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REVIEWS in Amazon.in of Kashmir Shaivism: the Central Philosophy of Tantrism by Kamalakar Mishra

Vinayak

A book well worth reading

Reviewed in India on 2 December 2020

 

Kashmir Shaivism — the Central Philosophy of Tantrism, by Kamalkar Mishra is a truly educative book. It should be read by anyone wishing to learn of the great tradition of Tantra, which was much more influential than Advaita Vedanta in shaping present-day Hinduism. But Tantric practices are much misunderstood and often associated with black magic in India, and with sexual methods in the West. In actuality, the sacred books (Agamas or Tantras) of Tantrism offer the most complete development of Vedic-Upanishadic thought of any Indian philosophical school. While Tantrism flourished across the length and breath of India for over 1500 years, this book is on a single but very influential tradition within the Tantras, originating and developed over 300 years (9th -11th Cent AD) and mainly confined to Kashmir. In particular, it focuses on the work of Abhinavagupta (10th Cent), the greatest of the Kashmiri philosophers. Because of its systematic development and exposition of Tantric philosophical thought, the author arguably calls Kashmir Shaivism the “Central Philosophy” of the much greater body of Tantric works.

I came to this book after finishing the classic two-volume work on Indian Philosophy by S. Radhakrishnan who was quite dismissive of Tantra as a whole but allotted a few pages to Kashmir Shaivism as representing the best of that tradition. I looked around for books on Kashmir Shaivism. I found the books by the disciples of Swami Lakshmanjoo, the best-known of the recent teachers, quite dense and jargon-filled, and so settled on this book by Mishra, an academic, which I read from cover to cover over two months. It was well worth the time I spent on it.

Mishra gives a concise history of Kashmir Shaivism (KS) and puts it in historical perspective with the others schools of Indian Philosophy — Samkhya, Buddhism, and Shankara’s Advaita Vendanta. He then gives a philosophical analysis of KS by examining the means it uses to gain knowledge (Epistemology), its views on the true Reality behind the world (Ontology), and the Values it espouses and promotes (Axiology), with comparisons with the other schools. In particular, he compares and contrasts KS with Advaita Vedanta (AV), which is commonly the most highly regarded post-Vedic school of Indian philosophy. Both AV and KS base themselves on the Vedas, in particular the mystic-spiritual portions called the Upanishads. Both claim that their truths are repeatedly verifiable by the direct experience of mystics, and thus reflect the truth of existence. But, while agreeing on the most important points, they nevertheless differ significantly on others.

Both AV and KS accept the Upanishadic statement “All is Brahman (the formless Divine)”, and that our true Self is the same as Brahman (which KS refers to as Param Shiva, the mythological god in his formless aspect) and agree that the highest state of Moksha (Liberation) comes to one who recognises that Brahman is the only thing that exists. But AV and KS differ on the position of the world in this Oneness. AV says the world is an illusion, or at best a “superposition” on Brahman, just as a movie (the world and its activity) is a superposition on the white screen (Brahman) onto which it is projected, while KS says that the world is actually a disguised form of Brahman. This difference has many consequences: AV sees Brahman as inactive while KS sees it as dynamic. KS brings in the dynamism of the world into its philosophy in the form of the divine force Shakti, symbolised by the mythological Uma, the wife of Shiva. At the highest level of existence, Shiva and Shakti are one (i.e., nondual), but as we descend down the scale of existence, to mind, life and matter, they are seen as separate (i.e., dual), and Shakti is seen at the material level merely as non-conscious Nature, while actually never losing oneness with Shiva, the highest reality.

Mishra makes a compelling case that KS offers a more comprehensive development, both in philosophy and practical methods, of Upanishadic thought than AV. Nevertheless, while clearly elucidating their differences, Mishra believes that AV and KS can be reconciled, and suggest ways in which this can be done. However, it must be noted that some of the Tantric texts (e.g. Svacchanda Tantra) explicitly say that the KS is based on higher levels of mystical experience than AV — which Mishra does not actually claim, but which remains a possibility that cannot be ignored in attempting to reconcile the two views.

The entire book is replete with direct quotations from a wide variety of relevant original texts. In dealing with esoteric questions, Mishra keeps his explanations cogent and simple for the lay reader, never resorting to jargon and explaining all philosophical terms he introduces with clarity and precision. He also show-cases Tantra as a practical form of spirituality. He even has a chapter on the philosophical basis of Tantric uses of sex as a means of spiritual accession, emphasising that its foundation is in love and union, and that to love and unite with one person unreservedly is just a means to unite with and love all, the final goal of Tantrism.

The book is clearly written from a life-time’s interest and research in the subject. I feel fortunate to be gifted the fruit of that effort of labour and intellect in a single book.

 

 

Arvind

Excellent book to understand Kashmir Shavism!

Reviewed in India on 2 March 2021

 

This is an amazing work on Tantra philosophy and Kashmir Shaivism. If you want to have a clear idea by reading just one book, it can be the best bet. Language is easy and fluid. No unnecessary play with words. Clear, comprehensive and thorough!
Less than 5 stars will not do justice with it.

Many thanks to the author!

 

 

Hitesh

An exceptional erudite easy exposition

Reviewed in India on 15 November 2020

 

It is a masterpiece. The author is a scholar who has understood, assimilated and experienced what he writes about. He makes the subject easy to grasp. He distinguishes easily between various conceptions of reality.

 

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