piritual bliss is not like the intoxication of wine or that of riches, nor similar to union with the beloved. The manifestation of the light of consciousness is not like the ray of light from a lamp, sun or moon. When one frees oneself from accumulated multiplicity, the state of bliss is like that of putting down a burden; the manifestation of the Light is like the acquiring of a lost treasure, the domain of universal non-duality. -Abhinavgupta
“Kashmir Shaivism has penetrated into that living depth of thought where diverse currents of human wisdom united in a luminous synthesis." -Tagore
India has been the land of seers, saints, sages, savants and spiritual masters who delved deep into the mysteries of existence and enriched humanity with the fruit of their investigations. The Vedas, the Upanishads, the six systems of philosophy, the two great epics and the Puranas have molded the lives of millions down the ages.
In the northern Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir, the people in ancient times, like those in the rest of India, followed the religion of the Vedas to a large extent. However, during the reign of Ashoka the Great (304-232 B.C.E), Buddhism came to Kashmir and exerted its influence till the 8th century.
Soon after the death of the great Buddhist saint-scholar, Nagarjuna, a new religious philosophy, probably a fusion of ancient Vedic and Buddhist cultures, was evolved in Kashmir. The fundamentals of this indigenous system of philosophy are said to have been laid down by no less a person than Durvasa rishi himself during the Mahabharat times.
Obviously not content with the prevailing creed which did not recognize either any outside scriptural authority like the Vedas, or any Supreme Being called God, Vasugupta (850-900 A.D.), sought to perfect the new system of thought that changed the existing religious current and completely countered the nihilistic teachings of Buddhism. It almost happened about the same time when Sankaracharya had launched his vigorous campaign against Buddhism in the rest of India.
Legend has it that Vasugupta based his philosophy on the Siva Sutras which he found engraved on a big stone still identified as Shankar Pal at the eastern foot of the Mahadeva mountain, a few miles away from Harwan reservoir in Srinagar. These sutras contain the essence of Saivagamas, the authoritative scriptures of non-dual (advaita) Saivism, developed first by Vasugupta himself in his famous work ‘Spandakarika’.
The earliest ancestor of Abhinavgupta was a famous Brahmin Saiva teacher, Attrigupta who lived outside Kashmir in Autarvedi, somewhere between the Ganga and the Yamuna. It was King Lalitaditya, the ruler of Kashmir (700-736 AD), who invited Attrigupta to Kashmir for good. Several generations after him, one of his descendants, Abhinavgupta, furthered the cause of Kashmir Saivism and wrote extensively on the basics of this philosophy.
A legend prevalent among Saivists in Kashmir, as narrated to me by my revered father, is that Abhinavgupta literally walked out of this mundane world alive with his 1200 disciples and entered the Bhairav cave in village Bhiruwa, all the while reciting the famous Siva hymn composed by himself--(Vyaaphta Charaachar Bhaava Vishesham Chinmayam Ekam Anantam Anaadim...)
During the middle ages, we had the great Shaivist, Rajanaka Shitkanth, also known as “Sidha Mol” who initiated the famed saint-poetess of Kashmir, Lalleshwari (1320-1392 AD), in spirituality and mysticism. Both Shitikanth and Lalla hailed from Pampore village in Kashmir Valley. In recent times, however, it was Saivacharya Swami Ram (1854-1915 AD) and his grand disciple, Swami Lakshman Joo (1907-1991) who popularized this philosophy throughout the world.
Shaivism takes into account both the transcendental and the immanent aspects of Reality and does not find any sharp difference between the two ends of existence. The world of consciousness and that of senses are inseparably connected and to make lives free and unfettered, it is essential to master both. Spirituality is not something far removed from the demands of daily life and does not mean escapism or other-worldliness. The life of utter renunciation is not incompatible with worldly life that has its own place in the scheme of things.
The universe with its smooth and orderly working points unerringly to a skilled hand to be behind it. The whole order of creation follows a meticulous plan and is too meaningful to be dismissed as an error. Everything has a divine purpose and every individual has a part to play. In this colossal organism each part moves according to a set plan, harmoniously playing the role assigned to it by the master designer.
The doctrine of non-dualism propounded by Abhinavgupta synthesizes all that is abiding, universal and enduring in Vedanta and other systems of Indian thought. In fact, it seeks to integrate dualism, pluralism and even the Buddhist doctrine of Void (sunya). The Soul, according to this doctrine, is of the same nature as Consciousness and there is no difference between the individual soul and the universal self.
Unlike Vedanta, Saivism points out that the world is absolutely real and is the manifestation of God Himself brought about by His Free Will (Swatantrya Sakti). There is no place even for Maya in this system. The empirical world is not an illusion and on attainment of self-realization, it does not disappear as the illusory serpent does when the rope is recognized as a fact. Maya Shakti is the power of delusion that makes subjects identify themselves with Sunya, Buddhi, Prana and the physical body, forgetting the real self. Since Maya is the principle of ignorance and darkness, it cannot directly lead one to enlightenment
Shaivism asserts that the world was created by the Lord as a sport (Leela). Siva, who represents the eternal process of creation and destruction, makes the world appear in Himself as if it were distinct from Himself, though it is not so in reality. God remains as unaffected by the objects of His creation as the mirror is by the images reflected in it.
All the three paths of Jnana, Karma and Bakhti, according to Abhinavgupta, are not independent means to realize the goal of life. Rather, they are complementary to each other. Human nature has three inherent aspects-intellectual, emotional and spiritual which need to be harnessed in order to attain full-blooded realization of the Divine. It, however, disagrees with the Yogic view that one can attain liberation merely by one’s effort without the grace of Siva.
Both Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Saivism advocate monism though they have developed it differently to suit particular minds. While Badrayana founded Vedanta in the plains of India, Durvasa expounded Trika Saiva in the Himalayan ranges. The sources of Vedanta are the Vedas and Upanishads and those of Saivism are the Tantras.
The two philosophies have prevailed in Kashmir since ancient times, as is evident from the fact that Kashmiri Pandits recite hymns from the Vedas and the Tantras in their daily rites and rituals. They also recite hymns like Mukundamala dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Sivamahimnastotram in praise of Lord Siva.
To undertake the journey from the lower to the highest transcendental state, Kashmir Saivism lays down three means (Upayas). They are: Anuvopava, Saktopaya and Sambhavopaya. The first one, Anuvopaya, concerns anu, meaning the individual soul and his mind-body complex. This is the lower form of sadhana which suits those whose minds and intellects are not sufficiently evolved to apprehend the Supreme Reality. Also called Kriyopaya, it is experienced by such methods as recitation of mantras, control of breath, fixation of postures and meditation on various centers of body including the life force (prana). Utpaladeva calls it mayayopaya, which obviously cannot directly lead one to enlightenment for the simple reason that maya is the principle of ignorance.
Saktopaya is a yogic practice which does not involve recitation of mantras or breathing exercises or any objective dhyana. At the same time, it does not suit those who are not capable of reaching a thoughtless state. An expedient of a high order, it is usually meant for those who possess unflinching devotion, sharp intellect and are endowed with inquisitive and highly sensitive minds. In this form of sadhana, the aspirant has to fix his mind on any one point between two objects. Thus the one who establishes oneself in one-pointed awareness enters the state of transcendental consciousness. It is also known as Jnanopaya, as it originates from jnana sakti, the energy of knowledge.
The third expedient, Sambhavopaya, is meant only for those privileged souls who have developed chitta consciousness through the grace of the master. It is a unique way of yoga discipline that leads one to supreme realization by emptying one’s mind completely of all thoughts. Also known as nirvikalpayoga, it makes oneself drowned into an ocean of bliss. Since a strong will is required to achieve this, Abhinavgupta describes it as Ichhopaya or Ichha yoga in his 'Tantraloka', wherein he also points out that "the one established in Sambhavopaya shines like midday sun for the whole universe".
Spiritual lore has examples galore of this state of being. Take the case of Chaitanya. Any words spoken about Lord Krishna brought tears into his eyes. Sri Ramarkrishna, while still a boy, fell unconscious in a paddy field after going into trance at the mere sight of a line of cranes flying in the sky. Similarly, Maulana Rumi once went into ecstasy for nearly six hours while passing by a goldsmith's shop as a result of the musical sound produced by beating the sheets of gold. In that divine mood, he is believed to have envisioned the Supreme in all His glory.
Over and above these three Upayas, there is the highest and perhaps the final and the direct means to liberation. It is called Anupaya, which literally means no Upaya. It is an effortless effort, one may say. Also called Anandopaya, it is a state in which an aspirant has to do nothing but to only observe silence. One has to be as one is. According to "Tantraloka", a mere touch or a glance of an evolved soul can bring about transcendental bliss.
Swami Lakshman Joo told me in an interview in the seventies that he had had the privilege of having darshan of one such person in Shri Ramana Maharshi, the sage of Tiruvannamalai during his visit to South India, including Pondichery.
Four Systems of Thought
The first system of thought evolved by the Saiva philosophers is Pratyabhijna which literally means to recognize one's own self once again. It represents a mental act by which one realizes and re-unites with the original state i.e. universal consciousness. As an active principle, the individual self (atman) is identical with the Supreme Lord but due to the influence of maya (ignorance), it forgets its divine nature, becomes liable to limitation and bondage, and thinks itself to be different from the Supreme Lord. In this system, the Ultimate Reality voluntarily descends to the level of the Jiva or empirical individual who, in turn, becomes duty bound to ascend and recognize himself as Siva. Thus one's mukti (spiritual freedom) lies in one's clear recognition (Pratyabhijna) of one's identity with the Supreme Lord.
All through the course of Sadhana, one feels the presence of an invisible hand that inspires the aspirant progressively on to the goal of self-realization. The ultimate reality is self-luminous and does not need any external light to illumine it. Self realization as such is not a case of man realizing God but one of God revealing Himself through the instrumentality of His divine power or Sakti. This is known as the doctrine of Saktipat or the descent of Sakti.
Sankaracharya fully endorses this view in his famous work, Viveka Chudamani wherein he says: ”Human birth, desire for liberation and contact with great souls are acquired by the grace of Lord.” Baba Farid said ”God's grace may fall on us at any time. There are no definite rules regulating it. Some do not get it even after performing great austerities and night-long vigils while those who lie asleep may get it just like that.”
The saint-poetess of Kashmir, Lalleshwari also talks of grace when she says: “Kenchan dyut-tham oray aalav, kenchav racheyi naalay vyeth, kenchan achi laji maschyeth taalav, kenchan papith gay haalav khyeth”. “Some you (meaning God) called out of your own (showered grace on them); some quaffed at the Vitasta (practiced hard penances); some got intoxicated with liquor (were lost in love for you) while there are some whose ripe crops were eaten away by the locust swarms (labors for attainment were lost).
Shiva & Shakti
Shiva is the highest metaphysical principle and the Universe is His Shakti. They are the two aspects of the same Reality. Sakti is related to Shiva as light is to sun. It is through Her that the Lord performs the five acts of manifestation, maintenance, withdrawal, dissolution and grace. Sakti assumes innumerable forms, the chief among them being “Chit, Ananda, Iccha, Jnana and Kriya corresponding to the five states of Shiva, Sakti, Sadasiva, Isvara and Sudha Vidya.. She is responsible both for liberation and bondage, the order of descent and the order of ascent.
While Shiva or Paramsiva is the Ultimate Reality, Shahti is its power of manifestation. The universe is real (not an illusion) and a projection of the Shakti aspect of Shiva. Here, Maya is the creative force as also a veiling element. Kashmir Shaivism does not concern itself only in finding the nature of Siva, Shakti and the Nara but devotes itself extensively on the means to be employed by the man to realize its real self and thus merge with Siva.
Saivism does not preclude worship of individual Gods or any way reduce the importance of Bhakti (devotion) as long as they lead one to the realization of the Self. Worshipping Shakti in various forms is quite common.
Shakti forms the very nature of Siva and functions in five different expressions: Chit-shakti, Ananda-shakti, Iccha Shakti, Gnana Shakti, Kriya Shakti-conciousness, bliss, will, knowledge and action respectively. Siva, the supreme Lord, through ;his divine Shakti performs five functions: Self limitation (nigraha), creation (srishti), sustenance (sthiti) and absorption (samhara) and bestowal of grace (anugraha). Paramarthasara elucidates in detail various aspect of all these.
Aesthetics & Kashmir Shaivism
Aesthetics has always played an important role in the development of various schools of Indian philosophy. We do not see God as some distant disciplinarian ruler of the universe but is thought of as an intimate and loving master.
Even in ancient times Indus Valley people worshiped their deities through the medium of dance. Vedic fire altars were constructed according to aesthetic norms. Rigvedic hymns in praise of various forces of nature are aesthetically very rich. Cave paintings at Elora and Ajanta testify to the importance attached to beautiful religious images in India during the Buddhist age. Ancient temples and images at places like Khajuraho display a highly developed aesthetic sense. Music is still a central part of the spiritual practice among both the Sakta, Saiva and Vaisnava devotees. According to Vijnanabhairava, music serves as an important aid to get absorbed in pure and blissful consciousness.
Kashmir Shaivism is a philosophy that embraces life in its totality. Unlike puritanical systems, it does not shy away from the pleasant and the aesthetically pleasing aspects of life. In fact, it recognizes and celebrates the aesthetic aspect of the Absolute. It endorses a spiritual path that accepts both enjoyment (bhukti), and liberation (mukti) as the goal of human life. Not approving any form of forcible repression of the senses and the mind, it has developed methods that could be followed equally by both the monks and the householders.
One of the leading scholars of Kashmir Shaivism and a former Director, Abhinagupta Institute of Aesthetics, Dr. Navjeevn Rastogi says that Kashmir Saivism is not rooted in sorrow, nor does it look to liberation (moksha) as a way out. Integral in its approach, it embraces life in its totality and does not, unlike other systems, separate the four goals of life, namely dharma, artha, kama, and moksha.
Yet another Shaiva scholar, Dr. Ashutosh Angiras avers that Shaiva philosophers regarded beauty as a kind of self-expression and with the aid of their aesthetic sensibility found the transcendental reality manifest in every sphere of the mundane world. They even associated Siva not only with poetry, drama, dance or music but also with painting and the world could be seen as a painting painted by Him.
The Agamas are deemed to have scriptural authority and are often called the fifth Veda. Scholars believe that the Upanisads and the Agamas branched off from the same stem, namely the Vedas. In fact, till the 11 century AD, both the Veda and the Agama were denoted by the common term sruti (revealed). It was only after that the Vedas were known as nigamas and the Tantras as the agamas. The Agamas are as much philosophic treatises as any other. According to Sir John Wooddroffe, scholars of Agamic literature believe that the Agamic tantric cult had been mainly responsible to swallow up Buddhism on the Indian soil.
Generally speaking, Agama-Shastras of Kashmir deal mainly with ritualistic and mystic practices. Every agama usually consists of four sections or Kandas (1) Vidya or Jnana Kanda dealing with secret knowledge; (2) Yoga Kanda dealing with processes of concentration and breathing; (3) Kriya Kanda dealing with ritualistic performance of rituals and the fourth Kanda pertains to forms of worship. Agama texts also include certain philosophical speculations and teach certain methods, mystical practices (upayas) for achieving lower and higher Siddhis (occult powers). The Siva-sutras are believed to be a Rahasyagama-shastra-samgraha (a compilation of secret Agama Shastra) being the work of Siva Himself.
Misconception about Tantra
Referring to a common misconception that those performing Tantric practices use mystic formulae, invoke spirits and acquire weird powers, a great scholar of Kashmir Saivism, Kamlakar Mishra, says that "such an understanding of Tantra is obviously naive, for Tantra has a much wider connotation and stands for a particular conception of Reality and a particular way of life." Tantra, he pointed out, "presents a set of values that are on the one hand ethically good, and on the other hand, pleasant and satisfying to the individual."
There is no doubt that in several Tantric works, human body is looked upon as Shri Chakra (disc of bountiful Superhuman power) in which the microcosmic angles of Shakti (energy) have been detailed as tvak (Skin), asrah (blood), mamsam (flesh), Meda (lymph) and asthi (bones). The macrocosmic angles have also been defined as the five elements, five tanmatras (subtle elements ), five senses of perception, five senses of action and five Pranas. These aspects of Mother Shakti have been brought out beautifully in the two lofty compilations of panegyrics, Panchastavi and Saundarya Lahiri.
Kashmir Shaivism does not advocate a life of renunciation or profession of monks, but recommends an active householder's life with daily practice of worship, yoga and meditation. The use of outward symbols, such as yellow and orange robes, matted hair, and ashes are not recommended, if not prohibited. While recognizing worldly enjoyment as a goal of life, it does plead for a spiritual path aimed at harmonizing worldly enjoyment (bhukti0 and the desire for liberation (mukti). In no case does it advocate suppression of one's emotions. Rather, it provides for a spiritual path leading to the sublimation of the baser instincts and the cultivation of lofty ethical values and the higher goal of spiritual freedom.
Shaivism holds the view that the world of consciousness and that of the senses are inseparably connected and it is essential to master both to make lives free and unfettered. Spirituality does not mean escapism nor the other-worldliness. Rather, it is something not far removed from the demands of daily life.
Relevance to Present Times
Since Kashmir Shaivism adopts a realistic and humanistic approach to life, its relevance to the present times may not be over-emphasized. Trika philosophy undoubtedly inspires one for both material and spiritual growth and what is more there is absolutely no restriction based on color, creed, caste or gender for eligibility in this system.
Moving away from the obviously erroneous maya concept of Advaita Vedanta and Buddhist nihilism, it stresses positive acceptance of material world while pursuing the ultimate goal of ascending to Siva-hood. It abhors the torture of the body or mind, does not plead for suppression or forced control but lays stress on sublimation and gradual turning away from the lure of wealth, power and sense pleasures.
Real joy can be gained as we live in this world by adopting spiritual approach and go about our work by exercising moderation in living. Be as you are, for when one discovers inner bliss, one will give up fascination for outer worldly enjoyments.
Shaivism-Its Abiding Influence
Shaivism has attracted the attention of many eminent thinkers, yogis and philosophers throughout India.
Inscriptions testify to the fact that the teachers of Pratyabhijna school of Kashmir Shaivism were held in great honor in the court of the Chola emperors, from where they diffused out all over India during the medieval period. The earliest influence of Pratyabhijna system can be seen on the post-Sankara philosophical developments in India, particularly on Ramanuja (1017-1137 AD) who propounded his philosophy of qualified monism, accepting a personal God as the Absolute.
However, it was Dr. Buhler's report on the discovery of manuscripts of Shaiva Shastras of Kashmiir in 1877 that generated widespread interest in the subject, particularly after the Kashmir Research Department started intensive study of Shaiva philosophy in 1902. In recent times, Kashmir Shaivism had its votaries in the great saint-philosopher of Kerala, Sri Narayana Guru (1854-1928), the great poet-thinker, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the great mystic-Yogi, Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), and Swami Muktananda (1908-1982).
In his book entitled "The Philosophies of Sri Sankara and Sri Narayana" published in 1988, a distinguished research scholar from Kerala, Dr. B. Karunakaran, traces Narayana Guru's philosophy to the basic concepts of Pratyabhijna and says that a 'harmonious blending of Kashmir Shaivism and Advaita Vedanta can be met with in Narayana Guru's system.' He points out that the influence of Abhinavgupta on Narayana Guru's perspectives is more pronounced than that of Sankara.
Sri Aurobindo, who gave to the world the concept of Superman, had a clear influence of Shaivism on his thought process. Like the Shaivist thinkers of yore, he treats the world as God’s sport. He so beautifully echoes the Shaivist concept when he says: “This world was not built with the bricks of chance; a conscious power has drawn the plan of life and there is meaning in every curve and line. Individual life is not cut out of the whole and must not be viewed in isolation. The whole creation is Lord’s play (leela)”.
The great poet-philosopher, Rabindranath Tagore, avers that “Kashmir Shaivism has penetrated into that living depth of thought where diverse currents of human wisdom united in a luminous synthesis.”
*A journalist by profession, a scholar by temperament and a writer by choice, Gopinath Raina was inclined to the study of religion from his very young age. It was Swami Vivekananda’s dynamic exposition of Hindu thought that fired his imagination while he was still at school, and by the time he entered college, he had been drawn to the writings of Gandhi, Aurobindo, Narayana Guru, Radhakrishnan and Bertrand Russel.
After retiring from Indian Information Service (I.I.S.) in 1983 where he distinguished himself as an editor, correspondent, commentator and administrator in All India Radio, he edited, AICC Journal, Varnika, (Jan.'84-Dec.'90), Koshur Samachar (March'91-Oct'95, Sanatana Sandesh,(1997-2005) and KASHEER (2003-2004),
He has been writing profusely on various aspects of Hindu thought. He enjoys writing, particularly on saints and sages, not only of Kashmir, but of the other parts of India as well. Presently he lives in Miami, and spends his time writing personal memoirs.
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