Pratyabhijna Expounded by Utpaladeva

by Jankinath Kaul 'Kamal'

The Pratyabhijna School is quite akin to the non-dual vedantic thought of Ajatavada explained by Gaudapada. Vasugupta was the first propounder of Shaivism in Kashmir. He flourished in the middle of the late Eighth Century A.D. Worship of different deities, Yoga systems and Shaiva faith have already been in practice here. According to Dr. K.C. Pandey, Kula, and 'Krama' system of Shaivism existed here much before Atri Gupta and Sangamaditya were invited by king Lalitaditya (725-761 A.D.) to settle in Kashmir. 'Agamas' are believed to be as old as 'Vedas'. It is natural that after the lapse of a certain cycle of time an established system of ' hought begins to fade away. Its revival, which emanates from God Himself, is also natural. - Shaivism was thus revived in Kashmir when Lord Shiva Himself revealed 'Shiva-sutras' to Vasugupta in the vicinity of Harwan Village. He re-established the faith by explaining the Sutras to his disciples. With this he combated the growing Buddhism in Kashmir. This faith developed into two school of thought-one Spanda system of thought and the other Pratiyabhijna Philosophy; Siddha Somananda's Shivdrishti explains the latter. His teachings were imbibed well by his disciple Utpaladev, who possessed a sharp intellect. This brilliant disciple reestablished the thought of 'recognition' with his illustrious work Ishwara - Pratyabhijna. It is stated that Utpala was motivated to write the Karikas at the request of his son Vibhramakara, who wanted to imbibe them. In this treatise Utpala reflects the wisdom taught to him by his preceptor. It is an exhaustive exposition of the Philosophy of Recognition. Persian Scholars of Kashmir have termed it Khird-i-Kamil, "Wisdom of the sage". Together with various commentaries on this book and other similar works there grew up a mass of literature round the Pratyabhijha Karikas of Utpala. This work assumed such importance that the whole system of Kashmir Shaiva philosophy came to be known as Pratyabhyha Darshan in India and the countries abroad.

We know little about the early life of Utpala, who grew to be a great mystic saint of Kashmir. This, however, comes to us by tradition that he lived somewhere at Nowhata in Srinagar and that his time was the middle of the ninth century A.D. This is also as calculated from the date available in Rajatarangini. From the colophones of the works of his contemporary authors and those who followed him, we know that he was a Brahmin and lived a married life. His father's name was Udayakara. Utpala was followed by his disciple Lakshmana Gupta, one of the preceptors of the great Abhinavgupta, who wrote an exhaustive commentary and gloss on this work.

Although Utpala's Ishwara Pratyabhijha is difficult to assimilate as it deals with abstruse logic, yet it is a perfect work on this philosophy It is not only a set of philosophic doctrines but also contains instruction on practical yoga. It is, therefore, interesting for aspirants of the highest ability, who can develop constant awareness of Supreme Consciousness. The three means advocated by Kashmir Shaivism in general are recognised in this philosophy. It is, however, known as Anupaya - the means without any means. The doctrine as summed up by Abhinavagupta is:

"Only the five great functions are to be followed. Since there is no existence of impurity, whence can there be any erosion: it is only a change in point of view. Otherwise, nothing has happened to Shiva. No Jeeva Bhava has been assumed by Him." (Abhinavagupta's commentary).

This doctine of 'Recognition' was explained by Somananda to Utpaladev with the help of the following illustration:

A girl and a boy whose marriage was fixed and who did not know each other, one day happened to sit together along with their relatives and friends at a fair. During this short company the girl served tea to the party in which one was her would-be groom. There was no stir of feeling in either of them. But while tea was being served, a common acquaintance gave a hint of the scheduled marriage to the one sitting by his side. Instantly a wave of the feeling of love ran through the bodies of both. The girl recognized her lover." In the same way 'Jeeva' recognizes himself in Shiva with the help of his preceptor. This is the philosophy of 'Recognition' in a nutshell. Utpala explained this more comprehensively than his teacher had. He sat and wrote his abstruse aphorisms during calm moments. It was his self-introspection which got established as philosophy. Gaudapada, the grand preceptor of 'Adi Shankaracharya' also had expounded a similar philosophy earlier. It is known as 'Ajatavada' in the Advaita vedanta philosophy. He says that nothing is born and so nothing dies. It is only the change in vision that fne world appears as such." Utpala explained the philosphy in his own way and convincingly too.

Tradition goes that Utpala, during the later period of I his life, would often be in spiritual ecstasy. His practices had ripened by the divine grace of Lord Shiva as a result of which he uttered notes full of divine rapture, intensely musical and pregnant with esoteric meaning. These utterances, verily, reveal the 'heart of Utpala'. He gave the same philosophy an exclusively devotional tinge. He sang verses in different tunes in praise of his Lord, expressing non-dual devotion, 'Abheda Bhakti'. He was so engrossed in ecstasy that he could notkeep a record ofhis composition. He 'floated' above bodyconsciousness.

Since divinity also recedes to duality more often than not, while the soul resides in the body, Utpala at times came down to it when he opened his eyes to look around, his spiritual joy predomenated in him. Filled with divine consiousness he would find his own mental reflection outside and get instantly drawn within. Once in spring, being in his ecstatic mood for long, Utpala opened his eyes and saw almond blossoms strewn by wind on the ground. At once he exclaimed: "Ah! devotees have performed worship and adorned the Lord with flower wreaths. Only I fall back." Uttering this he instantly got into Samadhi again.

Another time, while running in divine ecstasy, Utpala's locks got entangled among bushes. He felt that his beloved Shiva was catching hold of him. Imagining this he got drawn into meditation. To common people this may mean that Utpala was a psychologic abnoramlity with a soft heart. Since psychology has no approach to the spiritual field, as it is beyond the range of mind and matter, Utpala is known to have measured a considerable divine height. He needed not to sit for meditation. Shiva was always in his being just as Mother Kali's Divinity was always present in Paramahansa Ramakrishna's being. He sang in a melodious tune while panting for the final beatitude of Shiva, addressing him with earnest devotion. This speaks of the extent of his joy, the expression of which was termed Janun-i-Kamil - divine ecstasy of the sage by the Persian scholars.

Thus Utpaladev is said to have composed in this state a large number of verses many of which were collected and compiled by his disciples Sri Ram and Adityaraja. Finally, these were classified into twenty hymns by a great scholar Vishwavarata, who gave each hymn his own heading. The collection is named Utpala's Shivastotravali. This information has come down to us from Kshema Raja, a later author, and a disciple of Abhinavagupta.

In his exhaustive commentry on Sivastotravali Kshemaraj tells us, at the very outset of the book, that Utpala had, however, named three hymns himself. These are Sangrastotra, Jayastotra and Bhaktistotra - thirteenth, fourteeth and fifteenth chapters respectively as arranged in the book. Unplumbed deeps of one's heart get stirred as the rhythm on reciting of the verses touches one's ears. One sits rapt and breathless. A new life, a new course of study and meditation seems to begin. The centre of interest gets shifted. You continue to sing to yourself or the muse on the versified lines. Tears of joy, like pearls, trickle down the eyes and one virtually forgets oneself. Utpala addresses his beloved:


O Lord: just, a while to listen to me
My pleasure and pain, in a nut-shell, I tell.

This being with thee is joy Supreme,
Bereft of thy grace, I suffer again.

Here you have a feeling of the joy of soltitude that is experienced by listening to the shrill voice of a morning bird or the continued flow of a waterfall. Utpala, for all purposes, was a mystic, a loving and pure-hearted soul whose example we much later again find in Lalleshwari, Nund Rishi and Ropa Bhawani. Swami Rama Tirtha was also one of such exalted modern saints.

As the chief characteristic of Utpala's language is symbolism, it appeals to all sects of people, especially to those who understand it. His power of penetrating human hearts enraptures one with his dynamic touch. He sang:


O Lord: I may possess like common people, desire for enjoyment in the world. But with this difference that I should look upon these as thyself - without the least idea of duality.

Utpala laid stress on reconciliation of knowledge and devotion which practically means earnestness in knowing the self. He categorically expressed:


"There is naught but thy existence in the Universe for those endowed with knowledge of self."

"Thy worship is great celebration for those who are blessed by thee."

Both these statements ever befit thy earnest devotees." Again he gushed


"All their actions bear fruit who worship thee for their fulfilment. But every act of thy devotees who reside in thee is the fruit by itself."

These lyrical songs of Utpala are pithy and pierce through the very recesses of the heart of a devotee who is endowed with Divine grace. Utpala sang, rather uttered these notes like a singing bird, not for others but for himself, drowned into the Divine. His own feelings and emotions, joys and sorrows and above all his intense longing as an earnest seeker of spiritual Truth are vividly pictured in the hymns.

Utpala's philosophy of Recognition can be summed up in the lines of Carol Schnieder

"Being sad with you is more beautiful
Than being happy Anywhere else."

This exactly conveys what Utpaladeva says to Lord Siva.

[Sh. Janki Ntith Koul 'Kamal 'is a well-known scholar and writer. Recently, he got a prestigious award - a Certificate of Honour - from the President of India. He lives in Jammu]

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Kashmiri Saints