Essays About Shaivism

History, Philosophy, Beliefs and Practices of Shaivism,

A Brief Summary of Kashmiri Shaivism

Shiva with poison in a conch

Among the various Hindu philosophies, Kashmir Shaivism (Kaśmir Śaivism) is a school of Śaivism identical with trika Śaivism categorized by various scholars as monistic[1] idealism (absolute idealism, theistic monism[2], realistic idealism[3], transcendental materialism or concrete monism[3]). 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[4] or ninth century CE.[5][6] in Kashmir and made significant strides, both philosophically and theologically, until the end of the twelfth century CE[7].

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.[8]

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".[9] 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 the Universe.[10]

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,[11] supreme mantra[12] and identical to Śakti.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15][16]

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 illusion, māyā.

The Siva Sutras

The first great initiate recorded in history of this spiritual path was Vasugupta (c. 875-925).[17] 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.[18] Traditionally these sutras are considered to have been revealed to Vasugupta by Shiva.[19] 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.[20] The work is a collection of aphorisms. The sutras expound a purely non-dual (advaita) metaphysics.[21] 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.[22]

Classification of the written tradition

The first Kashmiri Shaiva texts were written in the early ninth century CE.[23]. 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.[24]

  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, Vijñānabhairava Tantra, Netra Tantra, Mṛgendra Tantra, Rudrayāmala Tantra, Śivasūtra and others. There are also numerous commentaries to these works, Śivasūtra having most of them.[25]
  2. 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).[25]
  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.[26]

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[27]). 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[28]) of Tantraloka, Abhinavagupta himself provided a shorter version in prose, called Tantrasara ("The Essence of Tantra").


Another important Kashmiri Shaivite, Jayaratha (1150-1200 AD,[29]), added his commentary to Tantraloka, a task of great difficulty which was his life long pursuit[30]. 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'[31] or 'gradual refinement of the mental processes'(vikalpa)[32], or 'successive unfoldment taking place at the ultimate level', in the Supreme Consciousness (cit)[33]. Even if the Krama school is an integral part of Kashmir Shaivism, it is also an independent system both philosophically and historically.[34] Krama is significant as a synthesis of Tantra and Śākta traditions based on the monistic Śaivism[35]. As a Tantric and Śakti-oriented system[36] of a mystical flavor[37], 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.[38]

The most distinctive feature of Krama is its monistic-dualistic (bhedābhedopāya) discipline in the stages precursory to spiritual realization[37]. 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[37]. Krama has a positive epistemic bias[32], 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 and Tantrasāra.


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[39]. The essence of this vibration is the ecstatic self-recurrent consciousness[40]. The central tenet of this system is "everything is Spanda", both the objective exterior reality and the subjective world[41][42]. Nothing exists without movement[43], 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[44], relating to the most elevated plane in creation (Śiva-Śakti Tattva)[41]. In order to describe the connotations of the Spanda concept, a series of equivalent concepts are enumerated, such as: self recurrent consciousness - vimarśa[45], unimpeded will of the Supreme Consciousness (cit) - svātantrya, supreme creative energy - visarga, heart of the divine[40] - hṛdaya and ocean of light-consciousness[46] - cidānanda. The most important texts of the system are Śiva Sutras, Spanda Karika and Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra[47].


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.[48]

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 aspects.

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 system.

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. 103
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, Page 87
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, p. 54.
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 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