Vedanta holds an important place in the philosophies of Hinduism. However, some of the lesser known philosophies of Agama too subscribe to non-dualism or advaitavAda.

If so what are the main differences between both non dual philosophies? Especially with respect to Non dual Shaivism of Kashmir ?


2 Answers 2


There is a beautiful philosophical explanation of absolute reality and its relation to the world in the Agamas of Kashmir Shaivism. However, it is not very popular like other philosophical schools in hindusim. Yet it is important to understand this aspect of agama and its view towards non duality.

Below is a classical comparison by revered scholar MahamahopadhyAya Sri Gopinath Kaviraj of Benaras (who is well respected by all the sankara mutts and advaitins) which is presented by Sri N C Rastogi one of the scholars of Kashmir Shaivism.

Kaviraj-ji once remarked “in spite of the antiquity of śākta Culture and of its philosophical traditions, the reason why no serious attempt was made is said to have been that it was deemed improper to drag down for rational examination truths inaccessible to the experience of ordinary man. This reason is not convincing enough, for if the Upaniṣads could be made the basis of philosophical system, there is no reason why the śākta āgamas could not be similarly utilized. For the function of philosophy is, as Joad rightly remarks, to accept the data furnished by the specialists who have worked in the field and then to assess their meaning and significance”.

A comparative estimate of Advaita Vedānta and Kashmir Shaivism by Kaviraj is a classical example of philosophical insight and assumes enormous significance for proper appraisal of the Shaiva absolutism of Kashmir. This has in fact helped to bring about distinctive character of the two excellent systems of thought. the main distinctions may be recounted as under: Brahmavāda describes Māyā as different from both real and unreal, and indescribable. The Shaivas hold that this does not totally eliminate the impression of duality. It is admitted that Māyāis non-entity, unreal when viewed from the Absolute’s angle and also that the reality of empirical level has no bearing on the transcendental principle of Brahman. But the question is: why does duality appear at all, if there is only one non-dual conscious principle? To the Vedāntin, pure Brahman is simply the substratum of the begginingless world-order whose appearance is rooted in the illusory transformation aka vivarta. To assert that the properties such as creativity etc., are superimposed upon Brahman, makes it all the more difficult to grasp as to how the Absolute becomes the finite being, world or God? There is no denying the fact that there too is ignorance, Māyā, in the Shaiva absolutism, but its appearance is not contingent. It represents an Absolute mode occasioned by voluntary exercise of the Absolutic freedom. By fully exploiting the analogy of cloud and sun, Kaviraj emphasizes that there is no deviation from its unobscured nature even when it veils itself by its own power. The worldly variety is nothing but the reflection or awareness (vimarśa) of its own being. The manifestation of variety constitutes the nature i.e., self-being (svabhāva) of the Absolute.

Brahmavādins too admit that the Self has its own nature. In their view, however, the Self is pure witness or constitutes locus consciousness (adhiṣṭhāna caitanyātmaka), while īśvaravādins subscribe to its nature as consisting of freedom, and as agency. Here lies the major disagreement between the two - a feature proudly noted by Kṣēmarāja.

svatantraśabdō brahmavādavailakṣaṇyamācakṣāṇaścitō māhēśvaryasāratāṁ brūtē |

In fact, the description of the Absolute in both the systems admits of similar terminology except that Brahman is devoid of Kartr̥tva (agency), whereas Vimarśa or Kartr̥tva constitutes the Absolute essence of Paramashiva. The Shaiva absolutists never try to conceal their attitude towards Brahmavādins. The description of Vedāntin’s position as Nirvimarśabrahmavāda or Shāntabrahmavāda does not appear to be laudatory. Shaivas assign Sāmkhya’s Puruṣa and Vedānta’s Brahman to the lower state of aparāvasthā of the Self. They are not even prepared to accommodate them in the penultimate (parāparā) state, not to the talk of the ultimate state of the Self. According to Shaiva texts, such state has never come up for discussion in the Vedānta texts.

The absence of vigorous affirmation of freedom in the Vedāntic Absolute compels Kaviraj to conclude, hesitantly though, that appearance of duality is not actually eliminated from Shankara’s Vēdānta.

In the Shaiva monistic tradition the term Advaita denotes eternal synthesis of the two. In Shankara’s view, Advaita means negation of the two. Shankara describes Brahman as real and Māyā as indefinable. He cannot accept Mayā to be real or treat it at par with the Absolute. That is why the Vedāntic absolutism, according to Kaviraj, is exclusive and based on renunciation or elimination. Unlike the āgamas, it fails to become inclusive or all-embracing. In the āgamic view, the identity of the Absolute and Mayā is automatically established by showing Māyā as stemming from Brahman and also as real. If we adhere to the logic of Shankara’s Vedānta, we will have to concede that Brahman too is unreal and indefinable, because in the condition in which Māyā is stated to be unreal/indefinable, the knowledge of Brahman in that stage will be a byproduct of Māyā. Even while assuming the correctness of Shankara’s premise, ‘of the two opposed to another like darkness and light’, it may be stated that darkness arises from light by friction and it is darkness again that culminates in light by friction. Both are eternally united, both exist totally integrated in their being. This is what has been pronounced time and again as Sāmarasya of Shiva-Shakti or attainment of Cit-ananda which marks a unique feature of Kashmir Shaivism.

Jnāna-Bhakti Synthesis

Kaviraj goes on enlarging the equation of Cidānanda synthesis. According to him, the additional peculiarity of the Shaiva absolutism lies in the fact that it neither advocates the path of ‘dry’ knowledge, nor the path of devotion bereft of knowledge, rather it lays down a path that integrates knowledge and devotion both. Logically Bhakti has no place in the ultimate stage of the absolutism propounded by Shankara. According to him, devotion is basically duality-centric, and as such does not exist in the Absolutic state on attainment of knowledge. Needless to say, this devotion is ignorance-based and instrumental in character.

But, on the contrary, in the Trika philosophy Mōkṣa has been portrayed as Cidānanda lābha (attainment of Consciousness-Bliss) or Pūrṇāhaṁtācamatkāra (self-relish flowing from perfect I-hood). Now the aspect of consciousness (cidamśa) is knowledge and that of bliss (ānandāmśa) devotion. The perfect I-hood or self-relish which marks the limit of knowledge, also marks the limit of love or devotion. It is why it offers congenial ground for synthesis. Here the element of consciousness i.e., Shiva-state, and that of bliss i.e., Shakti-state, stand fused together instantly turning it into synthesis of devotion-knowledge or equipoise of Shiva-Shakti.

Synthesis of the efficient and material causes

By expounding the analogies of Yogin and Māyāvin employed in Tripurā and Pratyabhijñā, Kaviraj has drawn our attention of the creation of world as being rooted in the Absolutic will or as being totally independent of the material cause. Citing a kārikā from Utpala, he says creation means externalization of the inner content.

cidātmaiva hi dēvō’ntaḥsthitamicchāvaśādbahiḥ |

yōgīva nirupādānamarthajātaṁ prakāśayēt ||

The objective totality exists in the consciousness-Self (cidātmā), only part of it occasionally gets manifested due to its Will. In the creation of this kind, the material cause is rendered irrelevant. This independence from the material cause in the Shaiva absolutism is very well known in the form of the doctrine of the unity between efficient and material causes (abhinna nimittōpādānavāda) in Shankara’s Advaita. Indeed, belief in absolutism presupposes the rejection of distinction between the efficient and the material. But, since Shankara’s Advaita hesitates to admit the real agency in the Absolute, the creation turns out to be an offspring of ignorance, instead of Self-will.


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    Awesome answer. Advait Vedanta never discusses Jagadananda where whole universe becomes one's own self. Advait Vedanta ends at Pramananda whereas KS ends at Jagadananda. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 16:40
  • @Rohit. What do you mean by that? Advaita Vedanta says Atman is real, universe is not and Atman alone exists.
    – Pinakin
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 8:27
  • @ChinmaySarupria There are 7 types of bliss based on our spiritual maturity. Ultimate realization gives Jagadananda. Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 13:01
  • @Rohit. Ultimate state is Advaita.
    – Pinakin
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 16:34
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    the statements made are not logical and not reflective of the advaita. Especially the paragraph that starts with "In the Shavia monistic tradition..." the author goes from one statement to another without any proof for his statements. Misrepresentation of both the Shavia and Advaita positions. Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 5:35

In his book The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy: A Study of Advaita in Buddhism, Vedanta and Kashmira Shaivism, Prof. Chandradhar Sharma writes:

p 250 This system [Kashmira Shaivism] attempts a synthesis of Vijnanavada Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, while accepting the realism of Sankhya with some modifications and fusing it with the theology of the Shaiva Agamas. Its main aim is to emphasise the transcendental unity of the Self without losing its creative and synthetic character and without compromising with the reality of the manifested universe.

…This system, unlike Advaita Vedanta, believes that pure consciousness (prakasha) is at once self-consciousness (chit-shakti) or free will (vimarsha) in which there is complete synthesis of the subject and the object.

pp 251-2 …To treat pure consciousness as self-consciousness and to ascribe activity to it is in direct opposition to Advaita Vedanta which treats subject-object duality and action as due to maya or avidya. Kashmira Shaivism says that the Absolute of Advaita Vedanta which is devoid of self-consciousness and self-activity is a static, rigid, inactive and lifeless Absolute no better than the inert matter or like a physical light self-illumined but not self-conscious; and the world instead of being treated as a manifestation of Shiva’s blissful self-creativity, is reduced to an illusory show of unconscious maya or avidya.

…The identification of chit and kriya, prakasha and vimarsha, Shiva and Shakti is the unique feature of this system.

Advaita is the complete union of the two (ekarasyam ubhayoh). It means identification (tadatmya) or inseparability (aprthaktva) of the two which appear ‘two’ only in thought, but in reality are one and the same like moon and moon-light.Shiva and Shakti are in complete union (samarasya); in fact they are one and the same. They are distinguishable in thought, but inseparable in reality. pp 257-8…To take the Self as pure consciousness or eternal light without any power of self-consciousness or will, as is done in Advaita Vedanta, says Kashmira Shaivism, is to reduce it to a mere nothing (shunya). To deny free self-creativity of consciousness is to miss the essence of it. Will-consciousness or the free creative power of the Self cannot be attributed to avidya and dismissed as false (mithya). Everything is a real manifestation of Shiva and therefore nothing can be said to be false. There can be no subject and no object other than Shiva, the Supreme Self. The Vedanta unity is purely formal and abstract and therefore unreal. Even the denial of duality presupposes its existence. The real unity is the complete harmony (samarasya) between the two, where the two are fused into one. Non-duality consists in a perfect union of the two (ekarasyamubhayoh). The subject and the object are held in complete synthesis in self-consciousness. Truth does not lie in the elimination of the object, but in its synthesis with the subject. Shiva and Shakti are in perfect and eternal union. Shakti is the Consciousness-force (chit-shakti) of Shiva and is one with Him. The entire manifested universe is non-different from the manifested Self. This is true advaita. When the object is mistaken as outside of (bahya) or external to or independent of the projecting universal consciousness, error creeps in. All difference is false as there can be nothing different from the Supreme Self who manifests everything within Himself. The manifested universe is neither a real modification (parinama) nor a modification without change (avikrta-parinama) nor a false appearance (vivarta) of the Self. The Self cannot undergo modification for it cannot change its nature; modification without change is impossible; nor can its projections be treated as unreal show as they are due to His real self-creative power. They are called ‘modifications’ (abhasa) and as projection of the Will-power of the Self are real within Him and are one with Him; the falsity lies in mistaking them to be external to and different from Him. In Advaita Vedanta, the word abhasa is frequently used in the sense of unreal appearance (vivarta), but in this system [Kashmira Shaivism] it is used in the sense of real manifestation. Avidya or maya in this system is not total absence of knowledge nor is it a baseless illusion, nor can it be something indescribable either as real or as unreal, nor can it be the stuff appearances are made of, nor can it be dismissed as false. Avidya is only imperfect knowledge and maya is the real power of the Supreme which makes the One appear as many and which generates the notion of difference and limitation. Hence it must be admitted that the Supreme manifests everything within Him through His own power of free will.

pp 263-4 The charge of Kashmira Shaivism against Advaita Vedanta that its Brahma[n] is abstract, formal and inactive and therefore is as good as ‘nothing’ is incorrect. On the other hand, the truth is that the Shaiva conception of unity as ‘union of the two’ falls short of the transcendental unity that is not the true ‘advaita’. Advaita is not afraid, as this system [Kashmira Shaivism] imagines, of duality, for really there is no duality and Advaita is not troubled by illusion and hallucination. The transcendental unity in Advaita Vedanta is above the thought-forms of unity and duality. Real unity cannot be ‘union of the two’, for if the two are equals they are two independent reals which cannot be related; and if one of the two is the primary and the other secondary, this dependent ‘other’ will be found to be dispensible and will glide away into the principal which alone can be called real. It is the Kashmira Shaivism which is afraid of losing the finite self and its world and therefore wants to retain them is some form even in the Absolute. If Shiva is the Supreme Self, the pure Subject, how can He be the unity of subject and object? No trace of the object can be ultimately retained in the subject. If this supposed ‘unity’, this ‘union of subject and object’ is the subject, there can be objectivity in it; and if it is an object, it cannot be the unity of subject and object. To describe the unity of the Self as the unity of subject and object, as the union of Shiva and Shakti, of knowledge and activity, where everything is retained and seen in a new light, where an all-embracing wonderful experience shines, where there is self-conscious experience of being and bliss may represent a grand achievement of thought, but does not point to ultimate reality; it may be good poetry, but it is not sound philosophy. It may satisfy our religious instinct, but it does not resist diacritical scrutiny. Objectivity, duality, and attachment are due to transcendental Illusion. To try and retain them in the Absolute is an impossibility.

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    He doesn't seem to have good understanding of Kashmiri Shaivism. He hasn't understood the Tattvas which seems evident from his facts or conclusions. Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 14:59

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