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The Saiva Siddhanta


[* This is the paper of Dr. L.D. Barnett's which we reviewed in our editorial of June 1910, and which he has since contributed specially to our pages. – Ed. L. T.]

The subject to which I have the honor of inviting your attention today is one of such vastness, and its issues are of such immense importance in the history of both ancient and modern Indian religion and theology, that I tremble at my own temerity in raising it today, and feel constrained to ask in advance your indulgence for the necessarily superficial manner in which I must treat it. I shall endeavor to lay before you first a brief sketch of the Saiva Siddhantam, the system of theology which expresses the religious and philosophical ideals of the great majority of the Tamils in India and Ceylon and of a considerable number of their Dravidian neighbors; and this system I will try to trace to its origins and to connect with the ancient speculative movement which has for its literary monument the Sanskrit Upanishads.

The Saiva Siddhantam has been greatly neglected by European scholars. Many years ago the Rev. Mr. Hoisington published a few papers and translations, and the Rev. Mr. Foulkes and M. Vinson have since contributed their mites. The late Dr. Pope gave a rendering of some extracts in the introduction to his edition of the Tiru-vachakam, and some useful material has been published by Hindu writers in the Siddhanta-dipika in Madras. But no serious attempt has been made by Europeans to trace the broad outlines of the system, to mark its points of agreement and disagreement with other and more familiar schools of Hindu thought, and to trace it back to its origins. The present paper aims at being suggestive rather than dogmatic; and I shall be amply repaid if it should contribute a little to future studies.

The Siddhantam is summed up in the Sanskrit formula pati-pasu-pasa, i.e., (1) the Lord, literally the master of the herd, who is the Supreme Siva, (2) the cattle of the herd, who are the aggregate of souls bound in the cycle of repeated birth and death, and (3) the bond, that is , the material influences which keep the souls bound in the series of transmigration and hold them back from their natural union with Siva. It would be more exact to define it as a system of four terms, which ultimately are reducible to two. These are (1) Supreme Siva, (2) His Sakti or Power, (3) Souls, and (4) Maya or Matter, of which the first three are really one, so that existence in the last resort consists of two entities, Siva and Maya.

The Supreme Siva is transcendent or absolute Being, existing in inseparable union with His Saktis or Powers, which in their highest forms are the principles of Thought, Bliss, Will, Knowledge, and Action. These Powers are the instrumental causes by means of which He creates from Himself in the exercise of His own free will and pleasure a finite world of souls, subjects of thought which, though transcendentally identical with Him, are phenomenally unconscious of Him. The higher order of these souls, the vijnanakalas, are associated only with the higher or pure form of Maya, and possess only one impurity, the anava mala or illusion of differentiation in the Supreme unity of Being. The lower orders, pralayakalas and sakalas, are associated and conditioned with gross Maya; the former, in addition to the illusion of differentiation, have the impurity of karma, i.e., they are moved by finite desires to works, which consequently influence their successive incarnations; and the sakalas suffer from a third impurity, that called mayiya, which arises from the presence in them of the material body. Maya is thus the material cause of the finite world.

Existence is divided into a series of planes, graduated in order of their spirituality, to which correspond the 36 Tattvas or elements. Highest of all states is the 36th Tattva, the Nada or Siva-tattva, in which the Supreme, the absolute Thought, dwells with His cosmic Powers or Saktis suspended in their operation. This corresponds to the periods of cosmic dissolution after the pralaya or cataclysm at the end of each epoch, during which nothing exists but inchoate Maya, the Supreme Siva, and the souls crystallized out of His essence, which are doomed to expiate in finite experiences their works throughout each epoch, and in the intervals lie dormant. The next four planes are those of the Sakti-tattva, Sadasiva-tattva, Isvara-tattva, and Pure Knowledge-tattva, which arise in accordance with the relative predominance of the Saktis in the Divine Idea. These 5 conditions are the "Pure Tattvas" or planes of complete spirituality. The subjects of thought inhabiting them are under the influence of only one impurity the anava mala or illusion of differentiation in being, by which they are separated in consciousness from the Supreme Siva they are bodied of "Pure Maya", or the Bindu of Siva.

The second class is that of subjects of thought bodied of gross Maya in its higher form, the pralayakalas. Their bodies are constituted of the Pancha-kanchuka or "five-fold vestment", namely the principles of Necessity (niyati), Time, Determination (kala), Passion, and finite Knowledge, imposed upon them by Maya until the cosmic dissolution at the end of each world epoch. Last is the order of beings like ourselves, the sakalas or completely materialized souls, on whom Maya imposes not only the "five-fold vestment" but likewise the cloak of physical nature, Prakriti, which the Saivas analyse in a manner very similar to that of the Sankhya, ending the series with Earth, the 1st Tattva.

This system is obviously at bottom a dualism very like that of the Sankhyan antithesis of Soul and Matter with the Yogic addition of a Supreme Soul. Maya is eternal and real, a positive entity coexistent with Siva. It is not in itself an illusion, like the Maya of the Sankara school; it is only a means sub serving the will of the Supreme to produce illusion, the imagination of a differentiated finite universe, in order that the alienated souls may therein consume their karma and finally reach salvation by realizing their unity with the Supreme. In so far then as Maya is regarded their unity with the Supreme. In so far then as Maya is regarded as a means for the execution of the Divine Will, the system may be styled a Visishtadvaita or modified monism; and the Saivas, with the usual Hindu reverence for the blessed word Advaita, lay stress upon its monistic aspect, asserting it to be derived in its gross form from the Pure Maya. It thus becomes a phase of the Sakti tattva, a Power of the Supreme. But it seems at any rate possible that this harmony did not exist in the original sources of the Siddhantam, which I strongly suspect were closely allied to the classical Sankhya-Yoga, perhaps identical with it.

The oldest scholastic textbook of the Siddhantam in Tamil is the Siva-jnana-bodham, composed by Meykandar about the year 1223. This is a metrical version of 12 Sanskrit stanzas which are derived from the Raurava Agama, but are sometimes also said to be taken from the Paushkara. In any case they are part of the Sanskrit Agamik literature, which is the source whence the Tamil and Kanarese Saivas directly drew their scholastic theology. The Saiva cult among the Tamils is of course much earlier than the 13th century, and had a copious devotional literature by the 8th and 9th centuries. The famous poems of the Tiru-vachakam of Manikka-vachakar pasu, pasa, pasu-pati, maya, satti, nadam, &c. – their Sanskrit forms. As Manikka-vachakar lived between 800 and 1000 A.D., it may be with probability inferred that for 2 or 3 centuries before Meykandar Tamil votaries were acquainted with a Sanskrit Saiva theology from Northern India. But so far as we know, Tamil scholastic theology begins with Meykandar about 1223; and it is important to note this date, for in the middle of the 12th century occurred that great upheaval in the neighboring Kanarese country, which dethroned forever the Jains and made the Saiva church dominant for many ages there. This fact suggests an interesting conclusion. Saiva theology in Kashmir reached its culmination in the school of Abhinavagupta about the end of the 10th century. The doctrines formulated by Abhinavagupta are in all essentials exactly the same as those of the Tamil Siddhantam. We are therefore led to the conclusion that it was from Kashmir and the neighboring regions that the Saiva theology came to the Dravidian South, at first flowing in slight currents of incoherent ideas, and gradually gathering force until it swept in a great stream of reasoned thought southward, taking its course chiefly through the center of India and thence flowing south-east into the Tamil lands. The exact course of this development is uncertain, but that it was in the direction that I have suggested is shown by the fact that the elements of the Tamil Siddhantam, the Sanskrit Agamas, and the Saiva theology of Kashmir are all contained in the Svetasvatara Upanishad, which was canonical long before the days of Sankara.

The two chief schools of Saiva theology in Kashmir are those of the Pratyabhijna and the Spanda. To the Pratyabhijna our author Abhinavagupta belongs. The late Dr. Bhuler, in Report on the search for manuscripts in Kashmir (p. 80), gave it as his opinion that the Pratyabhijna was not older than the end of the 9th century. I regret that I cannot follow him here. Utpalacharya, who wrote in the 10th century a commentary on the Spanda-karika of Kallata, who flourished about 850, quotes in this work from Pratyabhijna text-books as already ancient authorities. The Pratyabhijna therefore may well have existed in the 7th or 8th centuries, and, as I have said, all its essential ideas are found in the Svetasvatara Upanishad, which is probably considerably older. This conclusion is corroborated by the history of the Spanda doctrine. Between the Spanda and the Prathyabhijna there is no essential difference. The Pratyabhijna lays more stress upon the subjective idealistic tendencies which, like the Spanda, it had inherited from the Upanishads; practically this is all that divides them. Now the founder of the Spanda is usually said to be Vasugupta, who must have flourished about 800, as Kallata was his disciple. But Buhler admits that the principles of the Spanda may be considerably earlier. Since then the two schools are parallel in doctrine, they may well have been contemporary from the first, and in their origins are probably very ancient.

If I may be permitted to repeat myself to some extent, I would sum up my conclusions as follows. At some date, possibly about the beginning of the present era, and most probably not later than the 5th century, the inchoate idealism of the older Upanishads was harmonized with the growing belief in the reality of the material principle in nature. The chief literary document in this concordat is the Svetasvatara Upanishad, which asserts that Maya is matter, a mode of thought imposed upon the real consciousness or Self by the will of the Absolute Thought, which is regarded as a personal deity, Siva, and that this fettered condition is sublated by the free grace of this Deity inspiring the soul to recognize its true absoluteness and essential unity with Him. This body of ideas gradually developed in Kashmir into the Spanda and Pratyabhijna schools, meanwhile filtering down through various channels into the lands of the Dravidians, for whose ancient cults it supplied a theological basis. The Prathyabhijna was finally codified about 1000 A. D. In that form it passed through Agamik and other channels southwards, notably into the Kanarese country in the middle of the 12th century, and reappears at the beginning of the 13th as the basis of the Tamil Siddhantam.

- L. D. B.


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