, by close-eyed or open-eyed samādhi-s, or kramā-bhyāsa, these practices comprising two rapid and successive movements which gradually become automatic and end in the kramamudrā: this final stage of the Krama system corresponds to the khecarīsāmya or the bhairavayāmala of the Kula school, an intimate union of Bhairava (or Rudra) and energy. There is no longer any hiatus between the ordinary state and samādhi, since the siddha retains his pure consciousness - whether he meditates or takes part in multiple activities.


It is also the unspeakable union of unmeṣa and nimeśa that the follower of the Spanda school discovers at every step: if he opens his eyes to the universe, the glory of the Self appears to him in all his deployed activities, and if he closes them, his activities fall back into the Self. He then experiences a wonder that can only be expressed by a cry sprung from the depths of his heart.


If, privileged among all, the śāmbhavasiddha immediately reaches the Center, ineffable Reality, and as soon as his own essence is recognized, definitively escapes causal necessity and temporal succession, the other siddhas who tend to the Center with effort by the lower and intermediate paths, must recover cycle after cycle, thanks to certain attitudes (mudrā), spreading the bliss of the Self on the universe then taking it back into themselves. In this way they traverse the levels of life, in one direction then in the other, in order to equalize them by impregnating them with the samādhic flavor which erases the ultimate traces of duality.


We will now study these various siddhas in turn from the single point of view of their specific mudrā, a gesture which models reality by penetrating it with ecstasy.



JÑĀNASIDDHA


This lower siddha must keep himself absolutely still in the pure revealed subject, otherwise he would lose the newly discovered bliss; karaṅkiṇī, tranquility of body, mind and organs is therefore the mudrā that suits him. He can just pour out his bliss on the universe in a first instant, during a global and fleeting apperception where he grasps the universe as a totality not divided into subject and object; but if he returns to his usual occupations, the swell of objectivity assails him again: the gross world imposes itself on him like a spectacle and continues to affect him like an external reality over which he possesses no actual interior power. He must therefore constantly plunge back into ecstasy, rediscover there the tranquility and the bliss which he spreads little by little in his thoughts and reveries, this domain of the pramāṇa of which he seeks to become master: he devotes himself only to the gnostic intuition. When he succeeds, having become a mantrasiddha, he leaves the plane of jñāna, apperception of the first moment.



MANTRASIDDHA


Its thought purified, the mantrasiddha travels the pure path of the mind - plane of the intelligible and of gnosis - fine experience coming under the mantra defined by Maheśvarānanda as an inexpressible intuition beyond all duality; this intuition is exercised in the sphere of the puryaṣṭaka of which the mystic gradually becomes aware: its eight faculties, as they become more refined, are nothing more than imponderable, vibrant energies, overflowing with efficiency, of the goddesses (devī); a new perception of the universe results from it, different for each of the five groups of siddha: mantra and melāpa apprehend it in its subtlety, śākta and śāmbhava in its supremacy.


The uninterrupted contemplation which enabled the mantrasiddha to experience the Self and which henceforth fills the noetic realm, must invade the circle of objectivity (prameya) and permeate its sensory organs. An ardent zeal proves necessary for the furious absorption of the external world by his appeased conscience; to him we therefore assign the attitude called krodhanīmudrā, engulfing and devouring fury. But the siddha succeeds in this only partially, for if he devotes himself to various activities, the sensible world shows itself to him as an external reality; he must therefore remain calm and recollected so that the world contemplated - and therefore grasped from within - appears to him as his own creation.


The first siddha directed his gaze to the world without the desire to reabsorb it into its interior tranquillity; the second, attentive to the world, goes further: it absorbs it then projects it out of samādhi, seeking not without effort to equalize external and internal, closing and opening its eyes without interruption until it integrates the universe to his consciousness at rest.



MELĀPASIDDHA


This siddha given over to union (melāpa), takes an important step, capable as he is of reabsorbing all his functions into his consciousness, no longer at rest, but fully active, in other words in all circumstances, stirring with energy subject and object to merge them into one reality in a higher and deeper peace. In progress, compared to the previous stage, he enjoys simultaneously (and not successively) the closed-eyed and open-eyed samādhi-s.


In order to bring together its multiple functions in unity and to bring them back - all their united powers - into its own essence, the melāpasiddha uses that which naturally brings energy to its highest degree and makes it vibrate (spanda); he then uses the same means that he used when he walked on the path of energy before enlightenment: he participates in great banquets where yoginī and siddha unite and drink wine in order to stimulate their energies . When through kramamudrā his subjective and objective energies merge into the Self, his accumulated strength, from individual to universal, becomes universal, containing within itself all the cosmic dynamism. Abhinavagupta describes this experience in the following terms, emphasizing three times the plenitude (paripūrṇatva) felt by the siddha who, perfectly conscious, discovers his energy diffused everywhere: "When the (yogin) manages to identify himself with the effervescence of his own energy the moment it enters the middle conduit and fills all breaths, subtle (nāḍī) conduits and sensory organs, and all duality vanishes, he experiences the wonder of the 'I' as he becomes aware of his own superabundant energy: then the Bhairava-state is revealed to him because he participates in the union of Śiva and the energy whose bliss belongs to the (states) of emanation and resorption grasped in their fullness, for the reason that he enjoys the efficacy of the great mantra (the 'I')."


The melāpasiddha then passes from the individual stage of Śiva, not taking support on objectivity, to its universal stage and becomes a śāktasiddha which has recovered his integral energy.


As for the mystical attitude which gives him access to the universal Subject and engenders the powers of union (melāpa) by giving the organs a supernatural energy, it is the bhairavīmudrā or fixity of the gaze: in an intense inner vision, without closing his eyes, the siddha contemplates the world and its categories in himself, in the Self, and he sees them bathed in the undifferentiated light of the pure Subject; but he does not perceive them distinctly because, under the influence of samādhi, he is as if drunk. If he manages to take part in temporal affairs, pleasures, worries and pains no longer trouble him.


Thanks to the bhairavīmudrā which, according to the Mahānayaprakāśa, forms the external seal of the kramamudrā, the siddha addicted to union indelibly imprints the external on the internal, by reabsorbing known object and knowledge into the pure knowing subject (pramātr̥) and he grasps them as his fulfilment.


As for the double seal of the kramamudrā, only the śāmbhavasiddha, skilled in sealing simultaneously and in complete freedom the external in the internal and the internal in the external, succeeds in impressing it. As it is at the stage of melāpasiddha that the practice begins, which must end in kramamudrā, we will examine this now.


Although it is the fulcrum of the Krama school, few details have come down to us about it, apart from a brief passage from the Kramasūtras; given its importance, we would like translate it with Kṣemarāja's commentary. Let's not forget that under the matrix of words hides an infinitely simple, although inexpressible, mystical experience; let us content ourselves with saying that this practice consists in pouring consciousness into everything and taking it up immediately, in rapid succession:


"An excellent yogin attained to complete absorption even under so-called ordinary circumstances, staggering with joy under the lingering effect in the sky of Consciousness, like an autumn cloud in the firmament; he immerses himself again and again in the interiority and becomes aware of his identity with cit by the close-eyed samādhi."


Kṣemarāja puts it this way: by the kramamudrā whose nature is fullness of the "I", an excellent yogin, deeply absorbed, deploys the supreme energy apprehended by him in an obvious and immediate way, even when he is busy with the things of this world. By a process of engulfment or assimilation, it first penetrates the external (the whole of the sensible) into the internal (the domain of the highest conscious energy); then by a vomiting process, thanks to its perfect absorption, it realizes the essence of conscious energy, bringing it into the outer world. This penetration manifests the nectar of consciousness as if it froze.


We call mudrā the eternally active interpenetration, internal and at the same time external, which gives the supreme bliss, which dissolves all bonds because it imprints like a seal the universe in the reality of the Fourth state, Consciousness itself. It is called krama, gradation or wheel of consciousness with its cycles, because of the process it determines: creative emission, permanence and resorption of the universe.


The following sūtra describes the fruit of this attitude: "As soon as one attains immutable kramamudrā or samādhi, one sinks into perfect interiority, self-awareness and bliss, one enjoys the very efficacy of the great mantra (the 'I'); one then becomes the ruler of the wheel of the deities of consciousness - one's own deified energies - upon which depends the emanation and reabsorption of the universe."


"All this has Śiva as its essence," concludes Kṣemarāja; here is what he means: the known object has knowledge as its essence; this draws its reality from the knowing subject whose consciousness is internalized; in its turn, the pure subject has as its essence the reality free of limit and whose body is the entire universe. Again this supreme Subject has for its essence the Lord, Ultimate Reality of perfect self-consciousness, All without gap which is none other than conscious light.


It is towards kramamudrā that the practice of the melāpasiddha tends: this in fact aims at the ineffable experience, the perfect union of subject and object by the association of a process (krama) and of any reduction of process (mudrā): the process is there only to show the absence of a real gradation because, wherever it occurs, there the siddha is sealed; he therefore realizes with amazed surprise that he has never left the Center, that he could not leave the unity of the absolute: the unspeakable Reality escapes both succession and non-succession: "The Eternal subject has no temporal succession, in him everything is perfect in form, action and mode."


The melāpasiddha is said to have terminated the power of time, and because he has overcome triplicity (past, present and future), he possesses omniscience. This sudden reduction in time which characterizes kramamudrā can take place for each of the siddhas at any stage of his progress, for the breakthrough towards the Center is liable to take place at any moment. But time stops only if the vibrating act reaches its perfection and if the whole objectivity is engulfed spontaneously in the Self. The siddha then becomes a master of energy (śāktasiddha); as long as he remains in the stage of union (melāpa), he does not have total power over energy, even if he succeeds in passing purified energy through his organs; he exercises partial powers but not the supreme power, a universally displayed glory, the prerogative of the śāmbhavasiddha alone.



ŚĀKTASIDDHA


The objective energies which, at the previous stage, flowed from all sides into the Heart, now reside there in the germinal state. The śāktasiddha having reabsorbed the universe into itself remains in pure energy: on this ineffable plane, Śiva dedicated to the bliss of rest "refuses to take support" from objective energy and retains within himself his creative energy.


This siddha sees everywhere only the efficiency of the same act, an efficiency always identical to itself; it seizes the consciousness in the essence of things, not in the impure multiplicity (the vikalpa), because it preserves traces of discrimination between the pure and the impure; it follows that his consciousness has neither a fully developed force nor a universal bliss extending without exception to all aspects of the universe. He therefore has to gulp down the final residues of differentiation with a lick of his tongue thanks to the so-called 'licking' attitude (lelihānamudrā) that characterizes him.


We thus observe a complete transmutation of values ​​since, according to Abhinavagupta, the intellect (buddhi) which considers the categories of the real as different from Śiva is impure to the highest degree; and the purification consists in crushing it; while, for the ordinary man, the illusion consists in considering these same categories, the body, the thought etc. as identical to Śiva.



SĀMBHAVASIDDHA


As for the master of energy, the śāmbhavasiddha, he combines pure spontaneity with supreme efficiency; in his thirst for total surpassing, with boldness, with a single impulse, he sinks into the absolute. It will be said of him indifferently that his act is so pure that he joins the luminous and perfect Consciousness or that his consciousness is concentrated with such intensity in his act that it identifies itself with him; dazzling awareness, revealing of the "I" at the moment when it appears as the Act eternally vibrant, the supreme spanda. Thus for him the kramamudrā is effected spontaneously as a definitive gesture which rediscovers the act in its integral movement and the movement in its act; the conscious light invades the exterior and simultaneously all the realities of the external world, saturated with divine life, are absorbed in the cosmic Self.


Having engraved indelibly and with a single gesture the internal on the external and the external on the internal, this siddha triumphs over time and lives in the undivided Reality where everything takes on a unique flavor (ekarasa), that of the fullness of the "I". "He identifies himself without delay with Śiva recognized in his plenitude and containing the totality of things clearly manifested, as soon as his will enters into vibration and begins to desire them": to the perfect and limitless Subject, things appear as the Self and therefore perfect and unlimited.


Maheśvarānanda also states that an accomplished yogin has the experience of the Self in the midst of objective experiences and through them. The world does not seem to him an illusion which vanishes as soon as it is discovered; apprehended in its essence, the world remains one in the multiplicity of its elements, its energies active and fully developed within this peaceful and undifferentiated essence.


How to conceive such a vision of the multiple in unity, such a succession in the immutable? Gorakṣa accumulates images in order to suggest the possibility of this living contradiction: if, at the present moment, everything has always been there and the tree of illumination has already grown in the Heart, it is because everything exists in the universal Consciousness without fault (nikhila) which in its infinity excludes nothing - neither duality, nor absence of duality. A semblance of succession within the immutable, when Consciousness partially obscures its luminous essence, so that one aspect disappears while another appears, giving the impression of change on the permanent background, like light clouds float in a pure sky without disturbing its limpidity, borrowing their brilliance and their color from the celestial light; thus each object participates in the plenitude of Consciousness: "Even if things manifest themselves on the outside, their interiority is not thereby broken."


The ordinary man attaches himself only to successive objects (krama), the lower siddha momentarily escapes temporal succession and discovers in samādhi the bliss of the Self; but as soon as he regains contact with the world, this block of bliss is covered with spots of shadow and the divine unicity seems to fragment.


The higher siddhas perceive that their bliss is unsettled. In other words, free energy remains present to them through the diversity of manifestations. They therefore apprehend both permanence and impermanence; they seal the moment in eternity because they are able to grasp the immutable Reality at any moment of the succession or to pierce through the alternating notions (vikalpa) up to their original indifferentiation (nirvikalpa). They discover, at the junction of inspiration and expiration, the great Vibration of Life which represents not only their own existence but the intimate nature of things. For the coarse universe made of solidified elements has been replaced by a subtle universe in which everything quivers and which a vibrating force perpetually runs through. The spanda which in the lower siddhas vibrated of itself and for itself now communicates its vibration to the whole cosmos. It is therefore designated by the term 'satattodita', 'always in action', and it is identified with the Supreme Heart and the omnipenetrating kuṇḍalinī, source of the movements of the universe. When, fully conscious thanks to kramamudrā, the śāmbhavasiddha becomes one with the erect kuṇḍalinī, he becomes Śiva who churns between them the objective energies and the subjective energies, but unlike the melāpasiddha, no longer with a view to making them fuse, but rather without determined goal: remaining firm in the heart of the ocean of life, he deploys the ebb and flow of the subject and the object, having fun creating and reabsorbing things. He is not only the master of energy in the manner of the śāktasiddha, but he governs all his perfectly deployed energies, thereby possessing omniscience, cosmic bliss and freedom. Immersed in the eternal, he enjoys the plenitude that each moment conceals because he is acutely aware of life in its extraordinary variety. On the other hand, as his activity does not propose an end that would be external to him, he is self-sufficient, nothing hinders his free spontaneity any longer; from where its specific mudrā, named khecarī "the one who flies in the firmament of Consciousness", free energy, omnipenetrating kuṇḍalī, springs like lightning after having devoured knower and known, making the siddha an aerial being, open to everything, who no longer has a prison. The "I" is so totally undifferentiated, its freedom so perfect, that nothing is his responsibility any longer, not even the vikalpas. It is therefore said to be the 'ultimate foundation': "The capacity to know is reduced to the freedom which is associated with an unlimited power of knowledge and (this character) unlimited rests in the 'I'". (Abhinavagupta)


Consequently, the Self, even in its limited condition, is not deprived of freedom because every conscious process ends with the original awareness, that of the 'I', at the root (of things).


Contrary to the artificial and willed activity of the limited being, the free spontaneity of the accomplished being (siddha) has nothing artificial about it: "The shaped (nirmita) is conceived as 'this' and freedom like I'."


The engine of the process of emancipation and even that of enslavement is ultimately freedom. But underlying and beyond this double activity reigns the triumphant Existence, privilege of the supreme spanda whose free efficiency realizes the Self in its infinite manifestations - whether it binds or unbinds -, fetters and bonds standing out against the background of free and immutable Consciousness, play overflowing with its exultation.


Thus Śiva finds himself glorified in all possible ways through the organs of multiple beings since each 'I' dwells at the junction, in the indivisible Heart.



- LILIAN SILBURN,

from the Introduction to her French translation of Mahārthamañjarī.