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Stages of Self-Limitation of Consciousness

In Kashmir Shaivism, most of the emanation process occurs at a totally transcendent level.  Shakta doctrine speaks of eight stages of involution, which are "called Chit, Chiti, Chitta, Chaitanya, Chetana, Indriyakarma, Deha, and Kala." [Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p.275].  Apart from Chitta, which usually means "mind", subconscious, or relative consciousness, the first five stages are all designated after terms for transcendent Absolute Consciousness.  Only the last three, which refer to the senses, the body, and the subtle moving forces (prana) respectively, can be taken to indicate relative consciousness

The way in which this emanation process proceeds is through kind of focusing and concentration of an originally boundless Divine Vibration

As one Shakta writer, S. Shankaranarayanan, explains, from the Supreme Godhead there originates a movement, a deliberation on itself.   This deliberation "creates a stir, a throb, spanda, which vibrates as nada"  or primordial sound.  "Nada concentrates itself into a point...the bindu."  The Bindu contains within itself "the two in one form of Shiva-Shakti....This is known as para bindu, the Supreme Bindu containing in itself all that have to be created."  From this forms "the apara bindu or the sabdabrahman" which is the Absolute as subtle sound or vibration.  This Bindu then swells and a "polarisation of Shiva and Shakti takes place; there is an unfoldment and there emerge two more Bindus, the division of Shiva and Shakti, beginning the creation..." [S. Shankaranarayanan, Sri Chakra, pp.21-2 (Dipti Publications, Pondhicherry, 1979)]

According to the Shaiva and Shakta Tantras, the original Shakti has three qualities of Iccha, Jnana, and Kriya.  In the Goraksha-samhita these are described as the three Goddesses: Gauri, Brahmi, and Vaishnavi, who are the female aspects of Shiva or Rudra, Brahma, and Vishnu respectively.  These three Goddesses are contained in the nature of the seed-mantra OM (or AUM or Pranava).  It is further stated that each of the letters of the OM, that is, a, u, and m, are associated with a particular guna as well as one of these deities [Shashibhusan Dasgupta, Obscure Religious Cults, p.336]

Here there is an obvious parallel with Kabbalah, wherein each of the four letters of the Divine Name, the Tetragrammaton, is associated with a particular Sefirot or Divine Archetype, which in turn is associated with a particular world or plane of being.  Thus the basic archetypes arise as the result of polarisation or differentiation from the original unity

Alternative emanation schemas give different sequences.  The tantric adept Sharada for example gives the following stages: Parameshwara (or Sachchidananda - the Absolute), Shiva, Shakti, Nada, Causal Bindu, Produced Bindu, Produced Nada, and Bija [Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p.200]

A more detailed account of the emanation process by Kshemaraja has twelve stages of involution of Shakti: Unmana, Samana, Vyapini, Anjani, Mahanada, Nada, Nirodhini, Ardhachandra, Bindu, Ma-kara, U-kara, and A-kara.   These stages trace the involution from the unmanifest Absolute through the various phases of purely potential or noetic creation ("thinkables") to the gross level.  They are summarised below as follows:

"When the Supreme Shiva beyond whom there is nought, who is in the nature of unchanged and unchangeable illumina-tion, moves forth by His will, such Shakti, though in fact inseparable from him, is called Unmana ["Closing of the eyes" - dissolution] ; Her place is the Shiva-tattwa

When the Unmana-Shakti displays Herself in the form of the universe beginning with Shunya (Void, the Absolute) and ending with Dhara (Foundation), formulates as mere thought and "thinkable", then She is called Samana ["Opening of the eyes" - creation] as well as Shakti-tattwa

This Samana-Shakti Herself is called Vyapini ["Out- spreading"] when she operates as the Power which withdraws (dissolves) into Herself all "thinkables" which are Her creation.  She resides in Shakti-tattwa

It is again the same Samana Herself who is called Shakti when her operation is chiefly creative in regard to her own "thinkables".  She resides in Shakti-tattwa and is also called Anjani because of her association with the "thinkables"

When the Shabda-brahman moves forth with great strength from Its Shiva form then the very first sound, like the vibration produced  by a sounding bell is called Nadanta (or Mahanada - "Great or final melody").  It resides in Sadashiva-tattwa

When Shakti fills up the whole of the universe with Nadanta then She is called Nada.  And this also is Sadashiva-tattwa because of the equality of "I" (Aham, subject) and "This" (Idam, object)

When Nada, having ceased to operate in its universal scope, does so limitedly, then it is called Nirodhini ("cessation" or "extinction").  This Shakti rests in Sadashiva-tattwa

When Nada is slightly operative to the creation of the "speakable" it is called Ardhachandra ("half moon") which is Ishwara-tattwa

Para-Shakti Herself is called Bindu when she is of the nature of inseparable illumination (prakasha) in regard to the whole range of the "speakable".  She resides in Ishwara-tattwa

When Bindu causes diversity to manifest it is called Ma-kara [the final letter of AUM] and moves in Maya-tattwa

When Shakti creates objects as separate existences She is called U-kara [the second letter of AUM] and resides in Prakriti-tattwa

When the creation of Tattwas has come to an end because objectivity is completely revealed, Shakti as Mantri-Kala (Mantra) is called A-kara [the first letter of AUM]."

[John Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters (Ganesh & Co., 1979), pp.201-203; c.f. also his (under the name Arthur Avalon) Shakti and Shakta, p.500] ].

(see also Kashmir Shaivism and Psychedelic Cosmology

This whole emphasis on letters and subtle (mystical) sound (the latter a very important part of Sant Mat) is tied in with the very important Tantric theory of Mantra.  A mantra is a series of mystical words or syllables which is said to pertain to and invoke a particular deity or cosmic force.  It is either intoned aloud or meditated upon, for magical or yogic purposes.  The word mantra itself is derived from two Sanskrit roots: man "to reflect" or "to think", from which comes the Sanskrit manas ("mind") and manana ("thinking") and the etymologically synonymous English "mind"; and rati, "to protect" [S. K. Ramachandra Rao, Tantra Mantrha Yantra, p.67 (Arnold- Heinemann, New Delhi, 1979)].  The mantra therefore is that which protects the mind.  This can be interpreted either magically or prayerfully as the sacred word or formula that confers protection on the one who utters it; or yogically as an object of meditation that protects the mind from distraction

Metaphysically, the mantra is not a string of meaningless letters or words, but the actual physico-mental form of a particular deity.  Gross sound and speech, being a form of vibration or energy, is the mundane counterpart or expression of the subtle vibration within the dynamic Godhead - called Shabda-Brahman or "Sound Brahman" - itself

It is because of this connection and correspondence between the mundane and the transcendent that the mantra is able to invoke a particular deity, the different mantras corresponding to different aspects of the Divine.  "The Mantra itself is Devata, that is, the Supreme Consciousness (Chit-Shakti) manifesting in that form" [John Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p.281], and the subtle form of each Sanskrit letter or class of letters is itself a deity, a shakti.  These deities are called Matrikas, or "Little Mothers" [Arthur Avalon (John Woodroffe), Shakti and Shakta, p.501], because they are emanations of the Supreme Mother or Supreme Shakti

The idea of letters as embodiments of different aspects of the Divine force, of different deities is spiritual powers, is by no means unique to the Tantric tradition.  The Coptic Gnostic tractates of the  external link Nag Hammadi corpus frequently include strings of vowels in connection with the different Aeons or deities mentioned therein, and the unfortunately fragmentary text Marsanes presents a complex mantric theory, in which different vowels and consonants are said to make up the various levels and forms of the soul [Nag Hammadi Library, pp.421-423].  Letter and sound symbolism was further developed in the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, especially by Abraham Abulfaria of 13th century Spain, who worked out a technique of permutations of the Divine Name.  This was later adopted by Rabbi Isaac Luria and his school.  Mantras of Hebrew letters and divine names also play a central part in the Qabalah of the Golden Dawn and its successors.  One recent and obviously very competent German occultist, Franz Bardon, developed a Qabalistic system of correspondences using German vowels instead of Hebrew letters or names [Franz Bardon, The Key to the True Quabbalah].


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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 1 March 1999, last modified 4 June 2004