Abhinavagupta's Portrait of a Guru: Revelation and Religious Authority in Kashmir
Williams, Benjamin Luke
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AbstractThis dissertation aims to recover a model of religious authority that placed great importance upon individual gurus who were seen to be indispensable to the process of revelation. This person-centered style of religious authority is implicit in the teachings and identity of the scriptural sources of the Kulamārga, a complex of traditions that developed out of more esoteric branches of tantric Śaivism. For convenience sake, we name this model of religious authority a “Kaula idiom.” The Kaula idiom is contrasted with a highly influential notion of revelation as eternal and authorless, advanced by orthodox interpreters of the Veda, and other Indian traditions that invested the words of sages and seers with great authority. The purpose of recovering and contextualizing the Kaula framework for religious authority is to demonstrate the ways in which it makes Abhinavagupta’s representation of himself as a guru in his lengthy “autobiographical” excerpts intelligible. Although Kaula notions of religious authority and transmission—focused on the agency and intervention of perfected masters (Siddhas)—inform Abhinavagupta’s representation of himself as a guru, his self-portrayal also adds new elements to what an ideal guru should be. A close reading of the form, content, and didactic power of Abhinavagupta autobiographical passages suggests that the ideal guru should not only be a fully-enlightened Kaula master, but also schooled in the finer points of Indian scholastic discourse and a connoisseur of Sanskrit poetry; in short, a cosmopolitan Siddha.
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