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The Tantra of Tripurā

(In this post we share the first twelve verses from Nityāṣodaśīkārṇava from Vāmakeśvara Tantra, the very foundation of the tradition of Tripurasundarī, with excerpts from the R̥juvimarśinī commentary by the XIIIth Century Kashmiri ācārya, Śivānanda. Translation by Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Lidke, from his book “The Goddess Within and Beyond the Three Cities”.)



1.1 I BOW TO THAT GODDESS WHO IS [ASSUMING] THE FORM OF THE GAṆEŚAS, THE [NINE] PLANETS, THE [27] STELLAR CONFIGURATIONS, THE YOGINĪS, AND THE TWELVE CONSTELLATIONS, IS OF THE NATURE OF MANTRAS, AND WHO IS THE MĀTṚKĀ AND THE SEAT OF POWER.


Wherein this all [i.e. the universe] abides, whose nature [manifests] the flashing forth [of this universe], and from which there is the arising of this [universe], to that position of [all-creative] consciousness we bow. I adore that great ocean of consciousness whose waves and bubbles emerge as the collection of thirty-six ontic principles beginning with Śiva and ending with earth.


(...) Therein [in the NṢA], Mahādeva, the supreme teacher, explains the meaning of Mahātripurasundarī by means of an introduction explaining the one called Eternal Portion (nityākalā) whose nature consists of the fifteen moon phases, who is transcendental, all-pervading, indestructible, comprised of all moonphases, who is the sixteenth [-kalā], the Eternal Portion, and who is a flow of supreme nectar.


As it says in the Veda — “The Lord [is the expounder] of all the sciences” (Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 10.17.1). Through the twelve beginning verses [of NṢA], [Mahādeva] expounds to the Goddess that Speech which is of the nature of mātṛkā, being non-different from all signifieds and [their] signifiers, being non-distinct from the letters [of the Sanskrit alphabet], being the supreme form of [both] Śiva and Śakti, proclaimed [by the wise] to be that speech which, as the vowels and consonants, is the foundation of the world and of the Veda, being the essence of worldly-, Vedic-, Tantric-, historical-, mythico-legendary-, and philosophical-[traditions], being the mother of the crores of mantras that constitute the āṇava-, śākta-, and śāmbhava-[systems of yoga], and which is the immortal, unconstructed I-awareness, [itself] Bhagavatī, the blessed Goddess.


(...) “Being-the-nature-of-mantra” (mantra-mayīm) indicates [that the Devī is] the nature of unconstructed I-awareness. The meaning of “Mother” (mātṛkā) is that [the Goddess] is of the nature of supreme-speech, being that sublime consciousness which is the cause of the emanation of the thirty-six tattvas, and whose form is that supreme Śiva [called] Anāhata Bhaṭṭāraka.


(...) It is said in the Īśvara-pratyabhijñā, “Being a mass of consciousness and bliss, having a body comprised of the supreme-syllable, Śiva is filled to the brim with the infinite mass of tattvas merged within [him] (4.1.14).” “Comprised-of-the-[power-]seats” (pīṭha-rūpiṇīṁ) means [that Devī] is the foundation for the canvas of the painting of the universe. As it is said, “By [her] own will the Goddess measures the universe on her own screen (Pratyabhijñāhr̥dayam 4)”. One who is well-versed has likewise [said], “This speech gives rise to all these worlds”. Thus say the Upaniṣads [Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa 2.8.8.4].


“I worship” means I visualize that which surpasses all. By [that] worship [which is] imbued with awareness, the imagined states of the knower are submerged. Then, I become perfectly absorbed in That. Herein, the “Prayer to the Mother”, being [itself] the nature of perfect selfabsorption, is to be understood as that which is to be attained. It is said that the potency of mantra (mantra-vīryaṁ), being comprised of the awareness of the expansion of consciousness, is the means for that attainment. This is the meaning [of the word] “comprised of mantra”.


[The verse says, “I bow] to the goddess” [who] is the nature of light, etc., [whose] essence is non-distinct from the universe, [whose] nature is the expansion of the sixfold paths, [who] is [that] unconstructed I-awareness which is the body of luminous-mass-consciousness, [and who] is called “the fruit” [of the Tantric path].


1.2 I BOW TO THE SUPREME MISTRESS, THE GREAT GODDESS MĀTṚKĀ, THE CAUSE OF THE STILLING OF THE SHAKING OF THE ROARING WAVES OF TIME.


This beautiful one, recognized in all the Tantras at all times, is the sole source of all mantras and vidyās. Vidyā is not equal to the Mātṛkā. To she who is the nature of the great power, the Goddess whose true form is Paramaśiva, the supreme, transcendent excellence, the Supreme Goddess who is the power that reveals the āmnāyas, etc.


(…) In the Tantrāloka (6.38) (it is said): “This time of god’s is the kriyā-śakti, the supreme essence of all the tattvas and the creator of all manifestations.” The lineage is the stream whose destination is the dissolution of the fragmented parts of the roars [of time]. There is bondage due to the great arising of the waves of that [i.e. time]. Transmigration is the disturbance [of the unity] of the cognized, the cognizer, and cognition. This is the meaning. [I bow] to the maker of stillness, she who silences the disturbances of those [waves of time].


The highest state is the quiescence of agitation. It is said by the eminent teacher of the secret [teaching], “If disturbance were to disappear then that would be the supreme state” (Spanda Kārikās 1). Thus, I honour [the Devī] having been supremely pacified by the cognizer within the body, etc. and thereby I enter the unshakable [state]. Supreme speech is the attainment of unity through recollection of the play of [consciousness]. To the one illumined by that state [I bow].


1.3 FROM THE ATTAINMENT OF WHOSE ONE SYLLABLE ALONE, MAN IS ABLE TO COMPETE WITH THE SUN, GARUḌA, THE MOON, THE GOD OF LOVE, ŚAṄKARA, AGNI, AND VIṢṆU.


“Whose form” is explicated: From whose perfect I-ness, the mātṛkā, even in one syllable, never perishes or is diminished. Or, alternatively: by means of that I-awareness that is perfectly whole there is the arising of the attainment of the singular self. This man is the luminous practitioner who, shining in his human condition, competes with the sun, which is greatly endowed with extraordinary power, innate virility, etc. with Garuḍa who is violent and takes pleasure in being wicked, etc. with the moon who is the creator of nectar, with Kāma who is endowed with charm, etc. with Śaṅkara who is the cause of well-being, with Anala who is endowed with brilliance, etc., and Viṣṇu who is a master of yoga and possessed of great might, etc. Thus, when there is the attainment of that one syllable, then by means of the power [attained] from that [a sādhaka] excels the powers of all the gods. Moreover, when there is the attainment of mātṛkā, one’s own arising place becomes the object of devotion of all the gods.


1.4 I HONOUR THE UNIVERSAL MISTRESS, THE GODDESS MAHĀ ŚRĪ SIDDHAMĀTṚKĀ, WHO SHOWERS THE THREE WORLDS WITH THE MOON-LIKE LIGHT OF HER SYLLABLES.


“Whose syllables are moon-like” [means]: Of she who is transcendental I-ness comprised merely of consciousness, the letters in the middle ground, having a lunar form, [and being located] in the stage of awareness (vimarśa-daśāyāṁ) are the cause of the removal of the pain of cyclic existence. The light of these [syllables] expands, [and] by that [expansion the three worlds], being showered, assume the nature of That.


“Three-worlds” [indicates] the epistemological triad. Because [she] provides nourishment for the universe [the goddess] is “mistress of all”. Mahāśrīsiddhamātṛkām [is expounded thus]: she is great (mahatvam) because her nature is uncontrolled by space, time, and form; she is prosperity (śrī) because she is not different from the universe; she is perfect because of having an I awareness that extends Śiva to cellular life [i.e. embraces the totality]; she is Mother because she is the cause of the emergence of the thirty-six tattvas.


I pay reverence [to the Goddess] by abandoning those states of constructed I-ness based on [false notion of the] body, etc. and becoming perfectly absorbed in that supreme awareness which is unconstructed, perfect I-consciousness.


1.5 I BOW TO THAT SIDDHAMĀTṚKĀ, SHE WHO STRINGS THE THREE WORLDS — BEGINNING WITH EGG OF BRAHMĀ AND ENDING AT THE COSMIC SAUCEPAN — USING THE GREAT STRING OF LETTERS.

1.6 THAT SEED WHICH IS THE ELEVENTH FOUNDATION, BORN OF THE THREE ANGLES, IS TO BE SEEN AS THE PRESENT WORLD, BEGINNING WITH THE BRAHMĀ-EGG AND ENDING WITH THE COSMIC SAUCEPAN.

1.7 [I BOW THE GODDESS] ABIDING IN THE HEART, THE BELLY, THE TIPS OF THE FINGERS AND TOES, AND THE HEAD [AS THE EIGHT-] GROUPS OF LETTERS BEGINNING [RESPECTIVELY] WITH A, KA, AND CA, AND CONTINUING THROUGH ṬA, TA, PA, YA, AND ŚA.


1.8 MORE ESSENTIAL THAN THE ESSENCE, HIGHER THAN THE HIGHEST, I BOW TO THE SUPREME GODDESS, WHOSE FORM IS THE SUPREME BLISS, WHOSE MANTRA IS MADE OF THE Ī-SYLLABLE.


Herein [I honour] that one who selects the ī-phoneme which is the form of the agitator of icchā-śakti expansion of the clear objects where of the different stages known as īśāna, etc. they become visible. She is the essence of the essence. She is the ground of the expression of the great attainments. She is directly the cause of the letters of the mantras and vidyās in the Vedic, Śaiva, Vāma, Kaula, Trika, etc.; thus, she is essential. To that Goddess who, as the cause is transcendental, and as the effect is imminent. To that one, expressed within itself, in the form of the supreme power, to that transcendental speech in the form of speech. This is the meaning.


As it is said in Śrī Pratyabhijñā, “When there is the appearance of non-self on the object, there is aparatva. And when the supreme I-ness is covered there is the condition of parāpara”. Of the drops of the limited bliss produced by the sense-organs she occupies the fundamental position like a great ocean. As the Vedas (Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad ,4.3.32) say: “The other worlds survive on a mere portion of this bliss”.


1.9 TO THIS DAY, EVEN THE GODS KNOW NOT A THING ABOUT SHE WHO MEDITATED ON IN BOTH EMBODIED AND FORMLESS ASPECTS — “WHAT [IS SHE]?”, “FROM WHERE [DID SHE ARISE]?”, “WHERE [DOES SHE RESIDE]?”, “BY WHAT [WAS SHE CREATED]” [THE GODS ASK].

1.10 I WORSHIP THAT GODDESS WHO IS SUPREME ŚIVA, WHOSE FORM IS THE INDESTRUCTIBLE A-LETTER, MANIFESTING THE TIDES OF THE WAVES OF THE KULAS.


Master Abhinavagupta defines “I” thus, “I” is that awareness wherein body I-ness is overcome, whose essence is the self-awareness of all beings, free from that which severs the perfect awareness of the supreme I, a form of inner knowledge which resides in that perfect freedom characterized by awareness of none other [than one’s own self].”


“Indestructible” [reveals that] all beings arise and subside within the letters, which are non-different from all the signifiers, and which eternally shines as the spontaneously arisen supreme sound. As it is stated in Tantrāloka, “In the form of nāda the Word resides in all beings, divided into lower and upper parts, sustaining [them] while being [itself] activity-less (3.113-14).” [And again,] “Nāda is the one letter, being non-distinct from all the other letters. As its nature never sets so that [letter] is called ‘unstruck’” (3.113-14).


“Having the form of the a-letter” [indicates] she who keeps on her lap bliss and the rest, that non-artificial I-awareness which is the first kalā, the transcendent letter [a-kāra]. As the Veda says, “All speech [arises from] that very a-phoneme” (Aitareya Āraṇyaka 2.3.6). And in the [Bhagavad-]Gītā, “Among the letters, I am the a-phoneme” (X.33). And according to the statement of [another] textual authority, “The a-kāra is the first among all letters; it is pure light, the transcendent Śiva” (Saṁketa-Paddhati 43).


Kula is the creation composed of the thirty-six ontic elements; kalā is that [aspect of] māyā-śakti which manifests, i.e. throws outward [its inner nature], and which categorizes by measuring. With regards to these two [i.e. kula and kalā], [the exposition of] “flow” (ullolaḥ) is like the previous [verse], [in that she is that [wave] who is being manifested in that form as the collective cluster of the great energy, assuming the form of the universe.


The glorious goddess, being consciousness itself, manifests externally the universe residing within. This is the inner meaning of this philosophical system. As our secret teacher has said, “Like a yogī who manifests external objects without any material means, God, being conscious itself, manifests externally everything residing within through mere will” (ĀP 1.5.7). Supreme [means] perfection. “To her” indicates Śiva, she whose form is that Bhairava who is consciousness.


1.11 I BOW TO THAT ONE WHO IS THE MISTRESS OF THE EIGHT GREAT PERFECTIONS, THOSE ARISEN GROUP OF EIGHT [CATEGORIES OF LETTERS] WHICH ABIDE IN HER BY MEANS OF THE YOGA OF THE ALPHABETICAL-GROUPS.


Following the Śivasūtra, which states, “The secret of mantra is the essence of the body of the vidyās” so herein it is likewise hinted that power which is the heart of all the mantras, being the essence of the great secrets, non-distinct from the entirety, is the very form of I-awareness. At this point, the meaning of the verse is still not clear, so I present the commentary written by him [Kṣemarāja]:


Vidyā is the illumination of non-duality as the supreme. Śarīra means “own form”. He is vidyāśarīro, whose own body is the non-dual awareness of the transcendental; and that is Bhagavān, the sum total of the words. The essence of that is the blossoming consciousness of the perfect I-awareness, being nondistinct from the entire universe. That [expansion of consciousness] is the secret Upaniṣad of the mantra. Śrī Tantrasadbhāva states, “O beloved, all the mantras are comprised of the letters which are in reality śakti. And that śakti should be known as Mātṛkā, which, in turn, should be known as Śiva-natured.”


(...) Having constructed this seat [we go on to the following verses]: This universe, from Brahmā to manifest reality, is pervaded by that Goddess Mātṛkā, she who is embodied by the transcendent light. (...) She is that power which is called supreme, subtle, and motionless. Veiling the seed of the heart, she takes the internal form of a soundly sleeping snake. O Umā, ye of great glory, that sleeping one thinks nothing at all. The moon, the sun, the fire, and the fourteen worlds... throwing [these] into the belly, that Goddess, as if stupefied by poison, totally contracts. [Then], she is awakened by that supreme sound having the form of knowledge.


1.12 I BOW TO THE AUSPICIOUS TRIPURĀ, BEING THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR ORDERS, ABIDING AT ŚRĪPĪṬHA, JAKĀRĀKHYA, PŪRṆA, AND KĀMA-PĪṬHA.


The power seats are the places of the attainment of the great awareness. [I bow] to their internal dweller, that great awareness called Tripurā, she who is the ruler of the power seats. [I bow] to her who is the treasure of the Four Orders. By resting on that great awareness who is the ruler of the four seats, she who has emerged in four streams, who is the great seat having four orders, she who has been the great ruler of the treasure. By [the word] Śrī Tripurā is associated with the glory of liberation. (...) She is remembered as Tripurā because she nourishes the three elements known as Śiva, Śakti, and ātma, and since she is the mother of the three worlds.


Ahaṁ hints that the purpose of meditating on these twelve verses is to illumine that form which is unconstructed I-ness. This indeed is the very nature of the supreme, as is established in the Īśvarapratyabhijñā: “Consciousness has the nature of self-awareness, being the self-arisen supreme speech. It is that freedom which is the central power of the supreme self.” Being without the markings of space and time, she is that cosmic pulsation which is the totality. She is spoken of as the essence of the heart of the supreme source. In the Śrī Ṣaḍadhvaśāstra [it is said], “Since it is completely full, the awareness on the non-duality of Śiva and Śakti as anuttara [a-kāra] and vimarśa [ha-kāra], is eternally called “I” (Tantrāloka 3.203-204).





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