Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantrāloka. Delhi, MotiLal BanarsiDass, 2003. 551 pp.
from the Preface:
This monograph is a first reading of one chapter of the Tantrāloka written a thousand years ago in remote Kashmir. Yet this chapter occupies an important position in a book which itself is the greatest work of the greatest thinker of his day for it was into the Kula ritual that Abhinavagupta was initiated by Śambhunātha and which he prized above almost all the rest. Abhinava states in TĀ 13.300cd-301ab:
‘Sequentially and according to the descent of power, [one is initiated] in the Siddhānta, then in the Left, in the Right, in the Mata, in the Kula, in the Kaula, then in the Trika which is in the Heart.’
A first glance is bewildering. The mixture of images and themes and codes makes the text unreadable. A second glance scandalises. The use of wine and sexual fluids, the use of women and the disregard for conventions – what have they to do with the great Abhinavagupta? Are they perhaps an aberration, the shadow side of genius?
Inescapably, however, we are forced to admit that Abhinava placed the Kula ritual almost at the summit of divine revelation. Only the Trika, i.e. the single mantra SAUḤ, stood higher. We are forced to attend more closely to the ritual. How does it, in fact, express the grandiose vision set out in the first half of the Tantrāloka? Or again, how does the theory of the first five chapters work out in practice?
This monograph will show that the Kula ritual, properly understood, is an exalted and simple way of life. It does involve wine etc. but not so as to create a dichotomy between body and spirit, enjoyment and liberation. The aim of the Kula ritual is to overcome the dualism of pure and impure, sacred and profane, divine and human, even good and evil. It wishes to show how ordinary life is the expression of consciousness, of Śiva himself in union with his śakti.