The doctrines of Saivism and Saktism
(Brahman / Isvara as Siva)
(1) Saiva Siddhanta:
The philosophy of the Saiva Siddhanta (Saivism principles), reflecting the elements of dualism (dwaita), is influenced by various concepts from the Vedas (e.g. Rudra), the Brahmanas (e.g. Rudra-Siva), the Mahabharata and the Svetasvatara Upanisad. Besides these, the twenty-eight Saiva Agamas, especially the parts dealing with jnana or knowledge, and the hymns of the Saiva saints etc. form the basis of Saivism or Shaivism. The Saivism (according to the Saiva Siddhanta) followers are commonly found in South India.
The supreme reality is called Siva (or Shiva), and is regarded as beginningless, uncaused, free from defects, the all-doer and all-knower, who frees the individual soul from the bonds which fetter them. The formula of saccidananda (sat-chit-ananda) is interpreted as implying the eight attributes of self-existence, essential purity, intuitive wisdom, infinite intelligence, freedom from all bonds, infinite grace or love, omnipotence, and infinite bliss. The world is undergoing change. Its material cause, prakrti, is unconscious like clay, and cannot organize itself into the world. The development is not due to the elements, which are devoid of intelligence. Karma is equally unavailing. Kala, or time, is changeless, though it appears to be changing. It is a condition of all action, but is not by itself an active agent. But if God is directly the cause, his independence and perfection may perhaps be compromised. It is therefore said that God operates through his sakti (or shakti) as his instrumental cause. The principle of karma works in accordance with the spiritual ends of man. It does not frame the ends or make distinctions between good and evil. These are laid down by an infinite spirit, who also, with the aid of his sakti, sees to it that the souls get their proper rewards. As the jar has the potter for its first cause, the staff and the wheel for its instrumental cause, and clay for its material cause, even so the world has Siva for its first cause, sakti for its instrumental cause, and maya for its material cause. As sound fills all the notes of a tune, or flavor pervades the fruit, so God, by his sakti, pervades the whole world so fully that he does not appear to be different from it. God is the soul, of which the universe (of nature and man) is the body. He is not identical with them, though he dwells in them and they in him. Non-dualism does not mean oneness, but inseparability.
Siva is everlasting, since he is not limited by time. He is omnipresent. He works through his sakti, which is not unconscious but conscious energy: the very body of God. This body is composed of the five mantras, and subserves the five functions of (1) creation, (2) sustenance and (3) destruction of the universe, (4) obscuration or embodiment and (5) liberation of the souls. His knowledge is ever shining and immediate. According to the Pauskara Agama, Sakti, called Kundalini (the coiled), or suddhamaya, is that from which Siva derives his functions and in which he is being grounded. Sakti is the intermediate link between Siva, pure consciousness, and matter, the unconscious. It is the upadhi, the cause of the differentiation of Siva's functions. It is the cause of the bondage of al beings from Ananta, who is next only to Siva, downwards, and also of their release. Sakti, often called Uma, is but the reflex of Siva, and not an independent existence. The absolute in itself is called Siva, and the Absolute in relation to objects is called Sakti. In the Siddhanta, Siva is not only the Absolute of metaphysics, but also the God of religion. He is the savior and guru, and he assumes this form out of his great love for mankind. He is the God of love.
To the Lord (pati) belong the pasu (meaning cattle), the infinite host of souls. He is not their creator, since they are eternal. The soul is distinct from the body, which is an unconscious object of experience (bhogya). Its (soul's) presence is evidenced from the facts of memory and recognition. It is an omnipresent, constant and conscious actor. It is the abode of the eternal and omnipresent cit-sakti. It has consciousness, whose essence lies in the act of seeing. Soul is distinct from the body (both gross and subtle), though united with them, and it has the functions of desire, thought and action. It becomes one with the thing in which it dwells for the time being. In the world of samsara it concentrates on the worldly things, while in the state of release it centers its consciousness on God. During pralya (dissolution), the souls devoid of embodiment rest as powers and energies in the great Siva. The number of souls cannot be increased or decreased. Consciousness is perfectly manifested in the liberated soul, while it is obscured in the unliberated. The individual souls are of three classes, according as they subject to the three, two or one of the impurities (maya, karma, anavam or avidya). The web of bonds is distinguished into anavam (which makes the self, pure consciousness, imagine itself to be finite and identify with body), karma (which is produced by the activities of beings, and is the cause of the conjunction of the conscious soul with the unconscious body) and maya (the material cause of the world, unconscious in nature, and the seed of universe).
In the process of creation, Siva is pure consciousness, matter is pure unconsciousness, and Sakti is said to mediate between the two. In Saivism the universe is analyzed into thirty-six tattvas (principles) as against the twenty-five of the Samkhya. Prakrti is the stuff of which the worlds, which the purusa is to experience, are made. It is the first gross development. The Lord helps the impurities (maya, karma, and anavam) to manifest, and sustains the whole course of their development for the ultimate good of the souls dependent on his grace. He takes note of the activities of the souls and helps them in their onward pursuit. Respect for the law of karma is not a limitation of God's independence, for the law of karma is the means he employs. Siva is full of grace and is waiting through successive eons to receive the recognition of the soul and his adoring love. A personal tie binds the soul to God. The grace of God is the road to freedom. The ethical virtues are important too. A love for mankind is also as important as the love for God. Thus the castes are somewhat irrelevant religiously. Karma and jnana conjointly produce release. Note that even though the law of karma is inviolable, the choice of the soul is not fettered. Since the soul has no dust or darkness in it, the light of God shines through it. Deliverance (after all the acquired karmas have been exhausted) is not becoming one with God, but attaining perfect resemblance to Him and enjoying His presence.
(2) The Pratyabhijna System:
Though the Agamas were the basis of this Kashmir Saivism, the later works show a distinct leaning to Advaitism (non-dualism). The Saiva Agamas and the Siddhanta works are considered authoritative, but modified in the direction of Advaita of Samkara. The only reality of the universe is Siva, who is infinite consciousness and unrestricted independence. He has many other features like omnipresence, eternality and formlessness etc. Siva is the subject as well as the object, the experiencer as well as the experienced. There is none besides Siva. The world exists within consciousness, though it seems to be outside. The existence of a prompting cause, like karma, or a material cause, like prakrti, for the creation of the world is not admitted. Nor is maya, the principle that creates illusory forms. God (Siva) is absolutely independent, and creates all that exists by the mere force of his will. He makes the world appear in himself as if it were distinct from himself, though not so really, even as objects appear in a mirror. God is as unaffected by the objects of his creation as the mirror is by the images reflected in it. By his own wonderful power (sakti) inherent in him, God appears in the form of souls and constitutes objects for their experiences. The only reality is the unlimited pure self, the one and only substratum of the universe, whose activity (spanda, vibration) is the cause of all distinctions.
While Siva is the changeless reality underlying the entire universe, his energy or sakti has an infinity of aspects, of which the chief are cit (intelligence), ananda (bliss), iccha (will), jnana (knowledge), and kriya (creative power). Thirty-six tattvas (principles) of creation as in Saiva Siddhanta are recognized. When sakti functions as cit, the absolute becomes the pure experience called Siva-tattva. So soon as life is introduced by the operation of the ananda of sakti, we get the second stage of sakti-tattva. The will to self-expression brings the third stage of being. There is next the conscious experience (jnana) of being, the Isvara-tattva with its power and will to create the universe. In the next stage there is the knower, as well as the object of knowledge, when action (kriya) begins. It is the stage of Suddha-vidya. These are the five transcendental tattvas as the expression of the sakti of Siva with its five powers.
The phenomenal world arises through the force of maya, from which the limitations of space (niyati), time (kala), interest (raga), knowledge (vidya) and power arise. Through the force of maya, the infinite experience manifests itself in a number of limited experience or purusas. The distinction between purusa and prakrti arises. Further evolution is similar to Samkhya. All the stages of evolution are traced back to one absolute Siva. The cyclical appearances and disappearances of the world are admitted. The process of the manifestation of the universe does not strain the purity of the absolute Siva, who transcends his own manifestations.
As the soul is the nature of consciousness, and the individual soul is the same as the universal soul, the doctrine of an ultimate plurality of souls is denied. The pure consciousness dwells in each of us, though it is obscured by unreal upadhis (limitations). Our bondage is due to avidya (ajnana). Recognition of the reality is all that is needed for release. If the individual soul is one with the universal soul, why is the recognition of the fact necessary? The answer, according to Madhva, is "a lovesick woman is not consoled by the mere presence of the lover; she must recognize him to be so." The bondage of ignorance is overcome only by this recognition. When the soul recognizes itself as God, it rests in the mystic bliss of oneness with God.
According to Abhinava Gupta, there are three classes of liberated souls (i.e. those finished with the acquired karma): those assimilated to the Supreme (para-mukta), those united to him in his manifested phase (apara-mukta), and those still in the body (jivan-mukta). Note that the delivered soul becomes one with the Supreme.
The concept of Sakti has its beginnings in the Rik Veda, where it is considered (in some hymns) as the embodiment of power. She is Uma in the Kena Upanisad. Moreover, she is the sister of Krsna in the Mahabharata (thus relating to Vaisnavism). The Saivas made her the consort of Siva. In the Puranas she appears as Candi (pronounced as Chandi). She soon came to be worshipped as Devi, who is one with Brahman -- the absolute, whose nature is sat, cit and ananda, and might be contemplated as male, female or attributeless. Gradually the worship of Sakti as the world-mother led to separate literature (other than Vedas) known as Tantra. The Tantras are in the form of dialogues between Siva and Devi. Tantra literature is famous for its reverence for women, who are regarded as forms of the divine mother.
Siva in Saktism is of the nature of omnipresent, pure consciousness, impersonal and inactive. It is the pure being devoid of any relativity. The active personal being, Sakti, includes all individual souls. Siva, when united with Sakti, is able to create. Siva and Sakti are related as prakasa (light, reality) and vimarsa (spontaneous vibration of the ultimate reality). The first touch of relation in the pure absolute is Vimarsa, which gives rise to the world of distinctions. Vimarsa or Sakti is the power latent in the absolute or pure consciousness. It is the absolute personified, consciousness become a subject, and it passes over into its opposite, the not-self or the object. If Siva is consciousness (cit), Sakti is the formative energy of consciousness, Cidrupini. Brahma, Visnu and Siva perform their functions of creation, preservation and destruction in obedience to Sakti. In the perfect experience of ananda, Siva and Sakti are indistinguishable. The two coalesce into one being. Siva answers to the indeterminate Brahman in a state of quiescence; Sakti is determinate Brahman endowed with iccha (will), jnana (knowledge), and kriya (action), projecting the whole objective universe. Siva and Sakti are one, since force is inherent in existence. The force may be at rest or in action, but it exists in both the states. The potentiality of the whole object-world exists as the Sakti of Siva.
Sakti is the mother of all things. The five functions of illumination (abhasa), coloration (rakti), examination (vimarsana), sowing the seed (bijavasthana) and lamentation (vilapanata) are attributed to her. There is also the non-conscious matter, which corresponds to the prakrti of the Samkhya system. Prakrti or maya is looked upon as of the substance of Devi. Within the womb of Sakti is maya or prakrti, the matrix of the universe, potential in pralya (dissolution) and active in creation. The Samkhya account of evolution from prakrti is followed. Under Sakti's direction, maya evolves into the several material elements and physical portions of all sentient beings. In all living beings, caitanya or consciousness is present. In stead of the twenty-five tattvas (principles) of the Samkhya, the Saktas (followers of saktism) have thirty-six with (1) Sivatattva (or the supreme), (2) Vidyatattva (or the subtle manifestation of Sakti), (3) Atmatattva, and so on.
The jiva, under the influence of maya, looks upon itself as an independent agent and enjoyer until release is gained. Jivan-mukti, or liberation in this life, is admitted. Knowledge of Sakti is the road to salvation, which is dissolution in the blissful effulgence of the Supreme. It is said "for him, who realizes that all things are Brahman, there is neither Yoga nor worship." The state of mind in which it is realized that Brahman alone is the truth, is the highest; that in which there is meditation on Brahman is the middle; praise and recitation of hymns is the next; and external worship is the lowest of all. Rituals are discouraged and the distinctions of castes are subordinated. Bhakti is regarded as helpful to salvation. Freedom of worship is allowed. As all streams flow into the ocean, so Brahman receives the worship offered to any god. The subordinate deities are however subject to the force of karma and time.
The mystic side of the Yoga system plays a large part throughout. Mantras are divine, in a sense, identical with Sakti, who is Sabda, or eternal word. Great emphasis is laid on the awakening of the forces within the organism. The perfected man will awaken the Kundalini (energy within oneself) and pierce the six cakras (centers in the body). The theories of karma, rebirth, gross and subtle bodies, are accepted by the Saktas.
Compiled from: Indian Philosophy, Vol. 2, by S. Radhakrishnan, ISBN 019563821-4, pp. 722-737;
by: Dr. Subhash C. Sharma
Date: May 3, 2004
The pursuit of salvation and advancing spiritually according to the above have no restrictions of caste or gender, as indicated "It is said 'for him, who realizes that all things are Brahman, there is neither Yoga nor worship.' The state of mind in which it is realized that Brahman alone is the truth, is the highest; that in which there is meditation on Brahman is the middle; praise and recitation of hymns is the next; and external worship is the lowest of all. Rituals are discouraged and the distinctions of castes are subordinated. Bhakti is regarded as helpful to salvation. Freedom of worship is allowed. As all streams flow into the ocean, so Brahman receives the worship offered to any god. The subordinate deities are however subject to the force of karma and time."
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