Pratyabhijna and the Recognition That All is Shiva

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Hinduism is a widely known religion for it encompasses several sects of beliefs in the Supreme. According to the different modes of nature and understandings, people tend to have inclinations to worship certain demigods and follow certain philosophies. Among many such sects, the Pratyabhijna is a school of thought which is based on the Kashmir Shaivism sect of Hinduism. It was founded by Somananda, a well-known scholar, in the ninth century. He belonged to a succession of spiritual masters and disciples who preached the philosophy of non-dual Shaivism in Kashmir.

Introduction to Pratyabhijna: Somananda and the Sivadrsti

Carrying forward the teachings of the disciplic succession, Somananda wrote many philosophical texts based on logic to clearly present the aspects of Kashmir Shaivism. In his main work (a philosophical treatise), the Sivadrsti, he adopts some parts of several philosophies such as Advaita Vedanta, Sankhya realism, and Buddhist theology and establishes the authenticity of the Pratyabhijna concept. The word Pratyabhijna is a Sanskrit word which is a blend of three words; “Prati” meaning “again” or “re”, “Abhi” meaning “in truth”, and “Jna” meaning “to know”. Thus, it refers to the knowledge of one’s reality or Recognition.

The Pratyabhijna Philosophy - Book

In the seven chapters of Sivadrsti, the concept of monistic theism which means that there is only one Supreme being has been thoroughly explained. They also talk about the nature of Lord Shiva in truth. The followers of the Pratyabhijna sect propound that Lord Shiva is the cause of all causes and everything is manifested in this material world only by his free will. Everything rests upon him and as such, there is no distinction between the subject and the object. Somananda also writes about the history of Kashmir Shaivism and his family.


Utpaladeva’s Work: Understanding the Concept of Recognition in Depth

Sivadrsti served as the basis of the Pratyabhijna philosophy. However, he was followed by his son and disciple Utpaladeva who later continued the succession and wrote one of the most important treatises of the system called Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika in the 10th century CE. This treatise discussed the fundamental principles of the school. Utpaladeva is regarded as a strong preacher in the Kashmiri Shaivism community who compared the other schools of theology and systematically denied the authenticity of those philosophies.

Every religious sect aims to enlighten conditioned beings on the real identity of one’s self and Utpaladeva theologized Pratyabhijna based on the philosophy of the act of recognition. It teaches that Shiva is the divine consciousness or absolute consciousness and that all souls are different from their material bodies. It completely derides the concept of Buddhism that denies the existence of the soul (Atman or Brahman) and accepts its presence in the body.

Pratyabhijnahrdayam (The Secret of Self-Recognition) - Book

Some key features of the Act of Recognition are as follows:

  • Shiva is the sole reality. His nature is described in five aspects; Chit (consciousness), Ananda (bliss), Iccha (desire), Jnana (knowledge), and Kriya (action).

  • All living entities found in the universe exist because of the will of Shiva. Nothing can exist without his desire and action.

  • Identifying that Shiva is alone the Self of all is the act of recognition. To achieve this, the Sadhakas (practitioners) must engage themselves in deep meditation or ascetic practices.


Utpaladeva (Philosopher of Recognition)

The Role of Shakti: Self-Realization in Pratyabhijna

Self-realization is the main objective of the Pratyabhijna philosophy. The spiritual masters in the line of succession explain that in order to truly realize the constitutional position of the individual soul or the true self, one requires to take the shelter of Shakti. Shakti is the internal energy or potency of Lord Shiva. Shiva is “Shaktiman” meaning the possessor of Shakti. It is only through Shakti that Lord Shiva creates and maintains the entire universe. Thus, Shakti and Shiva can never be separated from each other.

The act of recognition or the science of self-realization is achieved when one takes the shelter of Shakti. Thus, many Tantric practices are conceived to awaken Shakti as Kundalini. As one channelizes the divine energy within their body, they start to experience transcendental bliss and go higher and higher towards the state of enlightenment.  

Pratyabhijna and Moksha: The Journey Towards Liberation

Liberation or Moksha is the ultimate goal and destination of persons who are on the path of spiritual advancement. A liberated person even though living in the material world, neither laments for what he has lost nor hankers for what he does not possess. In such a state of mind, he always remains blissful. The goal of the Kashmir Shaivites and the followers of the Pratyabhijna system is to be liberated from this material world and be one with Shiva. This is similar to the philosophy of the impersonalists who want to merge with the existence of the Supreme (Brahmajyoti).

Saiva Philosophy of Kashmir - Book

The journey towards liberation is not easy. One has to perform severe austerities on the level of consciousness in order to advance spiritually. By identifying himself with the material body which is made of five gross elements and three subtle elements, Jiva (the individual soul) forgets his real nature. The teachings of Pratyabhijna enable the Jiva to revive his real identity and attain one-ness with Shiva. 

Pratyabhijna is also known as Shambhavopaya, “the Path of Shiva”. The Act of Recognition can simply mean the revised edition of spiritual understanding thus it aims at re-establishing the lost knowledge (spiritual), the knowledge that Jiva is Shiva. When liberation is achieved, the Jiva is relieved from the pangs of material suffering and he is no longer subject to the three modes of material nature (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas). As enunciated by great spiritualists, this is the very goal of human life.

Also Ask:
Q. How would you define Pratyabhijna in simple terms?
The philosophy of Pratyabhijna is based on that of Kashmir Shaivism. The literal meaning of the Pratyabhijna is to restore or re-establish lost knowledge of the true self. This knowledge teaches people how to come out of the miseries of material life and become one with Shiva.
Q. How can one practice Pratyabhijna in daily life?
The sincere followers of Pratyabhijna engage in the regular practice of Pratyabhijna Dhyana during the early hours of the morning (Brahma Muhurata). They also take out some time from their busy schedule and read the Pratyabhijna Shastra to cultivate a deep knowledge to be fixed up on the spiritual path.
Q. What are the practical benefits of understanding the Pratyabhijna philosophy?
As people advance in the Pratyabhijna practice, they experience a great transformation of their hearts. There is immediate relief from anxiety and inner peace is achieved. Through the practice of meditation, one comes to understand their constitutional position and relish the joy of the real self (Shiva).

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