Shaivism versus Vedanta – A Synopsis
Piyaray L. Raina
This presentation was
made by the author at the WAVES (World Association of Vedic Studies) symposium
in the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, RI, USA - July 12-14, 2002
which are considered revealed knowledge through the medium of Indian seers (rishis),
are revered as mother of all religions in India. They form the matrix of all the
theistic philosophies of Indian religions including Kashmir Shaivism. Therefore,
the objective here is not to compare Vedas with Kashmir Shaivism but to present
their complementary roles in the development of post-vedic India.
It is said at the end of
the Mahabharata war, which symbolizes the end of the Dvapura Era and the
beginning of the Kalyuga Era, through which we are passing
now, the influence of Vedas dwindled as the Vedic seers disappeared. New class
of seers emerged from time to time who interpreted Vedic knowledge for the
benefit of suffering humanity. Thus six systems of Vedic schools called
darshanas came into being. These are:
5. Purva mimamasa
6. Advaita Vedanta
The last one Advaita Vedanta was
propounded by Shankaracharya in the 9th century AD and culminated in the
final interpretation of Vedas (Ved –anta – end of Vedas). Although these
Vedic darshanas differ in their approach to the interpretation of Vedas but all
of them consider Vedas as their base.
The focus of all these systems (darshanas)
was to explain or resolve the dichotomy between subject and object; the knower
and the known; the Cosmic Self and this self; I (aham) and this self (idam). We
may group all these systems as Vedanta for the sake of this discussion.
II. Kashmir Shaivism
Along with this group of seers,
another group of seers tried to resolve this dichotomy by investigating their
inner nature. They carried experiments on their bodies by employing yogic
practices confined to mental processes and came out with their findings in
poetic terms using metaphors, symbols, and allegories. This yogic practice came
to be known as Tantra. As against the Vedic knowledge, which came mainly through
the process of revelation, the tantric knowledge came mainly through various
forms of practices (kriyas). Tantric practices were “inward” by nature i.e.
they centered around psychophysical makeup of the practitioner as compared to
the “outward” nature of Vedic practices, which focus on sacrificial
ceremonies along with yoga.
Over a period of time
thousands of tantric traditions developed in India and abroad, which came to be
classified under three major categories
a) Shaiva-Shakti Tantrism,
b) Buddhist Tantrism, and
c) Vaishnava Tantrism.
which recognizes Lord Shiva as the Supreme and Absolute Consciousness with
Shakti as His dynamic energy came to be known as Shaivism and developed in three
widely apart regions in India:
a) Kashmir in the north,
b) Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south, and
c) Gauda (Bengal) in the east.
The tantric practices
prevalent in these regions came to be grouped under six traditions:
a) Shaiva Sidanta,
b) Pashupati Shaivism,
c) Kashmir Shaivism,
d) Vira Shaivism,
e) Shiva Advanta, and
f) Siddha Sidhanta.
It is Kashmir Shaivism that
provided the philosophy of Trika, which provided relationship between God,
nature, and man. It also provided the philosophy of Shiv-Shakti and Nara (man),
which forms the main philosophy (Vidya Pada) of all Shaivic philosophies.
Kashmir Shaivism is a theistic
philosophy that identifies Lord Shiva as the Absolute, Infinite, and pure
Consciousness lying beyond the reach of speech, mind, and intellect. It is
transcendental and immanent and can be realized through yoga. It advocates how a
human being engrossed in the inferior objective world of Lord Shiva can be taken
upwards i.e. towards the Supreme energy of Lord Shiva through his cognac energy
(Shakti). It was in Kashmir Shaivism that the concept of dynamic energy (Shakti)
playing an important role in the evolution of cosmos was introduced.
The development of Kashmir
Shaivic philosophy can be traced back to Aagamas (18) which were written from
3rd century BC to 3rd - 4th century AD. Malinivijayattara is the most important
Aagama of this period. Vasugupta who lived in Kashmir during the end of the 8th
century AD wrote Shiv Sutra and it was his disciple Bhatta Kalatta (mid 9th
century AD) who wrote Spanda Karika. Somananda wrote Shiv dreshti in late 9th
century AD. He is the father of Pritibijna (recognition) school that forms
the basis of Kashmir Shaivism philosophy. However, it was his worthy disciple
Utpaldeva who presented the Pritibijna philosophy in a comprehensive way in his
book Ishvara-pratiyabijna-karika in late 9th century or beginning of the 10th
century AD. Later on, it was Abhinavgupta (between 10th – 11th century AD) who
summarized the view points of all previous thinkers and presented the philosophy
in a logical way along with his own thoughts in his treatise Tantraloka. Thus
one could say just as Shankaracharya was the last exponent of Vedic
knowlegde, Abhinavgupta was the last exponent of Kashmir Shaivism.
The main philosophy of Kashmir
Shaivism rests on the non-dualistic foundation. Abhinavgupta used the word
paradvaita– the supreme and absolute non-dualism to describe Kashmir Shaivism.
A casual reader may not be able
to make out the differences in the final presentation of philosophy of Kashmir
Shaivism and Vedanta. However, careful analysis and reading will reveal the
differences. But before getting into the differences let us first go over to the
III. Common Concepts
The common concepts of Vedanta
and Kashmir Shaivism may be summarized as follows:
1. Cyclic nature of
Both believe in the cyclic nature of eternity that
consists of vast phases of creation, preservation, and their dissolution.
2. Bound Soul
Both accept the belief that life and death are but
two phases of a single cycle to which soul is bound.
Both accept dharma as the moral law of universe
that accounts for these eternal cycles of nature as well as the destiny of human
soul in its evolution.
Both accept that knowledge is the path of freedom
and yoga as the method of attaining liberation.
Both recognize consciousness as Supreme Reality.
Vedanta calls it Parmatma whereas Shaivites call it Parmshiva.
IV. Points of Disagreement
Some of the points of
1. Ultimate Reality
The one creative force out of which everything
emerges is known as Ultimate Reality. According to Vedanta, Brahman (chit) is
the Ultimate Reality, while Kashmir Shaivism calls this Ultimate Reality as
Parmshiva. Brahman is believed to have no activity (kriya.) It is the knowledge
(prakash or jnana). As per Kashmir Shaivism, Parmshiva is knowledge (prakash/jnana)
plus activity (kriya or vimarsha). Vedanta consider activity (kriya) residing
only in the empirical subject (Jiva) and not in Brahman. Shivites on the other
hand think that Vedanta takes kriya in a very narrow sense whereas it should be
taken in a wider sense.
They argue that even knowledge (jnana)
is an activity (kriya) of the Divine, without activity chit or the Divine Being
would be inert and incapable of bringing about anything, least of all the whole
cosmos. Parmshiva is svatantra (has free will) and therefore is a Karta (doer).
Knowledge (jnana) is not a passive state of consciousness but an activity of
consciousness, though an effortless one. Knowledge is not really like the
reflection of moon in a pond; in knowledge there is an active “grasping” on
the part of the knower which is an activity of mind (kriya).
While monotheism is one of the central principles
of most of the Vedantic philosophies, it is interpreted differently by its
various schools. Advaita Vedanta explains the problem of phenomenal existence on
the basis of two mutually exclusive and independent entities. The first is known
as Brahman (pure consciousness) and the second Avidya (inexplicable ignorance)
as an attachment (upadi). Both are said to be beginning less in existence.
Kashmir Shaivism does not agree with the concept of Avidya to explain the
phenomenal existence. Abhinavgupta in his treatise on Kashmir Shaivism,
Tantraloka, refutes this concept. “The principle of absolute existence of
‘Brahman’ along with ‘Avidya’ as an upadi cannot be accepted as a
definite principle of pure monotheism” (ibid. 111:404) because it implies the
eternal existence of two entities – Brahaman and Avidya, which amounts to
clear dualism. He further states “there is self- contradiction in saying that
Avidya is indescribable as very statement that Avidya is a divine power of God
implies that such a power is describable.
3. Manifestation (Abhasvada)
Vendanta states that phenomenal universe we live in
is not real. It only appears as an existent reality. It is other than what it
seems e.g. like a rope mistaken for a snake. It is like a dream or a mirage –
Vivarta. Brahman exists but appears falsely as God, finite soul (Purusha) and
insentient matter (prakriti).
Abinavgupta contradicts these
assumptions by stating “how can it be unreal when it is manifested. This has
to be given due consideration. An entity that appears clearly and creates the
whole universe must be something real and substantial and should be described as
such”. (Ishvarpritabijna 111-80)
4. Manifestation Process
Manifestation of cosmos as per Kashmir Shaivism is
called “Descent” – which means descent of cosmic self (Parmashiva) to a
limited self (Jiva). Vedanta explains this process of manifestation through 25
elements. Kashmir Shaivism explains the cosmic evolution through 36 elements (tattvas)
which include 23 elements of Vedanta without modification, 2 with modification,
and prescribes 11 more elements (tattvas).
Parmshiva of Kashmir
Shaivism is not the same Shiva of Vedanta who is meditating at Mount Kailash
with Parvati by His side. Parmshiva is a Being, not necessarily in physical
sense, who is Absolute, pure, eternal, infinite, and totally free
I-consciousness whose essential nature is vibrant creative energy which Kashmir
Shaivism describes as wonderful spiritual stir of blissfulness known as spanda.
This spanda causes Absolute Reality to be continuously inclined towards the
outward and joyful manifestation of its creative energy – Shakti. This
manifestation is brought about by the freewill play (leela) of Parmshiva Himself
like a childs’ play that is without motivation. The outward divine
manifestation of this creative energy appears in five activities:
1. The activity of creation.
2. The activity of preservation.
3. The activity of dissolution of all the elements
including the beings living in them.
4. The activity of self-oblivion.
5. The activity of self-recognition of these
Stages 1-3 are common to both
Kashmir Shaivism as well as Vedanta. However, Stages 4 and 5 listed above are
present in Kashmir Shaivism only.
Kashmir Shaivism includes 36
elements (tattvas) of manifestation process as mentioned earlier. These are
categorized into following four major and their sub-categories:
A. Five pure (shudh) elements
– These are called ‘Pure’ because they have been created by Parmshiva
Himself as against others which have been created by intermediary and lower
beings as per the wishes of Lord Himself.
1. Shiva Tattva
2. Shakti Tattva
These two tattvas are only a
linguistic convention and are not actually part of creation. They are in reality
one with Parmshiva. They are considered to be two tattvas only for the
convenience of philosophical thinking and as a way of clarifying the two aspects
of the one Absolute Reality-Parmshiva. Shivatattva is transcendental unity and
shakti tattva is universal diversity. The changeless Absolute and pure
Consciousness is Shiva while as natural tendency of Shiva towards the outward
manifestation of divine activities is Shakti.
3. Sadashiva Tattva (also
known as Iccha tattva)
The desire (Iccha) for creation takes place very
faintly. While the Absolute is limitless I-Consciousness (aham), small desire
for objectivity “this” (idam) takes place. The beings at this stage are
known as mantra maheswaras with the presiding deity Sadashiva Bhattaraka who is
actually Parmshiva Himself and has descended to this level as the master of
4. Isvara Tattva (also
known as jnana Tattva)
The awareness (jnana) of I-Consciousness is
not lost but the awareness of “this-ness” begins to dominate. Awareness
shines as “This is myself”. Created beings at this stage of manifestation
are known as ‘mantreshwaras’ and the presiding deity is Iswara Bhattaraka.
5. Sadvidya (also known as
Shuddvidya or kriya) Tattva
The vision of the beings in the 3rd and 4th
elements above has been defined as “unity in diversity and diversity in
unity” as “I-ness” and “this-ness” is still not balanced. When the
vision becomes balanced so that there is equal emphasis on “I-ness” and
“this-ness”, it is called Sadvidya. At a further stage of diversity, where
the awareness of “I-ness” becomes “I am I” and of “this-ness”
becomes “this is this”, this is called Mahamaya. Beings living in this stage
are known as “mantras” and the presiding deity is Anantnatha. He is actually
Ishwara Bhattaraka who has descended to this level as the divine administrator
of further creation.
6. Maya Tattva
This is the final tattva created by the Lord
Himself that is considered to be “impure” i.e. filled with limitations. It
has two main effects:
a) it hides the pure and
divine nature of created beings residing in its plane and consequently they
forget their purity and infiniteness of their I-consciousness as well as their
infinite potency. Hence they are given the name anu (atoms) i.e. finite beings
or pashu (animal-like) or simply man Nara. Maya
is thus the plane of Absolute self-oblivion and diversity. This is the abode of
the finite beings. Under its influence, being loose its state of oneness with
the Absolute and also their divine potency. Maya causes feeling of imperfection
and emptiness within the beings which they try to fill up with outer objects
which leads to development of desire and passions for objects of enjoyment.
b) they see every other activity as
different from what they are.
B. Five layers of
Kala Tattva(limitation of activity, authorship)
The deity Anantnatha who presides over maya
and is the master of mahamaya shakes up maya, so to say, causing it to expand
into the next five tattvas – collectively called kuncukas or cloaks which
covers the real nature of the knowing objects. Sometimes maya tattva is itself
included as the sixth kuncuka.
To fulfill our desires, maya allows a little power
of action to achieve a little amount of success.
8. Avidya (ashudh) Tattva
(limitation of knowledge)
Since doing is not possible without knowing, maya
gives a little knowledge to know a certain amount.
9. Raga Tattva (limitation
To further the limit the scope of our doing and
knowing, maya appears in us as raga or ‘limited interest’.
10. Niyati Tattva
Niyati is the law of nature that establishes the
order of succession in all phenomenons e.g. the way in which seed develops into
a tree. This law of nature appears as the law of restriction and causation.
11. Akala (or Kaala)
Tattva (Time sequence limitation)
The above four limitations, limit our capacity of
knowing and doing but this tattva limits our very being as well. Our real self
is in fact infinite and is in no way conditioned by concept of time imposed on
us by maya in the way that we feel “we were”, “we are”, and “we shall
be”. Thus imposing on us conditions of time sequence.
12. Parusha Tattva
The I-Consciousness reduced to utter finitude is
known as Parusha. It is also known as jiva, pashu , anu nara.
13. Prakriti (or mul prakriti) Tattva
Prakriti is the un-diversified source of all the
remaining 23 elements as established by Vedanta system. This represents the
complete “this-ness” of the objective manifestation.
C. Thirteen (13) instrumental
C1. The three (3) interior
instrumental elements (antah-karnas):
14. Buddhi (intellect)–
Faculty of judgement
15. Manas – Faculty of Imagination
16. Ahamkara – Personal ego
C2. Five (5) exterior elements
of perception (jnanendrayas):
18. Supershanendreya (Feeling by touch)
19. Darshanendreya (Seeing)
20. Resanendreya (Taste)
21. Ghranendreya (Smell)
C3. Five (5) elements of action (karmendreya):
22. Vagendreya (Voice or
23. Hastendreya (Handling)
24. Padendreya (Locomotion)
25. Payvendreya (Rejecting, Discharging)
26. Upasthendreya (Resting or recreating)
D. Ten (10) objective
D1. Five (5) subtle objective elements (tanmatras):
27. Shabdatanmra (sound)
28. Sparshatanmra (Feel)
29. Rupatanmra (Color)
30. Rasatanmra (Flavor)
31. Ghandhatanmra (Odour)
D2. Five (5) gross
objective elements (bhutas):
32. Akasha (ether)
33. Vayu (Air)
34. Agni (Fire)
35. Apas (Water)
36. Pritvi (Earth)
Kashmir Shaivism does not consider the above
analysis of manifestation as final. It is only a tool for contemplative
meditation. Through a further analysis the number of elements (tattvas) can be
increased to any level and similarly through synthesis they can be decreased to
only one tattva. For example, the practitioners of Trika system use only three
tattvas in the process of their Yoga meditation viz. - Shiva (Absolute Unity),
Shakti (link between unity and duality), and Nara (extreme duality).
Three important observations to
highlight the differences in the manifestation philosophies of Vendana and
Kashmir Shaivism are:
While the Purusha of Vedanta is a Universal
soul (God-like), He is atmen (pure spirit). In contrast, in Kashmir Shaivism it
is bound soul – a jiva, nara, pashu or anu – a limited soul.
Prakriti in Vedanta is involved in manifestation as
an independent element. It is a cosmic substance that is termed as perennial
impulse in nature (like Shakti tattva). But the Prakriti of the Kashmir Shaivism
deals with limited jiva only.
Maya in the Vedanta is the means of operation. It
is not an element. It is force that creates the illusion of non-perception in
nature. It has no reality. It is only the appearance of fleeting forms which are
all unreal and like mirage vanishes when the knowledge of reality draws.
In contrast, in Kashmir Shaivism maya is a tattva. It is real. It is the power
of contraction or limiting the nature of five universal modes of consciousness.
It cannot be separated from Absolute Reality – Parmshiva.
5. Three Gunas
Vedanta describes Prakriti as a combination of
three Gunas – Satvic, Rajas, and Tamas. Further it describes the nature of
these gunas. Thus Satva is enlightenment and pleasure; Rajas is turbulence and
pain; and Tamas is ignorance and lethargy. It does not explain the source of the
nature of these gunas.
Kashmir Shaivism has examined this issue. In their
view, Paramshiva possesses limitless power to know, to do, and to diversify.
These powers are known as jnana, kriya, and maya. By the limitations brought
about by maya, the Infinite Consciousness is reduced to finite consciousness –
purusha (the limited being, anu or pashu).Here they view these experiences as
pleasure, pain, and ignorance.
6. Moksha (liberation from
In Vedanta we have four fold description for
achieving liberation from bondage:
iii) Right Conduct
iv) Desire for liberation
To get liberated one must:
i) act with zeal and faith
ii) act for the good of humanity
iii) get immersed in meditation
Kashmir Shaivism has a
simple prescription for liberation from bondage. The logic behind this is that
just ignorance is inspired by God so is revelation inspired by Him. This
inspiration of divine knowledge is known as His Grace (anugraha) or the Descent
of His powers (shaktipata). Only those individuals who receive Lords Shaktipata
become interested in path of correct knowledge for achieving moksha. Three types
of shaktipata have been described:
i) Tivra (swift) shaktipata
ii) Madya (moderate) shaktipata
iii) Manda (slow) shaktipata
Each of the above has further
three sub divisions, thus making a total of nine shaktipatas. There is no
restriction of caste, color, or creed for achieving moksha. Yoga is the means of
Both Vedanta as well as Kashmir Shaivism recommends
Yoga for achieving moksha. However, there are differences in practice.
In Vedanta Yoga practices, emphasis is laid on
controlling mind by strict discipline in day-to-day life that for its success
can be practiced by highly motivated ones or ascetics. A Shiva
Yogi is free to live without restrictions - be a householder - and participate
in the pleasures of the senses of the mind (bhoga) within the limits of the
socially accepted norms. He is advised to pursue some yogic practices known as
trika yoga that leads its practitioner to self-bliss and at that stage the lust
for worldly enjoyments automatically loose its charm. At that stage, senses
develop a spontaneous indifference known as anadaravikrati to former pleasures.
The three yogic practices of trika system are:
i) Shambhavayoga – In
this highest form of practice, the minds’ tendency is to think of himself as
one with Ultimate Reality and nothing else. The practitioner stands still and
loses itself in the vibrant glow of I-consciousness. It is the practice of
ii) Shaktiyoga – In this practice, one uses the
mind and imagination to constantly contemplate the real nature of Self as taught
by Shiva monotheistic philosophy. One is supposed to think that one is
everything and yet beyond everything. It is a practice of “pure-ideation” (shuddhvikalpa).
It is also known as jnanayoga.
iii) Anavayoga – Its practice is recommended for
those who are not capable of adopting the higher yogic practices mentioned
above. Anu stands for finite ordinary beings bounded by their limitations and
objective meditation is recommended for them where the focus of attention shifts
to kriya (action).
Kashmir Shaivism encourages
practitioners to start from higher yogic practices (shambhavayoga) down to the
last by stages if he is not comfortable there. Vedantic yoga recommends a
completely different set of yoga practices and one has to go up the ladder from
lower practices to upper practices.
These are some of the main
points of differences of philosophies. But we have to remember that purusha in
Kashmir Shaivism is a finite being a man Pashu (animal like) because of his
ignorance brought about by maya. He is free from sin and his highest goal is to
get out of ignorance and merge his limited self with the Real Self. This is
called Ascent. The way to reach there is through trika yoga.
To quote Swami Laxmanjoo, a
great Kashmir Shivism scholar of the 20th century, “although Kashmir Shaivism
can hardly be grasped unless the Vedanta philosophy is comprehended, yet no
system of Vedanta will be complete without it”. Kashmir Shaivism gives most
detail account of Ultimate Reality, Vedanta has done it in its way.
 B. N. Pandit, Specific
Principles of Kashmir Shaivism, Published: Munshiram Motilal Publishers, New
 Jaideva Singh,
Pratyabijnahrdyam (The secret of Recognition), Published: Munshiram Motilal
Publishers, New Delhi, 1998.
 Jaideva Singh, Vignana
Bhairva: Divine Consciousness, Published: Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, New
 Abhinavgupta, Tantraloka,
Vol 12, Published by KSTS Srinagar, Kashmir, 1918-1938.
 Kamlakar Mishra, Kashmir
Shaivism (The central philosophy of Tantra), Published: Satguru Publications,
New Delhi, 1999.