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Consciousness and Worlds

In Kashmir Shaivism we do not see the central importance laid on the demarcation of Reality into "Worlds" or "Planes" (although as we shall see shortly this is not an idea that is alien to this tradition), as in Western occult systems such as Kabbalah and Theosophy, but rather a series of stages or phases of self-limitation of Consciousness.  This of course is fully in keeping with the Indian position, which tends to be more "psychological" or "subjective" than the Western position.  Yet the concepts of Emanation and of Return are just as central to the Trika system as they are to Neoplatonism.  "The whole of this metaphysic," Tantric scholar John Woodroffe explains, "rests on the principle of the specialisation of Consciousness, stages of descent from pure Cit (non-dual Consciousness) to the consciousness of the material world.  Each stage is more bound in ignorance than the former until gross matter is reached" [John Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p.275].  And despite the psychological emphasis, the system still has as its lowest level gross physical matter, which is seen as the direct consequence of the emanation process; as the actual congealation or crystallisation of consciousness, so to speak.

The Kashmir Shaivite Sequence Of Worlds Or Planes

 Despite the primary emphasis on Consciousness rather than cosmology, the theme of a series of worlds or planes as in the esoteric Western and Middle Eastern systems (Neoplatonism, Kabbalah, Theosophy, etc) was also developed in Trika.  The Kashmir Shaivite Abhinavagupta described the process of manifestation in terms of five kalas or "divisions" or "phases"; i.e.:

 Each kala is divided into, or contains, a large number of planes or sub-levels, called bhuvana, which literally mean "becoming, place of existence, world, place of being, abode" [Jaideva Singh, Pratyabhijnahridayam, p.162].  The equivalent Western esoteric or occult term would be "plane".  The number of bhuvanas attributed to each kala differs according to the author consulted, as shown in the following table:

number of bhuvanas according to
[Singh, p.156]
T. A. Gopinatha Rao
[Woodroffe, pp.269-72]

Obviously, the exact number of bhuvanas is arbitrary.  What is relevant to the topic of esoteric cosmology is the fact that despite their "psychological" emphasis the tantric cosmologists had a system of planes and subplanes every bit as elaborate as that of the more "cosmologically" orientated Western-Middle Eastern esotericists

The kalas can be represented in circular form, in a manner reminiscent of Judaic Kabbalah.  But even closer to the Kabbalistic cosmology is the Indian idea of andas, literally "eggs", but also "spheres"; because the cosmos as a whole is considered to be the form of a vast egg, called "the egg of Brahma [the Creator-God]", or Brahmanda

In this cosmology, Shiva is beyond all the Spheres.  He is Shunyati-shunya, "the void beyond voids").  Through the manifestation of Shakti the Spheres come into being as successive con-centric circles.  The first, called Shaktyanda - "sphere of Shakti", is equivalent to Shanta kala.  As John Woodroffe explains, "it is the abode of those glorious Beings who are called Mantra-maheshwara ("Great Lords of Mantra"), Mantreshwara ("Lords of Mantra"), Mantras and Vidyeshwara ("Lords of Knowledge")," [Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p.212], and which dwell in the Sadashiva, Ishwara, Sadvidya, and lower Sadvidya tattwas respectively.  Next in order is Mayanda, the "sphere of Maya", "the field of operation of Vidya-kala, which is the Shakti producing the limited dual consciousness" of finite beings [Ibid, p.213].  Lastly, the concentric Spheres of Prakritanda and Brahmanda constitute the subtle and gross (or physical) cosmos respectively (Pratishta and Nivritti kalas), from which are derived the subtle and gross bodies [Ibid].  Interestingly, these four spheres are remarkably similar to the four worlds of Kabbalah (Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah respectively)

In the esoteric cosmologies of the West and Middle East (Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Kabbalah, Ishraqism, etc), not only is there a specific sequence of planes of existence, but the higher planes are occupied by angelic or archetypal beings, the imagery of which is utilised for meditative and magickal purposes.  In Shaivite and Shakta Trika Tantra likewise, reference is made to the Vidyeshwaras or "Lords of Knowledge", which are stationed in the lower level of Sadvidya-tattwa, in other words, in the very lowest plane of Divine Consciousness.  Although they are of the nature of pure non-dual consciousness, nevertheless, objects are experienced as different from themselves [Jaideva Singh, Siva Sutras, pp.17-18].  They are high spiritual entities, by whose aid the lower orders of beings attain the higher stages of spiritual evolution [Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p.274].  Traditionally there are eight, each of which is given its own corresponding colour (although there is disagreement over which colour goes with which Vidyeshwara).  As such, they are comparable to the eight Bodhisattvas of Tibetan Buddhism, which together with their dakinis or female polarities form a group of sixteen deities, each with their own correspondences [Detlef Ingo Lauf, Secret Doctrines of the Tibetan Books of the Dead, pp.114-7].


Here is a suggested correlation of Trika kalas and the standard system of hypostases (ontocosms) adopted in the Structure of Reality section of this site

Pratyabhijna/Trika Paradigm
(kalas and tattwas)
standardised Universes 
Parasamvit/ Paramashiva
Unmanifest Absolute
Manifest Absolute


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