Abhinavagupta’s (fl.c. 975‑1025 CE) tantric system holds quite a unique position within the classical South Asian philosophical discourse wherein a predominant essential presupposition is not conceived as ‘suffering’, but an idea of everlasting ‘bliss’ or ‘joy’. In fact, even what is often understood as ‘suffering’, as Abhinavagupta would say, is a kind of intense form of ‘bliss’ or ‘joy’ that one needs to cultivate a ‘taste’ for. This phenomenon that a certain taste reflects unto the tasting agent (the one who tastes it) is the experience of ‘joy-full-ness’. There is no distinction created between the transcendental and empirical states of ‘joy’. The substratum of this experience is the knowing and experiencing subject alone (not in the same sense as that of the Buddhist idealists). As one would expect, a number of potent philosophical problems of cognition, perception, imagination, error, and consciousness are involved in here, and their mapping needs further profound probing. However, I am gradually becoming convinced that the larger project of Abhinavagupta was an ‘aesthetic project’ wherein his critical epistemology had an underlying mission of achieving an aesthetic goal.
Dr Mrinal Kaul is Assistant Professor at the Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal (Karnataka). He teaches courses in Pre-modern Literary Cultures and Philosophical Traditions of South Asia. His research interests focus on the non-dual Śaiva philosophy of Kashmir, particularly the tenth century philosopher Abhinavagupta. His recent publications include ‘Ontological Hierarchy in the Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta’ in the Tantric Traditions and Philosophy of Kashmir (2018), ‘Abhinavagupta on Reflection (Pratibimba) in the Tantrāloka’ (2019) published in the Journal of Indian Philosophy and ‘Causal Reasoning in the Trika Philosophy of Abhinavagupta’ in the Springer Handbook of Logical Thought in India (ed. Sundar Sarukkai) (2020). A volume titled Minor Works of Abhinavagupta edited together with Francesco Sferra is about to be published from Naples in Italy.