Kashmir Shaivism, Tantra and Advaita Vedanta – Ramana Maharshi’s view

ramana-maharshi face
Sri Ramana Maharshi

Kashmir Shaivism is a non-dual tantric tradition in which Pratyabhijna or ‘recognition’ is the goal. In Kashmir Shaivism, the absolute is termed ‘Shiva’ and the relative world of people and objects is termed ‘Shakti’ (which means energy or power). Shiva and Shakti are given equal status and are said not to exist apart from each other – where one exists, the other also exists.

In Non-Dual (Advaita) Vedanta, the Self (Atman) is the Absolute (Brahman) and it is said to project Maya-Shakti which in turn projects the world of people and objects. Maya is said to be dependent on the Absolute Self and not vice-versa, so the two are not given equal status.

This obviously causes confusion in some seekers, so here Ramana explains them both:

The following is an excerpt from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 288:

Explaining Maya of Vedanta and swatantra [tantra] of Pratyabhijna (independence of recognition), Sri Bhagavan said:

The Vedantins say that Maya is the sakti of illusion premised in Siva. Maya has no independent existence. Having brought out the illusion of the world as real, she continues to play upon the ignorance of the victims. When the reality of her not being is found, she disappears.

‘Recognition’ [ie. Kashmir Shaivism] says that Sakti (power) is coeval with Siva. The one does not exist without the other. Siva is unmanifest, whereas Sakti is manifest on account of Her independent will swatantra. Her manifestation is the display of the cosmos on pure consciousness, like images in a mirror.

The images cannot remain in the absence of a mirror.

So also the world cannot have an independent existence. Swatantra becomes eventually an attribute of the Supreme. Sri Sankara says that the Absolute is without attributes and that Maya is not and has no real being. What is the difference between the two? Both agree that the display is not real. The images of the mirror cannot in any way be real. The world does not exist in reality (vastutah).

Both schools mean the same thing. Their ultimate aim is to realise the Absolute Consciousness. The unreality of the cosmos is implied in Recognition (Pratyabhijna), whereas it is explicit in Vedanta. If the world be taken as chit (consciousness), it is always real. Vedanta says that there is no nana (diversity), meaning that it is all the same Reality.

There is agreement on all points except in words and the method of expression.

Tom: note that in both Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism, the essential teaching is the same – ie. one is advised to turn within, that is turn away from objects, and realise the Pure Consciousness, the Self Within, devoid of objects. Only the conceptual framework and superficial aspects of the teachings vary.