LEARNING FROM OTHER TRADITIONS: KASHMIR SHAIVISM
My Druidry is an earth pathway and a nature mysticism – and it is more than that. It is concerned with recognising, and living from, a divine identity in a divine world. I practice a panentheist, non-dual, Druidry. But few of the mystical traditions known to history have fully held the two aspects together as one. Kashmir Shaivism, a form of traditional Indian Tantra, is an exception. Sally Kempton (1) explains.
“Rejecting the Vedantic view that the material world is illusory, an empty dream, the sages of Kashmir Shaivism saw all forms of the universe as manifestations of divine creative energy, of Shakti, the dynamic female principle. They worshipped Shakti in themselves, in the earth, and in every substantial and insubstantial thing, and they looked for the pulsing heart of divine bliss within all domains of experience. Astute seekers of the tradition knew innumerable pathways for uncovering the experience of the divine. They knew how to extract it from states like terror or pleasure or in the high point of a sneeze; the knew how to find the pulsation of ecstasy in empty space, in fixed attention, and in the sensations that come from swaying or twirling, or enjoying music or the taste of food.
“But the crucial insight of Shaivism is the recognition that when human consciousness lets go of its identification with the body and reflects back on itself, it is revealed as a perfect, if limited, form of the supreme ‘I’, which is God. By expanding their own I-consciousness beyond its limits, past its tendency to cling to narrow definitions of itself, yogis of the Shaivite path experienced God as themselves.
“Because they saw the world as divine, the Shaivite yogis of Kashmir had no difficulty enjoying life in all its different flavors. In this they differed from their Vedantic cousins and from the Madhyamika Buddhists who inhabited the same region of India. Shaivism was not a traditional renunciate’s path. Abhinavagupta (975-1025 CE), the preeminent genius of the tradition, was not only a philosopher and a widely revered guru but also an aesthetician, and artist and musician, and the center of a circle where sensory experience – including art, music and drama – was constantly being transmuted into yoga.
“It is this insight – that a serious practitioner of yoga does not reject their world, but instead transforms daily experience through their practice – that sets Kashmir Shaivism apart from many Indian yogic traditions, and has made this system particularly resonant for our time.”
(1) Sally Kempton Meditation for the Love of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2011
This sounds very relatable. I will have to learn more. Thanks as always for your generous sharing. Following from afar and wishing you well.
Thanks Bart. Wishing you well too!
Sally Kempton misunderstood Vedanta, which is the tradition I most followed. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who I met in Delhi, and Swami Nikhilananda, who tutored me in New York, did not believe the material world to be illusory. It is our belief that it is the only reality and our attachment to it that keeps us from realizing ultimate Reality (which people call God).
The person who introduced me to mysticism was Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Director of the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory. He once wrote: “God is man’s greatest invention.” You do not have to be religious or believe in God to be a mystic.
Thanks for this comment Ron. It’s the second time I’ve heard something like it in a week. The first was Eckhart Tolle saying that God is a concept. The experience he names ‘presence’ and ‘stillness’ is beyond concepts, so that even the words presence and stillness are only pointers.
I’m no sufficiently steeped in Indian esoteric traditions to have an independent opinion – though that hasn’t always stopped me. Instinctively I am drawn to Rupert Spira’s perspective. He sees Tantra and Vedanta as two aspects of the same path. The Vedantin aspect is the inversion of attention – away from thoughts, feelings and sensations and perceptions towards the source, the subjective experience of being aware, and of self-abiding. The Tantric aspect involves a turning back towards experience in the light of a Vedantin understanding, so that ‘I am nothing’ becomes ‘I am everything’ – making the path as a whole one of inclusion and love. I’d be interested in your perspective on this understanding, Ron, if you are wiling to share it.
James, I had not considered that comparison. This article explains it well.
Thanks for this interesting reference. Rupert Spira had Francis Lucile as his teacher, who in turn had Jean Klein. It was Klein who introduced the Direct Path developed by Atmananda Krishna Menon whilst also adding elements drawn from Kashmir Shaivism in his own teaching. Although based in the Western Way and its discomfort with the Guru role, I feel respect for and a certain resonance with the Direct Path line.