Knowledge Alone is Liberative

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That “Knowledge alone is liberative”, is declared as a fundamental principle in the very first chapter of the masterwork of Kashmir Shaivism, the Tantrāloka (“Light on the Tantras”) written by a most honored and enlightened genius precisely 1000 years ago in Srinagar, Kashmir. His name was Abhinava Gupta. His writings summarize, clarify and bring into our focus the exact theoretic knowledge that underpins the tantric methods and practices (including our Neelakantha meditation). My meditation teacher, Prof. Paul Muller-Ortega is the world’s foremost practicing authority, as well as scholarly Sankrit interpreter, on the writings of Abhinava Gupta.

What then, is the nature and character of that liberating knowledge? What is it that one needs to learn and to know in the process of rising to one’s own enlightenment? It is not just some body of information, not some assemblage of ideas or concepts. That is where we start in order to approach it. But it is “known” only in the fullness of realization that is the fruits of true deep practice. I hope to offer an example of this today.

In our tradition we make a clear distinction between “the theory of the practice” and “the practice of the practice”. The theory is the conceptual knowledge that gives a framework and reference point for understanding how and why we approach the actual practice of meditation as we do. This is for the benefit of the mind. If our reference frame of conceptual knowledge were too small, too limited by errors of limited understanding, then we would limit our access to recognizing and assimilating the sublime and transformative revelations that happen spontaneously in meditation.

One could actually have a moment of deep Samadhi, of the complete “melting” of separative perception into the transcendent wholeness of non-dual Consciousness. And yet not even recognize nor later remember that this has occurred! That is what happens when our reference frame or belief system does not even allow for the possibility of such Consciousness to exist. It is as though it did not even happen. And that is the reason why, in learning the practice of meditation, we also learn the very simple principles of “the theory of the practice”. This permits the transformative effects of meditative absorption to be received into the mind, brain, body. To resonate there in full recognition. In other words, the experience of Samadhi in meditation can become embodied and lived knowledge.

One of the great original source-texts of Shaiva tantra are the 9th Century CE Shiva Sutras of Vasagupta. An incredibly compact and ever astonishing source of deep wisdom. The first two sutras of this text set the foundation for the entire teaching:

Shiva Sutra I.1             “Caitanyam ātmā”      The highest (supreme and universal) Consciousness IS the Self: The Self of all that exists, and our own true and highest Self.

Shiva Sutra I.2             “Jñanam bhandhaḥ”    Limited (or limiting) knowledge is bondage. Is the nature and source of our seperative, small, non-fully-realized, self-identifications.

There are certain approaches to meditation that are quite popular today. They are practices that are to be honored as they are of benefit to a great many persons. Thus their teachers, traditions and practitioners are to be respected. I am referring to the practices that are based upon placing one’s awareness within on a specific focus of non-judgmental noticing of the breath, of the thoughts that arise, of memories and of feeling states, etc. Those practices (in general as a group) do provide distinct benefits in terms of reducing stress, release of the effects of past traumatic experiences, down-leveling of negative reactive emotional states, and other benefits to the body and mind. Let us look at how those work in the “theory of the practice”.

According to the theory, those practices leads to separation of the three components of perception or experience. In the relative level of experience it is understood that there is the “experiencer” the subjective knower, the means-of-knowledge, and then the known-object. This triad always occurs together. In the classic Indian example: “I see a pot.” The “I” is the knower, the pot is the known object, and the seeing, the mechanisms of vision and inner perception of sight, is the means of knowledge.

In the forms of meditative practice being described, one becomes more aware of the separate nature of this triad. This leads to dis-identification with the objects of experience. “I am myself not that pot.” So this permits the release, at the level of the mind, dis-identification with past experiences that are often filled with past suffering. It permits the down-leveling of entanglement with the anxiety, the suffering and other limiting effects of past experience. This is my understanding of the “theory of the practice” if those (non-tantric) types of meditation.

In sharp contrast, our “theory of the practice” for tantric Neelakantha meditation is fundamentally different. Tantra teaches that there is a fourth factor that is present in any and every perception or experience. It is beyond the triadic separate viewpoint of the knower-the means of knowing-and the known object. The fourth factor is the over-arching and prior-existing field of Consciousness itself. It is referred to as “the Turya” which simply means” the fourth” state. It is the state of consciousness that is entered, recognized and known as samadhi: the state of inward absorptive immersion in Consciousness itself. It is the unity of the 3 components into the abiding “witness consciousness”as it is called. It is this that we discover, explore and delight in with our meditation. It also automatically releases any identification with past suffering or limited forms of knowledge. But rather than doing it in a separative direction, it is an opening to the unifying Consciousness. The Light or Sky of Consciousness, as it is called and praised in the tantric tradition.

Much more on this consideration will follow in future posts. For now, let me just add that the only way I know to actually access this fourth-state, (intentionally, naturally and predictably) is through the “practice of the practice” of deep tantric meditation.

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