The difference between Kashmir Shaivism and Advaita Vedanta

All text cited directly from the Universal Shaiva Fellowship’s blog.

In this excerpt, Swami Lakshmanjoo explains the difference between Kashmir Shaivism and Advaita Vedanta, from the book Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme. Now also available in Spanish: (Shaivismo de Cachemira, el Supremo secreto). If you have enjoyed the book please leave a review on Amazon.

Chapter Fifteen

Kashmir Shaivism and Advaita Vedanta

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Although the main principle of both Kashmir Śaivism and Vedānta is monism (advaita), pure monism, yet there are many important differences in their thinking. For example, Vedānta masters teach that karmayoga means yoga in action. They believe that you must practice niḥṣkāma karmayoga, which means that you are to perform all the actions of the world without asking for any reward. They say that by acting in this way you are carried toward the existence of the Real Being, the Real Nature of Self.

From our Kashmir Śaiva point of view, however, karmayoga means something else. It does not mean carrying out all of the activities of the world. Yoga in action is pure yoga and nothing else. Pure yoga is one-pointedness, and this one-pointedness must be developed in three ways.

You must develop one-pointedness in the existence of your being. This is one-pointedness in the state of parā vāk (supreme speech). You must also develop one-pointedness in the state of madhyamā vāk (medium speech). And finally, you must develop one-pointedness in the state of vaikharī vāk (inferior speech), in the state of ordinary speech.

In Śaivism, we begin with the central way, the way of madhyamā vāk. Kashmir Śaivism explains that yoga in action means that when you are seated in a bus, or when you are walking on the road, you must observe silence. Walk silently, sit in the bus silently. Do not talk to anybody. Continue your practice of contemplating Lord Śiva as you were instructed by your Master, without talking to anybody. This is how you begin. It is not possible at first to practice yoga while talking. In the beginning, you have to start with silence.

This yoga in action is tremendously powerful. For example, if you were to continue your practice of contemplation for just fifteen minutes while walking, the benefit will be the same as you would acquire if you were to continuously practice contemplation in your meditation room for two or even three years. This is because yoga in action makes your practice of contemplation more firm, solid, and substantial. This is why Kashmir Śaivism puts stress on yoga in action, and not on that yoga which is inactive.

In the practice of yoga in action in madhyamā vāk, you begin with silence. And when you rise from madhyamā, you will rise in the parā state of Śiva. This parā state will occur, however, only when you have completed your activity. For example, while practicing your contemplation, you take a ten mile walk, five miles going and five miles returning, after which you go home, where you sit in meditation. At this point, you will automatically enter the parā state of yoga in action and this will carry you rapidly to that state of Transcendental Being.

You must enter into the parā state of yoga in action automatically. You cannot make it happen.

If it does not happen, then you will have to begin again practicing contemplation in action. It is by the strength of yoga in action that you enter into the parā state of yoga. If your contemplation in action is spontaneous and break-less, then you will automatically enter into the parā state of yoga. If, on the other hand, your contemplation breaks at any time while practicing, then when you sit for meditation, contemplation on parā will not take place and you will have to begin again. This is called karmayoga.

When you are established in the yoga of action in parā vāk, then, after some time, you have to travel from parā vāk to vaikharī vāk. Practicing yoga in action in vaikharī vāk means that you are to remain established in your own being while talking, while laughing, while carrying out all of the actions of the world. This kind of yoga in action in vaikharī vāk is not possible unless yoga in action in madhyamā vāk and yoga in action in parā vāk are complete.

The sign of their being complete is that whenever you practice yoga in action in madhyamā vāk and afterwards you sit and meditate, you enter into parā vāk, you are inside, residing in your own Nature. Establishing yoga in action in vaikharī vāk is the completion of the course of yoga in action. Here, you remain established in your own Being in all the activities of the world. It is said that Lord Kṛiṣṇa was perfectly established in yoga in action in vaikharī. He was very active, doing everything while remaining established in his own nature.

The first difference, therefore, between Kashmir Śaivism and Vedānta is in their different understanding of karmayoga. This difference, as you have seen, is very great, with the Vedāntins believing that karmayoga means doing all actions without asking for their reward and our Kashmir Śaivism teaching that yoga in action means doing all actions while maintaining a break-less contemplation of God.

Another difference between Kashmir Śaivism and Vedānta concerns the existence of individual being and Universal Being. The Vedāntins explain that individual being is manifested only when Universal Being is reflected in the mirror of the individual intellect. They say that Universal Being is reflected in the intellect (buddhi) and that reflection becomes the existence of the individual being (jīva). Kashmir Śaivism, however, does not recognize this explanation, arguing that it is without any basis. As Universal Being is absolutely pure and perfect and individual being is filled with imperfections (malas) and covered by veils, it is not buddhi that will reflect Universal Being, but rather, it is Universal Being that will reflect buddhi. It is the purer and more refined reality which will take the reflection of that which is less pure and refined and not the other way around. Buddhi cannot hold Universal Being.

Kashmir Śaivism explains that when Śiva is reflected by His pure will in the mirror of his freedom (svātantrya), this is the existence of the universe and the existence of individual being.

Furthermore, in the theory of the Vedāntins, it is not clearly explained how, if the world were not existing, buddhi, in which Lord Śiva is to be reflected, could exist at all. How could the intellect (buddhi) exist before the existence of the world? Therefore, individual being is the reflection of Lord Śiva in His svātantrya śakti. This is the existence of the universe.

The third area of difference between Kashmir Śaivism and Vedānta concerns the essence, the substance, the basis of this universe. Vedānta holds that this universe is untrue, unreal. It does not really exist. It is only the creation of illusion (māyā). Concerning this point, Kashmir Śaivism argues that if Lord Śiva is real, then how could an unreal substance come out from something that is real? If Lord Śiva is real, then His creation is also real. Why should it be said that Lord Śiva is real and His creation is an illusion (māyā)? Kashmir Śaivism explains that the existence of this universe is just as real as the existence of Lord Śiva. As such, it is true, real, pure, and solid. There is nothing at all about it which is unreal.

The fourth important difference between Kashmir Śaivism and Vedānta is that Vedānta does not recognize kuṇḍalinī yoga. The Vedāntins say that kuṇḍalinī yoga is meant for those who are treading on the inferior path of yoga. From our Kashmir Śaivite point of view, however, kuṇḍalinī yoga is the most important yoga in this system. Kashmir Śaivism explains that there are three paths of kuṇḍalinī yoga: parā kuṇḍalinī yoga, cit kuṇḍalinī yoga, and prāṇa kuṇḍalinī yoga. Parā kuṇḍalinī yoga is supreme kuṇḍalinī yoga. It is functioned by Lord Śiva with the universal body, not the individual body. Cit kuṇḍalinī yoga is kuṇḍalinī in consciousness. Prāṇa kuṇḍalinī yoga is kuṇḍalinī in breath.

The fifth significant difference between Kashmir Śaivism and Vedānta concerns the question of who is fit to practice this monistic teaching. Vedānta holds that this teaching can only be practiced by “worthy people” such as brahmins with “good qualities.” In fact, Śaṁkarācārya holds that Vedānta is meant only for saṁyāsins1 and not others. From the Vedāntic point of view, women and other castes are not allowed to practice the Vedāntic system. This point of view, however, is not recognized by our Kashmir Śaivism. Kashmir Śaivism teaches that this monistic thought can be practiced by anyone, man or woman, without the restriction of caste, creed, or color. In fact, our Śaivism teaches us that this thought can be practiced more fruitfully by women than by men.2

Kashmir Śaivism, therefore, is a universal system, pure, real, and substantial in every respect, which can be practiced by all.


1 Saṁyāsins are “ascetics,” those who have renounced all earthly concerns and have devoted themselves to meditation and the study of the Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads, etc.

2. yoktā saṁvatsarātsiddhir iha puṁsāṁ bhayātmanam |
sā siddhistattvaniṣṭhānāṁ strīṇāṁ dvādaśabhirdinaiḥ ||

“The achievement of power which is experienced by the male class after one year of constant practice, sā siddhiḥ that very power is experienced by women in just twelve days.”

Quoted by Jayaratha in his commentary of Tantrāloka I.13

Source:Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme.
Also available in Spanish: (Shaivismo de Cachemira, el Supremo secreto).
Chapter Fifteen, Kashmir Śaivism and Advaita Vedānta,
revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo

All content copyright © John Hughes