Siva, feelin’ the Spanda….
Though my meditation practice is based on the instructions and concepts put forward by the Buddha in the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon, I’ve been craving a more devotional connection with the Divine during the past couple months. It’s been my luck to be drawn into two distinct spiritual philosophies — Advaita Vedanta and the Buddhadhamma — during the past ten years or so, both of which tend to negate the “I and Thou” in favor of an ultimate nonduality, which de-emphasizes our connectedness with (or our attachment to) material reality.
So it’s been a pleasure to return once again to a study of Kashmir Saivism (or Shaivism), which seems to me a philosophy designed for those who accept the ultimate nonduality of existence, but who do not deny our seeming separateness as individual beings. On the one hand, Kashmir Saivism is monistic — it sees everything as Siva, the One Truth — while on the other hand, it recognizes the value of devotion, which works through the divine pulsating energy of Siva to transform our consciousness in the direction of an ultimate, sustained identification with Siva.
In other words, if I understand it correctly, Kashmir Saivism works with what the Buddha called “jhana” or meditative absorption (i.e., Spanda), coupling it with powerful devotion toward the guru (who is the manifest embodiment of Siva), so that the Spanda ends up consuming the practitioner, such that the practitioner’s individual separateness is reunited with Siva — a reality that was never absent, despite the practitioner’s delusion of separateness.
Here’s an explanation that makes more clear what I’m struggling to express:
Kashmir Saivism is intensely monistic. It does not deny the existence of a personal God or of the Gods. But much more emphasis is put upon the personal meditation and reflection of the devotee and his guidance by a guru. Creation of the soul and world is explained as God Siva’s abhasa, “shining forth” of Himself in His dynamic aspect of Shakti, the first impulse, called spanda. As the Self of all, Siva is immanent and transcendent, and performs through his Shakti the five actions of creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing. The Kashmir Saivite is not so much concerned with worshiping a personal God as he is with attaining the transcendental state of Siva consciousness.
An esoteric and contemplative path, Kashmir Saivism embraces both knowledge and devotion. Sadhana leads to the assimilation of the object (world) in the subject (I) until the Self (Siva) stands revealed as one with the universe. The goal-liberation is sustained recognition (pratyabhijna) of one’s true Self as nothing but Siva. There is no merger of soul in God, as they are eternally nondifferent.
The idea of submitting to a guru presents another problem for me, as it does for many seekers in the West. In fact, in order to even open up to Eastern teachings, Westerners must pass through an intense questioning of spiritual authority. We must get past our Judeo-Christian dogmatic conditioning, which for most of us gives no outlet for the contemplative, ecstatic, experiential urge toward union with the Divine. To finally access Eastern teachings, which are all about meditation and mystical union, only to be confronted with the need to submit to yet another spiritual authority (in the form of a guru) — well, I can tell you that I’m not to that point, and I don’t see myself reaching that point any time soon, if ever.
I see, however, that my attitude is based on woundedness, as well as a bias toward the “spiritual teacher” that expects him or her to adhere to a level of perfection that may not exist in this world. I must admit that I can find some short-falling or other in every teacher I’ve ever had, as well as in most every teacher I’ve ever read about. For me to expect a “guru” (a loaded word that means “spiritual teacher,” albeit in the context of a teacher-student relationship far more intimate than anything we can conceive of in the West) to be totally unblemished according to some set of expectations through which I’ve been conditioned — well, I’m setting myself up for a fall. I admit that I could use some help in getting over this profound reluctance to devoting myself to a teacher. Perhaps if I pray hard enough, this help will come into my life.
In the depths of meditative absorption (usually kicking in at the 45 or 50 minute mark of each hour-long session), I’ve been getting strong intuitive guidance to beseech the Divine in some form — to thank the Divine for blessing me with such peace, bliss and joy — and to fully surrender to the Living Spirit that is Spanda, jhana, meditative absorption. I’m getting that this is not some inert energy, like an electrical current from a two-pronged outlet, but rather an expression of the Divine that knows me better than I know myself… and I need to fully let go from whatever resistance to it that I still have. I don’t see this as abandoning the Buddhadhamma, which exists as a crystalline basis for living in the peace, bliss and joy of constant saturation in meditative absorption. I see this as an acknowledgment that my practice, which has cultivated meditative absorption and transformed me through it, may be strengthened by the presence of devotion to That which makes it all possible in the first place.
Therefore, I crave a spiritual context that more fully recognizes this need for devotion.
Like, maybe, Kashmir Saivism.