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 Kashmir Shaivism And Neoplatonism - Contrasts

Although both conceive of Reality in an emanationist manner, and even, as indicated above, describe a similar series of stages of consciousness, Kashmir Shaivism differs from Neoplatonism in that it is based on a Monistic rather than a Dualistic perspective

Thus Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, begins from the dualistic standpoint of Plato: the distinction between the spiritual world of concrete archetypes (or "Ideas" as Plato called them) and their material "shadows" (the physical world).  He then extended this by adding several further levels: instead of one Divine spiritually creative world Plotinus posited three: the One, Nous, and World-Soul.  But the limitations of dualism still remain.  The Nous is not the same in essence as the One, even though it emanated from it.  Nor is the World-Soul the same in essence as the Nous.  And whilst the Nous is clearly of the nature of Consciousness, the same could not be said of the One, which has the same status of an abstract unknowable First Principle as does the God of Philosophical Christian theology (indeed, it was from Neoplatonism - via Dionysius - that this whole conception of an unknowable God came about)

Indeed, it is this central dualistic element that allowed Neoplatonism to be taken up by the various dualistic (Monotheistic) religions: by early Kabbalah in mystical Judaism; by Dionysius' in Christian mysticism; and by the Sufis and the various neoplatonists (the "Brethen of Purity"; Avicenna and his school; etc) of Islam; no matter how great the opposition from the literalist or fundamentalist theological authorities in each case

In the case of Kashmir Shaivism, the situation is very different.  The philosophical underpinning of Indian spirituality is not dualism and separation, but monism and identity.  For it is the great genius of Indian spirituality to recognise that the Absolute Reality is not something separate from us, an abstract philosophical or theological First Principle "out there", but rather the same as that very Consciousness or Awareness or "I"- ness with which we experience all things, and which indeed is the essence of our being.  As the European philosophers Rene Descartes and later Edmund Husserl discovered, you can deny everything, even your own physical bodily existence, but  you can't deny your own conscious existence itself.  And it is that pure Conscious existence, that "I"-ness or Self, that, according to the Upanishads and non-dual Vedanta, constitutes the Absolute

Kashmir Shaivism begins from this discovery, but it does not make the mistake that radical non-dual or Advaita Vedanta does of denying the world by asserting that since the Absolute is the only thing that is ultimately real, the universe must be false or ultimately unreal (Maya).  Rather, it suggests that since the Absolute is the only Reality, and since the phenomenal universe is also real (after all, when did you last walk through a wall?), the Absolute has basically two modes: the transcendent Absolute in itself (Vishvottirna - transcending the universe), and the Absolute as the universe (Vishvamaya - making up the universe) [Jaideva Singh, Pratyabhijnahrdayam, p.8].


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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 1 March 1999, last modified 4 June 2004