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Ciphering the Supreme: Mantric Encoding in Abh|navagupta's Tantr loka

Paul Muller-Ortega


In his masterful and encyclopedic work, the Tantraloka (Light on the Tantras), the tenth-century Kashmiri Saivfic~rya, Abhinavagupta, often draws a veil over certain considerations claiming they are too secret (rahasya, guhya) to be fully discussed in a text and should only be imparted orally by a qualified preceptor. Thus, in Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka, we encounter the statement: "But enough of telling of secret things! The Heart of the yogin[ is hidden by its vet3' nature. The wise one who reposes there has attained his purpose" (5.73). 1 Similarly, Abhinavagupta states that while the Vedic tradition may consider a corpse or the alcohol used in the Tantric ritual as impure, such is not the truth. Rather, that which is separated from consciousness is impure and that which is identical to consciousness is pure. He adds that while the ancient enlightened sages knew this truth, they kept it secret in order not to perturb the established order of the world (Tantraloka 4.243b). Elsewhere, Abhinavagupta indicates that a certain ,~gamic theory has only been hinted at, rather than being presented in detail, because of its extreme secrecy (Tantraloka 4.145). A similar statement occurs with regard to the kulayaga, the secret ritual: Abhinavagupta states that the method has not been explained precisely because of its secrecy (Tantraloka 29.169). Such statements may be found scattered throughout Abhinavagupta's writings (and indeed in this genre of literature more generally). One of the puzzles that scholars of such esoteric traditions face centers on how to deal with such tantalizing statements. Is it possible to compensate for the lack of closure

International Journal of Hindu Studies 7, 1-3 (2003): 1-30

2005 by the W o r d Heritage Press Inc.

2 / Paul Muller-Ortega introduced into the almost exclusively textual study of these traditions by such reservations on the part of the author.'? Naturally, the scholar will bring to bear whatever supplementary interpretive tools are available: commentaries, parallel traditions, and modem representatives. Nevertheless, even with such supports, a lingering sense of incompleteness afflicts the study of such a tradition. This essay seeks to address a specific problem--that of mantric encoding-within the larger sphere of notions of secrecy and concealment in the context of South Asian religions. To begin let us ask two general questions. First, how has the dimension of secrecy and concealment in the South Asian religions usually been characterized in works of scholarship? And, second, are there implicit presuppositions and assumptions in these characterizations that it might be useful to revisit and rethink? Let us begin with Hinduism. It might be said that from the casual phrases of early scholars about the "jealous guardians" of the Veda to modern sociological analyses that seek to expose the "restrictive power relations" inherent in the notion of caste, scholarly discourse concerning the Hindu tradition (or rather Hindu traditions) has been often marked by the too easy assumption that we know and have clearly established what the roles played by secrecy, hiddenness, and concealment have been in this large tradition. Too often, secrecy has been represented as a kind of arbitrary obfuscation, a minor and inessential if persistently irritating feature of an otherwise interesting tradition. Many times, it has been conceived as a barrier to be "gotten past," a meaningless veil that obscures the "real truths" the investigator seeks to unveil. It is my contention that these assumptions, when operative, have missed an essential feature of the tradition, that is, that secrecy and concealment respond to the very core of the tradition, that they are not arbitrary or secondary but directly expressive of the tradition's most formative insights. From the notion of Siva's concealing power (the tirodhanagakti) to the pervasive notion of's power of illusion or maya, concealment is deeply embedded in Hindu thought and practice. In fact, it could be argued that the Hindu tradition is grounded in a fundamental dialectic of concealing and revealing and that this dialectic represents an inescapable fact for the understanding of this tradition. In order that scholarship about the Hindu tradition be descriptively accurate, it must therefore reflect this dialectic as a fundamental hermeneutical tool of understanding. To return to the Saivite notion of the tirodhanagakti: The tradition argues that what is real, what is true, abiding, and divine is hidden. Saivism tells us that because the formless Absolute is qualityless and inconceivable, it is hidden by its very nature. Cloaked in layers of form, it is obscured by its own formlessness. It is these very layers that give form to the transparency of being by

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta's Tantr~loka / 3

revealing an array of ever-changing variety and creativity. At the same time, Saivism would say, what is real, what is true and abiding is unconcealable. The arising of layers of form thus displays and reveals the inherent nature of the Absolute. And, indeed, Saivism would further claim that for those who have eyes to see, this Absolute, far from remaining obscured, shines forth, ever revealed in the midst of all arising forms. Then, Saiva traditions would say, life reflects this self-revealing hiddenness that echoes through it in a dance of concealment and mystery. It might be argued that this dialectic of concealing and revealing, here expressed in Saivite terms, is in fact pervasively replicated in the multifarious dimensions and aspects of the complex religions tradition of Hinduism. In all of its domains--mythological, ritual, social, doctrinal, ethical, iconographical, experiential--the Hindu tradition displays and responds to the dialectical tension between revealing and concealing. We turn now to introduce the parameters of this essay's investigation of mantric encoding. The thirtieth ahnika (chapter) of Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka catalogs and organizes a large number of mantras for a variety of ritual and meditational purposes. One of the features of Abhinavagupta's discussion is that the mantras are not spelled out "in clear." Rather, they are encoded by means of names assigned to the various phonemes of the mantra. This process makes such mantric passages very difficult for the uninitiated (and indeed for the scholar) to approach. At first inspection, therefore, this chapter seems to function to contain and obscure its contents rather than to release and reveal them. Fortunately, in the case of this particular text, its twelfth-century commentator, Jayaratha, provides the equivalences which make possible the retrieval and extraction of such encoded mantras. Though this process of encoding and decoding mantras is commonly found in the literature of Hindu Tantric and Agamic texts, it has received little scholarly scrutiny. Indeed, to my knowledge, the morphology and syntax of mantric encoding have not yet been systematically explored. Since in the wider ambit of Asian scholarship mantric encoding has been largely ignored, it is not surprising that when it is glancingly alluded to, it most often continues to be understood stereotypically and exclusively in terms of conventional notions of secrecy and concealment. For example, the comments of Dirk Jan Hoens are typical: "This cryptic style of writing has been adopted to keep the contents concealed from non-initiated people. These can only be read by those who have the key" (1979: 104). In this essay I first approach the practice of mantric encoding descriptively in order to explore the various features of encoding in the fairly representative

4 / Paul Muller-Ortega sample found in the Tantrdloka. I argue that the intended "clientele" of the Tantraloka (and of many similar texts) would almost certainly have been understood to be initiates for whom the mantras were not secret. Therefore, while the perceived motive of the exclusion of the uninitiated remains a plausible, initial explanation for the process of encoding, there is clearly something more here. Encoding served as a protective hedge to guard not so much what was secret but what was sacred. To spell out an important or central mantra directly in a text would have offended against what was understood to be the proper context for the transmission of a mantra. I then examine what I term "deep" encoding, instances where the occasion of encoding is taken as an opportunity to reveal the symbolic sequences of meaning that are understood to be contained in that mantra. I show that the process of "deep" encoding seeks not to conceal but to reveal. It attempts to expose in conceptual terms that which makes the mantra inherently powerful, the so-called mantrav~rya or the potency of the mantra. While the mantravfrya is not finally amenable to conceptual explication--it represents nothing less than the very force and power of the ultimate consciousness itself--I argue that the most interesting mantric encodings in the Tantraloka endeavor to reveal this mantrav~rya. If a mantra truly encodes the pattern of the Supreme, of Siva, then its symbolic explication through "deep" encoding allows for the expression of this hidden cipher of the Supreme. Mantric encoding thus allowed the important mantras of the tradition to be packed densely and explicitly with ultimate meanings without thereby rendering the mantras possessed of conventional signification (sa.mketika).


Andr6 Padoux, in his book Vac (1990: 380n16), quotes from a Yamalatantra a rather sfitric passage, which reads: "devatayah. gar[ram, tu bfjad utpadyate dhruvam" (Verily, the body of the devat(t arises from the bfja-phonic seed). This connection between mantras and the deities they express is now well known and has been studied as an important, if rather special, instance of the relation of that which "signifies" (vacaka) and that which is "signified" (vacya). As Padoux summarizes: Two powers are associated with every Mantra: one power (vacakagakti), which "expresses" or "signifies," is the Mantra itself. [The other] (vacyagakti), which is "to be expressed" or "signified," is the devata [the god or "object" of the

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta' s Tantraloka / 5 mantra]. Here as elsewhere the second aspect follows from the first, for it is the Word which is primal, the fecundator who precedes her object (1963: 298, cited in Alper 1989a: 267).
This fundamental relationship of mantric word and divine object stands in the backdrop of the present exploration of mantric encoding. For if it might be said that the absolute consciousness is first phonically, divinely, and subtly "fleshed out" in mantra, then it is further the case that these subtle, mantric "bodies" are many times "ornamented" or "clothed" in the various encodings through which the mantric "subtle body" of the deity is carefully presented in the many texts of Hindu Tantrism. The first part of this fundamental relationship is articulated, for example, by Abhinavagupta in his Paratrggikalaghuv.rni, when he says: For just as in the body, which is made up of all the principles and depends on various different parts, such as the skin, that heart is called the place where there is a repose in the pure light and pure consciousness, which is not different from the parts of the body. In the same way, the body of the blessed Lord Bhairava, which is composed of various principles, worlds, and so on, which has a universal form, has a self-referential consciousness as its essence and is composed of the fifty phonemes. The Heart [-mantra] is the very essence of that and is a self-referential consciousness which is non-different from all the parts of the body [of the supreme deity, Bhairava] (commentary on ~loka 9). 2 This complex passage plays on analogies between the macrocosmic body of the deity Bhairava (which is the entire complex of the visible universe) and the microcosm of the human body. Just as the heart is the source of the human body (and by "heart," in this case, Abhinavagupta clearly intends the subtle, pr~n.ic consciousness that nourishes and sustains the outer physicality of the body), so too the mantric Heart (in this case the bfja, SAU.H) forms the sustaining inner "life" of the outer form of the deity. Clearly, there are many fascinating issues and ambiguities here. Assumed in this passage is an entire argument regarding the complex process of the emanation of the Word, occurring in three successive stages. There is also an assumed argument regarding the parallel and complex process of the manifestation of the "objective" reality in terms of the thirty-six principles (tattva) of Saivism (see Padoux 1990). I will not here dilate on these matters. However, it is important to insist that the "bodying forth," if you will, of the formless and bodyless absolute consciousness in terms of the powerful matrix of vibratory sound is

6 / Paul Muller-Ortega the first (and ever-repeated) "move" in the divine play of Siva. The complex structures of emergent vibratory sound both reveal and conceal aspects of the supreme divinity. In some cases, and especially in the specific case of certain crucial mantras, they are further "clothed" in the "draperies" of textual encoding. By this complex and multistaged process, the absolute consciousness is repeatedly concealed and revealed. In addition, its otherwise nakedly powerful expressions in terms of vibratory, mantric sounds are suitably "ornamented," "concealed," and symbolically framed and "loaded" by the multivalent and multipurpose process of encoding. In his pioneering study, The Tantric Tradition, Agehananda Bharati maintains that: As to the construction of mantra within the textual framework the material is vast. Every tantric text, in all the three religions inculcating mantra, abounds in instructions about the correct form and pronunciation of the mantra; in fact, these instructions seem to be obligatory in every tantric text, although this is not directly enjoined in any canonical text I have seen. There are two ways in which instructions about how to arrive at a mantra are given: the direct way, in which the mantra is simply listed in the text; and the indirect way, in which the instruction is couched in heuristic propositions using circumlocutory terms for mantra-constituents and Mjas which are known only to the initiate or to scholars conversant with tantric terminology. These instructions are therefore in, and they are the only sandha-passages in mantric instructions of any kind; that is to say, instructions about dh~r~n, i, y~mala, kavaca, yantra, and man. imla, are not couched in intentional language. The reason for this seems to be that secrecy attaches itself only to the mantra itself in a degree comparable to instructions on esoteric practices, especially of the left-handed variety. Mantra loses its power if revealed to the non-initiate .... The votaries of mantra are, however, not too consistent about the secrecy of the mantras so laboriously camouflaged in these sandh~-instructions; there are numerous manuals which list them in toto; they are the "Mjakoias" of the various mantra schools; there is certainly no mantra arrived at by means of sandha-instruction, which is not listed in manuals like the Mantramah~m.ava and the Mantramahodadhi (1975:118, 120-21). These insightful and apt comments provide us with a baseline of understanding as to the textuality of mantras. In general terms, Bharati accurately describes the reality that surrounds mantras in the Tantr~loka. They are held concealed within a text and often revealed by the commentary to that text.

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Further Harvey Alper writes: The techniques for safeguarding mantras were relatively straightforward. The most common procedures for indicating a mantra that should not be expressed directly in writing simply involved writing it in reverse order (vilomena, vyutkramen.a), "interchanging the syllables of a line" (vyakulitaksara) .... or paraphrasing it. This illustrates the tension between concealment and disclosure, for as Bharati (1965, 276, n. 69) observes...the secret is open to anyone in a position to care. In many instances, more elaborate precautions were taken to guard mantras. The most extreme involved various forms of encoding that required possession of a key, and knowledge of a procedure, before decoding would be possible. The best example of this about which I am aware are the devices known as prastara and gahvara, which are specific to the tradition of the Kulalika-or Pagcimamnaya .... This involves secreting the mantra through something like a "substitution cipher." To get the mantra, one must first know how to construct the diagram in which the Sanskrit ak.saras are rearranged and know the terminology by which they are indicated. Sometimes one gets the impression that the secrecy of Tantra became an end in itself, part of the game .... In any case, the subject of the encoding of mantras in such a manner clearly merits further study. One wonders whether these procedures are derived from Vedic precedents or were part of a continuous tradition of Indian cryptography (1989b: 415). 3 Alper's comments that the "secrecy of Tantra became an end in itself, part of the game" are precisely what we seek to understand in this essay. However, we will try to demonstrate that at least in the case of Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka, the game is played with a completely serious intent: to expose to view the mantravgrya, the potency of the mantra. I will not attempt a systematic survey of what little else has been said by scholars on this topic. As far as I can ascertain, the topic of encoding mantras has been treated en passant and with an eye towards other goals. 4 Other scholars who have written on related topics in mantra~astra include Alexis Sanderson (1990: 57) who makes reference to a "cryptic analysis" of some of the same mantras we will consider below. Sanderson (1990: 58n115) further speaks of "code terms" and "code names"; Alper (1989a,b) of "substitution ciphers." Gudrun Biihnemann (1992) has written in detail about the topic of mantras and treats perforce the processes of encoding and decoding as a fact of life in the textual literature of mantras. Padoux (1978) deals in detail with the "extraction" (uddh~ra) of mantras. The comments of Douglas Brooks (1990, 1992) in his treatments of the Srividy~

8 / Paul Muller-Ortega tradition on the issues of secrecy and mantric encoding are important. For mantric encoding in the Vais.nava T~ntrikas, Edward Dimock's (1966) classic book gives some relevant and interesting details, s We now turn to Abhinavagupta's T a n t r ~ l o k a . We find that its thirtieth chapter catalogs and organizes a large number of m a n t r a s . Coming fairly deep into a large Sanskrit Tantric manual, this chapter appears to serve as a vessel for the tools of power that are the m a n t r a s . This text, it seems, was not meant for public scrutiny or for those who had not received the proper initiator), warrant. Possibly to guard against its inappropriate circulation, most of the m a n t r a s in the text are conveyed by means of a process of encoding. Here the concept of ~aktipata ("the graceful descent of the power of Siva") is inextricably allied with the theoretical understandings of the textual preservation and transmission of the m a n t r a s . There is a crucial connection here, which will be touched on below, between the reception of this most fundamental initiatory energy and the development of the intellectual and intuitive capacities considered necessary to penetrate the secrets of the tradition. In any case, it is one of the compelling features of Abhinavagupta's discussion of m a n t r a that the m a n t r a s are, for the most part, not spelled out "in clear.'" Rather they are encoded, primarily by means of what appear to be names assigned to the various phonemes that compose the mantra. This procedure allows Abhinavagupta to convey m a n t r a s in a text without explicitly expressing them. By this method the exact m a n t r a is concealed from those who do not know the equivalent phonemes of the symbolic names given. At the same time, the process of encoding allows Abhinavagupta to inculcate sequences of symbolic meanings into the m a n t r a , without thereby assigning a conventional verbal signification to the m a n t r a itself. To the uninformed reader of the text, these passages appear to be abstruse and sometimes incoherent philosophical or ritual discussions. To the informed reader--perhaps the initiate who is no longer tempted to make illegitimate use of the m a n t r a outside of the proper ritual--the text reveals and conveys the m a n t r a it contains. Therefore, this chapter and other places in the oeuvre of Abhinavagupta serve as a useful source of data for the encoding of m a n t r a s . They also serve as a source of data for investigating the procedure for encoding m a n t r a s that appears to be a widespread practice in Tantric literature. For most important Tantric manuals contain a section on m a n t r a s (Hindu Tantra is after all many times characterized as m a n t r a i a s t r a ) , and often the m a n t r a s are conveyed therein by various kinds of cryptographic devices and encoding subterfuges. Clearly, further examination of this mechanism would be beneficial. Naturally, the process of encoding makes such mantric passages difficult to translate without the assistance of decoding commentaries. In the case of the

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta's Tantrgdoka I 9 Tantraloka, Jayaratha provides the equivalences that make possible the retrieval of such encoded mantras. These mantric passages in the Tantrdloka are particularly interesting because in them we can examine the juxtaposition of Abhinavagupta's often symbolic encodings and Jayaratha's decodings. These juxtapositions reveal insights concerning the morphology and meaning of Tantric mantra encoding. Even though encoded mantric cryptograms are a widespread feature of Hindu Tantric texts, this topic has received little scholarly scrutiny. As part of an ongoing agenda of research, I am studying the process of the encoding of mantras following three specific lines. First, the examination of this process as part of a descriptive charting of the morphology and syntax of mantric encoding; in other words, how is it done? Narrowly, what is the nature of the process of mantric encoding? Is there any perceivable logic to the code names used for the various phonemes? Second, the inquiry into the immediate environment of meaning of this phenomenon; in other words, why is mantric encoding such a pervasive and indeed commonplace feature of Tantric texts? What does it appear to mean? Third, and most speculatively, what is its larger interpretive horizon? What does this rather microscopic and "esoteric" inquiry reveal about the larger meanings of Hindu Tantra? What, if anything, does this process of encoding tell us about the larger meanings of mantras and their textuality as they were understood in this medieval Kashmiri lineage of Hindu Tantra? The method followed in this essay will be to investigate a single textual environment of mantric encoding as exemplary of such Tantric compilations of encoded mantras. While most of the examples are drawn from the Tantr~loka, there are two parallel examples drawn from a closely related text, Par~tr~gik~laghuvrtti by Abhinavagupta. Also, it might be commented that the process of mantric encoding in Tantric texts must be carried out with an alertness towards the "sociology" of Hindu Tantric texts: the circumstances that surround the composition of a text; the presuppositions of the authors about the audience of such a text, that is, their understanding of the nature and category of a text, about the life span of the text; the textual composition as a temporary fabrication for the assistance of the process of transmission and memorization; the restricted distribution of such texts (and of their decoding commentaries); and what may have been the secondary or subservient relationship of the text to traditions of oral commentary. These kinds of "sociological" and presuppositional concerns represent the wider horizon within which the narrower inquiry of mantric encoding may become particularly relevant. To conclude our statement of a research agenda on mantric encoding, it might be said that the study of the encoding of the various phonemes of the mantra

10 / Paul Muller-Ortega would include gathering systematic information on the naming of the various; the naming and variety of the pran. ava; the naming and variety of the usually postpositional mantras, such as NAMA.H and SV,,~H,~; the different kinds of Mjas, the names or terms by which they are referred to stereotypically; the variety of nasalizations used for the ending of bgjas, especially the variation between the use of the labial nasal M, the anusvara M, and the guttural or velar nasal d.; and the naming of multisyllable, multiword, or multicomponent mantras such as the name pa~c~k.sari for NAMAH. SIV,~YA. Also, it might be noticed that mantras do occur in the Tantraloka chapter 30 (and its related textual environments) that are not necessarily encoded. Why is this the case? In what follows, we will proceed with an examination of the morphology and syntax of mantric ct3,ptograms as well as their decoding in the Jayaratha commentary. A further desideratum of research would create an initial typology of the various kinds of encoding and attempt to see if there is some pattern related to the following: association with various elements (earth, water, fire, water, ether); association with various cakras; numerical references to the list of; association with tattvas; association with various deities and the varn. as contained in deity names; association with parts of the body, possibly with reference to the practice of nydsa; famous Mjas that are named; famous that are named like the anunara A and iccha I; mantric constituents like SV,~H,~, VAU.SAT, and PHAT.; and formulas for the construction of ritual series of repetition. In the following section, I have gathered, for the sake of clarity, a summary of the major mantric passages in the Tantraloka.


As an introduction to the consideration of mantric encoding in chapter 30, it would be useful to survey the Tantraloka on the topic of mantra and relevant matters. I summarize here for purposes of brevity: Chapter 3 considers the various phonemes in their cosmological sense, in the context of the ~dmbhavopaya ("the method relating to Siva or Sambhu"). Chapter 4, verses 181-93 deal with the notion of mantravirya; the first encoded mantras, the Par~-mantra SAUH (Heart of manifestation or creation) and KHPHREM (Heart of dissolution)6 Chapter 5, verses 74-78 deal with the mantra KHPHREM.

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta 's Tantrdloka / 11

Chapter 5, verses 140--50 deal with the mantras SAU.H and KHPHREM in code; also another mantra is spelled out in code, K.SMRYUM. 7 Chapter 7, verses 53-71b (with the subtitle mantravidyabhid) mention OM and NAMAITI.. Chapter 15, verses 191b-93 deal with the mantras PHAT and HUM.. Chapter 15, verses 377-401a deal with the Astra-mantra, PHAT. Chapter 15, verses 460--63 deal with PHREM; this mantra is also mentioned in code in 16.48b-49a. Chapter 16, verses 131-63, 207-23a mention a series of mantras; verses 250--95a contain a long dissertation on the nature and purpose of mantras

Chapter 17, verses 7-64 give a variety of formulas for the process of

Chapter 19, verses 23b-56 discuss the rite known as the brahmavidyd. Chapter 22, verses 20-27a mention a series of mantras, including OM, HRiM, OM NAMA.H SIV,~YA, the Aghora-mantra from the Taittidya, and the Netra-mantra, OM JUM SAH.. This leads to the most extended consideration of mantras, which is to be found in chapter 30 and in which many of the above mantras are also discussed. This chapter contains numerous mantras: BhairavasadbhAva, the consort of Goddess Par~; Ratigekhara, the consort of Goddess Par~par~; and Nav,~tm~, the consort of Goddess Apart. It contains the vidyas or wisdom formulas for these deities as well. I will now summarize this long and complex chapter. I am here limiting myself to the mantric analysis, setting aside the ritual context of these deities and the employment therein of these mantras. As well, I do not consider the prior textual sources from which Abhinavagupta draws these mantras. Verses 1-3 give a general statement of the nature of the mantras; verse 2 alludes to the power of freedom of consciousness once the m a n t r a s are awakened. They partake in the vimarga or self-referential nature of consciousness that is sv~tantrya or freedom. Verses 4-10a give the m a n t r a s for the adoration of the trident throne, explored in chapter 15. Verses 1 0 b - l l a give the mantra of Rati~ekhara, RYLVOM... Verses 11 b-12a give the mantra of Nav~tm~, RHRK.SMLVYOM.. Verses 16b-17 give the mantra of Bhairavasadbh~va, JHK.SHOM.. Verses 18-19 contain a general formula that gives a method for deriving a mantra for the adoration of any deity whose mantra is not contained in the
M~liMvijayottara Tantra (Pfirvag~stra).

12 / Paul Muller-Ortega Verses 20-26a give the vidya of Goddess Par~par~, according to the Trika scriptures. Verse 26b gives the mantra of Apart, (mayti and visarga =) HR[IH.; and then HUM. and PHAT. Verses 27-28a give the mantra of Parfi, SAUtJ..s Verses 28b-36a give three variants of the mantra SALT/:/.: SHAUI7I., HSAUIq., and SHSAUH.. They also convey the m a n t r a HRiH. and repeat a different formula for the derivation of the mantra SHAUH. Verses 36b-40a give additional m a n t r a s : Vidy~d.gah.rdaya, Brahma~iras, Sikh~, and Puru.s.tuta, Verses 40b-41a give the so-called Netra-mantra, OM JUM. SA.H. Verse 41b gives the Astra-mantra, OM SLIM. PASU HUM. PHAT, where only OM is given in encoded form as tara while the rest of the mantra is "in clear." Verses 42-43a give a formula for the mantras of the guardian Lords of the eight directions. Verses 43b-45a name the six jdtis (species) of m a n t r a as connected with six mantric operations: NAMA.H (recitation); SVAHA (oblation); VAU.SAT (increment); HUM. (elimination); VA.SAT (pacification); and PHAT (cursing). Verses 45b-46 give the mantra KHPHRE.M. Verse 47 gives a variant form of the mantra KHPHREM, HSHREPHREM. Verses 52-53 give a complex variant of the SAUH. mantra, RSJJHLK.SVYl]q-J.AU. Verses 54-62a give additional mantras, including SKR.K, RRAH., HK.SJA.H, KRAITI., KS.RAH., and SRKS.R. YOM. Verses 62-88 give the so-called brahmavidyd, to be pronounced at the time of death; it is also discussed in 19.23-56. Verse 90b-91a give the m a n t r a s OM, HR|, HfJM, PHREM, RHRK.SMLVYI3M... Verse 91b gives the mantra HSVYOM.. Verse 93 gives the mantra OM SMRYI3M NAMAH. Verses 94-95a give the mantra HK.SJHOAUb.I. Verses 95b-98 give formulas built on the mantras HRi~I., KL~/I., VLEM, KLEM. Verses 99-121a give three complex and long vidyds. The above listing is in no way exhaustive but merely a survey of the major to be found in this rich text. I will now proceed to subject a few of the most important of these mantras to analysis, in order to glimpse the processes of encoding used here.

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta' s Tantr6loka / 13


I briefly examine the morphology and syntax of mantric encoding in Abhinavagupta's Tantr~loka and (two examples from) his PardtrT~ila~laghuv.rtti. Following this, I attempt to specify some of my own understandings about the meanings of mantric encodings. We begin by noticing that some mantras and mantric components do occur in unencoded, "clear" form; for example at 22.22-27a: PHAT, SV,~HA, and VAU.SAT. Some mantras are partially encoded. In a multielement mantra, one element is given in encoded form while the rest is spelled out "in clear." For example at 30.41b, the Astra-mantra, OM SLIM.. PASU HUM. PHAT, where OM is in encoded form as t~ra while the rest of the mantra is "in clear." Examples of this simple "named-substitute" form of encoding specific mantric elements abound: Pra.nava for OM, M~yfi for HRIM, .Sad.ak.sara for OM NAMA .H SIV,~YA, and so on (22.20-21). These kinds of encodings are what might be called first level or light encodings. They may, in fact, simply be names that were given for specific mantras and may not fully qualify for the notion of encoding as we are considering it here .9 We now move to slightly more complicated and more typical examples. Example 1: Chapter 30, verses 10b-lla give the mantra of Ratigekhara, the Bhairava consort of Goddess Pa~pa~.,hasvarabindukam ratigekharamantro 'sya

We can see that while the mantra is being conveyed in some form of syllabic substitution code, Abhinavagupta nevertheless alerts us that he is giving us a mantra, saying: ratigekharamantro'sya (This is the mantra of Rati~ekhara). Turning to the commentary, Jayaratha's analysis is as follows:
agnih, maruto p.rthvi ambu svara bindu fire repha ya la va fik~ra RA

wind earth water the sixth vowel "point" (terminal vocalic nasalization)


VA 0 M

Here, basically, Jayaratha provides a series of direct equivalences. However,

14 / Paul Muller-Ortega nowhere in his commentary does he actually "spell out" the entire reconstruction of the mantra. From the clues that he provides, it may be assumed that the mantra of Ratigekhara is derived as RYLVI3"M.. In Example 2, we encounter a slightly different form of encoding. It occurs in chapter 5.148-50 and gives the mantra K.SMRYUM. as follows:

varn.agabdena niladi yadva diks.ottare yath~ sam. haranragnimaruto rudrabinduyutansmaret h.rdaye tanmayo lak.syat.npagyetsaptadin~datha visphuliizgagnivann[lap[taraktadicitritam jajvalrti h.rdambhoje bfjadfpaprabodhitam d~pavajjvalito bindurbhrisate vighanarkavat
According to certain texts, for example, the D[k.sottara Tantra, the word "varn a" refers to colors, blue and so on. He who remembers in his own Heart the reabsorption, the man, the fire, and the wind, united with Rudra and the bindu, sees at the end of seven days the goal of his practice. This is a fire which, awakened by this seed, flames violently in the lotus of his Heart, like a flame made of variegated sparks of different colorswblue, yellow, red-which surrounds it. The bindu shines flaming like a flame, just like the sun without clouds. Here the phonemes of the mantra are given in the expressions "sat.nh~ranragnimaruto rudrabindu." Even though a mantra is being conveyed, Abhinavagupta does not alert us to this fact. He merely launches into a series of terms that, if we try to construe them, do not make any sense: "the reabsorption, the man, the fire, and the wind, united with Rudra and the bindu." In the commentary, Jayaratha glosses this as follows:

sa .mharah. na (n.r) agnih, marut

~akara pum~n makdra repha yakara



After this he uses the expression "," which can be taken to mean "all in a cluster" (vowel-less consonants, without the short a). Jayaratha continues his decoding:

rudra bindu



Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta's Tantrdloka / 15

The mantra can thus be reconstructed as K.SMRYUM.. Even though portions of the passage can still be translated intelligibly, the experienced eye will detect the presence of something else. And while the commentary does decode the mantra as outlined above, Jayaratha does not actually write the mantra out "in clear." Thus, even Jayaratha's decodings, while highly useful, continue to promote a level of secrecy and concealment. Example 3 brings us to the most complicated and interesting kind of encoding. It occurs in 4.186b-91b. Upon first reading, this passage appears to be a rather abstruse discussion of Tantric philosophy. And, indeed, this example is typical of "deep" encoding, in which the passage containing the encoded mantra does not simply lapse into an untranslateable sequence of code terms but is actually renderable as expressive of an intelligible discussion.

tath(t hi sad idam. brahmamalam, mayan,imsam.j~itam. icchajTu~nakriyaroham, vina naiva sad ucyate tacchaktitritiyarohad bhairav[ye cidatmani vis.rjyate hi tat tasmad bahir vatha vis.rjyate evam. satam gaktitrayatmatam visargam, parabodhena sam~k.sipyaiva vartate tat sad eva bah[rapam, prag bodhagnivildpitam antarnadatparamargage.s[bhfitam, tato 'pyalam khatmatvam eva sam.praptam, gaktitritayagocarat vedanatmakat(tm etya sam hardtmani l~yate ida.m sa.mharah.rdaya.m pr(tcym.n h.rnmatam
For this real existence [S], rooted in the sphere of Brahms and known as the sphere of M~y~, can only be called "real" because it rises up through the [three powers of] will, knowledge, and action [AU]. For it is only because it rises up through these three powers that it can be emitted [.H] into the Bhairava consciousness. Moreover, it is only because of that, that it is able to be emitted externally [out from that Bhairava consciousness]. Thus, these [spheres] are real [S] because they are identical with the three powers [AU] and because they are emission [H], and they thus abide powerfully conjoined with that supreme consciousness. This real existence that at first has an external form is then dissolved in the fire of awakening. What remains as a residue is simply a cognition that is an internal sounding. Then it attains the ethereal state, and because it abides in the triad of powers, it goes to the condition whose nature is the pure knower,

16 / Paul Muller-Ortega and finally it is dissolved into that whose essence is re-absorption. This mantra is known as the Heart of Reabsorption, and the prior is known as the Heart of Emission. The first part of this passage conveys twice the mantra SAUIJ., termed the Heart of Emission. The relevant bits are the term "sad," which encodes the phoneme SA; the expression tacchaktitritiya, the triad of the ~akti, which refers to the diphthong vowel AU; and the verbal form vis.rjyate, which conveys the visarga H.. The mantra is given again in the sequence sadrapat~, ~aktitraya, and visarga. In his decoding of this mantra--which is perhaps the most famous mantra in the Trika Kaula tradition--Jayaratha essentially "spells it out" saying: "anena ca sakArayaiva auk~ravisarga...~rfparabijasya" (The Mja of the blessed goddess Par~ is constructed with the phoneme SA, the vowel AU, and the visarga H.). Next, Abhinavagupta gives coded clues for another mantra--termed the Heart of Reabsorptionl--KHPHREM. In his commentary Jayaratha supplies the decoding clues, giving the following equivalences:

bodh~gnina: agnib[jasya: the fire of awakening, the fire seed, the p h o n e m e RA. khatmantvam: vyomAtmanah, khavarn, asya: the ethereal state, the void state, the phoneme KHA. nada: kut.avarn, asya: the crooked consonant. This is the least explicit and most ambiguous (if not controversial) clue. From evidence elsewhere, it is reconstructed as the phoneme PHA, which is covertly given in the commentary several times in the word "prasphurita." ~aktitritaya: yonib~jasya: the triad of powers, the womb-vowel, that is, the vowel E. Here a different vowel is intended by the same encoding expression--~aktitritaya--that is used to decode the vowel in the first mantra. vedandtmakatam: bindvantavarn, a: the pure knower, having the phoneme hindu or M at its end.
The phonemes in this decoding passage are not in the usual order that we expect for this mantra but are given as RA KHA PHA E M- Jayaratha tells us that this is the "ideal order" (sa.mvitkrama) of the mantra. In order to decode the sequences of phonemes properly, though, we must attend to two other passages in the Tantrdloka and their commentaries. I give these as Examples 4 and 5; example 5 gives us the SAUIJ. mantra as well. From these examples we decode

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka / 17

the Pin.d.angaha-mantra as the unpronounceable KHPHREM. 1~ In Example 4 this same is given again in encoded form (in 5.76-79), and the following equivalences are provided by Jayaratha:

kharapa phulla vahni trikon, a bindu


We now have the proper order of the phonemes for the mantra, but there is still some ambiguity in the decoding of the second phoneme. It is given as phulla blossomed, yet another word containing the consonant PHA. It is only in Example 5---drawn from chapter 5, verse 146---that we get an unambiguous decoding of this phoneme by Jayaratha: kha phullam, tejas tryagram bindu KHA PHA RA E M.

phakara repha ekara

As was just mentioned, in 5.142-44 the mantra SAUH is given as well. First, Abhinavagupta sets forth a series of words, all beginning with the phoneme SA. He then creates a pun or double-entendre by saying that the first form of consciousness (that is, the first part of the mantra) is sukha, s~tk~ra, sat, samyak, and s~mya. Jayaratha glosses all of these terms with sakaramdtrarapa, "of the form merely of the SA phoneme." The second part of the mantra is given by caturdaga or fourteenth phoneme, glossed by Jayaratha as trigala, the trident AU, and then ending in visarga H. And so these two passages help to confirm the decodings of these two very famous mantras, SAUIzI. and KHPHREM. Example 6: Chapter 30, verses llb--12a give the mantra of Nav~tm~, the Bhairava consort of Goddess Aparfi:

agnipr~nagnisamharakalendrambusam~ranah., syurnavdtmanah.

Jayaratha gives the following equivalences:

18 / Paul Muller-Ortega agnih, p ran.o agnih, sat.nharah, kMo indro ambu samfran.o svara bindu free breath fire the destruction or end time Indra representing earth water the breeze, wind, or air the sixth vowel point repha ha repha ks.a ma la va ya akara RA HA RA K.SA MA LA VA YA 0 M

The mantra of Nav~tm~ is therefore derived as RHRK.SMLVYUM. Example 7: Chapter 30, verses 16b--17 give the mantra of Bhairavasadbh~va, the consort of Goddess Par~: jhakara sa .mh.rtipran.~.h sa.sa4, t.hasvarabindukah. bhairavasadbhavagcandrdrdhadivibha.sitah. Jayaratha gives the following equivalences: jha~ra, pran. o sas.a.sthasvara bindu jha ("in clear") ~a ha akara JHA K.SA HA 0 M

the destruction or end breath the sixth vowel

The mantra of Bhairavasadbhfiva is therefore derived as JHKS.HI]'M. In this case, Jayaratha is straightforward in his decoding, actually providing the corresponding phonemes. He is not being obscure, as in the case of phulla (Example 4 above). Indeed, in several places in the commentary, entire mantras are given completely "in clear" (which is never the case, to my knowledge, for the SAU.H and KHPHREM mantras). So in these examples from TantrMoka chapter 30, we find cases of relatively "light" encoding. This chapter contains dozens of mantras given in various degrees of encoding. The above examples, however, suffice to convey some of the flavor of the process, as it is present in Abhinavagupta's TantrMoka. In order to further exemplify the process of mantric encoding, let us turn to the first description of the Heart-mantra, SAUH., in Abhinvagupta's Par~trfgikMaghuvftti, which illustrates this process very well.

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta' s Tantraloka / 19

Example 8 is drawn from Paratrfgikalaghuv.rni verse 9 and its commentary. In typical form, the mantra itself is not spelled out. Instead, its specific phonemes are given in coded terms:

caturdagayutam bhadhre tithfgSntasamanvitam tFtfya.m brahma sugroni h.rdayam, bhairavatmanah.

O Beautiful One, the Heart of the Self of Bhairava is the third Brahman. It is united, O Fair Hipped One, with the fourteenth, and it is followed by the last of the Lord of the Lunar Stations.

caturdagena svaren, a pariparn, anuttaranandagalina sa .mpfim.akriyagaktigar~ronme.satvasam, padakriyagaktidvarantarl[necchajftanangaktiyugalena, yutam satata.m migrfbhatam, yad idam. t.rt~,am brahma sadagivatattvatmakam, aghoraprakagasvarapam asphut.ibhatedantatmakagrahyaragilak.san, am. sadrapam, vigvam, tat tith~ganam. paftcadaggmam svaran, am. yo' ntah. paryantabhittibhftto visargah, tasmin samyak aviyogena anvitam vigrantam, sat bhairavatmano bhagavatah. gabdarageh, vigvagar~rasya h.rdayar.n.
[Commentary:] The third Brahman, whose nature is the Sad~iva principle and whose essence is the light of Aghora, is characterized by the entire group of knowable objects, in a condition in which their "objectivity" has not yet become clear, which is to say, the totality in the form of "Being" (sad). The third Brahman is continually fused, connected with the fourteenth vowel [AU], as well as reposing, that is, being inseparably connected with, that which is the end, in the sense of ultimate basis, of the lord of the stations, of the fifteen vowels, reposing, that is, on the visarga [H.]. This is the heart of the essence of the Self of Bhairava, that is to say, of the blessed group of sounds that has the totality as its body. The clues given in the Paratrigikalaghuv.rtti verse, as well as in Abhinavagupta's commentary, are sufficiently obscure that an uninitiated reader may miss their significance altogether. In the Sanskrit the verse is even more opaque than the translation might suggest. All that the verse gives as clues are (in this order): "the fourteenth," "the Lord of the Lunar Stations," and "the third Brahman." It is Abhinavagupta who specifies in the commentary that "the fourteenth" refers to the vowels (svara) and that "the Lord of the Lunar Stations" is the visarga that belongs at the end of the mantra. The most difficult reference is to the "third Brahman." Abhinavagupta links it to the Sad~iva principle and

20 / Paul Muller-Ortega to the notion of Being or real existence (sad). However, if we did not know that the pentad of Brahman here refers to the five phonemes at the end of the Sanskrit alphabet--namely, S, .S, S, H, and K.S--we would be at a loss to interpret the term "third Brahman." Abhinavagupta has explained the concept of the brahmapa~caka in the comment on the previous verse (when he lays out the idea of the aparavisargaiakti), but he is silent about it in the comment to this

We receive confirmation that the mantra conveyed in this verse has been correctly deciphered by the analysis of the mantra presented in other passages. As we have seen, Abhinavagupta considers this mantra to be of sufficient importance to warrant the repetition and amplification of his analysis. Example 9: In another long passage (Paratrfgikalaghuvrtti comment to verses 21-24), Abhinavagupta's analysis of this mantra may be used to confirm that the above reading of the mantra is warranted. Just as when one abandons the manifest expansion of an earthenware jug, all that truly remains is clay. When the manifest form of clay is left behind, all that truly remains is an odor. When the specific form of the odor is not cognized, what truly remains is the "I." When such a distinction has been shattered, what remains is an essence formed of happiness, suffering, and error. When these three have been excised, there remain only the forms of the knower and the knowable. In the end, when even the distinction formed by subject and object has disappeared, all that remains is Being (sad). Even there, when the cognition of the three phonemes [of the word "sad"] has ceased, there ensues a repose in the first letter S alone. Then, this last repose in the phoneme S is also the repose of All--from the "water" principle to the maya principle---of the entire range of knowable objects which appears in the midst of the impure path. At the moment of this last repose there appears the Brahman, the All, one homogeneous mass, immortal, which has become the dtman. This is the last repose of brahmavadins--the followers of Vedanta. According to us, however, there occurs, beyond that, Bhairava, who manifests the entire universe by means of his activity of "churning" that state of repose. As it says in the Bhagavad Gfta (14.3): My womb is the great Brahman and in it I place seed. From this derives the origins of all beings, O Bh~rata! When, because of the disappearance of the distinction of its own-nature, the condition of repose in mere Being is no longer cognized, then Being appears to enter into a condition where it is absorbed into the powers of appearing

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta's Tantrdloka / 21

light and self-referential consciousness. Because, in reality, that state of mere Being is not different from the true nature of such powers--what remains is the true nature of the power. That power is either will, action, or knowledge, because nothing at all can appear without reposing on the power of such selfreferential consciousness that is "I will," "I act," and "I know." In the thought "I will" are intermixed the three powers--and in the same way in "I know" and "I act," because they are inseparably connected. Therefore, that which is becoming manifest appears as reposed in the own-nature that is composed of the triad of powers. The true nature of this triad of powers is one, namely freedom, and because of this freedom, a true body made of two dots, formed of two knots, one above and one below, a body made of consciousness, whose nature is the supreme deity, Bhalrava. The nature of these three phonemes is that they ate composed of three states of repose in, respectively, the knowable object IS], the process of knowing [AU], and the knowing subject [.H]. Depending upon which state of repose one selects, the "pronunciation" extends as far as that phoneme alone. There thus occurs a threefold prounciation. There are thus three types of perfection: enjoyment, enjoyment and liberation, and liberation. When, in reference to an external object such as a pot, the place of repose is a single "cognition," then the All, devoid of succession, in the form of Being is emitted, thrown into the supreme Bhairava, by the power of the will, and that Being residing in the supreme Bhairava, nondifferent from it, by the same power of the will, and so on, is emitted outwards into the external world where it assumes the form of the "knowable" objects. This is the abiding in the Emission [.H]. The repose in the "fourteenth" [AU], which is the repose in the [three] powers, and that because of contact with both, that is, now with knowable objects whose nature is the Being, and now with the knowing subject whose nature is the supreme Bhairava. With the descent of the knower and the process of knowing, Bhairava and the power, [H. and AU], there occurs the repose in Brahman [S], that is, a state of undifferentiated identity with the "knowable object." The reality which unifies, that makes of one taste (ekarasa) this triangle characterized of three Emissions, one appeased, one aroused, and one that is both, and is thus made of three reposes--that reality is the supreme Emissional principle, and it is the consciousness, the lord Bhairava himself. As one reads this and the passage in Example 8, it becomes evident that Abhinavagupta's intention encompasses much more than the secret embedding of a mantra into a text. Rather, these passages function to convey important

22 / Paul Muller-Ortega theoretical justifications for the specific phonemic composition of the mantra. The passage in this example begins by describing the process of progressively stripping away the attributes and characteristics of any finite object, until one is simply left with the sheer existential "Is-ness" of that object. Abhinavagupta identifies this residual pure "Being" (sad) with the Brahmanlatman of the Vedanta. This is the first phoneme, SA, of the mantra. Nevertheless, the nondual Saiva tradition considers it premature to stop short with this rather inert, if transcendent, ultimate. Abhinavagupta argues that beyond the level of sheer Being resides Bhairava, seen here as the dyad prakagavimarga, the light of consciousness, and the self-referentiality of that consciousness. Bhairava is never separated from his gakti, so the supreme dyad of Bhairava and his consort is to be found beyond the level of sheer Being. One of the forms that this power, this gakti, takes is the triad of powers, the iccha (willing), j~ana (knowing), and kriya (acting) gaktis (capacities) inherent in consciousness. This triad of powers is identified with the trigala or trident, the fourteenth vowel---AU--and second phoneme of the mantra. Continuing, Abhinavagupta states that the innermost nature of this triad of powers is the condition of freedom that they enjoy and represent. In turn, this freedom manifests itself as the two dots (or knots) which compose the devanagarf representation for the visarga, H., the third and final component of the mantra. The "Being," or rather the first syllable of the word for Being, sad, gives SA or S, which, as we have seen in the previous passage, is also called the third Brahman. The argument about "Being" gives us the first phoneme of the mantra. Next, the allusion to the power of Siva and to the specific group of powers known as the trident gives us the vowel AU. This confirms the identification of the "fourteenth" given in the previous passage. Finally, the last phoneme is described as composed of two dots, a clear reference to the written form of the visarga, H. Indeed, later in the passage, explicit reference is made to the visarga. From sad or the unitary, absolute Being, one moves to Bhairava and his consort to Siva and Sakti. There then occurs the fundamental triad of ultimate energies in the trigala, AU. Finally, there comes into operation the explosively manifestational power of the visarga, H.. In this way, hidden in the fabric of a rather abstruse philosophical discussion, the Heart-mantra SAU.H is both spelled and fleshed out with inherent meaning. The mantra fashions a subtle body for the deity of the Supreme, Par~. The process of the encoding of the mantra ornaments and clothes that subtle, vibratory "body" in the sacred meanings appropriate to the deity (in this case, centering on the supreme manifestational energy of the cosmos). We now move to draw some more general observations and conclusions.

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta 's Tantraloka / 23


I would argue that such elaborate passages are not arbitrary ornamentation. While we have seen that mantras can be encoded in less "complex" ways--with cryptographs of a less coherently philosophical sort--a double purpose of concealing and revealing is simultaneously taking place. While it is true that the mantra itself is concealed by such encodings, the "heart" of the mantra is in fact simultaneously being exposed to view. Like an x-ray photograph that obscures the surface of an object but reveals the patterns of its inner core, these encodings of the SAUH. m a n t r a - - w h i c h is often called the "Heart of Emission"--display the sequences of meaning captured within the mantra's phonemic structure. These phonemic sequences narrate symbolic elements that recapitulate the intrinsically manifestational nature of the absolute consciousness. Draped in meanings, the mantra nevertheless retains its pristine purity, for these meanings are not of the nature of conventional, linguistic meaning. Rather, free of conventional associations and conveyed in encodings, the mantra reveals its intrinsic innermost pattern, the sequence of vibratory impulses that forever abide as the pulsating matrix of power. There is a curious question that we might ask at this point. As far as I can ascertain, there appears to be no name given to the process of encoding in these texts. Is this because the process is such a routine feature of this Tantric world as to go unremarked? Or is this in order to sustain the very secrecy of the mantras? On the other hand, the decoding process is often called the extraction (uddhara) of the m a n t r a from its encoding. In his commentary, Jayaratha will often say "tasyoddh~ra k.rtah.," "thus the extraction [of the mantra] is accomplished" (see, for example, the commentary on Tantraloka 4.190; see also Padoux 1978 on the process of uddhara, which has additional connotations beyond those of simple "decoding"). Our survey of mantras reveals a spectrum of several different "levels" of encoding. The process can range from no encoding, that is, the mantra is given "in clear"; to its constituent (phonemes) given "in clear"; to names given for the b~jas or constituent mantras; to "deep" encoding in which the cryptographic verse has a philosophical meaning in addition to containing the mantra given. The process of "extraction" of the mantra ranges from the really opaque; to a decoding in which the encoding words are given in substitute; to the name of the mantra being given; to actual varn as of the mantra being spelled out "in clear"; and to the whole mantra being transcribed. From a modern perspective, we might say that these are complex and even

24 / Paul Muller-Ortega playful word games. And indeed from one perspective, they may be said to be just that. But, just as clearly, it must be emphasized that they are not just trivial word games (like those we play in newspapers: jumble, acrostic, anacrostics, and crosswords). The "word games" of mantric encoding mirror and reflect the cosmic game of Siva's hide and seek. And, like the cosmic kr~ha or sport of existence itself, mantric encoding carries the weight of an ultimate and salvational purpose. The arcane lore of mantric encryption is redolent with the complex correspondences of Abhinavagupta's matrkagastra or philosophy of language. In this view, the phonemes that compose the m a n t r a s are expressions of the most fundamental, cosmogonic forces of reality. It is no accident that chapter 30 of Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka (as well as major portions of his Paratri.mgikavivaran, a and Paratrggikalaghuv.rtti) are given over to an examination of these fundamental linguistic, conceptual, and world-building correspondences. The complex linkages between tattvas (fundamental principles) and v a ~ a s (phonemic linguistic elements) are central to an understanding of what Abhinavagupta entails in the process of encoding. Within this process of encoding, we encounter one of the "payoffs" for the confection of this complex philosophy of language. For it is this that allows Abhinavagupta to load the m a n t r a s with complex sequences of symbolic meanings, even as the m a n t r a s remain devoid of conventional signification (asat.nketika). This process allows for the remarkable fluency of symbolization that, for example, is built into the encodings of the mantra SAUH.. It must be granted, however, that certain later uses of mantric encryption give way to a kind of baroque ornamentation and that the enterprise of the symbolic loading of mantras loses its subtlety, appearing routine and even pointlessly mechanical. Thus, the sparkling freshness of Abhinavagupta's encodings will eventually devolve into the formulaic routines of encoding, summarized in such later digests as the M a n t r a m a h o d a d h i . But this later devolution should not discourage us from appreciating the importance and centrality of the early process of mantric encoding. As we have said, the T~ntrikas' word games a~e not trivial. They have a salvific, ritual, and doctrinal purpose. We began the inquiry into mantric encoding in this essay by asking, in essence: Does the encoding itself reveal some meaningful pattern or is it random? If it is not random cryptography, is the encoding itself amenable to some form of interpretation? At least in the case of the mantra SAU .H, we have arrived at some preliminary answers to such a question. The process of mantric encoding is clearly not a random event of simple encryption engaged in only for the multiple purposes of secrecy. Rather, we have seen how the encoding process is used as an occasion for a kind of "symbolic loading" of the mantra.

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka / 25

By "symbolic loading" we mean not so much the logical description of doctrine but rather a kind of teaching that evokes the richness and density of meaning contained in the mantra, its multivalency, and the dynamism inherent in its structure. The examination of such details gives us entry into another crucial notion related to mantras: the mantrav[rya or potency of the mantra. About this potency Abhinavagupta says: The pure and spontaneous cognition of the mantra is the " r ' itself. Thus say the ancient masters. This is the very capacity for illumination of light. This, in fact, is the very force of all the mantras, whose nature is the Heart. Without this [potency of the mantras] they [the mantras] would be inert, like living beings without a heart (Tantraloka 4.192-93). ~2 The mantrav~rya is the energy of ultimacy ritually injected into the mantra by the teacher at the time of initiation. It is conceived as the very gakti or energy of the enlightened consciousness of the teacher, the energy of the AHAM or 'T' consciousness. In this way, the phonemes of the empowered mantra congeal and contain the powerful superfluidity of the prak~ga, the ultimate light of consciousness, the immense vibrating light. The mantra harbors within itself the roaring sound of the pran.ava. This mantravfrya is the supreme spanda, the vibrant and sonic potency of the Absolute, which is somehow captured and harnessed within its phonemes for the purposes of ritual and meditation. It is only because of this potency that the mantra becomes an efficient and capable instrument that can reliably give access to power and to definitive transformation. Though this fluid energy of ultimacy is mutational, recombinant, ever changing with a quicksilver fluidity, once it is set into the mantra it gains a permanence of being, a powerful unchangingness. We have seen that in their phonemic forms, the mantras display a playful and powerful sense of mutation, of being bits and pieces of this harnessed energy, and display in their structure the vibratory sequences of consciousness. The mantras exhibit, therefore, this contained dynamism of the mantrav~rya as they reduplicate, expand, and mutate in form. For example, with the addition of vowels and preceding consonants, SAUH changes into SHAUH and HSAUIzl. and SHSAUI:t. (Tantraloka 30.27-30). These recombinant mutations of sound are not necessarily meant to make sense to the mind. This however does not rob them of meaning. Like the apparently meaningless sequences of binary code that reveal an inherent pattern when applied to the proper configuration, so too the mantric "software" reveals its inherent meaningfulness, becoming understandable in terms of its ritual and meditational effectiveness or inherent efficacy, its gakti.

26 / Paul Muller-Ortega The argument I am hazarding in this essay is that the instances of what has been termed "deep" encoding obliquely signal a symbolic conveyance of the mantrav~rya. In those cases where encoding has been taken as an opportunity to reveal the symbolic sequences of meaning in a particular mantra, it could be said that the process of "deep" encoding is as much about revealing as it is about concealing. It attempts to expose in conceptual terms that which makes the mantra inherently powerful soteriologically, the so-called mantravfrya or potency of the mantra. While in the ordinary sense, the mantravfrya is n o t finally amenable to conceptual explication--as we have seen, it represents nothing less than the very force and power of the ultimate consciousness itself--the argument presented herein seeks to demonstrate that the most interesting mantric encodings in the Tantr~loka (and elsewhere) seek to reveal this mantravfrya to view. If a mantra truly encodes the pattern of the Supreme, of Siva, then the explication of such a m a n t r a symbolically--by means of "deep" encodings--allows for the expression of this hidden cipher of the Supreme. Mantric encoding thus allows the important mantras of the tradition to be packed densely and explicitly with ultimate meanings without thereby rendering the m a n t r a s possessed of conventional signification (sat.nketika). It must again be emphasized that the mantrav[rya lies far deeper than this lattice of philosophical meanings and phonemic structures. Nevertheless, I would argue that this sequence of meanings does expose to view a conceptual analogue of the nonconceptual potency of the mantrav~rya. If the mantravirya functions as a kind of transcendent and invisible pulsation of consciousness, the phonemes of the m a n t r a and, at a different level, their symbolic meanings crystallize this potency into visible, tangible, and comprehensible forms. The mantravTrya is what makes the mantra inherently powerful and salvifically efficacious. Therefore, insofar as this potency can be conceptualized, it is present both as the m a n t r a (in terms of its phonemes) and in the mantra (in this sequence of meanings exposing the hidden cipher of the Supreme). Paradoxically, it is the encodings of the mantra that allow this hidden cipher to be seen. In the passages examined, we have seen the complex interweaving of the containment of a m a n t r a hidden in a text, coupled with a philosophical exploration of the meanings structured into that mantra--itself never explicitly or directly given in the text. This kind of analysis alerts us, as students of esoteric texts, to the way Hindu Tantric teachers utilized such texts. In these textual environments we have encountered the way that texts were used as a means to preserve the mantras (which are the keys to unlock the "descent of energy"). Appropriate ritual and meditational use of the empowered mantras

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta' s Tantraloka / 27

by sadhakas finally disclosed the salvational experience of the ultimate reality of Siva. Like a locked box that contains its own key, the text, with its embedded mantras, presents us with a puzzling scholarly paradox. Insofar as we manage to extract this key, we gain access to what is literally the phonemic dimension at the heart of Saivite esotericism: Siva's playful matrix of power.


1. "ala.m rahasya kathayd guptam etat svabhavatah., yogiMh.rdayam tatra vigrantah, syatkra budhah.." All translations from the Sanskrit are mine. 2. "yatha hi sarvatattvamayagar~rasya vibhaktatvagadisantdnatantritasya tadavibhagaprakgzgavimargavigrantidhama h.rdayapadam ucyate, tathaiva bhagavato bhairavanathasya tad ida.m vibhaktatattvabhuvanadimayam, vigvar~pam, pardmargasara.m pa~caiadvarn, amaya.m ~ar~ram tasya tadavibhagapar~margasgtram, idam. h.rdayal.n." 3. On manuals of mantragastra, including digests of mantras and Tantric lexica where he mentions the Udddrakoga and B~janighan.t.u, see Alper (1989b:
420--443). He states: The significance of these little noticed works cannot be sufficiently stressed: If it is ever going to be possible to write a social history of the use of mantra, to portray and assess the role mantra plays in the life of the Hindu world today, in different regions and communities, this literature must be mastered and digested. It is often repetitious and inelegant. It can easily strike one as tiresome and insignificant. Therefore, the process of studying it has barely begun (421-22). He continues: One caveat is in order, a single basic Indological imperative must govern future research on both the ritualistic and meditative sides of Mantragastra. To understand mantric utterance as it was meant to be practiced means deciphering the technical terminology in which [it] is couched. The process of mapping this terminology has only just begun and what Goudriaan (Goudriaan & Gupta 1981, 1.26) says about the vocabulary of Tantra in general applies afortiori to the vocabulary of mantra: 'ffantric literature offers a jungle growth of specialized terminology rarely defined or paraphrased; of unexpected hidden meanings; of mutual intersection of fundamental ideas, categories or prescriptions" (422-23).

28 / Paul Muller-Ortega Further, Alper maintains with regard to the Tantric "alphabet": Although it is conventional to speak in this context of an "alphabet," this is somewhat misleading. Rather, one has an ordered cosmogonic procession of phonemes understood to be eternal, primordial sounds that are the building blocks of the cosmos in its entirety. Utilized in cosmogonic, ritual, meditative, and mantric contexts, the alphabet is conceived of [as] the primal matrix out of which the ordinary (vyavaharika) world emerges and to which the adept may return (431). On b[ja and other exemplary mantras, he remarks: Central to Tantric mantrag~stra is the use of bgjas: adamantine, unbreakable syllables lacking meaning outside a mantric context. Insofar as I know, no one has catalogued the textual descriptions of bfjas. But Hoens (Gupta, Hoens, & Goudriaan 1979, 105) provides a useful definition. A bija is "a mantra consisting of one syllable with no ordinary meaning and always ending in the anusvara: .m." The problem that is most vexing is that of the etiology of bijas: Where do they come from? Questions concerning their history and function will not be solved until the question of their origin, which should not be understood as a diachronic question, has been clarified. Bharati (1965, 113-18) outlined the problem over twenty years ago, but he does not seem to have addressed it in his subsequent work (434-35). 4. The comments by Alper and Bharati cited above are quite typical. 5. For a lucid and insightful account of the nature of mantras for the Sahajiya tradition, see Dimock (1966: 225-48). 6. See Muller-Ortega (1989: 179). On this mantra in variant form, see M~lin~vUayottara Tantra 8.39-43. 7. See Muller-Ortega (1989: 180-81). 8. On this mantra, see Paratrit.ngikavivaran. a and PardtrTgikalaghuv.rtti iloka 9 and comment; Tantraloka 3.169-72a, 4.181b-93, 5.142-45; see also Malin~vijayottara Tantra 4.25. 9. One of the conventional associations of the semivowels with elements is as follows: earth: p.rthvg--la; water: ap---va; fire: tejas--ra; air: vayu--ya. 10. This mantra is also quite famous and known by a variety of names: M~t.rsadbhava, the true being of consciousness;, the one who draws along time; Pi.n.dan~tha, the master of the pinna; and Paficapi.n.dan~tha, the fivefold master of the pin.ha. 11. There are alternate decodings possible of the clues that are given for this

Mantric Encoding in Abhinavagupta's TantrMoka / 29 mantra (see Sanderson 1990: 58nl 15). 12. "etadrapapara-mariamak.rtrimamanabilam, aha .mityahure.saiva prakagasya prakagata, etad v~ryam hi sarve.sam mantran.~tn h.rdayatmakam, vinanena jahaste syur fiva iva vina h.rda.'"

References Cited Alper, Harvey P. 1989a. "The Cosmos as Siva's Language-Game: 'Mantra' According to Ks.emar~ja's SivasatravimarginL'" In Harvey P. Alper, ed., Understanding Mantras, 249-94. Albany: State University of New York Press. Alper, Harvey P. 1989b. "A Working Bibliography for the Study of Mantras." In Harvey P. Alper, ed., Understanding Mantras, 327-443. Albany: State University of New York Press. Bharati, Agehananda. 1975 [1965]. The Tantric Tradition. New York: Samuel Weiser. Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. 1990. The Secret of the Three Cities: An Introduction to Hindu Sakta Tantrism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Brooks, Douglas Renfrew. 1992. Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Sr~vidya Sakta Tantrism in South India. Albany: State University of New York Press. BUhnemann, Gudrun. 1992. On Puragcaran.a: Kularn.avatantra, Chapter 15. In Teun Goudriaan, ed., Ritual and Speculation in Early Tantrism: Studies in Honor of Andr~ Padoux, 61-106. Albany: State University of New York Press. Dimock, Edward C., Jr. 1966. The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Cult of Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Goudriaan, Teun. 1981. "Hindu Tantric Literature in Sanskrit." In Teun Goudriaan and Sanjukta Gupta, Hindu Tantric and Sakta Literature, part 1. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. Hoens, Dirk Jan. 1979. "Transmission and Fundamental Constituents of the Practice." In Sanjukta Gupta, Dirk Jan Hoens, and Teun Goudriaan, Hindu Tantrism, part 2. Leiden: E. J. Brill. M~linivijayottara Tantra. 1922. MMingvijayottara Tantram (ed. Madhusudan Kaul). Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Government. Muller-Ortega, Paul E. 1989. The Triadic Heart of Siva: Kaula Tantricism of Abhinavagupta in the Non-Dual Shaivism of Kashmir. Albany: State University of New York Press.

30 / Paul Muller-Ortega Padoux, Andrt. 1963. Recherches sur la symbolique et l'Energie de la parole dans certains textes tantriques. Paris: l~ditions de Boccard. Padoux, Andrt. 1978. "Contributions h rttude du Mantragastra: I, la selection des mantra (mantroddhara)." Bulletin de l'Ecole fran~aise d'Extreme-Orient 56: 65-84. Padoux, Andrt. 1990 [19631. Vac: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras. Albany: State University of New York Press. Par~tri 1918. Paratrim. gik~vivaran, a [of Abhinavagupta] (ed. Mukunda Rama). Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Government. Par~tri~ik~laghuv.rtti. 1947. Paratr[gikalaghuv.rtti [of Abhinavagupta] (ed. Jagaddhara Zadoo). Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Government. Sanderson, Alexis. 1990. "The Visualization of the Deities of the Trika." In Andr6 Padoux, ed., L'image divine: culte et meditation dans l'hindouisme, 31-88. Paris: [Sxlitions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Tantrfiloka. 1918-38. Tantraloka [of Abhinavagupta] (eds. Mukunda Rama and Madhusudan Kaul). 12 vols. Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Government.

PAUL E. MULLER-ORTEGA is Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester, New York. <>