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 shaiva philosophy in the shiva-mahapurana: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “the shaiva philosophy in the puranas”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - The Śaiva Philosophy in the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa

We shall discuss the antiquity of the Śaiva religion and philosophy in a separate section. It is a pity that it is extremely difficult, nay, almost impossible, to trace the history of the continuous development of Saiva thought from earliest times. We can do no more than make separate studies of different aspects of Saiva thought appearing in different contexts, and then try to piece them together into an unsatisfactory whole. This is largely due to various factors. First, the Śaiva thought was expressed both in Sanskrit and also in Dravidian languages. We do not yet know definitely if the Dravidian texts were but translations from Sanskrit sources, or were only inspired by Sanskrit writings. Later writers, even in the Purāṇas, hold that Śiva was the author of all Śaiva scriptures either in Sanskrit or in Dravidian. This, of course, refers to the earliest writings, the Āgamas.

We do not know the exact date of the earliest Āgamas. The word ‘āgama’ needs a little explanation. It means “texts that have come down to us”, and which are attributed either to God or to some mythical personage. We have a list of twenty-eight Śivācaryas in the Vāyavīya-saṃhitā of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa, and these have been referred to as late as the tenth century A.D. But there is nothing to prove the historical existence of these Śaiva teachers, nor do we know what Āgamas we owe to each of them. We have no direct knowledge of any Dravidian philosophical culture before the Aryan culture had penetrated into the South. It is, therefore, difficult to imagine how there could be Dravidian works of philosophy which ran parallel to the Sanskrit works.

The other difficulty is that most of these supposed Āgamas of the past are not now available. Most of the Āgamas that we get now are written in Sanskrit in various Dravidian scripts. The records of the schools of Śaiva philosophy mentioned by Śaṅkara in his bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra must have been written in Sanskrit, but the present writer is quite unable to identify all the schools referred to in the seventh or eighth centuries with the existing records of Śaiva thought. There was a great upheaval of Śaiva thought from the twelfth century, contemporaneously with the revival of Vaiṣṇava thought in Rāmānuja, but Rāmānuja himself does not refer to all the schools of Śaivism referred to by Saṅkara and Vācaspati Miśra in his Bhāmatī commentary. Rāmānuja only mentions the Kālamukhas and the Kāpālikas, and no literature about their philosophical views is now available. The Kāpālika sect probably still exists here and there, and one may note some of their practices, but so far we have not been able to discover any literature on the practices of the Kālamukhas. But we shall revert again to the problem when we discuss the antiquity of Śaiva thought and its various schools. The three schools of Southern Śaivism that are now generally known are the Vīra-śaivas, the Sivajñāna-siddhi school and the school of Śaivism as represented by Śrīkaṇtha. We have dealt with the Śaivism of Śrīkaṇtha in two sections. The school of Pāśupata-Śaivism is mentioned in the fourteenth century in Mādhava’s Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha and the Pāśupata school is referred to in the Mahābhārata and many other Purāṇas. In the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa, particularly in the last section called the Vāyavīya-saṃhitā, we have a description of the Pāśupata philosophy. I shall, therefore, now try to collect the description of the Pāśupata system of thought as found in the Vāyavīya-saṃhitā of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa.

The Śiva-mahāpurāṇa, according to the testimony of the Purāṇa itself, is supposed to have been a massive work of one hundred thousand verses divided into seven sections, written by Śiva Himself. This big work has been condensed into twenty-four thousand verses by Vyāsa in the Kaliyuga. We know nothing about the historicity of this Vyāsa. He is supposed to have written most of the Purāṇas. The present Śiva-mahāpurāṇa, however, contains seven sections, of which the last section called the Vāyavīya-saṃhitā is divided into two parts and is supposed to elucidate the view of the different schools of Śaivism. According to our interpretation it shows only one school of Śaivism, namely the Pāśupata-Śaivism in two variant forms. None of the works that we have been able to discover so far have been attributed to Siva or Maheśvara, though Saṅkara in his bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra II. 2, 37 refers to Siddhānta works written by Maheśvara. We have traced some of the Āgamas, but these Āgamas are not called Siddhānta, nor are they supposed to owe their authorship to Maheśvara. On the evidence of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa, we have quite a number of Śaiva teachers who are regarded as incarnations of Siva and also many of their disciples, but we know nothing about these mythical teachers. One teacher called Upamanyu is often referred to in the Vāyavīya-saṃhitā section as instructing the principles of Śaivism. The account of Śaivism given by Śaṅkara in his bhāṣya referred to above, is very meagre, but it seems to indicate that the Śaivas regarded prakṛti as the material cause and Śiva as the instrumental or efficient cause; and it is this latter view that Śaṅkara mainly criticises as the school of Īśvara-kāraṇins, implying thereby the view that the Upaniṣads cannot tolerate the idea of a separate efficient cause as Īśvara. Vācaspati also points out that the prakṛti being the material cause could not be identified with the efficient cause, the Īśvara. In Śaivism we are faced with the problem of solving the issue between Śaṅkara and the Śaivas. Our treatment of Srikaṇtha’s bhāsya has shown the direction in which the Śaivas want to solve the difficulty, but Śrīkaṇtha’s bhāsya is probably a work not earlier than the eleventh century, and many other works of Śaivism can be traced only as far back as the twelfth century A.D. On the testimony of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa, which must have been written before the time of Śaṅkara, we know that Śaiva works by great Śaiva teachers were written both for those who adhered to the Varṇāśrama dharma and for those who did not care for the Varṇāśrama dharma and were not privileged to study the Vedas. The latter class of works must therefore have been the Dravidian works of the South, many of which are now lost, and of which only some traditions are available in the Sanskrit Āgamas. We have already dealt with these in another section. We shall have occasion to show that the Kāśmlr form of Śaivism was more or less contemporaneous with Śaṅkara.

In the second section of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa called the Rudra-saṃhitā, we are told that at the time of the great dissolution, when all things were destroyed, there was only darkness, no sun, no planets, no stars, no moon, and no day and night; there is only pure vacuity devoid of all energy. There was no sensibility of any kind; it was a state when there was neither being nor non-being; it was beyond all mind and speech, beyond all name and form. But yet in that neutral state there existed only the pure being, the pure consciousness, infinite and pure bliss, which was immeasurable and a state in itself; it had no form and was devoid of all qualities[1]. This was purely of the nature of pure consciousness, without beginning and end and without any development. Gradually there arose a second desire or will by which the formless was changed into some form by its own playful activities. This may be regarded as the all-creating pure energy, of which there is no parallel. The form created by this energy is called sadāśiva. People also call Him Īśvara, or God. The lone energy, spontaneously moving, created from itself its own eternal body, which is called pradhāna, prakṛti, or māyā, and which generates the category of buddhi. This māyā or prakṛti is the creator of all beings and is regarded as coming into contact with the supreme puruṣa, the Śiva, called Śambhu, who is different from God. This śakti or energy is also regarded as kāla or time.

From prakṛti came the mahat or buddhi and from buddhi came the three guṇas, sattva, rajas and tamas, and from them the threefold ahaṅkāra. From ahaṅkāra came the tanmātras, the five bhūtas, the five conative senses, and the five cognitive senses, and manas.

In the Kailāsa-saṃhitā of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa the view of Śaivism is described as being the Śivādvaita system or the monistic theory of Śaivism[2]. It is said here that since all living beings are constituted of a male and a female part, the original cause must also be represented by a male and a female principle united. As a matter of fact, the Sāṃkhyas had taken that idea from this statement, and had regarded the original cause as being prakṛti and puruṣa. But they tried to establish it merely on rational grounds; they were not disposed to establish it in a theistic sense. For that reason, though some of the Sāṃkhya categories may be accepted, yet the Sāṃkhya philosophy as a whole, being a purely rationalistic system, ought to be abandoned. The Brahman is regarded in the Vedas as being the unity of sat, cit and ānanda, and it is in the neuter gender. The being represented in Brahman means that all negation of being is excluded. The neuter character of the being represents the fact that it is the puruṣa, and this puruṣa also is of an illuminating nature. The pure consciousness in the unity of sat-cid-ānanda represents the female part. So the two parts that are regarded as male and female are the illuminating part (prakāśa) and the pure consciousness, and these two together are the generating causes of the world. So in the unity of sac-dd-ānanda we have the unity of Śiva and Śakti. This illumination is also sometimes impeded, as the flame of a wick is impeded by smoke and other impurities. These are the malas which do not belong to Śiva, but are seen in the fire of pure consciousness. It is on this account that the cicchakti or the energy of pure consciousness is seen in an impure state in human souls. It is for the expulsion of this mala that the pervasiveness of śakti or energy is to be assumed as existing in all time. Śakti thus is the symbol of bala or strength. In the paramātman there is both the Śiva-aspect and the śakti- aspect. It is by the connection of Śiva and Śakti that there is ānanda or bliss. The Atman is pure consciousness and this consciousness holds within it all knowledge and all energy; it is independent and free, and that is its nature. In the Śiva-sūtra, jñāna or knowledge has been described as a bondage, but the word jñāna there means only finite, limited or turbid knowledge which all human beings have, and in this way alone can knowledge be regarded as bondage.

The Śakti or energy is also called spanda or vibration. Knowledge, movement and will are like the three sides of Śiva, and human beings get their inspiration from between these. As we have said above, the Śiva and Śakti combined gives the supreme śakti called parāśakti, and from this parāśakti there evolves the cicchakti or power of consciousness. From this comes the śakti or bliss or ānanda-śakti, from this the will-power or icchā-śakti, and from this come jñāna-śakti, or power of knowledge, and the power of motivation, or kriyā-śakti. The first category of vibration in the category of Śiva is called śiva-tattva. The world and the souls are entirely identical with Śiva, and such a knowledge leads to liberation.

The supreme Lord contracts Himself and manifests Himself as the individual puruṣas or souls who enjoy the qualities of the prakṛti. This enjoyment takes place through the function of fivefold kalā, such as that which leads the individual to action; that which leads him to discover the true reality of twofold vidyā ; that which attaches him to the objects of sense (rāga); kāla or time which makes things happen in succession; niyati, which is used in a peculiar sense, not of destiny but of conscience, that is, it is the factor by which one decides what one should do or not do[3].

The puruṣa or the individual souls possess in a cumulative way the qualities of knowledge, will, etc. The so-called citta or the psychic plane is constituted of the various qualities existent in the prakṛti. From buddhi come the various senses and subtle matter.

The system of thought referred to above, the Śivādvaita system, is arranged in rather a clumsy manner. The points that emerge from the above statements can be briefly summarised. First, it regards the Brahman as being an undifferentiated Being or Non-being, when there is nothing but void in the universe. From this Being-and-Non-being, the Brahman, there sprang forth an entity which represents within it the two principles of male and female energy which pervades all living beings. It is out of this principle, the Śiva, that we have, on the one hand the individual selves which are but contractions of the nature of the supreme Lord, and on the other we have the world evolving out of the female energy side, the prakṛti, more or less in the Sāṃkhya fashion. The puruṣa is supposed to have within him fivefold categories, through which he can experience joys and sufferings of his intercourse with the world as such. These individuals, on account of the contraction that they suffered, show themselves as impure as a flame in a wick appears smoky. Thus the whole system tends towards a sort of monism without being purely idealistic. The closeness or its affinity with Śrīkaṇtha’s philosophy will be immediately apparent, though there are differences in the mode of expression. There are certain passages which remind us of some form of Kāśmīr Śaivism, which though a monism, is largely different from the monism as expressed herein. We also find here a reference to the spanda theory of Kāśmīr Śaivism. But in spite of this we need not think that the monistic Śaivism was first enunciated in this Purāṇa or in this chapter. We shall have occasion to show that some form of distinctly monistic Śaivism with relative bias could be traced to the beginnings of the Christian era. The Kāśmīr Śaivism flourished probably from the seventh to the eleventh century A.D. It may, therefore, be thought that the chapter under reference of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa was probably written somewhere about the ninth or the tenth century A.D., which may also be regarded as the time of Śrīkaṇtha, though we are not sure if he flourished somewhere at the eleventh century A.D. after Rāmānuja. We discuss these matters further in the appropriate sections.

In the second chapter of the Rudra-saṃhitā of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa[4], Śiva is supposed to say that the highest reality, the knowledge of which brings liberation, is pure consciousness, and in that consciousness there is no differentiation between the self and the Brahman[5]. But strangely enough Śiva seems to identify bhakti or devotion with knowledge. There can be no knowledge without bhakti[6]. When there is bhakti or devotion, there is no distinction of caste in the way of attaining the grace of God. Śiva then classifies the different types of bhakti. The nature of devotion, as described in this chapter under consideration, shows that bhakti was not regarded as an emotional outburst, as we find in the Caitanya school of bhakti. Here bhakti is regarded as listening to the name of Śiva, chanting it, and meditating on Him as well as worshipping Him and regarding oneself as the servitor to Śiva, and also to develop the spirit of friendship through which one can surrender oneself to God Śiva. The chanting of the name of Śiva is to be associated with the legendary biography of Śiva as given in the Purāṇas. The meditation on Śiva is regarded as amounting to the development of the idea that Śiva is all-pervasive and is omnipresent. And this makes the devotee fearless. It is through bhakti that true knowledge and the disinclination to worldly things can occur.

In IV. 41 four types of liberation are described as sārūpya, sālokya, sānnidhya, and sāyujya. We have already discussed in the fourth volume the nature of those types of liberation which are also admitted by the followers of the Mādhva school of Yaiṣṇavas. And this liberation is only granted by Śiva who is beyond all the guṇas of prakṛti.

The ultimate nature of Śiva is described here (IV. 41) as being changeless (mrcikārin) and beyond prakṛti. He is of the nature of pure knowledge, unchangeable, all-perceiving. The fifth kind of liberation called the kaivalya can be attained only by the knowledge of Śiva and His ultimate nature. The whole world springs out of Him and returns to Him and is always pervaded by Him. He is also designated as being the unity of being, consciousness, and bliss (sac-cid-ānanda); He is without any qualities or conditions, pure, and cannot be in any way made impure. He has no colour, no form and no measure. Words cannot describe Him and thoughts cannot reach Him. It is the Brahman which is also called Śiva. Just as space (ākāśa) pervades all things, so He pervades all things. He is beyond the range of māyā and beyond conflict (drandvātīta). He can be attained either through knowledge or through devotion, but the way of devotion is easier to follow than the way of knowledge. In the next chapter (rv. 42) it is said that it is from Śiva, the ultimate Brahman, that prakṛti as associated with puruṣa (individual souls) is produced[7]. This evolution of prakṛti as associated with puruṣa is called the category of Rudra, which is only a transformation of Śiva, the highest Brahman, just as golden ornaments may be regarded as transformations of gold. The formless Ś iva is considered as having a form only for the advantage of meditation.

All that one can know or see in the universe, in the highest or the lowest, is only Śiva, and the character of things in their plurality is formed from Him. Śiva alone remains the same unchangeable reality before the creation, and at the dissolution of the creation. The pure Śiva is regarded as qualified only when one considers Him as being the possessor of śakti or energy with which in reality He is identical. It is through the will of Śiva that all operations in the world can go on. He knows them all, but no one knows Him. Having created the world He remains away from it and is not involved with it. But it is in His form as pure consciousness that He is seen in and through the world, as the sun is seen in his reflections. In actuality Śiva does not enter into this world of change. In reality Śiva is the whole of the world, though the world appearances seem to occur in a time series of discontinuity. Ajñāna or nescience only means misunderstanding, it is not a substance that stands by Brahman and could be regarded as a dual entity[8].

According to the Vedāntins the reality is one, and the individual soul (jīva), which gets deluded by avidyā or nescience and thinks itself to be different from the Brahman, is only a part of it. But when released from the grasp of nescience it becomes one with Śiva, and Śiva, as we have already said, pervades all things without being actually in them. One can attain liberation by following the path indicated by the Vedānta. As fire, which exists in the wood, can be manifested by the constant rubbing of the wood, so by the various processes of devotion one can attain Śiva, but one must be convinced of the fact that whatever exists is Śiva, and it is only through illusion that various names and forms appear before us[9]. Just as the ocean, or a piece of gold, or a piece of mud may appear in various shapes, though actually they remain the same, so it is only by various conditions through which we look at things that they appear so different, though they are actually nothing but Śiva. There is actually no difference between the cause and the effect[10], yet through illusion one thinks of something as cause and something else as effect. From the seed comes the shoot, appearing as different from the seed, but ultimately the shoot grows into a tree and fructifies and thereby reduces itself into fruit and seed. The seed stays on and produces other shoots and the original tree is destroyed. The true seer is like the seed from which there are many transformations, and when these have ceased we have again the true seer. With the removal of nescience (avidyā) a person is dissociated from egoism and becomes pure, and then through the grace of God Śiva he becomes what he really is, that is, Śiva. Just as in a mirror one can see one’s body reflected, so one can see oneself reflected in one’s pure mind, that is Śiva, which is one’s real character.

We thus see that in this school of Śaivism as described in the Śiva-mahāpurāṇa IV. 43, we have a monistic system of Śaivism which is very much like the monistic system of Śaṅkara. It believes that the plurality of appearance is false, and that the only reality is Brahman or Śiva. It also believes that this false appearance is due to the interference of nescience. It does not admit any difference between cause and effect, but yet it seems to adhere to the monotheistic faith that God Śiva can bestow liberation on those who are devoted to Him, though it does not deny that the Brahman can be attained by the way indicated in the Upaniṣads. It says that jñāna comes from bhakti or devotion, from bhakti comes love (prema)y and from prema one gets into the habit of listening to episodes about the greatness of Śiva, and from that one comes into contact with saintly people, and from that one can attain one’s preceptor. When in this way true knowledge is attained, one becomes liberated. The practice of the worship of the preceptor is also introduced here. It is said that if one gets a good and saintly preceptor, one should worship him as if he were Śiva Himself, and in this way the impurities of the body will be removed, and it will be possible for such a devotee to attain knowledge.

We thus see that in this chapter, though Śaivism is interpreted purely on Vedāntic lines, the doctrine of theism and the doctrine of preceptor worship are somehow grafted into it, though such doctrines cannot fit in with the monism of the Upaniṣads as interpreted by Śaṅkara. This system, therefore, seems to present a specimen of Śaivism different from what we had in the second book of the Śiva-mahāpurāṇay and different also from the philosophy of Śaivism as presented by Śrīkaṇtha and Appaya Dīkṣita.

Footnotes and references:


satyam jñānam anantaṃ ca parānaṇḍaṃ paraṃ-mahaḥ.
aprameyam anādhāram avikāram anākṛti,
nirguṇaṃ yogigamyañ ca sarva-vyāpyeka-kāraham.
, II. 1. 6, 11c, d-12.


utpāṭya ajñāna-sambhūtaṃ saṃśayāhhyaṃ viṣa-drumam,
śivādvaita-maḥā-kalpa-vṛkṣa-bhūmir yathā bhavet.
VI. 16. 11.


idaṃ tu mama kartavyam idaṃ neti niyāmikā,
niyatis syāt
      Śiva-mahāpurāṇa, vi. 16. 83.


 Śiva-mahāpurāṇa II. 2 . 23 .


paratattvaṃ vijārūhi tijñānaṃ parameśvari
dvitīyaṃ smaraṇaṃ yatra naham brahmeti śuddhadhiḥ.
II . 2 . 23 . 13 .


bhaktau jñāne na bhedo hi...
vijñānaṃ na bhavaty eva sati bhakti-virodhinaḥ.
. II. 2. 23. 16.


tasmāt prakṛūr utpeomā puruseṇa samanvitā.
      Ibid. IV. 42. 3.


ajñānaṃ ca mater bheḍo nāsty anyacca dvayaṃ punaḥ.
9: darśaneṣu ca sarveṣu mati-bheḍaḥ pradarśyate.
IV. 43. 8 c, d.


bhrāntyā nānā-svarūpo hi bhāsate śaṅkaras sadā.
IV. 43. 15 c, d.


kārya-kāraṇayor bhedo vastuto na pravartate,
kevalaṃ bhrānti-buddhyaiva tad-abhāve sa naśyati.
IV. 43. 17.

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