Volume XIV:1 January - June 2024
The trident (triśūlābija maṇḍalam) symbol and yantra of Parama Shiva, representing the triadic energies of the supreme goddess Parā, Parā-aparā and Aparā śakti. (Wikipedia)
The trident (triśūlābija maṇḍalam) symbol and yantra of Parama Shiva, representing the triadic energies of the supreme goddess Parā, Parā-aparā and Aparā śakti. (Wikipedia)

Trika and Trinity
Towards a Dialogue in Depth
Between Kashmir Śaivism and Christianity

An abridged and edited version of a lecture delivered at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla

If we look at the scenario of religions and their mutual relations in the present-day world, we find confusing and contradictory attitudes. On the one hand religion is made responsible for tensions and violence. This attitude is mainly based on a fundamentalist understanding of one’s own religion as exclusivist and self-defensive. On the other hand we find a deep search for spirituality and spiritual values, whether inside or outside any institutional religion.

There is a small minority, mostly intellectuals or liberals within one religion, who are concerned and engaged in an effort to establish an intercultural and interreligious dialogue in order to bridge the gulf and to ease the tensions. Intercultural dialogue is going on at various levels and is an essential basis for interreligious dialogue because it is often the religious core of a culture that determines its attitude towards the culturally “other.” Causes for tension and conflict are to be found in entrenched misconceptions or misunderstandings of the “other” and simply in a lack of dialogue. A self-defensive and closed attitude is often caused by the fear of losing one’s religious or cultural identity. Social, historical, psychological and other motives get mixed up with religious identities.
Interreligious dialogue is a necessity in our times, and even essential for our survival, as the Dalai Lama often remarks. There are conferences at intellectual and institutional levels, such as the World Parliament of Religions and other institutions, but their impact is often limited and not deep enough. One problem is that they still operate on the basis of clear-cut religious identities. However, it is precisely these identities that are in question today. Religious pluralism has blurred the boundaries and has challenged our orthodox certainties. People searching for spirituality are not so much concerned about the singularity of religious belonging. Instead, they move beyond their boundaries and find answers to their search in other traditions. The theme of double or even multiple religious belonging is much discussed in the West. In India this is not really an issue, much less a problem, because religious pluralism is part of its cultural landscape.
Whatever it may be, interreligious dialogue is a necessary way to deal with challenges at various levels, social, intellectual, or spiritual. My thesis is that the basis of interreligious dialogue has to be spiritual dialogue, for it alone can touch the depth of understanding of oneself as well as of the other. Dialogue is ultimately more effective than any institutional and official meeting. Going back in time we have the examples of Kabir (1398-1518), who crossed the boundaries between Hinduism and Islam, and of Lal Ded (Mother Lalla) (1320-1392) in Kashmir, who as a Śaiva led a dialogue with Sufi saints. Even today, their influence is stronger than intellectual discussions on comparative religion.
Meeting another religious or spiritual tradition is both a challenge and an enriching experience. It can be an occasion for self-criticism and for the renewal or re-discovery of one’s own tradition. Additional goals of dialogue at the spiritual level are overcoming fundamentalisms of all sorts and responding to a spiritual vacuum created by consumerism and materialism. Dialogue does not or should not mean a cheap syncretism or relativism; rather, it has to take each tradition seriously.
Dialogue has always been a way of searching for truth or revelation. We see this in the Upaniṣads, the Platonic Dialogues, the Gospel, and in the sayings of Zen masters, which are very similar to those of the early Christian Desert Fathers. Interreligious dialogue is not comparative religion, which pretends to take an “objective” stance, or else judges the other from its own perspective, often with an apologetic intention. If dialogue is not based on spiritual experience, it cannot reach the heart of one’s own tradition and that of the other.
These very brief preliminary remarks serve as background for the theme of this paper: a meeting between Kashmir Śaivism and Christianity. Much has been spoken and written about Hindu-Christian dialogue, mostly from a Christian perspective, but “Hinduism” does not really exist. What we have are specific traditions within the pluralistic world of so-called Hinduism.
Historically, Christian-Hindu dialogue was mostly with Vedānta, from Brahmabandhav Upadhyay (1861-1907), the early Jesuit missionaries, and others in the twentieth century, up to the early phase of the great philosopher of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010). These initiatives came from the Christian side. There was not much corresponding interest from the Hindu or Vedantic side, with the exception of some Swamis who were deeply interested in Christian mysticism: Swami Chidananda (1916-2008), Swami Nityananda Giri (b. 1961), and some Ramakrishna monks, among others.
Before treating of Kashmir Śaivism in particular I want to present an example of an in-depth Hindu-Christian dialogue and its transformative and explosive power that is to be found in the person and work of Swami Abhishiktananda (the French monk-sannyāsī Henri le Saux, 1910-1973). His case is recent and well documented, and many considered him a pioneer in this form of interreligious encounter. He came to India in 1948 after having spent nineteen years in a monastery in France. After meeting Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), he was deeply drawn to the spirituality of Advaita and made a thorough study of the Upaniṣads. As he became immersed in Hinduism, especially Advaita, he experienced in himself both the tension between the two traditions and the deep mutual enrichment of their spiritualities and became a bridge between Hindu Advaita and Christianity.
In the Upaniṣads and in his meetings with Hindu saints, above all Ramana Maharshi, Swami Abhishiktananda discovered another dimension of the Trinity and of Christ. Through dialogue with another tradition he also discovered the relativity of all formulations of the Absolute, which are bound by their historical and cultural contexts. So he writes,
One who knows several mental (or religious or spiritual) languages is incapable of absolutizing any formulation whatever – of the Gospel, of the Upaniṣads, of Buddhism, etc. He can only bear witness to an experience—about which he can only stammer. . . .
All formulations are upāsanās, approaches in prayer, in contemplation, in humility. [1]
One of his “methods” was to search for “correspondences” in the Hindu scriptures with his Christian faith. He found the correspondence of the Vedic-Upaniṣadic Puruṣa with Christ, as expressed in the mantra of the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad:
I have come to know that mighty Person
Golden like the sun, beyond all darkness,
By knowing him a man transcends death;
There is no other path for reaching that goal.
(Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. III.8)
At the same time he questions his identification:
When I try to understand Jesus with the help of the Puruṣa as Jews and Greeks tried to do with the help of the Messiah and the Kyrios (Lord), am I not falling back into myth, applying a prefabricated framework to this existential event? No doubt the Puruṣa will help me rediscover, as if afresh, the universal dimension of the mystery of Jesus.
However the Vedic Puruṣa will help me recognize the universal incarnation of this Puruṣa. . . .
Christ’s nāmarūpa is one quarter of his mystery, as the Upaniṣad says: three quarters have been hidden in secret (trīṇi padāni nihita guhāsu; Mahānār Up. v.58).[2]
Abhishiktananda also discovers the Trinity in the insights of the Upaniṣads:
The Trinity is God, the original source, Brahman, the Urgrund; It is the ātman, the universal presence of God, all-pervasive (vy-āpi, vy-āna), śakti in the form of fire (agni), breath (prāṇa), wind (vāyu), empty space (ākāśa), in the form of fullness (bhūma), of joy (ānanda). And finally there is the ātmavān, God in the form of a person, one equipped with an ātman, with the spirit (pneuma). To tell the truth, there is only one person in the Trinity, and that is Christ, the Puruṣa.
And I discover this person in the mystery of my own aham, myself (ātma-pūrṇaḥ), myself having come to my ātmā.[3]
These excerpts show how the encounter of these two traditions in the heart and mind of a contemplative lead to a relativization of the theological concepts because they discover deeper connections.
A real meeting between Kashmir Śaivism and Christianity has hardly taken place, but it is very promising at all levels. The central themes of Trika and Pratyabhijñā come very close to Christian theology and spirituality. The intention or method is not a comparison, nor an attempt from either side to appropriate the other into its own system. It is rather an inner dialogue that discovers correspondences, comparable to what Abhishiktananda has done with the Upaniṣads. At the same time it presupposes openness on both sides for the possibility of other traditions and their followers to reach the goal of liberation or salvation. Again, what I am presenting is not comparative religion but a meeting in-depth of two traditions. I will proceed by themes that can find a correspondence or response in each other.
Trika and Trinity
Combined with the philosophy of Recognition, Trika, the name of a school of non-dual Śaiva tradition of Kashmir, became the dominant school in the final phase of the synthesis of Abhinavagupta (950-1025) in the tenth century. We are not concerned here with the historical development of the various schools, for which I refer to the exhaustive articles by Alexis Sanderson, but with their metaphysical insights.
Trika means triad or trinity, and it refers to the ultimate structure, not only of the Divine, but of the entire reality, as threefold. The translation “trinity” is not wrong, because, as in the Christian Trinity, the three are never separate but form a unity. The three principles are Śiva (God), Śakti (His Energy) and Nara (Man or the created being). They stand in a dynamic relationship, where it is the Śakti who mediates between the Divine and the human soul or creation, in both directions: in ascending order from the human to the Divine, in descending order from the Divine to the human, i.e., Śiva becoming limited being. The other important metaphysical triad is that of the energies: parā (Supreme), parāparā (Supreme-cum-non-supreme), and aparā (non-supreme). Everything is included in this triad, transcendent as well as immanent reality.
All kinds of triadic structures correspond to this Trika, such as the subject or knower, the object or known, and the means of knowledge (pramātā, corresponding to Śiva, prameya, corresponding to Nara, and pramāṇa, the mediating Śakti). The other triad of divine powers is icchā, jñāna and kriyā, will, knowledge and action, again corresponding to Śiva, Śakti and Nara. Their unity is found in the all-pervasive absolute or Anuttara, which, so to speak, prevents the three components from falling apart.
Since the structure of reality is reflected in language, the three personal pronouns again refer to Trika: “I” (aham) to Śiva, “Thou” (tvam) to Śakti, and he/she/it (idam) to Nara. Their dynamic interrelationships reflect the metaphysical reality. Abhinavagupta therefore states: “Everything in this universe is of the form of Nara, Śakti and Śiva. Therefore everything in the universe consists of the triad (sarvaṃ trikarūpameva).”
The three dimensions or categories of Reality are all-inclusive. They take seriously the created being and at the same time they make possible a transformation of the creature (paśu, aṇu) into the Divine.
Trinity and Trika, each in their own theological context, signify a dynamic vision of the Divine and of the entire reality, a dynamism of “descent” and “ascent,” a dynamism of mediation, which is itself a Divine Power, Śakti or Spirit.
The Christian Trinity, i.e., the tri-unity of Father (the source), Son (the Logos or the word spoken and incarnated in the world) and the Spirit (the uniting love and the pervasive Divine Presence in the universe) is equally a dynamic process: the inner-trinitarian pouring out of the Love of the Father through the Spirit and the return of the Son to the Father, as well as the Son’s descent in creation and incarnation, again with the aim of re-uniting the whole of humanity and creation with the Father.
The Kashmiri Trika is a system of Śaiva non-dualism, or non-dualism of Consciousness (samvidadvayavāda), which contains the triadic relationships. The Christian Trinity is a non-dualism of Love, as expressed in the Gospel of St. John, when Jesus, the incarnate Word, says “The Father and I are One” (John 19:30). Christianity or Christian theology has generally hesitated to take this non-dualism seriously, with the exception of some daring mystics in the tradition of Neo-Platonism. The German mystic Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 – c. 1328) even goes beyond God, in a kind of Upaniṣadic Advaita:
When I come into the Ground, the Depth, the Stream and the Source of the Godhead, no one asks me where I have been and whence I have come. No one there missed me, for there ‘God’ ceases to exist.
You shall love God as a non-God, a non-Spirit, a non-Person, nay more, as a pure, mere, bright One, distinct from all duality. And in this One we shall sink away eternally, from Something to Nothing.[4]
In the course of the history of Christianity the Trinity has received various interpretations, among which there is the important distinction between an “immanent” or essential Trinity and an “economic” Trinity. The immanent Trinity refers to the eternal, internal relationships and activities within the Godhead itself—the way God exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The economic Trinity refers to the outward, historical works and activities of the Triune God in relation to the world, especially in the work of salvation, and describes how the three persons of the Trinity operate and relate to each other in their dealings with creation.
The psychological approach of Saint Augustine (354-430), who sees in the three “persons” of the Trinity three psychological moments, such as memory, intellect, and will, or lover, beloved, and love, comes closer to the Śaiva concept of the three Energies contained within the Divine, as well as manifested in each and every act: will, cognition and activity.
While there is no question of simply identifying the Father with Śiva, the intermediary role of the Spirit and the Śakti can lead to a meaningful and mutually enlightening dialogue. In spite of vast differences in the origin and contexts of these two, the Śaiva-Śākta concept, along with the experience of Śakti, shares some important qualities and powers with the Holy Spirit (ruach, f., pneuma, n., spiritus, m.) in the Christian Trinity:
It is a creative energy of God
It is the very active and dynamic power of God
It is the Power of Love, in whatever sense
It is the inmost Divine presence
It is the very power uniting the soul with God
It is possible to share in the Divine Energy by experience, but not in God directly
It is so interior and intimate that this power cannot be objectified or externalized
It is the very power of wisdom and knowledge
It is the very power of freedom
It is the Divine immanence in the cosmos
It is the power of grace: one can be possessed by it, but one cannot possess it
Spiritual transmission and initiation is a “descent of Śakti” (śaktipāta) and a “descent of the Spirit” which effects a total transformation of the person
Spiritual realization is an “ascent” or “ascension” of the same Power
In my introduction to an interreligious seminar on “Śakti and Pneuma” (Bangalore, December 1993) I dared to say,
Religions are alive precisely because of the Śakti or Spirit acting in them, otherwise they would be frozen institutions handing down unchanged forms and beliefs of the past. But the very inner dynamism of Śakti and Spirit makes them open to change, renewal and interaction with other religious worlds.[5]
The most striking closeness of functions is in the realm of spiritual practice and experience because the highest point in Śaivism is the awakening of kuṇḍalinī, which is none other than the macrocosmic Divine Power in the microcosm of the body. In Christianity, every spiritual or mystical experience is due to the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the universe as well as in the soul. “The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The same truth is developed to its utmost possibilities in the Tantric spirituality of Kashmir Śaivism. However, in Christianity this powerful statement was not put into practice when its spiritual teaching tended to negate or suppress the body,
In Eastern or Orthodox theology and spirituality, the theme of the Divine Energies was especially developed by the fourteenth-century theologian and hesychast Gregory Palamas (1296-1357). The central theme of Palamas is the deification (theosis) of the human being through the uncreated grace or energy of God. He speaks of many energies, and the relation between the one grace and the many energies comes very close to the Śaiva view of one Śakti who manifests in many energies (three, five, and innumerable ones). And that one Śakti is also the power of grace, as Abhinavagupta states in his great commentary on the Parātriśikā: “The Highest Lord ever brings about the five-fold acts. He is in fact the very grace itself, being always equipped with his Supreme Divine Energy (Śakti) whose very nature is Grace.[6] In a sense all other themes are connected to this first one, Trika and Trinity, but it will be useful to treat them separately.
The doctrine of Recognition or Pratyabhijñā, as fully expounded by Utpaladeva (900-950) and Abhinavagupta in his extensive commentaries, is an important part of the philosophy of Kashmir Śaivism and by extension of a great part of the Hindu Tantric tradition (even Vaiṣṇava).
The doctrine of Recognition basically teaches the non-dualism of Consciousness, which is both light and self-reflectivity (prakāśa-vimarśa). This consciousness is the ultimate “I,” the supreme subject, the Lord. Everything participates in this consciousness, but due to the veil of māyā or the covering factors (kañcukas) it is not realized. The task of the philosophy is to remind the soul of its true identity. It is not the knowledge of something unknown, but precisely the re-cognition of the Reality that was always there but not identified. Recognition is equal to identification, and it ultimately leads to liberation-in-life, jīvanmukti.
To get a taste of the argument, let me quote Utpaladeva:
The multitude of things cannot but shine resting on the self of the Lord, otherwise that act of reflective awareness which is volition (icchāmarśaḥ) could not be produced.
The essential nature of light is reflective awareness (vimarśa): otherwise light, though “colored” by objects, would be similar to an insentient reality, such as crystal and so on.
Precisely for this reason the self has been defined as “sentience” (caitanyam), meaning by this the activity of consciousness in the sense of being the subject of this activity. It is due to sentiency, in fact, that the self differs from insentient reality.
Consciousness has as its essential nature reflective awareness (pratyavamarśa); it is the supreme Word (parāvāk) that arises freely. It is freedom in the absolute sense, the sovereignty (aiśvaryam) of the supreme self.
It is the luminous vibrating (sphurattā), the absolute being (mahāsattā), unmodified by space and time; it is that which is said to be the heart (hṛdayam) of the supreme Lord, insofar as it is his essence.[7]
Pratyabhijñā is a simple act of recognizing one’s own true being. It does not require any means of ritual or yoga and is thus situated at the highest level of the upāyas: the means without means, the pathless path, anupāya.
What does this imply for a dialogue with Christianity? We find a similar expression in the Greek of the New Testament: to recognize, epiginosko. In fact, the theme of recognition is so central to the Gospels that it is surprising that a similar philosophy has not been fully developed as it has been in Pratyabhijñā. Mostly it is a question of recognizing Jesus in his Divine nature.
Frequently, beginning with the Prologue of the Gospel of John, the non-recognition of Jesus’ divinity is referred to: “He came to what was his own, but his own peopledid not accept him. He came into his own, and his own did not recognize him” (John 1:11). It is not only a question of recognizing Jesus as the Son of God; recognition is mutual: “ I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me” (John 10.14). As Jesus is recognized by his own, so is he recognized by the Father in two major events of his life: His baptism in the Jordan, and the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. In both events a voice from heaven acknowledges Jesus and thus establishes this recognition.
But the most crucial moments of recognition, which are perfect examples of Pratyabhijñā, occur after the Resurrection of Jesus: He is the same and yet another. Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus in the garden and mistakes him for the gardener, and asks him where they have laid his body. It is only at the moment when Jesus calls her by name: “Mary!” that she recognizes him and falls at his feet. As in the case of the liberating recognition in Pratyabhijñā, this is the role of a perfect guru, who only has to say a word to remind the disciple of his or her true identity.
An equally powerful episode is that of the disciples of Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus walks along with them on the road and explains the scriptures, but they do not recognize him. It is only when they sit down after reaching their destination and invite him to remain with them, that they recognize him at the breaking of the bread (Luke 24.31).
One could observe that the major difference between the disciples of Jesus and the one who gets enlightenment by Divine recognition in Pratyabhijñā is that between dualism (they still experience Jesus as the other) and non-dualism (the Śaiva recognizes his or her own true self as the one Divine “I”). However, by analyzing both experiences in a more subtle way, even the recognition of Jesus is not devoid of an element of non-duality since it is their own true being that the disciples see in Jesus. Even the non-dual recognition of the Śaiva mystic initially contains a dual element, for there is still the word of the guru or a sign that awakens the person from the state of difference (bheda) to the state of identity with the Lord (abheda).
As we can see, the theme of recognition is a major source of dialogue between the two traditions in the areas of both philosophy and spiritual experience.
Logos and Vāc
The word in all its dimensions plays a major role in both, Kashmir Śaivism and Christianity. This is such a vast subject that I hesitate to reduce it to a summary. One of the best monographs on non-dual Śaivism is that of André Padoux, and it is entirely devoted to Vāc.[8]
In both traditions, Śaiva and Christian, the Word moves in two directions: descending in the order of creation and manifestation and ascending in the order of liberation and salvation. In Śaivism these are called sṛṣṭikrama and saṃhārakrama respectively, where saṃhāra does not mean destruction but reabsorption, return to the source. In both traditions nothing exists without the Word. In the book of Genesis, God spoke and creation came into being. In Śaiva philosophy, nothing is manifested without the Word. The extreme concentration of the Word in mantra mediates liberation. In this dialogue of Vāc and Logos, the first having its origin in the Ṛgveda and the second in Greek philosophy, the Word is both universal and concrete.
According to the thesis of the grammarian-philosopher Bhartṛhari, which was further developed by the Śaiva authors Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta, there are four stages of Vāc:
The Word at its supreme level is identical with the Supreme Lord: Parāvāk (f.) and with Absolute Consciousness. It is the source of the descent of Consciousness to the three levels of Paśyantī, lit. the Visionary, Madhyamā, the Intermediate level of speech, and Vaikharī, the embodied speech at the level of external language. In other words, Parā is the transcendent origin of not only all languages but reality—language and reality being co-extensive. Paśyantī is the intuitive, pre-verbal level of the Word, without any differentiation, internal or external articulation, but the first flash of insight, which leads to thought and its expression in language. Madhyamā, mediating between this visionary intuition and gross speech, operates at the level of the mind and of thought. Thought is an internal articulation that finds expression in external language: Vaikharī. This is the briefest possible description of the four levels of the Word, a theory that has had far-reaching consequences in the areas of philosophy of language, Śaiva theology, and aesthetics as based on metaphysics.
On the other hand, the most fundamental text of the Christian revelation regarding the Logos is the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel. A meditation on this text in the light of the four levels of the Word led me to the following correspondence:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
corresponding to Parā (or ādyā) vāk
The difference of the Word being “with God” and being “God” can be seen in the relationship between Vāc as Śakti who is inseparably united with Śiva, and Vāc as herself the Supreme.
 All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
It is life, since “Parā . . . is the life of the other three levels of speech which comprise the kingdom of speech . . . and yet it does not come in this kingdom.”
This is the level of Paśyantī which illumines, and which is the first stage in the descent from the transcendent level.
Life becoming the light of men also moves on to Madhyamā.
And the Word became flesh
and lived among us,
This is the descent through Madhyamā to the embodied one, Vaikharī.
The theme of Vāc and Logos is also related to revelation. Divisions between religions are mostly due to different revelations and their interpretations in an exclusive and limited way by their respective followers. The theme of revelation, its unity or plurality, is an important aspect of any interreligious dialogue. Because of its complexity, I am unable to treat this topic and length and will only offer the observation that Abhinavagupta makes in his Tantrāloka:
There is but one revelation (āgamaḥ) within which all [religion] is grounded, from the mundane, Vedic religion to Vaiṣṇavism, Buddhism, and Śaivism. And the ground of that revelation, the ultimate goal [of religion] is the Triad. Because of its consistent non-duality it is also called the Totality (Kula). Just as there is one vital breath in [all] the limbs of the body, though each is distinct and lower or higher, so the Triad is present in all the scriptures.[9]
Apart from a necessary dialogue on the understanding of revelation in a universal or restricted sense, I submit that interreligious dialogue in the deepest sense of the term has to be or can be itself a revelation, because it opens up to the experience of other dimensions of the inexhaustible divine reality. The Āgamas are revealed in form of a dialogue (saṃvāda), and by extension this dialogue continues and opens up. Just as there is a creatio continua, there is also a revelatio continua, which corresponds to the continuously enacted five Acts of Śiva.
Incarnation and Deification: Jīvanmukti
The key to the Christian understanding of the Incarnation is contained in the statement of St. Athanasius (+373) that “God has become Man, so that Man may become God.” Christianity in the West has taken the first half seriously, but has neglected the second half. Eastern and Orthodox theology and spirituality, however, has understood that deification (theosis) is the goal of Christian life. The aim and goal of Śaiva spiritual practice is jīvanmukti, liberation in our bodily life. Jīvanmukti is also the goal of Advaita Vedānta but with very different implications.
Non-dual Tantric Śaivism invites us to regard Christian incarnation from two viewpoints. One is the descent of the Divine into the limitations of human nature and of the world. Christian tradition calls this kenosis, self-emptying, implying that Christ did not hold on to his Divine status. This concept has assumed special importance in Buddhist-Christian dialogue because of its resonance with the Buddhist śūnyatā. With regard to Śaivism, we find a whole philosophy of Divine descent. In the cosmological scheme of the Śaivāgamas, the thirty-six reality levels or tattvas constitute a hierarchy that involves two movements: a descent to the lowest element, Earth, that is the self-emptying of Śiva, and an ascent,  the return movement of external, limited reality of the cosmos and of man that passes through the entire gamut of tattvas to the Divine. Ritually, this passage is enacted in initiation; spiritually, in the absorption and union with the Divine (samāveśa). Śiva’s identification with the elements and meditation on him as aṣṭamūrti is an ancient Śaiva concept, found also in Kālidāsa (the five elements, sun, moon, and Self). The descent into these forms does not mean that Śiva leaves his divinity, but that he is present even in a blade of grass.
I want to quote one verse by Utpaladeva in his mystical hymn (Śivastotrāvalī), which expresses beautifully the two aspects of incarnation:
jaya sarvajagannyasta-svamudrāvyaktavaibhava /
jayātmadāna-paryanta-viśveśvara maheśvara // 14.12
Glory be to you, Great Lord, Lord of the universe,
who has revealed his glory by imprinting his seal on the whole world,
and who has gone so far as to give up his own self (to the world).
The word mudrā has multiple meanings; it also implies the Divine gesture that has left its imprint and impression on the whole world.
The other aspect of incarnation that I consider to be an essential complement to dialogue is the importance of the body in the spirituality of Tantric Śaivism. This subject is much misunderstood and misused, and the reason for this (above all in the West) is that Christian spirituality has neglected and suppressed the body, in spite of its divine nature. “Incarnation” can be re-interpreted, not as an isolated event in salvation-history, but as a recovery of the body in spiritual practice. There have been exaggerations in both Hindu and Christian spirituality: suppression on the one hand, excesses on the other. However, in the Tantric schools of Kula and Krama, the body and the senses are considered to be divine. Kuṇḍalinī yoga does not imply indulging the body, but divinizing the body to its utmost possibilities of self-transformation.
The most important text for teaching practical methods of achieving this divinization is an early Tantra, the Vijñāna Bhairava. In some unknown Āgamas we find fragments like these:
śarirī parameśvaraḥ
Even the embodied one becomes/is the supreme Lord.
manuṣyadeham āsthāya channāste parameśvarāḥ
Having entered a human body, they are the Supreme Lord in a hidden way.
Once again, this subject is vast and should not be dealt with superficially. I would only note that it is one of the most important areas of a dialogue at the spiritual level, and that Tantra can throw new light on forgotten truths of Christianity.
The three spiritual ways: Upāyas
The Mālinīvijayottara Tantra, one of the most important scriptural sources for Abhinavagupta’s exegesis and synthesis in his Tantrāloka, speaks of three spiritual means (upāyas). In ascending order they are āṇava, the individual way, śākta the way of Energy, and śāmbhava, the Divine way. Abhinavagupta has developed this scheme by adding a fourth stage, literally the no-means, the non-way: anupāya, and by turning the order around, starting with the highest and descending to the lowest. He has grouped a number of ritual and spiritual practices under each means, which correspond to the three Divine Powers: will (icchā), knowledge (jñāna) and activity (kriyā). Naturally, the stage of no-means corresponds to the transcendent level.
In Christian spirituality, the three stages of perfection or three levels of spiritual knowledge were significantly developed from early Patristic to medieval times and came to be identified as the stages of purification, illumination, and perfection or union with God (via purgativa, via illuminativa, via unitiva). They are also called Divine powers and are comparable to the Śaktis. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (later 5th – early 6th centuries), who exercised a great influence on mystical theology, speaks of being
Purified, illuminated and perfected. . . . Filled with the first of all lights. . . . In summary, we can reasonably say that purification, illumination, and perfection are all three the reception of an understanding of the Godhead, namely, being completely purified of ignorance by the proportionately granted knowledge of the more perfect initiations, being illuminated by the same divine knowledge . . . and being also perfected by this light in the understanding of the most lustrous initiations.[10]
God’s three powers, purification, illumination and perfection, are also imitated by the celestial beings and by the ecclesial hierarchy.
The true, i.e., Divine. “I”: aham
Finally we come to the most crucial topic of a Śaiva-Christian dialogue: the true, i.e., Divine “I”: aham.
One should not shy away from the encounter of the ego eimi (I am) sayings of Jesus, and the central Śaiva mantra: So’ham. In both cases it is not the limited I-consciousness, identified with the body, mind, etc., that assumes disproportionate dimensions, which would be the most dangerous abhimāna. It is rather the merging of the individual “I” in the universal and divine I, which in Śaivism is called pūrṇāhantā or fullness of I-consciousness. Utpaladeva makes clear the distinction between subjectivity at the level of thought–and-imagination (vikalpa), which creates duality with objects, and the pure “I”: “The repose of all manifested phenomena in the self is said to be I-consciousness.” (Ajaḍapramātṛsiddhi 22)
According to Abhinavagupta, “This repose of Self-consciousness which signifies Divine Freedom or in other words uninterrupted divine consciousness . . . is the blissful form of the energy of the natural, innate mantra known as the Supreme Word, that is “I” (aham).”
Aham, pure I-Consciousness, is called the power or potency of (all) mantras: mantravīrya, without which, as the simile goes, mantras are as ineffective as clouds in autumn.
Even though Kashmiri Śaiva meditation and speculation on the central “I” is far removed historically from the language and context of the Gospels, there are striking points of convergence and possibilities for the one tradition to throw light on the other.
The ego eimi sayings of Jesus are the most powerful assertions of his divine nature, but throughout Western Christian theology they have been understood in an exclusive sense. The effects of this exclusivism have been disastrous in the history of Christianity. In the light of either the Upaniṣads or Kashmir Śaivism, they can be interpreted in a different light. The a-historical saying of Jesus, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8.58), provoked the Jews, but it refers to his divine I–consciousness, as does “. . . then you will realize that I AM” (John 8.28).
It should be noted that this understanding of the “I” was not absent in Christian mysticism. Meister Eckhart has the strongest language concerning the true, divine “I”: “Ego, the word ‘I’ belongs to nobody except to God in his unity.”[11] That true non-dualism is found also in the Christian experience:
In my (eternal) Birth all things were born, and I was the cause of myself and of all things; and if I had wanted, neither I nor all things would exist; but if I were not, even “God” would not exist. That God is God, I am the cause.[12]
To conclude, I have to say what I should have said in the beginning: the possibility and fruitfulness of dialogue depends on the openness of the respective traditions to one another. In every tradition we find exclusivist elements and universally open elements, and it is the need of the hour to favor the latter over the former. This would be both the precondition and the result of dialogue.
The saying of Jesus: “ In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2) has been rightly interpreted by theologians in the sense of an authentic religious pluralism, without denying the specific nature and gift of each religious and spiritual tradition.
Among the Indian schools of philosophy and spirituality, Kashmir Śaivism is especially appreciative of pluralism and the soteriological value of other traditions. This is in accord with its teaching of the universality of Consciousness. Even in his debates with Buddhist opponents, Abhinavagupta shows great respect for Dharmakīrti. Kṣemarāja describes the different systems of philosophy as roles played by the Divine Actor, each one having a specific message and importance (Pratyabhijñā Hṛdayam).
I shall to conclude with one example from Utpaladeva’s Hymn:
Glory to you, O Śarva,
Who are the essence of the right-handed path,
Who are the essence of the left-handed path,
Who belong to every tradition
And to no tradition at all.
Glory to you, O God,
Who can be worshipped in any manner,
In any place,
In whatever form at all.
(Śivastotrāvalī 2.19-20)
[1] Swami Abhishiktananda, Diary, 30 April 1973.
[2] Diary, May, 1972, p. 346-47.
[3] Diary, May 22, 1968, p. 299.
[4] Sermon 56.
[5]Setu, no. 15, January 1994.
[6]PTV p.8.
[7]  Īśvarapratyabhijñā Kārikā I.5. 10-14, transl. R. Torella, pp.118-121.
[8] See Padoux, André, 1990. Cf. also Bäumer, Bettina, 2011. Abhinavagupta’s Hermeneutics of the Absolute, Anuttaraprakriyā, An Interpretation of his Parātrīśikā Vivaraṇa, pp. 165-168, Shimla: IIAS; Delhi: D.K. Printworld.
[9] Tantrāloka 35.30-34
[10] Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), p. 165.
[11] Sermon 31.
[12] Sermon 32, Beati pauperes spiritu
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