“Light on the Tantras”, Tantra-Âloka is Abhinavagupta's magnum opus, his most important body of work. On account of its size and scope it is a veritable and masterly encyclopedic survey, a treasure text containing the synthesis of the 64 monistic āgamas ("that which has come down", texts which describe cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain sixfold desires) and all the schools of Tantra of the whole of Śaiva Tantra at its peak (c. 1000 CE).
Of the entire 5800 verses, the first chapter of the Tantra-Âloka is 333 verses and contains all the essential teachings of the work in condensed form, and thus is the most important one to study for someone learning the Tantrik path.
Abhinavagupta (fl. c. 975 - 1025) was one of India's great literary critics and philosophers. He was a master of the Kula school of Shaivism, but wrote commentaries elucidating various texts and schools of thought. His ability to clarify the meaning of ancient texts through the application of reason and logic, and through his personal experience of religious practice, helped to popularize Kashmiri Shaivism.
The Tantra-Âloka appears to have been written after Abhinavagupta had attained enlightenment and is one of the great accomplishments in Indian religious thought and has greatly influenced the understanding of the inner meaning of ritual in the Shaiva and Shakta schools for centuries afterward.
The Tantra-Âloka weaves together citations from dozens of authoritative scriptures, into a monumental twelve-volume encyclopedic work. The many quotations in the Tantra-Âloka appear to have been cited from memory. Its discourse moves among the realms of rigorous logical philosophy, scripturally-grounded theology, and personal mystical experience.
Tantrasara is a brief prose summary of Tantraloka, which is written in metrical form. Both are based on Malini Vijayatantra, belonging to the Agama school. (The Agamas are believed to be ancient revelations emphasizing the doctrine of liberation through Jnana (knowledge) and Kriya (action).) For our purposes, we will explore this book in our Training.