Kashmir Shaivism is a group of nondualist Tantric Shaiva exegetical traditions from Kashmir that originated after 850 CE. This tradition is also termed the Trika school and was actually pan-Indian, also flourishing in O?i and Mah?rra.
The Tantr?loka, M?linlokav?rttika, and Tantras?ra of the Kashmirian Abhinavagupta (975-1025 CE) are formally an exegesis on the M?lin?vijayottara Tantra, although they also drew heavily on the Kali-based Krama subcategory of the Kulam?rga.
Kashmir Shaivism claimed to supersede Shaiva Siddhanta, a dualistic tradition which scholars consider normative tantric Shaivism. The Shaiva Siddhanta goal of becoming an ontologically distinct Shiva (through Shiva's grace) was replaced by recognizing oneself as Shiva who, in Kashmir Shaivism's monism, is the entirety of the universe.
Dating from around 850-900 CE, the Shiva Sutras and Spandak?rik? were the first attempt from the kta ?aiva domain to present a non-dualistic metaphysics and gnostic soteriology in opposition to the dualistic exegesis of the Shaiva Siddhanta. The Shiva Sutras appeared to Vasugupta in a dream, according to tradition. The Spandak?rik? was either composed by Vasugupta or his student Bhatta Kallata.
The Tantr?loka, M?linlokav?rttika, and Tantras?ra of the Kashmirian Abhinavagupta (975-1025 CE) are formally an exegesis on the M?lin?vijayottara Tantra, although they also drew heavily on the Kali-based Krama tradition of the Kulam?rga.
Nondualist Kashmir Shaivism went underground for a number of centuries. While there may have been yogis and practitioners quietly following the teachings, there were no major writers or publications after perhaps the 14th century. In the 20th century Swami Lakshman Joo, himself a Kashmiri Brahmin, helped revive both the scholarly and yogic streams of Kashmir Shaivism. His contribution is enormous. He inspired a generation of scholars who made Kashmir Shaivism a legitimate field of inquiry within the academy.
Acharya Rameshwar Jha, a disciple of Swami Lakshman Joo, is often credited with firmly establishing the roots of Kashmir Shaivism in the learned community of Varanasi. Rameshwar Jha with his extraordinary creativity, innate familiarity with the ancient texts and personal experiences was able to provide easy access to abstruse concepts of non dualistic Kashmir Shaivism to the layman and scholars alike. His original writings of Sanskrit verses have been compiled and published as books Purnta Pratyabhijna and Samit Swatantram.
Nor should the contribution of Swami Muktananda be overlooked. While himself not belonging to the direct lineage of Kashmir Shaivism, Muktananda felt a great affinity for the teachings which were validated by his own direct experience. He encouraged and endorsed Motilal Banarsidass to publish Jaideva Singh's translations of Shiva Sutras, Pratyabhijnahrdayam, Spanda Karikas and Vijnana Bhairava. He also introduced Kashmir Shaivism to a wide audience of western meditators through his writings and lectures on the subject.
The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a chapter from the Rudrayamala Tantra, was introduced to the West by Paul Reps, a student of Lakshman Joo. Reps brought the text to wider attention by including an English translation in his popular book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Cast as a discourse between the god Shiva and his consort Devi or Shakti, it briefly presents 112 meditation methods or centering techniques (dharanas).
To attain moksha, s?dhana or spiritual practice is necessary. Kashmir Shaivism describes four methods (up?ya-s):
While most other paths observe offering incense and external objects to the deity, this path takes on to offering breaths. The individual controls his heart and pulse by reducing it significantly. The final stage is renouncing consumption of food and water. As a result, he/she connects the state of the supreme in the form of Shiva which results in purification of the body and generation of ojas.
Although domesticated into a householder tradition, Kashmir Shaivism recommended a secret performance of Kaula practices in keeping with its heritage. This was to be done in seclusion from public eyes, therefore allowing one to maintain the appearance of a typical householder.
Tantric scholar-practitioner Christopher Wallis outlines the philosophical view of non-dual Shaiva Tantra thus:
All that exists, throughout all time and beyond, is one infinite divine Consciousness, free and blissful, which projects within the field of its awareness a vast multiplicity of apparently differentiated subjects and objects: each object an actualization of a timeless potentiality inherent in the Light of Consciousness, and each subject the same plus a contracted locus of self-awareness. This creation, a divine play, is the result of the natural impulse within Consciousness to express the totality of its self-knowledge in action, an impulse arising from love. The unbounded Light of Consciousness contracts into finite embodied loci of awareness out of its own free will. When those finite subjects then identify with the limited and circumscribed cognitions and circumstances that make up this phase of their existence, instead of identifying with the transindividual overarching pulsation of pure Awareness that is their true nature, they experience what they call "suffering." To rectify this, some feel an inner urge to take up the path of spiritual gnosis and yogic practice, the purpose of which is to undermine their misidentification and directly reveal within the immediacy of awareness the fact that the divine powers of Consciousness, Bliss, Willing, Knowing, and Acting comprise the totality of individual experience as well--thereby triggering a recognition that one's real identity is that of the highest Divinity, the Whole in every part. This experiential gnosis is repeated and reinforced through various means until it becomes the nonconceptual ground of every moment of experience, and one's contracted sense of self and separation from the Whole is finally annihilated in the incandescent radiance of the complete expansion into perfect wholeness. Then one's perception fully encompasses the reality of a universe dancing ecstatically in the animation of its completely perfect divinity.
Kashmir Shaivism is philosophically similar to yet distinguished from Advaita: both are non-dual philosophies that give primacy to Universal Consciousness (Chit or Brahman). However, in Kashmir Shaivism, all things are a manifestation of this Consciousness but the phenomenal world (?akti) is real, existing and having its being in Consciousness (Chit), while Advaita Vedanta holds that the supreme, Brahman, is inactive (ni?kriya) and that the phenomenal world is an illusion (m?y?). The reality and very divinity of every aspect of the phenomenal world is tied to the Tantric practices of Kashmir Shaivism.
As a monistic tantric system, Trika Shaivism, as it is also known, draws teachings from shrutis, such as the monistic Bhairava Tantras, Shiva Sutras of Vasugupta, and also a unique version of the Bhagavad G?t? which has a commentary by Abhinavagupta, known as the Gitartha Samgraha. Teachings are also drawn from the Tantr?loka of Abhinavagupta, prominent among a vast body of smritis employed by Kashmir Shaivism.
In general, the whole written tradition of Shaivism can be divided in three fundamental parts: ?gama stra, Spanda stra and Pratyabhijñ? stra.
1. ?gama stra are those writings that are considered as being a direct revelation from Siva. These writings were first communicated orally, from the master to the worthy disciple. They include essential works such as M?lin?vijaya Tantra, Svacchanda Tantra, Vijñ?na Bhairava Tantra, Netra Tantra, M?gendra Tantra, Rudray?mala Tantra, ?ivas?tra and others. There are also numerous commentaries to these works, ?ivas?tra having most of them.
2. Spanda stra, the main work of which is Spanda K?rik? of Bhatta Kallata, a disciple of Vasugupta, with its many commentaries. Out of them, two are of major importance: Spanda Sandoha (this commentary talks only about the first verses of Spanda K?rik?), and Spanda Nir?aya (which is a commentary of the complete text).
3. Pratyabhijñ? stra are those writings which have mainly a metaphysical content. Due to their extremely high spiritual and intellectual level, this part of the written tradition of Shaivism is the least accessible for the uninitiated. Nevertheless, this corpus of writings refer to the simplest and most direct modality of spiritual realization. Pratyabhijñ? means "recognition" and refers to the spontaneous recognition of the divine nature hidden in each human being (atman). The most important works in this category are: vara Pratyabhijñ?, the fundamental work of Utpaladeva, and Pratyabhijñ? Vimar?in?, a commentary to vara Pratyabhijñ?. vara Pratyabhijñ? means in fact the direct recognition of the Lord (vara) as identical to one's Heart. Before Utpaladeva, his master Som?nanda wrote ?iva Di (The Vision of Siva), a devotional poem written on multiple levels of meaning.