A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 5

Southern Schools of Śaivism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1955 | 79,816 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the agama literature and its philosophical perspective: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “literature of southern shaivism”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - The Agama Literature and its Philosophical Perspective

The philosophical views that are found in the Āgama literature had been briefly summarised in the Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha under Śaivism and have also been treated fairly elaborately in some of the sections of the present work. The Āgama literature is pretty extensive, but its philosophical achievement is rather poor. The Āgamas contain some elements of philosophical thought, but their interest is more on religious details of the cult of Śaivism. We find therefore a good deal of ritualism, discussion of the architectural techniques for the foundation of temples, and mantras and details of worship connected with the setting up of the phallic symbol of Śiva. Yet in most of the Āgamas there is a separate section called the Vidyā-pāda in which the general philosophical view underlying the cult is enunciated. There are slight differences in the enunciation of these views as we pass on from one Āgama to another. Most of these Āgamas still lie unpublished, and yet they form the religious kernel of Śaivism as practised by millions of people in different parts of India. There may thus be a natural inquiry as to what may be the essential tenets of these Āgamas. This, however, cannot be given without continual repetitions of the same kind of dogmatic thought. The present work is, of course, mainly concerned with the study of philosophy, but as the study of Śaiva or Śākta thought cannot be separated from the religious dogmas with which they are inseparably connected, we can only take a few specimens of the Āgamas and discuss the nature of thought that may be discovered there. In doing this we may be charged with indulging in repetitions, but we have to risk it in order to be able to give at least a rapid survey of the contents of some of the most important Āgamas. In what follows, the reader will have the opportunity of judging the literary contents of the philosophical aspects of some of the important Āgamas, thereby getting a comprehensive view of the internal relation of Śaivism to other branches of Indian philosophy.

The Mṛgendrāgama has often been quoted in the Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha. This work is said to be a subsidiary part of Kāmikāgama, supposed to be one of the oldest of the Āgamas, and has been referred to in the Sūta-saṃhitā which is regarded as a work of the sixth century. The Sūta-saṃhitā refers to the Kami-kāgama with the reverence that is due to very old texts.

Mṛgendrāgama[1] opens the discussion of how the old Vedic forms of worship became superseded by the Śaiva cult. It was pointed out that the Vedic deities were not concrete substantial objects, but their reality consisted of the mantras with which they were welcomed and worshipped, and consequently Vedic worship cannot be regarded as a concrete form of worship existing in time and space. But devotion to Śiva may be regarded as a definite and concrete form of worship which could, therefore, supersede the Vedic practices. In the second chapter of the work, Śiva is described as being devoid of all impurities. He is omniscient and the instrumental agent of all things. He already knows how the individual souls are going to behave and associates and dissociates all beings with knots of bondage in accordance with that.

The Śaivāgama discusses the main problem of the production, maintenance, destruction, veiling up of the truth and liberation. These are all done by the instrumental agent, God Śiva. In such a view the creation of the world, its maintenance and destruction are naturally designed by the supreme Lord in the beginning, yet things unfold in the natural course. The changes in the world of our experiences are not arranged by the later actions of beings. But yet the attainment of liberation is so planned that it cannot take place without individual effort.

Consciousness is of the nature of intuitive knowledge and spontaneous action (caitanyaṃ dṛk-kriyā-rūpam). This consciousness always abides in the soul, and some of the categories for the application of this consciousness are discussed along with the various religio-moral conducts called caryā. There is also a brief criticism for refuting Vedānta, Sāṃkhya, Vaiśeṣika, Buddhism and Jainism.

The Śaivāgama holds that, from perceiving our bodies and other embodied things, we naturally infer that there is some instrumental agent who must be premised as the cause of the world. A difference of effects naturally presumes a difference in the cause and its nature. Effects are accomplished through particular instruments. These instruments are all of a spiritual nature. They are also of the nature of energy. In the case of inference the concomitance is generally perceived in some instances. But in the case of attributing creation to Śiva we have no datum of actual experience, as Śiva is bodyless. But it is held that one can conceive the body of Śiva as being constituted of certain mantras. When anyone is to be liberated, the quality of tamas as veiling the consciousness of the individual is removed by God. Those whose tamas is removed naturally ripen forth for the ultimate goal of liberation. They have not to wait any longer for Śiva to manifest their special qualities. We have already seen that Śiva is the manifesting agent or abhivyañjaka of all our activities.

The source of all bondage is māheśvarī śakti which helps all people to develop and grow in their own pattern (sarvānugrāhika). Though there may be many cases in which we suffer pain, yet the māheśvarī śakti is regarded as being of universal service. The explanation is to be found in the view that often it is only through the way of suffering that we can attain our good. Śiva is always directing the śakti for our own good, even though we may seem to suffer in the intervening period (dharmiṇo’nugraho nāma yat-taddharmānuvartanam). All actions of the Lord are for the sake of the individual souls, that is, for making them wise and act forward, so that ultimately they may be purged of their malas.

The different causal chains manifest different kinds of chains in the effects. The Śaiva view accepts sat-kārya-vāda and so admits that all the effects are there. It is only in the manner in which the causal chains manifest that different kinds of chains are effected. Thus the same malas appear in diverse forms to different kinds of persons and indicate different stages of progress. The mala is regarded as the unholy seed that pervades the whole world and manifests through it and is ultimately destroyed. It is through these manifestations that one can infer the existence of God, the instrumental cause (kartā’-numīyate yena jagad-dharmeṇa hetunā). This mala is inanimate, for such a theory suits the nature of effects. It is easier to assume preferably one cause of mala than many. The cloth is manifested by the action of the weaving spindles. The substance of the cloth would have been manifested in other forms according to the action of the various accessories, for all the effects are there, though they can only be manifested through the operation of accessories. It is difficult to imagine the concept of productive power. It is better to assume that the things are already there and are revealed to us by the action of the different kinds of causes[2].

The individual souls are all-pervasive and they possess eternal power by the Power of God. The only trouble is that on account of the veils of mala they are not always conscious of their nature. It is through the action of Śiva that these veils are so far removed that the individual souls may find themselves interested in their experiences. This is done by associating the individual minds with the thirty-six kalās produced from the disturbance of māyā. We have already discussed the nature of these thirty-six tattvas or categories in our treatment of the philosophy of Tattva-prakāśikā of Bhoja. It is through these categories that the veils are torn asunder and the individual becomes interested in his experiences. Kalā means that which moves anybody (prasāraṇaṃ preraṇam sā kurvati tamasaḥ kalā). The individual soul has to await the grace of God for being associated with these kalās for all his experiences, as he is himself unable to do so on his own account. The karma done by a man also remains embedded in Prakṛti and produces effects by the category of niyati.

Footnotes and references:


Since writing this section on the basis of the original manuscript the present writer has come across a printed text of the Vidyā and Yogapāda of Mṛgendrāgama published in 1928 by K. M. Subrahmanya Śāstrī, with a commentary by Bhafta-Nārāyaṇa Kanfha called Mṛgendra-vṛtti, and a subcommentary by Aghora-śivācārya called Mṛgendra-vṛtti-dīpikā.


sānvaya-vyatirekābḥyāṃ ruḍḥito vāvaslyate,
tadvyakti-jananaṃ nāma tat-kāraka-samāśrayāt.
tena tantu-gatākāraṃ patākārā'barodhakam,
vemādinā ’panīyātḥa patavyaktih prakāśyate.

      Ninth patala.

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