A Brief Summary of Kashmiri Shaivism
Among the various Hindu philosophies, Kashmir Shaivism (Kaśmir Śaivism) is a
school of Śaivism identical with trika Śaivism categorized by various scholars as
monistic idealism (absolute idealism, theistic monism, realistic idealism,
transcendental materialism or concrete monism). These approaches suggest that
Cit - consciousness - is the one reality and that matter is not distinct from consciousness,
but rather different aspects of the same reality. There is no real separation between
God and the world. They are one reality. Unlike what the Advaita proponents argue,
the followers of Kashmir Shaivism hold the opinion that the world is not an illusion
but very real. True illusion is perceiving the duality or the diversity of the world
and holding God and His creation as distinct. Kashmir Shaivism became prominent
as a major philosophical trend during the eighth or ninth century CE. in
Kashmir and made significant strides, both philosophically and theologically, until
the end of the twelfth century CE.
Origin of Kaśmir Śaivism according to Hindu Mythology
As the philosophy of Kaśmir Śaivism is deeply rooted in the Tantras, the lineage
of Kaśmir Śaivism begins with Śiva himself. According to tradition, as the knowledge
of the Tantras were lost by the time of Kali Yuga, Śiva took the form of Śrikanthanath
at Mt. Kailaśa, where he fully initiated Durvasa Ṛṣi, into all forms of the Tantrika
knowledge, including abheda (without differentiation), bhedābheda (with and without
differentiation), and bheda (differentiated), as described in the Bhairava Tantras,
Rudra Tantras, and Śiva Tantras, respectively. Durvasa Ṛṣi intensely meditated in
the hope of finding an adequate pupil to initiate, but failed to do so. Instead,
he created three "mind-born" sons, and initiated the first son, Tryambaka
fully into the monistic abheda philosophy of the Bhairava Tantras; this is known
as Kaśmir Śaivism.
Concepts in Kashmir Shaivism
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 realized anuttara is considered to be above the need
for gradual practice, in possession of an instantaneous realization and perfect
freedom (svātantrya). 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
Aham, the Heart of Śiva
Aham is the concept of supreme reality as heart. It is considered to be a non-dual
interior space of Śiva, support for the entire manifestation, supreme mantra
and identical to Śakti.
Kula, the spiritual group
Kula is a complex notion primarily translated as family or group. On various
levels there exist such structures formed of many parts, interconnected and complementary.
They are called families on account of having a common unifying bond, which is ultimately
the Supreme Lord, Śiva. The practices related to Kaula are very obscure and
mystical and the focus is away from much philosophical tinkering and more into immediate
experimentation. In essence, Kaula is a form of body alchemy where the lower aspects
of one's being are dissolved into the higher ones, as they all are considered
to form a unified group (a kula) which relies on Śiva as ultimate support.
Svatantrya, self-created free will
The concept of independent free will plays a central role in Kashmir Shaivism.
Known under the technical name of 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. Svātantrya is the sole property of God,
all the rest of conscious subjects being co-participant in various degrees to the
divine sovereignty. Humans have a limited degree of free will based on 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 but they can
be ignorant of this power. Ignorance too is a force projected by svātantrya itself
upon the creation and can only be removed by svātantrya. A function of svātantrya
is that of granting divine grace - śaktipāt. In this philosophical system spiritual
liberation is not accessible by mere effort, but dependent only on the will of God.
Thus, the disciple can only surrender himself and wait for the divine grace to come
down and 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
The Siva Sutras
The first great initiate recorded in history of this spiritual path was Vasugupta
(c. 875-925). Vasugupta formulated for the first time in writing the principles
and main doctrines of this system. A fundamental work of Shaivism, traditionally
attributed to Vasugupta, is the Shiva Sutras of Vasugupta. Traditionally these
sutras are considered to have been revealed to Vasugupta by Shiva. 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. This text is one
of the key sources for Kashmir Shaivism. The work is a collection of aphorisms.
The sutras expound a purely non-dual (advaita) metaphysics. These sutras, which
are classifed as a type of Hindu scripture known as agamas, are also known as the
Shiva Upanishad Samgraha (Sanskrit: śivopaniṣad saṅgraha) or Shivarahasyagama Samgraha.
Classification of the written tradition
The first Kashmiri Shaiva texts were written in the early ninth century CE..
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 Gita which has a commentary by Abhinavagupta,
known as the Gitartha Samgraha. Teachings are also drawn from the Tantraloka 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.
- 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, Vijñānabhairava Tantra, Netra Tantra, Mṛgendra Tantra, Rudrayāmala
Tantra, Śivasūtra and others. There are also numerous commentaries to these
works, Śivasūtra having most of them.
- Spanda Śāstra, the main work of which is Spanda Kārikā 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).
- 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.
Prominent sages of Kashmir Shaivism
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 Tantraloka ("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 of before him. Thus he offers a unitary, coherent and complete vision of
this system. Due to the exceptional length (5859 verses) of Tantraloka, Abhinavagupta
himself provided a shorter version in prose, called Tantrasara ("The Essence
Another important Kashmiri Shaivite, Jayaratha (1150-1200 AD,), added his
commentary to Tantraloka, a task of great difficulty which was his life long pursuit.
He provided more context, numerous quotes and clarifications without which some
passages from Tantraloka would be impossible to elucidate today.
The four schools of Kashmir Shaivism
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 form 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).
Another very important school of Kashmir Shaivism, Kula in Sanskrit, means 'family'
or 'totality'. This is a tantric (left hand) school par excellence, and
here Śakti plays a paramount role. The Kula teachings make the skeleton of Tantrāloka
The Spanda system, introduced by Vasugupta (c. 800 AD), 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.
The most important texts of the system are Śiva Sutras, Spanda Karika and Vijñāna
The Pratyabhijña school, which in Sanskrit, literally means "spontaneous
recognition" is a unique school, 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". Though this school thrived until the beginning of the Kali Yuga, it
was eventually lost due to a lack of understanding of the school, until, in the
8th Century CE, the Kashmir Shaivite master, Somananda revived the system.
Trika and Kashmir Shaivism
There is no real difference between the two. It is just another name by which
the tradition is referred. Swami Lakshman Joo says "Kashmir Shaivism is called
the Trika philosophy, the three-fold science." According to him, "The
ancient tradition of Kashmir Shaivism is a non-dual (advaita) school of philosophy
which takes as its source the ninety-two Tantras of Lord Shiva. This includes the
sixty-four monastic Bhairava Tantras, the eighteen mono-dualistic Rudra Tantras,
and the ten dualistic Shiva Tantras. This philosophical tradition is also known
by its adherents as Trika."
Swami Sivananda on Kashmiri Saivism1
This is known by the name Pratyabhijna system. The Agamas are the basis for Kashmir
Saivism. The Agamanta called Pratyabhijna Darsana, flourished in Kashmir. The twentyeight
Agamas were written in Sanskrit in the valley of Kashmir, in order to make the meaning
clear to every one. This Agamanta arose in North India long before Jainism came
into prominence. Then it spread westwardly and southwards. In Western India, it
was known by the name Vira Mahesvara Darsanam, and in South India, it was called
Suddha Saiva Darsanam.
Siva is the only reality of the universe. Siva is infinite consciousness. He
is independent, eternal, formless, secondless, omnipresent. Siva is the subject
and the object, the experiencer and the experienced. The world exists within consciousness.
God creates by the mere force of His Will. Karma, material cause like Prakriti,
Maya which produce illusion, forms, etc., are not admitted in this system. God makes
the world appear in Himself just as objects appear in a mirror. He is not affected
by the objects of His creation, just as the mirror is not affected by the reflected
image in it. He appears in the form of souls by His own wonderful power inherent
in Him. God is the substratum of this world. His activity (Spanda or vibration)
produces all distinctions.
Siva is the changeless Reality. He is the underlying basic substratum for the
whole world. His Sakti or energy has infinite aspects. Chit (intelligence), Ananda
(bliss), Iccha (will), Jnana (knowledge) and Kriya (creative power) are Her chief
Sakti functions as Chit, then the Absolute becomes the pure experience known
as Siva Tattva. The Ananda of Sakti functions and life comes in. Then there is the
second stage of Sakti Tattva. The third stage is the will for self-expression. Then
comes the fourth stage, Isvara Tattva with its power and will to create the world.
It is the stage of conscious experience (Jnana) of being. In the fifth stage, there
is the knower and also the object of knowledge. Action (Kriya) starts now. This
is the stage of Suddha-vidya. There are thirtysix Tattvas or principles in this
Bondage is due to ignorance (Ajnana). The soul thinks: ‘I am finite’, ‘I am the
body.’ It forgets that it is identical with Siva and that the world is wholly unreal
apart from Siva.
Pratyabhijna or recognition of the reality, is all that is needed for attaining
the final emancipation. When the soul recognises itself as God, it rests in the
eternal bliss of oneness with God. The liberated soul is merged in Siva, as water
in water, or milk in milk, when the imagination of duality has disappeared.
Vasu Gupta (eighth century A.D.) wrote the Siva Sutra and taught it to Kallata.
Siva Drishti written by Somanatha may be considered equal in merit to Tirumandiram
of Tirumular. Vasu Gupta’s Spanda Karika, Somanatha’s Siva Drishti (930 A.D.), Abhinava
Gupta’s Paramarthasara and Pratyabhijna Vimarsini, Kimaraja’s Siva Sutra Vimarsini
are some of the important works of this school.
They accept the Siva Agamas and the Siddhanta works as authoritative. They modify
them in the light of Sankara’s Advaita. Somanatha’s Siva Drishti, Utpala’s Pratyabhijna
Sutra and Abhinava Gupta’s works support non-dualism.
1. Kashmir Shaivism: The Secret Supreme, Swami Lakshman Jee, pp.
2. The Trika Śaivism of Kashmir, Moti Lal Pandit
3. a b The Doctrine of Vibration: An Analysis of Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir
Shaivism, Mark S. G. Dyczkowski, pp. 51
4. Kashmir Shaivism: The Secret Supreme, By Lakshman Jee
5. For Kashmir Shaivism arising in the ninth century see: Basham, p. 110.
6. The Doctrine of Vibration: An Analysis of Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir
Shaivism, By Mark S. G. Dyczkowski, pp. 4
7. The Trika Śaivism of Kashmir, Moti Lal Pandit, pp. 1
8. Lakshmanjoo, pp. 87-93.
9. Para-trisika Vivarana, Jaideva Singh, pages 20-27
10. The Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul Muller-Ortega, pag. 88
11. Parā-trīśikā Vivaraṇa, Jaideva Singh, page 194
12. Parā-trīśikā Vivaraṇa, Jaideva Singh, page 180
13. Parā-trīśikā Vivaraṇa, Jaideva Singh, page 127
14. The Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul Muller-Ortega, page 102
15. The Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul Muller-Ortega, page 60
16. Abhinavagupta: The Kula Ritual, as Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantrāloka,
17. For dating of Vasugupta as 875-925 see: Flood, p. 167.
18. For the Shiva Sutras as a foundational work and classification as agama, see:
Tattwananda, p. 54.
19. For belief that these are revealed scriptures, see: Tattwananda, p. 54.
20. For summary of the dream leading to the discovery of the Shiva Sutras, and their
importance as a key source, see: Flood (1996), p. 167.
21. For characterization of the content as purely advaita metaphysics, see: Tattwananda,
22. For alternate names śivopaniṣad saṅgraha and śivarahasyagama and classification
as agama, see: Tattwananda, p. 54.
23. Dyczkowski, p. 4.
24. The Trika Saivism of Kashmir, Moti Lal Pandit, pag. IX
25. a b The Trika Saivism of Kashmir, Moti Lal Pandit, pag. X
26. The Trika Saivism of Kashmir, Moti Lal Pandit, pag. XI
27. Triadic Mysticism, Paul E. Murphy, page 12
28. Tantric Studies in Memory of Hélène Burnner, Alexis Sanderson, page 371
29. Introduction to the Tantrāloka, Navijan Rastogi, page 92
30. Introduction to the Tantrāloka, Navijan Rastogi, page 102
31. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page 6
32. a b The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page 7
33. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page 12
34. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page 2,3
35. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page x
36. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page 3
37. a b c The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page 5
38. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, Navijan Rastogi, page 4,5
39. Spanda-Kārikās, The Divine Creative Pulsation, Jaideva Singh, page XVI
40. a b Spanda-Kārikās, The Divine Creative Pulsation, Jaideva Singh, page XVIII
41. a b Spanda-Kārikās, The Divine Creative Pulsation, Jaideva Singh, page XVII
42. The Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul Muller-Ortega, page 118
43. Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme, Swami Lakshman Joo, page 136
44. The Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul Muller-Ortega, page 120
45. The Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul Muller-Ortega, page 119
46. The Triadic Heart of Shiva, Paul Muller-Ortega, page 146
47. Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme, Swami Lakshman Joo, page 137
48. Lakshmanjoo, pp. 130-131.
This work is adapted with suitable modificatinos under creative commons public license
from wikipedia.org article having the same title
1. Source: Reproduced, with the general permission, from Lord Siva and His Worship,
WWW edition 2000, By Sri Swami Sivananda © The Divine Life Trust Society