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Tantric Scriptures - The Mahanirvana Tantra -1

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The Mahanirvana Tantra

By Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon)
The mahanirvana Tantra is in the form of dialog between Lord Siva and his consort Parvati where the Mahadeva Himself explains the theory and practice of Tantra and various mantras to Her. It is one of the most important Tantrik texts. This text includes a detailed introduction by Sir John Woodroffe.

Chapter 1 – Questions relating to the Liberation of Beings
Chapter 2 - Introduction to the Worship of Brahman
Chapter 3- Description of the Worship of the Supreme Brahman
Chapter 4 – Introduction of the Worship of the Supreme Prakriti
Chapter 5 - The Formation of the Mantras, Placing of the Jar, and Purification of the Elements of Worship
Chapter 6 - Placing of the Shri-patra, Homa, Formation of the Chakra, and other Rites
Chapter 7 – Hymn of Praise (Stotra), Amulet (Kavacha), and the description of the Kula-tattva
Chapter 8 - The Dharmma and Customs of the Castes and Ashramas
Chapter 9 – The Ten Kinds of Purificatory Rites (Sangskara)
Chapter 10 - Rites relating to Vriddhi Shraddha, Funeral Rites, and Purnabhisheka
Chapter 11 - The Account of Expiatory Rites
Chapter 12 – An Account of the Eternal and Immutable Dharmma
Chapter 13 – Installation of the Devata
Chapter 14 – The Consecration of Shiva-linga and Description of the Four Classes of Avadhutas


The Mahanirvana Tantra

By Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon)
Introduction and Preface
PREFACE
THE Indian Tantras, which are numerous, constitute the Scripture (Shastra) of the Kaliyuga, and as such are the voluminous source of present and practical orthodox “Hinduism.” The Tantra Shastra is, in fact, and whatever be its historical origin, a development of the Vaidika Karmakanda, promulgated to meet the needs of that age. Shiva says: “For the benefit of men of the Kali age, men bereft of energy and dependent for existence on the food they eat, the Kaula doctrine, O auspicious one! is given” (Chap. IX., verse 12). To the Tantra we must therefore look if we would understand aright both ritual, yoga, and sadhana of all kinds, as also the general principles of which these practices are but the objective expression.
Yet of all the forms of Hindu Shastra, the Tantra is that which is least known and understood, a circumstance in part due to the difficulties of its subject-matter and to the fact that the key to much of its terminology and method rest with the initiate. The present translation is, in fact, the first published in Europe of any Indian Tantra. An inaccurate version rendered in imperfect English was published in Calcutta by a Bengali editor some twelve years ago, preceded by an Introduction which displayed insufficient knowledge in respect of what it somewhat quaintly described as “the mystical and superficially technical passages” of this Tantra. A desire to attempt to do it greater justice has in part prompted its selection as the first for publication. This Tantra is, further, one which is well known and esteemed, though perhaps more highly so amongst that portion of the Indian public which favours “reformed” Hinduism than amongst some Tantrikas, to whom, as I have been told, certain of its provisions appear to display unnecessary timidity. The former admire it on account of its noble exposition of the worship of the Supreme Brahman, and in the belief that certain of its passages absolutely discountenance the orthodox ritual. Nothing can be more mistaken than such belief, even though it be the fact that “for him who has faith in the root, of what use are the branches and leaves.” This anyone will discover who reads the text. It is true that, as Chap. VII., verse 94, says: “In the purified heart knowledge of Brahman grows,” and Brahmajnane samutpanne krityakrityang na vidyate. But the statement assumes the attainment of Brahmajñana, and this, the Shastra says, can be attained, not by Vedantic discussions nor mere prayer, after the manner of Protestant systems of Christian worship; but by the Sadhana which is its main subject-matter. I have referred to Protestant systems, for the Catholic Church possesses an elaborate ritual and a sadhana of its own which is in many points strikingly analogous to the Hindu system. The section of Tantrikas to whom I have referred are, I believe, also in error. For the design of this Tantra appears to be, whilst conserving commonly-recognized Tantrik principles, to secure that, as has sometimes proved to be the case, they are not abused. Parvvati says (Chap. I., verse 67): “I fear, 0 Lord! that even that which Thou hast ordained for the good of men will, through them, turn out for evil.” Hitaya yane, karmani kathitani tvaya prabho Manyetani mahadeva viparitani manave. It is significant, in connection with these observations, to note that this particular Tantra was chosen as the subject of commentary by Shrimad Hariharananda Bharati, the Guru of the celebrated Hindu “reformer,” Raja Ram Mohun Roy.
The Tantra has been assigned to the group of sixty-four known as those of the Rathakranta. It was first published by the Adi-Brahma-Samaja in 1798 Shakabda (A.D. 1876), and was printed in Bengali characters, with the notes of the Kulavadhuta Shrimad Hariharananda Bharati under the editorship of Anandachandra Vidyavagisha. The preface to this edition stated that three MSS. were consulted; one belonging to the library of the Samaja; the second supplied by Durgadasa Chandhuri, and the third taken from the library of Raja Ram Mohun Roy. This text appears to be the basis of subsequent publications. It was again printed in 1888 by Shri Krishna Gopala Bhakta, since when there have been several editions with Bengali translations, including that of Shri Prasanna Kumara Shastri. The late Pandit Jivananda Vidyasagara published an edition in Devanagari character, with the notes of Hariharananda; and the Venkateshvara Press at Bombay have issued another in similar character with a Hindi translation.
The translation published is that of the first part only. It is commonly thought (and was so stated by the author of the Calcutta edition in English to which I have referred) that the second portion is lost. This is, however, not so, though copies of the complete Tantra are rare enough. The full text exists in manuscript, and I hope at a later date to have an opportunity of publishing a translation of it. I came across a complete manuscript some two years ago in the possession of a Nepalese Pandit. He would, however, only permit me to make a copy of his manuscript on the condition that the Shatkarmma Mantras were not published. For, as he said, virtue not being a condition precedent for the acquisition of siddhi in such Mantras, their publication might enable the evilly disposed to work harm against others, a crime which, he added, was, in his own country, where the Tantra was current, punishable by the civil power. I was unable to persuade him even with the observation that the mere publication of the Mantra without knowledge of what is called the prayoga (which cannot be learned of books) would in any case be ineffectual. I could not give an undertaking which would have involved the publication of a mutilated text, and the reader must therefore for the present be content with a translation of the first part of the Tantra, which is generally known, and has, as stated, been several times printed. The incident has further value than the direct purpose for which I have told it. There are some to whom the Tantra, though they may not have read a line of it, is “nothing but black magic,” and all its followers are “black magicians.” This is of course absurd. In this connection I cannot avoid interposing the observation that certain practices are described in Tantra which, though they are alleged to have the results described therein, yet exist “for delusion.” The true attitude of the higher Tantrika is illustrated by the action of the Pandit who, if he disappointed my expectations, at any rate by his refusal afforded an answer to these too general allegations.
The second portion of the manuscript in his possession contained over double the number of Shlokas to be found in the first part here published.
The edition which has been used for the translation is that (now out of print) edited and published at Calcutta by Shri Krishna Gopala Bhakta in Chaitra 1295 Bengali era (April, 1888), with Commentary of Shrimad Hariharananda Bharati, and with additional notes by the learned and lately deceased Pandit Jaganmohana Tarkalangkara, called Vriddha in order to distinguish him from another celebrated Pandit of the same name. A new edition of the same work is now, in course of publication, with further notes by the latter’s son, Pandit Jnanendranatha Tantraratna.
This valuable Commentary is not, however, altogether suitable for the general reader, for it assumes a certain amount of knowledge on his part which he does not possess. I have accordingly, whilst availing myself of its aid, written my own commentary, and added an Introduction explaining certain matters and terms referred to or presupposed by the text which, as they require a somewhat more extended treatment, could not be conveniently dealt with in the footnotes. Some of the matters there explained are, though common and fundamental, seldom accurately defined. Nothing, therefore, is lost by a re-statement of them with an intention to serve such accuracy. Other matters are of a special character, and are either not generally known or are misunderstood. The Introduction, however, does not profess to be an exhaustive treatment of that with which it deals. On the contrary, it is but an extended note written to help some way towards a better understanding of the text by the ordinary reader. For a fuller exposition of general principles and practice the interested are referred to three works which I have in preparation, “Principles of Tantra” (Tantratattva), “Exposition of the Secret Worship” (Rahasyapujapaddhati), and “Description of the Six Centres” (Shatchakranirupana). There are, however, some matters in the Shastra or its accompanying oral tradition which he must, and if disposed thereto will, find out for himself. This, too, is implied by the saying in this Tantra that it is by merit acquired in previous births that the mind inclines to Kaula doctrine (Chapter VII., verse 99). However this may be, no one will understand the Shastra who starts his inquiry with a mind burdened with the current prejudices against it, whatever be the colour of truth some of them may possess by reason of actual abuse of Shastric principles.
In conclusion, I wish to thank my Indian friends for the aid they have given me in the preparation of this and other kindred works, and to whom I am indebted for much information gathered during many pleasant hours which we have spent together in the study of a subject of common interest to them and myself. The Tantras generally are written in comparatively simple Sanskrit. For their rendering, however, a working knowledge of their terminology and ritual is required, which can be only fully found in those to whom it is familiar through race, upbringing, and environment, and in whom there is still some regard for their ancient inheritance. As for others, they must learn to see through the Indian eye of knowledge until their own have been trained to its lines of vision. In this way we shall be in the future spared some of the ridiculous presentments of Indian beliefs common in the past and even now too current.
ARTHUR AVALON.
January 7, 1913.



The Mahanirvana Tantra

INTRODUCTION
Mount Kailasa
The scene of the revelation of this Tantra is laid in Himalaya, the “Abode of Snow,” a holy land weighted with the traditions of the Aryan race. Here in these lofty uplands, encircled with everlasting snows, rose the great mountain of the north, the Sapta Kula Parvata. Hence the race itself came, and there its early legends have their setting. There are still shown at Bhimudiyar the caves where the sons of Pandu and Draupadi rested, as did Rama and his faithful wife at the point where the Kosi joins the Sita in the grove of Asoka trees. In these mountains Munis and Rishis lived. Here also is the Kshetra of Shiva Mahadeva, where His Spouse Parvvati, the daughter of the Mountain King, was born, and where Mother Ganges also has her source. From time immemorial pilgrims have toiled through these mountains to visit the three great shrines of Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. At Kangri, further north, the pilgrims make the parikrama of Mount Kailasa (Kang Rinpoche), where Shiva is said to dwell. This nobly towering peak rises to the north-west of the sacred Mansarowar Lake (Mapham Yum-tso) from amidst the purple ranges of the lower Kangri Mountains. The paradise of Shiva is a summerland of both lasting sunshine and cool shade, musical with the song of birds and bright with undying flowers. The air, scented with the sweet fragrance of Mandara chaplets, resounds with the music and song of celestial singers and players. The Mount is Gana Parvata, thronged with trains of Spirits (devayoni), of which the opening Chapter speaks.
And in the regions beyond rises Mount Meru, centre of the world-lotus. Its heights, peopled with spirits, are hung with clusters of stars as with wreaths of Malati flowers. In short, it is written: “He who thinks of Himachala, though he should not behold him, is greater than he who performs all worship in Kashi (Benares). In a hundred ages of the Devas I could not tell thee of the glories of Himachala. As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the sins of mankind by the sight of Himachala.”
It is not, however, necessary to go to the Himalayan Kailasa to find Shiva. He dwells wheresoever his worshippers, versed in Kulatattva, abide, and His mystic mount is to be sought in the thousand-petalled lotus (sahasrara-padma) in the body of every human jiva, hence called Shivasthana, to which all, wheresoever situate, may repair when they have learned how to achieve the way thither.
Shiva promulgates His teaching in the world below in the works known as Yamala, Damara, Shiva Sutra, and in the Tantras which exist in the form of Dialogues between the Devata and his Shakti, the Devi in Her form as Parvvati. According to the Gayatri Tantra, the Deva Ganesha first preached the Tantra to the Devayoni on Mount Kailasa, after he had himself received them from the mouth of Shiva.
After a description of the mountain, the Dialogue opens with a question from Parvvati in answer to which and those which succeed it, Shiva unfolds His doctrine on the subjects with which this particular Tantra deals.
Shiva and Shakti
That eternal immutable existence which transcends the turiya and all other states is the unconditioned Absolute, the supreme Brahman or Para-brahman, without Prakriti (nishkala) or Her attributes (nir-guna), which, as being the inner self and knowing subject, can never be the object of cognition, and is to be apprehended only through yoga by the realization of the Self (atmajñana), which It is. For as it is said, “Spirit can alone know Spirit.” Being beyond mind, speech, and without name, the Brahman was called “Tat,” “That,” and then “Tat Sat,” “That which is.” For the sun, moon, and stars, and all visible things, what are they but a glimpse of light caught from “That” (Tat)?
Brahman is both nishkala and sakala. Kala is Prakriti. The nishkala Brahman or Para-brahman is the Tat, when thought of as without Prakriti (prakriteranya). It is called sakala when with Prakriti. As the substance of Prakriti is the three gunas It is then su-guna, as in the previous state It was nir-guna. Though in the latter state It is thought of as without Shakti, yet (making accommodation to human speech) in It potentially exists Shakti, Its power and the whole universe produced by It. To say, however, that the Shakti exists in the Brahman is but a form of speech, since It and Shakti are, in fact, one, and Shakti is eternal (Anadi-rupa). She is Brahma-rupa and both vi-guna (nir-guna) and sa-guna; the Chaitanya-rupini-Devi, who manifests all bhuta. She is the Ananda-rupini-Devi, by whom the Brahman manifests Itself, and who, to use the words of the Sarada, pervades the universe as does oil the sesamum seed.
In the beginning the Nishkala Brahman alone existed. In the beginning there was the One. It willed and became many. Ahab bahu syam – “may I be many.” In such manifestation of Shakti the Brahman is known as the lower (apara) or manifested Brahman, who, as the subject of worship, is meditated upon with attributes. And, in fact, to the mind and sense of the embodied spirit (jiva) the Brahman has body and form. It is embodied in the forms of all Devas and Devils, and in the worshipper himself. Its form is that of the universe, and of all things and beings therein.
As Shruti says: “He saw” (Sa aikshata, aham bahu syam prajayeya). “He thought to Himself may I be many.” “Sa aikshaya” was itself a manifestation of Shakti, the Para-mapurva-nirvana shakti, or Brahman as Shakti. From the Brahman, with Shakti (Para-shakti-maya) issued Nada (Shiva-Shakti as the “Word” or “Sound” ), and from Nada, Vindu appeared. Kalicharana in his commentary on the Shatchakra-nirupana says that Shiva and Nirvana Shakti bound by a mayik bond and covering, should be thought of as existing in the form of Parang Vindu.
The Sarada says: Sachchidananda vibhavat sakalat parameshvarat asichchhaktistato nado, nadad vindu-samudbhavah (“From Parameshvara vested with the wealth of sachchidananda and with Prakriti (sakala) issued Shakti; from Shakti came Nada and from Nada was born Vindu” ). The state of subtle body which is known as Kama-kala is the mula of mantra. The term mula-mantratmika, when applied to the Devi, refers to this subtle body of Hers known as the Kama-kala. The Tantra also speaks of three Vindus, namely Shiva-maya, Shakti-maya, and Shiva-shakti-maya.
The Parang-vindu is represented as a circle, the centre of which is the brahma-pada, or place of Brahman, wherein are Prakriti-Purusha, the circumference of which is encircling maya. It is on the crescent of nirvana-kala, the seventeenth, which is again in that of ama-kala, the sixteenth digit (referred to in the text) of the moon-circle (Chandramandala), which circle is situate above the Sun-Circle (Suryyamandala), the Guru and the hangsah, which are in the pericarp of the thousand-petalled lotus (sahasrarapadma). Next to the Vindu is the fiery Bodhini, or Nibodhika (v. post). The Vindu, with the Nirvana-kala, Nibodhika, and Ama-kala, are situated in the lightning-like inverted triangle known as “A, Ka, Tha,” and which is so called because at its apex is A; at its right base is Za; and at its left base Tha. It is made up of forty-eight letters (matrika): the sixteen vowels running from A to Ka; sixteen consonants of the ka-varga and other groups running from A to Ka; and the remaining sixteen from Ka to Tha. Inside are the remaining letters (matrika), ha, la(second), and ksha. As the substance of Devi is matrika (matrika-mayi) the triangle represents the “Word” of all that exists. The triangle is itself encircled by the Chandramandala. The Vindu is symbolically described as being like a grain of gram (chanaka), which under its encircling sheath contains a divided seed. This Parang-vindu is Prakriti-Purusha, Shiva-Shakti. It is known as the Shabda-Brahman (the Sound Brahman), or Aparabrahman. A polarization of the two Shiva and Shakti Tattvas then takes place in Parashaktimaya. The Devi becomes Unmukhi. Her face turns towards Shiva. There is an unfolding which bursts the encircling shell of Maya, and creation then takes place by division of Shiva and Shakti or of “Hang” and “Sah.” The Sarada says: “The Devataparashaktimaya is again Itself divided, such divisions being known as Vindu, Vaja, and Nada. Vindu is of the nature of Nada or Shiva, and Vaja of Shakti, and Nada has been said to be the relation of these two by those who are versed in all the Agamas.” The Sarada says that before the bursting of the shell enclosing the brahma-pada, which, together with its defining circumference, constitute the Shabda-brahman, an indistinct sound arose (avyaktatmaravobhavat). This avyaktanada is both the first and the last state of Nada, according as it is viewed from the standpoint of evolution or involution. For Nada, as Raghava-bhatta says, exists in three states. In Nada are the guna (sattva, rajas, and tamas), which form the substance of Prakriti, which with Shiva It is. When tamo-guna predominates Nada is merely an indistinct or unmanifested (dhvanyat – mako’vykta-nadah) sound in the nature of dhvani. In this state, in which it is a phase of Avyaktanada, it is called Nibodhika, or Bodhini. It is Nada when rajoguna is in the ascendant, when there is a sound in which there is something like a connected or combined disposition of the letters. When the sattva-guna preponderates Nada assumes the form of Vindu. The action of rajas on tamas is to veil. Its own independent action effects an arrangement which is only perfected by the emergence of the essentially manifesting sattvika guna set into play by it. Nada, Vindu, and Nibodhika, and the Shakti, of which they are the specific manifestation, are said to be in the form of Sun, Moon, and Fire respectively. Jñana (spiritual wisdom) is spoken of as fire as it burns up all actions, and the tamoguna is associated with it. For when the effect of cause and effect of action are really known, then action ceases. Ichchha is the Moon. The Moon contains the sixteenth digit, the Ama-kala with its nectar, which neither increases nor decays, and Ichchha, or will, is the eternal precursor of creation. Kriya is like the Sun, for as the Sun by its light makes all things visible, so unless there is action and striving there cannot be realization or manifestation. As the Gita sways: “As one Sun makes manifest all the loka.”
The Shabda-Brahman manifests Itself in a triad of energies – knowledge (jñanashakti), will (ichchha-shakti), and action (kriya-shakti), associated with the three gunas of Prakriti, tamas, sattva, and rajas. From the Parang-Vindu, who is both vindvat-maka and kalatma – i.e., Shakti – issued Raudri, Rudra, and his Shakti, whose forms are fire (vahni), and whose activity is knowledge (jñana); Vama, and Vishnu and his Shakti, whose form is the sun, and whose activity is kriya (action): and Jyeshtha and Brahma and his Shakti, whose form is the Moon and whose activity is desire. The Vamakeshvara Tantra says that Tri-pura is threefold, as Brahma, Vishnu, and Isha; and as the energies desire, wisdom, and action, the energy of will when Brahman would create; the energy of wisdom when She reminds Him, saying “Let this be thus” ; and when, thus knowing, He acts, She becomes the energy of action. The Devi is thus Ichchha-shakti-jñana-shakti-kriya-shakti-svaru-pini.
Para-shiva exists as a septenary under the form, firstly, of Shambhu, who is the associate of time (kala-bandhu). From Him issues Sada-shiva, Who pervades and manifests all things, and then come Ishana and the triad, Rudra, Vishnu, and Brahma, each with their respective Shakti (without whom they avail nothing) separately and particularly associated with the gunas, tamas, sattva and rajas. Of these Devas, the last triad, together with Ishana, and Sada-shiva, are the five Shivas who are collectively known as the Maha-preta, whose vija is “Hsauh.” Of the Maha-preta, it is said that the last four form the support, and the fifth the seat, of the bed on which the Devi is united with Parama-shiva, in the room of chintamani stone, on the jewelled island clad with clumps of kadamba and heavenly trees set in the ocean of Ambrosia.
Shiva is variously addressed in this work as Shambhu, Sada-shiva, Shankara, Maheshvara, etc., names which indicate particular states, qualities, and manifestations of the One in its descent towards the many; for there are many Rudras. Thus Sada-shiva indicates the predominance of the sattva-guna. His names are many, 1,008 being given in the sixty-ninth chapter of the Shiva Purana, and in the seventeenth chapter of the Anushasana Parvan of the Mahabharata.
Shakti is both maya, that by which the Brahman creating the universe is able to make Itself appear to be different from what It really is, and mula-prakriti, or the unmanifested (avyakta) state of that which, when manifest, is the universe of name and form. It is the primary so called “material cause,” consisting of the equipoise of the triad of guna or “qualities” which are sattva (that which manifests) rajas (that which acts), tamas (that which veils and produces inertia). The three gunas represent Nature as the revelation of spirit, Nature as the passage of descent from spirit to matter, or of ascent from matter to spirit, and Nature as the dense veil of spirit. The Devi is thus guna-nidhi (“treasure-house of guna” ). Mula-prakriti is the womb into which Brahman casts the seed from which all things are born. The womb thrills to the movement of the essentially active rajo-guna. The equilibrium of the triad is destroyed, and the guna, now in varied combinations, evolve under the illumination of Shiva (chit), the universe which is ruled by Maheshvara and Maheshvari. The dual principles of Shiva and Shakti, which are in such dual form the product of the polarity manifested in Parashakti-maya, pervade the whole universe, and are present in man in the Svayambhu-Linga of the muladhara and the Devi Kundalini, who, in serpent form, encircles it. The Shabda-Brahman assumes in the body of man the form of the Devi Kundalini, and as such is in all prani (breathing creatures), and in the shape of letters appears in prose and verse. Kundala means coiled. Hence Kundalini, whose form is that of a coiled serpent, means that which is coiled. She is the luminous vital energy (jiva-shakti) which manifests as prana, She sleeps in the muladhara, and has three and a half coils corresponding in number with the three and a half vindus of which the Kubjika Tantra speaks. When after closing the ears the sound of Her hissing is not heard death approaches.
From the first avyakta creation issued the second mahat, with its three guna distinctly manifested. Thence sprung the third creation ahangkara (selfhood), which is of threefold form – vaikarika, or pure sattvika ahangkara; the taijasa, or rajasika ahangkara; and the tamasika, or bhutadika ahangkara. The latter is the origin of the subtle essences (tan-matra) of the Tattvas, ether, air, fire, water, earth, associated with sound, touch, sight, taste and smell, and with the colours – pure transparency, shyama, red, white, and yellow. There is some difference in the schools as to that which each of the three forms produces, but from such threefold form of Ahang-kara issue the indriya (“senses”), and the Devas Dik, Vata, Arka, Prachetas, Vahni, Indra, Upendra, Mitra, and the Ashvins. The vaikarika, taijasa, and bhutadika are the fourth, fifth, and sixth creations, which are known as prakrita, or appertaining to Prakriti. The rest, which are products of these, such as the vegetable world with its upward life current, animals with horizontal life current, and bhuta, preta and the like, whose life current tends downward, constitute the vaikrita creation, the two being known as the kaumara creation.
The Goddess (Devi) is the great Shakti. She is Maya, for of Her the maya which produces the sangsara is. As Lord of Maya She is Mahamaya. Devi is a-vidya (nescience) because She binds and vidya (knowledge) because She liberates and destroys the sangsara. She is Prakriti, and as existing before creation is the Adya (primordial) Shakti. Devi is the vachaka-shakti, the manifestation of chit in Prakriti, and the vachya-shakti, or Chit itself. The Atma should be contemplated as Devi. Shakti or Devi is thus the Brahman revealed in Its mother aspect (shri-mata) as Creatrix and Nourisher of the worlds. Kali says of Herself in Yogini Tantra “Sachchidananda-rupaham brahmaivaham sphurat-prab-ham.” So the Devi is described with attributes both of the qualified Brahman; and (since that Brahman is but the manifestation of the Absolute) She is also addressed with epithets, which denote the unconditioned Brahman. She is the great Mother (Ambika) sprung from the sacrificial hearth of the fire of the Grand Consciousness (chit); decked with the Sun and Moon; Lalita, “She who plays”; whose play is world-play; whose eyes playing like fish in the beauteous waters of her Divine face, open and shut with the appearance and disappearance of countless worlds now illuminated by her light now wrapped in her terrible darkness.
The Devi, as Para-brahman, is beyond all form and guna. The forms of the Mother of the Universe are threefold. There is first the Supreme (para) form, of which, as the Vishnu-yamala says, “none know.” There is next her subtle (sukshma) form, which consists of mantra. But as the mind cannot easily settle itself upon that which is formless, She appears as the subject of contemplation in Her third, or gross (sthula), or physical form, with hands and feet and the like as celebrated in the Devi-stotra of the Puranas and Tantras. Devi, who as Prakriti is the source of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh-vara, has both male and female forms. But it is in Her female forms that She is chiefly contemplated. For though existing in all things, in a peculiar sense female beings are parts of Her. The Great Mother, who exists in the form of all Tantras and all Yantras, is, as the Lalita says, the “unsullied treasure-house of beauty” ; the Sapphire Devi, whose slender waist, bending beneath the burden of the ripe fruit of her breasts, swells into jewelled hips heavy with the promise of infinite maternities.
As the Mahadevi She exists in all forms as Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Gayatri, Durga, Tripura-sundari, Anna-purna, and all the Devi who are avatara of the Brahman.
Devi, as Sati, Uma, Parvvati, and Gauri, is spouse of Shiva. It was as Sati prior to Daksha’s sacrifice (daksha-yajna) that the Devi manifested Herself to Shiva in the ten celebrated forms known as the dasha-mahavidya referred to in the text – Kali, Bagala, Chhinnamasta, Bhuvaneshvari, Matangini, Shodashi, Dhumavati, Tripura-sundari, Tara, and Bhairavi. When, at the Daksha-yajna She yielded up her life in shame and sorrow at the treatment accorded by her father to Her Husband, Shiva took away the body, and, ever bearing it with Him, remained wholly distraught and spent with grief. To save the world from the forces of evil which arose and grew with the withdrawal of His Divine control, Vishnu with His discus (chakra) cut the dead body of Sati, which Shiva bore, into fifty-one fragments, which fell to earth at the places thereafter known as the fifty-one maha-pitha-sthana (referred to in the text), where Devi, with Her Bhairava, is worshipped under various names.
Besides the forms of the Devi in the brahmanda there is Her subtle form called Kundalini in the body (pindanda). These are but some only of Her endless forms. She is seen as one and as many, as it were, but one moon reflected in countless waters. She exists, too, in all animals and inorganic things, since the universe with all its beauties is, as the Devi Purana says, but a part of Her. All this diversity of form is but the infinite manifestations of the flowering beauty of the One Supreme Life, a doctrine which is nowhere else taught with greater wealth of illustration than in the Shakta Shastras, and Tantras. The great Bharga in the bright Sun and all Devatas, and, indeed, all life and being, are wonderful, and are worshipful, but only as Her manifestations. And he who worships them otherwise is, in the words of the great Devi-bhagavata, “like unto a man who, with the light of a clear lamp in his hands, yet falls into some waterless and terrible well.” The highest worship for which the sadhaka is qualified (adhikari) only after external worship and that internal form known as sadhara, is described as niradhara. Therein Pure Intelligence is the Supreme Shakti who is worshipped as the Very Self, the Witness freed of the glamour of the manifold Universe. By one’s own direct experience of Maheshvari as the Self She is with reverence made the object of that worship which leads to liberation.
Guna
It cannot be said that current explanations give a clear understanding of this subject. Yet such is necessary, both as affording one of the chief keys to Indian philosophy and to the principles which govern Sadhana. The term guna is generally translated “quality,” a word which is only accepted for default of a better. For it must not be overlooked that the three guna (Sattva, rajas, and tamas), which are of Prakriti, constitute Her very substance. This being so, all Nature which issues from Her, the Maha-karana-svarupa., is called tri-gunatmaka, and is composed of the same guna in different states of relation to one another. The functions of sattva, rajas, and tamas are to reveal, to make active, and to suppress respectively. Rajas is the dynamic, as sattva and tamas are static principles. That is to say, sattva and tamas can neither reveal nor suppress without being first rendered active by rajas. These gunas work by mutual suppression.
The unrevealed Prakriti (avyakta-prakriti) or Devi is the state of stable equilibrium of these three guna. When this state is disturbed the manifested universe appears, in every object of which one or other of the three guna is in the ascendant. Thus in Devas, as in those who approach the divya state, sattva predominates, and rajas and tamas are very much reduced. That is, their independent manifestation is reduced. They are in one sense still there, for where rajas is not independently active it is operating on sattva to suppress tamas, which appears or disappears to the extent to which it is, or is not, subject to suppression by the revealing principle. In the ordinary human jiva, considered as a class, tamas is less reduced than in the case of the Deva, but very much reduced when comparison is made with the animal jiva. Rajas has great independent activity, and sattva is also considerably active. In the animal creation sattva has considerably less activity. Rajas has less independent activity than in man, but is much more active than in the vegetable world. Tamas is greatly less preponderant than in the latter. In the vegetable kingdom tamas is more preponderant than in the case of animals, and both rajas and sattva less so. In the inorganic creation rajas makes tamas active to suppress both sattva and its own independent activity. It will thus be seen that the “upward” or revealing movement from the predominance of tamas to that of sattva represents the spiritual progress of the jivatma.
Again, as between each member of these classes one or other of the three guna may be more or less in the ascendant.
Thus, in one man as compared with another, the sattva guna may predominate, in which case his temperament is sattvik, or, as the Tantra calls it, divyabhava. In another the rajoguna may prevail, and in the third the tamoguna, in which case the individual is described as rajasik, or tamasik, or, to use Tantrik phraseology, he is said to belong to virabhava, or is a pashu respectively. Again the vegetable creation is obviously less tamasik, and more rajasik and sattvik than the mineral, and even amongst these last there may be possibly some which are less tamasik than others.
Etymologically, sattva is derived from “sat,” that which is eternally existent. The eternally existent is also chit, pure Intelligence or Spirit, and ananda or Bliss. In a secondary sense, sat is also used to denote the “good.” And commonly (though such use obscures the original meaning), the word sattva guna is rendered “good quality.” It is, however, “good” in the sense that it is productive of good and happiness. In such case, however, stress is laid rather on a necessary quality or effect (in the ethical sense) of “sat” than upon its original meaning. In the primary sense sat is that which reveals. Nature is a revelation of spirit (sat). Where Nature is such a revelation of spirit there it manifests as sattva guna. It is the shining forth from under the veil of the hidden spiritual substance (sat). And that equality in things which reveals this is sattva guna. So of a pregnant woman it is said that she is antahsattva, or instinct with sattva; she in whom sattva as jiva (whose characteristic guna is sattva) is living in an hidden state.
But Nature not only reveals, but is also a dense covering or veil of spirit, at times so dense that the ignorant fail to discern the spirit which it veils. Where Nature is a veil of spirit there it appears in its quality of tamoguna.
In this case the tamoguna is currently spoken of as representative of inertia, because that is the effect of the nature which veils. This quality, again, when translated into the moral sphere, becomes ignorance, sloth, etc.
In a third sense nature is a bridge between spirit which reveals and matter which veils. Where Nature is a bridge of descent from spirit to matter, or of ascent from matter to spirit, there it manifests itself as rajoguna. This is generally referred to as the quality of activity, and when transferred to the sphere of feeling it shows itself as passion. Each thing in Nature then contains that in which spirit is manifested or reflected as in a mirror or sattvaguna; that by which spirit is covered, as it were, by a veil of darkness or tamoguna, and that which is the vehicle for the descent into matter or the return to spirit or rajoguna. Thus sattva is the light of Nature, as tamas is its shade. Rajas is, as it were, a blended tint oscillating between each of the extremes constituted by the other guna.
The object of Tantrik sadhana is to bring out and make preponderant the sattva guna by the aid of rajas, which operates to make the former guna active. The subtle body (lingasharira) of the jivatma comprises in it buddhi, ahangkara, manas, and the ten senses. This subtle body creates for itself gross bodies suited to the spiritual state of the jivatma. Under the influence of prarabdhda karmma, buddhi becomes tamasik, rajasik, or sattvik. In the first case the jivatma assumes inanimate bodies; in the second, active passionate bodies; and in the third, sattvik bodies of varying degrees of spiritual excellence, ranging from man to the Deva. The gross body is also trigunatmaka. This body conveys impressions to the jivatma through the subtle body and the buddhi in particular. When sattva is made active impressions of happiness result, and when rajas or tamas are active the impressions are those of sorrow and delusion. These impressions are the result of the predominance of these respective guna. The action of rajas on sattva produces happiness, as its own independent activity or operation on tamas produce sorrow and delusion respectively. Where sattva or happiness is predominant, there sorrow and delusion are suppressed. Where rajas or sorrow is predominant, there happiness and delusion are suppressed. And where tamas or delusion predominates there, as in the case of the inorganic world, both happiness and sorrow are suppressed. All objects share these three states in different proportions. There is, however, always in the jivatma an admixture of sorrow with happiness, due to the operation of rajas. For happiness, which is the fruit of righteous acts done to attain happiness, is after all only a vikara. The natural state of the jivatma – that is, the state of its own true nature – is that bliss (ananda) which arises from the pure knowledge of the Self, in which both happiness and sorrow are equally objects of indifference. The worldly enjoyment of a person involves pain to self or others. This is the result of the pursuit of happiness, whether by righteous or unrighteous acts. As spiritual progress is made, the gross body becomes more and more refined. In inanimate bodies karma operates to the production of pure delusion. On the exhaustion of such karma the jivatma assumes animate bodies for the operation of such forms of karma as lead to sorrow and happiness mixed with delusion. In the vegetable world sattva is but little active, with a corresponding lack of discrimination, for discrimination is the effect of sattva in buddhi, and from discrimination arises the recognition of pleasure and pain, conceptions of right and wrong, of the transitory and intransitory, and so forth, which are the fruit of a high degree of discrimination, or of activity of sattva. In the lower animal sattva in buddhi is not sufficiently active to lead to any degree of development of these conceptions. In man, however, the sattva in buddhi is considerably active, and in consequence these conceptions are natural in him. For this reason the human birth is, for spiritual purposes, so important. All men, however, are not capable of forming such conceptions in an equal degree. The degree of activity in an individual’s buddhi depends on his prarabdha karma. However bad such karma may be in any particular case, the individual is yet gifted with that amount of discrimination which, if properly aroused and aided, will enable him to better his spiritual condition by inducing the rajoguna in him to give more and more activity to the sattva guna in his buddhi.
On this account proper guidance and spiritual direction are necessary. A good guru, by reason of his own nature and spiritual attainment and disinterested wisdom, will both mark out for the sishya the path which is proper for him, and aid him to follow it by the infusion of the tejas which is in the Guru himself. Whilst sadhana is, as stated, a process for the stimulation of the sattva guna, it is evident that one form of it is not suitable to all. It must be adapted to the spiritual condition of the sishya, otherwise it will cause injury instead of good. Therefore it is that the adoption of certain forms of sadhana by persons who are not competent (adhikari), may not only be fruitless of any good result, but may even lead to evils which sadhana as a general principle is designed to prevent. Therefore also is it said that it is better to follow one’s own dharma than that, however exalted it be, of another.


The Mahanirvana Tantra

The Worlds (Loka)
This earth, which is the object of the physical senses and of the knowledge based thereon, is but one of fourteen worlds or regions placed “above” and “below” it, of which (as the sutra says) knowledge may be obtained by meditation on the solar “nerve” (nada) sushumna in the merudanda. On this nadi six of the upper worlds are threaded, the seventh and highest overhanging it in the Sahasrara Padma, the thousand-petalled lotus. The sphere of earth (Bhurloka), with its continents, their mountains and rivers, and with its oceans, is the seventh or lowest of the upper worlds. Beneath it are the Hells and Nether Worlds, the names of which are given below. Above the terrestrial sphere is Bhuvarloka, or the atmospheric sphere known as the antariksha, extending “from the earth to the sun,” in which the Siddhas and other celestial beings (devayoni) of the upper air dwell. “From the sun to the pole star” dhruva) is svarloka, or the heavenly sphere. Heaven (svarga) is that which delights the mind, as hell (naraka) is that which gives it pain. In the former is the abode of the Deva and the blest.
These three spheres are the region of the consequences of work, and are termed transitory as compared with the three highest spheres, and the fourth, which is of a mixed character. When the jiva has received his reward he is reborn again on earth. For it is not good action, but the knowledge of the atma which procures Liberation (moksha). Above Svarloka is Maharloka, and above it the three ascending regions known as the janarloka, tapoloka, and satyaloka, each inhabited by various forms of celestial intelligence of higher and higher degree. Below the earth (Bhuh) and above the nether worlds are the Hells (commencing with Avichi), and of which, according to popular theology, there are thirty-four, though it is elsewhere said there are as many hells as there are offences for which particular punishments are meted out. Of these, six are known as the great at hells. Hinduism, however, even when popular, knows nothing of a hell of eternal torment. To it nothing is eternal but the Brahman. Issuing from the Hells the jiva is again reborn to make its future. Below the Hells are the seven nether worlds, Sutala, Vitala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala, Atala, and Patala, where, according to the Puranas, dwell the Naga serpent divinities, brilliant with jewels, and where, too, the lovely daughters of the Daityas and Danavas wander, fascinating even the most austere. Yet below Patala is the form of Vishnu proceeding from the dark quality (tamogunah), known as the Sesha serpent or Ananta, bearing the entire world as a diadem, attended by his Shakti Varuni, his own embodied radiance.
Inhabitants of the Worlds
The worlds are inhabited by countless grades of beings, ranging from the highest Devas (of whom there are many classes and degrees) to the lowest animal life. The scale of beings runs from the shining manifestations of Spirit to those in which it is so veiled that it would seem almost to have disappeared in its material covering. There is but one Light, one Spirit, whose manifestations are many. A flame enclosed in a clear glass loses but little of its brilliancy. If we substitute for the glass, paper, or some other more opaque yet transparent substance, the light is dimmer. A covering of metal may be so dense as to exclude from sight the rays of light which yet burns within with an equal brilliancy. As a fact, all such veiling forms are maya. They are none the less true for those who live in and are themselves part of the mayik world. Deva, or “heavenly and shining one” – for spirit is light and self-manifestation – is applicable to those descending yet high manifestations of the Brahman, such as the seven Shivas, including the Trinity (trimurtti), Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra. Devi, again, is the title of the Supreme Mother Herself, and is again applied to the manifold forms assumed by the one only Maya, such as Kali, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Gauri, Gayatri, Sandhya, and others. In the sense also in which it is said, “Verily, in the beginning there was the Brahman. It created the Devas,” the latter term also includes lofty intelligencies belonging to the created world intermediate between Ishvara (Himself a Purusha) and man, who in the person of the Brahmana is known as Earth-deva (bhudeva). These spirits are of varying degrees. For there are no breaks in the creation which represents an apparent descent of the Brahman in gradually lowered forms. Throughout these forms play the divine currents of pravritti and nivritti, the latter drawing to Itself that which the former has sent forth.
Deva, jiva and jara (inorganic matter) are, in their real, as opposed to their phenomenal and illusory, being, the one Brahman, which appears thus to be other than Itself through its connection with the upadhi or limiting conditions with which ignorance (avidya) invests it. Therefore all beings which are the object of worship are each of them but the Brahman seen through the veil of avidya. Though the worshippers of Devas may not know it, their worship is in reality the worship of the Brahman, and hence the Mahanirvana Tantra says that, “as all streams flow to the ocean, so the worship given to any Deva is received by the Brahman.” On the other hand, those who, knowing this, worship the Devas, do so as manifestations of the Brahman, and thus worship It mediately. The sun, the most glorious symbol in the physical world, is the mayik vesture of Her who is “clothed with the sun.”
In the lower ranks of the celestial hierarchy are the Devayonis, some of whom are mentioned in the opening verses of the first chapter of the text. The Devas are of two classes: “unborn” (ajata) – that is, those which have not, and those which have (sadhya) evolved from humanity as in the case of King Nahusha, who became Indra. Opposed to the divine hosts are the Asura, Danava, Daitya, Rakshasa, who, with other spirits, represent the tamasik or demonic element in creation. All Devas, from the highest downwards, are subordinate to both time and karma. So it is said, “Salutation to Karma, over which not even Vidhi (Brahma) prevails” (Namastat karmmabhyovidhirapi na yebhyah prabhavati). The rendering of the term “Deva” by “God” has led to a misapprehension of Hindu thought. The use of the term “angel” may also mislead, for though the world of Devas has in some respects analogy to the angelic choirs, the Christian conception of these Beings, their origin and functions, does not include, but in fact excludes, other ideas connoted by the Sanskrit term.
The pitris, or “Fathers,” are a creation (according to some) separate from the predecessors of humanity, and are, according to others, the lunar ancestry who are addressed in prayer with the Devas. From Brahma, who is known as the “Grandfather” Pita Maha of the human race, issued Marichi, Atri, and others, his “mental sons”: the Agnishvattvah, Saumnyah, Havishmantah, Ushmapah, and other classes of Pitris, numbering, according to the Markandeya Purana, thirty-one. Tarpanam, or oblation, is daily offered to these pitris. The term is also applied to the human ancestors of the worshipper generally up to the seventh generation to whom in shraddha (the obsequial rites) pinda and water are offered with the mantra “svadha.”
The Rishi are seers who know, and by their knowledge are the makers of shastra and “see” all mantras. The word comes from the root rish Rishati-prapnoti sarvvang mantrang jnanena pashyati sangsaraparangva, etc. The seven great Rishi or saptarshi of the first manvantara are Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulaha, Kratu, Pulastya, and Vashishtha. In other manvantara there are other sapta-rshi. In the present manvantara the seven are Kashyapa Atri, Vashishtha, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni, Bharadvaja. To the Rishi the Vedas were revealed. Vyasa taught the Rigveda so revealed to Paila, the Yajurveda to Vaishampayana, the Samaveda to Jaimini, Atharvaveda to Samantu, and Itihasa and Purana to Suta. The three chief classes of Rishi are the Brah-marshi, born of the mind of Brahma, the Devarshi of lower rank, and Rajarshi or Kings who became Rishis through their knowledge and austerities, such as Janaka, Ritaparna, etc. Thc Shrutarshi are makers of Shastras, as Sushruta. The Kandarshi are of the Karmakanda, such as Jaimini.
The Muni, who may be a Rishi, is a sage. Muni is so called on account of his mananam (mananat muniruchyate). Mananam is that thought, investigation, and discussion which marks the independent thinking mind. First there is shravanam listening; then mananam, which is the thinking or understanding, discussion upon, and testing of what is heard as opposed to the mere acceptance on trust of the lower intelligence. There two are followed by nididhyasanam, which is attention and profound meditation on the conclusions (siddhanta) drawn from what is so heard and reasoned upon. As the Mahabharata says, “The Veda differ, and so do the Smriti. No one is a muni who has no independent opinion of his own (nasau muniryasya matang na bhinnam).
The human being is called jiva – that is, the embodied Atma possessed by egoism and of the notion that it directs the puryashtaka, namely, the five organs of action (karmendriya), the five organs of perception (jnanendriya), the fourfold antahkarana or mental self (Manas, Buddhi, Ahangkara, Chitta), the five vital airs (Prana), the five elements, Kama (desire), Karma (action and its results), and Avidya (illusion). When these false notions are destroyed, the embodiment is destroyed, and the wearer of the mayik garment attains nirvana. When the jiva is absorbed in Brahman, there is no longer any jiva remaining as such.
Varna
Ordinarily there are four chief divisions or castes (varna) of Hindu society – viz.: Brahmana (priesthood; teaching); Kshattriya (warrior); Vaishya (merchant); Shudra (servile) – said to have sprung respectively from the mouth, arm, thigh, and foot of Brahma. A man of the first three classes becomes an investiture, during the upanayana ceremony of the sacred thread, twice-born (dvija). It is said that by birth one is shudra, by sangskara (upanayana), dvija (twice-born); by study of the Vedas one attains the state of a vipra; and that he who has knowledge of the Brahman is a Brahmana. The present Tantra, however, speaks of a fifth or hybrid class (samanya), resulting from intermixture between the others. It is a peculiarity of Tantra that its worship is largely free of Vaidik exclusiveness, whether based on caste, sex, or otherwise. As the Gautamiya Tantra says, “The Tantra is for all men, of whatever caste, and for all women” (Sarvvavarnadhikaraschcha narinang yogya eva cha).
Ashrama
The four stages, conditions, or periods in the life of a Brahman are: First, that of the chaste student, or brahmachari; second, the period of secular life as a married householder, or grihastha; third, that of the recluse, or vanaprastha, when there is retirement from the world; and lastly, that of the beggar, or bhikshu, who begs his single daily meal, and meditates upon the Supreme Spirit to which he is about to return. For the Kshattriya there are the first three Ashramas; for the Vaishya, the first two; and for the Shudra, the grihastha Ashrama only. This Tantra states that in the Kali age there are only two Ashrama. The second garhasthya and the last bhikshuka or avadhuta. Neither the conditions of life, nor the character, capacity, and powers of the people of this age allow of the first and third. The two ashramas prescribed for the Kali age are open to all castes indiscriminately.
There are, it is now commonly said, two main divisions of avadhuta – namely, Shaivavadhuta and Brahmavadhuta – of each of which there are, again, three divisions. Of the first class the divisions are firstly Shaivavadhuta, who is apurna (imperfect). Though an ascetic, he is also a householder and like Shiva. Hence his name. The second is the wandering stage of the Shaiva (or the parivrajaka), who has now left the world, and passes his time doing puja, japa, etc., visiting the tirtha and pitha, or places of pilgrimage. In this stage, which, though higher, is still imperfect, the avadhuta is competent for ordinary sadhana with a shakti. The third is the perfect stage of a Shaiva. Wearing only the kaupina, he renounces all things and all rites, though within certain limits he may practise some yoga, and is permitted to meet the request of a woman who makes it of him. Of the second class the three divisions are, firstly, the Brahma-vadhuta, who, like the Shaivavadhuta, is imperfect (apurna) and a householder. He is not permitted, however, to have a Shaiva Shakti, and is restricted to sviya-shakti. The second-class Brahma-parivrajaka is similar to the Shaiva of the same class, except that ordinarily he is not permitted to have anything to do with any woman, though he may, under the guidance of his Guru, practise yoga accompanied by Shakti. The third or highest class – Hangsavadhuta – is similar to the third Shaiva degree, except that he must under no circumstances touch a woman or metals, nor may he practise any rites or keep any observances.
Correspondence Between Macrocosm and Microcosm
The universe consists of a Mahabrahmanda, or grand Kosmos, and of numerous Brihatbrahmanda, or macrocosms evolved from it. As is said by the Nirvana Tantra, all which is in the first is in the second. In the latter are heavenly bodies and beings, which are microcosms reflecting on a minor scale the greater worlds which evolve them. “As above, so below.” This mystical maxim of the West is stated in the Vishvasara Tantra as follows: “What is here is elsewhere; what is not here is nowhere” (yadihasti tadanyatra yannehasti natatkvachit). The macrocosm has its meru, or vertebral column, extending from top to bottom. There are fourteen regions descending from Satyaloka, the highest. These are the seven upper and the seven nether worlds (vide ante). The meru of the human body is the spinal column, and within it are the chakra, in which the worlds are said to dwell. In the words of the Shaktananda-Tarangini, they are pindamadhyesthita. Satya has been said to be in the sahasrara, and Tapah, Janah, Mahah, Svah, Bhuvah, Bhuh in the ajna, vishuddha, anahata, manipura, svadishthana, and muladhara lotuses respectively. Below muladhara and in the joints, sides, anus, and organs of generation are the nether worlds. The bones near the spinal column are the kula-parvata. Such are the correspondences as to earth. Then as to water. The nadi are the rivers. The seven substances of the body (dhatu) are the seven islands. Sweat, tears, and the like are the oceans. Fire exists in the muladhara, sushumna, navel, and elsewhere. As the worlds are supported by the pravahana and other vayu (“airs”), so is the body supported by the ten vayu prana, etc. There is the same akasha (ether) in both. The witness within is the purusha without, for the personal soul of the microcosm corresponds to the cosmic soul (hiranyagarbha) in the macrocosm.
The Ages
The passage of time within a maha-yoga influences for the worse man and the world in which he lives. This passage is marked by the four ages (yuga), called Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali-yuga, the last being that in which it is generally supposed the world now is. The yuga is a fraction of a kalpa, or day of Brahma of 4,320,000 human years. The kalpa is divided into fourteen manvantara, which are again subdivided into seventy-one maha.-yuga; the length of each of which is 4,320,000 human years. The maha-yuga (great age) is itself composed of four yuga (ages) – (a) Satya, (b) Treta, (c) Dvapara, (d) Kali. Official science teaches that man appeared on the earth in an imperfect state, from which he has since been gradually, though continually, raising himself. Such teaching is, however, in conflict with the traditions of all peoples – Jew, Babylonian, Egyptian, Hindu, Greek, Roman, and Christian – which speak of an age when man was both innocent and happy. From this state of primal perfection he fell, continuing his descent until such time as the great Avatara, Christ and others, descended to save his race and enable it to regain the righteous path. The Garden of Eden is the emblem of the paradisiacal body of man. There man was one with Nature. He was himself paradise, a privileged enclosure in a garden of delight – gan be Eden. Et eruditus est Moyse omni sapientia Ægyptiorum. The Satya Yuga is, according to Hindu belief, the Golden Age of righteousness, free of sin, marked by longevity, physical strength, beauty, and stature. “There were giants in those days” whose moral, mental, and physical strength enabled them to undergo long brahmacharyya (continence) and tapas (austerities). Longevity permitted lengthy spiritual exercises. Life then depended on the marrow, and lasted a lakh of years, men dying when they willed. Their stature was 21 cubits.
To this age belong the Avatara or incarnations of Vishnu, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Nri-singha, and Vamana. Its duration is computed to be 4,800 Divine years, which, when multiplied by 360 (a year of the Devas being equal to 360 human years) are the equivalent of 1,728,000 of the years of man. (b) The second age, or Treta (three-fourth) Yuga, is that in which righteousness (dharmma) decreased by one-fourth. The duration was 3,600 Divine years, or 1,296,000 human years. Longevity, strength, and stature decreased. Life was in the bone, and lasted 10,000 years. Man’s stature was 14 cubits. Of sin there appeared one-quarter, and of virtue there remained three-quarters. Men were still attached to pious and charitable acts, penances, sacrifice, and pilgrimage, of which the chief was that to Naimisharanya. In this period appeared the avatars of Vishnu as Parashurama and Rama. (c) The third, or Dvapara (one-half) Yuga, is that in which righteousness decreased by one-half, and the duration of which was 2,400 Divine, or 864,000 human, years. A further decrease in longevity and strength, and increase of weakness and disease, mark this age. Life which lasted 1,000 years was centred in the blood. Stature was 7 cubits. Sin and virtue were of equal force. Men became restless, and, though eager to acquire knowledge, were deceitful, and followed both good and useful pursuits. The principal place of pilgrimage was Kurukshetra. To this age belongs (according to Vyasa, Anushtubhacharya and Jiya-deva) the avatara of Vishnu as Bala-rama, the elder brother of Krishna, who, according to other accounts, takes his place. In the sandhya, or intervening period of 1,000 years between this and the next yuga the Tantra was revealed, as it will be revealed at the dawn of every Kali-yuga. (d) Kali-yuga is the alleged present age, in which righteousness exists to the extent of one-fourth only, the duration of which is 1,200 Divine,or 432,000 human, years. According to some, this age commenced in 3120 B.C. on the date of Vishnu’s return to heaven after the eighth incarnation. This is the periodwhich, according to the Puranas and Tantras, is characterized by the prevalence of viciousness, weakness, disease, and the general decline of all that is good. Humanlife, which lasts at most 120, or, as some say, 100, years,is dependent on food. Stature is 3½ cubits. The chief pilgrimage is now to the Ganges. In this age has appeared the Buddha Avatara. The last, or Kalki Avatara,the Destroyer of sin, has yet to come. It is He who will destroy iniquity and restore the age of righteousness.The Kalki Purana speaks of Him as One whose body is blue like that of the rain-charged cloud, who with sword in hand rides, as does the rider of the Apocalypse, a white horse swift as the wind, the Cherisher of the people, Destroyer of the race of the Kali-yuga, the Source of true religion. And Jayadeva, in his Ode to the Incarnations,addresses Him thus: “For the destruction of all the impure thou drawest thy cimeter like a blazing comet. O how tremendous! Oh, Keshava, assuming the body of Kalki! Be victorious. O Hari, Lord of the Universe!” With the Satya-yuga a new maha-yaga will commence, and the ages will continue to revolve with their rising and descending races until the close of the kalpa or day of Brahma.. Then a night of dissolution (pralaya) of equal duration follows, the Lord reposing in yoga-nidra (yoga sleep in pralaya) on the Serpent Shesha, the Endless One, till day break, when the universe is created anew and the next kalpa follows.
The Scriptures of the Ages
Each of these Ages has its appropriate Shastra or Scripture, designed to meet the characteristics and needs of the men who live in them The Hindu Shastra are classed into: (1) Shruti, which commonly includes the four Veda. (Rik, Yajuh, Sama, Atharva, and the Upanishads), the doctrine of which is philosophically exposed in the Vedanta-Darshana. (2) Smriti, such as the Dharma-Shastra of Manu and other works on family and social duty prescribing for pavritti-dhamia, as the Upanishads had revealed the nivritti-dharma. (3) The Puranas, of which, according to the Brahma-vaivartta Purana, there were originally four lakhs, and of which eighteen are now regarded as the principal. (4) The Tantra.
For each of these ages a suitable Shastra is given. The Veda is the root of all Shastra (mula-shastra). All others are based on it. The Tantra is spoken of as a fifth Veda. Kulluka-Bhatta, the celebrated Commentator on Manu, says that Shruti is of two kinds, Vaidik and Tantrik (vaidiki-tantriiki chaiva dvi-vidha shrutih-kirttita). The various Shastras, however, are different presentments of shruti appropriate to the humanity of the age for which they are given. Thus the Tantra is that presentment of shruti which is modelled as regards its ritual to meet the characteristics and infirmities of the Kali-yuga. As men have no longer the capacity, longevity, and moral strength necessary for the application of the Vaidika Karma-kanda, the Tantra prescribes a special sadhana or means or practice of its own, for the attainment of that which is the ultimate and common end of all Shastra. The Kularnava Tantra says that in the Satya or Krita age the Shastra is Shruti (in the sense of the Veda and Upanishads); in Treta-yuga, Smriti (in the sense of the Dharma-Shastra and Shruti-jivika, etc.); in Dvapara Yuga the Purana; and in the last or Kali-yuga the Tantra, which should now be followed by all orthodox Hindu worshippers. The Maha-nirvana and other Tantras and Tantrik works lay down the same rule. The Tantra is also said to contain the very core of the Veda to which, it is described to bear the relation of the Paramatma to the Jivatma. In a similar way, Kaulachara is the central informing life of the gross body called vedachara, each of the achara which follow it up to kaulachara being more and more subtle sheaths.


 (My humble salutations to Swamyjis , Philosophic Scholars, Knowledge seekers for the collection)

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