Reading the Saundarya Lahari – XV
“…those who always ponder over this [fivefold act of the Lord], knowing the universe as an unfoldment of the essential nature [of consciousness], become liberated in this very life. This is what the [sacred] tradition maintains. Those who do not ponder like this, seeing all objects of experience as essentially different, remain for ever bound.”
Now for some brief discussion of verses 26-27 of Anandalahari.
Viriñci returns to the five elements,
Hara ceases his delight,
the destroyer meets destruction,
the lord of wealth loses wealth,
the untiring array of great Indras also close their eyes,
and in that great dissolution,
O good woman,
Your Lord plays.
translation, Clooney, 2005, p53
Verse 26 is concerned with Saṃhāra – “dissolution” or “reabsorption” – one of the five great acts of Śiva. 1 It is not uncommon to find saṃhāra explained with reference to the great cosmic cycles of the universe, but it is important to bear in mind that Śiva’s five acts resound throughout the universe at every possible level – down to each moment of individual cognition/perception.
The influence of nondual Śaiva tantric philosophy on SriVidya can be discerned in texts such as the Yoginīhṛdaya, where Saṃhāra is one of the three aspects of the Goddess 2 and hence one of the three activities inherent in the Śrīcakra (see post-iv for some related discussion and post-v for a quick overview of the Śrīcakra).
Here, Viriñci (i.e. Brahma) withdraws back into the five elements (i.e. the mahā-bhūtaḥs) present in all things. In the same way Hari (i.e. Visṇu) “ceases his delight” 3 and Yama – the “destroyer” is himself destroyed. The “lord of wealth” – Kubera – “loses his wealth”. All these points, it seems to me, stress that in this moment of dissolution (no matter its duration or scale) there is a cessation and withdrawal from normative activity – an inward movement towards the heart.
The “untiring array of great Indras” who “close their eyes” is more perplexing. Indra is of course associated with lordship – and is sometimes said to have a thousand eyes. Throughout the Rg Veda there are numerous references to Indra taking on a wide variety of forms, by the power of his maya. The “array of great Indras” could be a reference to the indriyas or sense-organs 4. A Jain text, the Gommaṭasāra Jīvakāṇḍa says: “Know that each one of the senses (indriyas) is (independent) like the Indras, called Ahamendra-Devas, each of whom considers himself a master, without distinction.”
In a post in 2013 On the Adoration of the Senses – I I briefly discussed Abhinavagupta’s commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, the Gītārtha Saṃgraha, in which Abhinavagupta proposes that the “gods” are the sense-capacities. In Tantrāloka he says:
“Into the oblation-eating belly of one’s own consciousness, all existing things are hurled violently; they sacrifice their portion of differentiation, consuming it by fire with their own energy. When the fragmentation of existing things is dissolved by [this] violent cooking, the deities of consciousness [the senses] eat the universe that has become the nectar of immortality [the “I”]. These [deities] now satisfied, they lie down with God, no different from [Him] who is Bhairava, the Sky of Consciousness, dwelling in the sacred space of the full heart of their selves.” 5
Amidst Abhinavagupta’s gustatory metaphors, there is again the relationship between Saṃhāra and the “satiation” of the deities of consciousness – the sense-capacities via the offering of experience – resulting in their fusion with Bhairava – and residing in the heart (see post-xii for further discussion).
The “closing of eyes” recalls the well-known aphorism that when Śiva opens his eyes, the universe comes into being, and when he closes his eyes, the universe is dissolved. On the level of practice, the closing of eyes may be related to nimīlana-samādhi in which the eyes are closed (as opposed to the unmīlana-samādhi – the “open-eyed” state). Kṣemarāja, in his commentary Spandanirṇaya describes a state of realisation – Bhairavī-mudrā – in which all distinctions between inner-outer, self-other, consciousness-materiality etc., – collapse into the experienced single pulsation of consciousness:
“Attention should be turned inwards; the gaze should be turned outwards, without the twinkling of the eyes. This is the mudrā pertaining to Bhairava, kept secret in all the Tantras.”
So in total, I am choosing to read “the untiring array of great Indras also close their eyes” as a further indication of the withdrawal from differentiation – towards Saṃhāra. – where the Indras can be taken as deities/sense-capacities.
and in that great dissolution,
O good woman,
Your Lord plays.
The last three lines of this verse point to the nondifferentiation between Śiva and the Goddess (see post-xiii for some related discussion) and the visualisation of the Goddess embracing her consort, Kāmeśvara in the bindu of Śrīcakra.
On to verse 27:
Prayer – my foolish words;
sculpture – all my hand gestures;
circumambulation – my going about;
mode of oblation – my eating and so on;
deep reverence – my lying down;
dedication of self – my complete happiness;
whatever of mine shines forth – let it all be the same as worship of you.
translation, Clooney, 2005, p53-54
What to say of this verse? It is this verse that really put the “hook” in me, when, some years ago, I first encountered W. Norman Brown’s translation of Soundaryalahari and his rendering of this verse as:
“Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual
movement the execution of ritual gesture,
my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other
acts the rite of sacrifice,
my lying down prostration in worship, my every pleasure [enjoyed]
with dedication of myself,
let every activity is mine be some form of worship of you. 6
At the time that I first encountered Soundaryalahari I was pondering issues relating to how “practice” can, all too easily, become seperated from one’s day-to-day life, and equally, a chore or something we can fret about not doing enough of (see Pondering daily practice for some related reflections). This verse, with its emphasis that every activity (or experience) – no matter how small or routine, can be taken as a constant reminder of the all-pervading presence of the goddess – and can be offered back to her -was something of a wake-up call.
On reflection, and bearing in mind my comments on verse 26, I’d propose that verse 27 indicates not only a practice but also the goal or end-point of that practice. Again, quoting Kṣemarāja:
“He now sees the universe over and over again with an awareness in which the residual traces of difference have completely vanished. The yogi has an experience in which he is inwardly absorbed in the Supreme Divine consciousness (nimilana); again when he turns towards the universe, he experiences it as the same as his own essential Divine consciousness (unmilana). 7
Through the constant recollection of the potentiality to achieve expanded wholeness (pūrṇatā) in any moment, I’ve found that fleeting moments can be achieved (see posts tagged as intensities for some attempts to write about such moments). As Christopher Wallis puts it (much more eloquently than I can):
“It is the limited sense of individuality that makes possible the whole process of dualistic thought-forms. Thus, it cannot be countered by merely attempting to believe the opposite. You must have the actual experience of pūrṇatā – of fullness, completeness, divine perfection – deep within your own being, and you must have it so frequently or powerfully that it displaces āṇava-mala and becomes your reference point for who you are.” 8
Arthur Avalon Anandalahari (Ganesh & Co., 1953)
W Norman Brown, The Saundaryalahari or Flood of Beauty (Harvard University Press, 1958)
Francis X. Clooney, Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary (Oxford University Press, 2005)
K.V. Dev (ed) The Thousand Names of the Divine Mother: Sri Lalita Sahasranama, with Commentary (Mata Amritanandamayi Center, 1996)
Boris Marjanovic (translator) Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita: Gītārtha Saṃgraha (Indica Books, 2004)
Paul Muller-Ortega The Triadic Heart of Siva: Kaula Tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir (State University of New York, 1988)
André Padoux, Roger Orphe-Jeanty The Heart of the Yogini: The Yoginīhṛdaya, a Sanskrit Tantric Treatise (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Jaideva Singh Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam: The Secret of Self-Recognition (Motilal, 1982)
Kerry Martin Skora, The Pulsating Heart and Its Divine Sense Energies: Body and Touch in Abhinavagupta’s Trika Śaivism (Numen 54, 2007, pp420-458).
Pandit S. Subrahmanya Sastri and T.R. Srinivasa Ayyangar, Saundarya Lahari (Theosophical Publishing House, 1948)
Christopher D. Wallis, Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History and Practice of a Timeless Tradition (Mattamayūra Press, 2013)
- The five acts of Śiva are: Sṛṣṭi – emission or flowing forth; Sthiti – maintenance, preservation; Saṃhāra – dissolution or reabsorption; Tirodhana – concealment, forgetting; Anugraha – revealment, remembering. ↩
- together with Sṛṣṭi and Sthiti ↩
- admittedly, I’m not sure about this line. ↩
- lit: “powers belonging to Indra” ↩
- Quoted from Skora, 2007, p435 ↩
- Brown, 1958, p58 ↩
- quoted from Muller-Ortega, , p123 ↩
- Wallis, 2013, p151. āṇava-mala is one of the three malas – the limitations which give rise to the state of contracted individuality. ↩