Daniel Odier


The Tantric Shivaist Teachings from Kashmir according to the Kaula tradition and the Spanda and Pratyabhijna schools.

by Daniel Odier
translation by Caroline Preller

Tantra - the expansive way.

The word "Tantra" comes from the root "tan" which means wide-ranging, whole. It also evokes the weave of a fabric. This mystical path has deeply influenced Buddhism and Hinduism, whilst retaining the characteristics of Shaivism.

Passed down via numerous lineages, some of which originated in the Indus valley five or six thousand years ago, Tantra is a non-dualistic path which reached its height between the seventh and the thirteenth centuries, in the Kingdom of Oddyana , in neighbouring Kashmir, and in Assam, at the opposite end of the Himalayan chain. In the eighth century, Padmasambhava, who came from Oddyana, introduced Tantra to Tibet, at the same time as it was spreading throughout India, Nepal, China, Japan and Indonesia.

My master, the Kashmirian yogi Lalita Devi, belongs to the Kaula school (which is the absolute path, viewing the follower's body as a microcosm) as well as the Tantric lineage of Pratyabhijna, which, in conjunction with the Spanda lineage, represents Tantra in its barest form. It refers directly to our original essence. Pratyabijna means "spontaneous recognition" and Spanda means "vibration, inner resonance", which emerges once a follower identifies himself with the universe.

According to the Vijnanabhairava Tantra, the earliest text on yoga which has been discovered, the work of Kashmirian yoga is to spontaneously recognise our absolute, divine essence. This is experienced in the body as inner vibrations of non- duality. This is the path I follow and teach, and it is also known as Sahajiya, or the path of spontaneous awakening. The tantric quest totally revolves around the idea that there is nothing to add or take away from one's being as it already contains its absolute essence. Existing beyond the realms of religious dogma, belief systems, and moral precepts, it is therefore a supreme form of lay asceticism, entirely suited to the reality of everyday life. It is a feminine path which embraces all living beings and fully recognises the power of woman. It is a path which leads to the original source, to the embryonic state of being which encompasses the whole.

Abhinavagupta, the great tenth century tantric philosopher from Kashmir , gives this beautiful definition of the absolute path in one of his poems; "Straight away, remove yourself from the field of spiritual progression , stay away from contemplation and skillful discourse, do not do research or meditate on the divinities, and stop concentrating and reciting textbooks! Tell me, what is the absolute nature of reality which allows no room for doubt? Listen carefully! Stop holding on to this or that, inhabit your true absolute nature, and peacefully enjoy the essence of what it is to be alive!" Like the other tantric masters of the Kula tradition, Abhinavagupta's approach is to reveal the teachings by starting with the absolute path, or the "path without a path" (anupaya) in order to then unveil the three traditional paths. Each follower can then access the teachings at the highest point at which he is capable.

- The path without a path (anupaya)

"When the follower is touched by a divine grace, and, having heard the words of his master only once, he is able to perceive the absolute nature of reality by himself, he becomes one with Shiva independently of all linear progression. This being, having been instantly liberated, has no set practices to follow, as everything is the expression of the "I am" of total presence.

- The divine path of immediate absorption into Shiva/Shakti (sambhavopaya)

If one cannot penetrate the absolute nature of reality straight away, certain exceptional people may be touched by a divine freedom which rapidly enables them to identify with Shiva/Shakti. It's the path of pure desire, accessible to those whose heart has opened. This heroic figure is immediately thrust into the non-dualistic universe and is never again plagued by confusion. This is the path of spontaneous and definitive awakening, that nothing will tarnish. The tantrika exists in continuous states of alertness and clarity. He no longer differentiates between subject and object. Pure, vibrating consciousness is left, in which mental patterns , shapes and all sense of object separation appear and dissolve. It is the simple, essential truth of divine love. The person thus freed, exists in a relaxed state of total awareness, immersed in the divine.

- The path of the energy of intuitive reason (saktopaya)

When dualistic thinking is abandoned, due to a direct initiation by the goddesses or through rapid understanding of the master's teachings and sacred texts, the Tantrist "loses the taste for dualistic thinking". This is his intuitive reason at work. This path goes beyond the various forms of yoga and exercises which are designed to affirm the yogi's non-dualistic perception. This follower sees everything as manifestation of Shiva/Shakti. Everything is consciousness. Skillful means are linked to all things known, they do not reveal consciousness. "Everything which is prescribed or prohibited cannot be used to enter or obstruct the path of supreme reality." Says Abhinavagupta. This yogi realises that he is not bound by karmic actions, that no innate impurity or dependence exists, and that nothing nor nobody can deprive him of awareness. "Thus, imbued with a sense of the self as absolute awareness he embodies the divine." The path through individual practice (anavopaya) Here, access to the path is attained through different types of yoga: meditation, visualisations, and practices as taught in the vijnanabhairava Tantra. The follower is gradually freed from non-dualistic perception, from inner blocks which prevent the full consciousness from flourishing. Repetitive patterns of behaviour are abandoned, and fear, terror and feelings of isolation recede. Little by little the ego relaxes its grip, a continuous presence is developed, full consciousness emerges and the non-differentiation of tantric-subject and universe-object prepares the yogi for the path of intuitive reason.

These three paths are not successive states, as they each lead to awareness. The teachings are combined according to the successive needs of each individual. "On this path, free from illusion, love alone is divine. No yoga, no form of ascetism can lead to that."

For a detailed account of each of these paths, read: Abhinavagupta,Light on Tantra chapters 1 to 5 of Tantraloka translation and introduction by Andre Padoux and Liliane Silburn, Publications of the Institute of Indian Civilisation, Distribution by De Boccard, 11 rue de Medecis, 75006 Paris.

Three paths, three ways of meditating:

The first Tantric master I met was in 1967, the spiritual leader of the Nyingmapa School, the great Dzogchen master Dudjom Rinpoche. He lived in Kalimpong and visits to the area were restricted to three days, because of frontier problems with China. Dudjom Rinpoche taught me three very simple ways of meditating which correspond to the tantra of Kashmir and Oddyana, just as it was introduced into Tibet in the eighth century by Padmasambhava :


"Surround yourself comfortably with calm and silence, sit down with a straight back, completely relaxed, breathe normally, in a soft and gentle way, and place your attention on a state of absolute presence without letting your mind wander for the count of three. This is the natural state of the mind, which spontaneously remains in a state of non-distraction, non-production and non-meditation."

The heart meditation.

" If you are unable to enter this state straight away, concentrate on a bright red letter, placed in the centre of your heart, any size which feels right to you. Allow this image to be vividly present, without forcing it. Allow it to absorb all your attention.'

Concentration and calming the mind.

If this meditation is difficult, take a simple object like a stone or a piece of wood, place it in front of you, gently focus on the object without blinking, allow nothing else to take hold of your mind, and gradually become totally present in a natural and relaxed manner. Look at everything which occurs to you without holding on to it, and gradually you will become peaceful. Everything which rises up will subside of its own accord, without any forcing on your part. Soon you will not be able to leave this non-conceptual state, and you will no longer want to move. This is a sign that you are becoming more familiar with the state of becoming peaceful, and you will reach a state of spontaneity.

This teaching, given as it was to a complete novice, was vitally important to me, and I have since never come across anything as simple and as profound. Even now I practice and teach in this way.

Why sit?

When we meditate, we enter the deepest part of our being, which exists beyond any split between us and the absolute, and which remains untainted by our culture, our beliefs, our experience or any feelings of ego-separation. We discover a space and a wholeness within ourselves, which exist beyond all realms of differential thinking. We " remove the taste of dualistic thinking" as we re-enter our spirit's natural state.

What form does the practice take?

It is about emptying the mind of all clinging to fixed patterns, by granting the body its rightful place. …The body naturally takes to non-duality whereas the mind has difficulty even conceiving it. " The body receives sensory input at every turn, and is filled with diverse forms of temporal and spatial information. The body conceals the divine within it. He who penetrates the body's nature is liberated" Says Abhinavagupta.

We experience the moment in this non-thinking state of awareness, a direct awareness of reality which leads to a spontaneity. Ultimately is born a joy which is no longer dependent on external circumstance. In this manner we are liberated.