1,000 armed Lokeshvara from Shilla monastery in South Korea, (c) collection of Mike Magee

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Original artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2022. Translations are ©
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Jñānārṇava Tantra

By images, ceremonies, mind, identification, and knowing the self, a mortal attains liberation – Śaktirahasya

The Jñānārṇava Tantra falls into the Śrī Vidyā class of tantras and is a relatively brief and comparatively straightforward example of the genre. Jñānārṇava means Ocean of Knowledge.

Consisting of 26 paṭalas (chapters), the Jñānārṇava Tantra amplifies information relating to the Śrī Vidyā tradition in other works of the school. No date can be assigned to it. It does have some most interesting information on inner worship, rather than the external rituals (bahiryāga).

Cast in the familiar form as a conversation between Devī and Īśvara, the goddess starts the Jñanārṇava Tantra by asking the true nature of Śrī Vidyā.  Īśvara replies by saying that the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet from A to Kṣa, endued with the 14 vowels and the three bodies, constitute the body of Mātṛkā Devī, which is one with the circle of time (Kalāmaṇḍala).

This is the absolute as sound (Śabdabrahma). It is the true form of the Ātma and is Haṃsa. Īśvara then dilates on the three bindus. Haṃsa indicates the three guṇas; the three Śaktis Icchā, Jñāna and Kriyā; the three tattvas; the three cities; the true nature of Bhur-Bhuvah-Svah and the states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The waking state is sattvik, and is the true form of Śakti, while the deep sleep state is tamasik and is the Śiva form. The dream state is rajasik, says Īśvara.

The Turīyā (the fourth) pervades all these states and is the Parākalā, the Jñānacitkalā, a state of true consciousness. This is Tripurā and the true rosary of the letters (ākṣamāla).

In chapter two, Devī wants to know about the different mantras and forms of Tripurā. Īśvara says that Tripurā has three forms of which the first is Bālā. He outlines a three syllable mantra which is aiṃ klīṃ sauh.

She is the mother of great good fortune, the giver of great eloquence, the great destroyer of death and consists of all the worlds. The rest of this chapter is mainly given over to details of external pūjā (worship), including tāntrik gāyatrī and the other usual details including nyāsa and the like.

Īśvara starts to talk about internal worship (antaryāga) in chapter three.

Before beginning external worship, the devotee should visualise the root mantra as pervading the body from the Mūlādhāra to the top of the head, and visualise it as effulgent as koṭis of fires, suns and moons.  A koṭi is generally 10,000,000 in European numbers. So, endless then. Then, facing east, the devotee should inscribe the yantra.

The Jñānarṇava Tantra gives detailed instructions on how to draw the figure, including the mantras and bījas which should be drawn on it. The yantra may be inscribed on gold, silver, copper or on the ground, and scented with perfumes including sandalwood, as well as coloured with kuṅkuma, vermilion and camphor. It may also be inscribed on bhūrja (a type of birch bark).

Then follows a detailed dhyāna (meditation image). She is adorned with many strings of pearls, and a bright diadem. In her two left hands she holds a book and a bow, and with her two right hands she banishes fear and bestows boons to the sādhaka. She is pure white as milk or snow, and has a sweetly smiling face, says the Jñanārṇava Tantra.

In chapter four, Devī asks Īśvara about how to perform pūjā in the cakra or maṇḍala described earlier. Śiva describes twelve pīṭha śaktis whose names are Vāmā, Jyeṣṭā, Raudrī, Ambikā, Icchā, Jñāna, Kriyā, Kubjikā, Ṛddhī, Viṣaghnikā, Dūtarī and Ānandā. They are adorned with strings of pearls and rubies, resemble the moon, are as white as the Ganges river in flood, and have two arms.

The twelve śaktis are to be worshipped from the east (of the goddess) and are adorned with the nine jewels. There follows a description of the five corpses, the five lion seats. Īśvara says that these are the bodies of Brahma, Viṣṇu, Rudra, Īśvara and Sadāśiva.

Brahma, Viṣṇu and Rudra represent the three guṇas and the states of creation, maintenance and destruction. There then follows a detailed description of different mudrās and other ritualistic details in the pūjā, as well as a description of the other deities who receive offering (bali) in the yantra. There are 81 verses in this chapter four.

The subject of pūjā is continued in chapter five. There is a very lengthy meditation image of the goddess, followed by passages about the worship and the mantras of the yoginīs, Baṭuka – a Brahmin boy, and the other bali devatās, as outlined in Gāndharvatantra. The five great corpses form the base of the Haṃsa mattress. Chapter six deals with the eastern lion seat, and describes the different Devīs and śaktis who dwell in the direction.

The Jñanārṇava Tantra then gives the mantra of Tripurā Bhairavī. The Tripurā Bhairava vidyā is said to be hard to obtain in the three worlds. Sampatpradā Bhairavī is the great giver of prosperity. She is as bright as a thousand suns, with a crest gem like the rising moon, wearing numberless gems and pearls. Her face is like the full moon, and she has three eyes, with large swelling breasts, wearing red clothes, and has a youthful, intoxicated form.

She holds a book and dispels fear with her left hands, while with her right hands she holds a rosary of rudrākṣas and shows the mudrā giving boons. There then follows a description of Caitanyā Bhairavī. The next chapters describe the goddesses dwelling in the southern, the western and the northern directions. Here, their yantras and vidyās are also outlined.

Chapter ten of the Jñanārṇava Tantra is a lengthy chapter of 103 verses which covers a number of mantras necessary to the worship of the Devī. These include the hand-purifying mantra (karaśuddhī), the āsana or seat mantras, and the other vidyā mantras used in her worship.

Chapter eleven, in contrast to the previous chapter, contains only 14 verses which describes the fifteen letter Kādi vidyā, all in code form. Chapter twelve describes the other divisions in Śrī Vidyā, starting with the Lopamudrā mantra.

Chapter thirteen deals with the Ṣoḍaśī Devī, so called because her mantra has sixteen letters. It describes the different sections of the mantra and says that the sixteenth letter should never be revealed to anyone. Unless it is obtained from a guru, its use bestows a curse. It is made up of four parts which correspond to the states of waking, dreaming, deep sleep and the fourth state. The fourth state, Turīyā, is the supreme kalā, above being and non-being, above the guṇas and pure.

Chapter fourteen describes the placing of the golden vessel or jar, and details the ten kalās of fire, the twelve kalās of the sun, and in the moon maṇḍala, the sixteen kalās, together with the mantras used in this worship. This paṭala of 148 verses, speaks then of the special offering, and of the yantra for this offering, which is made up of a triangle, a circle, six angles, and an earth square. The sun is to be worshipped in this yantra. The different six limbs of nyāsa are also worshipped in this yantra, and a sādhaka should perform bhūtaśuddhi, or purification of the elements in the human body.

Different more complex nyāsas should be performed, including the Mahāṣoḍha Nyāsa, detailed in the Yoginīhridaya. The different meditation images to be used are outlined. The pūjā includes the visualisation and placing of the 50 (51) letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.

In chapter fifteen of the Jñanārṇava Tantra, which has 69 verses, Īśvara starts by saying to the Devī that he will declare the utmost Nityā maṇḍala, and talks about Kāmeśvarī, the mahāvidyā who subdues all of the worlds. Her mantra is then given in code form. The vidyās of the other fourteen Nityā Devīs are then related. Mudrās and nyāsas related to Lalitā are outlined. Inner worship (antaryāga) is pūjā.

Chapter sixteen, which has 228 verses, starts with a question from Śrī Devī about inner yāga and outer yāga (worship). Devī, replies Śiva, exists between the Mulādhara and Brahmarandhrā cakras. There then follows a beautiful and lengthy dhyāna (meditation image) of the queen of queens, who has a face like the full moon, a mouth like a lotus, and who consists of all mantra, all agamas, all places, all vidyās, all worship and pūjā, all śāstras or holy texts, all āmnāyas, and who is pure bliss and consciousness herself, the supreme Mother.

She should be invoked in the centre of the cakra using mudrās, and all the mudrās should be shown to her. She is surrounded by her fifteen Nityā attendants, and by the nine gurus, all of whose names end in ānandanātha, as well as by masses of enlightened gurus. She is the Navacakreśvarī, or Lady of the Nine Cakras.

Then follows a very lengthy description of her other attendants in the Śrī Yantra, as well as her nine forms in the nine maṇḍalas of the Śrī Yantra. Śiva is asked about the 16 letter vidyā in the 118 verses of chapter seventeen, about the rules of reciting the mantra, as well as some instructions for the substances the Śrī Yantra may be drawn on, which include bhūrja (Betula Bhojpatra) bark, gold, silver, copper and the like.

This chapter of the Jñanārṇava Tantra also has some prayogas (applications) for subjugation and the like, and the flowers and other substances used to obtain the desired results.

The short, eighteenth chapter of 26 verses deals with a rite known as the ratna or jewel pūjā, which is also described in the Gandharvatantra. Performing this rite for a period of one month removes the blemishes accrued from seven incarnations, the text claims.

In chapter nineteen, Śakti asks the lord to explain the nature of the three bījas, the essence of Tripurasundarī. There follows a dhyāna of Kāmakāla, which, the text says, deludes the entire world, and delivers every other type of benefit, including destroying death, and so forth.

Chapter twenty deals with the rules of japa and homa, and describes successive homas which involve the recitation of mantra many hundreds of thousands of time. This chapter is reminiscent of a similar chapter in Vāmakeśvarīmata. The successive recitations and the more intensive homas eventually cause every denizen of the three worlds to become attracted to the sādhaka.

The Jñānarṇava Tantra also describes the construction of the kuṇḍas (fire pits) to be used in these homas, together with other diagrams employed in the homas, as well as the substances such as camphor and kuṅkuma which should be used in the worship.

Chapter twenty one speaks of inner (antar) homa, which is figuratively described as using a four square kuṇḍa. In this inner homa, the 21,600 breaths of inhalation and exhalation feed the fire of consciousness. These breaths make up the embodied being, or jīva, which, however, is one with the ātmān. By sacrificing everything in the microcosm, which is one with the macrocosm, into the central suṣumnā fire, knowledge (Jñāna) is realised.

Feeding and worship of the kūmārīs or virgins is the topic of chapter twenty two.

The kūmārīs should be treated with great reverence and fed good food, adorned with jewels and fine clothes and the like. Following the rules relating to the kūmārīs, the chapter then goes on to describe the Dūtī, or śakti of a sādhaka. This section of the chapter contains reference to the vīra sādhanā.

Chapter twenty three continues the topic of Dūtīs (messengers) by speaking of the Inner Dūtī.

She is Icchā, Jñāna and Kriyā Śakti, the self of Śiva and Śakti, the parābrahma, or supreme absolute, in which everything is dissolved. She is the form of the sixteen vowels of the alphabet, the form of the absolute, and the sixteen kalās. Whosoever knows her through the grace of the guru, becomes one with her. A fine verse towards the end of this chapter says that there is no difference between the four varṇas or castes, and the caṇḍalā or outcast.

The Dūtī, or inner goddess, is free from such distinctions. In her, all such distinctions do not exist.

In chapter twenty four, Īśvara starts to speak about the rules for initiation (dīkṣā), without which worship of the Devī is fruitless. Would be candidates who do not have the right attitude are not suitable for initiation.

The Jñānarṇava Tantra then speaks of a pavilion to perform the initiation, and of diagrams to be created and of the devīs who rule over the initiation, as well as the regulation of breath (prāṇāyāma) and other particulars of the time of initiation. The chapter contains an unusual description of the cakras and of initiation in these cakras, as well as giving the right times to bestow initiation upon a candidate, which refer to particular times according to the rules of sidereal astrology when initiation will be successful.

Chapter twenty five is a very brief chapter which contains the rules for making a pavitra. This sacred thread must be scented with rocana, kuṅkuma and the like, and fashioned in a particular way with 118 threads intertwined together.

The last, twenty sixth chapter of the Jñanārṇava Tantra, speaks of the damanā (subduing) rite, which must be preceded by elaborate precautions to protect the sādhaka performing it.

Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2022. Translations are © Mike Magee 1975-2022.Questions or comments to mike.magee@btinternet.com

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