“Consciousness is at the very center of our epistemic universe,
and our access to it is not perceptually mediated.”
—David Chalmers (, p. 169)
“The freedom of the uninterrupted delight
of I-consciousness is completely independent
of any reference to anything else”
—Abhinavagupta (, p. 212)
One need only a quick glance at the strident tones in a recent review of Thomas Nagel’s new book, out in 2012,Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False in the leftist weekly, The Nation, to get a sense of just how mired are the debates on the nature of consciousness . What is consciousness? How does consciousness
arise out of the grey matter that makes up our brains? How do we understand the experiences of subjective awareness, the complexity of elements that make
up our very human encounters, say, the joy that comes from seeing a beautiful sunset? The big problem, what David Chalmers calls the “hard problem” , is
the problem of the phenomenological experience of qualia, understanding the relationship our subjective experiences bear to scientifically driven analyses
of brain and body functioning; how do we reconcile the experience of the rich hues of orange and pink in the sunset with a materialist perspective on the
world which promises to unravel the links between neurons and emotions?
For this paper, I suggest a comparative analysis of the nature of consciousness offering the insights of the 11th century Śaiva philosopher Abhinavagupta
to reflect upon the work of some contemporary philosophers of consciousness, particularly focusing on the work of the cognitive mind philosopher David
Chalmers. Ultimately, I offer these comparisons especially to bring to light possibilities for constructing a materialist paradigm that might operate from
a prioritization of subjectivity rather than objectivity. I propose that the Hindu, nondual Śaivite system that Abhinavagupta lays out offers a framework
that may be useful for our contemporary cognitive science and philosophy of mind precisely because Abhinavagupta offers a theory for connecting the
material with the phenomenal.
A Nath Yogi, LACMA
I propose this position, with caveats, of course. First, Abhinavagupta is certainly not a materialist. His ontological commitments are quite far from those
of Chalmers and of Thomas Nagel. Chalmers, starting from a commitment to epiphenomenalism, reluctantly concedes we need a larger model for understanding
the phenomenological component of consciousness. Abhinavagupta, a philosophical theologian, as a product of his time, is about as far from this
metaphysical materialist position as one might imagine. Oddly, however, the naturalistic, atheist models of thinkers like Chalmers and Nagel drift towards
a kind of panpsychism that offers points of contact with Abhinavagupta’s panentheism. At the same time, we should be mindful of some irreducible
differences between Abhinavagupta and these thinkers. For instance, while Chalmers may be read, against the grain, at some points to be not entirely
unsympathetic to the kinds of conceptions of consciousness we find in Hinduism and
Buddhism, he, however, argues for the impossibility of downward causation (, p. 378n). Yet, this is precisely what the colorful history of siddhis, the magical powers of adepts in Buddhism and Hinduism presupposes and for which it argues and which it cultivates in no small measure.
The medieval worlds of Hinduism and Buddhism take for granted all sorts of phenomena that appear impossible for our worldview, predominantly here, the idea
of reincarnation, the idea of a subtle body, the idea of siddhis, or magical powers. However, even with these seeming unbridgeable gaps between
our notions of what is possible and impossible and theirs, Abhinavagupta’s philosophical system derives its strength from his overriding impetus to present
a system that does not rely on extraneous elements or belief in unseen principles.
For example, in a discussion where he introduces the scope of subjectivity and its forms of knowledge and capacities for action, he tells us, “what is
intended here is the ordinary form of all knowing subjects in the world, comprising the specific activity of the hands and feet, etc. of the
agent, because this idea is generally accepted in the world” (, p. 258). That is, his discussion of subjectivity focuses on ordinary forms of
consciousness which will be familiar to most readers. Moreover, he follows this with a justification for not entering into theological terrain, saying,
“the highest Subject, defined as the Śiva Archetype, is impossible anyway to analyze from a worldly level because it is beyond the world” (, p.
258). With this, he embarks on a hermeneutic technique which might be considered one of his signature trademarks, namely a consistent attention to
offering philosophical and psychological explanations that adhere to a use of logic and do not especially rely upon revelation to support his arguments.
Thus, I suggest here that Abhinavagupta’s system may be particularly helpful in part because he proposes a kind of model that typically shies away from a
reliance upon a theistic intervention to explain consciousness. In this, it may be seen to offer a structural compatibility with materialist models of our
world, even if he necessarily falls short of anything like a bonafide naturalism or materialism. Thus, it would be a mistake to gloss over Abhinavagupta’s
fundamentally theological perspective; on the other hand, in spite of this, his ingenious and novel synthesis of subjectivity may offer helpful insights
into our own thinking about the nature of subjectivity and consciousness.
I suggest also that this 11th century thinker Abhinavagupta brings to discussions of consciousness a carefully constructed phenomenology that argues for a
neutral monism; with this he is able to link the material, physical world with consciousness. Abhinavagupta accomplishes this through several mechanisms;
however, I will only have space to discuss one of these here, namely that he links materiality with the notion of consciousness through a modal conception
of subjectivity and objectivity.
In what follows below, I will first address differences in conceptions of the idea of mind between an Indian context and contemporary science; with this I
will also locate Abhinavagupta’s conception within an Indian context. After this I will examine Abhinavagupta’s method for addressing the link between what
Chalmers understands as the “hard problem” of consciousness, phenomenal awareness, in its relationship with the materiality of the physical body. Here I
will discuss one of Abhinavagupta’s methods, specifically involving a modal argument hinging upon ideas of subjectivity and objectivity.
Trishuls and bells
1. What Is the Mind?
Comparative discussions of contemporary Western science and medieval Indian conceptions of mind and physicality are likely to get bogged down in
terminological confusions over what counts as mentality. Since Descartes’ dualistic formulation of the res extensa and the res cogitans
as matter and mind, two separate substances walled off from each other, and never the twain shall meet, Western science has systematically tried to close
the gap with a reductive program. Along these lines current dominant conceptions of mind postulate the dependence of mentality upon the physical or else,
further, postulate the irrelevance of the mental, the “epiphenomenalism” of consciousness.
Hindu conceptions of the mind, however, differ dramatically from familiar Western notions in so far as we might say that the cut between mental and
material occurs at a much higher-order level of mental operation in the schema for an Indian context. Classically, we find in Hindu thought, as in
Descartes’ understanding, two separate categories, here termed “Puruṣa” and “Prakṛti”, spirit/consciousness on the one hand, and
Nature/matter on the other. Puruṣa is aware, self-aware and sentient. Prakṛti is insentient, mere dead materiality. So far, no real
incompatibilities with a Western context. However, the category of Prakṛti actually encompasses much of what we in our contemporary Western model
would understand as “consciousness” or “mind”.
The earliest formulations of this pan-Indian cosmology derive from Sāṃkhya theory, which dates to at least about the 6th century BCE and perhaps earlier.
Sāṃkhya understands the world to contain twenty-five basic different categories. Of these twenty-five, twenty-four are the products of the evolution ( pravṛtti) of materiality, Prakṛti. Only Puruṣa, sentient aware Puruṣa is actually capable of consciousness. What then
is Prakṛti? Prakṛti evolves into the physicality of the world we see around us, here broken down into the five elements, water, earth,
air, fire and space. Yet, Prakṛti also evolves into three categories that we would intuitively classify as mental. Known as theantaḥkāraṇa, the inward sense organs, these include the intellect (mahat/buddhi), the ego (ahaṁkāra), and the mind ( manas). These three, as evolutes of Prakṛti, fundamentally lack sentience. Thus what a contemporary Western scientist might understand as
“mind”, “awareness” or “consciousness”, is, to the contrary, from an Indian perspective relegated to the level of mere materiality.
At first blush, this classification might appear a bit inscrutable. How could something, like egoity, so clearly related to consciousness and awareness be
considered a part of materiality? This classification, however, corresponds to a crucial distinction that David Chalmers insists upon in his
characterization of the mental as comprised of two components. Chalmers suggests that the mental encompasses both, on the one hand, a structural and
functional psychological component, and on the other, a phenomenological component (, pp. 24–26). He proposes this classification in order to clarify
confusions about consciousness that conflate psychological components of mentality with phenomenological components. Noting that the psychological elements
do supervene upon physicality, he argues that the phenomenological component, however, remains functionally separate and incapable of entailment by
physical properties. That is, psychology and biology, which ultimately boil down to physics and notions of how electrons influence the structure of
molecules, which influence the chemistry and biology of the human brain for Chalmers do not exhaust and cannot finally explain the phenomenal, for
instance, the experience of a person enjoying the scent of red roses on a table.
In a similar manner, the Sāṃkhya classification of the “mind” (manas), “ego” (ahaṁkāra) and
intellect (mahat/buddhi) as evolutes of Prakṛti, material nature, reflects this separation of the
psychological and phenomenological components of consciousness. Linking these three as the inner sense organ (antaḥkāraṇa) to materiality
recognizes their dependence on the physical. Sāṃkhya then, like Chalmers, however, reserves the notion of consciousness, phenomenological
consciousness, as incapable of connection with physical materiality. The Puruṣa for Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṃkhya Kārikā, is simply a witness (sākṣitvam), isolated (kaivalyam) and inactive (akartṛbhāva) (, p. 265). To use Chalmers’ terms, the Sāṁkhyan Puruṣa as consciousness is not supervenient on the physical.
This Sāṃkhyan notion acts as template, the basic model for representing the relationship between the physical and the mental or for this schema, the
non-material spirit. Much subsequent Indian, especially Hindu philosophy draws from and modifies this basic model to articulate differing understandings of
the relationship between matter and spirit. For instance, later Vedantin notions of ātman, the self, draw from this early conception of mentality
as at base material in nature and stress the fundamentally incommensurate nature of the self, ātman, with the material, including mental
components. What these Hindu models share with Chalmers’ model, and where they differ from Buddhist models, is the assumption of an underlying acceptance
of phenomenological consciousness as a “something there,” the “sat” or “existence” component we find in Śaṅkara’s notion of ātman, self
as “satcidānanda”, “being”, “consciousness” and “bliss”. Buddhist models of anātman, “no-self” doctrine sound a lot more like patternist
conceptions, like Daniel Dennett’s or Ray Kurzweil’s , or in some cases, informationalist conceptions (, pp. 276–87) of consciousness. Here we
might also reference Jonardon Ganeri’s discussion of Vasubandhu’s notion of the self in relation to Strawson’s conception of the self as non-univocal. In
Ganeri’s thoughtful presentation of Vasubandhu, the “no-self” doctrine of Vasubandhu hinges on a metaphysical prior commitment of Vasubandhu towards
relinquishing a first-person perceptual stance. Thus for Vasubandhu, the referential notion of an “I” not connected to some sort of tangible psychophysical
perception is fundamentally an erroneous and disingenuous referentiality . Ganeri proposes that Vasubandhu offers a helpful articulation of a basic
pre-attentive sense of ownership as self if we can stop short of his pre-emptive commitment to “no-self” (, pp. 73–74). One might perhaps, following
this strand, situate Chalmers’ phenomenological component as this basic pre-attentive sense of ownership towards which Vasubandhu points, thus linking
these notions of self to the framework of subjective and objective perspectives.
In any case, however, what both Hindu and Buddhist models offer with the inclusion of mental
phenomena as materiality is a capacity to expand the very notions of matter to a wider sphere. Hence, Indian religious traditions, whether Hindu or
Buddhist, have very little difficulty accepting phenomena like subtle bodies, capable of transmigration. Not conceptually loaded with airy notions of
ineffable being, as ideas of a “soul” might be, the subtle body remains fundamentally on the side of matter.
Elephanta Caves Shiva Parvati
2. The Phenomenal and the Psychological: The Subjective and the Objective
What a Tantric monistic thinker like the 11th century Hindu Śaivite Abhinavagupta adds to earlier understandings of consciousness is a sophisticated
phenomenology that bridges the gap between the phenomenal on the one side and all that materiality on the other side, including both the psychological and
the physical. Abhinavagupta accomplishes this primarily through linking these through four different registers, though due to space constraints I will only
address the first here. First, he links the phenomenal with the psychological in terms of grammatical notions of subjectivity and objectivity. Secondly, he
links the phenomenal with the psychological and the physical through a reformulation of notions of knowledge and action. He also links the phenomenal with
the psychological through an understanding of consciousness in bimodal terms of prakāśa, a kind of “shining forth” and vimarśa, a kind of
“self-reflexive, active awareness”. And he links the component of phenomenal consciousness
with the physical through a formulation of the subtle body, which defines the subtle in terms of a notion of fundamental properties. Again, here I will
look at Abhinavagupta’s use of subjectivity and objectivity as a way of thinking about the relationship between the phenomenal component of consciousness
on the one hand, and on the other hand, psychological and material understandings of consciousness.
If we examine Chalmers’ notions of the differences between the phenomenal and the psychological modes of consciousness, his understanding of the
psychological hinges upon those elements of consciousness that can be described objectively: the physical and emotional sensations that arise when one
smells freshly baked bread, for instance. Accompanying those elements that can be tracked and articulated, but separate from them is the phenomenal
component (, pp. 7–10). The phenomenal, in contrast, offers a subjective view. It corresponds to the function of consciousness that focuses on the “what
it’s like” component, the experience of seeing the color red for the first time and the ineffability of such an experience, our inability to reduce that
moment of experience to either psychological or physical components, to neurons firing and the like. Abhinavagupta shares with Chalmers an insistence that
we not try to ignore or dispose of the phenomenal component, contrasting a thinker like Daniel Dennett , yet Abhinavagupta takes a very different
tack than Chalmers. Abhinava suggests that we read the relation between phenomenal awareness and psychological awareness in grammatical terms, in terms of
first-person and third person accounts of awareness. This is something Chalmers also nods towards as he discusses his zombie twin in another universe who
is incapable of a genuine first-person encounter. For Chalmers, his zombie twin might look and respond exactly as he does from the outside, yet only the
real David Chalmers, not his zombie twin, actually undergoes a first-person phenomenological experience (, pp. 198–99).
Abhinavagupta goes a step further, however, in understanding the subjective and the objective as convertible into each other. The subjective and the
objective are two modes of awareness linking the same experience, depending upon the grammatical relation one takes in relation to the experience. As
Abhinavagupta tells us,
“As the adage goes, ‘Everything has the nature of everything else.’ Even those things
which are by nature mere object, insentient, if they abandon that form as object, they
become capable of participating in the forms of subjective awareness and of address, the
first and second persons. For example, “listen O Mountains” and “of mountain peaks, I am
Mount Meru” (, p. 212).
Beyond the theological appeal to a scriptural text, the Bhagavad Gītā, Abhinavagupta also makes a specific point. Namely, he suggests that the status of
subject and object should not be derived from a classification of essence. Here we might see Buddhist influence of the sort that Ganeri points to in
Vasubandhu, as I note above, even if Vasubandhu rejects the referentiality leading to a self. It is not the case that only some forms, whether entities or
objects, have an essence capable of experiencing phenomenal awareness; nor is there a kind of underlying structure that determines whether some entity is
classified as conscious or not conscious. Rather both subject and object designate types of phenomenal awareness. And, moreover, the phenomenal awareness
of being an insentient chunk of rock is one that can shift to a different phenomenal awareness, to that of the kinds of subjective awareness that Chalmers
subsumes under the category of phenomenal component of consciousness in toto, even for that chunk of rock that is the mountain. Here this
normally mere insentient rock can be transformed by a participation in the subjectivity of address and by the participation in a first-person articulation
of identity. Abhinavagupta quotes from well-known classical Indian texts, including the Bhagavad Gītā here and relies upon his audience’s
presuppositions of what it means, for instance, when the classical figure Kṛṣṇa says, “I am Mount Meru” to signal the kind of shift to subjectivity that he
indicates. What precisely then allows for a shift from the non-conscious matter of prakṛti, in the form of an insentient rock, is Abhinavagupta’s
recognition of its always latent potentiality for subjectivity. That is, in this system, there is no hard and fast demarcation between consciousness and
matter. The shift from one to the other hinges on remembering and evoking this always latent potential.
In terms of our own 21st century context, Abhinavagupta’s perspective suggests that Chalmers’
zombie twin is not innately incapable of phenomenal awareness; all he really needs is to spend some time with the non-zombie David Chalmers who is capable of a genuine first-person encounter and through a kind of assimilation, a contagion of affect, the zombie has hopes for the same kinds
of experiences of the color red that our universe’s familiar David Chalmers has. As Abhinavagupta tells us repeatedly, quoting from the Spanda Kārikās, “Even [the limited Subject gains lordship] from contact with the strength of the Self (ātman)” (, pp. 286, 308,
346). That is, consciousness, and with it, a capacity for phenomenal experience, is present in greater or lesser degrees across a spectrum in various
entities and objects. By contact with the Self, ātman (and for the moment, we will gloss the notion of ātman as Abhinavagupta repeatedly
glosses it, as cidānandaghana, a somewhat indeterminate mass of bliss and consciousness) by contact with the ātman, those beings or
things which display only limited or an absent capacity for phenomenal experience, like a rock, or Chalmers’ zombie twin, increase their capacity.
Here, to emphasize how Abhinavagupta’s position differs from other Indian perspectives, we can contrast this with what Jonathan Edelmann, discussing the Bhāgavata Purāṇa says about the relation between consciousness and the materiality of the mind, where Edelmann notes that consciousness as self is
the sākṣin, the witness, always different, immortal and separate from the body-mind complex in relation to consciousness (, pp. 67–68),
evincing a substance dualism. In contrast, for Abhinavagupta, the consciousness of self is not irreparably, ontologically separate from matter, but instead
always already infuses it, merely needing the contagion of contact with the self to wake it up. We might also compare this with Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad’s
discussion of the “thin” conception of self-adopted by Nyāya (, pp. 133–35). Ram-Prasad points out that Udayana’s Nyāya conception of self does not
equate to a notion of unique personhood, emphasizing instead its function as a kind of “transcendental consciousness”, a formal and minimalist conception
of self. Of course, Abhinavagupta’s conception does leave open the kind of problematic situation that Ram-Prasad discusses of transplanted memories
(, p. 138), where the fundamental fluidity of consciousness opens the door to the possibility of our memories really belonging to another person. This
is addressed in practical terms via the interventions of the subtle body but certainly not ontologically dismissed. Indeed, its possibility is precisely
the claim of certain siddhis of yoga and Tantra.
We might say with this that Abhinavagupta’s monism presupposes a kind of fluidity of affect.
Consciousness is contagious; and this within a context of consciousness as something always
more than the mere formality of a minimalist self. By contact with the phenomenal component of consciousness, that which we might consider mere objects are
capable of taking on consciousness and transforming into entities capable of subjectivity. Thus, what Chalmers understands as the phenomenal component of
consciousness, for Abhinavagupta is a basal state that can be accessed by a shift from the mode of object to subject. Does Abhinavagupta’s understanding
incorporate something like Chalmers’ notion of protophenomenal particles? (, pp. 126–27; 135–36). Insofar as Abhinavagupta understands cit,
consciousness, to be ubiquitous, we might draw some comparisons to Chalmers’ panpsychism, though, as I mentioned earlier, Abhinavagupta is probably best
classed as a panentheist (, pp. 293–301). In any case, for Abhinavagupta, consciousness itself is fundamentally more determined by affect than by
structural essence. Moreover, we can see that the flavor of Abhinavagupta’s monism is one that incorporates materiality in its basic framework; materiality
is not fundamentally a bar to consciousness.
We might frame this another way, elucidating Abhinavagupta’s conception by tapping into our own culture’s deeply entrenched and fearful anthropomorphism of
the computer. Abhinavagupta’s monism certainly allows for a Terminator-style computer take-over of the world, as it is not at all impossible for the kind
of shift in awareness, a subjective assimilation of will or desire through a recognition (pratyabhijñā) of subjectivity to occur through a variety
of material media. After all, most of what we think of as mere matter for Abhinavagupta is a kind of slumbering consciousness.
Thus here, if we flesh out Abhinavagupta’s and Chalmers’ comparative positions through following their perspectives on Frank Jackson’s formulation of the
knowledge argument , it is probably fair to say that Chalmers’ position on whether Mary gains new knowledge when she leaves her black and white room and
for the first time sees a red rose best assimilates to a Sāṃkhyan position, which tells us that Mary does gain new knowledge. As Īśvarakṛṣṇa tells us in
the Sāṃkhya Kārikā,
“This creation, brought about by Prakṛti, from the intellect down to the specific gross elements,
(functions) for the sake of the release of the Puruṣa” (, p. 277). Prakṛti unfolds
the materiality of the world in order to afford experiences for the Puruṣa. Material
nature (Prakṛti, pradhāna), then, operates simply to give the Puruṣa
new experience which brings knowledge (, pp. 277–78).
What Abhinava suggests, on the other hand, sounds much more like the old fact/new guise
arguments of a thinker like Brian Loar . This is so, despite, or rather perhaps precisely because of Abhinavagupta’s monism. Since consciousness is
ubiquitous, Mary gains no real new knowledge; she does experience insight, a recognition, pratyabhijñā, of an experience she already knows, even
if this knowing is not fundamentally on the level of verbal knowledge that can be articulated (bauddha jñāna).
Furthermore, like a Mobius strip, where opposites converge, Abhinavagupta postulates a fundamental transmutability of the physical and the phenomenal. He
suggests that phenomenal experience is a matter of a modal shift. He tells us,
To this extent, that which is “conscious” contains both perceiver and object and doesn’t have
this distinction made between itself and the other, the
object perceived. Yet that which is
conscious gives rise to both of these, limited subject and object. And even while
consciousness exists in that way, as
undifferentiated, at the same time out of its own nature,
that is out of its own form, which shines as only pure consciousness alone; it gives birth to
things that, like blue, etc. are said to be insentient, things that lack consciousness. So it
does not abandon its own form as pure consciousness
alone shining (, p. 292).
That is, the object as well the subject perceiving the object both derive from consciousness. With this however, we do need to keep in mind that
Abhinavagupta ultimately prioritizes the subjective and phenomenal pole of experience rather than the material or objective side. Moreover, Abhinavagupta
argues for a substratum, a locus for the experience of phenomenal subjectivity. In arguing that the subtle body is not the same as the locus of
subjectivity, he tells us,
Of course it is possible to declare the subtle body as that state of shining forth since the
subtle body has the capacity to remain unseen, unlike a pot. But why is there the
unnecessary addition of the “I” following from this [imposed onto the subtle body]? He
expresses this idea saying, “in the belief, the concept of “I”… To this objection he replies
that the [I which appears] to be an extraneous addition should be accepted as necessary to
[the subtle body]. In the absence of the perception of the “I” in fact, these attributes are
accompanied by pure unadulterated ignorance. If the host of entities and things, blue etc.
are not seen as belonging to the condition of the self (ātmatayā) then they would not [have
the capacity to manifest], but they do appear. When someone says, “this is blue”, the
person speaking is not devoid of consciousness, i.e., this blue thing is not seen by a fainted
person, someone blind or in darkness. Here, seeing blue is necessarily an attribute,
something extra added to I-consciousness. Then, having made the two [I-consciousness and
the capacity and moment of seeing blue] into a unity, then [we say] a person sees something
blue, and there, no pure ignorance, which is complete lack of perception, exists (, p. 281).
Here we see Abhinavagupta make the same kind of move that Chalmers makes when he separates out what he calls the phenomenal and the psychological
components of consciousness from each other (, pp. 11–16). Abhinavagupta notes that “seeing blue is necessarily an attribute, something extra added to
I-consciousness”, dividing the sensory experience of seeing into two components, a phenomenal component and another component related to the particular
objective element in the experience—the color blue here.
Moreover, for Abhinavagupta, the sense of “I” functions as a unifying principle for the subtle body, and Abhinavagupta argues that this I-consciousness,
the phenomenal component of experience encompasses the materiality that is the object. A kind of relativistic relationality, where the lines drawn between
subject and object are moveable, comprises any given experience, seeing the color blue, for instance; however, the subjective component is given priority.
We should note also that despite the use of the term ātman, Abhinavagupta carefully avoids reifying consciousness into a soul or self, no doubt,
influenced by earlier Buddhist thinkers, preferring instead verbal nouns, like “prakāśamānatayā”, indicating a state or process of shining, and “ ahambhāva”, “the feeling of I” rather than a substantive entity. Even with ātman, which already occurs in the Spanda Kārikā that
he quotes, he himself prefers the abstractive form, ātmatā, indicating a state or condition of self, rather than an entity. Moreover,
he tells us particularly that the use of the term ātman points directly to the notion of the subject,
specifically in the subject’s ability to know (here, read as the capacity for phenomenal awareness) and with this also the subject’s capacity to act:
Hence, the particular term “ātman,” or “self” has been used to point to the subject, the
subject with its capacity to know, as it has this capacity of swinging between both the
object of action and the doer of action (, p. 258).
The ātman, then, references the subject as implicated both as that which experiences phenomenal awareness and as that which is object and agent.
In any case, in this capacity, the sense of subjectivity itself, Chalmers’ notion of the phenomenal component of consciousness, operates for Abhinavagupta
as a placeholder that cannot be reduced simply to the subtle body or to materiality. It functions rather as a dynamic, outflowing of
consciousness-capacity that takes on the mode of object and subject, moving between back and forth between these two perspectives as the unfolding of the
process of mind and matter. In any case, ultimately, Abhinavagupta understands the subtle body as a transformation of consciousness, or specifically a
condensation of consciousness into a more material, i.e., object-oriented form. He also understands this same process to be involved in the
condensation of consciousness into the even more dense forms of matter that make up objects here, the physical body, the rock, a table and so on.
To conclude then, it is probably fair to acknowledge that Abhinavagupta’s conception of the
mind-body split derives initially from a position that favors the phenomenological pole, the “subject” formulation of consciousness and matter. This
perspective is one he inherits from the wider landscape of Indian philosophy, which, unlike our contemporary Western models of materialism, tended
historically to minimize a materialist position, even as the legacy of Sāṃkhya, like Descartes legacy, initially proposed a mind-body dualism. However,
Abhinavagupta adds a great deal to possible ways of thinking about the mind-body split. His monist position of a spectrum of a subject-object continuum
offers a way of incorporating an idea of what Chalmers calls the phenomenological, and what Abhinavagupta points to as the subjective, while managing to
avoid an essentialist dualism between the phenomenological on the one hand and the psychological, the neurons firing in that mass of matter called the
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no conflict of interest.