The Siva-sutras are in the nature of aphorisms corresponding to Brahma-sutras. They are believed to have been revealed to Vasugupta who compiled them. Vasugupta is also the author of Spandakarika. It is believed that Vasugupta passed the Siva-sutras to his disciple Kallata who flourished in the reign of the king Avanti-varma of Kashmir. The Siva-sutras and Spandakarika of Vasugupta, the Pratyabhijna-sutras of Utpala, the Paramarthasara, the Prathyabhijnavimarsini and a host of other works of Abhinavagupta are considered responsible for promotion of Saivism in Kashmir, later known as Kashmir Saivism.
The aphorisms serve as a medium for expression of propound ideas and concepts without being limited by rigid crystallization. In this method, the ideas are merely hinted at. It is for the spiritual seekers to unravel their true meaning and significance. It is no surprise that different interpretations admit of aphorisms depending upon the level of experience and consciousness of the seekers concerned.
The Siva-sutras are traditionally split into three chapters. They are known as Saambhavopaaya, Saaktopaaya and Aanavopaaya. The Sanskrit word ‘upaya’ indicates the method or way to reach the goal. As regards the first chapter, the title indicates the method or way to reach Saambhava or Siva. The second indicates the method or way to reach Sakti. The third indicates the method or way to overcome the limitations of the Jiva.
The reason of the division of the Siva-sutras into three chapters appears to be the unfolding of consciousness for realization of the Supreme Self from the point of view of
Divine Consciousness (Siva), the point of view of Divine Power (Sakti) and the point of view of the Jiva, the product of Siva and Sakti.
The Saivism of Kashmir the corner-stone of which is the Siva-sutras occupies a peculiar position in Indian philosophy. For, although it is sectarian in origin, it developed its philosophy under the influence of Sankara’s Advaita and is very much akin to it. However, it maintains that Maya is a real entity and is not what Sankara and Buddhism understood it to be.
It is, however, not considered a Vedantic school, but is almost like one. All that this school wants to defend is the reality of Siva and of Maya as His power, figuratively
understood as His consort. The school advocates that the world is due to the transformation (parinama) of this power (Sakti) and is, therefore, the transformation of Siva Himself. It is a transformation within Him, but not of Him.
For example, many transformations take place within my consciousness every moment, but my conscious being, my I-am, continues to be and remains the same. The world we experience consists of such transformations which are vibrations (spandas) in the being of Siva. For holding the view of vibrations, this philosophy is called the
vibration philosophy (spanda-darsana).
But the atman is essentially the same as Siva. As such there is non-duality between the two. Even the relation between Siva and His power (Sakti) is non-duality (identity).
For advocating this doctrine, this school has also been given the name of Saiva-non-dualism (Siava-advaita).
According to this school, the difference between Siva and His power is due to the different stand points from which we view the same Reality. From our point of view, Siva is different from the world. But from Siva’s (Ultimate Reality) point of view, the world is not different from Him.
Siva is the same as the Brahman, and may be viewed as personal or impersonal, depending on what we mean by person. He is the only Reality. But He appears as the
world through His wonderful power (Sakti). As the transformation belongs to His power, He remains perfect in spite of the world.
His power has five aspects, namely, consciousness, bliss, will (icchaa), knowledge (jnaana) and activity (kriyaa). When the power is pure consciousness, Siva remains as
pure Siva and as the only Reality. In the aspect of bliss, Siva appears as Sakti. In the aspect of will, He appears as Sadasiva. In the aspect of activity, He appears as Isvara.
In the aspect of knowledge, He appears as Suddhavidya.
It is difficult to translate these words, but one can understand the nature of the states of Siva, the Supreme God-head, in these aspects. However, these states are
appearances of the same Siva, and are His transformations. These four stages are called Supernals and constitute pure creation.
These stages are also described as the experiences of ‘I’, ‘I am’, ‘I am this’ without clear distinction of the ‘I’ and ‘this’, and ‘I’ and ‘this’ as separately experienced without
identity with each other.
According to this school, out of Suddha-vidya is born Maya, which is unconscious but real, and which is the root of everything and includes everything, including the
finite-atmans (the Jiva) and the world of matter. In Maya originate the five principles, namely, limit (niyati) or necessity, time, attachment (raga) or the principle of
identification of the self with other objects, limited cognition (vidya) that is dependent on mind and senses, and limited ability (kalaa). These five along with Maya are called
the six shackles (satkanchakas) and constitute the mixed creation, a combination of purity and impurity. They are prior to the Jiva, the individual souls. Man is born into
them; he does not create them. As they are prior to individual souls, they are pure principles; but as they are the cause of the soul’s bondage, they are impure.
After these six principles and out of them starts the impure creation. First the Purusa and Prakrti appear. The rest of the process, according to this school, is practically the
same as that of the Sankhya.
In essence, the Siva-sutras, and the Saivism of Kashmir based on them, underline monism as the essence of their philosophy.