In this excerpt from the book Light on Tantra in Kashmir Shaivism, Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka, Chapter One, Swami Lakshmanjoo explains the nature of ignorance in Kashmir Shaivism.
A) The nature of Ignorance (22–30)
Audio 1 – 42:04
इह तावत्समस्तेषु शास्त्रेषु परिगीयते।
अज्ञानं संसृतेर्हेतुर्ज्ञानं मोक्षैककारणम्॥२२॥
iha tāvatsamasteṣu śāstreṣu parigīyate /
ajñānaṁ saṁsṛterheturjñānaṁ mokṣaikakāraṇam //22//
In this world of spirituality, everywhere, in each and every śāstra, it is sung that ignorance is the cause of repeated births and deaths and knowledge is the cause of liberation from it. This I have not explained from my mind. It is explained by Śiva in tantra.
For this he explains this twenty-third śloka:
Audio 1 – 43:01
इति प्रोक्तं तथा च श्रीमालिनीविजयोत्तरे॥२३॥
malamajñānamicchanti saṁsārāṅkurakāraṇam /
iti proktaṁ tathā ca śrīmālinīvijayottare //23//
[not recited in full]
Mala is ignorance. Mala is not some dirt.57 Mala is called [literally] “dirt,” but that dirt is ignorance, and that ignorance becomes the cause of māyīyamala and kārmamala. Malam is called āṇavamala. Āṇavamala is called ajñāna (ignorance) and that ajñāna is the cause of māyīyamala and kārmamala.58 This is explained by Lord Śiva in the Mālinīvijayottara [tantra].59
Audio 1 – 43:50
विशेषणेन बुद्धिस्थे संसारोत्तरकालिके।
संभावनां निरस्यैतदभावे मोक्षमब्रवीत्॥२४॥
viśeṣaṇena buddhisthe saṁsārottarakālike /
saṁbhāvanāṁ nirasyaitadabhāve mokṣamabravīt //24//
Lord Śiva has explained, told, that
Mokṣa (liberation) will only come into being, into existence, by the depriving of the ajñāna (ignorance) of puruṣa (being).60
[Now], this ajñāna has got two qualifications, this ignorance has got two qualifications: one ignorance is attached to the intellect61 and another ignorance is attached to puruṣa.62 But if we would say that that ajñāna, [which is explained] there in Mālinīvijaya, [if it] is explained as that ignorance which is attached to the intellect, [then] that cannot be [said to be the cause of puruṣa’s bondage] because the intellect has come out into existence after the world was created. When the world was created, after the creation of the world, the intellect took place, the intellect was created. How, by removing the intellectual ignorance, can you get liberation? There is still saṁsāra yet.
SCHOLAR: When you say that it is created after saṁsāra . . .
SWAMIJI: It is created after saṁsāra.
SCHOLAR: . . . you don’t mean in the sense of time but in the sense of that āṇavamala, nirvikalpa [thoughtless-ness], precedes ideation always.
SWAMIJI: Yes, after āṇavamala it was created; the intellect was created after saṁsāra. So, how can that intellectual knowledge be the cause of the removal of ignorance? Because [the intellect] is saṁsāra uttara kālike, it has come into existence after saṁsāra was created.63
SCHOLAR: It presupposes saṁsāra.
SWAMIJI: Yes. So, saṁbhāvanāṁ nirasya, this saṁ-bhāvanā64 you should put away, you should cast this saṁbhāvanā aside. Etat abhāve [means], pauruṣa ajñāna abhāve, when pauruṣa ajñāna65 is destroyed, mokṣam abravīt, mokṣa66 is likely to happen.
JOHN: It is not certain that mokṣa will happen, it’s only likely.
SWAMIJI: No, no, it is certain. Abravīt, He has told that mokṣa will take place, not likely [take place].
57 “The malas are just the absence of knowledge and not something substantial.” Tantrāloka 9.75 (LJA archive).
58 See Appendix 6 (p385) for detailed explanation of the malas. See also Kashmir Shaivism–The Secret Supreme, 7.47-49.
59 The first line of verse 23 is a direct quote from the Mālinīvijaya tantra 1.23cd.
60 The individual soul.
61 Bauddha ajñāna.
62 Pauruṣa ajñāna.
63 Swamiji tells us that, “The creative course is beginning from Śiva to pṛthvī” (Parātriśikā Vivaraṇa, LJA archive) and also that these 36 elements “flash forth simultaneously in a successive way.” Tantrāloka 9.215, (LJA archive). As Swamiji explains in his translation of verse 9.94 of the Tantrāloka (LJA archive), āṇavamala first arises in the state of Sadāśiva. The intellect (buddhi tattva) is created after the creation of āṇavamala (viz., Sadāśiva) and after the creation of the limited individual/saṁsāra (viz., māyā and the kañcukas) and therefore cannot be the cause of the individual’s bondage. See Appendix 2 (p372) for a list of the 36 elements.
64 Opinion or assumption.
65 Spiritual ignorance.
66 Liberation.Source: Light on Tantra in Kashmir Shaivism, Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka, Chapter One,
revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo