Shankara Advaita vs. Shiva Advaita:

Many of the current popular Non-dual teachers in the West, both from the USA and UK, seem to present a version of Advaita which is a mix of Shankara’s philosophy and Kashmir Shaivism. Their audience, who are usually less inclined to accept the requirement of a prolonged prior mental preparation (called the “Purification of the mind” (cittasuddhi) insisted by the traditional Advaita, savour this mix essentially for two reasons. One is that the Karma theory and the concept of rebirth which are very much an integral part of Shankara’s teaching gets rarely mentioned by the Western teachers. The other is that the Western tech-savvy mind appears to prefer a world that is One seamless Whole without divisions (advaita) as the Reality in preference to a world which becomes totally apparitional as Shankara avers, post Self-realization.

A recent publication titled “Liberation and the World- in Advaita Vedanta and Pratyabhijna” by Klara Hedling** attempts to pin point precisely where the Advaita philosophy of Shankara differs from the Non-dualism of Kashmir Shaivism. An excerpt from it follows:

“Both Advaita Vedānta and the Pratyabhijñā maintain that the Absolute is essentially Cit or Caitanya (pure awareness), but they disagree on how this nature should be understood (121). As we have seen, Śankara struggles with explaining how the world of multiplicity and change can be related to Brahman, the nature of which is pure and undifferentiated consciousness. Moreover, Advaita Vedānta  frequently refers to Brahman (and Ātman) as a witnessing consciousness (saksicaitanya). According to both the Sāṃkhya and Advaita Vedānta, the Self (Puruṣa/Ātman) is to be inactive (niṣkriya) and pure Existence or Being (Sat) only. Ultimate reality or Brahman according to Advaita Vedānta is Prakāśa (primordial light) and Jñāna (knowledge) but without Vimarśa or activity. According to the Pratyabhijñā philosophy, on the other hand, the pure Caitanya also possesses Divine power (Śakti) or creative Energy that is said to be non-different from Cit and which enables the Caitanya to be self-conscious and always reveal itself (122). Because Advaita Vedānta does not recognize any activity or power (Vimarśa Śakti) attributed to Brahman, this gets them into the difficulty in explaining the
creation and existence of the phenomenal world. In order to explain the world, Śankara must appeal to the concept of māyā that in association with Íśvara (Saguna Brahman) can be said to manifest the world. As we have seen in Part 1, this has implications for how the world should be regarded and ultimately it is held to be unreal. The problem is that if there is nothing but Brahman and Brahman is devoid of all activity, the creation of the world becomes utterly mysterious. Because the Pratyabhijñā philosophy maintains that the Absolute is both Prakāśa and Vimarśa, it avoids this difficulty and can offer a different explanation of the creation of the world. The fundamental difference between the two philosophies, then, is the understanding of the nature of Cit. In the Śiva
Sūtras it is maintained that; “Awareness which has absolute freedom of all knowledge and activity is the Self or nature of Reality” (123). According to the Pratyabhijñā, Parama Śiva is not only pure consciousness, but also has absolute power of Will (Icchā) that translates itself into Knowledge (Jñāna) and Action (Kriyā). The chief characteristic of Parama Śiva is the concept of Svatantrya (124) that refers to the absolute sovereignty or freedom of will of Śiva. It is this free will of Śiva that is the power to create and manifest anything, which as we will see, is ultimately responsible for the creation of the universe.”


**  —  This Publication available at:

121  —  Sen Sharma, The Philosophy of Sadhana, 20.

122  —  ibid

123  —  Shiv sutras, 6.

124  —  According to Singh, the word Svatantrya literally means self-dependence. It is a technical term of this system and Singh argues that there are at least three important ideas involved in this concept: 1. the absolute sovereignty or lordship of Śiva (meaning that Śiva has absolute freedom to create anything He desires and wills and as such does not depend on any external material or means) 2. Vimarśa or the self-revealing power or Self-consciousness of the Absolute 3. Jñāna (knowledge) and Kriyā (activity, action) since these are included in the absolute freedom of  Śiva. Singh, Siva Sutras, 9.

6 thoughts on “Shankara Advaita vs. Shiva Advaita:

  1. Very interesting! I don’t know anything about Kashmir Shaivism. I can see that the points you make about karma, rebirth, and ‘reality’ of the world could well make it popular with today’s scientific outlook. It sounds as though this is another book I will have to read! (Is it long?)

    Of course, I would have to take issue with two of the authors claims:

    1) that “the world is ultimately held to be unreal”. This is a frequent misconception of seekers who do not appreciate the meaning of ‘mithyA’.

    2) that “the creation of the world becomes utterly mysterious.” If there actually were any creation, it might well be ‘mysterious’ but since there isn’t…

  2. Thanks for the observations, Dennis.

    Answering your question, no it is quite a short one – a total of 65 pages. Half of it is on Shankara Advaita (quite readable) and the other half on KS.

    About the creation:
    It’s a catch-22 situation. Creation is quite inexplicable, honestly. Of course, one may play with words, still we have got to admit that there is an “explanatory gap” when it comes to convincingly say (to the human mind) how right now the communication is happening right here.

  3. Kashmir Shaivism is another School or upaya, and there are others. Frankly, I do not see any need to explore any number of them (though this is a personal choice) when I can find everything in Shankara’s School – Shuddhashankara Vada – and not in the so called ‘Traditional Advaita’ stemming from his immediate followers, except Suresvara; that is, the Vivarana and Bhamati Schools. These two represent, verily, a doctrinal deviation which brought in their trail numberless confusions and lack of understanding over the centuries and up to the present time – a deviation from the pristine teaching of Shankara.

    The essential meaning of Tai. 2-6 (I am following SSSS here) is, ‘The Absolute Reality Itself became Satya and Asatya (false appearance), that is, mithya. Whatever one perceives is Tat (brahman)’. Dennis made this point two days ago. Concerning Creation there is no effect (Karya) other than the cause on which it is (verbally) superimposed – the cause appears as various effects.

    ‘I am born as everything by virtue of my illusory power – everything is merely an appearance of Paramatman who is the Absolute Reality beyond time-space-causation categories’ – Satkarya Vada*. (Sorry, I don’t have the exact quotation from the Gita).

    * John Grimes (‘A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy’) makes the observation that ‘strictly speaking the Advaita Vedanta theory of causation should be called “Satkarana vada”‘ (the cause alone exists).

  4. Science tells us that everything we know is made of the same stuff. The effect is of the cause. Everything is made of the same building blocks – the gold in ornaments.

    If one accepts the position that Brahman is limitless, in terms of space and time, and not two . . . then logically speaking, there cannot be any agency, will or activity, that is ‘real’, since it requires subject and object dichotomy, together with time and space. All of which would serve to limit Brahman,

    Therefore the concept of Shiva sakti, can only be a transcend-able explanation to explain the seeming creation of a multi-object world. The fact is, that the cause of this apparent creation can never be known. The explanation that it is Maya or that it is Shiva sakti is surely just a fig leaf to cover this ever unknowable aspect of our experience: “How can that be known, by which all this is known?”

  5. I agree with Venkat (!). I donwloaded and read the material. I began by querying some of the early material but later on the author represented Advaita quite well. I have to confess, though, that I eventually gave up with the Kashmir Shaivism (pratyabhij~nA) explanations – Friar Occam would have been horrified at the attempt to propose this as a viable alternative to Advaita!

  6. “The fact is, that the cause of this apparent creation can never be known. The explanation that it is Maya or that it is Shiva sakti is surely just a fig leaf to cover this ever unknowable aspect of our experience: “How can that be known, by which all this is known?”

    You summed it up very well. Thanks Venkat.
    But the human mind still would like to grope, probe and find an explanation that is comfortable to itself. That is its own trick in covert self-perpetuation.

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