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Kashmir Shaivism is a group of nondualist Tantric Shaiva traditions from Kashmir that originated in the second half of the first millennium. The term is most often used to refer to the Anuttaratrikakula (the school of the highest "Trika" or Triad) philosophy also known as the Pratyabhijna ("Recognition") system expounded by Abhinavagupta (c. 975-1025 C.E.), but also includes the earlier schools of Kapalika and its subschools the Kaula and Krama schools. All these traditions accept the Shaiva Tantras (also called Agamas, c. 9th century CE) as their main scriptures.
The goal of Kashmir Shaivism is to recognize one's already existing identity with Shiva, the deity who represents Universal Consciousness. It is categorized by various scholars as monistic idealism, absolute idealism, theistic monism, realistic idealism, transcendental physicalism or concrete monism.
- 1 Moksha - Identity with Shiva
- 2 History
- 3 Practice
- 4 Philosophy
- 5 Texts
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Moksha - Identity with Shiva
Kashmir Shaivism is a householder religion based on a strong monistic interpretation of the Bhairava Tantras and its subcategory the Kaula Tantras.[note 1] There was additionally a revelation of the Siva Sutras to Vasugupta.
Kashmir Saivism claimed to supersede Shaiva Siddhanta, a dualistic tradition which scholars consider normative tantric Shaivism. The Shaiva Siddhanta goal of becoming an ontologically distinct Shiva (through Shiva's grace) was replaced by recognizing oneself as Shiva who, in Kashmir Saivism's monism, is the entirety of the universe.
Kashmir Shaivism describes the contraction (mala) of Consciousness (cit, Shiva) into phenomenal existence. Liberation (moksha) from mala can be achieved by sadhana, practice, for which Kashmir Shaivism gives four methods (upāya), as listed below.
- Citi: Universal Consciousness (citi) is the fundamental stuff of the universe. This Consciousness is one and includes the whole. It could also be called God or Shiva.
- Mala: Consciousness contracts itself. The one becomes many. Shiva becomes the individual (jīva). This contraction is called mala (impurity). There are three malas, the mala of individuation (Āṇava mala), the mala of the limited mind (māyīya mala), and the mala of the body (karma mala).
- Upāya: An individual caught in the suffering of embodied existence, afflicted by the three malas, eventually yearns to return to his or her primordial state of Universal Consciousness. To attain this, he or she undertakes sādhana or spiritual practice. Kashmir Shaivism describes four methods (upāya-s): āṇavopāya, the method of the body, śaktopāya, the method of the mind, śāmbhavopāya, the method of Consciousness, and anupāya the ‘methodless’ method.
- Mokṣa: The fruit of the individual’s sādhana is the attainment of Self-realisation (mokṣa). In Kashmir Shaivism, the state of liberation (mukti) is called sahaja samādhi  and is characterised by the attainment of unwavering bliss-consciousness while living one’s ordinary life.
Nondualist Kashmir Shaivism was also related to Kapalika Shaivism and the Kaulas, which were rejected by Shaiva Siddhanta.[note 2] It was influential, both philosophical and theological, until the end of the twelfth century CE.
The first nondualist Kashmiri Shaiva texts were written in the early ninth century CE. The nondualist approach gained prominence with Vasugupta (c. 875-925) and his student Kallata (fl. c. 850–900). This was the beginning of the so-called "Spanda" school, or "Doctrine of Vibration." As outlined in their main texts, the Shiva sutra and the "Spandakarika", the main tenet of this school is that by experiencing "Spanda", the creative and dynamic movement of world concsciousness, a yogi can realize his true nature as Shiva.
It was further elaborated by Somananda (fl. c. 900–950) and his pupil Utpaladeva, to find its most significant expression in the writings of Abhinavagupta and his student Ksemaraja (fl. c. 1000–1050).
Although several "schools" of nondual Kashmir Shaivism can be distinguished, they have all thoroughly influenced each other.
Kapalika - Kaula system
The Kāpālika tradition was a non-Puranic, tantric form of Shaivism in India, whose members wrote the Bhairava Tantras, including the subdivision called the Kaula Tantras. These groups are generally known as Kāpālikas, the "skull-men," so called because, like the Lākula Pāsupata, they carried a skull-topped staff (khatvanga) and cranium begging bowl. Unlike the respectable Brahmin householder of the Shaiva Siddhanta, the Kāpālika ascetic imitated his ferocious deity, and covered himself in the ashes from the cremation ground, and propitated his gods with the impure substances of blood, meat, alcohol, and sexual fluids from intercourse unconstrained by caste restrictions. The Kāpālikas thus flaunted impurity rules and went against Vedic injunctions. The aim was power through evoking deities, especially goddesses.
In the eleventh century, the Kaula cultus was also influenced by nondualist thought. Its veneration of Tripurasundarı, or Srıvidya, was taken over by the Trika school.
Krama Shaivism is situated within the Kapalika culture, but assimilated Kaulism, which made it distinguished from Kapalika.
The term krama means 'progression','gradation' or 'succession' respectively meaning 'spiritual progression' or 'gradual refinement of the mental processes'(vikalpa), or 'successive unfoldment taking place at the ultimate level', in the Supreme Consciousness (cit).
Even if the Krama school is an integral part of Kashmir Shaivism, it is also an independent system both philosophically and historically. Krama is significant as a synthesis of Tantra and Śākta traditions based on the monistic Śaivism. As a Tantric and Śakti-oriented system of a mystical flavor, Krama is similar in some regards to Spanda as both center on the activity of Śakti, and also similar with Kula in their Tantric approach. Inside the family of Kashmir Shaivism, the Pratyabhijñā school is most different from Krama.
The most distinctive feature of Krama is its monistic-dualistic (bhedābhedopāya) discipline in the stages precursory to spiritual realization. Even if Kashmir Shaivism is an idealistic monism, there is still a place for dualistic aspects as precursory stages on the spiritual path. So it is said that in practice Krama employs the dualistic-cum-nondualistic methods, yet in the underlying philosophy it remains nondualistic. Krama has a positive epistemic bias, aimed at forming a synthesis of enjoyment(bhoga) and illumination (mokṣa).
Vasugupta - Spanda system and Shiva Sutras
The Shiva Sutras,[note 4] a collection of aphorisms which belong to the agamas, expound a purely non-dual (advaita) metaphysics. Traditionally, the Shiva Sutras are considered to have been revealed to Vasugupta by Shiva.[note 5]
The Spanda system is usually described as "vibration/movement of consciousness". Abhinavagupta uses the expression "some sort of movement" to imply the distinction from physical movement; it is rather a vibration or sound inside the Divine, a throb. The essence of this vibration is the ecstatic self-recurrent consciousness.
The central tenet of this system is "everything is Spanda", both the objective exterior reality and the subjective world. Nothing exists without movement, yet the ultimate movement takes place not in space or time, but inside the Supreme Consciousness(cit). So, it is a cycle of internalization and externalization of consciousness itself, relating to the most elevated plane in creation (Śiva-Śakti Tattva).
In order to describe the connotations of the Spanda concept, a series of equivalent concepts are enumerated, such as: self recurrent consciousness - vimarśa, unimpeded will of the Supreme Consciousness (cit) - svātantrya, supreme creative energy - visarga, heart of the divine - hṛdaya and ocean of light-consciousness - cidānanda.
Utpaladeva: Pratyabhijñā philosophy
Pratyabhijñā has been called the philosophical articulation of Kashmir Shaivism. The name of the system is derived from its most famous work, Īśvara Pratyabhijñā Kārikā by Utpaladeva. Etymologically, pratyabhijñā is formed from prati – "once again, anew", abhi – "immediately" and jñā – "knowledge". So, the meaning is direct knowledge of one's self, recognition.
Pratyabhijñā literally means "spontaneous recognition", as it does not have any upāyas (means), that is, there is nothing to practice; the only thing to do is recognize who you are. This "means" can actually be called anupāya, Sanskrit for "without means". Kshemaraja, the student of Abhinavagupta, uses a mirror analogy to explain Pratyabhijñā.
The central thesis of this philosophy is that everything is Shiva, absolute consciousness, and it is possible to re-cognize this fundamental reality and be freed from limitations, identified with Shiva and immersed in bliss. Thus, the slave (paśu - the human condition) becomes the master (pati - the divine condition).
All the four branches of the Kashmiri Shaivism tradition were put together by the great philosopher Abhinavagupta (approx. 950-1020 AD). Among his important works, the most important is the Tantrāloka ("The Divine Light of Tantra"), a work in verses which is a majestic synthesis of the whole tradition of monistic Shaivism. Abhinavagupta succeeded in smoothing out all the apparent differences and disparities that existed among the different branches and schools of Kashmir Shaivism before him. Thus he offers a unitary, coherent and complete vision of this system. Due to the exceptional length (5859 verses) of Tantrāloka, Abhinavagupta himself provided a shorter version in prose, called Tantrasāra ("The Essence of Tantra").
Although Trika was the most influential of the nondual Kashmir Shaivist schools, its origins may lay outside Kashmir. Its earliest texts, from before 800 CE, do not mention Kali, which became a central element in the Trika school. In its earliest phase it centered around the three (trika) goddesses Para, Parapara, and Apara. In the second phase of its development Kali was incorporated. In its third phase, coinciding with Abhinavagupta, it had to compete with Shaiva Siddhanta for influence in mainstream kashmir Shaivism.
Another important Kashmiri Shaivite, Jayaratha (1150-1200 AD,), added his commentary to Tantrāloka, a task of great difficulty which was his lifelong pursuit. He provided more context, numerous quotes and clarifications without which some passages from Tantrāloka would be impossible to elucidate today.
20th century revival - Lakshman Joo
Nondualist Kashmir Shaivism went underground for a number of centuries. While there may have been yogis and practitioners quietly following the teachings, there were no major writers or publications after perhaps the 14th century. In the 20th century Swami Lakshman Joo, himself a Kashmiri Brahmin, helped revive both the scholarly and yogic streams of Kashmir Shaivism. His contribution is enormous. He inspired a generation of scholars who made Kashmir Shaivism a legitimate field of inquiry within the academy.
Acharya Rameshwar Jha, a disciple of Swami Lakshman Joo, is often credited with firmly establishing the roots of Kashmir Shaivism in the learned community of Varanasi. Rameshwar Jha with his extraordinary creativity, innate familiarity with the ancient texts and personal experiences was able to provide easy access to abstruse concepts of non dualistic Kashmir Shaivism to the layman and scholars alike. His original writings of Sanskrit verses have been compiled and published as books Purnta Pratyabhijna and Samit Swatantram.
Nor should the contribution of Swami Muktananda be overlooked. While himself not belonging to the direct lineage of Kashmir Shaivism, Muktananda felt a great affinity for the teachings which were validated by his own direct experience. He encouraged and endorsed Motilal Banarsidass to publish Jaideva Singh's translations of Shiva Sutras, Pratyabhijnahrdayam, Spanda Karikas and Vijnana Bhairava. He also introduced Kashmir Shaivism to a wide audience of western meditators through his writings and lectures on the subject.
The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a chapter from the Rudrayamala Tantra, was introduced to the West by Paul Reps, a student of Lakshman Joo. Reps brought the text to wider attention by including an English translation in his popular book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Cast as a discourse between the god Shiva and his consort Devi or Shakti, it briefly presents 112 meditation methods or centering techniques (dharanas).
To attain moksha sādhana or spiritual practice is necessary. Kashmir Shaivism describes four methods (upāya-s):
- āṇavopāya, the method of the body,
- śaktopāya, the method of the mind,
- śāmbhavopāya, the method of Consciousness,
- anupāya the ‘methodless’ method.
Āṇavopāya - purification of the body
While most other paths observe offering incense and external objects to the deity, this path takes on to offering breaths. The individual controls his heart and pulse by reducing it significantly. The final stage is renouncing consumption of food and water. As a result, he/she connects the state of the supreme in the form of Shiva which results in purification of the body and generation of ojas.
Although domesticated into a householder tradition, Kashmir Saivism recommended a secret performance of Kaula practices in keeping with its heritage. This was to be done in seclusion from public eyes, therefore allowing one to maintain the appearance of a typical householder.
Non-dual Kashmir Shaivism was influenced by, and took over doctrines from, several orthodox and heterodox Indian religious and philosophical traditions. These include Vedanta, Samkhya, Patanjali Yoga and Nyayas, and various Buddhist schools, including Yogacara and Madhyamika, but also Tantra and the Nath-tradition.
Anuttara, the Supreme
Anuttara is the ultimate principle in Kashmir Shaivism, and as such, it is the fundamental reality underneath the whole Universe. Among the multiple interpretations of anuttara are: "supreme", "above all" and "unsurpassed reality". In the Sanskrit alphabet anuttara is associated to the first letter - "A" (in devanagari "अ"). As the ultimate principle, anuttara is identified with Śiva, Śakti (as Śakti is identical to Śiva), the supreme consciousness (cit), uncreated light (prakāśa), supreme subject (aham) and atemporal vibration (spanda). The practitioner who realizes anuttara through any means, whether by her own efforts or by direct transmission by the Grace of Shiva/shakti, is liberated and perceives absolutely no difference between herself and the body of the universe. Being and beings become one and the same by virtue of the "erotic friction," whereby subject perceives object and in that act of perception is filled with nondual being/consciousness/bliss. Anuttara is different from the notion of transcendence in that, even though it is above all, it does not imply a state of separation from the Universe.
Kashmiri Shaivites use term Prakasa (luminous consciousness, primordial light consciousness) to describe the nature of the Absolute and vimarsa (reflexive awareness) is used to describe the activity of Shiva as universal consciousness. The term "Spanda" (vibration, movement, creativity) is also an important element of the Shaiva non-dual Absolute. Spanda is associated with Shakti and is seen as the energetic creative power of Shiva. The dynamic self-regenerating nature of Shiva in Kashmir Shaivism is explained as conscious activity (citikriya) and divine pulsing radiance (sphuratta).
Aham, the Heart of Śiva
Svatantrya, self-created free will
The concept of free will plays a central role in Kashmir Shaivism. Known technically as svātantrya it is the cause of the creation of the universe - a primordial force that stirs up the absolute and manifests the world inside the supreme consciousness of Śiva.
In Svātantrya all conscious subjects are co-participant in various degrees to the divine sovereignty. Humans have a degree of free will limited by their level of consciousness. Ultimately, Kashmir Shaivism as a monistic idealist philosophical system views all subjects to be identical - "all are one" - and that one is Śiva, the supreme consciousness. Thus, all subjects have free will and are god/divine but can be ignorant of this. Ignorance too is a force projected by svātantrya itself upon the creation and can be removed by svātantrya and also by Self-knowledge.
One function of svātantrya is granting divine grace - śaktipāt. In this philosophical system, spiritual liberation IS accessible by mere effort, but can be guided by the will/grace of god (i.e. the liberated, the masters). Thus, if the disciple finds such a master, he need only surrender himself and await divine grace to eliminate the limitations that imprison his consciousness.
Causality in Kashmir Shaivism is considered to be created by Svātantrya along with the universe. Thus there can be no contradiction, limitation or rule to force Śiva to act one way or the other. Svātantrya always exists beyond the limiting shield of cosmic illusion, māyā.
Comparison with Advaita Vedanta
Kashmir Shaivism is philosophically similar to yet distinguished from Advaita: both are non-dual philosophies that give primacy to Universal Consciousness (Chit or Brahman). However, in Kashmir Shaivism, all things are a manifestation of this Consciousness but the phenomenal world (Śakti) is real, existing and having its being in Consciousness (Chit), while Advaita Vedanta holds that the supreme, Brahman, is inactive (niṣkriya) and that the phenomenal world is an illusion (māyā). The reality and very divinity of every aspect of the phenomenal world is tied to the Tantric practices of Kashmir Shaivism.
As a monistic tantric system, Trika Shaivism, as it is also known, draws teachings from shrutis, such as the monistic Bhairava Tantras, Shiva Sutras of Vasugupta, and also a unique version of the Bhagavad Gītā which has a commentary by Abhinavagupta, known as the Gitartha Samgraha. Teachings are also drawn from the Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta, prominent among a vast body of smritis employed by Kashmir Shaivism.
In general, the whole written tradition of Shaivism can be divided in three fundamental parts: Āgama Śāstra, Spanda Śāstra and Pratyabhijñā Śāstra.
1. Āgama Śāstra are those writings that are considered as being a direct revelation from Siva. These writings were first communicated orally, from the master to the worthy disciple. They include essential works such as Mālinīvijaya Tantra, Svacchanda Tantra, Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra, Netra Tantra, Mṛgendra Tantra, Rudrayāmala Tantra, Śivasūtra and others. There are also numerous commentaries to these works, Śivasūtra having most of them.
2. Spanda Śāstra, the main work of which is Spanda Kārikā of Bhatta Kallata, a disciple of Vasugupta, with its many commentaries. Out of them, two are of major importance: Spanda Sandoha (this commentary talks only about the first verses of Spanda Kārikā), and Spanda Nirṇaya (which is a commentary of the complete text).
3. Pratyabhijñā Śāstra are those writings which have mainly a metaphysical content. Due to their extremely high spiritual and intellectual level, this part of the written tradition of Shaivism is the least accessible for the uninitiated. Nevertheless, this corpus of writings refer to the simplest and most direct modality of spiritual realization. Pratyabhijñā means "recognition" and refers to the spontaneous recognition of the divine nature hidden in each human being (atman). The most important works in this category are: Īśvara Pratyabhijñā, the fundamental work of Utpaladeva, and Pratyabhijñā Vimarśinī, a commentary to Īśvara Pratyabhijñā. Īśvara Pratyabhijñā means in fact the direct recognition of the Lord (Īśvara) as identical to one's Heart. Before Utpaladeva, his master Somānanda wrote Śiva Dṛṣṭi (The Vision of Siva), a devotional poem written on multiple levels of meaning.
- In contrast, the similar Advaita Vedanta is based on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras.
- Sanderson: The Kashmirian Saiva Siddhanta sealed itself off from these "impure," visionary traditions. It sustained a "pure" cult of Siva, based on the twenty-eight Agamas, with a soteriology that subordinated gnosis to the ritual praxis of indissolubly individual agents, claiming, moreover, that this praxis was entirely compatible with orthodox Brahmanical duty and caste purity.
- For the Shiva Sutras as a foundational work and classification as agama, see: Tattwananda, p. 54.
- Also known as the Śivopaniṣad Saṅgraha or Śivarahasyāgama Samgraha.
- According to myth, Vasugupta had a dream in which Shiva told him to go to the Mahādeva mountain in Kashmir. On this mountain he is said to have found verses inscribed on a rock, the Shiva Sutras, which outline the teachings of Shaiva monism.
- David Peter Lawrence, Kashmiri Shaiva Philosophy, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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