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 jagty
ām 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

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].

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.

Trika has strong affinity with the Upanishadic thought as expressed in the Śānti mantra, ‘Auṃ Pūrṇamadaḥ Pūrnamidaṃ Pūrnāta Pūrnamudacyate/pūrnasya pūrnamādaya pūrnameva
(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]


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.

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


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

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
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).


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).

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

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]

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].

is no ‘thing’ or ‘self’ or ‘condition’ that is not Siva, “Na sā avasthā na yā Śivah“.

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

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.

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.

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. 

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

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]

the supreme consciousness creates the larger five-fold web of creation called
Prapanca and we, the empirical
beings, create our own small five-fold
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.

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

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.

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).

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
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//

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

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

[3] Vasugupta’s Śiva
in beginning of the 9th century, marked the revival of
Śaivadvyavāda, is considered to be a
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 Ś
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

 Vimalatamparambhairavabodhāt tadvad
vibhāgśunyamapi /

 anyonyaṃ ca tatopi ca vibhaktamabhāti
//13// Abhinvagupta’ s Parmārthasāra

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

 [5] The Spanda
(9th CE) is considered to be a commentary on the most primary text
of Kashmir Ś
aivism, the the
Sūtras.It exposits the doctrine of
Vibration (Spanda), which proclaims the divine throb or pulsation(
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

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

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