Q: Is Trika (Non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir) only one school or is it composed of several schools?
A: What everybody calls “Trika” now, i.e. Non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir, is the result of the formidable task accomplished by the greatest Master of Trika of all time: Abhinavagupta. Abhinavagupta is said to have lived for 50 years on this little planet (approximately from 975 to 1025 AD). Before him, Trika did not exist as such (as people knows it now) but in the form of four schools of non-dual Shaivism that shared many common points but differed in some aspects. It was Abhinavagupta who managed to accomplish the titanic task of unifying those four schools through his writings.
Q: What are the names of those schools?
A: Their names are:
Of course, there are several optional appellatives too. For example, the Krama school is also known as “Mahārtha” or “Mahānaya”, and Kaula is also called “Kula” or “Kaula tantricism”. The last great exponent of Trika, Svāmī Lakṣmaṇa Joo, has explained this subject-matter in detail in the past.
Q: Could you explain the main characteristics of each school to me?
A: Yes, it is very simple (joking). In fact, complete study of each of those schools takes decades. In my case, I could say that I am preponderantly “knowledgeable” about the Spanda school, although I am “decently” familiar with the other schools too, and Krama system is the one I know the least at present. My knowledge about Trika goes from Spanda to Krama schools in the following order: Spanda » Pratyabhijñā » Kaula » Krama. The reason for this being mostly that the scriptures about the Spanda and Pratyabhijñā systems were available for me in the late 1980’s, when I started my study of Trika. I was able to read about Kaula only in the 2000’s along with a little information about Krama at that time as well. And I have been studying these four schools for the last 27 years (about 4 hours a day average completely devoted to Trika, according to my calculations… as I had to study other systems along with Sanskrit grammar too, and practice meditation, etc.). Apparently, it is not a lot of time, but if you consider that in my country it takes 6 years to get a degree in medicine, you can see that my studies comprise four and half medicine careers. I am telling you this for you to understand the magnitude of these four schools. The quantity of knowledge displayed by them is simply “brutal”. At present my translation work, for example, is taking 8-10 hours of my day since while I translate I have to investigate many other things too and enter into trances in order to fully understand hidden meanings. So, be patient and never become disappointed if you run into “some problems” while you study Trika, please, because it is absolutely massive. I personally consider that even an entire human life is not long enough as to study all these four schools in depth.
Most of Trika disciples around the world are in the same position, viz. they know Trika but predominantly one of its schools. With one of these schools you can perfectly attain final liberation (I have no doubt about it), but to get knowledge about the other three schools is always important to fully understand Trika philosophy as a whole. Besides, one could be following a school that is not appropriate for his nature, and after obtaining knowledge about all four school could choose another one instead. Yes, I am simplifying things, but for the time being this way of explaining the processes is more than enough.
The first school I will explain to you is Spanda.
Q: Who founded it?
A: Despite the fact that you can find it in two ancient Tantra-s (Vijñānabhairava –which is a portion of the great Rudrayāmalatantra– and in the sixth chapter of Svacchandatantra), this school was formally founded by Vasugupta (the sage who received the Śivasūtra-s from the Great Lord). Vasugupta laid the foundations of this school by means of his superb Spandakārikā-s. Next, sage Kṣemarāja (the main disciple of Abhinavagupta) composed Spandanirṇaya –his supreme commentary on Vasugupta’s Spandakārikā-s– which firmly established the Spanda school.
Q: What does the word Spanda mean?
A: It comes from the root spand which means “to vibrate, throb, palpitate, etc.” So, Spanda may be accordingly translated as “vibration, throb, pulsation, etc.” This school is called so because all of its studies are based on “movement”, as it were. By movement, the Spanda school is not referring to physical or mental movement, but to the Supreme Movement known as Śakti (the Power of the Great Lord). Śakti is this constant Pulsation of Consciousness that keeps the entire universe alive and kicking. For example, you look at one object and Śakti “moves” and appears through Her group of powers (śakticakra) as knowable (the object), knowledge (the process of perceiving such an object) and the knower (the limited individual who is looking at the object).
All that is invented by Śakti by means of Her group of powers. Next, when you move your attention to another object, Śakti “moves” again and appears as the new set of knowable, knowledge and knower. In the gap to be found between both perceptions, as you move your attention from the first object to the second object, the Great Lord shines in His full Glory, since Spanda (Śakti) here (in the gap) is totally absorbed in Its own essential nature (in the Great Lord Himself!). Spanda school teaches you how to focus your attention on these gaps and not on the objects themselves as ordinary people do almost all the time. In this sense, the Spanda school has predominance of Śakti because you are using Her (of Śakti) viewpoint during your practices. As it is obvious, this school is based on upāya-s or “means/methods” for you to attain final liberation. These means are explained by me in depth on the Main Website, beginning with document Meditation 1 (I will have to expand and polish those teachings in the future, because now I know more about upāya-s than I did when I wrote all that, around 12 or 13 years ago).
I generally like to call the Spanda school “traditional Trika” (yes, it is a term only used by me evidently). The reason for my calling the Spanda school like that lies in the fact that it is the most commonly known, at least in the West. It has to do with Vasugupta discovering the Śivasūtra-s and writing a running commentary on them (Spandakārikā-s), and it has to do with upāya-s or means/methods to get final liberation, it is related to the well-known Vijñānabhairava (a scripture that describes 112 meditation techniques), etc. So, I call the Spanda school “traditional Trika” for all these reasons.
The next school, Pratyabhijñā, has predominance of Śiva.
A: Because it uses Śiva’s viewpoint instead and as a result there is no upāya or means involved in the process (not even Śāmbhavopāya). But yes, sages such as Kṣemarāja have prescribed some methods to help the aspirants whose spiritual grip is not strong enough as to keep Śiva’s viewpoint at will, any place and at any moment. I will speak about this in a moment. First, I need to explain something about the story behind this school:
It appeared in the early Kaliyuga (around 5000 years ago) for the first time, but it was “refounded” by the sage Somānanda (the celebrated author of Śivadṛṣṭi –it literally means “Śiva’s viewpoint”–, an important scripture) in the late 8th century AD. He was also the guru of Utpaladeva, the disciple who firmly established this school by means of his celebrated Īśvarapratyabhijñā (the great scripture that explains the Pratyabhijñā system in detail). In turn, Utpaladeva was the guru of Lakṣmaṇagupta, and Lakṣmaṇagupta was one of the 12 guru-s of the sublime Abhinavagupta.
The Pratyabhijñā school, being based on Anupāya (no means/methods at all), is only intended for great disciples who have found a great guru. The word pratyabhijñā means “recognition”.
Q: Recognition of what?
A: Recognition of one’s own Self (Śiva). The process taught by this school is not based on space and time as in the case of the Spanda school, because recognition of your essential nature, of your own Self, is independent from place and time, i.e. you must recognize your divinity in any place and at any moment. Again, this school is propelled by Grace only. So, not only you as a disciple must be very great but your guru must also be that great because your enlightenment is completely powered by Śiva’s Grace channeled through him. In short, it is your guru who, being pleased with you, channels His Grace for you and in this way you can instantly recognize your own essential nature in any place and at any time without using any technique or method. When you realize you are the Self (Śiva), you also realize you have always realized Him. There is nothing to be done apart from that, which is generally disheartening to most people in the West because this is the land of egos (the supposed doers). Besides, this school implies total obedience towards the guru or he will not be pleased with the disciple and massive Grace bestowal will not happen then. As a result, in the West, the land of the individuals endowed with illusory freedom, having to fully obey a guru is also a great obstacle. Hence this school could not flourish in this zone of the planet called the West, at least not as much as the Spanda school could.
The main scripture dealing with pratyabhijñā or recognition of the Self is undoubtedly Īśvarapratyabhijñā by Utpaladeva, but its subtleties require a very powerful intellect indeed. Compassionate Kṣemarāja summarized the contents of Īśvarapratyabhijñā in his Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam. He wrote a commentary on his own Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam too, in which he explains some techniques (although the Pratyabhijñā school uses no technique). An example of such technique is “contemplation of the five-fold act performed by Śiva in oneself” which helps an aspirant recognize his own Self. Kṣemarāja did so for the sake of compassion, as he could understand that the quality of the disciples was generally not elevated enough at his time as to cope with the requirements of this school. The quality of discipleship has continued to worsen during last centuries. At present, one can behold in the West tons of disciples following some guy only because he wears a robe, has a sweet smile on his face and is from India. Apparently, if a guru is not from India or at least has traveled to India (I have been asked that many times, and I have even been recommended to travel to India to get “more spiritual punch”, no jokes), he is of low quality according to their minds. All in all, it seems that Śiva lives in India only… but I thought He was everywhere! Oh, these miserable disciples and guru-s are, in a nutshell, laughably stupid. As the conditions are currently like that in the West, it is no surprise that the Pratyabhijñā school has not flourished here for the most part. The dimension of spiritual ignorance is as immense as Śakti Herself (the one generating it), I have no doubt about it.
Q: What about the Kaula school?
A: The Kaula school is based in kula or “totality”. All in all, you learn to realize your essential nature at any level, whether it is the highest or the lowest. That is what is meant by “totality”. You can realize the Self even in the middle of full ignorance, and vice versa, in the middle of full knowledge. The difference between this school and the Pratyabhijñā one lies in the fact that the latter teaches you to realize your Self in Śivatattva (in category 1) only, i.e. in the Pinnacle, while the former teaches you to realize your Self in both Śivatattva (the first category) and Pṛthivītattva (category 36, the lowest one). Study the Tattvic Chart for more information. For that reason, the Kaula school uses Paramaśiva’s viewpoint. Paramaśiva is the sum of Śiva and Śakti (tattva-s or categories 1 and 2) and much more, too. Hence, Paramaśiva pervades the entire universe, from the highest to the lowest, while simultaneously being beyond the universe.
Also, the Kaula school is called so because it teaches you to see the totality (kula) of the universe contained even in the smallest particle. Anyway, there is another translation for the world “kula” besides totality: “family”.
Q: What do you mean by “family”?
A: I am not referring to the usual family composed of a mother, father, children, etc. but to the group of knower, knowledge/means of knowledge and knowable also known as subject, perception/means of perception and object. This is the sacred Family or kula. The system dealing with all that is related to this Family is accordingly termed “Kaula”. There are also other possible meanings of kula such as: (1) The spiritual family composed of guru, guru’s power and his disciples, (2) Śakti or Power of the Lord, etc. Oh well, this subject is really long and very often extremely difficult to understand. Kaula school requires disciples of certain caliber as its practices are generally very elevated (e.g. Śāmbhavopāya, spiritual enlightenment through the sexual act, etc.). If the aspirant is not fit for such practices, he will not be able to maintain them and end up failing. This is one of the reasons why Kaula has not flourished in the West either, where aspirants are of disappointing quality to say the least.
Q: Who founded the Kaula school?
A: Śrīmacchandanātha in the early 5th century AD, but by the 9th century his teachings had been so distorted that the sage Sumatinātha had to refound it. This sage had a disciple, Somanātha. And Somanātha had, in turn, a great disciple called Śambhunātha who was the Kaula guru of the great Abhinavagupta. As I mentioned previously, Abhinavagupta had 12 guru-s, Śambhunātha being the main one according to some authors. This would imply that Abhinavagupta was mainly a follower of the Kaula school then.
Q: Only one school is left to be described.
A: Yes, that is the Krama school. The word krama means “succession, sequence, series, etc.”. This school is called so because it teaches that all the processes of perception go through 12 stages. The system mentions the names of 12 goddesses known as “Kālī-s”. Each of these Kālī-s is associated with one of the 12 stages of the perceptual process. The Kaula and Pratyabhijñā schools are beyond space and time, but the Krama school is not. Why? Because there is krama or succession of 12 goddesses or stages in one’s perception, all of which is displayed in space and time accordingly. Yes, this school leads an aspirant to the Non-dual Reality where space and time are absent, but its methods are based on space and time though.
Q: Could you name those twelve goddesses?
A: Yes. The names of the first two goddesses were declared by Kṣemarāja in his Spandanirṇaya I.1, while he wrote the first interpretation of the compound “śakticakravibhavaprabhavam” to be found in the first stanza of Spandakārikā-s. He said the following regarding the group of powers (śakticakra):
… शक्तीनां सृष्टिरक्तादिमरीचिदेवीनां चक्रं द्वादशात्मा समूहस्तस्य यो विभव उद्योगावभासनचर्वणविलापनात्मा क्रीडाडम्बरस्तस्य प्रभवं हेतुम्।…
… Śaktīnāṁ sṛṣṭiraktādimarīcidevīnāṁ cakraṁ dvādaśātmā samūhastasya yo vibhava udyogāvabhāsanacarvaṇavilāpanātmā krīḍāḍambarastasya prabhavaṁ hetum|…
… –Now, a first interpretation of the compound “śakticakravibhavaprabhavam” in the aphorism–
The group (cakram) of powers (śaktīnām) (appearing in the form of) the luminous (marīci) goddesses –devyaḥ– (devīnām) (such as) Sṛṣṭi (sṛṣṭi), Raktā (raktā), etc. (ādi), (is) an aggregate (samūhaḥ) consisting (ātmā) of twelve (deities) (dvādaśa). Its –i.e. of that aggregate or group– (tasya) “vibhava” (yaḥ vibhavaḥ) (is, according to this first interpretation,) the immensity (āḍambaraḥ) of the play (krīḍā) whose nature (ātmā) (is) creative activity (udyoga), maintenance (avabhāsana), reabsorption (carvaṇa) (and) concealment (vilāpana). (And) “prabhava” (prabhavam) (is) its (tasya) cause (hetum)…
There, the sage is giving the name of the first two Kālī-s (Sṛṣṭi and Raktā). Now I will give you the name of all the 12 Kālī-s controlling any process of perception then (4 for the knowable or object, 4 for knowledge and means of knowledge or perception, and 4 for the subject himself –the knower or perceiver–, respectively).
For the knowable or object
For knowledge and means of knowledge or perception
- Bhadrakālī or Rudrakālī
For the subject (the knower or perceiver)
- Mahābhairavaghoracaṇḍakālī or Mahābhairavacaṇḍograghorakālī
The fourth goddess in each of the three groups (object, knowledge/means of knowledge, subject) is the unmentionable/unspeakable aspect (anākhyā) of the previous three goddesses, i.e. she makes the products of those three goddesses “unmentionable, unspeakable” (I will explain this soon, be patient). Therefore, the fourth goddess is always indefinable regarding the previous three goddesses.
For instance, in the group related to the subject (the knower or perceiver), Paramārkakālī is the goddess that dissolves one’s ego (Ahaṅkāra, tattva or category 15) in Puruṣa (individual soul, tattva or category 12). Next, Kālāgnirudrakālī is the goddess that dissolves the individual soul (Puruṣa, tattva or category 12, also known as Kālāgnirudra) in Śiva residing in the tattva-s or categories 3, 4 and 5 (Sadāśiva, Īśvara and Sadvidyā), viz. in the three tattva-s where Śiva dwells in full unity with the incipient universe. This means that Kālāgnirudrakālī is the goddess allowing a limited individual (an individual soul) to overcome the primordial impurity (Āṇavamala) situated between the tattva-s 5 and 6. After that, the goddess called Mahākālakālī dissolves Śiva residing in tattva-s 3 to 5 in “pure Śiva” (Śiva dwelling in tattva 1 only, beyond even the incipient universe). Finally, the fourth goddess (Mahābhairavaghoracaṇḍakālī) appears as the one who contains all the previous three goddesses and their products (Puruṣa, Śiva in tattva-s 3 to 5 and pure Śiva) but at the same time she makes all that anākhyā “unmentionable/unspeakable”, i.e. when you are in the fourth goddess, in Mahābhairavaghoracaṇḍakālī, you cannot “name, mention” Puruṣa, Śiva in tattva-s 3 to 5 and pure Śiva in tattva 1, because your State is That of Paramaśiva (the Supreme Śiva), which is beyond description in words. All in all, the State of Paramaśiva is called with the name of a goddess in the Krama system: Mahābhairavaghoracaṇḍakālī. Besides, this goddess is not only transcending the three goddess Paramārkakālī, Kālāgnirudrakālī and Mahākālakālī, but she also engulfs all of the previous 11 goddesses at the same time, because Paramaśiva is not only beyond all the tattva-s or categories since He is also present in each of them simultaneously. This is obvious from the very name of the last goddess:
Mahābhairavaghoracaṇḍakālī = Mahābhairava (it stands for the subject or knower) – ghora (it stands for knowledge/means of knowledge or perception) – caṇḍa (it stands for the knowable or object) – kālī.
OK, it is enough. For more information about tattva-s, read the “Trika overview” section found in Trika > Trika (overview) of the Main Website.
Q: I have a headache!
A: That is why I told you before that knowledge contained in these four schools is simply “brutal”. Now you can understand that I was not exaggerating. And that was just a mere sample of what the Krama school has to give you regarding spiritual knowledge. As it is very obvious, this school uses Śakti’s viewpoint.
Q: Who founded the Krama school?
A: Although it existed even in the early Kaliyuga (around 5000 years ago) due to the efforts of the great sage Durvāsās, it was refounded by Erakanātha (also known as Śivānandanātha) in the late 7th century AD. This sage initiated only three disciples who were women: Keyūravatī, Madanikā and Kalyāṇikā. Hence, the Krama system is sometimes known as a female system o something like that, since these three gurvī-s (female guru-s) were very famous and extremely knowledgeable about the Krama school. Anyway, they had also men among their disciples.
Q: Will you make a final summary of the four Trika schools?
A: It’s as follows:
- Spanda school: uses Śakti’s viewpoint. It is by far the most famous school out of the four, at least in the West. It is also the most accessible school for western students who are always desirous of learning techniques/methods to realize their Self. I call it “traditional Trika”, as I told you before.
- Pratyabhijñā school: uses Śiva’s viewpoint. It requires a very powerful intellect to understand all the intricacies contained in the main scripture of this system, no doubt about it. Moreover, both a great guru and a great disciple are indispensable as all of its processes have to do with Grace bestowal. The disciple practices no method or technique but he rather receives Śiva’s Grace through his Guru and attains spiritual enlightenment instantly, any place, any time.
- Kaula school: uses Paramaśiva’s viewpoint. Though the processes in the Kaula system are, like those of the Pratyabhijñā system, beyond space and time, this school uses methods of Śāmbhavopāya, sexual Tantra, etc. As you can see, its methods are really elevated and not fit for all the students. This school can give much but at the same time it demands much, i.e. it requires of disciples of high caliber. To practice certain Kaula methods without the adequate fitness could even be very dangerous (no jokes).
- Krama school: uses Śakti’s viewpoint. Instead of using tattva-s or categories to describe the process of perception, this school uses 12 goddesses. The Krama system moves in space and time, but finally leads to Paramaśiva (like the previous three schools, obviously) who is beyond space and time.
Very good! This has been a succinct exposition about the four schools of Non-dual Shaivism of Kashmir also known as Trika. As I mentioned before, these four schools were unified into what we call today “Trika” by venerable Abhinavagupta, the greatest Trika Master ever, through his writings (specially Tantrāloka). I have paid obeisance to him and his work by this short post!