The Theory of Reflection, pratibimabavāda, is one of the core principles of Kashmir Shaivism. In this excerpt from Chapter 4 of his book Kashmir Shaivism The Secret Supreme, Swami Lakshmanjoo reveals to us this unique principle as Abhinavagupta has written in his famous Tantraloka.
“The Universe, as we see it, is a reflection in the mirror of God-consciousness.” ~Swami Lakshmanjoo
Just as in a fine clean mirror, where there is no dust, it’s spotless, a refined an absolutely clear mirror, just as in that mirror everything is reflected, everything is seen in that mirror, earth, water, etc. everything, whatever is there it is reflected in that mirror, but that mirror must be clean. There must not be dust on it. If there is dust then it reflects [objects] but they are not seen [clearly]. And these [objects] are seen [reflected] separately.
For instance, this whole room is reflected in a mirror eight inches by ten inches. In an eight-inch by ten inches mirror, if this whole room is reflected, then this room must be reflected in one ball [image]. It can’t enter in this eight-inch by ten inches [mirror], this whole room. But it has come! It has come. You will see the distance there. In that eight-inch by ten-inch mirror you will see the distance of so many feet; twenty feet by ten feet distance of that room in that reflected mirror. All of these things are seen reflected in that mirror, in that small mirror, separately.
In the same way, all of these modes of action – śabda, sparśa, rūpa, rasa and gandha, sound, touch, form, taste, and smell – all of these things are reflected in the Lord of consciousness, in the mirror of the Lord of consciousness.
The Lord of consciousness is the mirror, a refined mirror, where everything is seen, reflected. [But] there is a difference between this [ordinary] mirror and that [universal] mirror.
In this [ordinary] mirror only forms are seen, you can’t touch them, you can’t touch that room. You can’t use that tumbler which is reflected in the mirror. If you want to take a sip of water in that mirror you can’t carry it to a waterfall and taste it. Only there is formation. It is seen only. You can’t touch it. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it. You can’t hear its sound.
But the objective world, which is reflected in the mirror of the Lord of consciousness, you can use freely because this whole universe is reflected in that Lord of consciousness, in the mirror of the Lord of consciousness. So there is a difference. There [in a mirror] you find only rūpa, ‘formation’. Here you find all of the five: sound, touch, form, taste, and smell.
Now he says, according to the tradition of our masters, what is refinement (nirmalatā). The refinement of that mirror is svasminnabhedā; although He has taken the whole objective world in His own nature, i.e. this whole objective world is existing in that mirror, although it is one with the mirror (because if this mountain is reflected in a mirror, a mountain is so heavy, you couldn’t move that mirror then if a mountain was reflected in that, but the weight of that mirror is the same). This is the refinement; this is the nirmalatā of mirror.
No other agency is there, no other foreign matter is there. Although everything is there, although everything is reflected in that mirror, but nothing is reflected in nature because there is no weight in that. Weight has not increased in that mirror. He takes all of these formations in [His] own nature and after that [He] makes you see everything separately, not in one ball. Everything is separately seen in that mirror. And at the same time, the mirror is not destroyed. If the whole universe has come in the reflection of that mirror the formation of the mirror is not destroyed. The formation of the mirror is the same. This is the nirmalatā, this is the refinement of that mirror. It is described in this way by our masters.
So, if the definition of this universe is pratibimba, it is ‘a reflection’, it is not reflected; and the definition of [the object which is] reflected (bimba) is not existing, it is absent here, [then] na hānir, there is no harm if you admit that there is only the reflection. Only there is one point, i.e., your question will rest in [its] cause. How this reflection has taken place? You can’t say whose reflection is this universe. You can only ask how; how this reflection has taken place in the mirror of consciousness. You cannot say of whom? This question of yours will end only in its cause, in the field of ‘cause’.
And in that section of causes, there are two sections of causes. One is the instrumental cause and one is material cause.
- Instrumental cause is potter, instrumental cause is that wheel, instrumental cause is that stick. That is instrumental cause, and the instrumental cause is called nimitta kāraṇa.
- Material cause is earth from which the potter makes pot. Material cause is called upādāna kāraṇa.
And your question, that will end in causes, that too will end in the instrumental cause, not in the material cause. Because the reflection of the universe in the mirror of consciousness, the cause of this must be instrumental, not material. Because, when you perceive this reflection in an external mirror, your face does not become the material cause of it, your face is the instrumental cause. If it would have been the material cause then your face would be no more existing when the reflection would have taken place; as the earth does not exist when a pot is made by the potter.
But instrumental causes exist. After you construct that pot, even then the instrumental causes exist.
Don’t they exist?
The potter exists, that wheel exists, that stick exists, everything exists, but the material cause [earth, etc.,] does not exist. So the external face (bimba) in the external mirror is reflected (pratibimba). At the time of reflection, this reflected object is unharmed, it is existing there, without any change in it. So you can ask this question, “what is the instrumental cause of this reflection in the mirror of consciousness?” The instrumental cause you can ask, not the material cause.
BRUCE P.: You can ask what is its material reflection? What is the material of reflection?
SWAMIJI: The material cause? Material cause is earth for a pot. When you make a pot from earth, the earth does not exist at that time. Earth has transformed into the formation of the pot. Earth has become a pot.
BRUCE P.: At the time of the pot?
SWAMIJI: At the time of the pot the earth is not there, but the instrumental causes are still there. Potter is [still] there, existing.
BRUCE P.: So at the time of reflection, the reflected . . .
SWAMIJI: The reflected [object] is there, unharmed, it has not become the reflection. At the time of the reflection, the reflected [thing] has not become the reflection. It has only thrown its shape in it, but . . .
BRUCE P.: . . . not material.
JOHN: Also, if there is some material cause for reflection there’ll be some change in that mirror. If there were a material cause in reflection there’ll be some change . . .
SWAMIJI: . . . change in the mirror, and that change does not take place in the mirror.
And nimitta karaṇānāṁ ca kadācit kvāpi saṁbhavaḥ, and the instrumental causes, it is not necessary that the instrumental causes must always be a stick. Instrumental causes can become your finger also. In place of a stick, you can put a finger and move the wheel.
SWAMIJI: Substitute. So there is a substitute. How this reflection has taken place in the mirror of consciousness – there is a substitute. You can ask what is the substitute of that cause, of that instrumental cause. There is an instrumental cause, but not an instrumental cause as bimba.1 There is another cause in place of bimba.
That he will explain now in the following ślokas.
In the reflection, in the reflection of the universe, the cause, the substitute cause of this reflection is his free svātantrya śakti–by his free will. By his free will, this reflection has taken place in the mirror of consciousness, but there is nothing reflected, there is not any reflected object. Because all these reflected objects and [their] reflections are all excluded in the reflection in the mirror of consciousness.2 Everything is in the mirror of consciousness. This [real ‘kongari’] is in the mirror of consciousness, and the reflection of this ‘kongari’ (firepot) also is in the mirror of consciousness, this and this both.
So everything, whatever exists in this universe, is a reflection only in the mirror of consciousness.
By the attribution of inserting reflection he becomes one with the reflection, the reflected becomes one with the reflection. Because there is arpakāt. Arpakāt, one who bestows its reflection, that is arpakāt. I bestow, I surrender my image in this mirror and in the mirror you can perceive the reflection of your face, and that reflection of your face becomes just like your face. But there is a difference in the mirror of consciousness. Cittattavasya tu nijaiśvaryāt, in the mirror of consciousness the reflection takes place by His own sweet will, not by the grace of the reflected object; the reflection takes place by the force of His own svātantrya śakti.
So this whole universe, which is consisting of six adhvans:
- kalādhva, and
- tattvādhva, and
- mantrādhva, and
- letters [varṇa],
- words [mantra], and
- sentences [pada],
- one hundred and eighteen worlds [bhuvana],
- thirty-six elements [tattva], and
- five circles [kalā] of the universe3
– this whole universe is only a reflection, in which, in whom? Bhairavī cidambare, Bhairavanātha, who is Bhairava, who is one with cidākāśa, who is absolutely a ‘vacuum of consciousness’. And this reflection is sufficiently settled in that transparent mirror of consciousness but not by the grace of any other agency. There is no grace of any other agency needed, as in external reflections there is the grace of another agency needed.
What is that other agency?
A reflected object.4
Just as in an external mirror this whole universe is perceived in the form of a reflection, in the same way, in the mirror of consciousness the reflection (pratibimba) takes place not by the grace of the reflected (bimba), but by the grace of His own free vimarśa, svātantrya. But this greatness is not found in an external mirror.
Bas! Here ends the pratibimabavāda.
1. An object (bimba) which is the source of the reflection.
2. They are excluded in the sense that there is no object which is the source of the reflection because the reflection of the universe in the mirror of consciousness has taken place by the free will (svātantrya) of the Lord of consciousness.
3. See Secret Supreme, chapter 2, The Sixfold Path of the Universe. [Editor’s note]
4. i.e., There is no object which is the source of the reflection.
(source: Kashmir Shaivism: The Secret Supreme, by Swami Lakshmanjoo)
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