Abhinavagupta’s Attitude towards Yoga

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Raffaele Torella



A major characteristic of the aristocratic attitude—and I would not know how to better define the flavor that pervades the whole of Abhinavagupta’s work—is the downgrading of all painful effort, seen as a plebeian feature. The aristocrat intends to show that what inferior people can achieve only at the cost of long and painful exercises is accessible to him promptly and very easily. One of the recurring qualifications for Abhinavagupta’s attitude to the spiritual path is precisely absence of effort, absence of exertion or fatigue, easiness. This can be clearly detected in Abhinavagupta’s attitude to yoga, or, to be more precise, to Pātañjala yoga. In the summary of the topics of the Tantrāloka (TĀ), at the end of Āhnika I, he lists “uselessness of yogāṅgas.” When all yogāṅgas, abhyāsa, vairāgya, etc ., are viewed from the peak of the highest aesthetically marked spiritual experiencer, they are condemned unreservedly (following the lead of the Vīrāvalī-tantra). On the other hand, after delivering such a pitiless death sentence, Abhinavagupta seems to gracefully suspend it, and allow common people to follow pāśavayoga ‘yoga for limited souls’ in the context of the “minimal means” with the motivation that after all everything is made of everything, and, as the MVU teaches, “nothing is to be prescribed, nothing to be prohibited.”

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