Shaivism & Kashmir’s Doctrine of ‘Recognition’


Shaivism & Kashmir’s Doctrine of ‘Recognition’ (Pratyabhijna)

by Dr. R. K. Kaw  ~


Kashmir Shaivism & Its Three Divisions: Kashmir Shaivism on the whole, represents a particular religio- philosophical school Dr. R. K. Kaw of the valley. There are three main divisions of the school corresponding to the division of its literature into three Shastras : (1) the Agama Shastra, (2) the Spanda Shastra and (3) the Pratyabhijna Shastra. No. (1) Agama Shastra is believed to be of divine origin. To this class chiefly belong the following works : Malini, Vijya or Vijayettara, Svacchanda Tuntram, Vijnana Bhairava, Ananda Bhairava (lost), Mrgendra, Matahga, Netra, Naishvasa, Svayambhuva, Rudra-yamala, Vidyarnava, etc. Shiva-sutras which were revealed later by the sage Vasugupta are said to be the most important part of the Agama Shastra. The next two divisions of the Shaiva Shastra emerged as a result of development of human thought concerning the main Shastra of divine origin (Agama Shastra). The line of thought was developed by two acharyas Bhatta Kallata (9th century) and Somananda, contemporary of Vasugupta (850-900 A.D.), in two different directions while Kallata handed down the doctrine as a system of religion, Somananda supplied the logical reasoning in their support and thus founded a system of Advaita philosophy of the Shaivas on the basis of what was at first , taught as a system of faith. Thus there appeared the other two Shastras, (2) Spanda-shastra founded by Kallata and (3) Pratyabhijna-shastra commenced by Somananda. The three Shastras, all together, are generally known as Trika Shastra (a shastra comprising three classes). It is rightly observed that, out of these three, Pratyabhijna only is the ‘philosophy proper of the Trika’. There has been a controversy among scholars regarding the name of the philosophical system of Shaiva Shastra. They think that all these names Trika, Spanda and Pratyabhijna are the designations of one and the same system. These scholars seem not only to have not observed the distinction between these different systems, but have failed to notice that Pratyabhijana system only is the philosophical school of the Kashmir Shaivas. The special literature that developed around the two schools Spanda and Pratyabhijna is given in brief as follows :-‘Spanda Karika’ and its ‘Vrtti’ by Kallata, Vivrti by Ramakantha, Pradipika by Utpala, , Spanda-Sandoha’ by Kshemaraja and ‘Spanda-Nirnaya’ also by Ksemaraja are the main works of Spanda school. ‘Shivadrashti’ by Somananda, ‘Ish. Pratyabhijna Karika’ with ‘Vrtti’ (gloss) and ‘Siddhitrayi’ by Utpaladeva, ‘Pratyabhijna-Vimarshini’ (in two volumes), ‘Pratyabhijna-Vivrti-vimarshini’ (in three volumes) and ‘Paramarthasara’ by Abhinavagupta, ‘Pratyabhijna-hrdayam’ with commentary by Kshemraja and ‘Bhaskari’, a commentary on Pratyabhijna Vimarshini’, in two volumes, by Bhaskaracharya, comprise mainly the Pratyabbijna Shastra. All these works are published in Kashmir Series of ‘Texts and Studies (KSTS), except Bhaskari, Vols. I and 2 which are published as Nos. 82 and 83 of ‘The Princess of Wales Sarasvati’ Bhavana Texts, Allababad, 1938, 1950′.

Distinctive Features & Contents of Trika Shastra (in brief)

Shaivism comprehends all those systems of thought which evolved from Shaivagamas and Shaiva Tantras. A Shaiva system means any system based on Shaiva Tantras or Agamas. Sixty-four systems of the Shaiva cult are mentioned in the Shaiva scriptures of Kashmir which include the Trika as one of them. As said above, Trika is a triad, a group of three divisions of Kashmir Shaivism, Agama, Spanda and Pratyabhijna. These three Shastras can broadly be divided into two systems only, a system of religion or particular faith of Shaivas, which can significantly be distinguished as Shaivism, and a system of philosophical thought grown in Kashmir among the followers of Shaivism or Shaiva cult, which is rightly known as Pratyabhijna Philosophy. It was Pandit Madhusudan Koul the learned editor of KSTS, who for the first time pointed out in his Preface to Ish. Partyabhijna Vimarshini, Vol. I, that Pratyabhijna is the philosophy proper of the Trika system. The philosophical content of the Trika is first presented as Prityabhijna system by Madhavacharya in his Sarvadarshana-samgraha (14th Century) on the basis of title of the main treatise of the system, Pratyabhijna Karika by Utpaladeva. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan also includes ‘the Pratyabhijna system’ as one of the philosophical systems in his Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, for the apparent reason.

The Kashmir Shaivism as a whole, iocluding the faith and philosophy of the school, is presented in Trika Shastra. It is so called (Trika) as, according to Paratrimshika, it deals with the triple principle, Shiva, Shakti and Anu; or Pati, Pasha and Pashu; or Nara, Shakti and Shiva; or Para, Apara and Parapara. It is called Trika for the reason that its chief authority is the triad consisting of three chief Agamas, Siddha, Namaka and Malini (Tantraloka I, 36), or for another reason that it includes all the three systems, Bheda (dualism), Abheda (non-dualism) and Bhedabheda (dualism-cum-non-dualism). It is also called Trika for the reason that it teaches the threefold method of Agamic realization, viz. Shambhavopaya, Shaktopaya and Anavopsya. It has also been already stated that Trika is a triad consisting of Agama, Spanda and Pratyabhijna schools of Kashmir Shaivas. The terms referred to in this para, which are derived from Agamas, cannot be explained in this short article. (See, K. C. Pandey, Abhinavagupta An Historical & Philosophical Study, 170 ff. and J. C. Chatterji, Kashmir Shairism, 1 fn. 2 )

Agama Shastra:

Geoerally speaking, Agama-Shastra is mostly Sadhana-Shastra; i. e., it mainly deals with ritualistic and mystic practices. Usually, every Agama consists of four sections or Kandas (1) Vidya or Jnana Kanda (Section dealing with secret knowledge), (2) Yoga Kanda (Section dealing with Yoga discipline, processes of concentration and breathing exercises-pranayama), (3) Kriya Kanda (Section dealing with action, viz, ritualistic performances) and (4) Carya Kanda (Section pertaining to forms of worship). The works belonging to Agama Shastra of Kashmir, mentioned above, include in their dogmatic contents certain philosophical speculations also. Some of them are mostly devotional. Some of them give the rudiments of Kashmir Shaivism and teach certain methods, mystical practices (upayas) for achieving lower and higher Siddhis (occult powers) and the glories of liberated life. These methods prescribed in various Shaivagamas are called Shambhavapaya  Shastra of Trika generally gives an exposition of these three methods or ways (upayas) of realization.

The Shiva-sutras are believed to be a Rahasyagama-shastra-samgraha (a compilation of secret Agama Shastra) being a work of Shiva Himself. They, therefore, form the most important part of the Agama Shastra to which is attributed divine authorship. According to tradition, recorded by Kshemaraja, the sutras were found, by the sage Yasugupta inscribed on a rock at the foot of Mahadeva mountain, about 12 miles from Srinagar. It is said that Shrikantha, an incarnation of Shiva, wishing to do a favour to suffering humanity by the revelation of the traditional sacred lore which unfolds the three means of emancipation, appeared once before Vasugupta in a dream and told him about these sutras engraved under a big stone and also the way to reveal them. The sutras were thus revealed to Vasugupta who copied them to teach to his disciples. The sutras are divided in three sections, dealing with the three means of liberation, Shambhava, Shakta and Anava. Guru Vasugupta taught them to Kallata and others. Kallata taught them to Kshemaraja who added a commentary, called Vimarshini, to the sutras.

The very first sutra emphatieally declares that man’s consciousness in its essential nature, is Atman (Caitanyam atma) and the Atman itself is Shiva, the great Lord. Maheshvara (atmaiva shivah). Apart from & few highly philosophical declarations made in the Shiva-sutras as a protest against the nihilistic doctrines of certain schools of Buddhism and against the doctrine of dualism (bheda) taught by some schools, they constitute a practical treatise devoted to the unfoldment of the three ways of liberation (upayas), mentioned above, (upaya-pra- kashanam). They also give the rudiments of Kashmir Shaivism, such as malas (impurities) and pasas (fetters), characteristics of various types of perceivers, transmigratory subjects, Pati (free-soul) and Pasu (soul under bondage), different state of common perceivers and extraordinary states (turya, the fourth state and turyotita, beyond the fourth state) as experienced by the Yogis, and so on.

Spanda Shastra:

The original text belonging to this Shastra (Spanda-karika) and the literature that subrequently developed on it, have already been seem to be the work of Kallata. The Spanda-shastra lays down the main principles, as enumerated in the Shiva-sutras, in a greater detail and in a more amplified form, without giving philosophical reasonings in their support. In fact, the Spanda system owes its origin to the Shiva Sutras and concerns itself with their elucidation and popularisation. The author describes Spanda as that power of consciousness which infuses life into the physical senses. An object when sensed has no basis apart from consciousness. Spanda Karikas (verses) are 51 in number in which the fundamental principles of Shavism, as aphoristically given in the Shiva Sutras, are epitomised. The basic idea underlying the Spanda-Shastra is that Shiva’s Spanda (energy) out of its own nature manifests on the backgroud of its own pure self the whole universe comprising the thirty-six tattvas (principles or categories of objective reality) from the earth upto Parama Shiva. According to this doctrine, the world is a play of energy force or vibration, which appears to be in confirmity with the modern science. It is not an illusion, the result of error in perception (avidya) as the Vedantins suppose. Their doctrine that ‘vishva yan-na tad eva brahma’ (what is not the world, that is Brahman) is rejected by the Spanda school.

Pratyabhijna Shastra:

It is not necessary to give glimpses of Pratybhijna Shastra here, as it is separately dealt with in detail in the Part II of this paper which is exclusively concerned with this philosophical school of Kashmir. Here it will be remarked that metapysical reasoning (tarka) is the essence of a philosophical system. It is this philosophical content of the system that Utpaladeva presents in a bold relief, and in a systematic order, relevating the religious dogmatism of the school to a subordinate position, having devoted only a few sutras of his work (in Agamadhikara) to the latter aspect of the school. Pratyabhijna has been admitted to be a taraka shastra (a system of logic and philosophy).

Tantraloka – a Compendium of Trika Shastra:

Tantraloka, by Abhinavagupta, includes the contents of all the three branches of Kashmir Shaivism (Trika-Shastra), viz. Agama, Spanda and Pratyabhijna in a summarised form. The Tantraloka is a most voluminous work of Abhinavagupta, composed in verse, and forms an encyclopaedia of the Trika Shastra. The Tantra-sara, by the same author, is just a brief summary of the Tantroloka, written in easy prose. It is an excellent introduction to Tantraloka. The first Ahnika (Chapter) of Tantraloka is chiefly philosophical. It opens with an explanat:on of the first two Shiva-sutras and defines the key-word ‘Caitanyam’. This Caitanyam is emphatically declared to be the Atman, ‘the one nuclear core in every personality, the one central point of reference in each and every experience, the deepest depth of the sub- conscious in each vividly concious personal ego’. The same chapter of the work gives also the definitions and explanations of various other terms. The next four chapters of the work deal, in detail, with the same three upayas (methods or ways of realization) which constitute the three sections of the Shiva-sutras. According to Abhinavagupta, the three means or methods described are those of Abheda (non-dualism), Bhedabheda (dualism-cum-non-dualism) and bheda (dualism) respectively. The Pratyabhijna is said to be another way of realization, a way of mere knowledge (awareness) and reasoning (tarka), denominated by him as ‘Anupaya marga’ viz., requiring no practical performance of any kind, ritualistic, mystic or yogic, or even devotion and worship of any sort. Abhinavngupta says, this last method (Anupaya-marga) is the highest of all the methods, called also Anuttara, i. e. above the first three methods (tato pi paramam jnanam upayadi-vivarjitam..anuttaram … ihocyate). Various philosophical topics like time, space, the nature and division of the thirty-six ‘tattvas’ (principles of creation), the principle of ‘Maya’ and its five offshoots, etc., are also dealt within the different chapters of this work. The rest of the work deals with various ritual practices and forms of worship.

Philosophical nucleus of Trika-Shastra:

Trika Shastra, comprising the said three divisions of Kashmir Shaivism, represents, in its philosophical context, a concept of positivism in a theistic outlook in contradistinction to the absolute monism of Vedanta. According to the school, Shiva, the Ultimate Reality, is the prolific cause and ‘essence and identity’ (Self) of every thing. He abounds in bliss and consciousness (nirvrta-cit) and is endowed with sovereignty of will, omniscience and omnipotence (aniruddha-iccha-pra- sarah prasarad-drkkriya sivah). He is everything and yet beyond everything, or He is both immanent (Vishvamayah) and transcendent (Vishvottirna). Time, form and space do not limit him, for He is above all mutution and change. ‘Pashu’ (a living being) being the fragment of the inter-related whole is no other than Shiva Himself, but is in a state of limitation and self-forgetfulness. Recognition of the state of Shivahood (divinity) restores the original state of absolute perfection to an individual (Pashu). This is his state of Moksha (liberation). The Pasu has taken on three impurities (Malas) which are responsible for obscuring the divine within him. When these three impurities get dissolved, he realizes the divine within him in its crystalline purity.


Pratyabhijna School and its Teachers:

In fact, the religio-philosophical school of Kashmir Shaivism is very old. Though its inception or introduction in Kashmir is shrouded in mystery, it was prevalent there long before the time of Ashoka (273-232 B. C. ). Eighth and ninth centuries of tha Christian era seem to have witnessed a religious upheavel in Kashmir. This followed a phiolosophic renaissance in the valley. Kashmir was then a meeting ground of the various philosophical currents. It is from the conconrse of the then prevailing thought-currents flowing from various schools of Buddhists, Vaidikas, the Shaivas and Shaktas, the Vaiyakaranas (Grammarians) the Samkhyas, the Naiyayikas, the Vedantins and the expounders of the Yoga system, that a monistic school of philosophy, distinctly known as Pratyabhijna Shastra emerged in the valley among the followers of Shaiva cult. The Kashmir Shaivas, the originators of the Pratyabhijna system, have incorporated in it most of the ideas from the said systems and have propounded their various doctrines in a technique of their own derived from the Shaivagamas, which distinguish the system from the other systems.

Somananda was indeed the founder of the Pratyabhijna School which takes its name from the ‘Pratyabhijna karika’ by Utpaladeva, the disciple of the former. The credit of being the founder of the school goes to Somananda, for the reason that it is he who, for the first …..

a treatise (prakarana) on Shaiva philosophy. Utpaladeva was in fact the systematiser of Somananda’s thought. Like Shankaracharya, a commentator of Badarayana’s School of Vedanta, Abhinavagupta (another luminary among the celebrities of Kashluir Shaivism) gets the credit of being the expounder of Pratyabhijna system. We are in possession of his two commentaries? one short namely ‘Vimarshini’ and the other long (Vivrti-vimarshini ), on the ‘Pratyabhijana Karika’ of Utpaladeva. Somananda flourshed in the later part of the ninth century A. D., Utpaladeva in the first part of the tenth century and Abhinavagupta in the last part of tho tenth and the first part of the eleventh century.

Inception of Pratyabhijna Philosophy:

Notwithstanding his devotion to the secret doctrine of monistic Shaivagamas handed down to him traditionally from his ancestors, Somananda revolted against the prevailing schools of thought, including certain sections of Shaivas themselves. He summarily criticised the various schools of Buddhism, the Jainism, the Samkhya, the Nyaya and Vaisheshika, the Vaivakarana nnd the monistic Vedanta. It appears that Somananda was against the traditional ideas ahout the divinity, the meaning and purpose of life, the human activities and behaviours on earth, the real significance of ‘moksha’ (salvation or liberation) and the like. Somananda seems to have conceived of re-interpreting religio-philosophic thought in vogue in his day and laid the foundation of a new school in its pristine purity, eclectic in its essence and containing the noble truths and glorious spiritual and humanistic values of ancient Vedantic thought. This new school came later to be known as ‘Pratyabhijna School’ (the doctrine of Recognition) after the title of the main treatise on the system, composed by Somananda’s disciple Utpaladeva. The doctrine propounded in this school is indeed a reform and revaluation or reappraisal of Indian religio-philosophical thought .

Brief Idea of Pratyabhijna Doctrine:

The strict sense of the term ‘Pratyabhijna’ is recognition, but in the system, it comprehends the sense of awareness, consciousness, realization, ‘knowledge in practice’ or practical use of knowledge. Pratyabhijna school thinks that man is ignorant (unaware) of the very nature of one’s own Self (Shiva-Atman), viz. his inner being, the profounder faculty within him, and its power of ‘Iccha’ (Will), ‘Jnana’ (knowledge, Thougt) and ‘Kriya’ (Action), viz., man’s abilities with which he is endowed by Providence. The school believes that the powers (saktis) or abilities with which man is born in this world, comprise his supreme (divine) inheritence. It is only then, when he becomes aware of his divine inheritence, that he can make the best use of it in making his life successful and felicitous.

Pratyabhijna is, in its essence, a deep and systematic study of man as microcosm and the world he lives in as macrocosm. In it, there is a perfectly scientific analysis of all the human faculities, man’s entire physical, mental and spiritual organisms and that of the One Objective Reality (Parama Shiva) into thirty six primary realitives indispensable for the constitution of the universe and processes of creation, etc. The system being broad-based, tackles all the problems of human interest and lays great stress on the spiritual values of life. It is thus a school of ‘Spiritual Pragmatism’.

Utpala, the second teacher of the system, tells us that the Pratyabhijna philosophy is ravealed to him by the grace of the Lord (katham cit asadhya maheshvarasya dasyam), and it is for the good of humanity (janasya upakaram icchan) that he expounds the doctrine. He says with emphasis that man should recognise himself, viz., be aware of his inner being (Self) and his deeper faculties of ‘knowledge’ and ‘action’ (drkkriyatmika Sakti), if he desires to make his life all prosperous and blissful (samasta sampat samavapti hetum tat pratyabhijnam upapadayami). Our profounder faculties remain hidden from us due to lack of knowlege or experience and owing to innate forgetfulness (moha) on our part. The Prityabhijna is directed to removing the veil of ignorance from us and turning our attention towards the deeper faculties within us. The teacher believes that the faculties of thought and action comprise the very life of man (jnanam kriya hi bhutanam jivatam jivanam matam). In the real sense of the term, knowledge in that which is transformed into action, or practical use of which is made in one’s life. Pratyabhijna says (hints) with emphasis that knowledge put into action or practice is really meaningful.

Supreme Inheritence of Man:

Conception of the macrocosm in the Pratyabhijna system is based on a very deep study of the microcosm. The system believes that ‘Maheshvara’, the Great Lord or Divine Father of all this creation, endowed with ‘Mahesvarya’ or Svatantrya-Shakti’ (Sovereignty or Thought and Action) with which he executed the acts of creation, etc. of this orderly world. This ‘Svatantrya-Shakti’ or creative power of the Lord is two-fold, comprising ‘Prakasha’ and ‘Vimarsha’, viz. power of manifestation and power of perception or concretisation, functioning respectively as Universal Consciousness (Psychical Power) and Universal Energy (Physical Power or Objective Reality), technically called ‘Shiva’ and ‘Shakti’. The former, i. e. Universal Consciousness assumes three forms: Power of Remembrance (Smrti-shakti), Power of Knowledge (Jnana-shakti) and Power of Differentiation (Apohana-shakti). The latter. i. e. Universal Energy functions as Powcr of Action (Kriya- Shakti) of the Lord. This is governed by three universal laws of Nature – the law of Division (Bhedabheda), the law of Perception (Mana-tat-phala meya), and the law of Causation (Karsna karya). The Transcendental Lord (Vishvottirna) thus concretises or materialises Himself into this created world (becomes Vishvamaya, the cosmos) by evolving thirty-six ‘Tattvas’ or primary realitics from the One Objective Reality, the primordial natural force principle or Prima Materia of all thirgs. As the Lord is conceived to be endowed with Svatantrya-shakti, viz. Sovereignty of will and psychical and physical powers to make Him potent to execute all creative activity which accounts for the emanation of macrocosm with ever-new creations of infinite sentient and insentient beings from His Own Self or Being, so is every individual created being ( as microcosm ) endowed with its potential powers (faculties) of will, cognition and action, including psychical powers of remembrance, knowledge and differentiation (Samrti-shakti; Jnana-shakti and Apohana-shakti) and its physical powers (Kriya-shakti) as supreme inheritence from his Divine Father-Maheshvara to make him potent to perform all creative activity in his life time. It is ‘recognition’ or awareness and right use of one’s divine faculties (supreme inheriterce) with which man is born in this world that make his life felicitous and blissuful (evam atmanam estasya samyag jnana – kriye tatha, janan yathepsitan pashyan janati ca karati ca). The fact is that the Self (being a spark of the divine) is the pivot of one’s life and Self-recognition is the means of achieving one’s all fortunes and success in life (samasta-sampat samavapti-hetum; janasya-ayatna siddhyartham).

Pratyabhijna Values (human & spiritual)

Pratyabhijna is one of the greatest humanistic movements of Kashmir, which might well be called the ‘Philosophy of Humanism’. It is a wonderful synthesis of nearly all earlier systems of India’s philosophic thinking, and is completely free from ‘negativism’ and escapism’ of certain schools of Vedantins and from the ‘nihilism’ of some Buddhist schools. It is most realistic in its attitude to life. It is a most dynamic system in which emphasis is laid on what is called Svatantrya, the complete autonomy of thought and action as the goal of life. It may also be called a school of Spiritual Pragmatism, because its doctrines have a practical bearing upon human interests, besides having its main direction to the spiritual elevation of humanity, Pratyabhijna lays emphasis on human values and cardinal virtues as are given, in brief, below:

Spiritual & Moral Values in Pratyabhijna

According to Pratyabhijna, human beings are by nature divine. They are the sparks of the divine, children of God. The whole mankind forms one family (manavah bandhavah sarve). It is by self discipline (culture) and clean moral life that man can unveil the divine qualities in his personality. Love of God in this school means love of human beings, of one’s fellow -men. He who loves God, loves everybody and looks on all men as equals. Love of God is to be translated into service of one’s fellow – men and into such acts are as conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Gentleness, righteousness, sympathy, friendliness and honest dealings with one another are qualities or virtues necessary for good life. Pratyabhijna promotes the eternal values of peace and freedom and human dignity beneficial to the common man in their application to life. These values are stated in terms like ‘sarva-shivata’ (which signifies that the personality of every human individual is divine or sacred), ‘sarva-samata’ (meaning that all men are born equal ) ‘sarva – svatantrya’ (i.e. all men are born free) and so on. Thus the doctrine lays emphasis on ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ which is the famous motto of ‘the civilized world today. Above all, Pratyabhijna directs man to working for peace and tranquility of the world (Vishva-Shanti) an following that as truth which is conducive to the good and benefit of the whole humanity.



About Beema Noel

One navigates life's journey with the compass given. With blessings our instrument is true. Never Forget Remember the One The Way of Love Our Life, Our All This I believe is the journey we share so let us gladly walk together. As a child guided by my heart~ calling to mountains & sky, As a teen my heart called for freedom, As a young man; Blessed by the mystic yogi, One who may lead those seeking to make their way, by the rainbow light of the ever new Aeon.
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