Kashmir’s Abhinavagupta unified Indian philosophical systems

The Veda, Yoga and Tantra are the three pillars of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization. The same spirit was enunciated and propagated by philosophers like Acharya Abhinavagupta who lived in Kashmir in the end of tenth century and beginning of eleventh century.

The realm of Indian philosophy (Bharatiya Darshan) was profoundly transformed with the advent of Sri Shankaracharya and his Advaita Darshan in the 8th century, which has continued stirring debates and discussions in the ensuing era. Abhinavagupta added a new dimension to Advaita Darshan of Sri Shankaracharya by taking cognizance of the world’s existence through a logical interpretation. A careful reading of Acharya Abhinavagupta’s philosophy will help dispel distortions and misreadings, for instance, that of mayavad, one of the profound ideas of Shankaracharya. The Buddhist-Hindu binary too would not have happened if Abhinavagupta had been properly studied and explained. Hence, I believe in order to cause disharmony in the society, a certain group of people deliberately sidelined and overlooked the contributions of Abhinavagupta.

Both Shankaracharya and Abhinavagupta held that any person belonging to any social strata of the society could attain the supreme knowledge and came down heavily on hypocrites who without experience gave commentaries and judgements. 

Shankaracharya writes:

Jatilo mundi lunchhita kesha;

Kashayambara bahu krita vesha

Paschannapi cha na pashyathi moodho;

Udaranimitham bahukrita vesha.

(Even if one grows locks of hair, shaves off his head or pulls out the roots of his hair, or wears saffron robes, these are only external disguises. All these disguises are only for food and livelihood.)

Abhinavagupta writes in his autobiography:  

Bahurapi Sohameham bhramitastavopadesakam manye

Tatvamiti varnayugamapi yesham rasna na pasparsa

 (There are dimwits who are themselves confused and throw the multitude of creatures into confusion. Having bound them fast with fetters, they bring them under subjugation with tall talk of their qualities.)

Even today, we can see many such pretenders chanting Soham, meaning ‘I am That’. They might not have experienced either so (that) or aham (I). They continue to carry on with their business as usual.

Although Abhinavagupta’s contributions to the growth of Indian philosophy, especially Shaivism was profound, not much studies have gone into the body of his work. Unfortunately, even the students of philosophy get little opportunity to know the reflective works of Abhinavagupta.

It’s better late than never. With the efforts of institutions like Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre and Art of Living, a new discourse on the life and contribution of Abhinavagupta has begun in all over the country. There has been a concerted effort to sideline the Eastern philosophy even after Independence. The vicious agenda of the West to colonise our minds during the British Raj injected the distortions whose outcome is conspicuously apparent. Colonizing the minds was essential for the British, like every other imperialist, to maintain perpetual subjugation over the ruled. They taught us that Bharat was not a nation but multiplicity of nations. It has no culture and its civilisation was inferior. The colonisers dismissed Bharatiya thought as rubbish and as a useless baggage. We were taught that our philosophy and religion were the root cause of our misery and subjugation.

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But, I fail to understand what on earth prevented successive governments in Independent Bharat from doing away with the colonial narratives on our history and philosophy? What has been done to promote Sanskrit language in our country since Independence? We have to identify clearly and specifically what all has really happened to us? ‘Sanskrit is a dead language’, say our so-called intellectuals. If the British propagated that, it could have been justified because they envisioned the destruction of our nation. But we cannot comprehend why our own people keep harping on the same. Bharat, which traces its roots to pre-Vedic period, was dubbed ‘a Nation in the Making’ by the British. It connotes, we have never been a nation. Then who made us a nation? They say the British made Bharat a single nation, by interlinking distant states through railways, roads and post-offices. While they were making the nation, they were forced to leave India. So we are still a nation in the making?

The real spirit of the Nation

What happened to the history in post-Independent Bharat? Who were entitled to write the history of Bharat after the British left? The monopoly of writing history has directly been transferred from the British to their natural heirs. Nationalist and independent historians were pushed to the margins. Sinister design to obliterate the efforts of the nationalists succeeded over the years. Later, a new brigade of the so-called neo-liberal academicians who ensured that the culture, tradition, morality be kept out has emerged. They still challenge the very idea of morality and ask what is its purpose? There started a conscious effort to dismantle the moral fabric of our nation.

Against this backdrop, it becomes pertinent to quote from The History of Indian Philosophy written by eminent thinker and scholar Surendranath Dasgupta.  “The old civilisation of India was a concrete unity of many-sided developments in art, architecture, literature, religion, morals, and science so far as it was understood in those days. But the most important achievement of Indian thought is reflected in philosophy. It was regarded as the goal of all the practical and theoretical activities, and it indicated the point of unity amidst all the apparent diversities which the complex growth of culture over a vast area inhabited by different people produced. It is not in the history of foreign invasions, in the rise of independent kingdoms at different times, in the empires of this or that great monarch that the unity of India is to be sought. It is essentially one of spiritual aspirations and obedience to the law of the nature, which were regarded superior to everything else, and it has outlived all the political changes through which India passed.”

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As far as the history of Bharat is concerned, the spirit defined by Dasgupta deserves attention. The spirituality and the philosophy of our nation is all that matters. We shall not go for foreign invasion or go after any kingdom or monarchy here or there, or any dictator. We shall go after the spirituality only with which we can understand the nation, Bharat. Dasgupta further states: “It is therefore very necessary that Indians, as well as other people, should become more and more acquainted with the true characteristics of the past history of Indian thought and form a correct estimate of its special features.”

Triveni: Veda, Tantra and Yoga

It was generally believed that our history starts from the Sindhu-Saraswati valley. But now the historicity of the ‘5,000-year-old’ antiquity of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization has been challenged by a new set of studies. The experts from IIT-Kharagpur and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have found evidence that the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization is at least 8,000 years old, and not 5,500 years old, taking shape well before the Egyptian (7000 BC to 3000 BC) and Mesopotamian (6500 BC to 3100 BC) civilizations. That means, it is necessary for the experts to rewrite the existing history in the light of the latest findings.

Now we have sufficient evidence to arrive at a safe conclusion that the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization was built up and nurtured by the sacred Triveni of Veda, Tantra and Yoga. We can bring together all the numerous philosophical, ritualistic and cultural shades of different Hindu groups including that of the Vanavasi cults under these three heads. Analysing the evidence from Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, we get the shades of all practices which became prevalent later. For instance, use of water in religious practice, symbolic representation of the Linga and Yoni, a Great Male God and a Mother Goddess, deification or veneration of animals and plants, the fire altars of Kalibangan, meditating figure, etc. This emphasises the fact that all these practices existed millenniums ago and what we follow in the present times is no way different from those practiced during the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization. Hence we can say, the Triveni is inseparable part of our culture and civilization.

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From this region, afterwards, the Hindus probably migrated to the tip of the Peninsula and even to Lanka, to the South as well as to the North, North-East and the North-West beyond the original Sindhu-Saraswati habitat, taking with them the multi-dimensional cultural heritage evolved through generations of their collective life in the new regions.

In our scriptures, we can see mention of a Vedic cultural empire as well as the Tantric geographical divisions of Asva Kranta, Gaja Kranta and Ratha Kranta (including the Tibetan region, Maha Cheena) and also the three main Tantra Sampradayas, namely Kashmira, Gauda and Kerala (Saktisangama Tantra). We hear legends about the Vedic sage Vasishtha’s journey to Maha Cheena to study Tantra-Yoga, Rishi Agastya, coming to Kerala, Parasurama getting initiated into the Sree Vidya path by Dattatreya (Tripura Rahasya, Parasurama Kalpasutra), etc., indicating the internal migrations and the spread of the Hindu culture.

Meanwhile, the Veda, Tantra and Yoga also grew separately and independently showing distinctive features in philosophical and practical levels. And as time progressed, there was a natural (after all, they were all belonged to one Hindu stock both generally as well as culturally) give and take among the followers of these paths including the Boudha and Jain systems. Boudh-Jain systems assimilated the Tantra-Yoga system, like the followers of the Vedic system did. Later, Tantriks adopted certain Vedic practices and this sharing resulted in the formation of the so-called Vedic-Tantric mode of worship which is the base of modern temple worship, especially in Kerala.

(Excerpted from Hindutva for the Changing Times)

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