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.

PART III: Jaideva Singh’s An Introduction to Madhyamaka Philosophy


JS Madhyamaka

This review has gone on longer than I thought it would, but still I think it is worth a brief review of Singh’s An Introduction to Madhyamaka Philosophy, originally published in 1968. This 64 page booklet describes the difference between Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna Buddhism, which turns out to also hinge on a similar distinction of dualism and non-dualism as does Singh’s discussion of Vedanta and Shaivagama. Hīnayāna is also known as “Southern Buddhism,” or “Original Buddhism,” and is found largely throughout Southern India and Southeast Asia, (1). Mahāyāna is also known as “Northern Buddhism,” and “Developed Buddhism,” and spread from Northern India into Tibet, China, (influencing Zen), and into Japan and Korea. These terms that we have and that scholars use have an obvious political or polemical nature as those followers of Mahāyāna described their school as “the higher vehicle” and Hīnayāna as the “lower vehicle.” Singh follows the development of Madhyamaka Philosophy, a root aspect of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Madhyamaka traces back to Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka Śāstra. Many of the Madhyamaka texts were lost in their original Sanskrit, but have survived through translations into Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan. In the 1830s a series of bundles of Sanskrit texts were found in Nepal, including Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka Śāstra. Madhyamaka refers back to the Buddha’s teaching of “madhyamā-pratipad (the middle path),” (4).

Nāgārjuna (c. 250-150 BCE) has a legend associated with his name, as Singh describes.


Image taken by Benjamin Matthews on visit to Samye Ling Monastery, Dumfriesshire, UK, on 1 May 2004.

Nāga means a serpent or dragon. Arjuna is the name of a tree. It is said that he was born under an Arjuna tree, and he visited the submarine kingdom of the Nāgas, where the Nāga king transmitted to him the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra which had been entrusted to the Nāgas by the Buddha.

The word ‘Nāga’ however, is symbolic of wisdom. The Buddha is said to have remarked, “The serpent is a name for one who has destroyed the āsavas (passions),” (5).

One of the core teachings of Nāgārjuna is śūnyatā. This word is often translated as “emptiness” or “insubstantial.” Here we find the universal truth of the mystic that “empirical knowledge could not give us an insight into Reality,” (8). Singh reviews the literary sources of Madhyamaka Philosophy.

The most important of these works are the prajñāpāramitā sūtras. Prajñā-pāramitā is generally translated as ‘perfect wisdom.’ The word ‘pāram-itā’ i.e. ‘gone beyond’ suggests that it would be better to translate prajñā-pāramitā as ‘transcendent insight’ or ‘transcendent wisdom.’ The Tibetans translate it in this way. In all countries where Mahāyāna is a living religion, the following prajñā-pāramitā mantra is generally recited: Gate, gate, pāra-gate, pārasagate Bodhi, svāhā i.e. “O wisdom which has gone beyond the beyond, to thee Homage,” (9).

Another important Madhyamaka text is the Vajracchedikā, Diamond Sutra, an early abridgement of the prajñāpāramitā sūtras, “translated into Chinese probably in the 5th century A. D. This translation was printed in China on 11th May, 868. This is said to be the oldest printed book in the world,” (9). Singh writes that the Prajñāpāramitā was later condensed into mantras. One of these “Ekākṣarī says that the perfection of wisdom is contained only in one letter, viz. ‘a’. Ultimately Prajñāpāramitā was personified as a goddess to be worshipped,” (9-10).

Nāgārjuna’s primary philosophical tool was prasaga which reduced any statement of ultimate fact in words or argument to absurdity. Given the true nature of Reality as śūnyatā (emptiness), any positivistic description of Reality was bound to fall short of capturing reality. One can trace this concept into Zen teachings which constantly challenged the novice to drop their discursive mind’s attempt to understand and put reality into words. Ultimate reality is found more in silence and stillness than in mental and verbal description, thus the emphasis on silent meditation in so many spiritual traditions.

We will not go into detail of Nāgārjuna’s method of prasaga, other than to mention that any argument or statement can be broken down into a four-part dialectic:

  1. A positive thesis

  2. A negative counter-thesis

  3. A conjunctive affirmation of the first two

  4. A disjunctive denial of the first two (16)

Nāgārjuna draws on Buddha’s statement that “he neither believed in Śāśvata-vāda, and absolute affirmation, nor in Ucchedavāda an absolute negation. His position was one of madhyamā prati-pada (literally, the middle position),” (15).

Singh describes the positive contributions of Nāgārjuna around the concept of dharmaianā. This concept teaches that even in error there is a secret longing for truth. “It says that the tendency of man to seize the relative as the absolute is, at root, the secret-inchoate longing in the heart of man for the absolute (dharmaianā),” (21). Thus, there is an inherent longing for the absolute in every person, however the longing can get attached to something fleeting and passing, but even in its delusion, it still is revealing the essence of the longing for the divine. Nāgārjuna wrote, “That which is of the nature of coming and going, arising and perishing, in its conditioned aspect is itself Nirvāa, in its unconditioned aspect,” (22). There is non-duality, again according to Nāgārjuna, “Nothing of phenomenal existence (sasāra) is different from nirvāa, nothing of nirvāa is different from phenomenal existence,” (29).

Once he is awake to the conditionedness (Śūnyatā) of the conditioned, his sense of values changes. He becomes a transformed man and then his dharmaianā, his mysterious longing for the Real finds its meaning and fulfillment, (21).

If one already has dharmaianā, but does not know one has it, how does one seek and find it? “The only way of reaching the goal is to realize that in the ultimate sense there is no goal to be reached,” (26). Thus, it is not a matter of seeking, it is a matter of stopping the seeking after a long period of exhausting seeking. To shift from outward action into inward stillness. “It is not the world that we have to change, but only ourselves,” (29).

Returning to the distinction between Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna, Singh sums it up: “the ideal of Hīnayāna is individual enlightenment; the ideal of Mahāyāna is universal enlightenment,” (30). The Hīnayāna-ist understands the concept of enlightenment, but seeks it for the escape of the wheel of birth and death, making the categorical mistake of thinking that his or her ego is separate from all of humanity and all of existence. This is still a form of dualism. The Mahāyāna-ist recognizes that there is non-difference between self and other and thus that enlightenment must include all sentient beings, otherwise it is only partial. “The Bodhisattva (Pāli, Boddhisatta) seeks supreme enlightenment not for himself alone but for all sentient beings,” (31).

Another distinction is in the nature of the Buddha as well as between dualism and non-dualism.

Hīnayāna was entirely intellectual…it was the human aspect of the Buddha which was emphasized.

In  Mahāyāna, Buddha was taken as God, as Supreme Reality itself that had descended on the earth in human form for the good of mankind, (35).


The philosophy of Hīnayāna was one of radical pluralism, that of Mahāyāna was undiluted non-dualism (advaya)…

The approach to truth adopted in Hīnayāna was one of mystically-tinged rationalism, that adopted by Mahāyāna was one of super-rationalism and profound mysticism, (36).

The source of dualism for Hīnayāna (as well as for Vedanta) is in splitting the dual meaning of Śūnyatā (or maya). Śūnyatā is the pregnant void, emptiness which yet contains all things. “Śūnyatā is an abstract noun derived from śūnya. It means deprivation and suggests fullness,” (37). To view something as separate, or even to believe that one can separate from or transcend one aspect of reality to enter another reality is a false presumption, because there is only Absolute Reality.

The world is not a conglomeration of things. It is simply process, and things are simply events. A ‘thing’ by itself is ‘nothing’ at all. This is what is meant by the śūnyatā or emptiness of all dharmas, (39).

Thus, all teachings, all explanations of reality are empty. The development of philosophies and schools of thought that positivistically explain reality are doomed to failure. In fact the Truth is beyond all philosophies.

Dark Energy Moving through Dark Matter

Dark Energy Moving Through Dark Matter © D. Kopacz

Śūnyatā was declared by the Buddha for dispensing with all views or ‘isms’. Those who convert Śūnyatā itself into another ‘ism’ are verily beyond hope or help, (43).

Śūnyatā is not the final goal of the teachings, however.

Meditation on the śūnyatā (emptiness) is only a preparation for the spiritual discipline of prajñāpāramitā…The functional prajñā puts an end to the darkness of ignorance and thus the eternal prajñā comes to the fore. In the eternal prajñā, one cannot find even the distinction of ignorance and knowledge. It is an ever-present luminous knowledge. It is the ‘eternal light in the heart of man.’ Particular objects arise and perish, but the light of this prajñā keeps ever shining, (45).

Heart at the Center of Dark Matter

Heart at the Center of Dark Matter © D. Kopacz, 2016 

While Nāgārjuna teaches the emptiness of all dharmas (which can mean “scripture, doctrine, religion” as well as the “impersonal energy behind and in everything”), there is a more expansive concept of Dharmakāya meaning “the principle of cosmic unity,” (47).

The Dharma-kāya is the essential nature of Buddha. As Dharmakāya, the Buddha experiences his identity with Dharma or the Absolute and his unity (samatā) with all beings. The Dharmakāya is a knowing ; loving, willing being, an inexhaustible fountain-head of love and compassion, (47).

I remember in my East Asian Religions class at university, with Professor Peter N. Gregory, he would talk at length about Buddha nature. Professor Gregory would recount all the different stories about monks asking masters about what Buddha nature was and who or what had it and did not have it. I remember him gleefully recounting one story in which the answer was that Buddha nature was “even in shit and piss!”

Extreme, one-sided views lead to fundamentalism, a dangerous issue so prevalent in today’s world. Fundamentalism is based on a belief that there one’s own belief-group owns the truth and is justified in discriminating against, imprisoning, or even killing those who are do not share the same beliefs. Singh reminds us of the Buddha’s teaching of the Middle Way.

Extremes become dead-ends of eternalism and annhilationalism. There are those who cling to nonbeing and there are others who cling exclusively to being. The great Buddha meant, by his doctrine of madhyamā pratipat (Middle way), to drive home the truth that things here are neither absolute being nor absolute non-being, but are arising and perishing, forming continuous becoming, and that Reality is transcendent to thought and cannot be caught up in the dichotomies of the mind, (50).

The Absolute and the world are not two different sets of reality posited against each other, (51).

Reality is not one thing or another thing, but all things. Reality is “both transcendent and immanent. It is transcendent as ultimate Reality, but it is present in everyone as his inmost ground and essence,” (57).