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Kashmir Shaivism In The Light Of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Philosophy Of Existence

Mama tvetam vanim gunakathanpunyena bhavatah

Punametyarthe’smin purumathana buddhirvayyasita.

 O Destroyer of Tripura! The thought that by praising Thy Glories

I shall purify my speech has prompted me to undertake this work.[1]

 This article explores the elements of convergence between tenets of Kashmir Shaivism and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. A preliminary question regarding the choice of these two subjects and not any other needs to be addressed .The desire to explore was prompted by the following comments made by scholars/practitioners/disciples of each of these traditions.

Swami Muktananda [2] says, “Spanda Karikas is one of the important works of Kashmir Shaivism. The doctrine is scientific. Modern scientists have discovered that the world was created from the vibration of the first explosion and that the universe is still expanding. Yet so far they have not been able to discover how the first explosion occurred. However, the ancient scriptures of the Spanda doctrine have always contained the knowledge that this vibration is the Spanda or throb of absolute reality, the universal consciousness which is also called Shiva.”

Dr. B.V. Sreekantan[3] says, “Modern science which may be said to have its beginning about 400 years ago followed the path of reductionism and classical physics initiated by Newton and was eminently successful in explaining a wide range of phenomena observed in nature. However towards the end of the 19th century and early 20th, several new phenomena were experimentally observed which could not be within the framework of classical physics which necessitated the advent of two radically new theories, relativity and quantum mechanics. These two theories completely transformed our ideas of space, time and causality and most importantly brought in the connection between consciousness and physical reality. The recognition of the existence of a substratum from which everything else arises and which connects everything to everything else in the universe-later identified as the quantum mechanical vacuum and which was also the four-dimensions of space-time continuum in the theory of relativity, was an unavoidable but exciting consequence of these developments. These findings of modern science, in particular, the concept of “oneness” has echoes in many of the ancient philosophical insights, one of the earliest being the Vedantic insight which forms the core of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Shankaracharya.” Further, Varma[4] says, “ …..much of what modern science has revealed, particularly, in the areas of cosmology, quantum physics and neurology, were anticipated by Shankara, and become explicable in the light of the philosophical theory he articulated more than a millennium ago.”

Finally, Sithamparanathan[5] says, “Modern science shows the closest convergence only towards those spiritual philosophies that postulate an indivisible, undifferentiated and un-manifest unity as sole reality, and regard the diversity of perceived forms merely as illusory manifestations of this reality. Instances of such philosophies are the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, a more recent and systematised non-dualistic philosophy developed by Shankara….and the timeless spiritual philosophy expounded by Sri Ramana Maharshi. Maharshi’s exposition is characterised by a minimum of complex, confusing, philosophical speculation aimed at satisfying in the interminable questioning of the mind. Instead it presents the seeker with a simple undiluted and authoritative exposition of his direct mystical insight into the nature of ultimate reality. It is also scientific in its approach since it describes and emphasises direct and less-direct approaches by which such insight can be realised.”

As one reads these extracts, one gets the impression that the undercurrent of Kashmir Saivism, Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s philosophy of reality is similar and flows in the same direction. There are elements of logical reasoning, validations by modern science and insights from mystical practice that seem to point to the same end of the tunnel – the proverbial light of life, the ultimate reality that we are all seeking to experience. This paper will lay bare these very impressions by appreciatively enquiring about and examining the philosophies, ideas, concepts and practices of Kashmir Shaivism and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings. The comprehension of similarities of approach as well as differences may lead to a more nuanced understanding of these schools of thought.

We have excluded Advaita Vedanta from the present paper as it has been well studied and its terminology is popular. Further as P.T. Raju says, “For though it (Kashmir Saivism) is sectarian in origin, it developed its philosophy under the influence of Sankara’s Advaita and is very much akin to it…..” [6]

The philosophy of existence (reality) in Kashmir Shaivism

Though Shaivism is an old religio-philosophical system prevalent in many parts of India, certain erudite and enlightened teachers from Kashmir developed a special brand of the same. This came to be popularly known as Kashmir Shaivism in the annals of philosophical literature of later periods. However, a more technical and acceptable title has been Pratyabhijna Darsana.[7] It is also called Trika as it deals with the triad of Siva, Sakti and Nara (bound soul).

Pratyabhijna is so called because the main emphasis in this philosophy is on the recognition of the Self. Shiva voluntarily adopts self-veiling by his tirodhana shakti and becomes a jiva. The problem for the jiva is to recognize his Self as Shiva. Thus self-forgetfulness (svatma vismrana) and self-remembrance (svatma pratyabhijna) are two scenes in the world-play (lila) of Shiva.[8]

As Kashmir Saivism is a comprehensive and systematic exposition of the ultimate reality, it abounds in technical terms which are precise and inter-linked in their meanings and implications. The system puts forward 36 tattvas or fundamental principles. We will focus on the first 11 because these are unique to Kashmir Shaivism. The remaining 25 are similar to the tattvas in the Samkhya Darsana.

The ultimate reality is called Cit or Paramasamvit or Mahesvara or Anuttara. It is non-relational consciousness. It is the changeless principle of all changes. Most systems of Indian philosophy recognise the ultimate reality to be simply prakasa, as self-luminous light or sva-prakasa which illumines everything in the world. However, in pratyabhijna darsana, the ultimate reality is not simply prakasa; it is prakasa-vimarsamaya. Prakasa is the eternal light without which nothing can appear. It is Shiva. Vimarsa is Sakti, the svabhava of Shiva. It is so to speak, the mirror in which Shiva realises His own grandeur, power and beauty. Vimarsa is the Kartrtva Sakti (power of doership) of Siva. If the ultimate reality were only prakasa and not vimarsa, it would be powerless and inert. Vimarsa is also known by descriptions as para sakti, paravak, svatantrya, aisvarya, kartrtva, sphuratta,sara, hrdya and spanda / spandana.

 ParamaShiva has infinite powers but main ones are:

  1. Cit-the power of self-revelation,
  2. Ananda-absolute bliss (svatantrya,shakti),
  3. Iccha-will (also called Sadashiva),
  4. Jnana-knowledge (also called Isvara) and,
  5. Kriya– power of assuming any form (also called Sadvidya or Suddha Vidya). It is the nature of ultimate reality to manifest through the power of Shakti.

The above are the 5 tattvas of universal experience. The next six principles are called Mayanda. Maya, the sixth tattva, is the unique power of Shiva, that makes experience measurable i.e. limited. It is not an illusory power responsible only for ignorance as in Advaita Vedanta. It is a real power by which Shiva envelops himself, producing bheda (differences), nama (names), rupa (forms) and so on where they did not exist.

This maya gives rise to panchakanchukas or five coverings that limit the powers of Shiva and make Him appear as a jivatman (individual soul). These are:

  1. Kalaa (brings about limitation with respect to authorship or efficacy),
  2. Vidya (brings about limitation with respect to knowledge),
  3. Raga (reduces the complete satisfaction of Siva and brings a desire for this or that),
  4. Kaala (reduces the eternity of the universal and brings about a limitation in respect of time)
  5. Niyati (brings about a limitation in respect of cause and effect).

The terminology used for the remaining 25 tattvas are mostly familiar to students of Samkhya Darsana and are enumerated as:

  1. Purusa (every sentient being),
  2. Prakrti (objective manifestation),
  3. Buddhi (ascertaining intelligence),
  4. Ahamakara (I-making principle and power of self-appropriation),
  5. Manas (co-operates with sense in receiving impressions and building perceptions),

17-21. Jnanendriyas (five powers of sense perception),

22-26. Karmendriyas (five organs of action),

27-36. Bhutas and Tanmatras (the five gross elements which are products of five tanmatras).

This brief exposition on the tenets of Kashmir Saivism will not be complete without the discussion on means of liberation. There has to be a Shakti-pata– the descent of divine Shakti or anugraha or grace. In order to earn grace, one has to undergo spiritual discipline. This is known as upaya. Upayas are 4 in number viz.,

  1. Anupaya (with little effort mainly to Shaktipata),
  2. Sambhavopaya (in which there a sudden flash of the I-consciousness of Siva or all ideation ceases-manonasa in the language of Sri Ramana Maharshi or occurs to those whose entire consciousness is merged in Bhairava),
  3. Saktopaya (resort to cit-shakti for realisation) and,
  4. Anavopaya (utilising and taming the mind-body complex). The classic text Vijnana Bhairava lists 112 yoga-sadhanas which can be categorised under one of the four upayas.

Sri Ramana Maharshi and his philosophy of existence

The life of Sri Ramana Maharshi is too well known to bear repetition here. If the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi were to be stated aphoristically, it would be thus: “Seek to know the Self, and the knowledge will make you free.” [9]

To the question; “Is Bhagavan’s teaching the same as Shankara’s?” He replied, “Bhagvan’s teaching is an expression of his own experience and realisation. Others find it tallies with Sri Shankara’s.” [10]

In an interesting observation he says, “The intricate maze of philosophy of various schools is said to clarify matters and to reveal the truth, but in fact it creates confusion where none need exist .To understand anything there must be the Self. The Self is obvious, so why not remain as the Self? What need to explain the non-self?”[11]

The essence of Sri Ramana’s teachings is conveyed in his frequent assertions that there is a single immanent reality, directly experienced by everyone, which is simultaneously the source, the substance and real nature of everything that exists. He gave it a number of different names viz.,

  1. The Self (non-personal inclusive awareness),
  2. Sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss),
  3. God (Siva),
  4. Brahman (Supreme Being),
  5. The Heart (this is the centre of one’s being),
  6. Jnana (direct knowing and experience of truth),
  7. Turiya and turiyatita (self as the underlying reality supporting the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep).[12]

In response to a query from a monk, Sri Ramana Maharshi did spell out the tattvas: The inner organs (antahkarnas) are classified as five;

  1. Knowledge-Jnana,
  2. Mind-Manas,
  3. Intellect-Buddhi,
  4. Memory-Chitta,
  5. The ego-Ahamkara.

Some say only the latter four; others say only two, namely, 1. Manas, mind and 2. Ahamkara, the ego; still others say the Antahkarana is only one whose different functions make it appear differently and hence its different names. Heart is thus the source of the Antahkarana. There is the body which is insentient; there is the self which is eternal and self-luminous; in between the two there has arisen a phenomenon, namely the ego which goes under these different names, mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) , memory (chitta), the ego (ahamkara), power (sakti), life current (prana) etc. Seek your source and the search takes you to the heart immediately.[13]

The philosophy of Sri Ramana Maharshi-which is similar to that of Advaita Vedanta, has for its aim self-realisation. The central path taught in this philosophy is the enquiry into the nature of self, the content of the notion “I”. Ordinarily, the sphere of “I” varies and covers a multiplicity of factors e.g. name, height, weight, colour, age and similar factors related to the physical body. But these factors are not really the “I”. The human being has two “I”s – the pseudo “I” which is the ego and the true “I” which is the self. [14]

When we enquire within ourselves “Who am I?” the “I” investigated is the ego. It is that which makes the vichara (enquiry) also. The self has no vichara. That which makes the enquiry is also the ego. The “I” about which the enquiry is made is also the ego. As a result of the enquiry the ego ceases to exist and only the self (true “I”) is found to exist.[15] Then the self shines in all its splendour-which shining is called realisation and release.

Comparative Analysis of Kashmir Saivism and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Philosophy of Existence

The texts of Kashmir Saivism that were consulted were the Siva Sutras, Spanda Karikas, Vijnana Bhairava and Prayabhijnanhrdyam. Sivasotravali (which is a masterpiece of mystic devotion to Shiva) composed by Utpaldeva (a prominent acharya of Kashmir Shaivism) was also consulted.

Sri Raman Maharshi seldom wrote; what little he did write in or verse was written to meet the specific demands of his devotees. The most important of his works is Sat Darshanam or The Forty Verses on Existence. In the Upadesa Saram which is also a poem on the quintessence of Vedanta is set forth. The sage composed five hymns to Arunachala which includes Aksharamanamalai, a devotional outpouring. Further, Sri Ramana Maharshi had answered questions of a vast variety of persons in different stages of spiritual evolution for five decades from 1900 to 1950. It is estimated that he answered more than thirty thousand questions[16] and these interactions are recorded and form a valuable source of spiritual wisdom.

Comparative Analysis vide the Siva Sutras

  1. The first Siva Sutra says “Caitanyatma” which means “Reality is of the nature of Awareness which the absolute freedom of knowledge and action.”[17] This idea is echoed in the invocatory verse of Satdarshanam. “Without awareness of reality, can reality exist? Because of this awareness-reality, itself free from thought, exists as the source of all thought, it is called the heart. How to know it. To be as it is (thought free) in the Heart, is to know it”. The action aspect of the Siva Sutra is addressed in the first verse of Satdarshanam as “Because the world is seen, we have to infer a common cause (a Lord) possessing unlimited powers to appear as the diversity. The pictures consisting of names and forms, the seer, the canvas, the light – all these are He Himself.”
  2. The second Siva Sutras says “Jnanam Bandhah” which means “Vitiated knowledge or limited knowledge or ignorance of one’s real nature is the cause of bondage of the empirical self.” In Ramana Gita[18] we have the shloka IV-4 which says, “The wise say that pure abidance in the self alone is Jnana.” Further Verse 10 of Satdarshanam states that, “Knowledge and ignorance are interrelated; the one does not exist without the other. Enquiring to whom is that Knowledge and Ignorance, arriving at their root cause, the Self, this is true knowledge.”
  3. The fourth Siva Sutra says, “Jnanadhishtanam Matrka” which means, “The basis of these limited kinds of knowledge is Matrka or the power of sound corresponding to the letters of the alphabet.” Sri Ramana Maharshi says, “The state which transcends speech and thought is mouna. That which is, is mouna. How can mouna be explained in words? All other knowledges are only petty and trivial knowledges; the experience of silence alone is real and perfect knowledge. Know that the many objective differences are not real but are superimpositions on Self, which is the form of true knowledge.[19] Also Sri Raman Maharshi commented that, “the best and most potent diskha( initiation) is by silence ( mouna).[20]
  4. The fifth Siva Sutra says, “Udyamo Bhairavah” which means, “ The sudden flash or opening of transcendental consciousness is Bhairava or Siva. The sutra uncannily corresponds to the illumination of Sri Ramana Maharshi as a boy of 17 years age. Here is a description of the event. “It was about the middle of the year 1896; Venkatraman was seventeen then. One day he was sitting alone on the first floor of his uncle’s house. There was nothing wrong with him. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death took hold of him. He felt he was going to die. The feeling of impending death did not unnerve him. He calmly thought about what he should do. He said to himself, “Now death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.” Now what would happen? This is what he thought: “Well, this body is now dead. It will be carried to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body I? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the “I” within me apart from it. So I am the spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless spirit.” All of a sudden the boy that used to be called Venkatraman had flowered into a sage and saint.

Comparative Analysis vide Spanda Karikas

Vasugupta composed the Spanda Karikas and these verses explain the vimarsa aspect of the Divine, described as spanda, active, dynamic, throbbing with life and creative pulsation.[21]

Synonyms or other terms are parasakti, svantantrya, karktrtva, sphuratta, sara, and spanda.

  1. The third verse of Spanda Karika in translation states, ”Even though differing states like waking, dreaming & deep sleep occur, in which however the Spanda principle never departs from its own nature as the identical experience (in all the differing fields). The following comments of Sri Ramana Maharshi reveal the meaning to a question put to him as “Kindly explain Aham Sphurana”. His answer was, “‘I’ is not known in sleep. On waking ‘I’ is perceived and associated with the body, the world and non-self in general. Such an associated ‘I’ is Aham vritti. When Aham represents the self only (cit in the language of Siva Sutras-explanatory note of author), it is Aham Sphurana. This is natural to a jnani and is itself called jnana by jnanis or bhakti by Though every present including in sleep, it is not perceived. It cannot be known in sleep all at once. It must be first realised in the waking state, for it is our true nature underlying the three states.”
  2. The ninth verse of the Spanda Karika in translation states, “When the perturbation of that empirical individual who is incapacitated by his own impurity and is attached to actions, disappears, then the highest state appears.” In apposition, here is a description of a Jnani by Cohen[22], one of the enlightened disciples of Sri Ramana Maharshi, “ The Jnani also known as the awakened, the enlightened, the self-realised, is he who although like everyone uses a body, has broken the illusion that the body is himself. After lives of strenuous search, he found the heart and realised himself to be none other than the Supreme Sadasiva Brahman, the absolute consciousness, without qualities or forms.

Due to constraints on the length of this article, only the above sample has been explored. But as one reads the Spanda Karikas (it has 52 verses), the sadhaka would find amazing correlations between the Spanda Karikas and the life and teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Comparative Analysis vide Vijnana Bhairava

Vijnana Bhairava is a very ancient book on Yoga. It closely follows the basic principle of Saivagama. It contains 112 types of yoga which describe so many ways of approach to central reality.

Verse 138 of Vijnana Bhairava where the 112 types of yoga are summarised states, “O dear one! The ideating mind (manas), the ascertaining intellect( buddhi), the vital energy (prana sakti) and the limited empirical mind ‘I’-this set of four dissolves then the previously described (tat) state of Bhairava appears.

The signature verse which summarised the entire philosophy of existence of Sri Ramana Maharshi is “In the interior of the heart-cave Brahman alone shines in the form of the Atman with the direct immediacy as “I”, “I”. Enter into the heart with a questing mind or by diving deep within or through control of breath and abide in the Atman.” [23]

Comparative Analysis vide Sivastotravali

Sivasotravali is a collection of hymns dedicated to Lord Siva by Acarya Utpaladeva, a great acarya of Kashmir Saiva tradition and consists of 450 verses arranged in 20 chapters. Each verse is soaked in the nectar of his intense devotion for the Lord and extreme-craving for God-consciousness.[24]

Arunachala Aksharamanamalai is one of the earliest hymns composed by Sri Ramana Maharshi. In bridal mysticism, the devotee considers himself to be the bride of God. The devotee pines for, cringes, cajoles chides and quarrels with the Beloved. The culmination of this sadhana is however, realisation of non-duality.[25]

Here are two selections with matching sentiments


I always weep and cry bitterly for Thee, for achieving Thy Nature.

I am always filled with lamentations to achieve Thee.

I am always depressed because of Thy Separation. (3.21)

 Arunchala Aksharamanamalai

O Arunachala! If thou dost not join me,

My body will melt away, my eyes shed tears profusely, and I shall be destroyed (34).

For paucity of space, we will not list with the many more insightful and stimulating cases of similarity between the Arunachala Aksharamanamalai and Sivastoravali

As this article winds towards its ending, it has hopefully stimulated the reader to explore Sri Ramana Maharshi’s philosophy of existence as well as Kashmir Saivism for the parallel and converging paths though nearly a millennium apart. One inevitably reaches the conclusion that there can be no mutation in the eternal!!

Let me conclude a verse from the Siva Mahimna Stotram.

Ityesham vangmayi puja shrimachchankarpadyo

Arpita tenna evesha priyatam me sadashiva.

This hymnal worship is offered at the feet of Siva.

May the ever propitious Lord of the Gods be pleased with me at this[26].

[1] Pavitrananda, Swami.(1980). Siva Mahimnah Stotram or The Hymn on the Greatness of Siva. Calcutta, Advaita Ashrama, p.7, Verse 3.

[2] Singh,J. (1994).Spanda Karikas-the divine creative pulsation. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, p.ix.

[3] Chandrasekharayya, U.(2006). Vedanta and Modern Physics.Bangalore, Lokashikshana Trust,p.iii

[4] Varma, P.V. ( 2018). Adi Shankaracharya-Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker. Chennai, Tranquebar Press,p.143.

[5] Sithamparanathan, J. ( 2008). Ramana Maharshi’s Philosophy of Existence and Modern Science- the convergence of their vision of reality. ( Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, p.1-5

[6] Raju, P.T. ( 1985). Structural Depths of Indian Thought. New Delhi, South Asian Publishers, p.510.

[7] Harshananda, Swami. (2008). An Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. Bangalore, Ramakrishna Math, Volume 3, p.143.

[8] Singh, J.(1985).Vedanta and Advaita Saivagama of Kashmir: A comparative study.Calcutta, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, p.13

[9] Mahadevan, T.M.P. (2018). Bhagavan Ramana. Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasrama,.

[10] Osborne, A. (2020). The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi in His Own Words.Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasramam, p.4,

[11] Ibid,p.5

[12] Godman,D.( 1992). Be as you are-The teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Delhi, Penguin Books.p.8

[13] Venkataramaiah, M.S.( 1955). Talks with Ramana Maharshi.Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasramam.Talk # 392,p.373

[14] Mahadevan, T.M.P. (2018). Bhagavan Ramana. Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasramam,p.26-27.

[15] Mudaliar, A.D. Gems from Bhagavan.Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasramam,p.15.

[16] Natarajan, A.R. ( 2017). Ramana Maharshi Answers.Bangalore, Sri Ramana Maharshi Centre of Learning, p.iv.

[17] Singh,J.( 1995) Siva Sutras-The Yoga of Supreme Identity. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass.

[18] Sankaranarayanan,S.(2009). Sri Ramana Gita-Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasramam.

[19] Godman,D.( 1992). Be as you are-The teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Delhi, Penguin Books, p.12

[20] Mudaliar, A.D.(2020).Gems from Bhagavan. Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasramam,p 47

[21] Singh, J. (1994) Spanda Karikas-The Divine Creative Pulsation. Delhi, Motilal Banarassidas p.ii

[22] Cohen,SS.(2019).Guru Ramana-Memories & Notes. Tiruvannamalai, Sri Ramanasramam, p.100

[23] Sudarsanam,C.(2010).Ekasloki of Ramana. Bangalore,Ramana Maharshi Centre of Learning,p.vii.

[24] Lakshman Joo, Swami.(2018). Sivastotravali of Utpaladeva-A mystical hymn of Kashmir.New Delhi, D.K Printworld, p.ix

[25] Mahadevan, T.M.P.(2008). Arunachala SIva-Arunachala Aksharamanamalai and Arunachala Pancharatnam of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Tirvuvannamali, Sri Ramanasramam,p.4

[26] Pavitrananda, Swami.(1980). Siva Mahimnah Stotram or The Hymn on the Greatness of Siva. Calcutta, Advaita Ashrama, p.79, Verse 40.

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