Grace in Degrees: Śaktipāta, Devotion, and Religious Authority in the Śaivism of Abhinavagupta
South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies
This dissertation analyzes conceptions of grace (śaktipāta) and devotion in the doctrine of the Kashmiri polymath Abhinavagupta (c. 960–1020 CE), within the broader context of his tradition, Tantric Śaivism. Śaktipāta, “the descent of power,” refers to the descent of Śiva’s divine grace upon the individual soul at a single moment in time, conferring on the person who shows its signs the eligibility to receive initiation from a guru. Questions examined include the relation between Śiva’s grace and devotion; the soteriological efficacy of individual actions (karman) with respect to grace; who is a fit recipient for grace; and how officiants, or gurus, qualify as agents of grace, through which divine power is transmitted, or at least confirmed. The first part of the dissertation explores the relationship between devotion and grace in Tantric Śaivism, and, more broadly, the roles of bhakti in the Tantric traditions. Through analysis of the Gītārthasaṅgraha, Abhinavagupta’s commentary on the Bhagavadgītā, I show how in the author’s non-dualistic philosophical view conceptions of devotion merge with those of grace, knowledge, and liberation. The second part of the dissertation analyzes Abhinavagupta’s discussion of śaktipāta in his magnum opus, the Tantrāloka. Chapter 3, for instance, analyzes the author’s critique of the views on the causes of śaktipāta held by his main opponents, followers of the dualist Śaiva Siddhānta. Finally, chapter 4 examines how Abhinavagupta uses his doctrine of “grace in degrees” to establish the superiority of his tradition, the Trika, and its gurus. I argue that the hierarchy of teachers he establishes is part of a strategy to legitimize the power of the gnostics (jñānins)—gurus who had not necessarily been consecrated as officiants (ācāryas) through the traditional rituals—within the larger community of Tantric Śaivas.