PART III: THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGIOUS CONSCIOUSNESS
Chapter 24: The Agama Sastra
A complete diversion from the traditionally accepted ways of religious conduct and worship, as are the well-known ways of the Vedas, Upanishads, Epics and Puranas, is to be found in the body of teachings known as the Agamas and Tantras. The lore of the Vedas and the Upanishads comes as a father's pronouncement, in the manner of a mandate issued from a court of law in regard to what is true and false, what is proper and improper, what is to be done and is not to be done in life. Such a commandment arising as if from a ruling authority comes under a system of teaching known as Prabhu-Sammita, the order that is there just to be obeyed with nothing that anyone has to say about it, in any way. The Epics and Puranas are friendly treatises which persuade man to follow the right path by way of illustrative analogies and examples, and even making it necessary for God to descend on earth and into the very closest of relations with human nature, a type of educational method known as Suhrit-Sammita.
But love and informality being the special features of the most intimate of relations, the religious approach felt a further need to transform the relation between world and God into a non-legalistic, non-customary and non-formalistic coming together, rising above the defects of social relation and even affectionate comradeship. The law and order of the world of humanly conceived dictates melts into a nearer-still connection between man, world and God. The principal Agamas are the Vaishnava, Saiva and Sakta, centring round the concept of the Divinities Vishnu, Siva and Sakti. There are also the Agama and Tantra ways of worship of the other gods, as Ganesa, Surya and Skanda. The Vaishnava theology of the Agama type is especially propounded in treatises like the Pancharatra and kindred works: The devotee of Vishnu perform worship of Vishnu as the Supreme Being conceived in five ways: Para, or transcendent form; Vyuha, or the categorised form as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha, representing Krishna, his elder brother, his son and his grandson, respectively, who are brought together in worship and adoration as a complete body of divine power; Vibhava, or the incarnation of God, as are the several occasions of God's descent into the world as enumerated in the Bhagavata Purana; Archa, or the form of God worshipped in an image or an idol symbolising the Universal as pointedly present in the particular; and Antaryamin, or the indwelling immanent form of God as present throughout in creation. The devotion with which the seeker of God tries to commune himself inwardly takes the shape of outer worship in the beginning with its usual traditions and regulations, requiring materials of worship such as flowers and offerings. Subsequently the external appurtenances diminish and gradually become unnecessary when a higher mode of worship through the mind alone suffices as surpassing visible forms of worship. The peak of Vaishnava devotion is to be found recorded in the Tenth Book of the Bhagavata Purana, and the four thousand Tamil verses of the Vaishnava saints called Alvars, especially the thousand songs known as Tiruvaimozhi of Nammalvar. The ecstasy of the Gopi-type of God-love rises into an exhilarating pitch of a kind of God-madness in Nammalvar's poetic compositions. The devotee is immersed in the sole awareness of God.
The formalities of Vaishnava devotion, which have initially an element of orthodoxy, separatism and aloofness, give way to the wider inclusiveness of divine devotion in its ecstatic forms when it breaks the boundaries of caste; creed, cult, colour, sex, and differences of faith and religious attitude. A secret mode of inner communion in the Vaishnava method is the guarded and very rarely known attitude called Sahaja-Marga, wherein one becomes 'natural' (Sahaja) in one's relation to persons, things and the world as a whole, free from the cloaks of every kind of behaviour and requirement that separates one thing from another thing. This hidden path is similar to the mystical inwardness of certain forms of Tantra Sadhana, that is, the practice of communion with Reality in its degrees, on the dictum 'like attracts like', and 'dissimilarities repel'. The repulsions of the world are the artificial creations of the human ego, and the sameness of essence is an essential characteristic of man and Nature, and, in the end, God.
The Saiva Agama method of the worship of God is less formal than the way of the Vaishnava, less restrained and less accustomed to social forms of regulations. Siva is the Supreme God of the Saiva system, who is called Pati, or Lord over all creatures, the latter being known as Pasu, the literal meaning of which is animal or the beastly nature. Physically bound by the encasement of the body, man is verily indistinguishable from the animal species. The Pasu, or the individual, is bound by the noose of Maya, which is the veil cast by God on all things. The dirt that vitiates the mind of the individual is called Anava, that is, an atomic obscuration of consciousness in respect of the universal God. We know that a little finger placed over the eyes can blot out the powerful light of the large body of the sun in the sky. In some such way, the Jiva, or the individual, is caught in the snare of world-existence and attachment to objects. The grace of God is the way of the liberation of the individual.
The worship of Saiva is graded in a fourfold way: Charya, or the external service rendered by the devotee, such as collecting flowers for worship in the temple, ringing the bell, cleaning the premises of the shrine, and the like; Kriya, or the internal service, such as assisting the worshipper in the 'holy of holies', and doing actual worship as well as its preparations; Yoga, or the devotee becoming the worshipper himself in a state of attunement of the limbs of his own personality with the limbs of the Body of God, in a process of placement known as Nyasa, in which case articles of worship become redundant and the mind of the devotee is itself the supreme offering to God, external worship becoming internal inseparableness in an act of intense concentration and meditation; Jnana, or the way of wisdom and realisation of God as He is, in which condition the devotee rises above even the state of Yoga at-one-ment, and the soul unites itself with God-Being. The great Saiva saints, Appar, Sundarar, Jnanasambandar and Manikyavachagar, are said to represent, respectively, these four grades of devotion to the Great God, Siva. The four saints are known as Samaya-Kuravargal, or the progenitors of the standard ways of approaching God in the superb reaches of divine devotion.
The lives of the Saiva saints, sixty-three in number, are glorified in the Tamil work called Periya Puranam. The incomprehensible ways of these devotees, making them often appear as even unsocial or antisocial, is the last blow that the world deals on its unwanted citizen so that God may receive the devotee in the nakedness of his spirit.
The Sakta Agama is known especially as the Tantra way of the worship of Sakti, the Universal Divine Power.