Shiva sūtrās are the aphorisms of philosophy of Shiva āgama. Āgama means acquisition of knowledge or traditional doctrine or percept. There are four sources through which knowledge can be acquired. They are pratyakṣa (perception), anumāna (inference), upamāna (comparison) and anupalabdhi (non-apprehension). Advaita philosophy advocates non-dualism, in the sense that the Brahman and soul are not different entities. Soul, in fact is the mirror image of the Brahman Himself. But the Kashmir śaivism, though typically follows the advaita philosophy, has a peculiar system of its own called trika. Trika śāstrā means three fold fundamental systems of Reality. Typically śāstrā means order, command, percept rule, etc. Compendium of rules of life is also known as śāstrā. Trika śāstrā is again divided into three categories, āgama śastrā, spanda śastrā and pratyabhijṇāña śastrā. Shiva sūtrās come under āgama śastrā. Spanda means throbbing or pulsation. It is the pulsation of Shiva causing a spiritual exaltation in the indispensable nature of the divine causing His svātantrya śakti, known as the Supreme Śakti or the Divine Mother, whose gross and subtle attributes are dealt with exhaustively in Lalithā Sahasranāmam. The third one pratyabhijṇāña śastrā contains arguments and reasoning of identifying soul with Shiva.
Shiva sūtrās is the instauration of Kashmir trika philosophy. Shiva sūtrās were revealed to Vasugupta, a sage who lived around eighth century by Shiva Himself. Since the sūtrās originated from Shiva Himslef, each of these sūtrās is very crisp and communicates the abstruseness of divinity in the most denotative way. Shiva sūtrā is yoga on its own merits, as they are the precepts of Shiva Himself. It is called yoga because it talks about the unification of soul with Shakthi and finally with Shiva (parā, parāparā and aparā) in the psychological background of understanding Shiva, the ultimate Reality, through manifestation, bondage and ultimate liberation. There are three sections in Shiva sūtrās, śambhavopāya, śāktopāya and āṇavopāya. They have 22, 10 and 45 sūtrās respectively. In all, there are 77 aphorisms.
A brief understanding of the three upāyas is a necessity for better understanding of aphorisms. Upāya means approach. Śambhavopāya is explained as one’s absorption into Shiva consciousness without using the mind to consider Shiva, as absorption happens only if the mind becomes free of any other thoughts except Shiva. The thought of Shiva happens not due to the mind but through one’s self-command. This process is called choice less awareness or let-go because the awareness is not created by any thought process. This is a process that happens within perpetually where Shiva is experienced directly like a flash of light. In Śāktopāya, realization happens in stages unlike Śambhavopāya, where realization takes place directly. In Śāktopāya the practitioner’s mind is not fully tuned to realize Shiva, as he is still bound by contemplation, failing to understand the Self-illuminating Shiva within. His knowledge is just not yet turned out to be supreme. For him Shiva is still veiled by vikapa. Vikalpa means alternative perceptions, which depends upon the intellect of the individual. Vikalpa means an overcrowded mind. Recitation of mantras is done at this level of intellect. To make his mind free of vikalpas, he engages himself in rituals, japas, visualizations or any other methods to make his mind devoid of thought processes so that he can make honest attempts to remove the veil that remains encompassing Shiva. He has to seek the help of Shakthi to remove this veil through different methods of Her worship. When he is totally transformed, Shakthi is pleased and removes the veil around Shiva and enables him to realize Shiva. The third one is āṇavopāya. Aṇu means restricted. The seeker’s mind is confined by his intellect, his breath, his body, etc. His psychological perception of the empirical self is restricted by anthakkaranam or the internal tools (mind, intellect, consciousness and ego). The practitioner is yet to begin the process of acquiring knowledge that is required to enter the state of Śāktopāya. He is still associated only with actions such as rituals, japa and meditation. He derives satisfaction only if he performs rituals and in the process, he fails to recognize the ever shining Shiva within. He has to traverse a long way to realize Shiva. From āṇavopāya he has to progress to Śāktopāya and then to śambhavopāya. His is a time consuming progression and he has to transmigrate several times to attain liberation. He undergoes the pain of birth and death repeatedly.
It is apposite to note that all the three upāyas are only the modifications of the mind, one leading to the other. The ultimate truth is that Shiva is NOT different from “I”. This very “I” is Shiva. But it is only the mental makeup of a person to seek Him elsewhere. Such a realization does not happen in a short span of time. The Self-realization is a long drawn mental practice. In the first place, one has to convince his own mind that Shiva is within. Meditation is of no use, if the mind is not calmed down and still associated with alternative thought processes. If one is able to make repeated self affirmations that he is Shiva Himself, one fine day, his mind realizes his true nature, the omnipresent Shiva.
Through this series “Shiva Sutras”, all the 77 sutras will be discussed