I translated the Siva Sutra many years ago. An early version of that translation, together with a brief commentary, appeared in the Prachya Pratibha. I have since been asked by many friends to enlarge my commentary and this essay is a result of this demand. 

Baton Rouge, May 15, 2001
Subhash Kak


Our knowledge of the physical world is based on empirical associations. These associations reveal the laws of the physical world. But how do we study the nature of consciousness? There is no way to observe one’s own awareness because we are aware through the associations with the phenomenal world. The Vedas deal precisely with this central question of the nature of knowledge. The consciousness aspect of the Vedas was emphasized most emphatically by Dayananda (1824-1883) and Aurobindo (1872-1950). It is seen with directness in the Upanishads. For an overview of the Vedic tradition see the recent book coauthored by me (Feuerstein et al, 1995); this book summarizes new insights from archaeology and history of science.

It has been less than a century that the theories of relativity and quantum physics have brought the observer center stage in physics. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Vedic ideas, with their emphasis on cognition, have been a source of enduring inspiration in modern science. As is well known, the idea of brahman in the Vedas being a representation of all possibilities, as in the statement praj~nana\dm brahman, was the inspiration in the conception of the wavefunction of quantum theory defined as a sum of all possibilities (Moore, 1989; Kak, 1995b).

Modern science has had great success in explaining the nature of the physical world. But these successes have not brought us any closer to the resolution of the mystery of consciousness. In the application of quantum theory to the macroworld and in the neuropsychological explorations of the brain, one cannot any longer ignore the question of the observer (e.g . Kak, 1995a, 1995b, 1996a, 1996b, 1996c). The notion that the mind emerges somehow out of the complexity of the connections inside the brain is too simplistic to be taken seriously. It is like Baron M\unchhausen pulling himself out of the bog by his own bootstraps! If mind emerges from matter, how does it obtain autonomy? If the world is governed by laws then how do we have free will? If our autonomy (free will) is an epiphenomenon then are we walking shadows? Should one consider consciousness to be the ground-stuff of reality? If that is so then what is the connection between consciousness and the physical world?

These are just the questions that we come across repeatedly in the Indian tradition . Is there something to be learnt from the insights of this tradition?


The Aphorisms of Shiva (‘Siva Sutras) (SS) are a late reiteration of the Vedic view of consciousness. According to legend, Vasugupta (c . 800 C.E . in Kashmir) `saw’ the aphorisms (sutras) in his dream. Siva Sutras led to the flowering of the Kashmir school of consciousness (Kashmir Shaivism). It is due to a very clear exposition of the issues the Kashmir Shaivism has come to be quite influential in contemporary scholarship.

In this paper we present a translation, along with the Sanskrit text, of the 78 aphorisms of the SS. (The 78 number itself has a very important significance in the Vedic system of knowledge may be seen elsewhere (e.g . Kak 1994, 1995c)). The commentary provided in this paper is not based on the commentatorial tradition from within Kashmir Shaivism (see e.g . Jaideva Singh, 1979; Dyczkowski, 1992) so as not to burden the reader with the unfamiliar vocabulary of the tradition. I present my translation, as well as my commentary, in as modern terms as possible. *The universal and the individual in the SS According to SS the individual knowledge comes from associations. Owing to this our phenomenal knowledge can only be in terms of the associations of the outer world. But the associations in themselves need something to bind them together.This is the binding problof neuroscience to which no solution, within the standard scientific paradigm, is known (see Kak 1995a for details). The binding energy is called matrika (mat\drka). It is matrika that makes it possible for us to understand words or symbols strung together as language. Lacking matrika, computers cannot understand language or pictures.

Universal consciousness, as a unity, is called Shiva or Bhairava. Shiva makes it possible for the material associations of the phycisal world to have meaning. But the domain of the union of Shiva and the phenomenal world is puzzling and astonishing (1-12).

This is a restatement of a metaphor that goes back to the Rigveda where the mind is seen as two birds are sitting on a tree where one of theats the sweet fruit and the other looks on without eating (RV 1-164-20); one of the birds represents the universal consciousness, the other the individual one. There is only one bird; the other is just the image of the first energized by the fruit! There is a paradox here which is left unresolved. But certainly root consciousness (Shiva, prakasa, cit) is what makes it possible to comprehend. In later texts the capacity of consciousness to reflect on itself is called vimarsa.

Another metaphor that has been used elsewhere is that of the sun of consciousness illuminating the associations in the mind. What facilitates this illumination is the “power of the will.”

Innate knowledge is taken to emerge from the mind, which is equated with mantra, taken here to not as a formula but the inherent capacity to reflect. Mantra leads to the knowledge of the reality that lies beyond material associations.

Consider sound made meaningful in terms of strings that, as words, have specific associations. But what about the `meaning’ of elementary sounds? This happens as one opens the `crack’ between the universal and the individual. The individual then gets transformed into a state where knowledge is his food.

The detachment from one’s own associations is the key to the knowledge of the self—the universal being. One is supposed to take oneself as an outsider. By separating the senses from the source of consciousness, one is able to reach to the heart of the self.


— original source http://www.saivism.net/ —


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