Monistic Theism of the Tirumandiram and Kashmir Saivism - Part 2: Kashmir Saivism

By Dr. Geetha Ananda and Professor T.N.Ganapathy

(Editor’s note: We have just published the 2nd edition of "The Yoga of Tirumular: Essays on the Tirumandiram." At my request, Dr. Ganapathy and Dr. Geeta Anand have written for it a new final chapter, 33 pages in length, which discusses the debate over whether the Tirumandiram advocates pluralistic realism or monistic theism. In this second in a series of three articles, excerpts from this chapter are presented. This second article gives a brief account of Kashmir Saivism representing it as a Saivite model of monism. The third article in the next issue will show the parallelism between the Tirumandiram and Kashmir Saivism to emphasize the viewpoint that the Tirumandiram advocates monism and monism only)

Monistic Saivism became popular in Kashmir predominantly after the immigration of several important families around the 8th century A.D. King Lalithaditya of Kashmir went to Kanyakubja, the capital of King Harsha (6th century) where he met Atrigupta whom he induced to migrate to Kashmir. The famous Abhinavagupta was a descendant of Atrigupta. About the same time, Sangamaditya the great great grandfather of Somananda, who systematized the pratyabhijña school of Saivism settled down in Kashmir. Sometime after, the ancestors of Vasugupta, the author of the Siva Sutras also arrived in Kashmir

When Buddhism started its slow decline to be replaced by brahmanic thought and philosophy around 8th century, those who were following the Saiva philosophy thought that an absolute idealism of the advaita school would be a good counter to the preaching of the Sunya vada of Buddhism. Buddhism was replaced by Triadism that substituted monism for the dualism of early Saiva Agama teachings.

The Saivism of Kashmir is called the Trika sasana or Trika sastra or simply the Trika School of philosophy. The Trika is also known as svatantrya vada, svatantrya and Spanda- expressing the same concepts. Abhasa vada is another name for the system. The Trika School also known as Rahasya Sampradaya or Tryambaka Sampradaya developed between the 8th and 10th century A.D. This system derives its name from its emphasis on various triads.

  1. It holds the three monistic Āgamas Siddha, Nāmaka and Mālini tantras in high esteem compared to the other ninety two Āgamas recognized by it.
  2. The triads of power in this system are parā, aparā and parāparā.
  3. Three aspects of relationship exists between the transcendent and the phenomenal- abheda, bhedābheda and bheda that is non-dual, non-dual cum dual and dual.
  4. It preaches three ways of realizing the Reality namely Śāmbhavopaya, Śaktopaya and Ānavopaya.
  5. It speaks of the triad consisting of Śiva, Śakti and Aṇu or Śiva, Śakti and Nara.

The Four main schools of Kashmir Śaivism

The four main schools of Kashmir Saivism are the (1) krama, (2) kula, (3) pratyabhijña and the (4) Spanda

  1. Krama- This school of philosophy is Śakti-oriented unlike the other schools that are Śiva-oriented. In this respect, it is similar to the Spanda School, which leans towards the dynamic aspect of reality. However, it differs from the Spanda in the fact that while the krama is a Tantric system, the Spanda is not. It highlights unity in the phenomenal duality or the bhedhābheda system. It interprets immanence as an essential expression of transcendence while the pratyabhijña and the kula systems are mainly concerned with the transcendental aspect of Reality. Unlike the kula and pratyabhijña schools, krama system opines that spiritual progress is a stepwise process.
  2. Kula - This system advocates seeing Śiva in everything in the world. It emphasizes Śiva’s power or Śakti that pervades the universe as kundalini. One’s true nature is realized during the ascent and the descent of the kundalini śakti. This system was propagated by Sumatinātha.
  3. Pratyabhijña- The system of pratyabhijña was named after the work ‘Iṣvara pratyabhijña’ of Utpaladeva. This school is based on the philosophy that liberation is recognition of what one has always been. This theory was put forth by Somānanda, the teacher of Utpaladeva in his work the Śiva dṛṣti.
  4. Spanda - According to this system the spirit, mind, body and all levels of Reality are manifestations of spontaneous vibration or spanda. This system was introduced by Vasugupta, the author of the Śiva Sutras. His disciple, Kallata, wrote the treatise the Spanda kārika.  In this system, the seeker directs his concentration on every movement in this world. Spanda is awareness (Śiva) as well as the creative aspect of awareness (Śakti).

Kashmir Saiva Literature:

The Tantras of the Kashmir Śaivism were said to have come out of the five faces of Śiva namely Iṣāna, Tatpurusha, Sadyojata, Vāmadeva and Aghora. These five mouths represent the five energies namely cit śakti (consciousness), ānanda śakti (bliss), icchā śakti (will), jñāna śakti (knowledge) and kriya śakti (omnipotence). The monistic Tantras of Kashmir Śaivism are the Bhairava Tantras, the mono-dualistic Tantras are the Rudra Tantras and the dualistic Tantras are the Śiva Tantras.  There are sixty-four Bhairava Tantras, eighteen Rudra Tantras and ten Śiva Tantras.

The literary works can also be classified as (1) Āgama śāstras, (2) Śpanda śāstras and (3) Pratyabhijña śāstras. The former consists of the Śaiva Āgamas chief among them being Malini vijaya, Ānanda bhairava, Vijñāna bhairava, Mrugendra, Matanga and Rudra yāmala. The commentaries on these Āgamas attempt to show that they taught a monistic doctrine. The Spanda śāstras and the Pratyabhijña śāstra developed later as offshoots of the Āgama śāstra. Kallata founded the Spanda śāstra and Somānanda founded the Pratyabhijña śāstras. Among these śāstras, the Pratyabhijña is the only philosophy proper of the Trika.

Some of the famous works of Kashmir Śaivism are

  1. Śiva Sutras of Vasugupta (865-925 CE)
  2. Spanda Kārika by Kallata
  3. Śiva dṛṣti by Somānanda (9th century)
  4. Pratyabhijña Sutra by Utpaladeva (900-950 CE), a disciple of Somānanda
  5. Paramārtha Sāra, Pratyabhijña Vimarṣani and Tantraloka by Abhinavagupta (950-1020 CE) who was also the author of around forty-five other works.
  6. Śivasutra vimarṣini and Spanda Sandoha by Kshemaraja (10th- 11th century)

Philosophy of Kashmir Saivism:

Kashmir Śaivism is essentially not a single philosophical system but a compendium of the philosophies of all the four schools of Śaivism. Abhinavagupta integrated the philosophies of these schools in his Tantraloka thus giving a common philosophy that is now called Kashmir Śaivism.

Kashmir Śaivism is also called prakāṣa vimarśa svātantriya vāda or the philosophy where the Absolute is self-luminous, self-conscious and free. This omnipotent, omnipresent Absolute Reality is everything and yet beyond everything; it is both immanent (viśvāmaya) and transcendent (viśvottirna). Time, form and space do not limit it; it is beyond any change. Its nature is bliss or ānanda and sovereignty, svatantra or absolute freedom. This self-luminous, self-aware consciousness is called Parama Śiva while its self-awareness is the Śakti, Parāśakti, or Parāvāk.  Thus, this pure consciousness is not static; it is also aware of its own nature. Parama Śiva and Parāśakti are not two independent entities. They are, in reality,one entity that performs different functions and exists in two different states. Śakti is an attribute of Śiva. The relation between the two is one of tādātmya (identity) sometimes referred to as samarasya (perfect equilibrium). Due to the svātantriya śakti of the Absolute, it brings into being the cosmic drama. It brings into play its mahamāya śakti by means of which it veils or obscures its essential nature and assumes limited knowledge and limited forms. This power of obscuration or self-limitation is called tirodhāna and the limitation takes the form of aṇutva or atomicity. It is also called sankoca (or cit sankoca) or self- contraction. Because of this contraction, there is creation. Creation, thus, is self-imposition of limitation by the Absolute upon itself. Creation is contraction.  In this state, the Absolute is called Puruṣa or aṇu. It is because of this sankocita jñāna or limited knowledge that the sentient and the insentient worlds come into existence.

The svātantryia śakti expresses itself as the icchā śakti (free will), jñāna śakti (power of knowledge) and kriya śakti (power to act). Self-awareness is an action, which produces a pulsation or spanda. The spanda produces polarity of ‘I’ and ‘this’. This dynamic aspect shifts the pure consciousness to the objective consciousness, one that is the result of obstruction by thought-constructs. Through the vimarśa aspect, the Absolute turns either inwards or outwards. In the inwards or dispassion (virāga) mode, it identifies itself to be pure consciousness or supreme void. In the outwards mode or passion (rāga), it identifies itself as the manifested universe. This oscillation occurs due to divine play or līla. Both these states are real and absolute. Thus, the Absolute exists, as Abhinavagupta says, ‘where duality, unity and both unity and duality are equally manifest and said to be unity’. Thus, the absolute monism of Kashmir Śaivism is that which neither refutes nor establishes diversity. Here kriya does not mean karma; it means Spanda or spontaneity. It is called Pratyabhijña jñāna, which means learning or becoming aware of the real identity of a thing. Liberation is the moment of recognition (pratyabhijña).

Kashmir Śaivism is non-dualistic or monistic as it unites all differences in a single entity, Śiva.  It differs significantly from Sānkhya philosophy, according to which the Absolute and the Universe are two independent entities.  Kashmir Śaivism explains that there is complete unity in pure consciousness, its subjective consciousness and objective perception are like a mirror and the objects that are reflected on it.  

The monistic Kashmir Śaivism is also different from the monistic philosophy of Śankara.  According to Śankara’s Advaita, only the Absolute is real; everything else is mitya or illusion.  The world as seen is perceived only in the vyavahārika or secondary state and not in the absolute paramārthika state.  On the other hand, according to Kashmir Śaivism, both the Absolute and the manifested are real.  The Absolute, the pure consciousness in its dynamic state, generates the universe and ‘reabsorbs’ it into itself at the end of each cycle of creation.  The manifested universe that is generated thus from a real entity, the Absolute, should also be real according to the logic that the qualities in the cause should be in the effect also.  However, as all the manifested exist in the Absolute like the objects reflected in a mirror, they do not have an independent existence.  Abhinavagupta in his Bodhapanchadaśi refers to this by saying that all the light and darkness reside in the supreme light of God-Consciousness.

Advaita Vedanta says that Reality is nirguna, one without any qualities.  However, in the secondary or vyavahārika state, it can be conceived as Satchidananda (being-consciousness-bliss).  Kashmir Śaivism differs in this, in that it considers caitanya or consciousness as both the Absolute Being and Its nature.  However, both the schools agree that consciousness is autonomous and does not need the mind or the body for its existence.  In this connection we may state the Siddha viewpoint (as also reflected in the Tirumandiram).  According to this viewpoint, the world is not lost or treated as illusory but given a new significance in its totality.  The ‘oneness’ or advaitam that is expressed is not the negation of all manifestations but the fullness of manifestations.  To the Siddha the world is real and not māya.  The impermanence of each individual entity does not mean the negation of unity or oneness of the Reality.  Siddha philosophy may be called spiritual monism or ‘Siddha Advaita’ to coin a new phrase, where the world is also one of the aspects of the fullness of the reality.  The Absolute reveals itself as the world, the atman and what not.  The Absolute, in terms of the Siddhas, is the ‘supreme station’ of the Sūfis.  (to be continued...)      

From the Kriya Yoga Journal, Volume 19 Number 1, Spring 2012

Copyright © by Dr. Geetha Ananda and Professor T.N.Ganapathy 2012


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