The Kashmir Valley was the scene of a great creative unfolding several centuries after the start of the Common Era. At that time, the two mythical characters of Shiva and the Goddess, both worshipped into the distant past, matured into newly pictured roles.
They were now granted a universal and ultimate position with Shiva now seen as the eternal dance partner of the Goddess.
This wedded condition represented the basic non-dual Reality of Consciousness Itself (“Shiva”) in a seamless union with everything manifesting and passing away (“Goddess”). The Goddess is the totality of Energy, or everything existing. So, She is also referenced by the term for Energy, “Shakti”.
Shiva, now the essence and heart of existence (or, the primal consciousness as the Motionless Witness of all happenings), was for a long time previously regarded as a “leading” character in the lives of wandering and deliberately homeless renunciates who sought spiritual liberation through yoga (concentration and breathing exercises), contemplation, devotion, and radical life style practices. Shiva appeared previously as an archetypal Yogi character as well as a character representing the “destructive” aspect of existence or the cosmos.
In the eighth and ninth centuries, a more mainstream and householder version of Shaivism emerged in the Kashmir Valley.
This region was impacted by Muslim conquest at this time reaching lands just to the west. These unsettled times helped unleash a great spiritual, intellectual, and artistic creativity that now included a deeper embracing of the Goddess-Shakti. In line with the Tantra movements affecting “Hindu” and Buddhist systems throughout northern India and beyond into Tibet, beginning around 1500 years ago, this new developing non dualistic Shaivism movement from the Kashmir Valley abandoned the austere and world denying (escapist) outlook and ways of the Vedic order and classical Yoga system (systemized by Patanjali in his famous Yoga Sutras around 1700 years ago).
This chapter will focus on the texts that expose the teachings and practices of what has been identified as the Kashmir or Trika Shaivism tradition. The notions and practices presented therein became extremely popular in western cultures throughout the heyday of “Siddha-Gurus” during the 1970s and 1980s.
Shaivites (i.e. Shiva devotees who were part of organized groups and movements) prior to the emergence in the 9th Century C.E. of the radically non dualistic Kashmir Shaivism had a yogic, often ritualistic, and ascetic practice system framed within either a fully theistic and dualistic view of the apparent individual’s relationship with the Ultimate (called “Shiva”), or a modified version of dualism.
For example, the large and extensive Pashupta order of “club bearing” Shiva worshiping ascetics, formed by a figure named Lakulisha around 1800 years ago (2nd Century C.E.), did not envision liberation as entailing a realization of full. Oneness with (and Identity as) the Ultimate. Instead, their practice was seen as a liberating end to suffering when there is a partial merging or bonding with “Rudra” (an early name for Shiva. Lakulisha referenced it as an “alliance with Rudra”.
[Reference Note: Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, Chapter 11 “The Nondualist Approach to God Among Shiva Worshippers”, page 260]
Scholar/practitioner (the late) Georg Feuerstein noted a feature of the practice dynamic of the Pashupapa Order ascetics that stood out to me, due to this feature being incorporated as central to the first two of four means (to practice) in the Kashmir Shaivism system. That feature is “grace”:
“One of the most controversial dogmas of the Pashupatas is the notion that the Lord’s will is entirely independent of the karmic law. He can, theoretically, reward evil-doers and punish the good. The consummate state of liberation, which is called the “end of suffering” (duhkha-anta), is entirely a gift of grace (prasada). This is explained as a state of undiminished attention (apramada) on Reality.”
What is called “Trika” or “Kashmir Shaivism” was preceded by the various Shaivite movements and orders adopting the Goddess, such as in her Kali form, and giving Her a primary or leading role that sometimes even seems senior to that of the male principle in the form of Shiva.
The two key movements or schools, that later became important threads of the Kashmir Shaivism tradition, who elevate the Goddess (the female principle representing all energy or everything manifesting) in this manner, are the Krama school branch focusing on the Goddess and adopting the left handed practices of alcohol and meat consumption along with sexual intercourse (as opposed to an ascetic branch focusing only on Shiva) and the Kaulism movement, likewise with a high regard for the Goddess and practices including behavior long avoided in ascetic systems. The Krama school also contributes to Kashmir Shaivism a systemized process of discipline and practice organized by progressive steps (available to those with medium and low capacities).
The two other major threads of the Kashmir Shaivism tradition are the “Recognition School” and the “Spanda” or “Vibration School”, taking shape in the 9th Century C.E. after the marked off time for the tradition’s beginning in that century with Vasugupta’s alleged visionary “discovery” of the Shiva Sutras.
The history of non-dual Shaivism’s development is rich and complex, and it was lost for a time, five hundred years between the fourteenth and nineteenth century with Muslim domination of India. In the mid 1800s, with the English now the dominant power there, texts were recovered and brought forth. Also, gurus in line with the original Kashmir Shaivism lineage also emerged again in the 19th Century. That line has now died out with the death of the last one, just a few decades ago. But, the work of that person, Swami Laksmanjoo, and his disciples and allied scholars, have brought forth the valuable texts of this tradition to a wider public. Also, the Oxford scholar Alexis Sanderson has been focused on this history, and all the works, for 40 years now. A student of both Swami Laksmanjoo and Alexis Sanderson, named Mark S. G. Dyczkowski, is one key figure now among others who continue to expand the reach of this revived tradition to contemporaries. This tradition, though, has a counterpart in South India called “Shri-Vidya”, with active practice communities. And, Laksmanjoo’s work still persists with a surviving practice community today, the Shaiva Fellowship.
Alexis Sanderson has reported that a Shaivite text (“tantra”) itemized 85 “tantras” related to worship of Surya or the Sun, but none survived the passage of time!!
For a good summary, but very in-depth introduction on the very rich and complex history of the many different movements and developments, including that of the dualistic Saiva Siddhanta arising in Kashmir also but now long well established throughout southern India, there is Alexis Sanderson’s paper “Shivaism and the Tantric Traditions” and that is easily accessed online.
[Reference Note: The World’s Religions; edited by S.Sutherland,L. Houlden, P.Clarke, F. Hardy; copyright 1988; published by Rutledge (Great Britain); Chapter 36, pages 660-704, “Saivism and the Tantric Traditions; by Alexis Sanderson]
The texts being written within the growing Tantric context then affecting medieval India, including the major Tantric movements centered on Vishnu worship, Shiva worship, Goddess worship, Surya or Sun worship, and Vajrayana Buddhism, are called Tantras in order to set them aside from the older and orthodox version of these movements. The tantras thus present an intense (and said to be a fast producing) esoteric practice opportunity for those persons, including householders and people focused on a busy worldly life, who have focused on the orthodox or exoteric practices. But, entrance into this deeper layer (in all systems, whether Buddhist or Shaivite) now required often heavily ritualized “initiations” after the period of preparation offered by the more “outer” or public practices.
The first text this chapter will examine was a product of the Kaulism Tantrics, who clearly highlighted an approach to realization of the ultimate condition of non-dual Consciousness (Shiva) through a vibrant engagement with the Goddess-Shakti. This text is the 7th Century is the Vijnana-Bhairava Tantra and consists of an instructive dialogue between Shiva (here “Bhairava”) and the Goddess.
This text was first made available to the English speaking/reading world by the writer Paul Reps who in the early 1950s studied under Swami Laksmanjoo when Laksmanjoo was beginning to work on translating the text into English. Reps then wrote, and published in 1952, in the first edition of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a version of the Bhairava Tantra in a section of the book (“Centering”) otherwise devoted to Zen. Reps mistakenly represented this text as 4000 years old (it’s 1400 years old) and as the basis for Zen! By the time Laksmanjoo’s translation effort is complete, through the efforts of Jaideva Singh, these mistakes are not repeated (Singh correctly notes the age of this text). By the late 60s or early 70s I have read the Reps version. His book was very popular, liberally stocked on bookstore shelves everywhere.
In the late nineties I came across a very poetic and fluid version of this text by Lorin Roche. That beautiful piece of work, along with Jaideva Singh’s and Paul Rep’s version helped inform my understanding of this text. I also studied Daniel Oldier’s version, which was translated into English from his French. So, I will use the above versions when describing the content and doing my own free rendering of specific verses. I will do a few comparisons of verses from the various versions so the reader can see the different styles.
The Bhairava Tantra is presenting practices that are known as “limited means”, or “anava-upaya”. This is the fourth of basic types of practice offered in the Kashmir Shaivism tradition, as laid out in the 9th Century “Shiva Sutras” presented by Vasugupta from the Kashmir Valley. The categories of “means” to realization are:
(1) No means or “anupaya” (upaya is translated as “means”). Without any effort whatsoever, and spontaneously, a person realizes their essential nature (as non-dual Consciousness and Its primary Energy manifesting as everything) merely upon hearing the teaching or, in other words, receiving transmission from the Guru.
(2) “Shambu’s means”, or Shambhava-upaya. Shiva was also known as “Shambu”. This category of practice also involves, like number one, the element of “grace”, or the spontaneous recognition and realization of non dual Shiva-Shakti, but in a more limited way than anupaya or non means. Here the practice simply entails stilling the chatter of the mind and in that stillness there may be the dawning spontaneously an awareness of “Shiva-Consciousness”.
(3) Shakta-upaya. For the person finding it difficult for the mind to come to rest, it’s suggested that the person adopt a focus on, and a pondering of, “higher” concepts that counter those already fixed in place in a person’s mind.
(4) Limited means or anava-upaya. A whole array of practices are available as options in this category, including the use of mantras, breathing practices, concentration, and meditation. The rise of the primal Energy current or Shakti up a central channel corresponding to the spinal line into the “crown” of the head is a key practice in this category.
The Vijjnana-Bhairava Tantra is a dialogue between Bharaiva (or “Shiva”) and Bharaivi (the “Goddess” or “Shakti”). The Goddess begins (in the first ten verses) with her questions to Shiva regarding his most essential Nature and whether that can be recognized through the various manifestations and concepts highlighted by teachers and texts, or showcased via rituals.
Beginning with verse 11, Shiva responds by saying “no”. The teachings about him (i.e. his essential nature) are insubstantial and illusory. But, useful for people heavily caught up in illusion and conditioned living. The stories and the rituals and all the practices are not “it”, but can serve to bring people to a place of greater capacity for realization of one’s essential nature. Another way to put it would be that one is made more open to the spontaneous grace of realizing one’s true and fullest nature.
Verses 14 through 16 note the radical non dual Nature of our essemce, which Lorin Roche translates this way:
“I am beyond measure. I cannot be calculated. I am beyond space and time.
I am beyond ancient and beyond the future. There are no directions to me.
I am always here.
I am the embrace
Of your most intimate experience.
Though I am beyond the intellect,
I am not beyond your daring.
I am the nourishing state of fullness
That is the essence of soul.
You belong to me, and I am yours.
My nature is spotless, completely uncontaminated. I am not covered up, not even by a billion galaxies. So who is there to worship and adore?
There is no one to appease.”
[Reference Note: the brief excerpts of Lorin Roche’s translation are from The Radiance Sutras authored by Lorin Roche, published by Sounds True, copyright 2014; the brief excerpts of the English version of Daniel Oldier’s translations and Jaideva Singh’s are from online resources.]
And, to demonstrate here (with these three verses) the variation in translation styles (as promised earlier), here is Jaideva Singh’s version:
“[If the shakti–or energy– aspect] of Bhairava does not reveal His essential nature, then what is His shakti aspect by knowing which one may have an idea of His paravasth (the highest state).
Bhairava now describes the (transcendent) aspect of the Supreme in these three verses].
Paravastha (the highest state) of Bhairava is free of all notions pertaining to direction, time(, nor can that be particularized by some definite space or designation . In verity that can neither be indicated nor described in words 1.14
[Then is it impossible to have any experience of her? Bhairava anticipates this question and answers that in the following verse].
One can be aware of that only when one is completely free of al thought-constructs. One can have an experience of that bliss in his own inmost self (when one is completely rid of the ego, and is established in the plenitude of the divine I- consciousness).
That state of Bhairava which is fuIl of the bliss of non-difference from the entire universe is alone Bhairavl or Shakti of Bhairava. 15
That should, in verity, be known as His essential nature, immaculate and inclusive of the entire universe. Such being the state of the highest Reality, who can be the object of worship, who is to be satisfied with worship.16.”
And, finally, this version of these verses are the English translation by Jeanric Meller of Daniel Oldier’s French translation (and includes with the last line a rendering also of verse 17):
“ Mystical ecstasy isn’t subject to dualistic thought, it is completely free from any notion of location, space or time. This truth can only be touched by experience. It can only be reached by those entirely freed from duality and ego, and firmly, fully established in the consciousness of the Self. This state of Bhairava is filled with the pure bliss of unity between tantrika and the universe. Only this state is the Shakti. In the reality of one’s own nature thus recognized, containing the entire universe, one reaches the highest sphere. Who then could be worshipped? Who then could be fulfilled by this worship? Only this condition recognized as supreme is the great Goddess.”
The next three verses (17-19) emphasize the seamless “not-two” nature of the always existing Shiva/Goddess union. The point is that they are not two separate things made into one thing. Lorin Roche’s version of verses 18 and 19 clearly conveys this key point to understand, directly and in one’s own experience:
“Heat and fire are not two things.
These are just verbal distinctions. The Goddess and the One who hold Her Are one and the same.
We are inseparable’
The way to me is through Her.”
The Goddess in verses 22 and 23 voices an ardent interest in the instruction related to Shiva’s statement (in verse 21, a repeat of point made at end of 19) that the essential nature of Shiva can be realized through a vibrant engagement with the Goddess (Shakti, or the all pervasive Energy of the Cosmos).
So, with verse 24, Shiva begins to share instructions on 112 ways of meditating through a focus on the expressive energy states available to all beings, beginning with one’s breathing and the flow of the related life force. Verses 24 through 135, out of the total 162 in this tantra, are ways anyone can practice in using the “laboratory” of their own body and energy to realize directly in one’s awareness and feeling the primary Heart of All.
Below is a detailed description of the first 18 of these 112 focal points for meditation, verses 24 through 42. After that, there’s a wide range of options for a practitioner, of which a sampling will be noted.
Verses 24 through 27 direct the focus of feeling and awareness to the breath, and the gaps between inhaling and exhaling, as a preface to a focusing on the related flow of the life force or energy.
In feeling the spacious quiet alertness between breaths, awareness of our most essential nature can become acutely clear. Here, in this gap, no sense of “I” and “other” is felt or seen (as noted in verse 27).
With verse 28, focusing of awareness and feeling is on the ascending movement of the life force along a central axis corresponding to the spine. This movement of energy through increasingly subtler energy centers along this axis culminates in the crown of the head with the experience of the radiant and spacious energy of the “Goddess” and the realization and recognition of the centerless Consciousness unaffected by all movements. This latter realization is of “Shiva”.
The rhythmic movement of the breath remains as a felt focus, in feeling with awareness the ascending movement of energy up the central axis and into the crown of the head and beyond.
With verse 31, an additional focal point is introduced: the “third eye” region in the forehead. This focus deep behind a point between the eyebrows onto the “eye of light” (as Lorin Roche translated it) grows into feeling and perceiving a brightening of energy and light from the third eye focal point which then expands upward in feeling and awareness into the crown and beyond.
The next verse (#32) shifts the focus to the play of all five senses, pictured as like five colored circles of a peacock feather. This focusing entails a further deepening of feeling and awareness of this unfolding and colorful display of the senses, to the point of realizing the insubstantial, “empty”, and spacious underlying nature and condition of the senses.
Verse 33 suggests that whatever one’s point of focus, give in to it completely, and to the point of recognizing the insubstantial spaciousness of that chosen focal point. That focal point could literally be anything at all, chosen from whatever is grabbing one’s attention in any given moment.
Verse 34 points to the space inside our cranium, where with eyes closed one sees and feels the spaciousness of our essential nature.
Verse 35 returns the focus back on the central channel and the very thin (“like a stem of a lotus”) channel (“nadi”) for the life force current. Here it is suggested to meditate on this channel’s “empty”, spacious, insubstantial but electrifying nature. There maybe, as a result, a dawning recognition of the divine condition at the heart of everything.
With verse 36, a focal point for awareness and attention is established by using fingers and thumb to close the sensory “opening” of the eyes and ears, and, enabled by this closing, seeing a point of light dawn at the third eye region. Surrendering awareness and feeling at this point of light, (1) “the yogi is established in the highest (spiritual) state” (Jaideval Singh’s translation), or (2) “an orgasm of light” [then] “breaks out” (as Lorin Roche put it). The English version of Daniel Oldier states that merging at that “bindu” (i.e. a concentrated point, in this case of the light at the third eye) brings about a recognition and experience of “the infinite space between [the] eyebrows”. Paul Reps noted in his version that practicing this focus (the 12th of 112 shared in this text), “a space between your eyes becomes all inclusive”.
With the verses so far, the central focal points of the breath, vital life force energy, the anatomy of the central channel, third eye area, and the crown have been introduced.
There has been also a description of the concentrative focusing on internal light, sprouting and expanding from the third eye focal point upward into the crown, and beyond. Verse 37 takes the reader to a place of blissful absorption in radiant clear light. These practices, and identification of the subtle anatomy involved, were described in early Upanishads. (See Chapter Two on Advaita Vedanta.) And, widely elaborately upon in the medieval Yoga Upanishads and in Saivite and Vajrayana “tantras” or texts.
Verses 38 through 42 also describe an essential focal point present in earlier and later works: sound. First (in verse 38), there is a focusing inwardly on internal sounds which over time become more refined and bring awareness and feeling to realization of the source of these internal currents of sound. (The ears are plugged here.) Sounds reportedly heard include heavier grosser sounds at first, with continued inward focusing on the internal sound “current” eventually evoking more subtler sounds like flutes and bees buzzing. The empty spacious silence, full of awareness and the feeling of being, is the subtlest condition of “Shiva”, and the space out of which all sounds (external and internal) emerge, manifest and play, and then disappear or dissolve.
Verse 39 suggests slowly intoning the primal sound “OM”, deeply entering that sound, and as it fades away, feeling the silent space afterwards.
With verse 40, the same feeling exercise in awareness is recommended with the emergence and disappearance of any syllable or vowel or consonant heard or voiced.
Verse 41 suggests using music for the same focusing practice.
Verse 42 has the reader taking a letter and pronouncing it while picturing and feeling it radiantly impacting the body with the sound, and then coming to realize the “void” (the Shiva condition) that is the basis for all of that.
The many more ways of focal points for meditation described further are wide ranging, including feeling and picturing one’s own body becoming on fire, spreading from the feet and consuming the body completely. And, the same for the whole world.
Verses 68 through 70 entail not the picturing of a fiery consumption of the body in the above way, but instead an embrace of the bodies sexual energies, either with partner or alone when inspired by memory of being with a partner. This brings about a similar feeling and awareness of limited and contracted identification and solidity melting away, the basis for all of existence realized in that state.
As verse 140 notes notes, any single one of these ways can suffice for a practice, opening up the door to a graceful realization of “Shiva” that enables a passing on and sharing of the primal energy (“Shakti”) of the Goddess.
A couple of hundred years after the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (emerging anonymously from the ranks of the Kaulism Tantrics), a teacher and yogic adept in the Kashmir Valley named Vasugupta presented in the early 9th Century a text consisting of 77 short aphorisms and divided into three sections. It is a condensation of earlier material coming from non dualistic teachings and practices in previous Shiva and Goddess oriented movements and groups.
The text is called “Shiva Sutra” and, later in time, the 10th Century Kashmiri teacher named Kshemaraja would assert in his commentary on the Shiva Sutra that this foundational work for the Kashmir Shaivism tradition was revealed to Vasugupta in a dream. A dream that guided him to a rock where the 77 aphorisms were inscribed. A similar type of process is described in Dzogchen and Vajrayana movements, with the Tertons uncovering hidden texts and teachings (“termas”). (See references to this in chapter on Dzogchen.)
It begins very simply, noting the ultimate identity or nature of all beings: “Consciousness”. Consciousness and the bare sense of being.
The second verse notes one of the five “jackets” obscuring our vision and realization of our most basic nature, and thus keeping us in “bondage”. That jacket is limited and conditional knowledge and, in verse four, is described as being based on the “matrix of sound” ensuing from the alphabet.
In addition to the “covering” of limited knowledge that is for the basis for the illusion of separateness, are four others: limited and conditioned activity; focus on a sense of time (and not the eternal now); attachment to the transitory in a fixated way; and remaining identified with one’s karmic story and not engaged in an unselfconscious and spontaneous fashion.
Verse five (in section one) simply notes that the always existing underlying condition of “Consciousness Itself” may spontaneously be recognized in a “flash”. And, then in verse 6, it is noted that with ecstatic union with the primal and all pervasive energy of the cosmos, all that exists is no longer felt to be a separate and objectified “something” or other.
In the chapter on Advaita Vedanta, two texts were discussed which highlight a point made in this later-in-time text. The Mandukya Upanishad was written shortly before the start of the Common Era, and the Mandukya Karika by the Advaita Vedanta guru Gaudapada a few centuries after the start of the Common Era addressed the same teaching point. Which, in the Shiva Sutra, is made in verses 7 and 11.
The teaching revived in this text is that the realization of the underlying reality of non dual Consciousness can be be continuously evident even while experiencing the shifting states of the waking, dream-sleep, and deep sleep times in our daily living cycle.
The ending verses of Section One of the Shiva Sutra brings to mind similar referencing to paranormal powers in many other texts, from all the traditions arising in the south Asian cultures. Yoga had two main focal points throughout its development: first, the cultivation of enlightenment and liberation and secondly, the development and gaining of paranormal capacities and powers. Texts emphasizing a focus on enlightenment and liberation (like the Shiva Sutra, or the paranormal powers section of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, and many others) note the potential for paranormal capacities manifesting in a practitioner as they mature in their meditation and yogic disciplines. But, they all emphasize also the potential for such developing powers to be a harmful distraction from the “path” of liberation and enlightenment.
So, the emphasis in this Sutra is on being “….the [conscious] enjoyer of the triad [of waking, dream sleep, and deep sleep].”
[Reference Note: translation of portion of verse 11, section one, by Georg Feuerstein, page 270, The Yoga Tradition.]
The next verses describe how the ecstatic sense of one’s personal will and that of Shiva-Shakti being one and the same brings the sense also that the world is one’s body. The activity of the mind has come to rest in the Heart.
It is in this condition of surrender and grace that paranormal abilities may develop.
Section Two of this Sutra begins with a simple statement asserting that the state of mind of an enlightened being is like a “mantra”, a force of power. A repeated return to a focus on Shiva (“Consciousness”, “Reality”) has the same beneficial power of a mantra being repeated.
It’s then noted that “Being” is the secret hidden in all mantras (verse 3 of section 2) and that merely an expansive focus on the energy of existence only keeps one in the dream (verse 4).
Verse 6 notes that the guru is the essential means for realization. And, this point is central not only in Kashmir Shaivism, but in all the other movements of this time.
Section Three of the Shiva Sutra, like so many of the anonymously written medieval texts discussed in the Advaita Vedanta chapter (#2), presents the features and characteristics of an enlightened being. As well as clarifying some of the means involved in realization.
The terse aphorisms move quickly from point to point (as in the other two sections). Our limited self sense is based on the mind. The point in verse 2 of section one, that limited knowledge (based on the mind) is bondage, is then repeated. And, then there is instruction to engage in a “dissolution” of the elements, the mind, and the nada- currents of the life force through yogic-meditation practice.
Verse 6 notes that paranormal capacities or powers arise from delusion, which (verse is undermined by “infinite enjoyment of the real” bringing about “spontaneous wisdom”.
[Reference Note: Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, Hohm Press, pg. 272]
The enlightened person is always awake with the world experienced as an inseparable “ray of light” (verse 8) and their apparent characters and personalities “like a dancer”, due to no longer being locked into an identity or role defined and felt by a fusing identification with the body-mind (verse 9).
Verses 10 and 11 continues with this point, describing the personal self sense as a “stage” and the senses as “spectators”. The unfolding contents of the mind no longer have the power to delude, or obscure the underlying reality of one’s nature.
Liberation from the continuing and impacts of the movements of life comes from experiencing and realizing the luminous clarity of our essential nature, bringing to full awareness (and feeling) those movements. Therefore, the key practice instruction is to keep the focus on the essential core-nature (‘seed”) of all that is. (As I understand, and here render, verses 12-15).
With awareness and feeling focused on this “seed”, it feels as if all of creation becomes one’s own movements….and creation. (Verses 16-17, in Section 3.) And, abiding in this realization ends future births. (Verse 18.)
Verse 20 suggests infusing (as if one was pouring oil) the “Fourth” Condition (non-dual Consciousness) into the unfolding states of the waking state, dream-sleep, and deep sleep. (In the chapter on Advaita Vedanta, this process is described in depth in both an early Upanishad and then later, after the Common Era, in the Mandukya Karika (based on the name of the earlier Upanishad) the Advaita Guru Gaudapada further expounds on this.)
In Verse 21, the cultivation of a relaxed, steady, evenly calm breathing is noted as aiding the mind turning to this seed Condition, in the calming and stabilizing of our life force such breathing practices bring on.
In Verse 22, it’s noted that this practice can bring a strong sense of a seamless “sameness” to everything unfolding in one’s experience. (In the Dzogchen and Mahamudra “systems”, this is called “one taste”.)
Until that realization deepens, and effortlessly “takes hold”, practitioners experience entrancement with the fluctuating and “lower” states of consciousness (verse 23) but in the ecstatic union of the “self” and “other”, this sense of “sameness” becomes strongly evident (verse 24) and the practitioner “becomes like Shiva” (verse 25).
[Reference Note: “becomes like Shiva” is Georg Feuerstein’s translation, pg. 271, The Yoga Tradition]
Once awakened as “Shiva”, staying alive to serve the awakening of others is one’s only intent and focus (verse 26). Realizing and abiding as the witness-awareness, the universe feels as if it is an extension of one’s own power (verse 30), with the enlivened life force (uncontracted and freely flowing) in realization not scattered by an entranced focus on unfolding experience (verses 40 and 43).
The concluding verse (#45) presents a metaphoric representation of the manifestation and dissolution of the universe (and the reoccurrence of this cycle, on and on) in the opening and closing of the eyes of one realizing “Shiva”
The preceding verse (#44 of section 3), the center of the nose is referenced as a concentrative focal point where this seamlessly singular condition of Consciousness (i.e. Shiva) and Energy (i.e. the Goddess) becomes alive in feeling and awareness. This verse also notes the three primary subtle “channels” (the central one surrounded by two intertwining and parallel ones) conducting the primary energy of the cosmos and the person.
From the time of the Shiva Sutra through subsequent centuries, the practices related to the arousal and rise of this primary energy up the central channel into the crown (of the head) and beyond would be developed and elaborated upon in the nearly 20 medieval era Yoga Upanishads, the development of the Siddha and Nath movements, and the growing emphasis on hatha yoga and “kundalini” yoga (described in the classic medieval text the Hatha Yoga Pradipika).
Like the Shiva Sutra, the Spanda Karika is a short text of verses (52 in this case) divided into three sections. The Spanda Karika was written also in the 9th Century and is generally attributed to also Vasugupta as the author here with his disciple Kallata making it public. Some attribute authorship to Kallata.
The three sections address the basic nature of “spanda”, then “Shiva” consciousness, and finally the 3rd section (in the various translations I saw) references supernormal powers (“siddhis”), which is a parallel focus of yoga and meditation practices, alongside awakening and liberation. (For example, in the nearly 2000 year old work, the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali, the third of the fourth section in that text of 196 verses likewise address supernormal capacities and powers.)
“Spanda” refers to the ever-present vibratory and energetic aspect of reality, arising within the primary reality of “Shiva” or Consciousness. Within Shiva there is the condition of “movement” or a primary pulse or throb giving rise to the emergence of the universe, its maintenance, all creative expression and processes, and then the eventual dissolution of all this is. And, then it begins again, after a Cosmic rest. The apparent individual beings of this universe likewise mirror these functions, but as contracted versions of Shiva. (Two other “functions” evident in this primary movement are obscuration—-of the recognition of one’s nature, and grace where obscurations lift and recognition of one’s nature dawns in awareness and feeling.)
The linking of the opening and shutting of the eyes of Shiva, and of those realizing Shiva, to the manifestation and dissolution of the universe is the opening image (verse one) of the Spanda Karika. The very last verse of the Shiva Sutra also references the opening and closing of the eyes, metaphorically the “eyes” of the primordial source of everything (“Shiva” or the underlying Consciousness, as the primal nature and origin of all that is) as well as the literal eyes of the realized yogic practitioner. So, the Spanda Karika is both a revival of already made points but with further elaboration and development.
For example, there are the points first made in the first section of verses (numbering 25 of the 52 in this text), such as reaffirming what earlier voices have noted about the prior condition of Consciousness threaded through all of our experiential states and phases (of the waking state, dream-sleep, and deep sleep). All the apparent movements of our experience, and that of the Universe, are arising and abiding in what is beyond the grasp of though and conceptualization and all attempts to objectify and define. “It” can only be recognized and realized as our most essential nature, and which in awareness feels: inherently radiant; unconditioned; unaffected by the movements; free of “I” and “other”; and motionless, a deep peace. The Realizer of Shiva feels the movement of life as a seamlessly unified vibratory field of energy, its most essential nature realized as the motionless Conscious “witness”.
Verse 17 in section one notes degrees of depth and stabilization of the realized state by reporting that there are those fully realized who abide as “Shiva” (i.e. now recognizing and realizing fully the primal and non-dual nature of Consciousness) throughout the fluctuating states and phases of our lives. Whereas, for those only partially realized, recognition and realization of one’s essential nature is only clearly evident at the beginning and end of the waking state, dream-sleep state, and deep sleep state.
The concluding verses in the first section (24 and 25) reference the process of the yogic practice focused on the ascent of the life force energy up the central spinal line channel into the crown of the head and beyond. A practice also noted in the texts already discussed here (near the end of the Shiva Sutra and likewise in the Bhairava Tantra).
The dissolution of the contracted state, through realization of one’s essential nature and the enlivened opening to the flow and sharing of life force energy, allows the experience and expression of enhanced capacities in perception and action. So, the verses in the concluding section describe the energetic presence of a realizer, with awakened and enhanced capacities.
After the Spanda Karika, a text voicing the thread in the Kashmir Shaivism system as the “Vibration School”, a disciple of Vasugupta by the name of Somananda gave voice (also early 9th Century) to another major thread in Kashmir Shaivsm teachings, known as the “Recognition School”. While the Spanda or Vibration School emphasizes the energetic and dynamic aspect of existence, the Recognition School underlines the liberating impact of a direct and experientially stabilized recognition and realization of one’s essential nature as Being-Consciousness beyond a contracted identification with the body/mind/limited self sense.
A student of Somananda named Utpala presented the recognition teachings in a text called the Pratyabhijna-Sutra. Pratyabhijna means recognition.
In the middle of the 10th Century (950 C.E), Abhinavagupta—- Kashmir Shaivism’s most notable and iconic figure —-was born. He studied under many masters in the Shaivistic systems, including in depth initiation and practice in the left handed tantric path of Kula or Kaula system. Like the similarly iconic figures (for Advaita Vedanta) Shankara in the 8th Century , and Longchenpa (for Dzogchen) in the 14th Century, Abhinavagupta wrote extensively and effectively systemized “Kashmir Shaivism” into a coherent and unified “package”. All the threads of that system were addressed by him in many works, with his greatest work the Tantraloka (“Divine Light of Tantra”) weaving everything together in nearly 6000 verses.
Abhinavagupta, by all descriptions a charismatic figure, had a large community of disciples that included intimate female consorts reportedly adept in tantric spiritual practices. He died around 1120 to 1125 C.E.
His senior disciple Kshemaraja wrote a shorter or summary version of the Recognition Sutra by Utpala (written over a hundred years prior). The text is called the Pratyabhijna-Hridaya or the Heart of Recognition. Consisting of only 20 verses, the recognition teachings sharpen into focus therein.
The Recognition School presents a classification picture of the levels or aspects of reality and existence with its Gurus identifying 36 key categories and levels, 11 more than in the analysis of the older and dualistically oriented Samkhya and Classical Yoga schools.
The two top categories have been noted consistently in the very first two verses of the previously examined Shiva Sutra and Spanda Karika, and the same is the case in the early 11th Century “Heart of Recognition” text by Kshemaraja:
~The ultimate source and nature of everything is Being-Consciousness.
~And, in verse two (like in the other two texts), there’s the noting of the energetic aspect of the manifestation, existence, and the dissolution of the universe as a seamlessly inseparable “unfolding” of primordial and ever-present Being-Consciousness. The universe and all its beings “unfold” on what one translation may reference as a sort of background “screen” and another as a “canvas”.
The text further notes that individual beings typically represent a contraction of Consciousness-Being and Energy due to the apparent individual being fixated and attached (in attention) to the movements of the mind (thoughts, memories, imagery, etc) and also to the body. The individual identifies with the contracted form and process of Consciousness Itself (the movements of the mind) and the contracted version of universal energy (the body and its energies and movements).
Verse 6 states that our limited self-sense is under the control of illusions and is based on the mind. Furthermore, with verse 8, it’s asserted that philosophies and systems of thought are simply varying possible roles played by, or within, Being-Consciousness.
The contraction of Conscious/Energy by identification with the transitory body/mind/self-sense and creating a feeling of separation and differentiation is the basis for endlessly reincarnating (verses 9 and 12).
Yet, the apparent individual experiencing this entranced and limited condition, still plays out the same basic five functions or acts as the supreme source and reality: manifestation; maintenance and enjoyment; dissolution (where one experiences recognition of one’s most essential nature); the play of concealing and obscuring one’s nature; and then opening up to grace and dissolution.
Verse 13 recommends the introversion of attention onto Consciousness and the bare sense of Being and rising up to the state of bare Consciousness. In verse 14, it’s noted that by starting to abide lucidly in this state begins to burn up that which obscures recognition and realization.
When realization of the source of the all is stably realized under all conditions experienced in body and mind, the person is said to be a jivanmukti, one who is liberated while still alive. (Verse 16.) The stable recognition and realization at the same time unleashes the blissful radiance of energy, always a seamless feature of Being-Consciousness.
Verse 18 lays out some steps in a practice to develop this stable realization. First, dissolution of thoughts; turning attention inwardly onto Awareness itself; focusing on the silence and spaciousness when experiencing the end of an inhalation and an exhalation; and when an inhalation ends, centering on the heart, and when an exhalation ends, at a point “twelve fingers” beyond the heart.
Verse 19 is essentially noting that with repeated experience of one’s most essential Source condition, one will eventually abide effortlessly in an awareness of one’s basic nature as Being-Consciousness.
All of this is Shiva and realizing that brings liberation (the basic point of the concluding verse!)
The teachings and practices of the Kashmir Shaivistic system were first apparently passed on via family lineages and then later through public teachers in family-like settings known as “ashrams”. The initiatory role of the Guru became essential, and increasingly charged with the deified status assigned commonly to the Guru. The disciples usually served the Guru in natural ways, like maintenance of household functions, and the Guru in turn instructed the disciples.
When the disciples were ready, the Guru would initiate them into accelerated yogic and meditation practices by his energetic, “shakti”, transmissions (known as shaktipat). Disciples would then periodically sit in “Satsang” or meditative communion with their Guru in these home-like settings, as an ongoing way to refresh and guide their practice.
Until the time when the Turks fully conquered India and Islam began dominating India in the 14th Century, there were many temple centers devoted to the ritualized and celebratory worship of Shiva. Many of these centers also hosted monastic centers.
There were also the nearby ashrams of the Shaivite “Siddha” Gurus, granting the opportunity for receptive persons to be initiated into the more radical and esoteric practices, that went beyond the focus of public worship.
In the Kashmir valley of the 14th Century, a Shaivite yogini trained in the energy rising practices described generally in all the texts examined in this chapter, shared her poems (called “vakhs”) of ecstatic realization and liberation. She did so in the voice of the commonly spoken Kashmiri language, and with her popularity high and her songs of realization widely heard, that impacted the language in that region from that point on.
Despite the new restrictive conditions in place with the Islamic domination of India (in the 14th Century), this self-described naked yogini (perhaps meant metaphorically) had very close relationships with the Sufis, Islamic mystics who first arrived in India during the previous century and who would be known in the Indian setting as “faqirs”, the Muslim version of the native Indian yogis.
Her name was Lalleshwari (and was more often called Lal Ded and Lalla). Born in 1320 C.E. into the family of a pandit (i.e. a scholar), she was married at the age of 12, but was unhappy with that and she left the marriage at the age of 24. At that time, she became a disciple of a Shaivite Siddha Guru and was trained in the kundalini yoga (aka “laya yoga”) practices. She died in 1392, her voice extended by both Shaivite and Sufi disciples and devotee-friends and then surviving into our times, especially in modern India via contemporary media (such as in movies).
The example of the close relationship of the Shaivite mystic and the Islamic mystics, who jointly pointed to the ultimate source and nature of all beings, grants her poetic stanzas great relevance as an inspirational resource for our own times—-becoming darker and darker by growing polarizing forces at play.
Her poetic voice also gives a clear picture of her spiritual practice, perhaps more effectively than the terse prose aphorisms of many key texts. For example, the role of breathing control exercises to spark, nurture, and guide an aroused life force energy (previously unleashed and pooled at the base of the spine area). From the base of the subtle central channel for this primal energy, an immense energy force rises up though the breathing and concentrative practices and the guru’s shaktipat transmission. It passes through 7 subtle centers of points of concentrated energy, opening up their constricted and contracted condition. Finally rising into the the seventh center (“chakra”) at the crown, the seat of “Shiva” or the motionless Witness-Consciousness, this Shakti force (metaphorically referenced as the “Goddess”) merges with Shiva. This awakens fully in one’s awareness and feeling the ever-present blissful reality of Shiva-Shakti in perpetual union, as one and not-two.
She also shares what are the two essentially “effortless” and grace-based “means” to realization (aside from pranayama breathing practices, mantras, etc). These practices basically entail stilling the chatter of the mind and cultivating equanimity in the midst of unfolding experiences. Which in turn opens the door to the graceful dawning in our awareness of our true nature as Shiva.
To taste and enjoy (and to be instructed by) her verses, there are not only several books translating them, there is an online site posting 138 of her verses at the Kashmiri Overseas Association website (kousa.org).
With the centuries of Muslim domination in India, any surviving lineages of gurus teaching non-dual Shaivism (arising earlier out of the Kashmir Valley in the 7th and 8th Centuries) went underground and just disappeared from view until the 19th Century and the British colonial rule replacing that of the Islamic rule by the Turks.
In the mid-19th Century, just as America begins its civil war, the Kashmir teachings and ways re-emerged into the open, with the guru-disciple ashram community model. This particular formalized lineage was not refreshed with a Guru taking the mantle from the last one, Swami Laksmanjoo who died in 1991. But, Swami Laksmanjoo (building on the earlier efforts of the gurus bringing texts out in to the open) worked hard to bring out the literature, teachings and practices to the wider public (as well as hosting a community of practitioners and devotees). That work, after his death, continues to this day (even recently—late 2015—accelerating.) The surviving vehicles for practice and education are the Universal Shaiva Fellowship and the related Laksmanjoo Academy.
While Swami Laksmanjoo’s work had a very impactful reach into western cultures, another figure named Swami Muktananda spawned widespread movements of Shaivite practitioners in the west during the 1970s and 1980s. For a time, a considerable number of people experienced the intensely expressive way of devotion to the Siddha Guru, who in turn imparts the energy enlivening “shaktipat” to the now receptive, opened up devotee.
Stunning news revelations surfacing a couple of years after Muktananda’s death in 1981, and the events related to his successor Guruymayi, dampened what had been widespread enthusiasm even among well know people. Muktananda had some American born disciples who themselves went on to serve as Siddha Gurus in western settings. Today, all these communities have become smaller in size. But, since by their nature and focus they are not public missionary type churches, but practice communities with an esoteric bent, that’s not a sign that this movement has died off at all. It’s just a sign of the ever refreshing creative activity devoted to granting vehicles for a liberating practice for persons naturally responding and resonating to the particular vehicles.