By Jamuna Rangachari
From the Kashmir valley comes a potent theology to understand the mystery of creation. Kashmir Shaivism believes that all matter is the play of Parama Shiva or universal consciousness.
Whose call is paramount – the flesh or the spirit, art or scientific thought, religious speculation, action or contemplation? If the world that I see is unreal, why do I feel so connected to it? If there is no external God, why do so many traditions have so many representations of Him or Her? Is it impossible for me to practice spirituality while living a worldly life?
These queries are part of all spiritual quests, and various schools of thoughts seek to address them in their own way. The unique characteristic of Kashmir Shaivism is that it provides a complete answer to all of these questions, explaining both the material and spiritual world, the lower and the higher selves, the seen and the unseen.
At first, the word ‘Shaivism’ suggests a theology based on the worship of Shiva. However, Shiva in Kashmir Shaivism goes way beyond the consort of Parvati on Mt Kailash. Shiva, rather Parama Shiva, is universal consciousness or the Supreme Being in this monistic philosophy that seeks to explain the process and layers of His manifestation.
Dr Madhu Khanna is Associate Professor at the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi, and author of Yantra, the Tantric symbol of cosmic unity. While studying the tantra philosophy, she was struck by the sheer clarity and lucidity of one of the foremost advocates of Kashmir Shaivism, Abhinavagupta’s expositions, and gained a deep insight into her own consciousness. Inspired by these shastras, she moved on to spiritual practices of concentration on breath and then, Shree Chakra meditation. ‘The first step of recognizing my own place in this vast cosmos, was crucial in helping me integrate spirituality with this worldly life,’ she says.
Suppression of one’s emotions and instincts is not recommended and it advocates a path that includes both – bhukti, enjoyment and mukti, liberation.
In the words of Lalleswari, the mystic poet of Kashmir:
Overeating will not permit you to reach the goal;
Willful abstention from food makes you conceited.
Eat moderately to be a normal person;
Moderate eating would surely lead to unbolting of the Gates!
The essential caveat is ‘moderation’. Bhukti, while acceptable, should not become overindulgence or an obsession.
The philosophy is truly inclusive as there is no restriction based on caste, creed, color and sex to follow this system. It does not prescribe sanyas but advises one to live the life of a householder and to practice, along with this life, the Shaiva yoga for the sake of self-realization.
Some renounced their homes, some the hermitages;
Stay as you are and be firm in your mind.
Thereby you will get established in the Self;
What is the good of smearing ashes?
It is this inclusive and all-embracing aspect that Lata Krishnamurthi, a leading advocate in Delhi, found most appealing. She feels that by accepting worldly life as valid and not focusing on rituals but on philosophy, Kashmir Shaivism is extremely practical. ‘It is not just an esoteric topic of discussion, but something that one can understand and apply in one’s own life,’ she says.
Origins and Schools
The origins of Shaivism go way back in time to the Agama Shastras, believed to be as old as the Vedas, or perhaps even more ancient. Sir John Marshall in Mohenjodaro and the Indus civilizations, says, after studying the excavations of Mohenjodaro, that Shaivism is perhaps the most ancient living faith in the world.
However, for a long time, much of the true essence of this philosophy was lost with a misdirected focus on cults and rituals.
The revival of interest took place between the 7th and 12th century AD through many great sages, Vasugupta, Somananda, Utpaladeva, Eraknatha, Sumatinatha and Abhinavagupta, to name a few.
The philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism is also called Trika Shastra and the various schools or approaches that have been propounded by the sages to help in the realisation and recognition of oneness with Parama Shiva are Krama, Kula, Spanda and Pratyabhijna.
Krama school of Shaivism, expounded by Eraknatha focuses on overcoming barriers of time and space. An aspirant is taught to develop such strength of awareness that one transcends space, time and form and finally raises himself to the state of universal consciousness, that of Parama Shiva, the transcendental being. A key feature of this system is the predominance given to the female aspect or shakti and the description of the prana kundalini where an aspirant rises from one chakra to another The Kula system propounded by Sumatinatha teaches one to always live in chaitanya (universal consciousness), which is one’s real nature. The word kula itself means ‘totality’ and through this practice, one realizes the totality that exists in all particles and, by extension, in the universe.
Spanda school, explained by Vasugupta, directs the seeker to concentrate on each and every movement in this world. Again, the word spanda itself means movement. Mark S G Dyczkowski, in his book, Doctrine of Vibration, explains that according to the Spanda philosophy, man can recognize his true nature to be Shiva by experiencing spanda, the dynamic, recurrent and creative activity of the Absolute. To the Spanda practitioner then, concentrating on the movement of even a blade of grass can lead to God consciousness. Thus, the core teaching here is that nothing can exist without movement.
Pratyabhijna meaning ‘recognition’ was elucidated by Somananda and taken further by his disciple, Utpaladeva who wrote Pratyabhijna Karika, a collection of sutras on this doctrine. Its essence is a deep and systematic study of man in relation to the world he lives in. There is a perfectly scientific analysis of the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of man and that of the one objective reality (Parama Shiva).
The Play of Shiva
‘Why has Lord Shiva created this external objective world, this manifestation of supreme energy, in his own nature?’ This, Kashmir Shaivism says, is the play of Shiva or his lila. When Lord Shiva is completely alone, bereft of his creation, he is in the full splendor of his consciousness, but then he is static. Therefore, he wishes to manifest himself.
Mr Jaidev Singh, in his book Pratabhijnahrdyam, a translation of the sage Utpala’s sutras, explains that Shaiva philosophy views Parama Shiva as a supreme artist. Just like a musician who bursts forth in a song or an artist pours his creative energies in his painting, Shiva pours out his creativity in his creation, through Shakti.
In this process, a veiling takes place. So, the Supreme Consciousness hides from itself through its own veiling power, and then liberates itself by seeing itself as it really is. This veiling takes place in 36 steps or tattvas. These progressively trace the veiling of the original Absolute Reality, moving it from the five limitationless states of Shiva tattva, Shakti tattva, Sadashiva tattva, Isvara tattva and Sadvidya (also known as Shuddvidya or kriya) tattva to the Maya tattva, where the limitations begin.
Man becomes a finite being, nara, motivated by a passion for objects of enjoyment. Maya expands into the next five tattvas, Kala, Avidya (ashudh), Raga, Niyati and Akala – collectively called kuncukas or cloaks which cover the real nature of the knowing objects. With this, maya subtly develops our sense of ego. Then follow the Purusha and Prakriti tattva that puts the final seal on man’s finitude leading to the lower tattvas.
These include faculties of the individual being such as the three interior instrumental elements (antah-karnas) Buddhi (intellect), faculty of judgement, Manas, faculty of imagination, Ahamkara, personal ego. Then follow the five exterior elements of perception (jnanendrayas) five elements of action (karmendreyas), five subtle objective elements (tanmatras) and finally, five objective elements (bhutas).
Kashmir Shavism helped me recognize my place in the cosmos.
By understanding these tattvas, we realize that though the individual self (atman) is identical with the Supreme Lord, due to the influence of maya (ignorance/ illusion) the individual self forgets its divine nature, becomes liable to limitation and bondage, and thinks itself to be different from the Supreme Lord.
As long as one resides in the lower tattvas, one is the victim of sadness and sorrow and is entangled in the wheel of repeated births and deaths.
However, this system does not just stop at showing the nature of life but also specifies the path of ascent or trika yoga through which an aspirant may go to the higher tattvas from the lower. In fact, the practice emphasizes that one should not stop with mere knowledge but put one’s knowledge into action, through which one gains awareness or self-recognition.
As Utpaladeva, another of the Shaivite sages, says, ‘The man blinded by ignorance( maya) and bound by his actions (karma), is fettered to the round of birth and death, but when knowledge inspires the recognition of his divine sovereignty and power, he, full of consciousness alone, is a liberated soul.’
Recognizing that there are different levels of spiritual maturity in aspirants, this system has three methods. The first and supreme approach is sambhavopaya, the second one is saktopaya and the third, elementary one is anavopaya.
Shambhavopaya is recommended for advanced aspirants, who, by mere orientation of will, meditate on Shiva tattva (pure consciousness). In the beginning it involves the practice of maintaining constant awareness that the universe is nothing but chitta consciousness. Even this must ultimately be overcome as all mental activities stop. The mind then shines without any flutter of ideas, absorbed in the pure luster of consciousness.
In Shaktopaya, the primary concern is to realize the self through knowledge, meditation and contemplation of ideas such as Shivoham. Mental activity does play an important role here.
Anayopaya This is also called kriya (action) yoga and is the one suitable for the majority of people, who still live in the field of maya. This yoga is of several types, dhyana yoga, uccara yoga, karana yoga and sthana kalpana.
Dhyana yoga is a form of anava yoga, which is practiced with contemplative meditation on buddhi. The word dhyana means contemplation. There are different forms of dhyana, for example, the contemplation on the lotus in your heart, or on the meaning of some mantra such as ‘So-ham’.
Uccara yoga means concentration on the breath (uccara), and using the power of life force, prana, whose functions vary depending on whether we are awake, asleep, in a transcendental state, and so on.
Karana yoga has physical postures accompanied by a special form of contemplation that helps aspirants realize the absolute divinity of their own nature.
Sthana kalpana consists of meditation on entities outside the person like on some particular place or object. With this, aspirants develop an impression of eternity which becomes one with their essential nature.
Finally, and perhaps ironically, there is anupaya, the ultimate method, which is really no-method. The one who has attained anupaya has only to observe that nothing is to be done. Just to be is enough. It is the unexplainable reality of the liberated soul who knows that nothing was lost and therefore, nothing is gained.
One can reach this ultimate state only through God’s grace. As Mr Om Prakash Mahajan, an ardent practitioner of this system, says, ‘You may knock many times at a person’s door but only if the person answers your call can you enter.’ He explains that all effort is just a preparation. ‘Udam bhairon’, a key tenet of the Shiva sutras, explains that only when udam, effort and bhairon, the Godhead, converge, there is realization. In other words, ‘When God wills, your prayer will be answered’.
Kashmir Shaivism and other Schools of Thought
Kashmir Shaivism and Vedanta have many similarities, and most of all, share a common goal. As Swami Lakshman Joo, a revered master of recent times, has said in lectures on Kashmir Shaivism, ‘Like Vedanta, this system endeavors to remove the innate ignorance that separates the individual from the universal.’ There is, however, a key difference. Vedanta states that the phenomenal universe is not real. In Kashmir Shaivism, the ultimate in form is immanent and without form is transcendental. ‘Aham Brahasmi’ of Vedanta is extended to ‘Sarve Brahmasi’.
One can understand and apply Kashmir Shaivism in one’s own life.
‘It is not just me but everything that is God’s manifestation,’ says Mr Mahajan.
Mr PN Kajru, a painter and another ardent practitioner, says, ‘If the source is real, then what emanates from him, the entire universe, is real too. The only aspect that is to be recognized is that the entire universe is always in a state of flux and therefore, nothing is permanent.’
Then again, the philosophy, while adopting the logic of the Buddhist acharyas, refuted the fundamental concept of ‘shunyavad’ or nothingness and looked upon the creation of the Absolute as real. The cardinal principles of social equality, individual liberty, absence of dogma and rituals are, however, the same as Buddhism.
The advent of Sufism in the valley brought about the growth of a composite Saiva-cum-Sufi humanitarian thought in the valley, an accepting affirming way of thinking. This is best revealed in Lalleswari’s works, who says, ‘Shiva is all-pervading (present in each particle), never differentiates between a Hindu and a Muslim. If you are intelligent, know thy own self, that is God-realization.’
Virendra Qazi, who has conducted many workshops on Kashmir Shaivism, maintains that this philosophy is most relevant in today’s world as it embraces both the material and spiritual world.
‘Unfortunately, this system is not getting as much recognition as it should in its land of origin, while many universities and organizations abroad are studying it intently,’ he says.
This is illustrated in the experience of Chandra Kanta Gariyali, an IAS officer and Kashmiri pundit by birth, who, ironically, discovered this philosophy in Oxford. After meeting students and scholars studying this system, she attended a workshop at Oxford itself, and truly understood her rich heritage. ‘I was so relieved to know that Swamiji (Swami Lakshman Joo) had seen to it that when he was no more, Kashmir Shaivism would still be alive and kicking and growing,’ she says.
Indeed, many times one does not recognise the treasure easily accessible and available. It is only when we see others looking for it that we realize what is in our own backyard.
Truly, Kashmir Shaivism offers us a wonderful vision of the universe as nothing but the blissful energy of an all-pervading consciousness.
Isn’t it time we paid more attention to ‘the call of the valley’?
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