About the Book
Transmitted to us in a well-preserved ninth-century Nepalese manuscript, the Nisvasatattvasamhita has come in recent years to be recognised as probably the oldest surviving complete scripture of the Mantramarga. Al- though its historical importance has been hinted at by a range of scholars across the twentieth century, this is the first time its text appears in print.
This volume presents a critical edition and annotated translation of the three earliest layers of the text: the Mula- sutra, Uttarasutra and Nayasutra. The topics dealt with include cosmology, rituals of worship and initiation, and forms of yoga. A lengthy introduction sets these sutras in context, in particular by examining the evidence for dating them. There follow a summary of their contents, an account of the early manuscript and its three twentieth-century apographs, and a treatment of the various ways in which the language of the Nisvasa deviates from Paninian norms.
Some of the research of recent years that has thrown most light on the origins of Tantric Saivism has not been primarily about tantrism proper (the Mantramarga, or 'way of mantras'), but about the non-tantric Pasupata religions from which the Mantramarga sprung: the Atimarga. The most substantial contribution in this area is an article of SANDERSON that appeared in 2006 under the title 'The Lakulas: New Evidence of a System Intermediate Between Pancarthika Pasupatism and Agamic Saivism', For it is in this article that it is demonstrated that there is a remarkable doctrinal continuity, particularly in the cosmographic conceptions that are set to work in the context of religious initiation, between the Atimarga and what is arguably the earliest known Saiva tantra, namely the Nisvasa.
How may we characterise the shift from Atimarga to the Mantramarga?
How does the latter set itself apart? The Mantramarga for the first time placed strong (perhaps equal) emphasis on two goals: liberation (mukti) and the enjoyment of supernatural powers (bhukti). Both goals were attained through the power of spells (vidya, mantra), the propitiation and use of which required a ritual technology of considerable complexity, and the pursuit of both required initiation (diksa). Now there may seem to be nothing very new here: initiation was required for the Atimarga too, and indeed for Vedic sacrifices, while the use of mantras for magic is also not an innovation. And liberation, after all, is the goal of the Atimarga, But these elements have been reconfigured and, in some cases, reinterpreted: the spells of the Mantramarga are with five exceptions (the five brahmamantras) not Vedic, and initiation (diksa) is no longer simply a necessary rite of entrance into a new religion, as it had been for at least the Pancarthika Pasupatas, but has become instead a transformative rite. Liberation is no longer brought about, as in the Atimarga, through a lengthy progression of post-initiatory practice, but is conceived of as being essentially the result of the cutting of bonds by Siva, acting through the guru and with mantras as his instruments, at the time of initiation. Furthermore, this liberation, conceived of both as release from suffering and at the same time as the realisation of omniscience and omnipotence, was offered not only to brahmin males, as appears to have been the case in the Atimarga, but to those of all varnas and, in some cases, to both sexes.
This combination of innovations may have been a factor in the powerful appeal which the Mantramarga evidently had, and in its ability to attract a wide base of followers. A similar nexus of notions - mantras as both magical and soteriological instruments, to be wielded only by practitioners who have received a certain initiation (abhiseka) - also makes its appearance in Buddhist tantric sources.
Crucial evidence for understanding not only the relationship between the Atimarga and Mantramarga, as mentioned above, but also between the various emerging tantric traditions, is furnished by the Nisvasa. The last of its five sutras, the Guhyasutra, provides evidence of common ground with the non-soteriological tantric magic of Buddhist kriyatantras. For, like the Manjusriyamulakalpa, it contains a grimoire of recipes in prose for attaining magical siddhis. The recipes of both are couched in very similar language, with many identical elements identically phrased, and there is at least one entire recipe that is the same in almost every detail, as we shall see below.
Another shared feature that recurs frequently in both sources is the notion that three levels of siddhi may be attained by following a given recipe, the level attained being heralded by the manifestation of heat, smoke or flames. A recipe given in Guhyasutra 10.27ff, for instance, concludes: 'With oblation one thousand and eight times, power, which is of three [possible] grades, arises: if there is heat, power to cover great distances fast on foot [is attained]; if there is smoke, the power to disappear; if there are flames, the power to fly.' These three levels of siddhi are also to be found in other Buddhist tantric works, such as the Amoghapiisakalpariija,3 but the classification is extremely rare in Saiva literature outside the Nisvasa.
So the Nisvasa may be linked both to pre-tantric Saiva soteriology and to non-Saiva non-soteriological tantric magic found in Buddhist sources. It is also linked to some of the tantric literature that was drawn on by Kashmirian exegetes of Saiva non-dualism, for a large number of its verses, more than a thousand, were adopted and adapted to become part of the widely transmitted Svacchanda commented on by Abhinavagupta's disciple Ksemaraja in the eleventh century, and the Svacchanda in turn was itself cannibalised in a similar fashion by another large esoteric tantra, this time of the Trika, namely the Tantrasadbhava.
Once again, cosmography forms a considerable part of what was adopted, but mantras and yogic material have also migrated. The wide influence of the Svacchanda, a Bhairava- tantra of the Southern stream (daksinasrotas), can be gauged also from its wide dissemination (plentiful manuscripts survive today from Kashmir, Nepal and the Tamil-speaking South) and the absorption of its ideas into many ritual manuals.
Furthermore, the Nisvasa is an ancestor not only of such tantras, but also of the relatively orthodox and Veda-congruent Saivasiddhanta (whose scriptures some erroneously refer to as "South Indian agamas'', a label which rightly belongs only to one relatively late group among them). For although the work makes no reference to different schools within the Mantramarga, and therefore may well predate a split into Saivasiddhanta, Daksinasrotas, etc., it includes what is probably the earliest surviving list of a canon of twenty-eight scriptures (Uttarasutra 1:23ff), a list in which its own name features, now known as the canon of the twenty-eight principal Siddhanta- tantras. It then came to be seen as belonging to the Saivasiddhanta when that school came into existence.
From the inclusions and omissions in this voluminous work, we can tease out a picture of an early stage of development of what appears, judging from inscriptions and surviving literature, to have become the dominant strand of Tantric Saivism in and beyond the Indian sub-continent by the tenth century.
Short Preface-On the importance of the Nisvasatattva Samhita for the history of tantrism
The early core: the sutras of the Nisvasa
Other works bearing the name Nisvasa
The Early Place of the Nisvasa in Tantric Saivism
Some remarks on yoga
Some remarks on magic
Summary of the text
Sources and editorial policies
Remarks on peculiarities of language
Translation and Notes
Index of Padas
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