Fundamental Aspect of Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism

A comparative view of the two Philosophies

by Jankinath Kaul "Kamal"

Late Shri Jankinath Kaul 'Kamal'The six systems of Hindu Philosophy are Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Saankhya, Yoga, Mimaamsa and Vedanta. There are also many other schools of thought in India, but all are the variations of these six systems termed the Hindu Philosophy. To understand this clearly, we have to realize that the basis of all the schools of Indian Thought is the same which we call the Ultimate Reality, Supreme Consciousness, Brahman, Siva, Allah or God. All these schools of thought several conclude on common concepts which are :-

i) All accept the central cycle of Nature, which is without beginning or end. This consists of vast phases of Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution.

ii) All accept that life and death are but two phases of a single cycle to which the soul is bound. This is because of the ignorance of the true nature of things.

iii) All accept Dharma as the moral law of the universe that accounts for these central cycles of Nature, as well as the destiny of the human soul.

iv) All agree that knowledge of the self is the path to freedom and that Yoga is the method to attain final liberation. 

All the schools of thought are, thus, but the fundamental interpretations of the Ultimate Reality. They are so inter-related that the hypothesis and the method of each is dependent upon that of the other. They are, in no way, contradictory to one another, as they all lead to the same practical end, the knowledge of reality and liberation of soul.


'To get rid of evil and to attain permanent and supreme bliss', is the innate desire of every creature in the world.

Here is an attempt made to study a comparative view of the two schools of Indian thought, namely the Advaita Vedanta of Shankara and the Kashmir Shaivism, as these have great affinities with one another. Both advocate monism. Fundamentally, they have a single conception, but each develops it individually to suit particular minds. The physical reason for their individual development, apart from that of the mental, may be due to Historical background and Geographical situation of each.

Badarayana, probably, founded Vedanta in the plains of India while Durvasa expounded Trika Shaiva in the Himalayan ranges, the two being sobre and sentimental respectively. Vadanta is an enquiry into the nature of the Ultimate Reality while Shaivism discusses the nature of this ultimate Reality and explains the cause of the initial impulse in nature. The sources of Vedanta are Vedas and those of Shaivism are the Tantras, which give supplementary explanations to Vedic thought. Both are said to be of divine authorship. No doubt, they are the revelations favoured to great sages and seers of this ancient land. But neither objects the postulates of either of these.

Both of these evolved philosophies seem to have had prevailed in this beautiful land of Kashmir since the very early times i.e. the first century A. D. or earlier. This is evident from a keen observation of the performances of daily and occasional rites and rituals by the Kastimiri Pandits even upto this day. Hymns from the Vedas and recitations from the Tantras are included in all kinds of such performances, simultaneously. Even later hymns like Mukundamala- a hymn to Lord Vishnu, and Sivamahimnastotram- a hymn to Lord Siva - the supreme deities of the two philosophies, are recited and worship offered simultaneously by devotees in traditional way. By this we understand that people in this land of Kashyapa have from the very early times been accommodating perhaps because of their gift of intelligence from Nature. They always assimilated what came their way. According to Dr. Aurel Stien," the Brahmins absorbed Buddhist Faith and lived in harmony with their brethren who were converted to this faith in the valley. Thus the old religion here seems to have been polytheistic, of course, with special inclination towards ritualistic Shaivism.

Kula system of Shaivism, advocating the highest form of Siva had been introduced here in the fourth century A. D. Krama system of Shaivism, connected with Raja-Yog, and Kundalini Yoga, which stress that vital air and mind are interdependent, also had been introduced here early.

Then, Sankaracharya (788-820 A. D.) visited this valley in the first two decades of the ninth century. He only re-established the true faith of Upanishads called the Vedantas. To check further deterioration caused by the split in Buddhisn, he explained the Upanishads in a system on the basis of Brahma Sutras in its commentary. He gave Vedanta Philosophy the right footing when he wrote his valuable commentaries on the ten principal Upanishads and the Bhagwadgita. He composed a number of hymns to different deities like Saraswati. Krishna, Skanda and so on, to give the unilateral direction to multi- farious faiths in the whole country. He gave practical instructions that worship of different deities leads to the same goal, the Ultimate Truth on realization.

In his hymn to Dakshinamurti, Sankara's conception ultimate reality is the same as that of Pratyabhijna, reintroduced by Somananda and Utpalacharya, in Kashmir. To examine a comparison, let us study the following:


"He, in whom this universe, prior to its projection was potentially present like a tree in a seed, and by whom it was wrought to its multiform by the magic, as it were, of His own will or in the manner of a great Yogi out of His own power, to that Supreme Being, embodied in the auspicious and benign Guru, I offer my profound salutation."



"By His own will the Supreme Lord, the essence of Knowledge (Supreme Consciousness) projects causelessly like the Yogi into this multiformal world."

Again, in the first stanza of the Dakshinamurti Stotra, Sankar, says:


which means: "Who, by Maya as by dream, sees Himself the universe which is inside Him, like unto a city that appears in a mirror, (but) which is manifested as if without." In the commentary to this stanza in his book entitled 'The Hymns Of Sankara', Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan points out: "It is to be noted that in this hymn Sankara employs certain key-terms and concepts of the Pratyabhijna system known popularly as Kashmir Shaivism. The illustration of the mirrored city is found in the pratyabhijna works". Thus the people of Kashmir seem to have been influenced by the Vedanta Philosophy of Sankara as well as by the ancient Shaivism which later developed into Kashmir Shaivism.

Earlier two great Shaiva families of Sangamaditya and Atrigupta had migrated into Kashmir, when King Lalitaditya (699-736 A. D.) ruled here. They practised Tantric Shaiva rituals. These had already influenced the thought of people here when Shankara's Tantric Philisophy spread and influenced the Trika also. This leads us to think that Shankara must have had personal touch with some founder-writers here. To illucidate this we quote the following passage from the book entitled 'Abhinavagupta - An Historical & Philosophical Study' by Prof. Dr. K. C. Pandey :

"On the authority of the Rajatarangini (Ch. V, 66) we know that Bhatta Kallata, the pupil of Vasugupta, was a contemporary of Avantivarman, King of Kashmir (855-883 A.D). There he is referred to as 'Siddha.' It is, therefore, evident that at that time he was an old man of established reputation. Vasugupta, the teacher of Kallata, therefore, it is natural to suppose, belonged to the preceding scholastic generation extending from about 825 to 850 A. D. We shall, therefore, not be wrong if we say that Vasugupta gave a systematic form to the philosophical ideas of the monistic Tantras in his Siva Sutras in the next decade after Shankaracharya's visit to Kashmir towards the end of the second decade of the 9th century A. D." - (Page 154)

Thus, the mixed faith that the people of Kashmir had professed so for developed into a philosophical system when Vasugupta and Somananda gave Spanda and Pratyabhijna thoughts during the middle and latter part of the 9th century respectively. The Trika system of philosophy which had appeared on this earth through Durvasa, was in this way re-introduced by Siva's will, for the welfare and spiritual development of the people of Kaliyuga. Srimat Swami Lakshman Joo, in one of his lectures on Kashmir Shaivism says, "Like Vedanta, this system endeavours to remove the innate ignorance that separates the individual from the universal."

Then, what are the points of difference between these two established philosophies?

There is no difference so far as the aim of both is concerned. Both the monistic philosophies aim at the realization of the Ultimate Reality, which one calls Parabrahman and the other calls Parama Siva. So Paramasiva or Parameshwara is that ultimate Reality, which the Vedas declare as "This world came out from the Eternal Existence which is one, the only and without the second."


But there are points of difference in so far as their composition is concerned. On the basis of Sankhya, the two philosophies hold that the universe comprises of tattwas (or categories).

Twenty three are common in both:

Five Bhutas - (Elements)

Five Jnanendriyas (Organs of cognition)

Five Karmendriyas (Organs of action)

Five Tanmatras (subtle elements)

Three Antahkaranas (internal organs)-Mind, Intellect & Ego.

The points of difference are:

i) In Vedanta the twenty-fourth category is Prakriti and the twenty-fifth is the Purusha, which is known as the Supreme Being (Parameshwara). He is ever pure and is not tainted with the stain of worldly corruption, just as no amount of dirt can ever alter the chemical purity of gold in a gold ring. Therefore, soul or self in Vedanta means the universal Soul, Paramatman or Supreme Spirit. This is identified with Purusha, the efficient cause of the manifest world. It brings all change by its mere presence as the sun brings forth the spring flowers.

Trika, on the other hand, adds thirteen more tattwas to the twenty-three of Sankhya. These are:

Prakriti - the world of difference which has the quality of being affected,

Purusha - the limited individual,

Six Kanchukas or sheaths - They are the limiting adjuncts on the individual in respect of space, Knowledge, interest, time and authorship.

So far this is all impure knowledge.

Five more tattwas are considered to be in the field of Pure- knowledge. These are the five energies Parama Siva called consciousness, bliss, desire, knowledge and Action. Kashmir Shaivism postulates the single reality of Siva with two aspects - one Transcendental and the other Immanent like two sides of one and the same coin. The first is beyond manifestation. But both are real as the effect cannot be different from the cause. It is said:

ii) Vedanta discusses the relationship of God, Matter and World. The central theme of the Vedanta Sutras is the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, which concern the nature of these three relative principles. This includes the relation between the universal soul and the individual soul. Shankaracharya explained, for the practical purposes, this union in his monumental commentaries in the 8th century A. D.

The system of Kashmir Shaivism deals with the three-fold principle of God, Soul and Matter, which gives it the name Trika. Vasugupata ( 9th century A. D. ) received the Siva- Sutras by inspiration and explained these to preserve for man the principle of monism which existed in the Tantras, also known as Agamas. This revived an understanding of truth in its ultimate form.

iii) In Vedanta, Maya, is a means of operation. It is not a substance. It is the force which creates illusion of non-perception in nature. It is the dividing force or we may call it the finitising energy which creates form in the formless. The world is known as Maya because it has no reality. It is only an appearance of fleeting forms. The real is never affected by the unreal as the ground is never made wet by a mirage. Maya is ignorance (avidya) when it operates the individual mind. It vanishes when the knowledge of reality dawns just as the morning mist dissipates on rising of the sun.

In Kashmir Shaivism Maya is the power of contraction of the five universal modes of consciousness, called the Kanchukas or sheaths. The power of contraction works thus:

    Eternal Existance contracts into time
    All-pervasiveness contracts into Space
    All-completeness contracts into desire
    All-knowledge contracts into limited knowledge
    and, All-powerfulness contracts into limited power

Maya-shakti, as it is called here, produces Purusha and Prakriti which together establish the dual world of mind and matter. Here it is termed Maya-Granthi, as it becomes the cause of bondage. As un- divided power of Siva, Maya is not separate from the reality either. As the gross power of consciousness it is called Maya-Shakti, which grants liberation to the contracted soul. The influence of Maya is evident in the law of Nature. Every period of action is followed by a period of rest just as sleep follows action.

iv) In Vedanta we are required to pass through the four-fold discipline which consisis of: viveka - Discrimination vairagya - Dispassion shat-sampat - Right conduct (six-fold ) :- a) Mental quietness; b) Taming the mind; c) Abstinence; d) Endurance; e) Confidence; and f) Steadiness.

mumukshutwa - Desite for liberation. (Tattwabodha of Shankaracharya) 2(b).

There are also three kinds of students who advance towards self-realization. They are those :

     i) who act with zeal and faith,
    ii) who act for the good of humanity,
    iii) who are immersed in meditation.

But in Shaivism it is said: <verses>

'There is no consideration of first being worthy of it. There is no restriction of caste, creed of colour for getting admission to this shaiva order. This naturally must mean that it is the intelligent who can grasp this advanced philosophy, being the lastest development on all the others. For the fine intellects no restriction is imposed. But there are grades in Diksha-initiation. They are :

    1. Samayik - when the disciple is given the training of proper discipline.
    2. Putrak - when spiritual knowledge is imparted to the disciple.
    3. Acharya - when the disciple becomes Acharya (preceptor) and imparts knowledge to other disciples.
    4. Siddha- - The perfect being. (vide Tantraloka) 3 (c)

v) Divine Grace is anugraha in Vedanta and shaktipaata in Kashmir Shaivism. Both the philosophies understand it to be unconditional. They are in complete agreement on this point. Vedanta says that intellectual power, study of the Vedas and even spiritual instruction are persuaded by divine grace alone :-


'It is by Lord's grace that one is led to monistic practices.' Again, the Upanishads declare :-


'Atma can be realized by him whom He favours and to whom He reveals Himself.'

In Shaivism also it is Shaktipaata that makes self- recognition possible.


'One is directed towards the preceptor as if tethered with a rope' .


'There is no human effort to earn shaktipaata'.

It is the independent will of Lord Siva to grant shaktipaata or divine grace to any one at any place and at any time.

vi) Badarayan's viewpoint is the outcome of the various schools of thought of his day, as there existed Ashmarthya, Audulomi, Kaashakritsna and others who had held different views previously. His is the accepted classic of the Vedanta system to-day. It was endorsed and expanded by Gaudapada and Shankaracharya through Maandukya karikas and Prasthanatrayi respectively. Vidyaranya held the same view in his Panchadashi.

Likewise, we find that the polytheistic faith with greater inclination towards Shaivism developed into Kashmir Shaivism or Trika philosophy with the advent of Vasugupta and Somanandanatha. This peculiar philosophy developed in Kashmir and includes almost all the previous thoughts. It was further adored by Kallata, Utpalacharya and later by Abhinavaguptapada. Siva-Sutra, Sivadrishti, Spanda, Ishwara- pratyabhijnavimarshini need special mention in this context. Besides this, Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka and Paratrimshika Vritti form the encyclopaedia of Kashmir Shaivism.

To sum up, if we study both these philosophies with interest and zeal, we shall find that both lay stress on the practical aspect, which is realization of the Self. Both enable all to realise the teachings during one's own lifetime. Their individual developments lead to the common goal - Realization of the Supreme Reality - where there is no experience of dualiLy and hence no sorrow. It is the state of absolute bliss. It is the stateless state. The vedas declare :-


Truth is one but the wise give it in many ways'.

Although Kashmir Shaivism can hardly be grasped until all the six systems of philosophy are comprehended, yet no such system of India will be complete without this. No doubt, Tantras suffered a great criticism from the western and eastern scholars, due to their esoteric or symbolic character. But thanks are due to Sir John woodroffe (Arther Avalon), who was the first to defend the outraged Tantras. In the foreword to his book entitled 'The Garland of Letters', Dr. T. M. P. Mahadevan (professor Emeritus, Centre of Advanced study in philosophy, University of Madras) writes :-

"The decent Indian mind that had developed a deep-rooted prejudice against the Tantras became awake to their excellence after the pioneering work of this great foreigner.''

He made their meaning clear and helpful for understanding the culture of India. Therefore, it is imperative that this line of traditional literature should properly be understood. Then it will be convincing to the common man that Kashmir Shaivism gives the detailed analysis of the ultimate Reality, which Vedanta already explained on the basis of Saankhya Philosophy.


    1.  Stein, Dr. Aurel, Rajatarangini (Tr.)
    2.  Adi Shankara, (a) Dahshinamurti Stotra (b) Tattwabodha.
    3.  Abhinavaguptapada, (a) Ishwarapratyabhijnya Vimarshini (b) Paramartha-sara, and (c) Tantraloka. Pub. The Kashmir Series of Texts & Studies, Srinagar.
    4.  Mahadevan, Dr. T. M. P. The Hymn to Sanhara, Madras, Pub. Ganesh & Co.
    5.  Kaul, Jankinath, "Trika Shasana Ka Aavirbhava,' in MALINI, Pub. Kashmir Shaiva Institute, Gupta Ganga, Kashmir 1870.
    6.  Pandey, Dr. K, C., Abhinavagupta - an Historical & Philosophical Study, Pub. Chowhhamba Sanskrit Series office, Varanasi.
    7.  Lakshman Joo, Swami; Lectures on Kashmir Shaivism (unpublished)
    8.  Chandogya Upanishad
    9.  Dattaatreya, Avadhoota Gita.
    10. Mundaha Upanishad.
    11. Woodroffe, Sir John. The Garland of Letters. Madras, Pub. Ganesh & Co.