Over the years I have noticed that most aspirants speak about Trika but in a Vedantic way. While scholars have no doubt about the obvious differences between both systems, the non-scholar aspirants, of course, spend all their precious time by mixing concepts and speaking foolishness. This confusion is apparently insignificant but it brings ominous consequences if it is not stopped right away. In order to obliterate it for good I will explain the main differences.
First of all, there are three kinds of Vedānta: Advaita (non-dualistic) founded by Śaṅkarācārya, Dvaita (fully dualistic) founded by Madhvācārya, and Viśiṣṭādvaita (a mixture of dualism and non-dualism) founded by Rāmānujācārya. Dualism is when you postulate that God and you are different. In turn, non-dualism is when you postulate that you and God are the same thing. Systems postulating dualism and mixture of dualism and non-dualism are harmless with reference to bringing about confusion with Trika, because the difference is obvious. I composed a study that shows the different concepts of Final Liberation according to the main Indian philosophical systems, which includes these three sorts of Vedānta. Both Dvaita and Viśiṣṭādvaita postulate Final Liberation in rather dualistic terms, as if one and God were not the same Reality. If these two systems want to believe and postulate that, let them do it. One cannot reach the non-dual Truth by dualistic means, but if they are glad with their philosophical systems full of dualism, let them be so for eons. Now, the real problem is Advaita, also known as Advaitavedānta, because apart from being a complete nonsense (and I take full responsibility for what I am saying), its postulates are seemingly the same as those stated by Trika, to the mind of a non-scholar person:
1. Advaita: Advaitavedānta calls the Highest Reality: Brahma (a word neuter in gender that is derived from the raw term “Brahman”). Many people, due to an awful transliteration of Sanskrit, mistake Brahma for Brahmā. The first word designates the Absolute (yes, there are other meanings too, but for now this one is more than enough), while the latter is a word, masculine in gender, used to designate the creator of this universe, who is one of the gods of the well-known Vedic trilogy. As non-scholar people always write “Brahma”, they almost never know if they are speaking about Brahma or Brahmā. This Sanskrit ignorance is endless as you can see. The real pest is all those half-teachers who are not scholars or at least assisted by one, and spread more and more confusion through their horrendous ignorance regarding all that is related to Sanskrit and philosophy.
Beyond confusion between Brahma and Brahmā, let us focus on the concept of Brahma as Absolute in Advaita. They postulate that Brahma is devoid of “any type of activity”. Brahma does not create anything because He is only Knowledge or Consciousness. This statement brings the problem of “what is the universe then since it is full of activity!” If the universe were different from Brahma, then there would be two realities: Brahma and the universe, which would shatter non-dualism postulated by Advaita. In order to solve this problem, the concept of Avidyā (ignorance) also known as Māyā (illusion) is introduced. So, it is this Māyā or Illusion which is responsible for the creation of the universe as it apparently endows Brahma with activity and consequently the manifestation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe can be explained. But this solution brings another problem: “What is Māyā after all?” If Māyā is Brahma, as a result the latter is active and not devoid of activity as formulated at first. And if Māyā is not Brahma, then there is dualism again in the form of Brahma and Māyā.
This stupid philosophical dead end apparently forced Śaṅkarācārya (the founder of Advaitavedānta) to define Māyā as indefinable or indescribable (anirvacanīya). On the one hand, if Māyā were “real”, she would be Real as Brahma, but this is impossible because Brahma lacks activity while Māyā is full of it. On the other hand, if Māyā were “unreal”, she would be devoid of capacity to bring about a universe because she would not exist at all. This absurd question ended up with the formulation that Māyā is neither real nor unreal at the same time, as it were, i.e. indescribable, indefinable (anirvacanīya). In this way, Māyā (the villain) “somehow” transforms real/inactive Brahma into a Lord (Īśvara) who is able of creating, maintaining and dissolving the universe. This trick performed by Māyā is generally described as a rope that looks like a snake. The rope is always a rope, but due to “ignorance” or “illusion” (Avidyā or Māyā), it is mistaken for a snake. The explanation is apparently “good”, but it is complete nonsense that has brought never-ending confusion to the minds of a great deal of people. As the roots are rotten (Brahma is postulated as devoid of activity), the entire tree can fall down at any moment.
Great scholars such as Jaideva Singh have taken considerable pains to explain the differences between both systems, but in my opinion, what they wrote is not intended for beginners or middle aspirants because of the extreme scholarship of their descriptions.
1. Trika: This system postulates that the Highest Reality (Paramaśiva) appears in His two aspects of Śiva and Śakti. There is no dualism despite the Highest Reality appearing in two ways, because both Śiva and Śakti form a dense Mass of Consciousness in Absolute Freedom. The difference between them lies only in the sphere of words. As this blog is intended for beginners and middle aspirants, in previous posts I called Śiva “the Self” and Śakti “the Power of the Self” in order to remove as many Sanskrit terms as possible. Besides as there is the eternal confusion between the Puranic and the Tantric concepts of Śiva, I did not want the non-scholar readers to be thrown into the fathomless ocean of scholarship.
So, the aspect Śiva of the Highest Reality is similar to Advaita’s Brahma, because when Śiva is considered separately, He is devoid of activity and looks like Consciouness or Knowledge ONLY. But Śiva is always accompanied by Śakti (the Power of the Self). Śakti is full of activity and consequently She is the cause of manifestation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe. In this sense, Trika did not need to introduce the concept of “indescribable” Avidyā or Māyā in order to explain the existence of the universe. The Highest Reality has activity and therefore It is completely able to bring about the universe on Its own. No need of a real/unreal Avidyā or Māyā then. No extra confusion because the Supreme Self is defined from the starting point as endowed with activity. The main problem with the statements of Advaitavedānta lies in its postulating the Supreme Self as devoid of any activity, which forces the introduction of the concept of Avidyā or Māyā in order to explain the existence of the universe full of activity. This difference between Advaitavedānta (or Advaita plainly) and Trika is crucial. A lot of aspirants fail to understand it and speak about Trika but from an advaitī viewpoint, i.e. from the viewpoint of Advaitavedānta.
2. Advaita: Avidyā (ignorance) also known as Māyā (illusion) is like a villain making Brahma, a eunuch devoid of activit) look like “something else”. In the teachings of this system, this is commonly depicted as a rope being mistaken for a snake.
2. Trika: As Advaitavedānta is much more popular than Trika in the West for the time being, it is usual to hear aspirants speaking about Māyā as the great Illusion. Even many Trika followers make the same blunder, because the systems are dramatically different at this point. There is no illusion in Trika but everything is absolutely “real” because its source is completely “real” too. The Highest Reality is Real. As this Highest Reality has Real Power, It manifests, maintains and dissolves a Real universe. Where is room for illusion then? Only in the mind of all those aspirants who have not been properly taught by proficient Trika teachers. Māyā in Trika is the sixth tattva or category manifested by the Power of the Self (see Tattvic Chart for further information). She is completely “real” and never “illusory” like in Advaita. This Trika’s Māyā is not a “villain” generating the illusion that the rope is a snake… NO… Māyā in Trika is the power that generates differences or duality. She is the abode of the impurity related to differences (Māyīyamala or mayic impurity), which is manifested by the Absolute Freedom of the Highest Reality. There is no veil falling on the Highest Reality but rather this Highest Reality assumes difference or duality through this mayic impurity of Its Free Will.
Again, the concept of Avidyā or Ignorance is not something “illusory” either. In Trika, Avidyā is not synonymous with Māyā but with Āṇavamala or the primordial impurity. Impurity in Trika marks the absence of unity with the Supreme Self. It is never related to moral impurity or anything else. There is no sin in such impurities but they are a mere Play of the Highest Reality. When the Supreme Self wants to be a limited individual, He abandons His Fullness of His own Free Will. This act of His is known as the primordial impurity (Āṇavamala). The primordial impurity appears in two aspects: Pauruṣa and Bauddha. The former is ignorance regarding the Self, while the latter is intellectual ignorance. Previously, I called them: “Lack of direct Self-experience” and “Ignorance regarding the scriptures” to make things easier for the readers. The first aspect of the primordial impurity is only overcome by Grace of the Self (Śiva), i.e. nobody can access a direct Self-experience without His Dispensation. The second aspect of the primordial impurity is also Grace-dependent because nobody could touch a Trika scripture without His Favor, but one could also say that the aspirant can overcome such ignorance by intellectual efforts, viz. by studying the Trika scriptures in depth and pondering over the respective meanings to be found there. Therefore, Āṇavamala is NOT Māyā in Trika, because Māyā arrives after the primordial impurity as one of its by-products. Can you follow me? Good!
In Trika there is no “villain” like in Advaita, because all the processes of bondage are a Play of the very Lord and not a veil superimposed on Him by a strange force. It is Himself who wishes to remain “veiled” by His own Power (Śakti). Anyway, if you insist on blaming someone in Trika for your own bondage, blame Āṇavamala and not Māyā. Forget about Māyā in Trika, please, and you will be fine, because the main problem to get Self-realization in Trika lies in how to obtain His Grace in order to go beyond Āṇavamala.
This horrible mess whose core is ignorance about what Trika postulates is all-pervading, especially in the West. I frequently hear aspirants talking about Trika but from a Vedantic viewpoint, e.g. accusing Māyā of being the source of all the problems, etc. As my task is shedding light on everything that is in the dark, I am describing in detail the differences between Advaitavedānta and Trika.
3. Advaita: Apart from the concept of Brahma, there is also the concept of Ātmā or Self (a word, masculine in gender, derived from Ātman). Both Brahma and Ātmā are one and the same thing, but the concept of Ātmā emerges when one speaks about the individual Self, while the concept of Brahma is used with reference to the Absolute or Universal Self. Ātmā is also devoid of any activity, because he is inherently Brahma as I explained before. Once again there is the eternal problem about: “Where is all this activity in an individual coming from?” Advaita states that all the activity in an individual comes from Buddhi or intellect, which is a product of Prakṛti (the illusory source of the material universe). This Prakṛti is, of course, the real/unreal creation of the bad lady called Māyā as well. And all that is created by this bad lady is illusory like herself, the great Prestidigitator.
When Brahma (the Universal Self) is influenced by Māyā, He becomes Īśvara or Lord. Brahma is essentially “nirguṇa” (with no attributes), but once He is transformed into Īśvara by Māyā, He becomes “saguṇa” (with attributes). As “Lord”, He is then able to create the universe and so on. In turn, when Ātmā (the individual Self who is one with Brahma) is influenced by Māyā, he becomes jīva (an individual soul). As the individual Self is one with the universal Self, Ātmā is inherently devoid of attributes and activity, but when he is turned into jīva by Māyā, he “appears to have attributes and activity”. It is the same “illusory” story again. As Māyā is neither real nor unreal, i.e. she is indescribable, all of her creations are also illusory (neither real nor unreal).
3. Trika: The term “Brahma” is not used in Trika generally. Instead, this system speaks about Paramaśiva, who consists of the Self and His Power (Śiva-Śakti). The Highest Reality is essentially with no attributes but at the same time It contains all attributes due to Its Absolute Freedom. No Māyā is necessary in order to explain Its Activity and respective state as the Lord, because this Highest Reality is full of Power or Śakti (another name for Its Absolute Freedom). This very Supreme Self is also Ātmā or the true nature of Reality as stated in the first aphorism of Śivasūtra-s.
The concept of Ātmā or Self in Advaita does not coincide with that of Trika, because in the latter the individual Self, being one with the Supreme Self (the Highest Reality), is full of power of action or Śakti. The Self in Trika is not like the one in Advaita then, viz. eunuch or devoid of activity. The term Ātmā is used in both systems (Advaita and Trika) but the connotations are pretty different. Besides, everything is “Real” in Trika, e.g. Prakṛti, Buddhi and the rest of the universe. There is nothing illusory here because the Source of all is Real. Additionally, the limited individual is not generally called “jīva” in Trika but “puruṣa” or “aṇu”. This limited individual is not the result of any veil falling on the Self and so forth, but rather puruṣa or “aṇu” is the very Self (Ātmā) willingly assuming limitation and bondage. Nothing is forcing Him, the Free One, but He Himself accepts limitation of His own Free Will.
4. Advaita: The entire universe is illusory (neither real nor unreal) because it has arisen from Māyā, which is indescribable. The universe is like a snake being perceived in a rope. The snake is false while the rope is real.
4. Trika: The entire universe is completely real because it has arisen from Paramaśiva (the Supreme Self), who is full of Absolute Freedom to know and do everything. There is no snake being erroneously perceived in a rope, but there is only “a rope” and nothing else. Spiritual ignorance is only a Play of this Paramaśiva and not a strange force appearing and veiling Him.
5. Advaita: Since Avidyā (ignorance or Māyā) is the cause for both bondage and manifestation of this illusory universe, only Vidyā or Knowledge can give Final Liberation to a person. Besides, with the arrival of Knowledge, the universe is annulled.
5. Trika: The cause for the manifestation of the universe is His Free Will appearing as a subtle Desire in the Core of Himself. Next, through His Absolute Freedom, this Awesome Self makes the decision of becoming a limited individual that transmigrates from one thought to another thought, from one body to another body, etc. There is nothing imposing ignorance to the Free One. And Final Liberation is not attained only by Vidyā or Knowledge, because the primordial ignorance has two aspects: lack of direct Self-experience and ignorance about the scriptures. One can overcome its second aspect by Knowledge (i.e. by studying Trika scriptures) but not the first one. The first aspect, viz. lack of direct Self-experience, is always His boon. All in all, His Grace and not Knowledge is the great cause that sets a person free from bondage forever.
On the other hand, as the universe is real and not illusory, it is not annulled when Final Liberation is achieved. On the contrary, the universe is perceived as Oneself (as one’s own Self). One feels: “The universe is My Body” like the great Sadāśiva (“the eternal Śiva”, take a look at the third tattva or category in the Tattvic Chart). Once the liberated one crosses the last threshold, he fully realizes that he is the Free Self who is never affected by mind, body, etc. This is the culmination of all his previous efforts. Such an Awesome State comes from His Dispensation and not because of Knowledge. Knowledge is important in Trika, because it removes the ignorance about the scriptures, but it cannot cope with the task of revealing Him in all His Glory. When He wishes to do so, He does exactly that and the fortunate person becomes a liberated one instantly. This is His Grace. Therefore, Anugraha or Grace is the crucial factor in Trika and not Knowledge.
This has been a good summary of the most obvious differences between Advaitavedānta and Trika. Both systems are extremely scholarly. I have tried to describe things with as little Sanskrit as possible, but some terms had to be written in the sacred language for the sake of convenience. Lack of Sanskrit knowledge is a constant stone in everybody’s shoes, especially in the West. As I stated above, Advaitavedānta is much more popular here than Trika. In my humble opinion, the system founded by Śaṅkarācārya is absolute nonsense. I know for sure due to my trances that Śaṅkarācārya is a real saint. So, the only possible explanation I can find for such nonsense is that he wanted to hide real Wisdom from the fools. On top of that, the West is crowded with half-teachers of Advaitavedānta, who pronounce Sanskrit horribly and understand everything partially due to a their Sanskrit illiteracy. To hear them simply amounts to destroying my ears and my brain. One cannot believe how absurd all this can become if one fails to understand the meaning of just one single term.
Anyway, these half-teachers speak all the time about what they know only superficially. And on top of that, they often charge their pupils for their teachings! So, one can establish with absolute certainty that these half-teachers of Advaitavedānta are real plague in the West. Yes, these half-teachers constitute a large portion of the multitude of aforesaid fools. In fact, any half-teacher of any philosophical system finally becomes like a plague, because he or she teaches without being fully accomplished, or at least accomplished to a great extent. Therefore, they sow nonsenses constantly due to their half-knowledge. Next, when those half-pupils formed by those half-teachers come to a genuine spiritual teacher, he or she has to spend so much time to remove all those misconceptions. It is the right time to start mitigating the influence of this plague in the West then.
I wrote this article by His explicit request as a part of the process of refounding Trika in Rosario, my native city. Therefore, the real author of this article was Śiva working through Gabriel Pradīpaka out of sheer causeless Compassion.