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Classic Scriptures

(Essence of Self-recognition)

Translation and comments by Jan Esmann


This short work of only 20 aphorisms contains the essence of Self-realization. It is a small but very important work in Kashmir Shaivism. It was written by Ksemaraja in the tenth century.

1) The Shakti of the Absolute Self (Citi) in and of itself is the cause of the manifestation, maintenance and dissolution of the entire universe.

The word used is "citi" and not "Shakti", but since citi is femininum it refers to Shakti, not pure unmanifest being (Shiva). In itself the word citi means pure being, it has three forms: cit, referring to the in itself resting unmanifest beingness (Shiva), citi, referring to the dynamic creative force inherent in pure being (Shakti), and citta, referring to the individual consciousness. This verse ascribes everything to Shakti.

2) By Her own will She unfolds the universe upon her own screen.

This again refers to Shakti, the dynamic creative force. The screen is a metaphor for Shakti herself, so the sutra continues the first sutra by adding that as the entire universe is manifest by Shakti it never ceases to be Shakti. Further the metaphor "screen" implies that not only is the universe a manifestation of Shakti and never ceases to be Shakti, but it is also Shakti that perceives the universe in and as herself.

3) That (projection on the screen, the universe) appears manifold because various objects are perceived by various subjects who are differently disposed.

Ksemaraja here introduces the individual subject and addresses the fact that people seldom see the universe as Shakti and that individuals seldom agree about what reality is. This is a peculiar situation. The first two sutras assured us that everything is Shakti, so the individual subjects are also Shakti, why then, do people not realize their unity with Shakti and recognize everything as Shakti?

4) The individual (atma) is a constriction of Shakti (Citi) but never the less is pure consciousness. Yet individual consciousness is filled with the constricted forms that make up the universe.

When the Pure Self restricts itself into an individual consciousness, the individual consciousness will relate to the universe as manifold restricted objects. Thus unity is lost in infinite plurality, and confronted by so many individual objects the subject contracts even more into an individual identity relating to other individual subjects and objects. Despite this ongoing contraction into an ego separate from everything, the self of the individual remains The Self.

5) Citi (the Self as Shakti) descends from the state of unmanifest Oneness (Cetana) and becomes the objects of awareness as well as the constricted individual mind (Citta) when engrossed in the objects of awareness (cetya).

This sutra explains the individual mind is nothing but a contraction or constriction of the Self as Shakti. It also explains that this constriction is not in the nature of Pure Awareness, but comes about by awareness being absorbed in the objects of awareness without recognizing these as Shakti. This has the interesting implication that freedom is not something one has to grow into or gain, rather it is a matter of getting rid of wrong knowledge about Self, awareness and the objects of awareness.

6) That individual mind is part of illusory understanding (Maya).

Not only is the understanding of the mind illusory with respect to cognizing Shakti and Pure Being [Shakti and Pure Being are one and the same], but the mind is in itself a contraction of Pure Being without any ontological basis other than Absolute Being [Shakti] -- which the mind is not only unaware of, but even quite incapable of realizing. Why can't the mind realize it's own source? Because the nature of the mind is a constriction of the source.

The next verse is very cryptic, but the comment should help:

7) Though essentially One, he (Pure Being) has two sides that consists of three aspects. He appears as fourfold and through seven pentads appears as the objective universe.

Now, what to think of this mumbo-jumbo? Obviously the sutra refers to other Kashmir Shaivism teachings, so with recourse to these we understand the following:

The two sides of the Absolute Pure Being are Shiva and Shakti. Shiva and Shakti in Kashmir Shaivism do not refer to the personages of the Hindu pantheon, but stand for the two aspects of Pure Being: Unmanifest Energy and Pure Being. On the one hand the Absolute Pure Being (Shiva) is ever unmanifest, yet at the same time its nature is dynamic creative force (Shakti) which brings the universe into existence. One might then ask what the nature of these two aspects are? Do they have something in common? Yes, the sutra explains, they have three aspects in common, and these three aspects are generally known as "sat-cit-ananda". Sat means existence, Cit means consciousness, Ananda means supreme bliss. Pure unmanifest Being is sat-cit-ananda and the dynamic creative force is sat-cit-ananda. Actually sat-cit-ananda is a concept from Vedanta, but Kashmir Shaivism incorporates this basic teaching of Vedanta and elaborates on it by explaining the Shakti aspect of the Absolute. Vedanta says there is only One (unmanifest Pure Being) that has three aspects (sat-cit-ananda), but Kashmir Shaivism corrects Vedanta by explaining that the One has a twofold nature which does not negate the threefold sat-cit-ananda of Vedanta. The Absolute both is Shiva and Shakti as well as sat-cit-ananda. In plain english: the Self is not passive unmanifest being, but is a creative force and is existence, conscious and blissful.

The fourfold appearance is due to the minds incapability to comprehend the unmanifest as inherently One union of creative force, existence, consciousness and bliss.

The seven pentads refer to Kashmir Shaivism metaphysics, which speaks of 35 (7*5) principles that constitute the created universe. I don't think there is much point in going into these, since our objective is Self-realization, not philosophizing. Why is all this not so relevant? The next sutra actually explains why:

8) All this is merely various systems of philosophy, which ultimately are roles played by Pure Being.

This sutra is clear enough. It reaches back to sutra 6, which said the mind is part of the problem of illusion. It does not matter how sharp and exact the classifications and descriptions are, they will never reveal the Ultimate Pure Being.

9) Pure Being, in the same way as Shakti, becomes obscured due to constrictions that appear as impurities covering the Self. Thus the individual soul comes into being and gets bound by illusions and reincarnation (samsara).

The previous sutras have focused on how everything is manifest in and of Shakti, but we are now reminded that Shakti and Pure Being are inseparable (one and the same) and that as Shakti appears covered with impurity, so does Pure Being. It may be easier to comprehend objects as constrictions of Shakti, while the individual soul may be easier to comprehend as a constriction of Pure Being. In reality there is no distinction between Pure Being and Shakti. From the point of view of the individual soul, there appears to be impurities hindering realization of Pure Being. The peculiar situation is that these impurities are also Shakti and Pure Being, however, the bound soul can not see this directly and therefore has to deal with them as impurities clouding the understanding of reality.

What this sutra does not make clear, is that the basic impurity, or constriction, is the sense of "I", the I-ness or I AM-ness. The I-ness is strengthened by the mind relating to all the many objects in the mind. One part of the mind looks at an other and says: Ah! This is who I am! Similarly every part looks at every other part and generates a complex web of identification. The basis of this web is the I-ness or I AM-ness.

10) Nevertheless (though bound in illusion) the individual soul performs the same five functions as the Self.

The five functions are listed in the next sutra:

11) These are: (a) manifestation of constricted phenomena; (b) ideation, thinking and cognition; (c) attachment to and involvement in the phenomena; (d) proliferation by planting seeds of future phenomena and constrictions; (e) dissolution of the phenomena back into Pure Being.

The five functions are of course not so easy to translate since they are technical terms. Here they are:

(a) Abhasana. To make something appear, which is actually unreal. Illusory appearance.
(b) Rakti. The minds attachment and involvement in concepts formed regarding phenomena; thinking and thought processing. It is the involvement of the subjective consciousness with the objective phenomena and the ideas, thoughts and concepts produced of that involvement.
(c) Vimarsana. Experience resulting from involvement in the object.
(d) Bijavasthapana. Literally means "planting the seed", but it is used as a metaphor for proliferation.
(e) Vilapana. Dissolution, sometimes interpreted as destruction, but it is really a matter of falling back into the unmanifest state from whence the phenomena arose in the first place.

What is described here is actually the cyclic process going on in the mind. It is: Creation of a phenomena of awareness --> Mental involvement in the phenomena --> Experience --> Consequences of the experience in the form of subtle seeds for new involvements --> Dissolution of the object of awareness.

12) The five functions, while in the absence of Self-realization, binds one in illusion (samsara). Bondage gets its power from infatuation with the phenomena.

This sutra informs us that the cycle of the five functions described in the previous sutra are actually the samsaric cycle of reincarnation in a dreamlike illusory reality. The reason one is bound in samsara is said to be the power inherent in ones infatuation with the experienced phenomena. Most interestingly the sutra states that this bondage in samsara only comes about due to lack of Self-realization. This means that illusion and bondage only continues as long as there is an I-ness with which one identifies oneself and as long as one has not realized one self as Pure Being. So, what does one do about these five functions and the involvement in them?

13) That very same Pure Awareness that acquires knowledge of the individual mind, can through meditation turn upon its source and rise to the level of recognizing itself as Pure Being (the Self).

The Self constricts its awareness to the individual mind and forgets its nature as Pure Being. However, awareness can turn away from phenomena and inwards towards its source. When this is done in a radical way attention will collapse back into its source, which is Pure Being, and at that moment a recognition of the Self occurs. It is interesting that Pratyabhijnahridayam does not speak of "realizing" the Self, but of "recognizing" the Self. The point is that the Self needs to re-cognize itself, not to reach something it was not before by growth and change.

14) The fire of Shakti (citi), even though it descends to the level of concealment, is capable of being known in proportion to its strength.

Sutra 13 spoke of introvert meditation as a means to recognize the Self. This sutra, however, speaks of the emergence of the Self as Shakti burning away ignorance in order to establish Self-recognition in the individual. This process is pure grace. Initiation into this is knows as shaktipat, which means "descent of Shakti". Shaktipat is passed on from master to student. In rare cases shaktipat is given by divine grace to an ardent seeker of Self-realization. Giving shaktipat is as easy as handing someone an apple, but often the one to whom it is given, just can't receive it or hold on to it.

15) (Shakti) On acquiring full strength, reveals everything as Pure Being.

The burning away of ignorance by Shakti is not limited to the stuff of the mind, it completely changes ones view of everything as Shakti reveals her presence in and as everything.

16) On attaining blissful Self-realization one becomes liberated even while incarnated. Though there is the usual mental activity and phenomena, Self-recognition never ceases.

It is a common misconception about Self-realization, that the mind becomes quiet or operates in a completely new manner. This sutra informs us that the mind will remain functioning as before, but one will no longer be identified with it after Self-realization. Similarly can be understood that there may be suffering in the mind, yet despite that one will be One with the bliss of the Self.

17) By opening up the center one attains the supreme bliss of Pure Being.

"Center" here refers to the Self. "Opening up" refers to the activity and results of spiritual practices for Self-realization.

18) The means are: (a) Cessation of wrong understanding. (b) Withdrawal and projection of Shakti. (c) Control of the flow (of Shakti, kundalini, prana) between the extremes.

a) "Wrong understanding" is a translation of the word "vikalpa" which can mean as much as "error, uncertainty and imagination". Therefore the suggestion to bring wrong understanding to an end just as much means to bring all fluctuations of the mind to an end. But it is noteworthy that though quieting the mind is a means to an end, it is not in any way an end in itself. Sutra 16 made this quite clear. It is therefore proper to translate "vikalpaksaya" as "cessation of wrong understanding" rather than "quieting the mind".

b) "Withdrawal and projection of Shakti" could also be translated "contraction and expansion of Shakti". This refers back to the need to get Shakti going at full strength. Projecting Shakti forth and withdrawing it again is an effective way to habituate the system to more and more Shakti while it keeps a balance between surrendering to Shakti and controlling Shakti. Ultimately, of course, one will surrender to Shakti and merge into Shakti. It is difficult to describe how this is done, but once the Shakti gets going after Shaktipat, it become quite obvious what this is about.

c) Another means is to control the flow of Shakti in the subtle energy channels of the body. These channels are known as "nadis" and the most important nadi resides in the center of the spine and is called "sushumna". Actually the two extremes of this nadi are a little above the perineum and at the crown of the scull. Shakti resides in the human body as kundalini and kundalini lies dormant in the area just above the perineum. Kundalini can be awakened and brought into the brain via sushumna. This is a very important practice. Preparing the sushumna for kundalini is very important and it is done by making prana flow up and down the spine in synchronicity with the breath. Prana is a basic vital force that is manifested out of kundalini. Since kundalini is Shakti, it is natural to use prana to prepare the way for kundalini and ultimately for Shakti.

19) By repeatedly entering samadhi, the residual impressions of samadhi will permeate one more and more. By thus repeatedly touching the Self, one will become permanently established in the Self.

As the Shakti grabs one more and more due to the practices described in the previous verse, one will enter union with the Self more and more often. This union is known as "samadhi". It is very important to note that Self-realization is not a result of the practices described in the previous sutra, but is a result of repeated and habitual samadhi.

20) Then one attains Oneness with the blissful light of consciousness. One attains the goal of all mantras. One becomes established in Pure Being prior to creation and reabsorption. One reaches higher than the Devas. One comes in control of all this. This is verily the state of Shiva (Pure Being).

Thus ends the Pratyabhijnahridayam, or Essence of Self-recognition.

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