Best Spiritual Website

Shiva and Shaivism | A Brief Summary of Kashmiri Shaivism

A Brief Summary of Kashmiri Shaivism:

Among the various Hindu philosophies, Kashmir Shaivism (Kasmir Saivism) is a school of Saivism identical with trika Saivism 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 Kasmir Saivism according to Hindu Mythology:

As the philosophy of Kasmir Saivism is deeply rooted in the Tantras, the lineage of Kasmir Saivism begins with Siva himself. According to tradition, as the knowledge of the Tantras were lost by the time of Kali Yuga, Siva took the form of Srikanthanath at Mt. Kailasa, where he fully initiated Durvasa Rsi, into all forms of the Tantrika knowledge, including abheda (without differentiation), bhedabheda (with and without differentiation), and bheda (differentiated), as described in the Bhairava Tantras, Rudra Tantras, and Siva Tantras, respectively. Durvasa Rsi 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 Kasmir Saivism.

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 Siva, Sakti (as Sakti is identical to Siva), the supreme consciousness (cit), uncreated light (prakasa), 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 (svatantrya). 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.

Aham, the Heart of Siva:

Aham is the concept of supreme reality as heart. It is considered to be a non-dual interior space of Siva, support for the entire manifestation, supreme mantra and identical to Sakti.

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, Siva. 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 Siva 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 svatantrya 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 Siva. Svatantrya 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 Siva, the supreme consciousness. Thus, all subjects have free will but they can be ignorant of this power. Ignorance too is a force projected by svatantrya itself upon the creation and can only be removed by svatantrya. A function of svatantrya is that of granting divine grace – saktipat. 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 Svatantrya along with the universe. Thus there can be no contradiction, limitation or rule to force Siva to act one way or the other. Svatantrya always exists beyond the limiting shield of cosmic illusion, maya.

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 Mahadeva 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: sivopanisad 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: Agama Sastra, Spanda Sastra and Pratyabhijna Sastra.

Agama Sastra 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 Malinīvijaya Tantra, Svacchanda Tantra, Vijnanabhairava Tantra, Netra Tantra, Mṛgendra Tantra, Rudrayamala Tantra, Sivasūtra and others. There are also numerous commentaries to these works, Sivasūtra having most of them. Spanda Sastra, the main work of which is Spanda Karika 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 Karika), and Spanda Nirṇaya (which is a commentary of the complete text).

Pratyabhijna Sastra 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. Pratyabhijna 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: Īsvara Pratyabhijna, the fundamental work of Utpaladeva, and Pratyabhijna Vimarsinī, a commentary to Īsvara Pratyabhijna. Īsvara Pratyabhijna means in fact the direct recognition of the Lord (Īsvara) as identical to one’s Heart. Before Utpaladeva, his master Somananda wrote Siva Dṛsṭi (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 of Tantra”).


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 Sakta traditions based on the monistic Saivism. As a Tantric and Sakti-oriented system of a mystical flavor, Krama is similar in some regards to Spanda as both center on the activity of Sakti, and also similar with Kula in their Tantric approach. Inside the family of Kashmir Shaivism, the Pratyabhijna school is most different form Krama.

The most distinctive feature of Krama is its monistic-dualistic (bhedabhedopaya) 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(moksa).


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 Sakti plays a paramount role. The Kula teachings make the skeleton of Tantraloka and Tantrasara.


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 (Siva-Sakti Tattva). In order to describe the connotations of the Spanda concept, a series of equivalent concepts are enumerated, such as: self recurrent consciousness – vimarsa, unimpeded will of the Supreme Consciousness (cit) – svatantrya, supreme creative energy – visarga, heart of the divine – hṛdaya and ocean of light-consciousness – cidananda. The most important texts of the system are Siva Sutras, Spanda Karika and Vijnana Bhairava Tantra.


The Pratyabhijna school, which in Sanskrit, literally means “spontaneous recognition” is a unique school, as it does not have any upayas (means), that is, there is nothing to practice; the only thing to do is recognize who you are. This “means” can actually be called anupaya, 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 Saivism:

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 twenty eight 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, second less, 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 thirty six 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.

Shiva and Shaivism | A Brief Summary of Kashmiri Shaivism

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top