PART II: Jaideva Singh’s Vedanta and Advaita Shaivagama of Kashmir

JS Vedanta and Advaita

We will now turn to Jaideva Singh’s discussions of non-dualism in Buddhist and Hindu philosophy. Vedanta and Advaita Shaivagama of Kashmir is a short book of 51 pages and consists of the transcripts of three lectures that Jaideva Singh gave in 1984 as Banka Bihari-Hemangini Pal memorial lectures at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Kolkata, India. As these were lectures, they are flowing, have minimal references and footnotes, and are a good introduction for the novice. The three lectures are: “The Philosophy of Vedanta,” “The Philosophy of Shaivagama,” and a short “Comparative of Vedanta and Advaita Shaiva Philosophy.” I have heard it said that we should not use the term “Hinduism,” but rather should use “Vedanta” or “Advaita Vedanta.” Vedanta comes from the religious texts, the Vedas. Advaita means “non-dualism.” However, there Vedanta and Advaita Vedanta appear to be one of many different philosophies that make up the larger concept that “Hinduism” seeks to represent. Just as there are many different Christian sects and “Christianities” there are many different “Hinduisms” and “Buddhisms.” We can use words to understand the world, but we can also use words to muddy the waters of reality and confuse things and bring about dualisms and separations. This is the challenge that the mystics have after glimpsing unitary reality when they try to bring back and teach what they have experienced. Jaideva Singh starts his lecture with the statement, “An unfortunate fact about Vedanta is that it is generally considered to be synonymous with Shankara’s philosophy. Advaita or Vedanta has come to mean the philosophy as propounded by Shankara,” (1). Shankara lived, most likely, during the first half of the 8th century CE and is credited with unifying different schools of Hinduism and distinguishing Hinduism from Buddhism. Singh states that in his lecture “we shall try to go to the original source and see what the truth yields to us…we shall take our stand entirely upon the Upanishads,” (1).

Lecture 1: “The Philosophy of Vedanta”

Singh structures this first lecture around four major topics: 1) “The svarupa [nature] of Brahman,” 2) “The essence of the human being,” 3) “The relation of the essence of the human being to Brahman,” and 4) “The relation of the world to Brahman.” Brahman refers to the “world-ground” or the essence of Reality.

  1. “The svarupa of Brahman” – Singh describes the negative (what Brahman is not) and the positive approaches (what Brahman is) of understanding the nature of Brahman, Reality. A) The negative approach recognizes that we cannot reach or capture Brahman through human thought. “Reality is beyond the senses and thought,” Singh writes, because it is “thought or vikalpa that always sunders Reality into two,” (4). This is a common point that mystics make, that thought is based on separation and division and thus is not a tool that is made for understanding holistic, unitary Reality. The negative approach also recognizes that “thought is relational in nature…thought has always a subject-object duality, nay even a triad, viz, knower, known and knowledge,” (4). The very basis of thought divides into dualism, or even into a triad that gives the false perception that reality is made up of separate pieces, rather than its true nature being unitary. This is similar to Joseph Rael’s concept of noun languages and verb languages. Noun languages are based on separation and verb languages are based on connection. B) The positive approach recognizes Brahman as Sachchidanada subjectively and satyam, jnanam, and anantam, objectively. This approach recognizes the unity of the knower, the known, and knowledge. Sachchidanada is the triad of “sat, chit, ananda—existence, consciousness, bliss,” (5-6). Objectively this corresponds to “satyam, jnanam, anantam—truth, knowledge, and infinity,” (6). The challenge of non-dualism is to capture how diversity is within unity, rather than separate from it.
  2. “The Essence of the Human Being” – this is a short section that essentially describes the “vehicles of the Self,” roughly a kind of mind-body-spirit set of distinctions that describe separate dimensions of human being yet are holistic in their interrelation, (8).
  3. “The Relation of the Essence of the Human Being to Brahman” – this section describes the ways of understanding that the human being and Brahman are non-dual, they appear as diversity, but they reflect an underlying unity. Singh states that Brahman is “the eternal subject which can never be reduced to an object, the eternal knower that can never be reduced to the state of the known,” (10). He quotes the saying, “By what can the knower of all knowledge be known?” (10). While there is apparent diversity of human beings from Brahman, our true nature is not duality, but non-duality. Singh has a nice paragraph that sums up a unitary view:

    As the rivers that flow towards the ocean, having reached it disappear ; their name and form are destroyed and they designate the ocean, even so of this spectator, these sixteen parts (five organs of the sense + five organs of action + manas + tanmatras) that tend towards the Purusha, on reaching the Purusha, disappear ; their name and form are destroyed and they are designated simply Purusha. That one continues partless and immortal, (12).

    Druidstone Sunset

    Sunset from Druidstone Inn, Pembrokeshire, Wales (D. Kopacz, 2018)

    Singh describes our apparent separation as a “forgetfulness of…true Self,” and that the individual, “becomes a voluntary exile in order to realize better the sweetness of home,” (13).

  4. “The Relation of the World to Brahman” – here Singh describes how the world, as well as the human being, are simply transitory manifestations of the deeper, underlying unitary reality of Brahman. Creation is not of a separate substance than the Creator. The Creator creates creation out of the Unitary Self, hence sayings such as “All is Śiva.” “Brahman is the origin of all beings ; all beings proceed from Him and are dissolved in Him,” (14). Singh describes two different methods for realizing this unitary essence of Reality. The first is meditation on the word-sound Om, which is one sound made up of four different parts “a, u, m, and the ardhamatra after m are the true representatives of Brahman,” (15). Here we are back to sound-mysticism in which the sounds contain the essence. Sometimes the essence is reduced from the four sounds of aum (a, u, m, silence) to just the first letter, A, which contains all the rest of the letters, sounds, and words within it, for instance:

              “I am the self in the inner-most

               heart of all, I am their

               beginning, middle and end. (10.20)

               The science of the soul among sciences, (10.32)

               I am the speech of the letters,

               I am A.” (10.33)

(Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, cited in Louise Landes Levi, Sweet on My Lips: The Love Poems of Mirabai, 17).

The other meditation Singh speaks of is on the heart-centre, the Dahara-Vidya which is recommended in the Chhandogya Upanishad, which he quotes. “What is here in this city of Brahman is an abode, a small lotus-flower. Within that there is a small space. That should be searched out, that is what one should desire to understand,” (15).  Singh ends this lecture reminding us that this is the “mystic heart,” not the physical heart. “One has to meditate on it. This leads to the transformation of the empirical mind into the Divine,” (15). This is what Joseph Rael and I are working on in our next book, Becoming Medicine. Going into the center or our own heart, which is also the center of the universal heart, the center of the medicine wheel, a journey which sacralizes us into medicine.

Lecture 2: “The Philosophy of Shaivagama”

We will not go into exhaustive detail of this lecture which makes up the bulk of the book and covers the 36 Tattvas of Universal Experience, amongst other things. These describe the series of stages from the Ultimate Unitary Reality through the various possible states of manifestation which can be viewed both as a 36 rung ladder out of the Unitary into diversity and back from diversity into Unity. This is a very helpful introduction to Kashmiri Shaivism and would be a nice reference for reading any of Singh’s larger works of translation.

Singh describes some of the different terms used to represent Unitary Reality, such as annuttara (the Highest Reality), however all these terms represent “the changeless principle of all change,” (17).

Shiva and Shakti are not different. It is the same Absolute which from one point of view is Shiva, from another Shakti. From the point of view of prakasha, Shiva is vishvottirna or transcendent to the universe. From the point of view of vimarsha or Shakti, he is vishvamaya or immanent in the universe, (17-18).


Ardhanarishvara (painting & photo, D. Kopacz)

Shiva and Shakti, the universal masculine and universal feminine are in a yin-yang-like relationship, each is part of a larger whole. Through science and logical thought, which we have so developed in Western languages and cultures, allows us to see how things are distinct and separate and this has given us tremendous knowledge and power over the material world, and yet we lose something of our souls when we specialize in the function of separation over the function of union. In becoming masters of what Joseph Rael calls “ordinary reality,” we may bring about our own destruction by becoming illiterate in “non-ordinary reality” which is the realm of unseen interconnection. Singh describes the roots of the word maya, often translated as illusion. “Maya is derived from the root ‘ma’ which means ‘to measure out.’ That which makes experience measureable, i.e. limited, and severs ‘this’ from ‘I’ and ‘I’ from “this’ and excludes things from one another is Maya,” (31). It is interesting to ponder this cross-culturally to look at the project of knowledge in the West which so highly values objectivity and the ever increasing division of the whole into parts which can be separated, isolated, and then controlled and manipulated. Singh might say that the project of knowledge in the West is purely a function of learning diversity and separation, maya, or that which is transitory and illusory. Physical science, based on the scientific principle of objectivity, is only half of reality, and perhaps not the most important half, because its knowledge comes at the expense of holistic, spiritual, and intuitive elements of human beings and of Ultimate Reality.

One of the teachings that Singh describes near the end of this lecture is that of Varanyoga, which describes a vibration of “an imperceptible, inarticulate sound which is known as varna,” which goes on “naturally and continuously in every living creature,” (42). “No one sounds it voluntarily, nor can any one prevent its being sounded. The deity abiding in the heart of living creatures sounds it himself,” (42). Perhaps this is why the Sanskrit word for the heart chakra is anahata, meaning a sound which is “unstruck.” The essence of Reality is always vibrating out from the heart of every individual. The Truth is closer than you think, because when you think you separate yourself from it, but when you allow the vibration to resonate within your heart, you become that which you have been seeking.

Lecture 3: “Comparative of Vedanta and Advaita Shaiva Philosophy”

This lecture is just a few short pages and brings together the chapter on Vedanta and the chapter on Shaivagama and it describes the popular philosophy of Vedanta as a kind of dualism as it rejects immanence and rejects the world of physical reality as being unreal. Shankara’s Vedanta sees action in the material world as only capable of producing karma. Kashmiri Shaivism, however, sees action as a manifestation of the ultimate, rather than a veiling or distraction of the Ultimate. “Shaivagama takes kriya [activity], in a wide sense, in the sense of chiti-shakti, in the sense of spanda, throb or pulsation to manifest,” (44). Singh points out that Shankara is distinct from Brahman. “If maya is something quite external, then advaita [non-dualism] cannot be maintained. If maya is shakti of Brahman, then surely, it is an activity of Brahman,” (45).

This distinction of whether or not maya is something separate from or is a unitary aspect of Brahman has practical as well as theological implications. In a dualistic, transcendent-only spirituality (whether Hindu or Christian) we see a correlation with the devaluing of the Earth, of the body, of women. Mother Earth, matter (which is an English word that comes from the root Latin, mater, or “mother”), and the feminine are all related principle ideas. In Hinduism, maya is feminine, and orthodox teachings are often misogynistic. However, Kashmiri Shaivism recognizes the feminine Shakti as a manifestation of, not as separate from, Shiva. Kashmiri Shaivism thus preserves elements of the ancient mother goddess spiritualities of ancient India, which formed a zone of the veneration of the goddess across India and the Fertile Crescent. Singh writes, “Maya is the creative power of the Divine, Maya is not a power of illusion,” (47). Further, Singh writes, “Manifestation only means making explicit what is implicit. Variety is not contradictory to unity,” (48).

The ideal of mukti [liberation] in Vedanta is kaivalya or isolation just as in Samkhya-yoga. The only difference is that in Samkhya-yoga, it is isolation from prakriti [the changing natural world], in Vedanta, it is isolation from maya. The ideal of mukti in Shaivagama is shivatva-yojana or being integrated with Shiva.

According to Vedanta, the world is annulled in mukti. According to Shaivagama, the world appears to be a form of Shiva-consciousness in liberation, (51).

Singh describes Shaivagama, Kashmiri Shaivism, as a true non-dual tradition that recognizes the essence of the Divine as both manifest within physical reality and also transcendent to physical reality. Non-dualism is not just an esoteric, theological concept, it is an organizing framework that changes the way we view human nature, physical reality, and the Divine. It brings us into harmony and unity with all that is. The practical concern is that those whose belief system is based on duality see the world through the lens of separation, of us/them. This leads, ultimately, to oppression and abuse of women, indigenous people and those who are labelled as “other” or “enemy of the people.” It also leads to exploitation and degradation of the environment because people functioning in dualism do not see that they are part of the environment and part of the Earth and think they can act without feeling any impact or repercussions of their actions. Perhaps, now more than ever, we should be striving for an experience of non-duality in order to become the medicine that is much needed in our current wounded world and fractured political state.

8 thoughts on “PART II: Jaideva Singh’s Vedanta and Advaita Shaivagama of Kashmir

  1. Both views are compatible and can be resolved. In Third Munduka , Canto II
    1. He knows this supreme abode, this Brahman, in which is placed the Universe
    and which shines holy. In the supreme abode the tamo-guna is suppressed
    and the cosmos is comprised of tamo-guna and in that sense “suppressed” is better
    than annulled. But the universe is indeed “withdrawn” In the abode, the universe “shines holy” … It is “prakriti” that shines holy…in my view. a little vague but in my metaphysics
    “shining” is a possibility of prakriti, in this case, mulaprakriti.
    so the universe shining holy is compatible with siva consciousness.

    • Thank you for your comment, Pat. By both views, are you saying that Vedanta and Advaita Shaivagama are compatible and can be resolved?
      I will start from the position that your understanding is greater than mine on this topic, but I will ask a few questions and restate my understanding and perhaps you can then restate your point.
      What source are you using as your translation or is this your own translation?
      I see in Swami Muni Narayana Prasad’s translation of the Third Mundaka, Khanda 2:

      “Founded wherein this world shines in its purity,
      That Supreme abode, Brahman, is known to him.
      Those desireless who adore that person,
      Wise and firm-in-mind, they leave behind the seed of birth.”

      The handling of desire, from my understanding, is different in Vedanta and Advaita Shaivagama. In Vedanta, desire is generally viewed as being bound up with things that will not bring happiness as they are illusory. This is a transcendental approach. In Advaita Shaivagama, desire is not necessarily bound up in illusion, as what is manifest is “shining holy,” a manifestation of Siva (via Sakti). Avaita, non-dualism, would bridge the duality of opposties of immanence and transcendence, thus saying All is Siva. As I understand Vedanta, it generally teaches a transcendent spirituality whereas Advaita Shaivagama is non-dual, it is neither transcendent (as it recognizes prakriti as divinve shining) and it is not solely immanent (as it recognizes a state of transcendent reality that is beyond the flickering shining of the material world). My understanding is that Vedanta is an interpretation of the Upanisads, so many Upanisads do teach non-dualism.

      Perhaps you can clarify your comment based on my statement.

      What I find very interesting is your comment about the universe “shining holy.” I don’t read Sanskrit, and I don’t see the word “spanda” in the Sanskrit verse of which we have both provided different English translations, but “shining” calls to mind the word “spanda” which is variously translated into English, Jaideva Singh’s translation being “divine creative pulsation.” The idea that everything in existence is divine vibrating energy seems to be a core bridge of dualism between matter and spirit.

      Please do make further comments and clarification on your point if you wish.

      Thank you for your time in reading the piece and commenting.

  2. Hi, thanks for responding. I will think over what you post here. I am new to
    I am doing some work here and wanted to see who is out here. I appreciate your probing words.
    Off the top of my head, spanda is important in Vedanta as well. Duality is said to be the mind (manas)
    vibrating in a two-fold manner. so differences wont be found in the doctrine of spanda.
    In Vedanta though it is also “OM” that vibrates in duality and mind is “no longer considered the mind”
    when spanda is associated with OM and not “mind”

    I study Swami Gambhirananda’s translation. It is old, but it is really good in that the translator
    understands modern philosophy pretty well. I augment that with Swami Krishnananda but I study the translation in “Eight Upanishads”. I am glad you picked up on “shining holy”.
    that is interesting expression. I do think it is siva consciousness though.
    although holiness is “brahma” shining is associated with “prakriti”.

    The expression about “suppressing the tamo-guna” is in Mundaka as well.

    There is a fundamental difference in approach in classic Indian, the Vedantin and the Samkhyan.
    Shaivism can be seen as more samkhyan. But that is controversial statement since Samkhya
    is victim of much rhetorical abuse.

    • Hi Pat, yes I looked at your site and it looks like you are just starting up. Good luck with it!
      Thanks for your comments. I have been reading Christopher Wallis’ translation “The Recognition Sutras” of the Pratyabhijna-hrdaya and also his Tantra Illuminated. I imagine every sect sees itself as having reached a higher truth than previous sects. What he writes that “The earlier non-Tantrik Sankhya philosophy (followed by Patanjali among others) articulated a system of twenty-five tattvas; when Saiva Tantra took over and reworked the Sankhya system, it added eleven more levels of reality on top, which it claimed the Sankhyas failed to discover,” (Wallis, Tantra Illuminated, p. 125). For what that is worth.
      Thanks again for your comments and let me know once you get your site up and running.
      All the Best,

  3. I hope you didnt look at my wordpress site. haha. Oops. that is a joke/scratchpad.
    I didnt realize people would actually look at it. LOL. I am preparing some wordpress work for someone.
    on another site not mine. Fall is strange. It is sort of depressing. Interferes with my concentration but ultimately it turns inspirational.

    Yes, I view BrahmA as higher than Siva-Vishnu.
    I reject the 36-tattva system. The 25-tattva system I accept as authoritative.
    It is absurb to assign unique prakriti to each purusha. The real emphasis of Samkhya-Yoga
    was ignored. It is really the difference between wisdom and science.
    The shaivagamas dont really prove anything and so fail as a system of science.
    The key to samkhya ingored by Indian philosophy is the concept of a priori transcendental cognition.
    something the shaivagamas never approach. so the path to liberation remain, in my view,
    samkhya-yoga which is really vedanta-samkha or “vedanta with proofs”.
    prakriti is known through a transcendental deduction ala Kant.
    pra really means “a priori” and there is an 8-fold prakriti.
    prakriti and 7-fold prakriti-vaikriti … buddhi tattva is metaphysical knowledge of
    “lower brahman” that makes known “ordinary science” of the body-mind.
    speech is transcendental to body-mind. ultimately Abhinavagupta himself rejects 36-tattva scheme
    and places emphasis on buddhi-tattva.

    what I find interesting is that reader recite an odd expression of Abhinava as
    “Going to teach philosophy to Sankskrit” and we have the same expression of Hegel who was
    “Going to teach philosophy to German. I think perhaps Hegel was incarnation of Abhinava.
    Now Abhinava accepted Yoga Sutras which confuses shaivagamas students. It doesnt surprise me.
    Only Samkhya-yoga is metaphysics that comes forth as “science” . Vedanta is Wisdom not Science.
    Samkhya is science.

  4. Samkhya Verse 6: Knowledge of supersensible things is based on a general observation..
    In yoga we have the bhutendriya [body-mind complex] as known through an ordinary deduction.
    but “a priori” things which is prakriti and prakriti-vaikriti is known through a transcendental deduction.

    Shankara discusses three things to be known: the gross, the subtle, the causal.
    the gross and the subtle are mathematical-physical productions of the mind
    but the causal is a pure logical production of the mind — string of letters.
    There cannot be more than one prakriti by the very nature of how it is known.
    this refutes shaivagamas really. I wouldnt want to defend shaivagama.

    There is a unique appearance of prakriti for each purusha. Kant would call
    this “transcendental idealism of space and time”. but space is the basis of the relational world
    and is “name and form only”. but prakriti is just known through transcendental philosophy.

    Kant would call it the highest point that transcendental philosophy can reach.
    mulaprakriti as Samkhya would say. this is special “object” of knowing called
    “higher brahman”. shaivagamas want to equate siva with “para brahman” but
    really nondual brahman is the real goal of advaita vedanta.
    buddhi itself is a type of nondual brahman, or dharma == nondual practical reason

    I do place Siva-Vishnu as tinged with “sabija” samadhi and anthropomorphic genesis
    of the body-mind where I equate Vishnu(narayana,krishna) as anthropomorphic genesis of “body”
    and Siva with genesis of “mind”. BrahmA with genesis of speech.

  5. In my mind there is a confusion between Siva and BrahmA.
    very similar to the confusion between Hiranyagarba and BrahmA.
    In my view Siva is Hiranyagarba and BrahmA is BrahmA but
    Siva is highest aesthetic in the human sense of the term and hence “dualistic”

  6. Another way of saying it is BrahmA spanda produces Siva-Vishnu.
    Siva is Prajapati or Pasupati [Lord of Beasts] but then this is claimed by Krishna as well.
    But Krisha means “black” and that is associated with “tamo-guna” and that is “physical”
    or “elemental”. In that sense Krisha is Dark Lord of the universe and has better creds
    on being “Lord of Beasts”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s