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Kashmiri Śaivism

One of the four main schools of Śaiva philosophy, so called because its center was in Kashmir. For several centuries, its doctrines were secret and passed from teacher to pupil as an oral tradition (much as were the Vedas). Sometime around the end of the 8th or beginning of the 9th century CE, the doctrines were committed to writing (in classical Sanskrit) by a man named Vasugupta. Subsequently, numerous works were written so that, as Jaideva Singh observes in the introduction to his translation of one of its important texts (Pratyabhijñāhdayam), “The literature on this system has accumulated to such an extent that it would require almost a life-time to study it” (p. 2). These works can be divided into three categories, so the philosophy is sometimes referred to as the Trika (“three-fold”) System. Its basic texts, considered to be revealed, are called šgamas (“original precepts”). The second and third categories are the Spanda Śāstras (texts expounding the doctrine of vibration or spanda) and Pratyabhijñā Śāstras (texts expounding the doctrine of recollection or pratyabhijñā). Among the first category is the ŚIVA SŪTRA; among the third category is the Pratyabhijñāhdaya. In addition to Jaideva Singh’s detailed outline of the basic doctrines of this system of philosophy, there is an historical account by J. C. Chatterji, Kashmiri Shaivism.

Briefly, the system identifies cit as the ultimate reality. This term is usually translated as “consciousness,” but that is misleading, since consciousness is usually considered to involve a subject-object duality and cit does not. It is a unitive awareness from which consciousness (citta) arises. As Singh puts it, “It is . . . the Ultimate Reality or Supreme Self. . . . Sciring Itself” (p. 5), using the Latin scire to suggest a form of knowing different from the usual dualistic one. This Supreme Self or Ultimate Reality is also called ®iva or Parama (ultimate) Śiva or Mahevara. It is said to have the qualities of illumination (prak€a) and awareness (vimara) — or sciring, as Singh puts it. It is the latter which is involved in manifesting the universe by means of vibration (spanda). Since the ultimate reality is, therefore, inherent in everything it creates, realization of this, which is the ultimate goal of life according to the philosophy, is actually a kind of recognition.

The Supreme Reality, Parama Śiva, has infinite powers (aktis), but five are considered the principal ones: cit, ānanda (transcendental bliss), …cchā (will or power to create), jñāna (knowing), and krīya (creativity, the power to assume any and every form). In its fourth or knowing aspect, ®iva is also known as Ÿvara. The creative energy (akti) of ®iva is called its tattva (“underlying principle,” literally “thatness”), a term often used in early theosophical literature for the essential nature of something. It is also called citi, the feminine form of cit, to indicate that there are not two realities, but just one. This creative energy polarizes itself as self-consciousness (aham) and other-consciousness (idam), or “I” and “that.” The same idea is also found in early theosophical literature. At this point, the duality measures out the universe by means of vibration (sometimes identified as transcendental sound or par€vak), hence it is called māyā tattva, referring to the root derivation of the word māyā, which is “measure” or “delimit.” As a result of this manifesting, a kind of veil or covering (āvaraŠa) is thrown over the “I” aspect of the polarity so that it forgets its identity with the “that” aspect. This covering or cloaking of itself by Śiva is said to involve five encompassing garments (kañcukas): temporal division (kalā, literally a division of 1/16th often referring to certain divisions of the Zodiacal signs), knowing or wisdom (vidyā), attraction or desire (rāga), darkening of awareness (kāla) which produces our conscious division of time into past, present, and future, and causal necessity (niyati) which gives us our conscious awareness of space and causal regularity. But since all of this is a manifestation of ®iva, it is not illusory, as in Advaita Vedānta, but real. It is our assumption that the “external” world is fundamentally different from us that causes our delusion — or loss of memory of our divine origin and heritage.

The manifested world is said, as i the Sāmkhya philosophy, to consist of three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. It also has five grades of matter: āk€a (space conceived of as a kind of rarified substance), air, fire, water, and earth. Our psycho-physical mechanism utilizes these grades of matter in an internal instrument (antaƒkaraŠa) composed of buddhi (insight or intuition), ahamk€ra (our ego-making faculty), and manas (mind-emotion). This, too, is similar to Sš¥khya and Advaita. This internal instrument is a subtle body (sukma ar…ra) which survives the death of the physical or gross body (sth™la ar…ra) and eventually reincarnates. Liberation from the cycle of birth and death occurs when one has a direct and profound re-cognition (pratyabhijñ€) of one’s real nature. In this philosophy, such a realization is conceived of as a kind of Divine grace (anugraha). Upon that recognition, one’s limited consciousness (citta) is transformed into the universal unitive awareness (cit) and the entire universe appears to one as ®iva.

There are further complexities of this system, but the above may serve to give the reader at least some idea of the nature of this fascinating and generally neglected philosophy. Even from the above outline, one can understand why some scholars term this system a “theosophy.”


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