Kashmir Shaivism versus Vedanta – A Synopsis
by Piyaray L. Raina
This presentation was made by the author at the WAVES (World Association of Vedic Studies) symposium in the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, RI, USA – July 12-14, 2002
Vedas, which are considered revealed knowledge through the medium of Indian seers (rishis), are revered as mother of all religions in India. They form the matrix of all the theistic philosophies of Indian religions including Kashmir Shaivism. Therefore, the objective here is not to compare Vedas with Kashmir Shaivism but to present their complementary roles in the development of post- vedic India.
It is said at the end of the Mahabharata war, which symbolizes the end of the Dvapura Era and the beginning of the Kalyuga Era, through which we are passing now, the influence of Vedas dwindled as the Vedic seers disappeared. New class of seers emerged from time to time who interpreted Vedic knowledge for the benefit of suffering humanity. Thus six systems of Vedic schools called darshanas came into being. These are:
The last one Advaita Vedanta was propounded by Shankaracharya in the 9th century AD and culminated in the final interpretation of Vedas (Ved –anta – end of Vedas). Although these Vedic darshanas differ in their approach to the interpretation of Vedas but all of them consider Vedas as their base.
The focus of all these systems (darshanas) was to explain or resolve the dichotomy between subject and object; the knower and the known; the Cosmic Self and this self; I (aham) and this self (idam). We may group all these systems as Vedanta for the sake of this discussion.
II. Kashmir Shaivism
Along with this group of seers, another group of seers tried to resolve this dichotomy by investigating their inner nature. They carried experiments on their bodies by employing yogic practices confined to mental processes and came out with their findings in poetic terms using metaphors, symbols, and allegories. This yogic practice came to be known as Tantra. As against the Vedic knowledge, which came mainly through the process of revelation, the tantric knowledge came mainly through various forms of practices (kriyas). Tantric practices were “inward” by nature i.e. they centered around psychophysical makeup of the practitioner as compared to the “outward” nature of Vedic practices, which focus on sacrificial ceremonies along with yoga.
Over a period of time thousands of tantric traditions developed in India and abroad, which came to be classified under three major categories
Shaiva-Shakti Tantrism which recognizes Lord Shiva as the Supreme and Absolute Consciousness with Shakti as His dynamic energy came to be known as Shaivism and developed in three widely apart regions in India:
The tantric practices prevalent in these regions came to be grouped under six traditions:
It is Kashmir Shaivism that provided the philosophy of Trika, which provided relationship between God, nature, and man. It also provided the philosophy of Shiv-Shakti and Nara (man), which forms the main philosophy (Vidya Pada) of all Shaivic philosophies.
Kashmir Shaivism is a theistic philosophy that identifies Lord Shiva as the Absolute, Infinite, and pure Consciousness lying beyond the reach of speech, mind, and intellect. It is transcendental and immanent and can be realized through yoga. It advocates how a human being engrossed in the inferior objective world of Lord Shiva can be taken upwards i.e. towards the Supreme energy of Lord Shiva through his cognac energy (Shakti). It was in Kashmir Shaivism that the concept of dynamic energy (Shakti) playing an important role in the evolution of cosmos was introduced.
The development of Kashmir Shaivic philosophy can be traced back to Aagamas (18) which were written from 3rd century BC to 3rd – 4th century AD. Malinivijayattara is the most important Aagama of this period. Vasugupta who lived in Kashmir during the end of the 8th century AD wrote Shiv Sutra and it was his disciple Bhatta Kalatta (mid 9th century AD) who wrote Spanda Karika. Somananda wrote Shiv dreshti in late 9th century AD. He is the father of Pritibijna (recognition) school that forms the basis of Kashmir Shaivism philosophy. However, it was his worthy disciple Utpaldeva who presented the Pritibijna philosophy in a comprehensive way in his book Ishvara-pratiyabijna-karika in late 9th century or beginning of the 10th century AD. Later on, it was Abhinavgupta (between 10th – 11th century AD) who summarized the view points of all previous thinkers and presented the philosophy in a logical way along with his own thoughts in his treatise Tantraloka. Thus one could say just as Shankaracharya was the last exponent of Vedic knowlegde, Abhinavgupta was the last exponent of Kashmir Shaivism.
The main philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism rests on the non-dualistic foundation. Abhinavgupta used the word paradvaita– the supreme and absolute non-dualism to describe Kashmir Shaivism.
A casual reader may not be able to make out the differences in the final presentation of philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism and Vedanta. However, careful analysis and reading will reveal the differences. But before getting into the differences let us first go over to the commonalties.
III. Common Concepts
The common concepts of Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism may be summarized as follows:
1. Cyclic nature of eternity
2. Bound Soul
5. Chit (Consciousness)
IV. Points of Disagreement
Some of the points of disagreement are:
1. Ultimate Reality
They argue that even knowledge (jnana) is an activity (kriya) of the Divine, without activity chit or the Divine Being would be inert and incapable of bringing about anything, least of all the whole cosmos. Parmshiva is svatantra (has free will) and therefore is a Karta (doer). Knowledge (jnana) is not a passive state of consciousness but an activity of consciousness, though an effortless one. Knowledge is not really like the reflection of moon in a pond; in knowledge there is an active “grasping” on the part of the knower which is an activity of mind (kriya).
3. Manifestation (Abhasvada)
Abinavgupta contradicts these assumptions by stating “how can it be unreal when it is manifested. This has to be given due consideration. An entity that appears clearly and creates the whole universe must be something real and substantial and should be described as such”. (Ishvarpritabijna 111-80)
4. Manifestation Process
Parmshiva of Kashmir Shaivism is not the same Shiva of Vedanta who is meditating at Mount Kailash with Parvati by His side. Parmshiva is a Being, not necessarily in physical sense, who is Absolute, pure, eternal, infinite, and totally free I-consciousness whose essential nature is vibrant creative energy which Kashmir Shaivism describes as wonderful spiritual stir of blissfulness known as spanda. This spanda causes Absolute Reality to be continuously inclined towards the outward and joyful manifestation of its creative energy – Shakti. This manifestation is brought about by the freewill play (leela) of Parmshiva Himself like a childs’ play that is without motivation. The outward divine manifestation of this creative energy appears in five activities:
Stages 1-3 are common to both Kashmir Shaivism as well as Vedanta. However, Stages 4 and 5 listed above are present in Kashmir Shaivism only.
Kashmir Shaivism includes 36 elements (tattvas) of manifestation process as mentioned earlier. These are categorized into following four major and their sub-categories:
A. Five pure (shudh) elements – These are called ‘Pure’ because they have been created by Parmshiva Himself as against others which have been created by intermediary and lower beings as per the wishes of Lord Himself.
1. Shiva Tattva
These two tattvas are only a linguistic convention and are not actually part of creation. They are in reality one with Parmshiva. They are considered to be two tattvas only for the convenience of philosophical thinking and as a way of clarifying the two aspects of the one Absolute Reality-Parmshiva. Shivatattva is transcendental unity and shakti tattva is universal diversity. The changeless Absolute and pure Consciousness is Shiva while as natural tendency of Shiva towards the outward manifestation of divine activities is Shakti.
3. Sadashiva Tattva (also known as Iccha tattva)
4. Isvara Tattva (also known as jnana Tattva)
5. Sadvidya (also known as Shuddvidya or kriya) Tattva
6. Maya Tattva
a) it hides the pure and divine nature of created beings residing in its plane and consequently they forget their purity and infiniteness of their I-consciousness as well as their infinite potency. Hence they are given the name anu (atoms) i.e. finite beings or pashu (animal-like) or simply man Nara.
Maya is thus the plane of Absolute self-oblivion and diversity. This is the abode of the finite beings. Under its influence, being loose its state of oneness with the Absolute and also their divine potency. Maya causes feeling of imperfection and emptiness within the beings which they try to fill up with outer objects which leads to development of desire and passions for objects of enjoyment.
B. Five layers of limitations (Kuncukas)
7. Kala Tattva(limitation of activity, authorship)
8. Avidya (ashudh) Tattva (limitation of knowledge)
9. Raga Tattva (limitation of interest)
10. Niyati Tattva (restriction)
11. Akala (or Kaala) Tattva (Time sequence limitation)
12. Parusha Tattva
13. Prakriti (or mul prakriti) Tattva
C. Thirteen (13) instrumental tattvas
C1. The three (3) interior instrumental elements (antah-karnas):
14. Buddhi (intellect)– Faculty of judgement
C2. Five (5) exterior elements of perception (jnanendrayas):
17. Sravanendreya (Hearing)
C3. Five (5) elements of action (karmendreya):
22. Vagendreya (Voice or expression)
D. Ten (10) objective elements:
27. Shabdatanmra (sound)
D2. Five (5) gross objective elements (bhutas):
32. Akasha (ether)
Kashmir Shaivism does not consider the above analysis of manifestation as final. It is only a tool for contemplative meditation. Through a further analysis the number of elements (tattvas) can be increased to any level and similarly through synthesis they can be decreased to only one tattva. For example, the practitioners of Trika system use only three tattvas in the process of their Yoga meditation viz. – Shiva (Absolute Unity), Shakti (link between unity and duality), and Nara (extreme duality).
Three important observations to highlight the differences in the manifestation philosophies of Vendana and Kashmir Shaivism are:
5. Three Gunas (attributes)
6. Moksha (liberation from bondage)
To get liberated one must:
Kashmir Shaivism has a simple prescription for liberation from bondage. The logic behind this is that just ignorance is inspired by God so is revelation inspired by Him. This inspiration of divine knowledge is known as His Grace (anugraha) or the Descent of His powers (shaktipata). Only those individuals who receive Lords Shaktipata become interested in path of correct knowledge for achieving moksha. Three types of shaktipata have been described:
Each of the above has further three sub divisions, thus making a total of nine shaktipatas. There is no restriction of caste, color, or creed for achieving moksha. Yoga is the means of liberation.
i) Shambhavayoga – In this highest form of practice, the minds’ tendency is to think of himself as one with Ultimate Reality and nothing else. The practitioner stands still and loses itself in the vibrant glow of I-consciousness. It is the practice of non-ideation (nirvikalpa).
Kashmir Shaivism encourages practitioners to start from higher yogic practices (shambhavayoga) down to the last by stages if he is not comfortable there. Vedantic yoga recommends a completely different set of yoga practices and one has to go up the ladder from lower practices to upper practices.
These are some of the main points of differences of philosophies. But we have to remember that purusha in Kashmir Shaivism is a finite being a man Pashu (animal like) because of his ignorance brought about by maya. He is free from sin and his highest goal is to get out of ignorance and merge his limited self with the Real Self. This is called Ascent. The way to reach there is through trika yoga.
To quote Swami Laxmanjoo, a great Kashmir Shivism scholar of the 20th century, “although Kashmir Shaivism can hardly be grasped unless the Vedanta philosophy is comprehended, yet no system of Vedanta will be complete without it”. Kashmir Shaivism gives most detail account of Ultimate Reality, Vedanta has done it in its way.
 B. N. Pandit, Specific Principles of Kashmir Shaivism, Published: Munshiram Motilal Publishers, New Delhi, 1997.
 Jaideva Singh, Pratyabijnahrdyam (The secret of Recognition), Published: Munshiram Motilal Publishers, New Delhi, 1998.
 Jaideva Singh, Vignana Bhairva: Divine Consciousness, Published: Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, New Delhi, 1998.
 Abhinavgupta, Tantraloka, Vol 12, Published by KSTS Srinagar, Kashmir, 1918-1938.
 Kamlakar Mishra, Kashmir Shaivism (The central philosophy of Tantra), Published: Satguru Publications, New Delhi, 1999.
About the author
Piyaray Lal Raina was born in 1936 in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. He got his Masters of Science in Geology from the Lucknow University, India. His main interest was in the field of Gemology.
Mr. Raina mostly lived in Srinagar, Kashmir until 1990 where he got interested in religious philosophies primarily Kashmir Shaivism. Swami Laxman Joo (1907–1991 AD; (http://www.koausa.org/Saints/LakshmanJoo/article2.html; http://ikashmir.net/Saints/LakshmanJoo/article1.html), the greatest Kashmir Shaivism seer of the 20th century, had a profound effect on Mr. Raina while he was living in Srinagar.