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The Great Liberation "Mahanirvana Tantra" (The Selected Works of Sir John Woodroffe)

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The Great Liberation "Mahanirvana Tantra" (The Selected Works of Sir John Woodroffe)
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Item Code: NAE240
Author: Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon)
Publisher: New Age Books
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788178224220
Pages: 473
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 315 gms

The Indian Tantras, which are numerous, constitute the Scripture (Sastra) of the Kaliyuga, and as such are a voluminous source of present and practical orthodox Hinduism. The Tantra sãstra is, in fact, whatever be its historical origin, a development of the Karmakanda (using that term in the general sense of ritual section of the scripture), promulgated to meet the needs of that age. Siva says: “For the benefit of men of the Kah age, men bereft of energy and dependent for existence on the food they eat, the Kaula doctrine, 0 auspicious one! is given ‘ (Ch. IX, verse 12). To the Tantras we must therefore look if we would understand aright both ritual, yoga, and sadhand of all kinds as they exist to-day, as also the general principles of which these practices are but the objective expression.

Yet of all the forms of Indian Sãstra, the Tantra is that which is least known and understood, a circumstance in part due to the difficulties of its subject-matter and to the fact that the key to much of its terminology and method rests with the initiate. The present translation is, in fact, the first published in Europe of any Indian Tantra An inaccurate version rendered in imperfect English was published in Calcutta by a Bengali editor some twelve years ago, preceded by an Introduction which displayed insufficient knowledge in respect of what it somewhat quaintly described as “ the mystical and superficially technical passages” of this Tantra. A desire to attempt to do it greater justice has in part prompted its selection as the first for publication. Another reason for such selection is that this Tantra has been the subject of Indian Commentary and Bengali translation. This Tantra is, further, one which is well known and esteemed, though perhaps more highly so amongst that portion of the Indian public which favours “reformed Hinduism” than amongst some Sakta Tantrikas, to whom, as I have been told, certain of its provisions appear to display unnecessary timidity. The former admire it on account of its noble exposition of the worship of the Supreme Brahman, and in the belief that certain of its passages absolutely discountenance the orthodox ritual. Nothing can be more mistaken than such belief even though it be the fact that “for him who has faith in the root, of what use are the branches and leaves “. This anyone will discover who reads the text. It is true that, as Ch. VII, verse 94, says: “In the purified heart, knowledge of Brahman grows,” and Brahmajnane samutpanne krityakrityang na vidyate. (When Brahman knowledge has arisen there is no longer distinction of what should or should not be done.) But the statement assumes the attainment of Brahinajnana, and this, the Sãstra says, can be attained, not by Vedantic discussions nor mere prayer, after the manner of Protestant systems of Christian worship, but by the Sadhana which is its main subject-matter. I have referred to Protestant systems, for the Catholic Church possesses an elaborate ritual and a sadhana of its own which is in many points strikingly analogous to the Hindu system. The section of Tantrikas to whom I have referred are, I believe, also in error. For the design of this Tantra appears to be, whilst conserving commonly- recognised Tantrik principles, to secure that, as has sometimes proved to be the case, they are not abused. Parvati says (Cli. I, verse 67): I fear, 0 Lord! that even that which thou hast ordained for the good of men will, through them, turn out for evil.”

It is significant, in connection with these observations, to note that this particular Tantra was chosen as the subject of commentary by Srimad Hariharananda Bharati, the Guru of the celebrated Hindu “reformer,” Rajã Ram Mohun Roy, As to this see Chapter V of “sakti and Sakta “.

The Tantra has been assigned by one of my informants to the division known as Visnukranta and the eclectic Vilasa Sampradaya. According to the Mahasiddhasara it belongs to Rathakrãnta. It was first published by the Adi-Brãhma Samaja in 1798 Sakabda (AD. 1876), and was printed in Bengali characters, with the notes of the Kulavadhuta rimad Hariharananda Bharati under the editorship of Anandachandra Vidyavagisa. The preface to this edition stated that three MSS., were consulted; one belonging to the library of the Samaja; the second supplied by Durgadasa Chaudhuri, and the third taken from the library of Raja Ram Mohun Roy; This text appears to be the basis of subsequent publications. It was again printed in 1888 by Sri Krsna Gopala Bhakta, since when there have been several editions with Bengali translations, including that of Sri Prasanna Kumara sãstri. The late Pandit Jivananda Vidyasagara published an edition in Devanagara character, with the notes of Hariharananda and the Venkatdvara Press at Bombay have issued another in similar character with a Hindi translation.

The translation published is that of the first part only. It is commonly thought (and was so stated by the author of the Calcutta edition in English to which I have referred) that the second portion is lost. This is, however, not so, though copies of the complete Tantra are rare enough. The full text exists in manuscript, and I hope that an opportunity may some day be given of publishing a translation of it. I came across a complete manuscript some two years ago in the possession of a Nepalese Pandit. The exact date of the MSS., I forget. It was about Sakabda 1,300 or say some 500 years old. He would, however, only permit me to make a copy of his manuscript on the condition that the satkarma Mantras were not published. For, as he said, virtue not being a condition precedent for the acquisition of siddhi in, that is, power to work, such Mantras, their publication might enable the evilly disposed to harm others, a crime which, he added, was, in his own country, where the Tantra Sastra was current punishable by the civil power. I was unable to persuade him even with the observation that the mere publication of the Mantra without knowledge of what is called the Prayoga (which cannot be learned of books) would in any case be ineffectual. I could not give an undertaking which would have involved the publication of a mutilated text, and the reader must therefore for the present be content with a translation of the first part of the Tantra, which is generally known, and has, as stated, been several times printed. The incident has further value than the direct purpose for which I have told it. There are some to whom “ the Tantra,” is “nothing but black magic,” and all its followers are “ black magicians “. This is of course absurd. In this connection I cannot avoid interposing the observation that certain practices are described in Tantra which, though they are alleged to have the results described therein, yet exist “ for delusion “. The true attitude of the higher Tantrika is illustrated by the action of the Pandit who, if he disappointed my expectations, at any rate by his refusal afforded an answer to these too general allegations.

The second portion of the manuscript in his possession contained over double the number of Slokas to be found in the first part here published.

The edition which has been used for the translation is that (now out of print) edited and published at Calcutta by sri Krsna Gopala Bhakta in Chaitra 1295 Bengali era (April, 1888), with Commentary of Srimad Hariharananda Bharati, and with additional notes by the learned and lately deceased Pandit Jaganmohana Tarkalamkara. A new edition of the same work has been published with further notes by the latter’s son, Pandit Jnanendranatha Tantraratna since deceased.

This valuable Commentary alone is not, however, suitable for the general reader, for it assumes a certain amount of knowledge on his part which he does not possess. I have accordingly, whilst availing myself of its aid, written my own commentary. For the first edition I also wrote an Introduction explaining certain matters and terms referred to or presupposed by the text which, as they required a somewhat more extended treatment, could not, be conveniently dealt with in the footnotes. Some of the matters there” explained were, though common and fundamental, seldom. accurately defined. Nothing, therefore, was lost by a re-statement of them with an intention to serve such accuracy. Other matters were of a special character, either not generally ‘known or misunderstood. The Introduction, however, ‘did not profess to be an exhaustive treatment of that with• which it dealt. On the contrary, it was but an extended note written to help some way towards a better understanding of the text by the ordinary reader. Since however the date of the first edition I have published a number of works on the sästra both of a popular and technical nature. These more fully deal with the matters treated of in the former Introduction which is therefore no longer needed.’ To the reader who would understand this work I would recommend the books “Sakti and Sãkta” where in a popular manner the author has explained the doctrine and ritual of the Sakta Tantras of which the present volume is one; “ The Garland of Letters” (Varnamalä) dealing with “Sound” (Sabda) and the technique or Mantra which forms so important a part of the Tantraastra that its other and common name is Mantra-Sastra; and the “Serpent Power,” which has as its subject Yoga and in particular that portion of it which is done by the arousing of Kundalini Sakti, famous in all Tantras. The reader who desires to come into the closest contact with the Indian spirit in these matters will find what he wants in the two volumes “Principles of Tantra “ under which title I have published a translation of the Tantratattva by Pandit Sivacandra Vidyarnava. Other works on the Tantrasästra which I have published will be found in the advertisement at the end of this book. Further ritual detail is given in the English Introductions to my series of “Tantrik Texts “. There are, however, some matters in the Sãstra or its accompanying oral tradition which the reader must, and if disposed thereto will, find out for himself. This, too, is implied by the saying in this Tantra that it is by merit acquired in previous births that the mind inclines to Kaula doctrine (Chapter VII, verse 99). However this may be, no one will understand the sãstra who starts his inquiry with a mind burdened with the current prejudices against it, whatever be the truth some of them may possess by reason of actual abuse of Sãstric principles. I have taken advantage of the present edition which supersedes the last to correct mistakes and to improve the -translation generally. Working in a new field it is difficult to escape error.

The Sanskrit text is in preparation and when ready will form Vol. XIII of the series of Tantrik Texts issued with the aid of Indian Pandits under my general editorship.

In conclusion,. I wish to thank my Indian friends for the aid they have given me in the preparation of this and other kindred works, and to whom I am indebted for much information gathered during many pleasant hours which we have spent together in the study of a subject of common interest o them and myself. The Tantras generally are written in comparatively simple Sanskrit. For their rendering, however, a working knowledge of their terminology and ritual is required, which can be only fully found in those to s whom it is familiar through race, upbringing, and environment, and in whom there is still some regard for their ancient inheritance As for others, they must learn to see through inc Indian eye of knowledge until their own have been trained to its lines of vision. In this way we shall be in the future spared some of the erroneous presentments of Indian beliefs common in the past and even now too current.




Chapter I The liberation of beings 1-18
Chapter II The worship of brahman 19-29
Chapter III The worship of brahman(contd.) 30-62
Chapter IV The worship of sakti 63-81
Chapter V Mantras and purification 82-137
Chapter VI Mantras and rites 138-182
Chapter VII Hymn and amulet 183-206
Chapter VIII Gastes and asramas 207-249
Chapter IX The ten sagraments 250-298
Chapter X Rites and initiation 299-334
Chapter XI Expiatory acts 335-355
Chapter XII The eternal dharma 356-371
Chapter XIII Installation of devata 372-421
Chapter XIV Consecration and avadutas 422-454


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