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The Dialogical Manifestation of Reality

Updated: Jun 4

Tantric āgamas, considered to be divine revelation, are in dialogical format. In their monistic philosophy, Abhinavagupta and Kṣemarāja exploit this unique aspect of Āgamas and apply it to address the nature of the self that is identical with consciousness as well as the supreme divinity, Śiva. This theological assumption derives from the linguistic philosophy where consciousness and speech are inseparable. When applied in the context of the mantra speech, this concept provides a theological foundation for explaining the eternal dialogue of Śiva and Śakti, where the truth is constantly expressing itself. This understanding contrasts not only with the idea that truth is revealed in a monologue by the transcendent entity, but it also makes the manifestation of the absolute an eternal process. In other words, truth is dynamic, is constantly being revealed, and is always manifest dialogically.

Within the Śaiva Siddhānta perspective, as outlined by Sadyojyoti (around eighth century), the most frequently cited passage from the Svāyaṁbhuvasūtrasaṅgraha (1.2) regarding the revelation of the Āgamas follows:

athātmamalamāyākhyakarmabandhavimuktaye |

vyaktaye ca śivatvasya śivājñānaṁ pravartate ||

Now, in order to liberate the individual selves from the (threefold) bondage of mala, māyā, and karma, and to reveal the absolute (Śiva) nature, the wisdom is set in motion through Śiva.

Sadyojyoti’s exposition of this passage is crucial to ground the status of Āgama. He maintains that the wisdom that liberates individuals suffering from bondage manifests through Pati, the Master, and since Śiva and the selves are of the same class (samānajātaya), the wisdom imparted by Śiva is capable of eradicating bondage (Sa 1.2). This wisdom is revealing the self, and if the individual selves were not of the same class, Śiva’s revelation of his essential nature would not assist the individual selves recognise their true identity. This wisdom, in Sadyojyoti’s understanding, is twofold: of the character of speech (śabda) where Śabda is referring to mantra, and of the character of realisation (avabodha). Superimposed upon the knowledge of the character of word, the wisdom of the character of realisation activates in the field of meaning. This hierarchy of wisdom outlined by Sadyojyoti in terms of word and meaning encompasses both ritual activities and contemplative practices. This twofold wisdom eliminates twofold ignorance (avidyā): the ignorance of the outside world, i.e. affecting intellect (buddhi) that provides false notions, and the ignorance of the self, i.e. the avidyā that is affecting the self (puṁs) and causing limitation to self-awareness.

After this brief exposition, Sadyojyoti introduces an alternative reading to the above passage with a new insight upon the concept of ‘wisdom’ (jñāna). This wisdom, according to Sadyojyoti, is the very Śakti of Śiva that manifests in twofold forms of realisation and ritual-initiation. Sadyojyoti compares this twofold revelation of Śiva with the twofold energies of light and heat inherent to the sun that illuminates and burns objects. In this metaphor, ritual initiation is compared with the heat of the sun. Initiation, following the earlier comparison, is of mantras, and while these mantras are of the character of speech, they cut through the bondage and manifest Śiva nature, and are, in this sense, of the character of wisdom.

What Śiva reveals, along these lines, is himself, and he carries this out by imparting his inherent power (Śakti) to individual selves that are identified as belonging to the same class as Śiva (sajātaya). Āgama, along these lines, is the power of Śiva, where Śiva and his power are inherently linked and are not two distinct categories. And what this power in the form of wisdom contains is ‘revelation’ or manifestation of the self-nature of Śiva. In essence, Āgama is an extension of Śiva and thus can be considered the body of Śiva. Sadyojyoti maintains that consciousness is the very act of knowing, a power of the self. This threefold relation of the self, consciousness, and the power in the form of action, provides the foundation that maintains that both the realisation and ritual acts that in consequence grant realisation are Śakti, the manifest body of Śiva.

Śiva, in the beginning of creation, manifests this wisdom of the character of realisation, assuming five forms. Since this wisdom of the nature of Śiva transmits or metaphorically ‘flows’ through five faces of Śiva, these are also called ‘streams’ (srotas). This wisdom in its original form is of the character of the cosmic sound (nāda) which is transformed by Sadāśiva in the form of Āgamas. Following this understanding, when creation begins, or when Śiva emanates himself in the form of the world, the power of grace (anugraha) is embedded in the very act of creation, and this power causes Śiva to impart his liberating wisdom, which, in turn, is the very Śakti that is identical to Śiva. Guru and Śiṣya, or the preceptor and the learner, are thus the one body of transcendent awareness that separates in the process of knowing, with one revealing the truth and the other, receiving this wisdom. This process begins with the separation of the transcendent being and culminates with an actualisation of the oneness of Śiva and Śakti. What has been cognised in this process of revelation and the very act of cognising, are both considered to be Śakti, an extension or aspect of Śiva. This identity of Śiva with kriyāśakti, the power of action or the power found in the form of dynamism, implies that both what is being revealed and the act of revelation are of Śiva nature.

Is this wisdom of Śiva that manifests in the form of the self-revealing awareness and the power of action (kriyā-śakti) expressed in the form of ritual-initiation (including the will of Śiva that directly reveals Śiva nature by His grace without going through a chain of initiation), somewhat different from the Śakti that gives rise to the material world? This question is due to not realising that Śiva and his fivefold actions are not two separate entities, as Śiva and Śakti are not two distinct categories. The fivefold energies inherent to Śiva – powers of awareness, bliss, will, cognition, and action – are expressed in each of the fivefold actions of creation, sustenance, reabsorption, concealment, and grace. Divine grace is embedded in this revelation, as both the receiving subject (i.e. the supreme Śakti) and what is being revealed (i.e. the mantras and the wisdom of the self) are in essence the ‘acts’ of Śiva’s grace. In conclusion, the power that gives rise to the world and the awareness of the self are two aspects of the grace of Śiva and therefore identical. Teleology thus becomes a meta-issue that weaves ontological and epistemological questions. Śiva’s grace, in this paradigm, is both the foundation and the act of dialogue, where the dialogue stands for the self-revelation of Śiva. Creation is no longer understood as a platform for grace, but as an act of grace itself. Accordingly, Śiva’s fivefold emanations and His acts are the expressed forms of His power of grace, anugraha śakti.

The status of Āgamic revelation in the Trika system is summed up in a single verse:

guruśiṣyapade sthitvā svayaṁ devaḥ sadāśivaḥ |

pūrvottarapadair vākyais tantram ādhārabhedataḥ ||

(Svacchandatantra 8.31cd-32ab)

The writings of Abhinava and Kṣemarāja upon the revelation of Āgamas can be considered a commentary upon the above passage. Explicit in this passage is the fact that the supreme being Himself assumes the roles of teacher and disciple and manifests Tantras according to the interests of different subjects. What is presumed here is, the first discourse, in which Śiva himself plays both roles, is not teleologically complete in itself, as it is ‘for’ the sentient beings. The sentient beings, though, are not intrinsically different from Śiva in this non-dual paradigm. What is the directionality of Śiva’s grace then? The answer is, from the enlightened perspective, or through the gaze of Śiva, it is just self-revelation, and the teleology is complete within itself. From the perspective of the non-realised subjects, there is externality in this teleology of revelation. Following the Trika paradigm, the Āgamic discourse is essentially the self-revealing act of Śiva where he is in dialogue with his own externalised form, the powers collectively called as Śakti, materialised in the form of His consort. The central metaphor to describe this primordial relation is that of prakāśa or consciousness/illumination and vimarśa or reflective awareness/touch. Even when the absolute is described in this dyadic form, the relation of these two is complementary and not that of binary opposites. Śiva and Śakti, or in this newly found terminology of prakāśa and vimarśa, are essentially identical, and their relationship describes the initial discourse. Along these lines, Śiva externalises his powers that are intrinsic to him and engages in dialogue, which simultaneously materialises the world and reveals the Āgamas.

Abhinava’s understanding of Āgama relies on this assumption of consciousness as prakāśa-vimarśa, following which there is no instance where the self is not revealing and not aware of itself. Due to this reflective inverse mode of consciousness, the I-sense of Śiva circumscribes all that exists in its self-awareness. This act of recognising vimarśa as the very expression of prakāśa is the twofold manifestation of grace, where the illuminating aspect of consciousness is in dialogue with its reflexive mode and this dialogue is captured in the form of Āgamas. There is no issue regarding the authority of the Āgamas either, as it is due to the authority of Āgamas, or the self-actualising mode of awareness, that all other instances of cognition are verified. In other words, every act of consciousness self-validates the Āgama, as this stands for the first flash of consciousness being reflexive and is presumed in all modes of consciousness. This intrinsic dialogue is therefore a precondition for the rise of the prāmāṇa activities such as perception and inference. This dialogue is thus both (i) a fundamental cosmic event, the primordial act that also is the blueprint of the cosmos, and (ii) is the backdrop of all conscious modes or epistemic activities. Since temporality has not arisen at this stage of consciousness, this dialogue is not temporal either. In the absence of localising this discourse in time, Śiva’s self-intimation is eternal, and is embedded in both what has been manifest in the world, and the act of manifestation.

The Āgamic revelation, along these lines, is at first the absolute experiencing itself, its own glory, or pure consciousness being reflexively aware of itself. This self-expression is described in terms of the Lord revealing His essential nature to the goddess and the goddess receiving that revelation from Śiva. This is what constitutes the primordial dialogue, the first expression of the truth revealing to itself, assuming both the form of speech and expressing itself as the speaker and hearer of the truth. Since the power of grace is thus the foundation of being and permeates both speech and consciousness found as self-reflexive, it is permeating all beings, or in other words, the power of Śiva in the form of anugraha is dormant at the heart of all sentient beings. Or, it is what constitutes the foundational speech, the self-reflexive awareness that manifests in the form of expressed speech.

Following Abhinava, the transcendent consciousness that is also speech, due to it having all the potential of speech that is yet to be expressed, deified in the form of Parā, is what gives coherence to discrete sounds and constitutes meaning. Meaning, accordingly, is the pure consciousness manifest, as it is consciousness that gives rise to sequentiality and meaning to discrete sounds. In essence, there is no dichotomy between the transcendental consciousness and its dyadic manifestation [1] in discrete forms of seeing, tasting, or touching, and also [2] as the phenomenal subject that navigates all these streams of consciousness and gives coherence. Manifestation in manifold forms is thus intrinsic to consciousness. This process is also essentially meaning-making.

This discourse on the revelation of Āgamas rests on multiple connections, where, besides the identity of Śiva and Śakti, the self is identified with Śiva, with consciousness, and eventually with transcendent speech. When manifested, it is Śiva’s power of grace (anugraha śakti) that assumes the form of Āgamas. This can be traced in Kṣemarāja’s writings, as he explains that this is speech itself, in its transcendent form, manifest in the form of ‘seeing’ (paśyantī) by splitting itself into two as the preceptor and disciple, or the speaker and hearer. Pāśyantī, along these lines, is the state where the Āgamas are revealed. This is also the state of the manifestation of speech, and in order to distinguish the flow of pure wisdom at this state, Kṣemarāja identifies this state as ‘the power of speech in the form of the transcendent and supreme seeing’. In his non-dual semiotics, there is no distinction between the expressive words and what has been expressed by these words. Along these lines, what the texts reveal through words is Śiva, and while revealing the Śiva nature, these very words are also of the Śiva nature and thus are potent in the form of mantras. This parallels the understanding that the Āgamas reveal the transcendent nature of the Lord as identical to the self.

Since Āgamas are considered not just the means but the very body of Śakti, the dialogical nature in Āgamas is intact and the recognition by means of these texts is also thus dialogical. The realisation of the self as a unitary experience comprised of illuminating prakāśa and reflexive vimarśa aspects is thus embedded to the very notion of Āgama. Therefore to say that Āgamas are dialogical is not just to maintain that the texts are in the form of question and answer but also to say that the intrinsic mode of consciousness that provides a platform for other cognitive modes is intrinsically dialogical. This is the self expressing itself, the self-intimating act of consciousness.

(Excerpts from the paper "The Dialogical Manifestation of Reality in Āgamas", by Ācārya Sthaneshwar Timalsina)

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Abhi Roy
Abhi Roy

I don't know, if my question is becoming too critical! I apologize for that, at the beginning. If all words are form of MAtrikA, how one can differentiate between Agama vAkya/ GuruVAkya and common talk, or even fancyful thought about reality expressed through words? What is real and unreal, if the power of MAtrikA is taken into consideration as mantra ?
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