The ancient tradition of Kashmir Shaivism is a non-dual (advaita) school of philosophy which takes as its source the ninety-two Tantras of Lord Shiva. This includes the sixty-four monastic Bhairava Tantras, the eighteen mono-dualistic Rudra Tantras, and the ten dualistic Shiva Tantras. This philosophical tradition is also known by its adherents as Trika. It is called Trika because it encompasses the threefold signs of man and his world. These three signs are Shiva, his Shakti (energy), and Jiva (individual ). Also signified are three primary energies: para (supreme) energy, para-para (combination of highest and lowest) energy. and apara (lowest) energy. These are also termed iccha Shakti, the energy of will, jnana Shakti, the energy of knowledge, and kriya Shakti, the energy of action. These three energies represent the threefold activities of the world: knower, knowing, and known. Kashmir Shaivism also known as the Trika tradition, encompasses four systems of philosophy: the Pratyabhijna system, the Kula system, the Krama system, and the Spanda system.
The teaching of Kashmir Saivisn1 is so rich and detailed in its descriptions of what it reveals as the ascent of individual consciousness to universal God Consciousness (Parama Shiva) that it has been characterized as a mystical geography of awareness. It includes a highly developed system of spirituality that emphasizes not only the intellectual understanding of its concepts, but also the direct realization, the direct experience, of its truth. For the Kashmir Shaiva, the very nature of truth, its defining characteristic, is that it is unlimited and universal. The human intellect, on the other hand, is limited and individual. As such it cannot contain within its grasp that reality which transcends it. For the Kashmir Shaiva truth, as universal, is said to be anirvacaniya, unspeakable. Words cannot express or reveal it. Any attempt to define and contain it with the spoken word only limits it. If truth is to be known and understood, it must be experienced through direct realization.
Kashmir Shaivism offers many different practical approaches to the realization of the ultimate reality. These different approaches are varied depending on the ability of the seeker. Paul Reps--in his small book entitled Zen Flesh, Zen Bones--introduced the English speaking world to one of the central scriptures of Kashmir Shaivism, the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra. In this Tantra are found no less than one hundred and twelve separate means to the realization of the ultimate reality.
Understanding Moksha and the means for its attainment in Kashmir Shaivism requires that we briefly examine its non-dual cosmology. One of the more lucid and revealing expositions of this cosmology is given by Abhinavagupta in a short discourse entitled Bodhapancadasika or "Fifteen Verses of Wisdom." Swami Lakshmanjoo, the great modern Kashmir Shaiva philosopher and saint, tells us that these verses capture the essence of the doctrine of Kashmir Shaivism.
In describing the nature of reality, the Kashmir Shaiva explains that there is only One Being, called Lord Shiva. This Being is the nature and existence of all beings. This Being is defined as being filled with the infinite light (prakasa) of God Consciousness. The Shaiva also holds that the objective world, although experienced as separate from one's self, does not have a separate existence. It is the energy (Shakti) of Shiva. Although one might conclude that the world is separate from his energy, thinking that his energy is the separate formal cause of the objective world. It is not. The objective world, comprised of the collection of objects, cognition's, and limited subjects, is nothing more than the expansion of the divine Shakti. It is not separate from Shiva's energy. Lord Shiva is the energy holder (Shaktiman) and the objective universe is his energy, his Shakti.
But what is the relation of Lord Shiva to his energy? Does Shiva hold this energy as one might hold a tool, to be used in the act of creation? Lakshmanjoo clarifies this by explaining that if, for the sake of argument, we make the distinction between Shiva and his Shakti we could say that Shakti is this whole objective universe--which includes not only the objects of perception (pramana) and the means of perception (pramana), but also the limited subjects or perceivers (pramatri) attached to those objects--and that Shiva is that reality from which this universe issues forth. And yet it is said that Shiva and Shakti are not aware that they are separate. Why? Because in reality they are not separate at all. They are one just as a fire is one with its heat.
Although Kashmir Shaivism and Advaita Vedanta both teach nondualism, the non-dualism of Kashmir Shaivism is quite different from that of Advaita Vedanta. Essential to this difference is Advaita Vedanta's proposition that this universe is untrue and unreal, that it is a false projection of maya. This theory is completely opposed to the Kashmir Shaiva theory of reality. To counter this proposition Kashmir Shaivism argues that, if Shiva is real, how could an unreal substance emerge from something that is real? If Shiva, the ultimate essence of existence, is real, his creation must also be real. For the Kashmir Shaiva this universe is just as real as its creator.
The nondualism expounded by Kashmir Shaivism creates a dilemma for its adherents. If this universe is as real as its creator, how does the latter create this diverse universe as one with himself? To explain this seeming incompatibility, Kashmir Shaivism proposes the theory of reflection (pratibimbavada). This theory explains that the universe is created in the same way that the image of an object, such as a house, can be reflected in a mirror. In the case of Shiva, however, there is no object such as the house which exists independently from the mirror of God Consciousness, because if there were, it would mean that there is an object which exists outside of God Consciousness. The Kashmir Shaiva theory proclaims that nothing can exist outside of God Consciousness, because only God Consciousness exists. Therefore, the Shaiva explains, the only thing that exists is the house appearing in the mirror. There is no external object, no separate house, being reflected in the mirror. There is only the mirror of God Consciousness. What then causes the "reflection" to appear in the "mirror" of Shiva's awareness? To this question the Shaiva answers, it is svatantrya, the absolutely independent will of God. It is Lord Shiva that creates this whole universe in the mirror of his awareness by his absolutely independent will (svatantrya), his freedom.
In summarizing the essence of the nondual cosmology of Kashmir Shaivism, Lord Shiva creates the objective world through the expansion of his Shakti, which is absolutely one with him. The universe is manifest in his own nature, like a reflection in a mirror, by his own absolutely independent will.