Like a City reflected in a Mirror: Absolute Non-Dual Philosophy of Kashmir Trika Śaivism — Dr. Alka Tyagi


Adiguru Saṃkaracarya (788-820) in his devotional composition Nirvanaṣtakaṃ announces that individual being ‘I’ is Supreme Being 'Siva’ (Sivoham, Sivoham…), but in his philosophical system, Advaita Vedānta he says that this world is a false superimposition on the pure Supreme Reality.

The world is a falsehood (anṛta) and the individual soul is caught up in the world of senses created by illusion which in turn is created by the individual’s own ignorance. Strangely, this conception defeats his famous notion of Advaita or non-dualism. His monism clearly includes two- the Brahman and Maya and therefore posits limitations for ordinary understanding. Further, in Ādi Śaṃkara’s philosophy the only possibility for liberation from the sufferings of the world is to live in such a way that one is completely detached from the world of senses. In his commentary on the first verse of Iśāvāsya Upanishad, he conforms with the first line i.e. ‘āvāsyam idam sarvam yatkinchit jagtyām jagat’ but on the second line which is, ‘Tena tyaktena bhunjithah mā gridhah kasyasviddhanam’, he comments that one who seeks liberation should be completely detached from the world of senses. The seeker of truth should not crave for sensual joys like a sandal wood garland, or sexual pleasures etc. Thus, the denial of the world is a difficult proposition for ordinary seeker in Śaṃkara’s discipline.

Religion as well as Philosophy

In contrast to this, Trika philosophy popularly known as Kashmir Śaivism is an absolute non-dualistic philosophy, which is a philosophy of total inclusion. It teaches an unprejudiced acceptance of the world as it is. It proclaims that everything is Śiva (Sarvaṃsivaṃ) and hence everything is everything else, (Sarvaṃsarvātmakam)[1].

Trika is a religion as well as metaphysics. Therefore, it equally appeals to the faithful and the intellectual, to the believing as well as the questions mind. It is a religion because it explains the Supreme reality in terms of divinity or God and subscribes to a whole genealogy of gods. The Supreme god here is Paramśiva who with His own Power (Śakti) creates the universe, sustains it, withdraws it, veils it and brings it forth again through grace. In other words, Supreme Śiva performs the five-fold act (Pancha-kṛtyas) in the universe.

Theistically, Trika has strong affinity with the Upanishadic thought as expressed in the Śānti mantra, ‘Auṃ Pūrṇamadaḥ Pūrnamidaṃ Pūrnāta Pūrnamudacyate/pūrnasya pūrnamādaya pūrnameva avaśiṣyate’(That is full, this is f ull. From the Full, full only comes out. If full is taken out of the full, full only remains). As mentioned above, Trika Śaivism names the Supreme reality as Paramśiva, Maheśvara or Parabhairava  and conceives that as the Supreme Being who has Absolute Freedom (Svātantrya). Everything that Paramśiva does is a result of His Absolute Freedom. As Kṣhemarāja (10th century), the great disciple of Ācārya Abhinavagupta, states, ‘This creation is a projection of the supreme self on the screen of its own consciousness, with its own energy, and by its own free will.’[2]


Thus, His main power is His Power of Absolute Freedom (Svātantrya-Śakti). All other power of Śiva have different names of this Svātantrya Śakti according to the functions that this power performs. Paramśiva’s Absolute Freedom manifests in five chief powers of Cit (Consciousness), Ānanda(Bliss), Icchā (Will), Jñāna(Knowledge) and Kriyā (Action). Through these five powers the universe is revealed and absorbed. In Trika, the universe is always there, hence there is no creation but the emanation of forms  on the screen of Supreme Consciousness. The emanation constantly keeps happening in simultaneity with absorption or withdrawal of forms into that Supreme Consciousness. Paramaśiva, the Supreme Conciousness, out of His own Absolute Freedom, with His own power/powers (Śakti-s) begins to objectify himself by veiling His own Fullness in various degrees. Thus, He takes on forms that are limited empirical beings i.e. the forms that can be measured. The power of Supreme Śiva that manifests this measure is Māyā-Śakti.The word ‘Māyā’  comes from root, ‘meya’ which literally means ‘that which measures’. So Māyā’s function is to measure everything and thereby to limit everything. Māyā-Śakti has five appendages called five-kancukas (coverings). Together they make six-coverings and create an empirical being who is covered with the limitations caused by them.

However, this Māyā is conceived as Śakti in Trika, which is different from the Māyā as ‘illusion’ in the Vedanta. In Trika Śaivism, when this Māyā -Śakti becomes expansion-oriented (outward bound), it becomes the universe of manifest forms. And when this same Māyā -Śakti becomes inward bound and withdraws itself from objectivity, it becomes one with Supreme Siva. In other words, Māyā Śakti creates limitations on the Supreme Being, which becomes individual beings with limitations. And Māyā-Śakti lifts these limitations from the individual being and turns it back into Supreme Being. In this sense, every empirical being is Śiva (Sarvam Śivam) and everything is Śiva(Sarvam Sarvatmakam).


Like a City reflected in a Mirror: ‘Darpaṇabimbe yadvan nagargrāmādi’

However, as said above, Trika is a well-defined philosophical system in which the Universal existence (Sat) is conceived as Supreme Consciousness. A whole exegetical framework has been developed to explain the Trika philosophy with an infallible logic by the Kashmiri Ācāryas between 9th and 11th centuries. In the lineage of Śaiva-saint philosophers of Kashmir, Ācārya Somananda, Ācārya Utpaladeva and Ācārya Abhinavagupta’s work focused mainly on the exposition of Trika as a philosophical discipline. In fact, one line of work relates to the Pratyabhijna School that was founded by Ācārya Somananda (875/900-925-950) and was developed by Ācārya Utpaladeva(900/925-950-975) and Ācārya Abhinavagupta(950/60-1025AD) gives the philosophical foundations of the Trika Śaivism. Another line of texts provides the mystical and spiritual foundations of Trika Śaivism which are studied under the discipline of the doctrine of Spanda. The latter come under the tradition of Āgamas and tantras.  The Agamas and Tantras are ancient scriptural disciplines revealed by Śiva and Śakti. Often Siva’s dialogue with his Śakti and vice versa is foundation of most tantras. Amongst these the non-dual Bhairavāgamas form the scriptural base for the Trika philosophy. However, the text of Siva Sutras that was revealed to Ācārya Vasugupta of Kashmir in the 9th century is one of the most important texts in the Kashmir Śaiva tradition[3]. It is not a tantra in the classical sense since it is not a dialogue between Śiva and Śakti. However, since Siva himself revealed it to sage Vasugupta, it is considered to be the entry text for the non-dual Trika Śaivism of Kashmir. The first sutra of the first awakening in the Śiva Sūtras declares identity of individual ātmā with the Supreme Ātmā. The first sutra is, ‘Caitanyamātmā’ – ‘The Supreme Consciousness is the self.’ Or the true nature of individual self is Consciousness itself. (Śiva Sūtras.I.1).


The Supreme (Paramśiva) Consciousness is Absolute Pure I-consciousness (Pūrṇahaṃtā). It is the supreme Subject and that way the Supreme Knower. Therefore, it is called as that luminousness (Prakāśa) in which all forms that arise on its own screen shine forth. As the knower of all or Supreme Knower, it perceives its forms. The act of perception is the act of becoming. Whatever is perceived that comes into being. That becomes. This power to perceive its own Self is His Śakti. This Śakti of reflective-cognition is known as Vimarśa. Thus, the Supreme Consciousness has Prakāśa(luminousness) and Vimarśa(reflective-cognition).

These two are named as two for the ease of discourse but they are same entity i.e. Paramaśiva. For ease of discourse, they are named as Śiva and Śakti. As soon as, we enter into discursive field, we enter whole manifest universe of diversity. However, Trika Śaivism declares that the whole universe is Śiva’s body. It is nothing but that. In this system, the diversity and duality that we see around us in this world is explained in many ways. One of the standard analogies given in the Trika philosophy is the analogy of a city reflected in a mirror.

When a city is reflected in a mirror, it is not different from the mirror, yet the various objects of the city like people, trees, animals etc. appear to be different not only from each other but also from the mirror. In the same manner, this universe, though not separate from the pure consciousness of Parabhairava [Paramśiva], though not different from it and from each other, just appears to be so[4]

The Spandakārikā[5] says, ‘Since the limited individual is identical with the whole universe, in as much as all entities arise from him, and because of the knowledge of all subjects, he has the feeling of identity with them all, hence whether in the word, object or thought, there is no state which is not Śiva. It is the experient himself who, always and everywhere, abides in the form of the experienced i.e. it is the Divine Himself who is the essential Experient, and it is He who abides in the form of the universe as His field of experience.’ [Trans. Jaideva Singh(1980:115)][6].

There is no 'thing' or 'self' or 'condition' that is not Siva, "Na sā avasthā na yā Śivah".

Hence, there is an eternal 'sāmrasya' or concurrence and oneness between microcosm and macrocosm, between the embodied self and the expansive Supreme Self. Individual self is nothing but a replica and reflection of the Cosmic Self. It is just that the Supreme Self or Śiva has no limitations of knowledge; power; space; time; fulfilled-ness, but the individual self, due to embodiment, is constricted. It has limited knowledge, limited power to accomplish things, limited space (it can exist only at one place at a time), limited time (it knows only linear time, cannot cross barriers of past-ness, present-ness and future-ness of time), and limited desire. It gets attracted to or repelled by this or that and cannot embrace everything, in other words, does not have completeness or fullness (pūrṇatā).


Pratyabhijñā, Recognition of True nature of the Self

The doctrine of Pratyabhijñā in Kashmir Śaivism proclaims that the individual self experiences limitations because it does not recognize its own real nature, which is identical with Universal Self. Individual self rather identifies with his psychophysical complex that is body, mind etc. Once the recognition (Pratyabhijñā) of real nature of Self happens then the individual becomes free of all limitations, all conflicts and the disparities dissolve.

The word Pratyabhijñā has three constituents -'prati' which literally means 'contrary' (turning around), 'abhi' means 'face to face' and ‘jñā’ means illumination. We may say that it is 'turning around and coming face to face with something that was always known but was forgotten'(due to turning away). Hence, Pratyabhijñā is re-cognition of real nature of our self, which is Siva by sudden illumination in our consciousness affected by something that works as a stimulant in the present moment for that recognition. It is a recollection of our source -the supreme Self which is one with us. Pratyabhijñā is a reunification.

In ordinary experiences also recognition happens with unification of the experiences -  the experience from memory and experience from direct perception of something in the present moment. For ex., the experience related by the sentence, 'This is the same girl, I met five years ago', is actually an experience of Pratyabhijñā in empirical world. Since, this world is Śiva, anything that is perceived can become a reminder of Śiva. Anything can become an agency for our remembrance, for our connection with the Source. 

Kashmir Śaiva scriptures give many ways and techniques, which take us to Pratyabhijñā.

One simple method is given by Kṣhemarāja, the great scholar saint of Kashmir, who says in his celebrated text Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam(The Heart of Recognition) that ‘Even in this condition [of being an empirical self], he [the individual] does the five fold acts like Him [Śiva]… Acquiring the full knowledge of it (i.e. of the authorship of  the five-fold act of the Self), citta(individual consciousness) itself by inward movement becomes Citi (i.e. Universal Consciousness) by rising to the status of Cetana(Awareness).’[Trans. Jaideva Singh][7]

 Thus, the supreme consciousness creates the larger five-fold web of creation called the Prapanca and we, the empirical beings, create our own small five-fold prapanca, our own samsāra. The five-fold acts of Śiva  are: the creation, maintenance, withdrawal (commonly called as destruction), veiling and grace i.e. sṛṣti, sthiti, samhāra, tirodhāna and anugrah.

The Paramaśiva, the absolute self creates, sustains, dissolves the universe, then veils it and then through grace projects it again.

Just as in the Absolute Consciousness of  Śiva, these five-fold acts are happening continuously in the universe, similarly, they are continuously taking place in the individual consciousness. The doctrine states that in the same way as cosmic consciousness creates and shapes the larger Universe, the Individual consciousness also, in spite of its limitations, creates and shapes its own world at microcosmic level.

For instance, when an individual perceives an object or an idea - that object or idea comes into being, in other words an idea or an object is born in his consciousness- this is sṛṣti (creation). Then, as long as the individual dwells on the idea or object, it is maintained in the consciousness of the individual -this is sthiti (maintenance). Then, when the individual awareness shifts to some other object or idea, then the object or idea hitherto present in the awareness gets dissolved or is destroyed. This is samhāra (destruction).However, the impression of the object or idea remains rooted in the consciousness like a samskāra  (deep impression). The impression remains embedded in the depths of the individual mind. This stage is the stage of tirodhāna (veiling). Finally, when the individual comes across something that stimulates or presents that same idea or object, then that idea or object comes into being again. And this is anugrah (grace).

Generally, this whole play in the consciousness of the empirical individual keeps him deluded and he feels that he is the chief actor in the play. Thus, deluded by his own limited power play, he remains ignorant of the five-fold act of the Absolute. He forgets that his own five-fold act is just a limited reflection of the five-fold act in the Supreme Consciousness of Śiva. When he becomes aware of this and recognizes     then he gets liberated from egocentric existence. This state of awareness is mokṣa, the self-realization in Trika. On the other hand, if the empirical individual remains deluded by his own limited powers, he cyclically falls into the limiting existence- the samsāra.[8] Hence, in the Trika Śaivism, recognition(Pratyabhijñā) is the key to self-awareness which is one’s own identity with the Supreme.


Singh, Jaideva.ed. Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam: The secret of Self-recognition.Sanskrit Text with English Translation, Notes and Introduction. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.1963, 9th rpt. 2016.

 Singh, Jaideva.ed. and trans. Śiva Sūtras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. 1979.8th rpt. 1998.

 Singh, Jaideva.ed. and trans. Spanda Kārikas:The Divine Creative Pulsation. Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd. 1980 rpt.2001.

 [1] Ref. Śivadriśti. V.107.  KSTS No.LIV. P. 194.

The author of Śivadriśti, Ācārya  Somānanda is founder of the Pratyabhijña school of Trika Śaivism.

[2] Citiḥ svatantra viśvasiddhihetuḥ.//1//

Svecchaya svabhittau viśvamunmiliyati // 2//.

[The absolute Citi [Svātantrya Śakti of Paramśiva] of its own free will is the cause of the Siddhi [manifestation] of the universe. By the power the her own will (alone), she (citi) unfolds the universe upon her own screen (i.e. in herself as the basis of the universe).]

Ref. Kṣhemarāja’s Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam. Jaideva Singh,(46-51).1963, 9thrpt. 2016.

[3] Vasugupta's Śiva Sūtras in beginning of the 9th century, marked the revival of Śaivadvyavāda, is considered to be a Sādhanā Śāstra(spiritual treatise) and Acarya Somananda's Śiva Driśti (10th CE) is considered as the first philosophical text in the Kashmir  Śaivadarśana. The latter is followed by progressively more logic-based Śāstras like Utpaladeva's ḹśvaraprtyabhijñākārikā  and Abhinvagupta's ḹśvaraprtyabhijñāvivṛittivimvarśinī and Tantrāloka (end of 10th, beginning of 11th century). Ref. my paper on “Maya as Śakti in Kashmir Śaivism”.

[4] Darpaṇabimbe yadvan nagargrāmādi citramvibhagi/

 bhāti vibhāgenaiva ca paraparaṁ darpanādapi ca//12//

 Vimalatamparambhairavabodhāt tadvad vibhāgśunyamapi /

 anyonyaṃ ca tatopi ca vibhaktamabhāti jagadetat //13// Abhinvagupta' s Parmārthasāra

 Dr. Kamala Dwivedi (1984 rpt. 1998:19).

 [5] The Spanda Kārikās (9th CE) is considered to be a commentary on the most primary text of Kashmir Śaivism, the the Śiva Sūtras.It exposits the doctrine of Vibration (Spanda), which proclaims the divine throb or pulsation(Śakti) of Śupreme Siva is the cause of creation and dissolution of the universe. The opinion on its authorship is divided. Some scholars, like Kṣhemarāja and Swami Lakshman Joo consider it to be the work of Vasugupta himself, while others like Bhaskāra and Bhatta Utpala( both fl.950-975 CE) consider it to be a work of Vasugupta's disciple Kallaṭa. Ref. Jaidev Singh [Singh: 1980 rpt.2001:xiii.].Ref. my paper on “Maya as Śakti in Kashmir Śaivism.”

 [6] 'Tasmācchabdārthacintāsu na sāvasthā na yā Śivaḥ/

Bhoktaiva bhogyabhāvena sadā sarvatra saṃsthitaḥ// II.4. Spandakārikā.

 [7]Tathāpi tadvat panchakṛtyani karoti’ //10//. Kṣhemarāja’s Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam.

 [8] Tadaparijñāne svaśaktibhirvyāmohitatā saṃsāritvam//12// Kṣhemarāja’s Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam.

[To be a saṃsārin means being deluded by one’s own powers because of the ignorance of that (authorship of the five-fold act (of Paramaśiva)]. Trans. Jaideva Singh((1963, 9th rpt.,:79.)

 Dr. Alka Tyagi

 Fellow, IIAS, Shimla