From the Jacket
The religious history of India has expressed itself in terms of what has come to be known as the Great Tradition and the Little Tradition. It is the synthesis of these two traditions that has given rise, through the process of evolution, to the present-day Hinduism. It is with this absorptive spirit of Hinduism with which this book deals by pointing out as to how Saivism, though belonging to the Little Tradition, has evolved as part and parcel of Brahmanism. While being absorbed by Brahmanism, Saivism at the same time has maintained its personal identity in terms of its scriptures and spiritual practices. Although a part of Brahmanism, yet Saivism itself has so evolved in terms of metaphysical thought as to parallel the larger pattern of metaphysical thought of Hinduism in general. Thus the Saivite thought, while following the metaphysical footprints of Brahmanism, ultimately has climaxed in the non-dualistic recognitive philosophy of the Trika.
Moti Lal Pandit, a linguist and theologian, has been engaged in Indological research for last three decades. He has contributed more than three hundred papers on Comparative Religion, Theology, Spirituality, and Mysticism. Some of his earlier works include The Fundamentals of Buddhism; Samkara’s Concept of Reality; Towards Transcendence; Being as Becoming; Transcendence and Negation; The Trika Saivism of Kashmir; Sunyata: The Essence of Mahayana Spirituality; Buddhism: A Religion of Salvation; Disclosure of Being; Encounter with Buddhism; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Trika Saivism; and The Buddhist View of Knowledge and Reality.
From the Book
Moti Lal Pandit, a linguist and theologian, has been engaged in Indological research for last three decades. He has contributed more than three hundred papers on Comparative Religion, Theology, Spirituality, and Mysticism. Some of his earlier works include The Fundamentals of Buddhism; Samkara’s Concept of Reality; Towards Transcendence; Being as Becoming; Transcendence and Negation; The Trika Saivism of Kashmir; Sunyata: The Essence of Mahayana Spirituality; Buddhism; A Religion of Salvation; Disclosure of Being; Encounter with Buddhism; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Trika Saivism; and The Buddhist View of Knowledge and Reality.
The Religious History of India, from its very beginning, has broadly expressed itself in terms of either Vedic (viz., non-Brahmanic) modes of thought. The Vedic consciousness constitutes, so to speak, the heart of Brahmanism or what is called the Great Tradition. It is the Vedic texts in which is expressed the religious and philosophical content of Brahmanism as such. The so-called Brahmanism or the Great Tradition has so coalesced with the non-Vedic religious traditions as to constitute what nowadays is commonly called Hinduism. Thus, the kind of Hinduism that we encounter is a conglomeration of many traditions that has evolved in the soil of India from ancient times to our own. It is this bewildering diversity of various strands of Hinduism that are so baffling as to make one’s understanding so cloudy in knowing as to what really Hinduism is. This conglomeration of various traditions and modes of religious thought has eventuated due to the absorptive spirit of what is known as Hinduism. What it means in terms of historical evolution is that the so-called Great Tradition has been so influenced by other emerging or existent traditions as to become part and parcel of its. This tendency of absorption, viz., of making other traditions its own, began in the ancient times itself. This is quite evident in the influence that the Sramanic traditions have had upon Brahmanism in terms of implanting within it the seeds of renunciatory spirituality.
In the initial stages, this absorptive tendency was resisted forcibly, but due to historical circumstances could not be prolonged for long. Although initially the Vedic religion might have been sacrifice-oriented, yet it had to give in to such forces that were either existing at the periphery of Vedic society or emerged as a rival force from within the crucible of Vedism. In the case of the former, it was such religious practices as would embody the ideology of yoga, and in the case of the latter it was the Sramanic spirituality of renunciation. The spirituality of renunciation that was unleashed by Sramanism gave rise to such philosophical thinking that would be soteriological in orientation. As to how to reach the soteriological goal was a problem that had to be solved, and the solution was provided by the yogic praxis. The Sramanic renunciation that was unleashed by Sramanism gave rise to such philosophical thinking that would be soteriological in orientation. As to how to reach he soteriological goal was a problem that had to be solved, and the solution was provided by the yogic praxis. The Sramanic renunciation and the yogic praxis were easily grafted upon the ontological scaffolding that Brahmanism itself gave rise to it is this syncretistic amalgamation of these various strands of religiosity that is what is constitutive of the Great Tradition. At the same time, the Great Tradition did not so subsume the Little Traditions as to wipe them off completely from the scene of history. It allowed them to flourish independently within the reference point of the Great Tradition. Although the various traditions may seem ideologically to be in conflict with each other, yet the conflict is so harmoniously solved through such a hermeneutical principle that would speak of each tradition as genuine within its own sphere.
The non-Vedic or what is called the Little Tradition provided the necessary tools or wherewithal whereby the theoretical aspect of religion, which basically is soteriological, becomes a realizable goal. The encounter of these religious traditions or currents with each other has left its maker upon each one of them, which means that it was not only Vedism alone that underwent change, but also the non-Vedic traditions had to undergo some form of change. The Great Tradition provided the necessary theoretical tools whereby the Little Traditions were enabled to build their own “systems of thought.” The change that occurred in the Great Tradition was in terms of grafting such practical methods from the Little Traditions that would enhance the beauty and charm of its theory. Thus the Vedic and non-Vedic religious currents, at the surface level, may present themselves as being distinct from or dialectically opposed to each other, yet, at the deeper level of metaphysical thought, have so cross-fertilized each other as to leave very little room for difference. One of the outcomes of such cross-fertilization has been the emergence of present-day Saivism.
The religion of the Vedas, although historical in its origin, has incorporated into itself such non-Vedic religious elements that pertain to the prehistorical period of India-and one such element is Saivism. Saivism, in its prehistorical period, might have existed in some cultic form without any definite theoretical or liturgical determinants. It might just have prefigured in human consciousness as a kind of semi-divine or divine epiphany. What it amounts to saying is that Saivism, in its prehistoric form, might just have existed in an embryonic form, which, with the passage of time, evolved itself into a definite religious form. The prehistorical roots of Saivism are supposed to be located in what has come to be known as the Indus Civilization. It is the prehistorical elemental roots that Vedism has incorporated into itself, thereby allowing Saivism to grow into a full-fledged religious ideology, which, within the Brahmanic fulcrum, would take various forms and shapes. The kinds or forms of Saivism that exist at present have their antecedents, firstly, in the Indus Civilization and, secondly, in the Vedic texts. As to the existence of the prehistorical roots of Saivism in the Indus Civilization, it may be inferred from the archaeological discoveries that have been made during the first half of the twentieth century. On the basis of the archaeological discoveries, Sir John Marshall has concluded “the many revelations that Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa have had in store for us, none perhaps is remarkable than the discovery that Saivism had a history going hack to chalcolithic age or perhaps even further.” As to whether the suggestive archaeological artifacts that have been discovered by the archaeologists in the ancient sites of the Indus do indicate or not the existence of an embryonic form of Saivism is still an unsettled question. ‘Whatever evidence has archaeologically been collected needs an objective interpretation, and that which pertains to the realm of interpretation may not always yield the result that is authentic. Insofar as its proper history is concerned, it is contained in the corpus of those texts that are constitutive of Saivism-and these texts are generally known as the Agamas or Tantras.
The Sacred Literature of Saivism
Saivism, although functioning within the broad theological framework of Brahmanism, maintained its autonomous existence by giving rise to its own sacred literature which, though antinomian in character, would function as an adversary to Vedism. This adversarial character of the Saivite literature is reflected in the assertion that it has placed Vedism at the lower wrung of the ladder of spirituality. Although deeply influenced by the Brahmanic thought, the various schools of Saivism have so interwoven their thought and practice as if being an autonomous revelation.
The thought and practice of Saivism, in general, is contained in such canonical texts as are known the Agamas/Tantras. This corpus of literature is not as old as the Vedic literature. Although the elements of Saivism might belong to prehistory, yet it hardly produced any literature prior to the inception of the Christian Era. Prior to the composition of the Agamas/Tantras, Saivism functioned more as a form of cultic praxis than as a system of thought. There are, however, some glimpses of Saivite thought to be found in such Upanisadic texts as the Svetasvatara. The need for a complete canon must have arisen due to the all-pervasive nature of Brahmanism as well as of such heterodox religious movements as Buddhism and Jainism. It is this historical necessity that might have led to the composition of the independent canon in the form of Agamas/Tantras.
The understanding of the Saivites concerning the status of their canon is the same that obtains in Brahmanism, which is that the sacred literature per se should be treated as the deposit of eternal revelation concerning the nature of transcendent reality. The Saivite view of revelation, however, differs from that of Brahmanism, in that the former, being by the large theistic, believes that the truth that is contained in the canon has been revealed by God himself, whereas in the case of the latter Truth, being eternal, was “seen” by the sages. It is for this reason that the Vedic thinkers speak of revelation as being non-human in origin. The Agamas/Tantras, once revealed by God, have come to us through a chain of teachers, thereby establishing the channel for the revelatory truth to flow in the continuum of history. Since the Agamas owe their existence to God himself, so they have to be treated as non-historical documents. This under standing of revelation has more to do with theology than with history.
The revelatory nature of the Saivite canon is so conceived as to derive the meaning of “revelation” from such terms as agama/tantra itself. As the very term agama denotes that which has “come to us through tradition or lineage of teachers,” so the canon as Agama denotes that it has come to us from the Divine through the flow of history in the form of teacher-lineage. In this manner is ascribed the divine origin to the revelatory texts, known as Agamas/Tantras, by the Saivites of all schools. Likewise, the term tantra is derived from the root tan, meaning thereby “to spread out.” It is on the basis of this root meaning that the term tantra is so interpreted as to bestow upon it the soteriological function in terms of which the expansion of consciousness occurs through the realization of transcendental knowledge (tanyate vistaryate jnanam iti tantram). Since the knowledge that is contained in the canon is seen as an adequate means for the expansion of consciousness, so this knowledge is considered to be so potent as to save the bound being from the bondage of transmigratory cycles or rebirths.
It is not as easy as one may think to determine the age of composition of the Agamas/Tantras of the various schools of Saivism. What, however, can definitely be said that none of the canonical texts of any school of Saivism belongs to the pre-Christian period. Since Saivism, and thereby Trantrism, did not flourish during the pre-Christian era. Even though the Saivite modes of cultic worship have been referred to in the Mahabharata, it can, however, safely be assumed that from the fourth century AD onwards the composition of the Agamas/Tantras must have occurred. This does not mean that the theological ideas that are found in the Saivite canon pertain to this period. They might have been existing in the pre-Christian period in a loose form, but took a definite form or shape only in the post-Christian period.
The Main Schools of Saivism
The historical development of the various schools of Saivism has not been homogeneous or linear. In the initial stage of development, Saivism, expressed itself through such crude practices as would verge on revulsion or would prove to be antithetical to ethics. The main schools that constitute the historical steps of development of Saivism are the Pasupatas, the Saivasiddhantins, the Vira Saivas, and the Trika Saivas of Kashmir. Each school has its own distinct ritual practices, its own canon as well as philosophy. The common inheritance shared by them is the belief in the ultimacy of Siva as reality par excellence.
The Pasupatas: The Pasupata school should be seen as the earliest such Saivite school that gave the necessary theological expression concerning the nature of existence in the world in terms of its soteriology. While summarizing the theological viewpoint of the Pasupatas, this is what Madhavacarya has to say, in his Sarvadarsanasamgraha, concerning the soteriology of the Pasupatas. He says, “the cessation of pain (viz., the attainment of liberation) is in other systems (for example, in the Sankhya system (viz., in the system of the Pasupatas) it is the attainment of supremacy of the divine perfection. In other systems the create is that which has become, and that which shall become, but in this system it is eternal. In other systems, the principium is determined in its evolution or creative activity by the efficacy of works, whereas in this system the principium is the Lord not thus determined. In other institutes, union results in isolation, etc., while in this institute it is cessation of pain by attainment of divine perfection. In other systems heaven and similar spheres involve a return to metepmpsychosis, but in this system they result in nearness to the Supreme Being, either followed or not followed by such return to transmigratory experience.”
The Saivasiddhanta School: The Saivasiddhanta school, at present, is mainly prevalent in the south India. Once, in the hoary past, it used to have had a sizeable presence in the valley of Kashmir, but, due to the strong presence of Trika Saivism, it completely vanished from the valley leaving no physical trace of its existence there. Even though some of the leading theoreticians of this school of Saivism were Kashmiri, yet its disappearance from the valley could not be stopped. Insofar as its theoretical formulation is concerned, it is realistic in its philosophical approach, and so also adheres to the notion of pluralism. It upholds the triadic view of God, soul and matter as being not only distinct, but also as being eternally existent. The concept of soul and of matter as eternal entities could be a direct borrowing from the Sankhya philosophy, which believes that the self-monad (purusa) and matter (prakrti) exist as distinct entities from eternity. Insofar as God is concerned, Sankhya has no need of it on account of it being atheistic.
Having borrowed the essential conceptual baggage from the Sankhya, the Saivasiddhanta thereby transforms their meaning in accordance with its theistic requirements.
Whatever may be the religious school of thought, it is so bound up with the theological mainstream that it has no other way then to interpret the borrowed concepts in such a manner as to fit the general framework of the Great Tradition, which is to see the embodied being in the state of boundage. What it amounts to saying is that the Saiva Siddhantins think of the soul as being in the condition of bondage. It is at this point of understanding concerning the condition of the soul that the Saivasiddhanta transforms itself into a religious ideology that is soteriological in orientation.
Since the soul is in boundage, so it has to be released from the fetters of bondage-and in this very intent for release of the soul is expressed the soteriological concern of the Saivasiddhanta. The Saivasiddhanta offers this release from bondage to its adherents in terms of the experience of union of the soul with God. As God is the cause of the universe, so he alone has the power of bestowing such a form grace upon the bound soul as would terminate in the experience of release from bondage. As God is totally autonomous, so his grace too is autonomous of human action. Whatever evil is there in the world is not because of God, but because of human actions. The particular kind of condition or birth of a soul is caused by God in accordance with the actions that have been performed by the soul during the previous state of existence.
The Saivasiddhantins, like the followers of Sankhya, believe in the plurality of selves. Moreover, they are of the view that the soul is neither bound nor limited, as is empirically experienced. The state or quality of existence of the soul is dependent upon the kind of birth it has, which is to say that there are souls that are totally in bondage and there are sols that are partially in bondage. The former kind of soul is known as sakala, whereas the latter type of soul is called vijnanakala. There is also an intermediate state of the soul, which is known as the state of dissolution state of the soul, which is known as the state of dissolution (pralayakala). The souls of this state return to the potent state during the period of universal dissolution, which means that during this period the souls of this type do not undergo the process of rebirth. The soul that is chained by the fetters of samsarika bondage remainsunder the constant impact of three impurities, which are anava, karma, and mayiya. Since bondage occurs through these three impurities, so the Saivasiddhanta aims at their removal through such means or methods as what it calls feet (pada), study of scriptures (vidya), ritual (karman), meditation (yoga), and righteous conduct (carya).
The Vira Saiva School: The Vira Saivism is so reformative in spirit as to delink itself socially completely from the inherited day-to-day norms of the Great Tradition. While maintaining its spirit of the Little Tradition within the overall rubric of Brahmanism, the Vira Saivas so formulated its theological spectrum as to be socially independent of the Great Tradition while simultaneously adhering to some of its important theological norms. As an historical religious movement, the Vira Saivism, as a distinct Saivite school, owes its origin to the farsightedness of Basava. It was at the close of the twelfth century AD that Basava initiated a movement of reformation against the prevalent evils and injustices, which ultimately culminated in the establishment of a full-fledged religious school of thought. It was Basava who not only laid the foundation of Vira Saivism, but also gave concrete shape to its theological and ethical structures of thoughts and praxis.
The main inspiration that led Basava to establish this new reformative school of Saivism are the wise sayings (vacanas) of the Saivite saints.
The heart and soul of Vira Saivism has found its deepest expression in following the footsteps of bhakti tradition. According to Basava, the only means of obtaining freedom from the fettered miseries of bondage is the deep devotion of and for God. It is through complete surrender unto God that enables one to obtain the unfettered grace of the Lord, which ultimately terminates in the experience of release. The experiential criterion of bhakti consists of the feeling that experiences God as truly autonomous.
From the mystical point of view the love of God results ultimately in the state of experience that is termed as samarasya or the state of sameness. In this state of sameness there eventuates no cognition of duality whatsoever. Even though there may be absence of duality, yet this sameness cannot be equated to the non-dualist experience of identity. This mystical concept of sameness is so interpreted by the Vira Saivas as would allow them to say that both man and the world are so sustained by God as to pervade the entire phenomena. It is the principle of sameness that is responsible in sustaining the essential relationship between God, on the one hand, and man and the world, on the other. Even though Vira Saivism is permeated by the fervour of devotional love, yet its concept of God is not so personal as to verge on anthropomorphism. Thus, the metaphysically formulated form of Vira Saivism is basically a conglomeration of theological ideas borrowed mainly from the Saivasiddhanta as well as from Advaita Vedanta.
The ultimate reality, which is Siva, is said to be self-identical in terms of its nature (svarupa) as Being-Consciousness-Bliss (sat-cit-ananda). For Siva to be self-identical means that no difference of any kind whatsoever eventuates within it. As self-identical reality, Siva is transcendent, and, therefore, does not have the anthropomorphic characteristics, which usually are found in a God that theism propounds. Since Siva is transcendent and free from human limitations, it would mean that no form of human thought can apprehend it. Dependent on Sankhya causality, the Vira Saivas think that the universe and the existents therein remain in the state of potentiality when unmanifest. It is Siva himself who, for the sake of its own enjoyment, extends himself as the universe when taking recourse to the process of manifestation. When abiding in its own-being, Siva thereby causes the dissolution in terms of resorption of the universe. Thus the display of the divine powers of Siva finds its expression in manifestation as well as resorption of the universe.
One of the most important doctrines of the Vira Saivas is that of sthala. The concept of sthala is so conceived as to be identical with ultimate reality. Thus sthala is said to be the ultimate source of all that exists. The sthala, when engaged in creative activity, represents the Godhead of God. What it amounts to saying is that the essential nature of God is embodied in its being as Godhead. The Godhead of God is nothing else but its Energy (sakti). The universe as an extension of God comes about due its being as Godhead, which is nothing else but sthala.
The dyadic movements of God towards self-manifestation as well as resorption of the universe are not specific to Vira Saivism, but pertain to the conceptual framework of Saivism as such. It is possible that such ideas might have been borrowed from the common stock of primeval Saivism. There seem to be existing close links of varying degrees between the various schools of Saivism insofar as the fundamental theological concepts are concerned. Whether it is the doctrine of impurities (malas) or of grace (saktipata), most of the Saivite schools share them together. Where these schools differ from each other is with regard to ontology and epistemology, and not with regard to the practical aspects of religiosity.
The Vira Saivas, like any other Saivite school, think that the embodied being is in bondage due to ignorance, and ignorance exists due to impurities. Impurities, as it were, cover the vision of the soul in such a manner as to incapacitate it from having the correct vision concerning its essential nature. This inability of cognizing as to who one is, is called ignorance. It is because of the concealment of one’s nature that ignorance gives rise to a form of knowledge that is erroneous, and due to which the sense of difference from God is allowed to permeate consciousness. It is this erroneous knowledge concerning oneself as being different from God that is called bondage. Liberation, therefore, would mean freedom from this bondage that has its source in epistemic error. From a theological perspective, liberation would mean of experiencing the infinite bliss in terms of the cognition of sameness. From a philosophical perspective it would mean that it is God who alone is the ground of existence.
Trika Saivism of Kashmir. Although in Kashmir other schools of Saivism seem to have existed, yet it has been the Trika school that has dominated, for the most part, both the philosophical as well as theological scene of Saivism. The domination of the Trika over other schools owes its existence to the fact that it has been blessed by a long line of such teachers who not only were great theologians, but were also outstanding philosophers. Their genius shone over the length and breadth of India. It would have been impossible for any school to withstand the genius (pratibha) of such thinkers as Somananda, Kallata, Utpala, Abhinavagupta, and so on.
The Trika Saivism, while having its deep roots in Tantric ideology, developed its thought structure in such a manner as to be both monistic as well as theistic simultaneously. Such a philosophical outlook became possible because of it having given rise to such a conceptuality as would allow it speak of reality as being both consciousness as well as self-reflecting awareness. This interpretation of reality had its antecedents in the doctrine of “vibration,” as developed by Bhatta Kallata. Also it developed its own metaphysical understanding of reality in terms of the philosophy of “recognition” (pratyabhijna). While absorbing various currents of thought, both Saiva and Sakta, the Trika accordingly developed an understanding of reality in terms of what may be called the absolutistic theism. The Absolute of the Trika is neither an impersonal and lifeless entity nor is it destitute of the powers that a theistic God is supposed to possess. Thus, the Absolute of the Trika is the embodiment of freedom, and so is actively engaged in the manifestation and dissolution of the universe. Since both the manifestation and dissolution of the universe are the free acts of the Absolute as Godhead, so its nature accordingly is said to consist of consciousness, bliss, will, knowledge, and action. Thus, the Absolute as Godhead is the cause and essence of everything that is manifest. It would mean that the Absolute, when seen in terms of Godhead, is immanent. But the Absolute is also transcendent, and the transcendent aspect is reflected in terms of its self-abiding. Madhavacarya, in his Sarvadarsanasamgraha, says that the Trika thinkers maintain that “the construction of the world is by the mere will of the Supreme Lord. They pronounce that the Supreme Lord, who is at once other than and the same with the several cognitions and cognita, who is identical with the transcendent self posited by one’s own consciousness, by rational proof and by revelation, and who possesses independence, that is the power of witnessing all things without reference to ought ulterior, gives manifestation, in the mirror of one’s own soul, to all entities as if they were images reflected upon it. Thus, looking upon recognition as a new method for the attainment of ends and of the highest end, available to all men alike, without the slightest trouble or exertion, such as internal or external worship, suppression of breath, and the like, these Mahesvaras set forth the system of recognition (pratyabhijna).”
Conceiving the Absolute in terms of being Godhead when engaged in creative activity, the Trika thereby differentiates itself from the impersonal monism of Samkara. The Absolute of the Trika, however, does not give rise to the phenomena ex nihilo; rather it vomits (vamana) the entirety of phenomena out of itself. The Trika, while depending upon the Sankhya theory of causality, looks at the phenomena as being non-different from the Absolute in the same manner as an effect is identical with the cause. There is a danger in this theory of effecting destruction in the unity of the Absolute in terms of it going through some kind of transformation. It is at this point that the theory of reflection is made use of to account that no transformation or modification occurs in the Absolute while allowing the phenomena to emanate out of itself. As the reflection of the moon in water does not effect the moon in any manner, so the universe as reflection does not effect the Absolute. In this manner is saved the unity of the Absolute.
The Absolute, figuratively speaking, reduces itself to the status of a limited being in the process of allowing the emanation of universe to fructify. As a limited being, the Absolute, as it were, forgets its transcendental nature. The limited being that is in bondage, thus, is none other than Siva himself. It is, therefore, the aim of the Trika to enable the limited being to recognize his essential nature as being identical with Siva. The methods for this purpose that have been devised are both philosophical and practical. The method of philosophy is spoken of as the processless method. Insofar as the practical methods are concerned, they are mainly the Way of Siva (sambhava-upaya), the Way of Energy (sakta-upaya), and the Individual Way (anava-upaya). It is by cultivating any of the ways that ultimate soteric goal of freedom from bondage is obtained in terms of the “recognition” of one’s essential nature. However, the methods are so structured as to suit the individual temperament and the state of mind. At the lowest plane is the Individual Way. Higher to the Individual Way is the Way of Energy. The highest among all of them is the Way of Siva. In this manner does the Trika offer its understanding of reality as well as of the ways of reaching it. In short, Trika is a theistic absolutism in terms of which it does away with the ineffective, formal, and abstract concept of the Absolute that Samkara has propounded. Also it does away with the renunciatory mode of spirituality by adhering to the notion that All is Siva and Siva is All. It is by mirroring the presence of Siva in the universe that the ultimate soteriological goal of freedom is discovered. It is a kind of revelation. We may, thus, say, and rightly so, that Saivism reaches its peak both philosophically and theologically in the kind of Saivism that the Trika has given rise to.
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