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Kashmiri Shaiva Philosophy
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What is commonly called “Kashmiri Shaivism” is actually a group of several monistic and tantric religious traditions that flourished in Kashmir from the latter centuries of the first millennium C.E. through the early centuries of the second.
The most salient philosophy of monistic Kashmiri Shaivism is the Pratyabhijnā, or "Recognition," system propounded in the writings of Utpaladeva (c. 925-975 C.E.) and Abhinavagupta (c. 975-1025 C.E.).
Abhinavagupta's disciple Kshemarāja (c. 1000-1050) and other successors interpreted that philosophy as defining retrospectively the significance of earlier monistic Shaiva theology and philosophy. This article will focus on the historical development and basic teachings of the Pratyabhijnā philosophy.
Table of Contents
Historical Development of Monistic Shaiva Philosophy in Kashmir
Tantra and Kashmiri Shaivism
Basic Ritual Pattern of Kashmiri Shaivism
Domestication of Kashmiri Shaiva Thought
"Trika" Sub-tradition of Shaivism
Basic Themes of Somānanda's Shivadrishti
Purposes and Methods of Utpaladeva's and Abhinavagupta's Pratyabhijnā System
The Pratyabhijnā Epistemology
The Pratyabhijnā Ontology: The Syntax of Empowered Identity
References and Further Reading
The great cultural dynamism of medieval Kashmir included a number of cults that scholars now classify as “tantric,” including the interweaving Shaiva (Siva worshiping) and Shākta (Goddess worshiping) lineages the Vaishnava Pancarātra (an esoteric tradition centered around the worship of Visnu) and the Buddhist Vajrāyana tradition.
a. Tantra and Kashmiri Shaivism
The manifestations of Shakti that the practitioner of tantra aspire after vary greatly, from relatively limited magical proficiencies (siddhis or vibhūtis), through royal power, to the deindividualized and liberated saint's omnipotence to the performance of God’s cosmic acts.
In his seminal essay, "Purity and Power among the Brahmans of Kashmir," the Oxford historian Alexis Sanderson elucidates that the tantric pursuit of such power transgresses orthodox, mainstream Hindu norms that delimit human agency for the sake of symbolic and ritual purity (shuddhi) (Sanderson 1985).
In more frequent internalized "theosophical" contemplations one realizes oneself as the possessor of Shakti in all her immanent modalities with the aid of circular diagrams of cosmogenesis (mandalas) and mantras.
Scholars identify some of the preconditions for the eventual development of monistic Shaiva philosophical discourse in the trend of medieval tantric movements to "domesticize" themselves by assimilating to upper-caste Hindu norms.
This development began in the ninth century with Vasugupta's transmission of the manual Shiva Sūtra, ostensibly revealed to him by Shiva himself; and the further systematization of its teachings by either Vasugupta or his disciple Kallata in the Spanda Kārikā.
The tradition of monistic Shaivism called “Trika” (referring to its emphasis on various triads of modalities of Shakti and cosmic levels) produced the first work of full-fledged scholastic philosophy.
The most comprehensive of these texts are the Īshvarapratyabhijnākārikā, "Verses on the Recognition of the Lord," and two commentaries on the Verses, the short Īshvarapratyabhijnākārikāvritti, and the more detailed Īshvarapratyabhijnāvivriti.
Utpaladeva also wrote a trilogy of more specialized philosophical studies, the Siddhitrayī, "Three Proofs"—Īshvarasiddhi, "Proof of the Lord;" Ajadapramātrisiddhi, "Proof of a Subject who is not Insentient;" and Sambandhasiddhi, "Proof of Relation."
Abhinava profoundly elaborated and augmented Utpaladeva's arguments in long commentaries, one directly on the Verses, the Īshvarapratyabhijnāvimarshinī; and the other on Utpaladeva's longer autocommentary, the Īshvarapratyabhijnāvivritivimarshinī.
While Abhinavagupta's Pratyabhijnā commentaries are of paramount philosophical importance, this thinker's greatest significance in the history of tantrism is probably his effort, in his monumental Tantrāloka and numerous other works, to systematize and provide a critical philosophical structure to non-philosophical tantric theology.
Abhinavagupta is also renowned for his works on Sanskrit poetics—in which he interpreted aesthetic experience as homologous to, and practically approaching the monistic Shaiva soteriological realization.
Abhinava's own disciple, Kshemarāja, further pursued his teacher's agendas with a simplified manual of monistic Shaiva doctrine and practice, the Pratyabhijnāhridaya, "Heart of Recognition," and several lengthy commentaries on tantric scriptures.
As further diffused through these and subsequent works, Utpaladeva's and Abhinavagupta's philosophical thought came to have a large influence on tantric and devotional (bhakti) traditions throughout South Asia.
According to Bhartrihari, the ultimate reality is the Word Absolute (shabdabrahman)—a super-linguistic plenum, which fragments and emanates into the multiplicity of forms of expressive speech and referents of that speech.
Somānanda repudiates the view that a linguistic entity could be the ultimate reality, while at the same time identifying the true source of language as the Sound (nāda) integral to Shiva's creative power.
The most important of these was his advertence to the experience of recognition (pratyabhijnā) as evidence both for the continuity of entities from the past through the present, and for the self that connects the past and present experiences of those entities.
It was originally the Nyāya-Vaisheshika school that adduced such considerations against the Buddhists, and the ninth-century Shaiva Siddhānta thinker Sadyojyoti in his Nareshvaraparīkshā had also recently employed these arguments.
Somānanda's claims that synthetic categories or universals are more primitive than particulars, and his invocation of Sanskrit syntax to explain Shiva's agency likewise had an important impact on Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta.
Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta ambitiously conceive the Pratyabhijnā system as both a philosophical apologetics (which follows Sanskritic standards of scholastic argument) and an internalized form of tantric ritual that leads students directly to identification with Shiva.
According to the scholastic logic, the reason identifies a quality in the inferential subject "I" known to be invariably concomitant with the predicate, "Shiva." Thus I am Shiva because I have his quality, that is, Shakti, the capacity of emanating and controlling the universe.
4. The Pratyabhijnā Epistemology
In debates over several centuries, the Buddhist logicians had propounded arguments attacking many concepts that seemed commonsensical and were religiously significant to the various orthodox Hindu philosophical schools—such as ideas of external objects,
The Pratyabhijnā philosophers' response to the problematic posed by Buddhist logic revolutionized earlier approaches of the Nyaya philosophers, the [[Shaiv] Siddhāntin Sadyojyoti]] and even Utpaladeva's teacher Somānanda, and may be characterized as a form of transcendental argumentation.
Furthermore, abjuring Somānanda's agonistic stance towards Bhartrihari, they also equate Shiva's self-recognition (Shakti) with the principle of Supreme Speech (parāvāk), which they derive from the Grammarian.
They thereby appropriate the Grammarian's explanation of creation as linguistic in nature. Thus the Kashmiri Shaiva philosophers ascribe to Speech a primordial status, denied by the Buddhist logicians.
As ritual recapitulates myth, the Pratyabhijnā system endeavors to lead the student to participate in the recognition "I am Shiva," by demonstrating that all experiences and contents of experience are expressions of the recognition that "I am Shiva."
The paradox of the Pratyabhijnā formulation of the inference for the sake of others is that the self-recognition "I am Shiva," as an interpretation of Shakti, becomes in effect both the conclusion and the reason.
Utpaladeva's and Abhinavagupta's epistemology may best be illustrated by its approach to perceptual cognition. The Pratyabhijnā arguments on this subject may be divided into those centered around two sets of terms: prakāsha; and vimarsha and cognates such as pratyavamarsha and parāmarsha.
There is no ground even for a "representationalist" inference of objects external to awareness that cause its diverse contents, because causality can be posited only between phenomena of which one has been aware.
(The recognitive is the act of recognizing or an awareness that something perceived has been perceived before.) Utpaladeva's and Abhinavagupta's arguments centering on these terms develop earlier considerations of Bhartrihari on the linguistic nature of experience.
Some of the considerations they adduce to support this claim are the following: that children must build upon a subtle, innate form of linguistic apprehension in their learning of conventional language; that there must be a recognitive ordering of our most basic experiences of situations and movements in order to account for our ability to perform rapid behaviors; and that some form of subtle application of language in all experiences is necessary in order to account for our ability to remember them.
==The two phases of argument operate together==.
As it is through the monistic subject's self-recognition that all phenomena are created, the Pratyabhijnā thinkers have ostensibly demonstrated their cosmogonic myth of Shiva's emanation through Shakti in terms of self-recognition.
This concept had originally been formulated by the Buddhist logicians to explain a nonepistemic "coordination" (sārūpya) between language and momentary perceptual data as the basis for successful reference in communication and behaviors.
The Buddhist theory has an interesting point of agreement with contemporary structuralist and poststructuralist conceptions of the determination of linguistic value by difference, although it is not formulated like the latter (that is, on the basis of considerations about the systematicity of entire languages).
Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta argue that exclusion itself depends upon a comparative synthesis, or recognition, of what does and does not fit within particular categories. We recognize that the cow is not a non-cow such as a horse.
5. The Pratyabhijnā Ontology: The Syntax of Empowered Identity
Just as Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta appropriate Bhartrihari in equating self-recognition with Supreme Speech and thereby interpreting recognitive apprehension as linguistic in nature, they also follow the Grammarian school in interpreting being or existence (sattā) (the generic referent of language) as action (kriyā).
The Grammarian view itself originated in Brahmanic interpretations of the Veda as expressing injunctions for sacrifice. The Kashmiri Shaivas further agree with much of Vedic exegetics in conceiving being as both narrative and recapitulatory ritual action.
Following the account above, it is Shiva's mythic action through Shakti as self-recognition that constitutes all experience and objects of experience, and that is reenacted by philosophical discourse.
One of their concerns is to describe how Shiva's action generates a multiplicity of relationships (sambandha) or universals (sāmānya) as the referents of discrete instances of recognitive apprehension.
With this theory they attempt to subvert the Buddhist logicians' contention that evanescent particulars are ontologically fundamental. For the Shaivas, categories are primitive, and particulars are formed out of syntheses of those categories.
Again reflecting the Vedic roots of South Asian philosophies, many schools of Hinduism and Buddhism—even those which do not view all existence as action—frequently advert to considerations of action syntax in treating ontological or metaphysical topics.
The relevant considerations pertain to how verbs articulating action relate to declined nouns indicating the concomitants of action (kārakas)—in English, roughly, the agent, object, instrument, purpose, source and location.
The explicit and implicit reasons for this tendency are complex.
At one level it evidently reflects the orthodox Brahmanic norms that subordinate the individual's agency to the order of objective ritual behavior—pertaining to sacrifice, caste, life cycle, and so on.
In their theory they take up several earlier understandings of the positive albeit delimited role of the agent and radicalize them.
Utpaladeva describes the method of the Pratyabhijnā philosophy, in a manner homologous to the epistemology of recognition, as leading to salvation through the contemplation of one's status as the agent of the universe.
Abhinavagupta likewise, in his explanation of the preliminary ceremonies of the tantric ritual, identifies various components of the ritual—such as the location, ritual implements and object of sacrifice, flowers, and oblations—with the Sanskrit grammatical cases.
6. References and Further Reading
(References are given only to works available in English.)
Provides insight into Abhinavagupta's synthetic spiritual theology, focusing on symbolism of the heart. Pandey, K.C., trans. Īshvarapratyabhijnāvimarshinī of Abhinavagupta, Doctrine of Divine Recognition. Vol. 3. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.
Sanderson, Alexis. "Purity and Power Among the Brahmans of Kashmir." In The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History, ed. Michael Carrithers, Steven Collins and Steven Lukes, 190-216. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
An accessible translation and introduction to one of the core texts of monistic Kashmiri Shaivism.
An important though controversial recent work that argues—against "domesticizing" interpretations—that the tantric quest for power (Shakti) originated in ancient siddha practices aimed at gaining benefits from dangerous female divinities through offerings of sexual fluids.