Kashmir Saivism is the most prominent of the North Indian schools of Saivism, and is thought to have been founded by Vasugupta in the eight century CE. It is named after the region in which Vasugupta is said to have found the Shiva Sutras, which along with the Saiva Agamas form the scriptual foundation of this tradition. According to one account, Vasugupta was directed by Lord Shiva in a dream or vision to go to a particular rock on Mahadev Mountain. On doing so and touching the rock, it is reputed to have rolled over and revealed the seventy- seven sutras or aphorisms of the Shiva Sutra. According to another account, Vasugupta received the sutras in deep meditation. The nature of its origin aside, the Shiva Sutra is considered to have been divinely revealed and so is equal in status to the Saiva Agamas.
Kashmir Saivism is also known by the names Pratyabhijna, Spanda and Trika. Pratyabhijna means recognition or remembrance and refers to one of the central tenets of this school, that the individual is ultimately identical with Shiva as the Absolute, and that the recognition or remembrance in the sense of an immediate awareness of this identity leads to liberation. Spanda means self-movement or vibration and refers to another key principle of this school, the apparent movement from a state of absolute unity to the plurality of the world that takes place through the spontaneous activity or Sakti that gives rise to the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the cosmos. Trika means triple or triad, and refers to a number of threefold principles that are characteristic of Kashmir Saivism. These include the three fundamental categories Shiva, Sakti and anu or the individual that for Kasmir Saivism is a microcosm of the whole; Pati (Shiva), pasu (individual) and pasa (bond); and the triple nature of Sakti: iccha (will), jnana (knowledge) and kriya (activity).
It is also held that the designation Trika refers to the three types of literature in Kashmir Saivism: Agama, Spanda and Pratyabhijna Sastras (from the verb root sas = to rule, teach), which correspond to the three closely related philosophical positions that emerged within this tradition, and whose overall tendency was towards Samkara's Advaita Vedanta. Abhinavagupta (950-1015) is acknowledged as effecting a reconciliation of the three positions in his version of non-dualism in important works such as Tantraloka, Tantrasara, and Isvara Pratyabhijna Vimarsini.
Abhinavagupta's non-dualism or advaita (from a = 'not' + dvaita = 'dual'), like Samkara's, accepts a conception of the Absolute as the only Reality, both transcendent and indeterminate. However unlike Samkara, Abhinavagupta maintains that the cosmos is a real manifestation of Shiva (as the Absolute).
rather than something merely apparent. Shiva is the self-shining, pure consciousness or prakasa (from the verb root kas = 'to shine' and pra = 'forth'), whose self-awareness or vimarsa (meaning knowledge or reflection) is represented as Sakti. Spanda or kriya is understood as the spontaneous and eternal vibration or creative pulse that expresses Shiva's absolute freedom (svatantra: from sva = 'own' + tantra = 'rule') and infinite bliss (ananda); it has no inherent motive or guiding purpose beyond the joy of free expression. This doctrine is portrayed in Saiva iconography by the ecstatic dance of Shiva in the form of Nataraja (from nata = 'dancer' + raja = 'king'), whose movements are the movements of the cosmos: its creation, maintenance and dissolution, and whose dance is the cosmic play or lila, which takes place for no other reason than the joy of movement itself.
As the Absolute, Shiva is self-dependent and so remains unaffected by all manifestation which is made to appear as if it were distinct from Himself even though it is projected from Himself, in Himself and by Himself. The cosmos is therefore both real and non-different from Shiva, and this for Abhinavagupta is authentic advaita; not the denial of duality as it is for Samkara, but the ultimate unity of Shiva and Sakti, prakasa and vimarsa, which though distinguishable in thought are in reality inseparable. This conception of advaita is personified in Ardhanarisvara, the half-male and half-female form of Shiva that is intended to express this inseparability in art. In most cases Ardhanarisvara is male on the right side of the figure and female on the left-side, although some examples which are presumably sakta in origin reverse this arrangement.
According to Abhinavagupta, the pasu or individual self is nothing other than Shiva appearing under particular limitations (keeping in mind that some kind of limitation is required for any form of determinate existence to appear at all). The pasu is therefore an aspect of creation that expresses Shiva's absolute freedom and infinite bliss just like any other. However by identifying with determinate forms as if they were distinct from Shiva, such as thinking that 'I am the body' or 'I am this life', the pasu cuts itself off from its source and becomes bound to the cycles of samsara.
The error that is introduced through this false identification, through the sense that there is anything that is ultimately distinct from Shiva, is the root cause of all bondage or bandha (from the verb root bandh = 'to bind'). This ignorance of the real nature of the pasu is referred to as anava-mala: the impurity (mala) of ignorance, and is the mula-mala or root impurity that taints the other malas (karma and maya), which together constitute the three strands of pasa that bind the pasu. Karma-mala (the impurity of action) is said to be the result of anava- mala, with the false identification with determinate forms leading to the
impurities caused by residual impressions of past actions that are believed to have been the product of one's own finite will. Maya-mala (the impurity of transmigration) is in turn the result of both anava- and karma-mala, as the material conditions of empirical existence are misinterpreted as not only distinct from Shiva, but as what defines the finite pasu as an independent agent that endures through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth.
Given that anava-mala is held to be the root cause of bondage, and that the pasu is ultimately nothing other than Shiva, liberation or moksa in Kasmir Saivism is defined as the recognition or pratyabhijna of this underlying unity. The ignorance that pratyabhijna dissolves is not intellectual but innate and beginningless and so cannot be removed by intellectual knowledge alone. Pratyabhijna is instead an immediate and direct realisation of one's identity with Shiva, which by dissolving the false distinction between the determinate forms of what manifests and Shiva releases the pasu from the ties (pasa) that bind it. This realisation may be prompted by spiritual instruction and initiation (diksa), meditation on the sacred texts (sastra-vasyah), sincere and dedicated spiritual practice (yoga), through some combination of some or all of these, or may simply occur spontaneously. Regardless of the particular means, the pratyabhijna tradition emphasies the importance of the descent of Shiva's grace (saktipata or anugraha) in all spiritual attainment. The realisation that all manifestation, including oneself, is non-different from Shiva makes manifest in the form of the jivanmukti an embodied awareness of grace of Shiva in all creation, and a living example of advaita.