Kuṇḍaliṇī’s Ascent through Initiation into the Revelations of the Sarvāmnāya Tantra of Nepal
Across religious traditions, revealed scripture is viewed by the faithful as a direct link to that Being/Deity/Truth that reveals the wisdom contained within Its revelation as scripture. In this essay, I reflect on the revelation of a Nepalese Tantric scriptural corpus known as the Total Revelation or Sarvāmnāya Āgama. The Total Revelation is the orthodox canon for Nepalese Sarvāmnāya Śākta Tantrics, who worship divine reality as the Great Goddess, Mahā Devī — She who is at once transcendent to and manifest as the embodied cosmos. In her embodied form, the Great Goddess becomes a sixfold spatial reality comprising the six directions of East, West, North, South, Earth (Foundation), and Sky. These directions in turn correspond to the mythical six faces of Lord Śiva, from which are said to arise six streams of revelation (ṣaḍ-āmnāyas), known respectively as the East-Transmission (Pūrvāmnāya), the South-Transmission (Dakṣiṇāmnāya), the West-Transmission (Paścimāmnāya), the North-Transmission (Uttarāmnāya), the Foundation-Transmission (Adhāmnāya), and the Upper-Transmission (Urdhvāmnāya). Each of these scriptural revelations is understood to contain a piece or dimension of the wisdom and power of the Great Goddess. Nepalese Sarvāmnyāya Tāntrika make it their objective to seek initiation into each and all of these scriptural transmissions so as to embody the full revelation of their Goddess — hence their name as the Tantrics of the All or Total Revelation. In the pages that follow, I map out the practice-based understanding of Nepalese Sarvāmnāya Śākta Tantrics who believe that initiation into these six traditions of revelation results in the awakening and ascension of their dormant kuṇḍalinī-śakti thru the central channel of the yogic body as it rises to the crown cakra and beyond. The completion of this awakening results in an embodied state of liberation (jīvan-mukti) in which the practitioner’s identity is merged into the identity of the Absolute.
Historical Origins of the Sarvāmnāya Tradition
The Sarvāmnāya system appears to be the unique formulation of Nepalese Tantra, shared alike by Newar and Parbatiyā practitioners. The major study of the āmnāya traditions — Mark Dyczkowski’s brilliant and extensive The Canon of the Śaivāgama—does not discuss Nepal’s Sarvāmnāya system. Likewise, Slusser, Toffin, Gellner, and Levy — all prominent scholars of Nepalese society and culture — appear unaware of this unique tradition and its prominent position in Nepalese religious and social practices. My own study of the Sarvāmnāya system combines ethnographic research with an analysis of textual sources (drawing on a variety of manuscripts at Nepal’s National Archives) as well as my initiation into the tradition by Sthaneshwar Timalsina. Consequently, my understanding of the tradition reflects perspective both from outside and within the tradition.
The Nepalese Sarvāmnāya system is rooted in the Siddhayogeśvarīmata-Tantra (ca. eighth century) and related Krama-Kaula texts, which seek to subsume a number of groups of goddesses into one system that equates them with aspects of the one Great Goddess, who is identified with supreme consciousness. Diwakar Acharya, a leading authority on the tradition, once explained it to me this way:
Once you get this tendency, then you have the seeds for the growth of the Sarvāmnāya. We have the seven Mātṛkās, the eight Mātṛkās, the nine Durgās, the sixteen Nityās—all these groups of goddesses, each with their own set of texts, practices, and historical origins. Yet by the time of Abhinavagupta these distinct groups are understood mystically as aspects of one Godhead. So, while in India the āmnāyas were understood to be rooted in particular regions and connected with particular texts and deities, in Nepal we synthesized these traditions into one tradition that incorporated them all. This was only logical. The āmnāyas all arise from the mouth of Śiva. Śiva may be depicted with multiple mouths, but Śiva is one. For a practitioner, the śāstras of the different āmnāyas are related. They represent stages in the evolution of man back to God. So, as we receive initiation, step by step, into each āmnāya, we move closer and closer towards the goal of Tantric practice—the realization that we ourselves are omnipotent.
Although the exact date of origin of the Sarvāmnāya system is uncertain, it was established by the time of Nepalese King Śrī Pratāp Siṅgh Śāh Deva (ca. 1751-1777). Himself an initiate of the Sarvāmnāya tradition, King Pratāp Siṅgh is widely recognized by contemporary Sarvāmnāya sādhakas for integrating a wealth of paddhatis in his work entitled the Puraścaryārṇava. This compilation not only provides important historical testimony to the prominence of Tantric practices in the lives of Nepal’s kings, but it also provides textual evidence that by the eighteenth century the primary āmnāyas with their associated deities and texts had been fused into a single, integrated system of practice. This voluminous (1230 pages) text contains the puraścaraṇas, or modes of worship, for each of the major Tantric deities of the valley. As a single paddhati comprising a multitude of paddhatis to the various Tantric deities of Nepal-Maṇḍala, the Pauraścaryārṇava exemplifies textually the unified state of consciousness that the sādhaka systematically constructs through sequentially traversing the paths of the various āmnāyas. The Pauraścaryārṇava symbolizes the Viśvarūpa Devī, the Goddess-Whose-Form-is-the-Universe who, as the wholeness of consciousness, unites all forms and all deities within herself in a unified totality.
A leading authority on and practitioner of the Sarvāmnāya tradition, Professor Sthaneshwar Timalsina, once shed this light on the connection of the Pauraścaryārṇava revelation in its capacity to function as ‘map’ for reconnecting the Tantric ‘back to God’:
We don’t see the Pauraścaryārṇava simply as a composite of many different ritual texts—although it is this too. Rather, we see it as a map for making it back to God by uniting all the different deities and their mantras within myself. . . . Personally, I do not depend on the Puraścaryārṇava. The Nityāṣoḍaśikārṇava accomplishes [this same goal]. But, this text [the Puraścaryāṇava] is very important for helping us understand Nepalese Tantra and the extent to which it was impacted by the non-dual wisdom of the Śrī Vidyā and related traditions.
Timalsina’s statement highlights the movement towards interiorization at the heart of Nepalese Śākta sādhana. It is this movement towards the realization that all beings reside within one’s own Self (svātma-sarva-bhūta-antarvāsin-jña) that characterizes the esoteric dimensions of the Sarvāmnāya. The Sarvāmnāya system of sādhana transformed the perfected adept into the repository of all treasures, all knowledge, and all forms of power. It is no wonder, then, that such a tradition would be supported so extensively by Nepal’s kings. Engaged in the practices of the Sarvāmnāya, kings like Pratāp Siṅgh transformed their own bodies into the locus of all beings and all worlds and thereby meditatively and ritualistically ruled the cosmos. In this context, the enacting of the king’s power upon the social stage was understood as simply an outer manifestation of the flow of power already realized within himself.
The Six Streams of Revelation and Kuṇḍalinī Yoga
During an extensive period of field research in the Kathmandu Valley in the 1990’s, I was introduced by Dr. Timalsina to another great Sarvāmnāya Śākta Tantric named Siddhi Gopal Vaidya. Dr. Vaidya was a renowned Ayurvedic doctor and an advanced practitioner of the Sarvāmnāya tradition. Over a period of about six months, I met with Dr. Vaidya once a week in the upper room of his home outside Kathmandu to discuss his experience and understanding of the awakening of kuṇḍalinī-śakta via initiation into the six scriptural revelations of the Sarvāmnāya Śākta Tantric tradition. He explained to me that within the esoteric interpretation of the Sarvāmnāya system, the six āmnāyas correspond, respectively, to the cakras in the subtle physiology. Thus, as the sādhaka is initiated sequentially into each of the transmission schools, he awakens the kuṇḍalinī-śakti in the mūlādhāra-cakra and then activates in turn each of the cakras, causing the kuṇḍalinī to ascend successively through the cakras to the thousand-petaled lotus — the sahasrāra-cakra — at the crown of the head. As an analogy, Dr. Vaidya likened the arising of the kuṇḍalinī to the ascension of a climber up Mount Everest. The goal of this journey, likened to Everest’s summit, is the place of the Great Goddess in the crown of the head. This highest position, he explained can be reached only by passing through the stages that precede it, just as Sir Edmund Hillary could reach the world’s highest point only by gradually passing through the multiple terrains that led to the summit. At our first meeting, Dr. Vaidya remarked:
If you are hoping to reach the peak of Mount Everest, then first you have to start at the base camp. How can you get to the peak without first going through base-camp? In this mystical journey the sahasrāra-cakra is the summit and the mūlādhāra is the base-camp.
He then went on to explain that the purpose of initiation into each of the Six Revelations is to propel the inward ascent of the kuṇḍalinī-śakti through the central meridian, the suṣuṃnā, beginning in the mūlādhāra-cakra at the base of the spine and then moving upward through the other five cakras: the svādhiṣṭhāna (genital region), maṇipura (navel), anāhata (heart), viśuddha (throat), and ājñā (between the eyebrows) and eventually all the way up to “Everest’s summit,” the sahasrāra-cakra, at the crown of the head. Situated in this highest place of power (parama-śāktapīṭha-sthita), the sādhaka — whether a king, priest, or peasant — realizes his or her identity with Tripurasundarī, she who is within and beyond the three cities.
According to Siddhi Gopal Vaidya, yogic practice (sādhana) in the Sarvāmnāya system begins with meditation on the goddess of the “base-camp,” Hāṭakeśī, “the golden mistress,” who resides in the mūladhāra. He explained to me:
Hātakeśī bestows all wealth. You please her by meditating on the mūlādhāra region. When you feel either heat, cold, or spanda (trembling) then know that she is pleased. When she is pleased, these following signs will manifest in your outer life: great material wealth, success in all your endeavors, a voice like thunder that will command the respect of all, and perfect health. What more could there be than this? Having attained the prosperous blessings of Hāṭakeśī, why would you want to continue on from the base-camp? The answer is: mukti. The blessings of Hāṭakeśī are ultimately illusory. Although success in yoga cannot be won without her blessings, ironically, those blessings must be renounced. And this makes sense. If I am a poor man and renounce a Rolls Royce, is this true renunciation? No, only when I have the wealth to own a Rolls Royce do I have the power to renounce. If I am rich and renounce wealth, then I am a true renunciant. In the same way, we must first obtain the wealth that Hātakeśī has to offer. Then, we must develop the viveka (discrimination) to perceive such wealth as illusion and continue our journey towards the summit.
As the goddess of the lower transmission (Adhāmnāya), Hāṭakeśī represents the first stage in the Nepalese Sarvāmnāya system of sādhana, beginning at the base in the mūlādhāra-cakra. The next stage of the journey, in which the kuṇḍalinī–śakti moves from the mulādhāra to the svādhiṣṭhāna, is facilitated by initiation into the eastern transmission (Pūrvānmāya), whose root goddess is Pañcamukhī, (“the five-faced one”). At this stage of the journey, the sādhaka begins to develop the discrimination that allows him or her to move beyond the desire for material gain. In the next stage, following initiation into the southern transmission (Dakṣināmnāya) and meditation on Kālī, the sādhaka’s kuṇḍalinī ascends to the maṇipūra-cakra in the navel region. From there, the kuṇḍalinī ascends to the anāhata in the heart region, facilitated by initiation into the Kubjikā traditions of the western transmission (Paścimāmnāya). The sādhaka then raises the kuṇḍalinī to the viśuddha in the throat region by taking initiation into the northern transmission (Uttarāmnāya) and practicing the sādhana of Vajrayoginī. From this elevated internal position, the Tāntrika then prepares to move on to the ājñā-cakra, situated between the eyebrows. This penultimate phase of the journey is made possible through initiation into the upper transmission (Urdhvāmnāya), which in Nepal is centered on the Goddess Tripurasundarī.
With the completion of all the revelations, Siddhi Gopal explained, one experience a merging of one’s identity with the Great Goddess Herself. This state of union, he explained marks the completion of the Total Revelation. In other words, the revelation is complete when the practitioner him or herself realizes that he or she is the Goddess Herself.
The Nepalese Sarvāmnāya system in this way serves to weave together the multiple Goddess clans (kula) that have entered the Kathmandu Valley since the eighth century and to organize them into a system of yogic practice that results in the transformation of consciousness through the raising of the kuṇḍalinī-śakti from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. With the completion of this internal journey, the practitioner sees himself and the world in a transformational way that Dr. Vaidya likened to the kind of experience attained by one who gazes upon the world from its highest peak. Dr. Vaidya was adamant that in the same way that one can only know the experience of climbing Mount Everest if we actually make the climb, to understand the nature and purpose of Āgamic revelation one must be initiated into and practice the tradition.
In this brief essay, I have attempted to convey as accurately as possible an insider’s perception and experience of scriptural revelation within the Sarvāmnāya Śākta Tantric traditions. Toward this end, I have drawn from my studies and conversations with several great authorities of the tradition, including Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Diwakar Acharya, and Siddhi Gopal Vaidya. Further, I have drawn from my own initiation into and practice of the tradition in an attempt to model a type of scholarship that combines both insider (emic) and outsider (etic) perspectives. In a non-dual universe, there is only consciousness, which is at once inside, outside, and above and beyond all sides. Only ego inclines to prioritize one side over another. However, with regard to the Sarvāmnāya Tradition the objective is to obtain the perspective that is achieved by experiencing all possible sides. In this spirit, it strikes me that seeking to view things “from within,” as an initiate is an important perspective one must have if one is going to be able to accurately convey the meaning and purpose of scriptural revelation within the Sarvāmāya tradition. Consequently, my own engagement with the tradition has included my initiation into and of it. The insights I have gained therefrom I have attempted to articulate herein. If my teachers approve of my analysis, then perhaps my efforts have been worthwhile.
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