The Heart of Recognition

Pratyabhijna Hrdayam, Sutra 4

August 30, 2013    BY William Mahony

This is the fourth sutra in the Pratyabhijna Hridayam, which means “The Heart of Recognition.” This text comes to us from the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, which associates supreme Consciousness with Lord Shiva. Composed in the 10th century by Kshemaraja—a philosopher and disciple of the sage Abhinavagupta—the entire work consists of only 20 sutras. It gives us the secret or “heart” (hridaya) of an otherwise large volume of teachings regarding the process, by stages, through which divine Consciousness becomes the world of manifold forms, and then delights in its recognition (pratyabhijna) of itself, as revealed in the dynamics of our own particular consciousness.

Recitation

Commentary

This sutra succinctly explains the nature of the individual sentient being in the context of the vast universe. Chiti refers to “Consciousness”—a boundless field from which all things in the universe arise. According to Kashmir Shaivism, Consciousness possesses an infinite number of capabilities, or shaktis, but five of these are particularly significant to the process of our own spiritual awakening. Consciousness holds the inherent ability to be aware of anything (chit shakti). It pulsates with the power of expansive joy (ananda shakti). It possesses the power of effective intention (iccha shakti), as well as the capability to know and understand (jnana shakti). And it is the force behind creative, dynamic activity (kriya shakti). Through these powers of awareness, joy, intention, knowledge, and action, the infinite field of potential that is Consciousness takes form as the universe and all things in it.

Chetana, translated here as “individual,” also means “conscious being.” Our own consciousness is a miniature version of absolute Consciousness. As this sutra says, a sentient being “consists of the universe” (vishvamaya) “in contracted form” (sankuchita). Accordingly, the very same powers of awareness, joy, intention, knowledge, and action that give rise to, support, and transform the macrocosmic universe also express themselves within our own consciousness in microcosmic form.

Universal Consciousness tends to forget its true nature as it contracts into particularity. However, through the power of revelatory grace (anugraha shakti)—yet another of Consciousness’ inherent capabilities—Consciousness “recognizes” itself in the capabilities and movements of our own particular consciousness.

This divine Self-recognition is reflected in the dynamics of our individual spiritual lives. When illumined by the light of our own mindfulness, the contours of our spiritual seeking are themselves forms of Consciousness opening its eyes to its own reflection. As conscious beings we can increasingly allow this powerful and benevolent Consciousness to express itself more fully in our awareness, joy, intention, knowledge, and way of being in the world.

William Mahony
William K. Mahony, PhD, a professor and scholar of yoga philosophy.