kashmir Śaivism and TANTRISM
A highly refined articulation of the spiritual work we do at the Movement Center is presented in the philosophy of Trika Yoga, also known as Kashmir Śaivism. Kashmir Śaivism is a general designation for the nondualistic school of thought that emerged in Kashmir, in northwest India.
From about 850 to 1100 c.e., Kashmir was the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual center for some of the most sophisticated spiritual practitioners of the time. Kashmir Śaivism arose from the experience of these dedicated Trika Yoga practitioners, who also happened to be skilled in expressing their experiences.
The inspired writings and commentaries by these philosophers, poets, and artists represents much of the work that we today identify as the embodiment of their rich culture. Their careful expression of their inner experiences produced a unique and highly refined organization of a number of strands of Tantrism existing in India from ancient times.
The practitioners of nondualistic Kashmir Śaivism came to view the world as absolute Consciousness, which they called Śiva. This Consciousness, being both one and free, creative and self-reflective, was revealed as the fundamental I, or Divine Self. Thus, Kashmir Śaivism emphasizes the inner Self. The systematic growth of Kashmir Śaivism unfolded as practitioners reflected on the nature of the highest reality, describing it as pure Consciousness.
The fundamental philosophical assertion of Kashmir Śaivism is that our existence is nothing but the boundless energy of Consciousness. It is a celebration of the creative power in every individual and the recognition of every person's power of free choice.
This pure Consciousness is conceived of as dynamic, with its dynamism being a quality that is not separate from that Consciousness. This is because life is not only stillness, but also motion and vitality. The Absolute is a paradox--both stillness and a dynamic vitality. From the standpoint of Kashmir Śaivism, God is a dynamic stillness.
There are articles and videos of lectures on a variety of topics in Kashmir Śaivism by Professor Alexis Sanderson, a leading Sanksrit scholar, in the Publications section of the Institute for Śaiva and Tantric Studies website.
Closely associated with the world view of Kashmir Śaivism, Śakta Śaivism holds the view that all of space, all of conscious awareness is not empty, but rather is filled with vibrancy, scintillating with energy, and pulsing with life. This vibratory energy, the power of Śiva, ever in union with consciousness, is responsible for every aspect of manifestation. All physical phenomena, all mental, emotional, and spiritual manifestation is due to this breath of life, the power of consciousness. In Śaktism, this feminine, dynamic energy takes the central focus in spiritual practice and is worshiped in various forms as the Goddess, with the understanding that everything is alive with the vital breath of the Goddess—everything is the Goddess.
Śaktism is famous for its multiplicity of yoginis and Goddess names and forms, such as Kali, Tara, Saraswati, Mahalaksmi, and Tripurasundarī. Yet all these Goddess names and forms are understood to be aspects of the one supreme dynamic principle of the universe, in its various active and creative manifestations. As Swamiji states: “There is only one Goddess, and she has many moods.” The famous Śrī Vidyā commentator, Bhāskararāya also explains: “Whatever form of a particular goddess appears, even if it is differently known, is in reality only Her (the Supreme Śakti).”
On an individual level, Swamiji explains that the Goddess takes the form of the Kundalini energy with its three-fold respiratory process. Prana-kundalini is responsible for the physical manifestation of our bodies; Citta-kundalini is responsible for the fluctuation of our mind and emotions; and para-kundalini is the breath of life, our spiritual essence. In the Śakta Śaivism of the Trika system, these are identified respectively with the Goddesses, Aparā, Parāparā and Parā. In the Śakta Śaivism of the Śrī Vidyā lineage, this three-fold respiratory process of the universe is represented in the structure of the Śrī Chakra yantra, its three-part Vidyā mantra, and the Goddess Tripurasundarī, The Beautiful Mistress of the Three Cities.
While Śaktism emphasizes the world view that everything is the manifestation of dynamic energy and the worship of the Goddess, Śakta tantrism employs esoteric tantric technology in its spiritual disciplines (sādhana) with the purpose of attaining liberation through the experience of direct personal insight—through direct contact and merging with the Goddess. The emphasis in Śakta tantrism is upon ritual practice (pūjā), coupled with internal contemplative focus, to bring about an experiential awareness of all ‘exterior’ and ‘inner’ experience as one. The ‘outer’ pūjā ritual is coupled with the ‘inner’ tantric contemplations with an attitude of grateful generosity or sacrifice. In Śakta tantric practice, we offer our actions, our thoughts, our awareness back into the flow of energies, merging ourselves with these energies, and becoming aware of the totality of our experience.
The tantric techniques employed in the tradition emphasize energetic initiation (dīkshā) by a guru, kundalini yoga meditation upon the chakras and channels to awaken the subtle body, installation of the divine energies upon the individual body in a ritual process called nyāsa to bring about a re-cognition of our individual energetic being as one with the Goddess, the practice of mudrās to bring about the experience of the flow of energies, the repetition of mantras (sonic forms of the Goddess), and the focus upon yantras or mandalas, geometric forms of the Goddess. Further, the tradition emphasizes no distinctions between men and women, or of class and status in initiation or the potential for spiritual development. It also often employs the use of controversial activities, such as consuming wine and meat, and sexual intercourse. All this ritual and contemplative technology is brought into the spiritual discipline for the purpose of gaining direct experiential insight that everything is indeed the non-dual, undifferentiated Breath of God.