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The Descent of Power: Possession, Mysticism, and Initiation in the Śaiva Theology of Abhinavagupta


This paper surveys the key terms śaktipāta and samāveśa (both of which refer to religious experience) in the primary sources of Tantric Śaivism over several centuries of textual development, building up a theory as to their range of meanings. It specifically focuses on their usage by Abhinavagupta (Kāshmīr, 10th century) by presenting a complete translation of chapter 11 of his Tantrasāra. The paper thus serves to (a) illuminate the nature of spiritual experience and the qualifcations for religious praxis in Śaivism, (b) give insight into the worldview of the Tantric Śaivas, and (c) help in pinpointing a specific and significant issue in the phenomenological study of religion generally.

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Correspondence to Christopher Wallis.

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An earlier version of this paper has been published in a somewhat different form in Evam: Forum on Indian Representations vol. 4, published by Samvad India, New Delhi, India.

This paper could not have been written without two years of intensive study with Professor Alexis Sanderson of All Souls College, Oxford, whose scholarship has proved essential in advancing my understanding of Śaivism. Also very helpful was Dr. Somadeva Vasudeva, now of Columbia University, whose database and encyclopedic knowledge have been invaluable. The germ of the idea for this article was suggested to me when Professor Paul Muller-Ortega (University of Rochester) first pointed out to me the passage beginning at MVT 2.14.

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Wallis, C. The Descent of Power: Possession, Mysticism, and Initiation in the Śaiva Theology of Abhinavagupta. J Indian Philos 36, 247–295 (2008).

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  • Religious experience
  • India
  • South Asia
  • Hinduism
  • Śaivism
  • Tantra
  • Kāshmīr
  • Abhinavagupta
  • Sanskrit
  • Philosophy
  • Theology
  • Possession
  • Mysticism
  • Initiation
  • Śaktipāta
  • Samāveśa