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Ernst Fürlinger: Is Cit "Consciousness"?

Hermeneutical Reflections

quarta-feira 30 de maio de 2018, por Cardoso de Castro

Extrait des pages 40-45

The word cit is one of the key terms of Indian philosophy as well as of the Trika-system. In the Advaita Vedānta system of Śaṅkara (Śānta Brahmavāda) cit denotes the Divine Absolute (Brahman). Contrary to Śaṅkara’s view of cit as inactive (niṣkriya) pure light (prakāśa), non-dualistic Kashmir Śaivism (īśvarādvayavāda) stresses the Śakti-dimension of the Highest Reality (anuttara), its dynamism and activity (kartṛtva). For the Śaivites cit is not only pure light, but is simultaneously prakāśa and vimarśa, the "seeing" or cognizing of this light, symbolized by the non-separated yet differentiated pair "Śiva" and "Śakti." The highest Śakti (parāśakti, the supreme kundalinī) itself is citi (fem. of cit), the creative cause of the world: "The absolute citi is the cause of the emergence of the universe" (Pratyabhijm-hṛdaya, sūtra 1). Here we specifically notice that Trika does not speak of the duality of Śiva as cit or prakāśa and Śakti as vimarśa, but rather that Śakti is identified with cit and vimarśa, possibly in an intentional contrast to the immobile, inactive cit/Brahman of Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta. Abhinavagupta   therefore says at the beginning of his Parātriśikāvivarana: "It is this supreme saṁvit (parā saṁvit) which is said to be the goddess (devī)." [1] This is also clarified by Kṣemarāja at the beginning of his Parāprāveśika (=PP):

We adore saṁvit, which flashes forth (sphurantīm) in the form of the original Highest Śakti (parāśakti), the heart of the Highest Lord, she who consists of the world and transcends it. Here [in Trika] the Highest Lord is of the nature of light (prakāśātmā) and the light is of the nature of vimarśa. Vimarśa is the flashing forth (visphuraṇam), which is the uncreated "I" (akṛtrima-aham) in the form of the universe, of the light of [41] the universe and of the dissolution of the universe. If it would be without vimarśa, then it would be without Lord, and lifeless (jaḍa). And that is, truly, vimarśa: cit, caitanya, the highest word (parāvāk), which arises from its own joy (rasa), autonomy (svātantrya), the original sovereignty (aiśvarya) of the highest Self (paramātman), agency (kartṛtvam), flashing forth (sphurattā), essence (sāra), heart (hṛdayam), vibration (spanda) — with these and other words is vimarśa proclaimed (udghoṣyate) in the Āgamas. [2]

At the same time, Abhinavagupta   identifies cit with the Self, one’s innermost nature:

The Self (ātman), i.e. one’s own nature (svabhāua), which is cit [a]. — Tantraloka   5.127ab

Usually cit is translated in English as "consciousness" or "pure consciousness," "pure divine consciousness," or "absolute consciousness." [3] Torella   generally translates cit or citi with just "consciousness" (cf. Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā I. 3.7 k; I. 5.10 v, I. 5.13 k; passim), in the same way as do Dyczkowski   [4] and others.

Let us have a closer look at a crucial passage within which Utpaladeva   characterizes citi:

(13) Citi has as its essential nature (ātma) reflective awareness (pratyavamarśa), the supreme word (parāvāk) arising from its own joy (svarasodītā). [5] It is freedom (svātantrya) in the eminent (mukhya) sense, the sovereignty (aiśvaryam) of the supreme Self (paramātman).
(14) It is the luminous vibrating (sphurattā), the great being (mahāsatta) unmodified by space and time; it is that which is said to be the heart (hṛdayam) of the supreme Lord, insofar as it is his essence (sāra). — Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā I. 5.13-14 k [6]

In this important passage, citi is equated with parāvāk. [7] Abhinavagupta   identifies the "supreme word" (parāvāk) with the supreme Goddess of Trika, Parā. [8] He characterizes it at the beginning of Parātriśikāvivarana, and so we receive a conception of citi (or saṁvit, or anuttara), alongside the characterization by Utpaladeva  , wherein parāvāk shows a complete absence of difference, abiding in the "supreme I" (paramāham) beyond time and space. [9] It is the "non-dual saṁvit in all sakala-perceivers" (sakalapramūtṛsarhvidadvayamayī), that is, it is even present at the lowest of the seven levels of perception, in the sakala-state, in the realm of duality between objects and subjects of our everyday cognition — but usually we remain unaware of it. Abhinavagupta   continues, stating [43] that parāvāk is the nature (svabhāva) of the highest reality (paramārtha). [10] He characterizes it as "unconventional" (asāṁ ketika) and "uncreated" or "not made" (akṛtaka); [11] it vibrates/ flashes (sphurati), resting in the light (prakāśa) of its own self, its own wonder (svacamatkṛti). [12]

In his translation, Torella   renders citi (fem. form of cit) with the word "consciousness," [13] in accord with the standard relation between the Sanskrit term cit and the English term "consciousness," based on a long translation-history in regard [44] to cit. Anyhow, in my opinion, it is a very strong interpretative intervention, by which the whole passage — including the auto-commentary (vṛtti) — acquires a different meaning.

This is so because it is clear (especially from verse 14, but also from other texts like PP) that cit or citi — as well as hṛdayam, sūra, sphurattā, spanda, ūrmi, etc. — is one of the names of Śakti, and is identified with Her. [14] The crucial question is this: is the word "consciousness" able to express the dimensions of Śakti (ku  ṇḍalinī), its divine, cosmic, human wholeness according to Tāntric sources? Can the term "consciousness" express that citi — Śakti — is the ground and root of consciousness, and the basis of all life, "the life of all living beings" (sarvajīvatāmjīvanaikarūpam)? [15]

I am fully aware of the weight of the standardized translation-relation between cit and "consciousness," not only in view of the Trika texts, but of Indian philosophy in general, and to jeopardize this relation could seem as an act of academic Quixotism.

However, any translation as "consciousness" in its usual modern usage is reductive: it confines cit (a) to humans, and (b) to the lower level of cit in humans — in terms of the tradition to the contracted, limited condition of cit. [16] Its integral, diviner cosmic-human or "cosmotheandric" (Raimon Panikkar  ) [45] dimension gets lost. [17] From this translation/interpretation arises the danger of interpreting the complex multidimensionality of the non-dualistic world-view of the Kashmir Śaivites — as for example in the case of an early work of Mark Dyczkowski   — merely in the reductive framework of a "psychology of absolute consciousness." [18] This holds also true if the word "consciousness" is qualified by adjectives like "pure," "absolute" or "divine," since the word "consciousness" remains always the central term.

Already in 1922, John Woodroffe had directed our attention to the problem of the translation of cit into any European language:

The fundamental peculiarity of the Advaita Vedanta and therefore of its Śākta form, is the distinction which it draws between Mind and Consciousness in the sense of Cit; a word for which there is no exact equivalent in any European Language. [19]

He characterises cit as the

[. . .] common source and basis of both Mind and Matter.
Chit is the infinite Whole (Pūrna) in which all that is finite, whether as Mind ot Matter, is. This is the Supreme Infinite Experience, free of all finitization which is Pure Spirit as distinguished from Mind and Body. [20]


[1PTV, Sanskrit text: p. 3, translation: p. 9.

[2Parāpraveśikū of Kṣemarāja, ed. with Notes by Pandit Mukunda Rāma Śāstrī (KSTS; 15) Bombay 1918, pp. 1ff. Translated by Bettina Bāumer.

[3See for example A. Padoux, "Cit": Tāntrikābhidhānakośa II, pp. 243-44 ("la pure conscience divine," "conscience absolue"); Vāc pp. 77, 454 ("consciousness"); pp. 88, 172, 235, 245 (pure consciousness); pp. 296 (supreme consciousness).

[4See for example Dyczkowski, Doctrine of Vibration, op. cit., pp. 43f, 125, passim.

[5Torella does not translate the word sva-rasa, lit. "own (unadulterated) juice or essence" (MW 1276), but translates: ". .. that arises freely" (ĪPK, p. 120).

[6Especially in verse 13 I have modified the translation of Torella (ĪPK, pp. 120f).

[7Kṣemarāja affirms the identity of Parā, Vākśakti and the "light of Cit" (citprakāśa), cf. PHr, commentary sūtra 12 (PHṛ, p. 79).

[8Cf. PTV, Sanskrit text: p. 2, translation: p. 8.


[10Paramārtha: "highest truth, highest reality" (cf. MW 588). We meet the word from the title of Abhinavagupta’s Paramārthasāra, in this text in verse 27: "Knowledge (vijñāna), inner ruler (antaryamī), breath (prāṇa), cosmic body (virāṭdeha), species (jāti) and [individual] body (piṇḍa) are only [part of the] worldly existence (vyavahāra), but [with regard to] the highest reality (paramartha) they are not." (The Paramūrthasāra by Abhinavagupta with the Commentary of Yogarāja, ed. by Jagadisha Chandra Chatterji (KSTS; 7) Srinagar: Research Department of the Kashmir State, 1916). — J. Singh translates here as: ". . . the stage of parāvāk (...) is of the nature of the highest truth." (PTV, Sanskrit text: p. 2, translation: p. 9)

[11Jaideva Singh translates akrtaka as "natural" (ibid.). — Abhinavagupta’s description of parāvāk ( = citi), the nature of Reality, as non-dual, full, unconventional (in opposition to the conventional, dualistic perception), not made, etc. reminds us of the characterization of "that-ness," the Real-as-such, in Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 18.9: "Not dependent on another, peaceful and not fabricated by mental fabrication, not thought, without distinctions, that is the character of reality (that-ness)." (The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. Translation and commentary by Jay L. Garfield, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 49).

[12PTV, Sanskrit text: p. 2, translation: p. 9.

[13Torella: ĪPK, op. cit., p. 120.

[14Cf. also TA 6.13, where Abhinavagupta uses the same names if the context of prāṇaśakti.

[15PTV, commentary PT, verse 1 (PTV, Sanskrit text: p. 4, translation p. 15).

[16Cf. PHr, Commentary sūtra 5: "Individual consciousness (citta) is nothing else than Citi" (PHr, p. 59), which conceals its real nature and "[. . .] becomes contracted (saṅkocinī) in conformity with the objects of consciousness (cetya)." (PHr, sūtra 5)

[17See Raimon Panikkair, The Cosmotheandric Experience: Emerging Religious Consciousness, ed. Scott Eastham, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1993.

[18Mark S.G. Dyczkowski, The Doctrine of Vibration: An Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir Shaivism, Indian edition, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989, p. 44.

[19John Woodroffe, The World As Power: Power as Mind, Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1922, intro., p. v.

[20Ibid., pp. v-vi.