ABHINAVAGUPTA (Abhinava Gupta, Abhinavaguptapada) — an Indian philosopher, theologian, mystic and poet from the school of Kashmiri Shivaism, born around 950 (acc. to Muller-Ortega around 975) in Srinagar, Kashmir, died around 1025, the most outstanding representative of mediaeval Hindu Tantrism and Indian aesthetic theory, he proclaimed a monistic interpretation of Shivaism.
Abhinavagupta came from a rich and respected brahman family. Abhinavagupta's father after the death of his wife brought up his son in the spirit of Shivaist piety and dedication to learning. He studied grammar under his father, and studied philosophy in Kashmir and north India under 18 other teachers belonging to various branches of Shivaism, but also Jainists and Buddhists. He also studied poetry, theater and law. After his initiation into Tantrism of the pratyabhijna school by Laksmanagupta, he was also initiated into the practice of the trika and spanda schools, and his last teacher was Shambhunatha of Jalandhar who introduced him to the practices of the kaula school.
Abhinavagupta never married. He dwelt in the homes of his teachers. He earned the glory of being regarded as an authoritative teacher of Tantrism and a perfect master of yoga (mahasiddha). He commented upon the Shivaist agamas and tantras, as well as the works of philosophers from the three major schools of northern Shivaism. He made a synthesis of them (called trika-kaula) as an alternative to the orthodox school of mimansa and advaitavedanta. His creative work was done in the years 989-1014; before and after this period he chiefly wrote hymns in honor of Shiva and Kali. The circumstances of his death are surrounded by a legend: while he recited the Bhairavastava with 1200 disciples, he entered a cave in the village of Birva near Magamu in the mountains of Gulmarg (about 50 km. west of Srinagar) and never returned. His major disciple was Ksemaraja, who wrote commentaries on his master's works.
Abhinavagupta was the author of 44 works, of which 21 remain, and of these 13 are philosophically significant. The sequence of these works presented below most likely reflects the evolution of their author's thought. The most important works in Tantric theology are the encyclopedic Tantraloka (The light of tantra, Srinagar 1918-1938) and a condensed version Tantra-sara (The Essence of tantra, Srinagar 1919, Short [&hellip] and Long Commentary to the 30 Verses of the Highest Power), and also mystical-philosophical hymns. His works in aesthetics are the Abhinava-bharati, a commentary on the Nattya-shastry (Treatise on Theater) of Bharata (Baroda 1926-1964) as well as the Dhvanyaloka-locana (An Explanation of the Light of Suggestion, Srinagar 1891), namely the commentary to the Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana. His most important works in the monistic metaphysics of Shivaism are the Ishvara-pratyabhijna-vimarshini (Treatise on the "Recognition of the Lord", Srinagar 1918), and Paramartha-sara (The Essence of the Highest Truth, Srinagar 1916).
Abhinavagupta's works on aesthetics were based on an analysis of poetical and theatrical work (including dance and music), but they also apply to the analysis of works of the plastic arts. They focus on the concept of aesthetic experience (rasana - taste), which is the experience of a specific emotion (bhava) called taste (rasa). Aesthetic emotion is not directly expressed (as a non-objective emotion) in an artistic work, but there is a connection between the various objective signs (these are sense data) that are necessarily joined with a particular emotional state. An aesthetic emotion arises in the receiver in the act of aesthetic perception on the basis of the signs which occur in the work of art which are provided directly in this perception and which correspond to the emotion. These signs result from [the viewer's] entering into the imagined emotional situation. Signs are divided into: a) determinative (vibhava), namely the material stimulants of an experience which are composed into the theme of a work of art and its situation (the signs are substantial, namely [human] figures, without which the essence of a particular aesthetic emotion would be unimaginable, or they are "exciting", namely they show time, place and circumstance: e.g. garments, jewels and decoration; b) consequences (anubhava), namely conventional means of expression that serve to present a state of emotion, in particular gestures, perceptions and mimicry; c) concomitant (vyabhicaribhava), namely short-lived emotional reactions (e.g. unrest, shame, dissociation) and unconscious bodily reactions (sattvikabhava, e.g. tears, sighs, trembling of the body and voice), which aim at strengthening the spirit that dominates the work. From the connected perception of all the signs a specific emotional reaction arises. Abhinavagupta, together with the whole Indian tradition, accepts the indivisibility of the state of aesthetic emotion and he distinguishes nine types of "taste". He lists particular and concomitant signs and ascribes them to the particular "tastes". Aesthetic emotion is a state that belongs neither to the author (the source of the "taste") nor to the actor (the instrument for "tasting", the "vessel"), but to the receiver (the viewer or listener).
An aesthetic experience is a lasting process and it passes through at least three stages: 1. An acquaintance with the artistic work evokes in the receiver a state of wakefulness or excitation: the emotional situation described in the work enlivens in the receiver's consciousness the traces of his own experiences and his observations of the experiences of others. The impressions that are enlivened in this way come from the whole ensemble of experiences rather than from one particular concrete experience. The emotional response in the form a specific positive reference and a feeling of intimacy is felt as an "agreement with the heart" and as a result there is a "reorientation" in the receiver, a breaking off from the practical concerns of daily life (these distract, limit and obscure as avidya), a focus on the aesthetic experience, and a purification of thought, will and emotion. 2. The further development of the evoked emotional impressions causes a full dedication to the aesthetic perception and an "identification" with the emotion as an all-encompassing felling deprived of the elements of daily life. 3. A "tasting of taste" (rasarasana) appears which is characterized by a feeling of bliss (ananda) and tranquility (shanta). This brings the aesthetic experience close to the immediate (and liberating) knowledge of the truth as well as to other mystical experiences.
Abhinavagupta's metaphysical and Tantric conceptions concentrate on the question of the non-dualist (monistic) nature of God (Shiva), the role of the power of God in the cosmic process, and the role of the recognition of God in the process of man's liberation from what fetters him. Shiva is the only reality. Shiva is absolute and individual ("without a second"), the primordial consciousness, free in his own will, free from all bonds, and by his nature he is complete bliss. Shiva's non-duality does not imply that the world and people are illusions as certain schools of advaita propose, but his non-duality guarantees the reality of the world because he is Shiva. This recognition of the world's reality does not lead to positions of common-sense realism, but it is an attempt to express a paradoxical mystical experience in which Shiva's omnipresence becomes a tangible experience. Shiva's non-duality ultimately leads to pluralism in Shiva himself.
The element of Shiva's non-dual nature that leads to this internal contradiction is his power (shakti) which is inseparable from consciousness and one, but which is manifested in at least five ways — as the power of consciousness, the power of will (freedom), the power of bliss (grace), the power of knowledge (manifestation, revelation), and the power of activity (creation and concealment). By this power, Shiva's consciousness is outside all beings, while it is also their individual nature and is transformed to manifest itself in the various forms that create the manifest universe.
In the systematic theology of the Tantraloka, Abhinavagupta also discusses the emanation of the world through 36 principles (tattva), and the mysticism of the Word (vac) which is full of creative vibration (spanda). The highest form of the Word is the mantra AHAM (I [am]). This mantra is perfectly united with the absolute reality of transcendent consciousness. His works in Tantrism directed at disciples of various schools of Shivaism discuss the nature and cause of the things that fetter man's consciousness, and the causes and course of the veiling of the Absolute. These works also discuss the new manifestation (unveiling) of the Absolute as these are understood in the various schools. In turn, in his treatises on the recognition (pratyabhijna) of absolute reality within empirical reality, Abhinavagupta adresses the disciples of other schools and critically discusses their doctrines. In particular, he rejected the Buddhist arguments that are opposed to such concepts as "I", the soul (atman), God, the Lord (Ishvara), power (shakti), and the created or manifested world. He points to Shiva as the reality of absolute consciousness and states that man cannot recognize the omnipresence of absolute consciousness mainly on account of his doubts. One should remove all doubt by the methods of proper reasoning. Some doubts arise from erroneous doctrines. By methods of proper reasoning, once can accelerate the recognition of one's internal "I" (consciousness) as Shiva, who is the omnipotent Lord, full of power and the creator of the visible universe. On account of being fettered, impurity and its limitations, ordinary human consciousness does not manifest the fact of the twofold nature of the Absolute's function (as the internal nature of the "I" and as the reality that is the foundation of the visible world).
Abhinavagupta's later Tantric works concentrate on yogic practice and Tantric ritual, and their role in the process of liberation for life (jivanmukta) when they are interiorized in the mechanics of the functioning of consciousness. As opposed to the earlier Tantric tradition, Abhinavagupta does not speak of internal gods, but interprets them as powers of absolute consciousness that are present in the internal nature of tantra. His own experience of dedicated practice allows him to select and interpret particular rituals and to see analogies between aesthetic experience and yogic (mystical) trance.
Abhinavagupta's works had a power direct and indirect influence on the later development of Hindu Tantrism and Indian aesthetics.
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Maciej St. Zięba