Lakulisha-Pashupata (Philosophy and Practice)

by Geetika Kaw Kher | 2012 | 86,751 words

This study discusses the dynamics between the philosophy and practice in the Lakulisha-Pashupata order. According to the cave temples of Elephanta and Jogesvari (Jogeshwari), Lakulisa was the 28th incarnation of Shiva, and Pashupata Shaivism his doctrine, of which the Pasupatasutra represents the prominent text detailing various ritual practices (v...

Brief Summary of Pasupata Sutra as collated from various sources

It is believed that Siva incarnated himself as Nakulisa, the 28th incarnation according to both Vayu Purana and Linga Purana. This incarnation is supposed to be the author of Pasupata-sutra.

Sastri[1] thinks that Kaundinya the commentator on Pancharthabhasya may have lived between 4th -6th AD.

Pasupata-sutra along with bhashya of Kaundinya do not give us any philosophy of Saivism per se. They deal mostly with the ritual or rather modes of life. As Dasgupta suggests it may be quite plausible that such ascetic forms of life as mentioned in these texts existed from early times and that later the philosophy of Saivism was added. Though the rituals and vidhis mentioned had hardly any visible connection with the later Saiva philosophy, they have a general anthropological and religious interest, as these forms of asceticism remain connected with the life of those who believe in Saiva philosophy, however abstract it might have become. Even in Sarvadarsanasamgraha of Madhavacharya the Pasupata system is not indentified with any form of philosophy but with different kinds of ascetic practices.

Kaundinya in the beginning of his bhasya offers adoration to Pasupati who has created the whole world beginning from the Brahman for the good of all.

He says that the five subjects of discussion in the Pasupata system are:

  1. Karya (effect)
  2. Karana (cause)
  3. Yoga (meditaion)
  4. Vidhi (Behaviour)
  5. Dukhanta (cessation of sorrows)

The teaching of Pasupata system is for the total annihilation of all kinds of sorrow and this teaching can only be communicated to proper disciples. When the disciple follows the ascetic practices recommended by the lord he attains liberation through His grace. Though there is no direct mention of Saktipata but the idea of grace seems to echo the same sentiment and plays a major role in Pasupata philosophy.In Pasupata-sutra we are told that liberation comes directly from the grace of Siva and interestingly theory of Karma and rebirth is not given any importance.

The word pasu means all conscious beings, excluding the saints and enlightened beings. Their animality or pasutva consists in the fact that they are both impotent and ignorant of their true selves and this is the cause of their bondage. This bondage which means their complete dependence on the causal power is without a beginning.

The word pasu is connected with the word pasa which means “cause and effect”, technically also called kala. Hence all pasus are thus bound by the cause and effect, the sense images and their objects and become attached to them. Morevover the word pasu is also derived from the Sanskrit word pasyanti. Though pasus are actually all pervasive and eternal they can only perceive their physical bodies.They do not understand the nature of cause and effect and their general understanding cannot go beyond material and visible world.

An interesting point to note is that a person regarded as fit for receiving diksa or initiation must be a Brahmin with keen senses and disease free body. Chakraborti[2] observes that the caste distinction was rigidly followed, probably as a reaction against the Buddhist practices.

The word Yoga is used to denote the contact of self with isvara or god (atmesvarasamyogo yogah).The contact thus means that the person who was otherwise engaged in worldly affairs leads himself to the supreme object, or it may also mean that the contact is due to the dual approach of both God and the person until they meet. This yoga must have disinclination to worldly things as the first condition.

This kind of yoga or “union” as it is used in the text cannot be attained by mere knowledge but one has to follow a certain course of action called yoga-vidhi. Vidhi is of two orders, the principal and the subsidiary. Of these the principal is the direct means of merit, religious exercise known as carya and the subsidiary one is of the purificatiory nature.It was mainly because of the nature of these vidhis that the system was criticized by various scholars and religious teachers including the great thinkers like Yamunacarya[3] , Ramanuja and Sankara.

Describing the two kinds of perceptual knowledge Kaundinya distinguishes between sense perception and self perception. Usually most perceptions occur through senses and are regarded as valid proofs (pramana) like you recognize a cow when you see one or you can sense the burning smell from the kitchen and so on. It is the individual perceiver to whom things are proved by means of the pramanas.. Now self perception means the totality of the relation that is produced by citta and antahkarana, ie the mind and the thought. Inferences (anumana) is based on such perceptions. This relationship between the thought, the mind and the self expresses itself in diverse forms and produces diverse impressions and memories. And these lead to other kind of awareness that is the spiritrual awareness.This awareness or thought product is called Samvid, Samcintana or Sambodha. It is through these that true knowledge is revealed. The process of knowledge continues from the first moment of inception to the completion of knowledge. This idea of inference has been important for Indian aesthetic thought too, and this can be related to Sri Sankuka’s “Chitraturaganyaya” where he clearly states that art is nothing but inference.

Turning to the practices it is said that one should collect ashes and bake them and then smear the body in the morning, midday and afternoon with these ashes. The real bathing is of course through the attainment of virtue by which the soul is purified. One should also lie down on the ashes. The ashes are to be used for bathing instead of water, both for purification and for bearing the signs of a Saiva. The ashes (bhasma) are therefore called linga or an indicatory sign of a Pasupata ascetic and distinguish him from ascetics from other sects. The pasupata ascetic may live in the village, in the forest or in any place of pilgrimage and there he may employ himself to various practices.

In introducing moral virtues great emphasis is laid on the yamas consisting of noninjury, celibacy, truthfullness and nonstealing. Next there are niyamas consisting of non-irritability (akrodha), attending to the guru, purity, light diet and carefulness (apramada). Non-injury is highly emphasized as a virtue, almost as strictly as Jains. Brahmacarya meaninig all kind of sense control particularly the organ of taste and sex is suggested to be strictly followed. Any kind of association with women is strongly discouraged, hence suggesting that the followers were all young males and there was no place for a woman as a disciple in this harsh ascetic system.

The discussion about truth is quite an interesting one. The final standard of truth is the amount of good that is rendered to people by one’s words. It is categorically mentioned that even a misstatement or a false statement if beneficial to all beings should be regarded as preferable to a rigorous truthful statement which benefits no one. Such a diplomatic stance is hardly understandable in such a rigorous and strict ascetic system and seems more in accordance with Kaundinya’s time when the order had started gaining popularity among the royal dynasties and lay people. Pasupata system forbids all kind of commercial dealings and trades and an ascetic of this order has to earn his living by mendicancy alone.

It is emphatically laid in the text that a Pasupata ascetic should be a Brahmin and he is prohibited to address women or sudras, except under special circumstance. Under such exceptional circumstances one should purify oneself by bathing in ashes and also by pranayama and muttering of “rudra gayatri” This is suggested for purifying the mind as there is a chance that the ascetic would get angry and thus cause injury to his mind and probably lose his concentration too.

As a fruit of all this staunch asceticism and when the mind is completely purified one attains various miraculous powers. But an ascetic is soon warned of misusing such powers and falling into decadence, the process of spiritual worship can only be done through the surrendering of oneself in one’s mind to the supreme lord and one has to continue to do it without losing the focus in between. The lure to use siddhis is great but a true ascetic is supposed to overcome all that and surrender himself completely to Siva.Lord is regarded as Sakala or Niskala, immanent or transcendent but even in His transcendental aspect He has in Him all the powers to extend His grace to all beings. And He is the only one who can bestow the eternal liberation to a devoted ascetic who has completely surrendered to him.

The real Saiva ascetic after acquiring the miraculous powers is supposed to dispense with all the external practices so that no one can recognize him as a Saiva ascetic. Thus ignored by the society his mind will delve more in Siva. He is further asked to move about like a poor lunatic, besmeared with ashes and dirt to create repulsion in people who encounter him and treat him like an outcaste. This insult further helps him on the path of disinclination and spiritual advancement. We might simply understand it as a harsh test of one’s patience and humility. When the ascetic bears the insults showered upon him by the ignorant people he rises higher and attains fortitude. Its almost like performing a hard penance in the world to rise over it and its material being. With such behaviour he is not only purified but is spiritually ennobled. Ingalls[4] compares such courting of dishonor by Pasupata ascetics to the similar practice followed by Cynics of ancient Greece.Hara[5] in his monumental work on Pasupata studies hints open the transferring of merit from the abuser to the abused and the use of such technique by Pasupata ascetics to gain maximum merit.

Thus when a person is firm in Yama and Niyama practices and meekly suffers the indignities and abuses showered on him by other people he is considered to be well established in the path of asceticism. Indra is supposed to have performed this harsh Pasupata vrata to atone for his sin of Brahma hatya

The supreme lord is referred to by many names and yoga in this text means a steady union of the soul with him. Now for this “sayujyam” (union) the person should be completely detached from all objects present, past and future and be emotionally attached to Mahesvara. The union of self with Siva must be so intimate that no physical sounds and disturbances should lead the person away. In the first stages the attachment with Siva takes place by the withdrawal of the mind from other objects and making it settle on the lord; then the association becomes continuous. This constant or continuous contact constitutes the eternity of self. The self is then regarded as unborn, in the sense that it is not born anew along with the chain of sensations and other activities of mind or in other words it remains the same through all its experiences. At this stage it is called “Maitra” as it can remain in the state of equanimity and in attachment with the supreme lord when all its desires, antipathies and efforts have disappeared.

The kind of detachment referred in the text can only be attained by the control of all the cognative and conative senses, manas, buddhi and ahankara. The control of senses here means that their activities should be directed towards good acts and they should not be allowed to stray away into the commission of evil deeds. Moreover Kaundinya categorically states that the definition of final goal as described by philosophers of Samkhaya and Yoga schools is not right. According to him the teachings of both these schools are impure and to be finally liberated means to be connected with Lord siva and not to dissociate from all things as preached in these schools.

It is mentioned that a Pasupata ascetic should live on mendicancy alone and should bear all hardships like animals and be satisfied with whatever he gets, vegetable or meat by begging.. The yogin who has realized his goal is not affected by any actions or sins. He is also unaffected by any mental troubles or physical diseases. The supreme Lord has the infinite power of knowledge and action by which He controls everything, and this lord should be meditated upon in His aspect as formless (niskala) i.e., formless. In Pasupata-sutra 5. 7 it is mentioned that god is unassociated with anything that can be expressed by speech. The supreme lord is therefore called Vag–Visuddha. Interestingly at this stage cremation ground is suggested as the place to stay for the ascetic. Hence not having any association with the outside world and taking away his mind from all sense objects he concentrates on the lord. By this means all the network of causes that produce the defects are cut asunder. The defects are classified as various sensations of sound touch etc from which we get the feeling of desire, anger, greed and so on. The suffering of a man commences from the time of birth and continues throughout his life, till the time of his death so the aim of the ascetic is put a stop to his cycles of births and rebirths by fixing his mind on Siva. The self which is thus fixed in Siva becomes static (niskriya) and is also called niskala. The mind in this state is devoid of all good and bad thoughts. When this yoga ideal is reached the person becomes omniscient and he cannot be drawn to any illusory notions.

So the liberated yogin, according to this Saiva yoga,does not become a kevalin like the yogin following the Patanjali yoga, but he becomes omniscient and has no sorrows and this happens by the grace of god. A very strong hint of monotheism can be seen here. He becomes absolutely librated in the sense that he can arrest any future aggression of evil or time and he is not dependent on anybody.In this way he shares the supreme power of the lord.

A survey of the Pasupata-sutra with Kaundinya’s bhasya suggests in all probability the same type of Lakulisa Pasupata system as refered by Madhava in Sarvadarsanasamgraha in 14th AD. According to Dasgupta[6] it may also be the same system of pasupatas as refered to by Sankara in his bhasya on the second book of the second chapter of the Brahma-sutra.There is absolutely no reference here to maya nor to the doctrine of monism as propounded by Sankara.Even at the time of emancipation the liberated souls do not become one with Siva. The emancipation here means that by mental steadiness the devotee is in perpetual contact with Siva and this is what is meant by the word “rudra-sayujya”, used often in the text. Apparently as the text suggests, god though omnipotent has no power over librated souls. He is the creator of world and all the living beings but the system does not make any special effort to explain how this world came into being.

As mentioned earlier Pasupata system as mentioned in this text is represented as a Brahmanical system as only Brahmins could be initiated, but gradually as the order progressed we see the inclusion from all sections of the society which gave a boost to propagation of this order but changed its basic structure.

Footnotes and references:


Pasupata Sutra, Ed by R.A Shastri, University of Trivandrum, Trivandrum,1940


Pasupata Sutra with Panchartha Bhasya of Kanundinya Trans. by Haripada Chakraborti, Academic Publishers, Calcutta, 1970


Agamapramanya of Yamunacharya, Ed. by Dr. M. Narsimhachary, Oriental Institute, M.S.U. Baroda, 1976


Ingalls Daniel H.H, Cynics and Pasupatas: The Seeking of Dishonor, Harvard Theological Review 55, no.4, 1962, p.281-98


Hara Minoru. Pasupata Studies ed by Takashima Jun, Vienna, 2002


Dasgupta S.N, History of Indian Philosophy,

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