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Title: Pratyabhijna  
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Subject: Hindu philosophy, Indian philosophy, Nididhyāsana, Taijasa, Ātman (Hinduism)
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Pratyabhijna (IAST Pratyabhijñā; Sanskrit: प्रत्यभिज्ञा), a branch of Kashmir Shaivism, is an idealistic monistic and theistic philosophy originating in the 9th century A.D.

The name of the system is derived from its most famous work, Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika by abhi – "immediate" and jna – "to know". So, the meaning is direct knowledge of one's self, recognition.[2]

The central thesis of this philosophy is that everything is Shiva, absolute consciousness, and it is possible to re-cognize this fundamental reality and be freed from limitations, identified with Shiva and immersed in bliss.[3] Thus, the slave (pasu - the human condition) becomes the master (pati - the divine condition).[4]

Masters and texts

The Pratyabhijna system had a period of intense development between the 9th and the 11th centuries,[5] with a lineage of masters and disciples who wrote treatises and mystical poetry.

The founder of the Pratyabhijna school was Somananda (875–925 A.D.).[6] His work, Śivadṛṣṭi is the basis of the system.[7] He was followed by his son and disciple, Utpaladeva (900–950 A.D.),[8] who wrote the most important treatise of the system, Īśvara pratyabhijñā kārikā.[9][10] Expanding on the ideas of his master, the Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika is a philosophical treaty discussing the fundamental doctrine of the school and comparing it with various rival schools, analyzing the differences and refuting them, in the style of Buddhist logic. The name of the school is derived from the title of this work, and even more, in the rest of India, sometimes, the whole Kashmiri Shaivite religion was referred to by the name of Pratyabhijñā Shastra.

Another important master of this school is Abhinavagupta, who realized a synthesis between various schools of Kashmir Shaivism in his magnum opus, Tantraloka.[11] Abhinavagupta also wrote two commentaries on Īśvara pratyabhijñā kārikā.[12][13] The disciple of Abhinavagupta, Ksemaraja wrote a digest of the Pratyabhijna philosophy called Pratyabhijñā hṛdayaṃ [14][15] – "the spontaneous recognition of the essence of the heart", which is the most popular introduction to the system.


In relation to Buddhism

The most important difference between Pratyabhijna and Buddhism is related to the ontological ultimate: while Buddhism rejects the concepts of soul (Atman) and god (Isvara), the Kashmiri Shaivites put them at the top of their world model.[16]

In his philosophical treatise Īśvara pratyabhijñā kārikā Utpaladeva also rejects the Vasana-theory (the dream model of the world) in the guise of the Sautrāntika school of Buddhist philosophy; he suggests another model for idealism: Shiva, who is pure consciousness, manifests all objects internally, by virtue of his free will svatantrya, and the objects appear as real and external to limited beings. He brings as an analogy the famed materialization of objects by advanced yogins, purely by using their psychic powers.[17]

In relation to Advaita Vedanta

With regard to the same problem: how does the world come by – Utpaladeva also rejects the Advaita Vedanta theory of eternal and independent ignorance (avidya).[18] This theory affirms that Brahman (the absolute consciousness) is being affected by Avidya (eternal ignorance) by superposition, and the result is the enslavement of the inactive subject consciousness to the worldly life. Instead, in Kashmir Shaivism, avidya (ignorance) and its cosmic aspect, maya (illusion) are nothing but Shakti, the power of Shiva. Thus, as Shakti, they are real for limited beings, but simple manifestations of consciousness for Shiva.[19]

With regard to the limited being (jiva), according to Advaita Vedanta, all activity belongs to the intellect (buddhi), but in Kashmir Shaivism activity is ascribed also to Atman who is not inert, but in possession of the five-fold actions of creation, maintenance, dissolution, occultation and grace. In Advaita, a liberated jiva is freed from the universe, but here, the universe appears as a the real I-consciousness, a mass of consciousness and bliss.[20]

In Advaita, consciousness (cit) is only light (prakasa), but in Pratyabhijna it is also activity, doership.[21]

Compared with other Kashmir Shaivism schools

In the context of the Kashmiri Shaivism family, Pratyabhijna is sometimes classified as Shambavopaya [22] (the path of Shiva) and other times as Anupaya (the non-path).[23] Shambavopaya and Anupaya are classes of practices related to consciousness directly. By contrast, the lower two classes of practice are Shaktopaya – the path of Shakti – related to the mind, and Anavopaya – the path of the limited being – which relates to the physical body. Thus, Pratyabhijna is considered to be the most direct, shortest path to liberation, an evolution based on consciousness alone.

Even though it shares the same practices relating to the ascension of Kundalini on the middle channel (Sushumna Nadi), Pratyabhijna believes in instantaneous progression while the Krama school in gradual progression.[24]

With regard to the Spanda school – Pratyabhijna is more philosophical and puts the accent on instantaneous realization (recognition) of the Ultimate while the Spanda school is more practical (as per the fundamental text, Spanda Karika) and puts accent on the vibrating energy aspect of consciousness.[25]


Abhasavada and Svatantryavada

Ābhāsa (a – slight, bhāsaḥ – manifestation) – i.e. appearance in a limited way, or "slight manifestation of Shiva" [26][27] is the Pratyabhijna theory of manifestation.[28] The supreme consciousness (samvit) is like a mirror and the universe is like a reflection appearing in it.[29] The mirror analogy is often used to explain ahbasas because a mirror, like consciousness, can contain an infinity of different images without being itself affected.

Pratyabhijna affirms that the universe appears as an abhasa in the mirror of supreme consciousness, samvit, but unlike a physical mirror which needs an external object to form a reflection, the image in the mirror of samvit is projected by samvit itself – this activity is called Svātantrya, power of will. In other words the universe appears inside samvit because Shiva so desires.

Advaita Vedanta proposes a somewhat similar theory of universe as an illusion superimposed on consciousness. The difference in Pratyabhijna is that the cause of manifestation is not an eternal separate principle of ignorance (avidya), but the will of Shiva, and the creation itself is ontologically real, not just an illusion.[30] It is made of abhasas, which are nothing but the ideation of Shiva appearing as empirical objects [31]

Thus, all things are abhasa: earth, water, fire, etc. All their qualities are abhasa.[32] Complex abhasas are compose from simpler abhasas, culminating with the whole world.[33][34]

Paradoxically, even though abhasas have the nature of consciousness, they also exist externally on account of being manifested through the occultation power (Maya) by Shiva.[35] An advanced meditator is capable of seeing the world as abhasa, a flash of consciousness (cit) and bliss (ananda), identical with his own self (atman) and non-differentiated (abheda). In other words, the light of consciousness shines from within the object of perception, as an intuition, a super-human direct kind of vision.[36]

If we contemplate the universe from the point of view of manifestation, it appears as abhasa, but when contemplated from the point of view of the ultimate reality, it appears as Svatantrya. Svatantrya is the complementary concept of abhasa accounting for the initial impulse of manifestation. The theory of Svatantrya affirms that Shiva, the fundamental reality, appears as distinct subjects and objects, but this does not conceal his real nature.[37] Thus, the free will of Shiva, which is absolute unity, is to manifest, to create multiplicity.[38] This impulse to create is Shiva's playful nature (lila).

The world

See main article The 36 tattvas

The Abhasa concept focuses on the essential nature of manifestation. In order to analyze in detail the nature of stuff (tattva - literally "that-ness") the Pratyabhijna system appropriated the 25 tattva ontology of Samkhya and improved on it by expanding the upper tattvas. Instead of spirit (Purusha) and nature (Prakriti), Kashmir Shaivism has five pure tattvas representing the Ultimate Reality and then six more representing the occultation process (maya) which translates the non-dual pure reality to time and space limited world and its subjects.


The soul, jivatman is the projection of Shiva in manifestation. When taking on the five limitations (kancukas) the infinite spirit appears as integrated in space and time, with limited powers of action and knowledge and a sense of incompleteness.

These five constrictions are the result of the action of an impurity called anava mala. Its function is to make the unlimited appear as limited and severed from the whole. This does not mean that jivatman is limited, it just appears so on account of ignorance.[39] Jivatman is not created or born, but rather has the same status as Shiva, performing on a small scale the same actions that Shiva performs on a universal scale – creation, maintenance, dissolution, occultation and grace.[40] However, his powers are circumscribed by malas.[41]

In order to open Jivatman towards external objects it is placed within the subtle body, also known as the mental apparatus or puryastaka – the eight gated fortress of the soul. The eight gates are the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, aether plus the sensorial mental (manas), ego (ahamkara) and intellect (buddhi).[42]

Jivatman is further limited by two more impurities, in addition to the first one, anava mala – the limitation of atomicity. Through the next impurity, mayiya mala, things appear as dual / differentiated.[43] The limited subject, jivatman, is immersed in a world full of external objects, in a fundamental duality between self and non-self.

Furthermore, through the third impurity – karma mala – the subject has the illusion that he is the doer, though, limited in power. Atman, by contrast, when acts, is identified with Shiva and acts as a part of Shiva.[44]

That is why the limited soul is described as enslaved (pasu) while Shiva is the master (pati). By purification of the three impurities the limited soul too can recognize (pratyabhijna) his real nature, becoming pati himself.[45]


The mala (meaning dirt, or impurity) [46] theory states that the infinite self, atman, is reduced and limited by three forces produced by Shiva. Shiva, by exercising his free will – svatantrya, takes contraction upon himself and manifests as countless atoms of consciousness (cidanu – consciousness quantas).[47] Cidanu are enwrapped by material vestment.[48]

As discussed above, the three malas are anava mala – the limitation of smallness, mayiya mala - the limitation of illusion and karma mala – limitation of doership.[49] Karma mala exists in the physical body, mayiya mala in the subtle body and anava mala in the causal body.[50] Anava mala affects the spirit and contracts the will, mayiya mala affects the mind and creates duality, karma mala affects the body and creates good and bad actions. They correspond to individuality, mind and body.[51]

Of the three limitations, only the first one, anava mala, which is the basis of the other two, is impossible to surpass through effort alone, without the help of divine grace (shaktipat).[52] Anava mala is manifested as residual impressions existing in the causal body (subconscious mind).[53] It is the combined effect of the five limitations (kanchukas) taken together,[54] the gateway from limited towards the unlimited, from the pure-impure (bheda-abheda) world of the ego towards the pure reality of the first five tattvas, culminating with Shiva and Shakti.

Mayiya mala manifests as the mind.[55] In Pratyabhijna, the mind is seen as the root of illusion.[56] The concept of mind here is different from Buddhism. In Buddhism, mind collates the aspect of awareness. Here, it is only related to the activity of thought forms, emotions, ego and the five senses. Thus, all cognitions being limited perceptions of the absolute, are illusions, on account of containing a sense of duality.

Karma mala manifests the physical body. Its essence is limitation of the power of action and the illusion of individual agency, the effect of which is the accumulation of karma in the causal body.[57]

The maturity of malas of a person is related to the level of grace (shaktipat) he is able to receive.[58] With dedicated practice, karma mala and mayiya mala can be surpassed, but then the practitioner has to put his fate in the hands of Shiva, as Shiva alone can bestow the grace of lifting anava mala and helping him recognize (pratyabhijna) his essential nature.


In Pratyabhijna, the concept of liberation (moksha) is technically described as jagadananda, literrally meaning happiness ananda of the world, jagada.

In jagadananda the universe appears as the Self (atman).[59] In a practical way the definition says that, when there is no need to sit in meditation for samadhi, that is jagadananda,[60] because then nothing except the supreme consciousness (samvit) is perceived. The mind rests in the unlimited consciousness,[61] the inside becomes outside and vice-versa, and there is a sense of oneness and total immersion.[62] No matter what the liberated being is doing (eating, walking, even sleeping), he experiences bliss of the deepest level.[63]

Spiritual practices

The purpose of Pratyabhijna is the recognition of the Shiva nature of the world (and oneself). In order to achieve that, it is necessary to induce a modified state of consciousness through the use of Shakti. Shakti, loosely translated as energy, is the dynamic aspect of Shiva, the link between finite (the human subject) and infinite (Shiva). Thus comes about the fundamental principle: "Without the help of Shakti, Pratyabhijna is impossible".[64]

In order to awaken Shakti, the practice of "unfoldment of the middle" is prescribed. The middle has multiple meanings here: in its most basic form, it refers to the psychic channel passing through the spine (Sushumna Nadi) which is physically the central axis of the body. Unfoldment in the Sushumna Nadi is achieved by focusing the ascending breath (prana) and descending breath (apana) inside it. Thus, the two opposing tendencies being fused together a state of non-differentiation is achieved and the Kundalini energy ascends.[65][66]

Another meaning of the "middle" is that of void or emptiness, but it does not refer to a lack of cognition, rather, it is a lack of duality in cognition. There are three principal manifestations of the void in the body: the lower one – void of the heart – associated with heart chakra, the second one is the intermediary void associated with the channel Sushumna Nadi and the third void is called "supreme" and associated with the crown chakra. To unfold these three voids entails a number of practices of focusing and surrender of consciousness in those three places.

A third meaning of "middle" is "the state which exists in-between cognitions, when one thought has ended and another one has not yet begun". These moments are considered essential for the revelation of the true nature of the mind. The usual practices are: dual thought destruction (vikalpa ksaya), withdrawing of the cognitive energies into the heart (sakti sankoca), expansion of non-dual awareness into the external perceptions (sakti vikasa) and generating hiatus moments in thinking, when the pure awareness of the Self might be easier to apprehend (vaha chedda).[67][68]

Let us review a few of the most important practices in more detail:

Panca-Kritya – meditation on the five actions

Panca-Kritya is a general practice which underlies all the other practices. An essential feature of Kashmir Shaivism is the concept of activity inside the ultimate consciousness. Shiva acts, and his most important actions are five in number: creation, maintenance, dissolution, occultation and grace. But the limited beings are identical to Shiva, as nothing but Shiva exists, so, they too have the same five actions, on a limited scale.

These five actions are the object of meditation. They are associated with all the stages of cognition: creation is the initiation of a perception or thought, maintenance is dwelling on it, dissolution is returning of consciousness in its center. Then, the last two actions are associated with the movement towards duality and non-duality.[69]

The purpose of the meditation on the five actions is their dissolution into the void. This process is described with such metaphors as "hathapaka" meaning violent digestion, devouring something whole, in one gulp[70] and "alamgrasa" – complete consumption of the experience.[71]

In practice, a state of non-duality (Turiya) is over-imposed over the normal cognitions of daily life.[72] Pratyabhijna is not focused on formal practice, but rather it is a philosophy of life. All moments of life are good for Panca-Kritya practice, as all cognitions can lead to the revelation of the Self. As experiences accumulate into the subject, they are to be burned into sameness.[73] Through this device the karmic element is eliminated from one's actions, or, in other words, duality is digested out of experiences.[74]

This process is one of microscopic, moment by moment noticing of experience and reframing it into the perspective of the non-dual subject.[75] All experiences tend to leave subconscious traces, especially the negative ones. Such experiences are reduced to a "seed form", to spring forth again into existence, becoming memories or patterns of behavior.[76] Whenever blocks arise in life, one should know they are just inside his consciousness and perform hathapaka to dissolve them.[77]

This is in no way an analytical or dry activity. As this practice advances, a feeling of spontaneous delight (camatkara), not unlike an artistic experience, consumes the object of the experience spontaneously, as it appears.[78] The body itself it charged with an intense state of bliss and consciousness is expanded beyond duality. In this state the aim of Pratyabhijna is realized inside the purified body and mind of the practitioner.

Vikalpa-Kshaya – dissolution of dualizing thought

The most direct application of Panca-Kritya (the observation of the five actions of consciousness) is Vikalpa Kshaya, literally meaning "dissolution of thoughts".[79] It is an activity by which the dualizing content of cognitions is dissolved into Atman, which is nondual by excellence.[80] What remains is called avikalpa, that is, pure awareness.[81]

A similar concept is citta-vrtti-nirodha [82] – the cessation of mental fluctuations. This verse is the famous definition of yoga from Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There is also similarity with Vipasana,[83] the Zen and Dzogchen traditions.[84]

By focusing on the pure awareness substrate of cognition instead of the external objects, the practitioner reaches illumination. Dualizing thought constructs must be eliminated and in their place the light and ecstasy of pure awareness shines as the real nature of cognition.[85]

Repeating the gesture of Vikalpa-ksaya with all thoughts, as they appear, there is a gradual transformation at the subconscious level (causal body), leading towards identity with Shiva.[86] Thus, the process resembles the pruning of the weeds in a garden.

Vikalpa-ksaya is also the classical technique for calming the agitated mind. In order to capture the underlying consciousness on the surface of which vikalpas have their play, the yogi enters a state of surrender, or, in other words an "alert passivity", because the use of force in this case would only lead to more mental agitation.[87]

As vikalpas are being consumed in the light of consciousness, ananda also appears. An accumulation of repeated experiences of identification with Atman in a state of intoxication with bliss form the foundation for stable samadhi.[88][89]

A number of practical suggestions are offered in the Pratyabhijina texts: to concentrate on dvadasanta (above the crown chakra),[90] to enter the void that exists between the moment one thought ends and another appears,[91] or similarly, on the space existing between inhalation and exhalation [92] and to concentrate on an intense artistic emotion.[93]

Vaha-cheda – cutting of the inner energy currents

Vaha-cheda (cutting the two vital currents, prana and apana) leads to illumination by resting the ascending and descending vayus in the heart.[94] By bringing a cessation to the dualizing activity of prana and apana, equilibrium is reached, and in this superior condition the true nature of the heart shines forth.[95] A cryptic indication is to mentally pronounce consonants such as "K" without the supporting vowel ("a"). This paradoxical concept acts as a mechanism to induce a moment of hiatus in the mental activity, when the tension and pain are cleared.[96] Such a technique belongs to the anavopaya [97] (the lowest of the three categories of techniques in Kashmir Shaivism).

Sakti-sankocah – contraction of the sense energies in the heart

Sakti-sankocah is an illumination technique based on the activation of the heart (the locus of projection of Atman) by retraction of one's energies back into their source. After letting the sense-organs reach to external objects, by bringing them back into the heart, all the energies of the five senses are accumulated inside ([100]

Shakti-vikasa – recognition of the self into the sense objects

Sakti-vikasa is a method to dissolve duality (vikalpa ksaya) out of the stream of sensorial impressions. While being engaged in the sense activity, the yogi should remain centered in Atman (his heart), thus superposing the external perceptions onto the light of is revealed heart.[101] This mental attitude is also called Bhairavi Mudra.[102] Its effect is the realization of the nonduality of the external reality by recognizing the same essential nature (Atman, or Shiva) in all cognitions. Thus, the yogi attains stabilization of his nondual vision through systematic practice. Both Shakti-sankoca and Shakti-vikasa are considered shaktopaya techniques – the intermediary category, of the mind.[103]

Adyanta-koti-nibhalana – meditation on the moment between breaths

There is a class of techniques which use two special moments in the breath cycle to achieve recognition of one's nature. If we consider the polarity of the upward moving current (prana) as positive, and the opposing current (apana) as negative, then the polarity of the inner energy currents reach zero – equilibrium – in the moments of rest between inhalation and exhalation. Those moments are targeted with the mental recitation of the two syllables of the ajapa mantra so-ham or ham-sah.[104] The locus of attention should be in the regions of the heart (anahata) and above the crown (dvadasanta).[105] The continuous movement to and fro of awareness in-between these two centers, which are associated with two manifestations of the void – the void of the heart and the supreme void, brings about the activation of the median channel (sushumna nadi) and a state of non-duality.


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  2. ^ Pratyabhijnahrdayam – J. Singh, p. 117
  3. ^ The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism – S.Shankarananda, p. 45
  4. ^ The Philosophy of Saivism 1 - S. Kapoor, p. 254
  5. ^ The Philosophy of Saivism 2 - S. Kapoor, p. 409
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  28. ^ The Trika Saivism of Kashmir – M.L. Pandit, p. 189
  29. ^ Sakti the Power in Tantra – P.R. Tigunait, p. 65
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  100. ^ The Pratyabhijna Philosophy – G.V. Tagare, p. 101
  101. ^ The Pratyabhijna Philosophy – G.V. Tagare, p. 102
  102. ^ The Pratyabhijna Philosophy – G.V. Tagare, p. 101
  103. ^ Pratyabhijnahrdayam – J. Singh, p. 30
  104. ^ The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism – S.Shankarananda, p. 179
  105. ^ The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism – S.Shankarananda, p. 306


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