Life Story of Abhinavagupta
The great Siddha, yogi and philosopher Abhinavagupta was born between 950 and 975 A.D., in what is today known as the city of Srinagar in India's beautiful and pristine northwestern state of Kashmir. He was a great devotee, lover of the primordial Mother, known as Uma or the goddess Shakti. He had merged and become one with the bliss of the union of Shiva and Shakti. His Guru's name was Shambhunath, who gave his disciple the boon of his grace and imparted the knowledge and wisdom to bestow upon him the highest of all attainments.
After his early education, Abhinavagupta's love of knowledge led him to travel widely in search of other teachers. Abhinavagupta lived and studied with more than twenty teachers with whom he studied many subjects - literature, poetry, drama, aesthetic theory, the philosophical doctrines of Shaivism, and other religious doctrines.
He was especially indebted to his teacher Bhaskara who taught him the principles of the Spanda tradition. The philosophy taught that spanda is a vibration, a slight motion of a special kind, a unique vibrating light, a wave of the ocean of Consciousness, without which there is no consciousness at all. As light, it is described as the flashing forth of the supreme Consciousness. As sound, it is the primordial sound 'Om'.
Abhinavagupta also studied the principles of the pratyabhijna philosophy under the tutelage of Laksmanagupta. The Pratyabhijna School taught that one's nature is essentially the same as the nature of the supreme Truth. The process of knowing begins with the Guru's grace, which through the Guru's look, word, touch or intention enters the disciple's heart. This process is called Shaktipat.
This act of recognition implies that on every level or in every aspect of perception, whether in sadness or in joy, in pain or in pleasure, the individual can remember or recognize his identity with Shiva, the supreme Reality. This recognition implies the unity of one's self with the supreme Reality. Through the discipline of spiritual practices the individual can gradually become ready to have the experience of Self-recognition.
Abhinavagupta's thirst for knowledge and the inner experience of the Absolute finally took him to Jalandhar, in southern Kashmir. Here he met the great master Shambhunatha, who gave him Shaktipat initiation and taught him the intricacies of meditation and the grace-filled path of the unfolding kundalini Shakti. After this magnificent experience, Abhinavagupta became the undisputed master of the secrets of Kundalini Shakti, meditation and shaktipat of his time.
One of the characteristic features of Abhinavagupta's philosophy is the centrality of Shaktipat initiation. The Tantraloka, his greatest work, devotes many chapters to the different manifestations of the Shakti and to shaktipat diksa, or initiation through the descent of the Shakti. In this process of initiation the Shakti descends, enters and unfolds itself in the heart of the seeker. The Shakti not only descends from a cosmic level, it also unfolds from within, purifying and emanating from the spiritual centers or chakras.
Abhinavagupta characterizes the descent of this energy, its intensity, and the degree of its unfoldment in a detailed fashion according to the capacity, strength, and desires or mental tendencies of different disciples. The intensity of Shaktipat is more a measure of one's own capacity to hold the Shakti than an actual qualitative difference in the nature or strength of the Shakti given.
Abhinavagupta summarized these differences:
When one follows the path of the transcendental Reality by adhering to the teachings of the Guru, one suddenly becomes Shiva himself as a result of extremely intense Shaktipat. Another person climbs the ladder of the tattvas step by step, reaches the ultimate Principle, and finally identifies himself as Shiva. A person who stops midway in his meditation and does not reach the supreme Reality is called a yoga bhrasta by the scriptures. When he dies he becomes a lord in the worlds of pleasure, and due to the effect of the stage of meditation he attained, he will reach Shiva in a later birth.
What is essential to remember is that once the aspirant receives Shaktipat, the process of attaining Self-realization starts. Abhinavagupta states: “Just as a face clearly appears in a spotless mirror, in the same way, the Self shines in all its splendor in the mind purified by Shiva's Shaktipat." Shaktipat is Shiva's gift, which the Guru benevolently bestows and then, with the tenderness of a compassionate mother, nurtures in us.
For Abhinavagupta, Shaktipat initiation is the dawn of true knowledge and wisdom. He gives the etymology for the term diksa, or initiation, by explaining that it comes from the roots di, “to give,” and ksa, “to destroy.” The initiation bestowed by the Guru brings out what is hidden in the core of our being. It uncovers what was covered, and in so doing, reveals the clear insight of knowledge and love that resides in our heart.
The Guru is an embodiment of grace and knowledge and a vast ocean of compassion. After bestowing the gift of shaktipat, the Guru guides the unfolding Shakti until the disciple reaches the final destination.
Abhinavagupta led the life of a renunciant. He was given the name Abhinavagupta, which means "the ever new” (abhinava) and "hidden” (gupta), perhaps because he so completely embodied, while humbly concealing it, the ever-new and spontaneous nature of the Divine.
Abhinavagupta's earthly life ended in the first quarter of the eleventh century. Legend has it that Abhinavagupta entered into a cave in the outskirts of Shrinagar, on the road to the beautiful mountain village of Gulmarg, never to be seen again. To this day, many of the pious villagers, Muslim and Hindu alike, recount this tale with great vividness. However, as a famous scholar has interpreted this legend, it may refer to the no less miraculous event of a great Siddha passing away and shedding the physical form, only to enter in a stronger and subtler way into the cave of the heart of his disciples.