with its potent stress on man's recognition of an already existing oneness with
Siva, is the most single-mindedly monistic of the six schools. It arose in the
ninth century in Northern India, then a tapestry of small feudal kingdoms.
Maharajas patronized the various religions. Buddhism was still strong. Tantric
Shaktism flourished toward the Northeast. Saivism had experienced a renaissance
since the sixth century, and the most widespread Hindu God was Siva.
According to the traditions of Kashmir
Lord Siva originally set forth sixty-four systems, or philosophies, some
monistic, some dualistic and some monistic theistic. Eventually these were lost,
and Siva commanded Sage Durvasas to revive the knowledge. Sage Durvasas'
"mind-born sons" were assigned to teach the philosophies: Tryambaka
(the monistic), Amardaka (the dualistic) and Shrinatha (monistic theistic).
Thus, Tryambaka at an unknown time laid a new foundation for Kashmir Saiva
Then, it is said, Lord Siva Himself felt the
need to resolve conflicting interpretations of the Agamas and counter the
encroachment of dualism on the ancient monistic doctrines. In the early 800s,
Shri Vasugupta was living on Mahadeva Mountain near Srinagar. Tradition states
that one night Lord Siva appeared to him in a dream and told him of the
whereabouts of a great scripture carved in rock. Upon awakening, Vasugupta
rushed to the spot and found seventy-seven terse sutras etched in stone, which
he named the Siva Sutras. Vasugupta expounded the Sutras to his followers, and
gradually the philosophy spread. On this scriptural foundation arose the school
known as Kashmir Saivism, Northern Saivism, Pratyabhijna Darshana
("recognition school"), or Trikashasana ("Trika system").
Trika, "three," refers to the school's three-fold treatment of the
Divine: Siva, Shakti and soul, as well as to three sets of scriptures and a
number of other triads.
Kashmir Saivite literature is in three broad
divisions: Agama Shastra, Spanda Shastra and Pratyabhijna Shastra. Agama Shastra
includes works of divine origin: specifically the Saiva Agama literature, but
also including Vasugupta's Siva Sutras. The Spanda Shastra, or Spanda Karikas
(of which only two sutras are left), are both attributed to Vasugupta's disciple
Kallata (ca 850-900). These elaborate the principles of the Siva Sutras. The
Pratyabhijna Shastra's principle components are the Siva Drishti by Vasugupta's
disciple, Somananda, and the Pratyabhijna Sutras by Somananda's pupil,
Utpaladeva (ca 900-950). Abhinavagupta (ca 950-1000) wrote some forty works,
including Tantraloka, "Light on Tantra," a comprehensive text on
Agamic Saiva philosophy and ritual. It was Abhinavagupta whose brilliant and
encyclopedic works established Kashmir Saivism as an important philosophical
Kashmir Saivism provides an extremely rich and
detailed understanding of the human psyche, and a clear and distinct path of
kundalini-siddha yoga to the goal of Self Realization. In its history the
tradition produced numerous siddhas, adepts of remarkable insight and power. It
is said that Abhinavagupta, after completing his last work on the Pratyabhijna
system, entered the Bhairava cave near Mangam with 1,200 disciples, and he and
they were never seen again.
Kashmir Saivism is intensely monistic. It does
not deny the existence of a personal God or of the Gods. But much more emphasis
is put upon the personal meditation and reflection of the devotee and his
guidance by a guru. Creation of the soul and world is explained as God Siva's
abhasa, "shining forth" of Himself in His dynamic aspect of Shakti,
the first impulse, called spanda. As the Self of all, Siva is immanent and
transcendent, and performs through his Shakti the five actions of creation,
preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing. The Kashmir Saivite is not
so much concerned with worshiping a personal God as he is with attaining the
transcendental state of Siva consciousness.
An esoteric and contemplative path, Kashmir
Saivism embraces both knowledge and devotion. Sadhana leads to the assimilation
of the object (world) in the subject (I) until the Self (Siva) stands revealed
as one with the universe. The goal-liberation-is sustained recognition (pratyabhijna)
of one's true Self as nothing but Siva. There is no merger of soul in God, as
they are eternally nondifferent.
There are three upayas, stages of attainment of
God consciousness. These are not sequential, but do depend upon the evolution of
the devotee. The first stage is anavopaya, which corresponds to the usual system
of worship, yogic effort and purification through breath control. The second
stage is shaktopaya, maintaining a constant awareness of Siva through
discrimination in one's thoughts. The third stage is shambhavopaya in which one
attains instantly to God consciousness simply upon being told by the guru that
the essential Self is Siva. There is a forth stage, anupaya, "no
means," which is the mature soul's recognition that there is nothing to be
done, reached for or accomplished except to reside in one's own being, which is
already of the nature of Siva. Realization relies upon the satguru, whose grace
is the blossoming of all sadhana.
Despite many renowned gurus, geographic
isolation in the Kashmir Valley and later Muslim domination kept the following
relatively small. Scholars have recently brought the scriptures to light again,
republishing surviving texts. The original parampara was represented in recent
times by Swami Lakshman Joo. Today various organizations promulgate the esoteric
teachings to some extent worldwide. While the number of Kashmir Saivite formal
followers is uncertain, the school remains an important influence in India. Many
Kashmir Saivites have fled the presently war-torn Valley of Kashmir to settle in
Jammu, New Delhi and elsewhere in North India. This diaspora of devout Saivites
may serve to spread the teachings into new areas.
Saivism is not a single, hierarchical system. It
is a thousand traditions, great and small. In the broadest sense Saivism is life
itself. Philosophically it may be understood as six major traditions with many
similarities and a few differences.
In the search for peace, enlightenment and
Liberation, no path is more tolerant, more mysticaL, more widespread or more
ancient than Saivite Hinduism. Through history Saivism has developed a vast
array of lineages and traditions, each with unique
philosophic-cultural-linguistic characteristics, as it dominated India prior to
1100 from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka, from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea.
Here we seek to present the essential features of six major traditions
identifiable within the ongoing Saiva con Saiva Siddhanta, Pashupata Saivism,
Kashmir Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siva Advaita and Siddha Siddhanta.
It should be understood that this formal and
somewhat intellectual division, however useful, is by no means a comprehensive
description of Saivism, nor is it the only possible list. In practice, Saivism
is far more rich and varied than these divisions imply. Our discussion of these
six schools and their related traditions is based upon historical information.
There are wide gaps in the record, but we do know that at each point where the
veil of history lifts, the worship of Siva is there.
The Saiva Agamas form the foundation and
circumference of all the schools of Saivism. The system of philosophy set forth
in the Agamas is common to a remarkable degree among all these schools of
thought. These Agamas are theistic, that is, they all identify Siva as the
Supreme Lord, immanent and transcendent, capable of accepting worship as the
personal Lord and of being realized through yoga. This above all else is the
connecting strand through all the schools.
Philosophically, the Agamic tradition includes
the following principle doctrines: 1) the five powers of Siva: creation,
preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing grace; 2) The three
categories, Pati, pashu and pasha-God, souls and bonds; 3) the three bonds:
anava, karma and maya; 4) the three-fold power of Siva-iccha, kriya and jnana
shakti; 5) the thirty-six tattvas, or categories of existence, from the five
elements to God; 6) the need for the satguru and initiation; 7) the power of
mantra; 8) the four padas: charya, kriya, yoga and jnana.
As we explore the individual schools and
lineages within Saivism, keep in mind that all adhere to these doctrines. Our
discussion necessarily focuses on the differences between one school and
another, but this is not meant to obscure the overwhelming similarity of belief
and practice among them.
Agamic philosophy and practices are conveyed to
the common man through other channels, one of which is the Saiva Puranas. These
oral collections of stories about the Gods are interspersed with Agamic
A second channel is the Saivite temple itself,
for the construction of the temples and the performance of the rituals are all
set forth in the Agamas-in fact it is one of their main subjects. The priests
follow manuals called paddhati, which are summaries of the instructions for
worship contained in the Saiva Agamas, specifically the shodasha upacharas, or
sixteen acts of puja worship, such as offering of food, incense and water. A
third channel is the songs and bhajanas of the sants, which in their simplicity
carry powerful philosophic import. A fourth is the on-going oral teachings of
gurus, swamis, panditas, shastris, priests and elders.
Such matters of agreement belie the fact that
Saivism is not a single, hierarchical system. Rather, it is a thousand
traditions, great and small. Some are orthodox and pious, while others are
iconoclastic and even-like the Kapalikas and the Aghoris-fiercely ascetic,
eccentric or orgiastic. For some, Siva is the powerful, terrible, awesome
destroyer, but for most He is love itself, compassionate and gentle.
For nearly all of the millions of Siva's
devotees, Saivism is not, therefore, a school or philosophy; it is life itself.
To them Saivism means love of Siva, and they simply follow the venerable
traditions of their family and community. These men and women worship in the
temples and mark life's passages by holy sacraments. They go on pilgrimages,
perform daily prayers, meditations and yogic disciplines. They sing holy hymns,
share Puranic folk narratives and recite scriptural verses.
Still, it is useful for us all to understand the
formal streams of thought which nurture and sustain our faith. Now, in our brief
description of these six schools, we begin with today's most prominent form of
Saivism, Saiva Siddhanta.