Pratyabhijna and the Recognition That All is Shiva

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Pratyabhijna and the Recognition That All is Shiva


The Pratyabhijna is a school of thought or a religious and philosophical system in the Kashmir Shaivism sect of Hinduism, where the god Shiva is recognized and revered as the supreme being and reality. This school of thought is believed to have been established in the ninth century CE and was founded by Somananda. His work, the Sivadrsti, serves as the foundation and cornerstone of the philosophy.


The Pratyabhijna Philosophy

The term Pratyabhijna is a Sanskrit word that refers to an act of recognition. It actually originates from the well-known work entitled Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika, which was written by Utpaladeva, who was the son and follower of Somananda. In a literal sense, the word Pratyabhijna is comprised of the words prati, which means “something knew now appearing as forgotten”, abhi, which means “immediate”, and jna, meaning “to know”. As such, it is said that the Pratyabhijna not only means a simple act of recognition but actually a direct knowledge of oneself.


Described as an idealistic, monistic, and theistic school of philosophy, from the time that it was first established in the ninth century until the eleventh century, the concepts of the Pratyabhijna were thoroughly developed and furthered. The main premise of the Pratyabhijna is that everything is absolute consciousness and that the world is a manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva. In other words, everything is Shiva and this is what individuals must recognize. This recognition is what liberates Hindus from limitations, unites them with Shiva, and lets them experience bliss. Furthermore, it is also what will lead an individual to moksha or liberation from samsara, known as the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth through reincarnation. Through this, the human condition and all its limitations and weaknesses are transformed into a divine condition or pati.

Pratyabhijnahrdayam (The Secret of Self-Recognition)

A number of different masters and followers of the philosophy wrote an array of treatises and mystical poetry about the Pratyabhijna. Expounding on the initial works of his father and master, in the Isvara Pratyabhijna Karika, Utpaladeva examines the central dogmas of this religious and philosophical system. He does so by discussing it in juxtaposition to other schools of thought which rival or contradict the Pratyabhijna and subsequently refuting them.


Utpaladeva (Philosopher of Recognition)

Aside from the father and son, another vital master of the Pratyabhijna is Abhinavagupta. He wrote a number of works expounding on the philosophy, including two commentaries on it. In addition to these, he also wrote the Tantraloka, which is considered his masterpiece. In the Tantraloka, Abhinavagupta recognizes and highlights a synthesis among the various schools of thought within Kashmir Shaivism, including the Pratyabhijna. Following Abhinavagupta, his own follower, who was named Ksemaraja, wrote another synopsis of the Pratyabhijna philosophy. This work is called the Pratyabhijna Hrdayam and translates to “the spontaneous recognition of the essence of the heart”. His work is widely popular and is considered an ideal introduction to the Pratyabhijna school of thought.

Saiva Philosophy of Kashmir

Ultimately, it is said that the primary objective of the Pratyabhijna is the awareness and recognition of the Shiva nature of not only the world but also of oneself. The way to attain this awareness is through the use of Sakti. Sakti is described as the energy or the dynamic characteristic of Shiva, which serves as the link between the finite or human subject and the infinite, which is Shiva. This, therefore, leads to the fundamental maxim that without the aid of Sakti, Pratyabhijna is impossible and Pratyabhijna is essential in order to achieve moksha, which is, of course, an ultimate goal for all Hindus.

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