Da Articles

Consciousness and
Freedom according to the Siva

Subhash C. Kak
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5901, USA
FAX: 504.388.5200; Email:

July 22, 1997

The logic of materialist science fails when observers are
considered. How can inanimate matter, governed by fixed
laws, lead to mind? To bring in consciousness as a separate
category like space, time, and matter, as suggested by many
physicists and neuroscientists, leads to further paradox.
This very issue was considered with great subtlety in the
Vedic tradition of India. Here we consider one of the late
classics of this tradition that deals with the question of
consciousness, laws, and freedom the justly famous Siva
Sutras (c. 800 C.E.). We present a new translation of the
Siva Sutras along with a commentary.

He became the original form
of every form
It is his form that is everywhere to be seen.

-Rigveda 6.47.18

This paper presents a translation of
the 78 aphorisms of the Siva Sutras 


Our knowledge of the physical world
is based on empirical associations and inductive
generalizations. This process of knowledge accumulation has
led to the discovery of the laws of the physical world. But
how do we study the nature of consciousness, which cognizes
the physical world, makes associations between empirical
facts, and provides an a priori conceptual context for

There is no way to observe one’s own
awareness because we become aware through the associations
with the phenomenal world, which includes the ongoing
processes in the brain. 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), and can be seen discussed with even greater
directness in the Upanishads.

It has been less than a century that
the theories of relativity and quantum physics have brought
the observer centerstage in physics. It is not surprising,
therefore, that the Vedic ideas, with their emphasis on
cognition, should have been a source of enduring inspiration
for many contemporary scientists. As is well known, the
Vedic idea of brahman as a representation of all
possibilities was the inspiration behind the conception of
the quantum-mechanical wavefunction dened as the sum of all

Few would deny that 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
behind those explanations. In the application of quantum
theory to the macroworld and in the neuropsychological
explorations of the brain, one can no longer ignore the
question of the observer.

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 puts us in
the realm of Baron unchhausen, who pulled 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-stuof reality? If
so, then what is the connection between consciousness and
the physical world?

These are precisely the questions
that we come across repeatedly in the Indian

Is there something to be learnt from
their insights.

The Aphorisms of Siva, or Siva
Sutras (SS), are a late reiteration of the Vedic view of
consciousness. According to one legend, Vasugupta (c. 800
C.E., Kashmir) saw the aphorisms (sutras) in a lucid dream.
The Siva Sutras led to the owering of the Kashmiri schools
of consciousness (Kashmir Saivism). It is due to its highly
lucid exposition of the issues that Kashmir Saivism has come
to be quite influential in contemporary

This paper presents a translation,
along with the Sanskrit text, of the 78 aphorisms of the SS.
The number 78 has a very important signicance in the Vedic
altar ritual: the earth altar is assigned the number 21, the
atmosphere-altars the number 78, and the sky altar the
number 261.

The supreme ritual is building the
sky altar but this is done in a sequence which includes the
other altars as well. Indra is an atmospheric god in the
Vedas; he is lauded the most because he is the intermediary
in the strivings to reach the sky or the heavens. In

SS, Siva has replaced Indra as the
intermediary. We know this happened when the naksatra Magha,
representing the adhidavika aspect of Indra, stopped rising
at vernal equinox due to the precession of the

In order not to burden the reader
with an unfamiliar vocabulary, and to provide a fresh view
of the text, the commentary provided in this paper is not
based on the commentatorial tradition from within Kashmir
Saivism. I present my translation, as well as my commentary,
in as modern terms as possible.

The Individual
and the Universal in the Siva Sutras

The Vedic texts speak of
two kinds of knowledge which may be described by
the dichotomies individual (apara) and universal
(para), ordinary and extraordinary, or lower and
higher. According to SS ordinary knowledge comes
from phenomenal associations. In other words, this
knowledge can only be in terms of the associations
of the outer world. But the associations in
themselves need something to bind them

The binding energy is
called matrka. It is matrka that makes it
possible for us to understand words or symbols
strung together as language. Lacking matrka,
computers cannot understand language or

How do we reach universal
knowledge starting from ordinary knowledge? Here SS
begins with a description of universal
consciousness, which, as a unity, is called Siva or

Siva makes it possible for
the phenomenal associations of the physical world
to have meaning. Nevertheless, the domain of the
union of Siva and the phenomenal world is puzzling
and astonishing (1.12). This astonishment becomes
most acute as one switches from the consciousness
of the enjoyer to that of the observer. How much of
one’s phenomenal self is the enjoyer and how much
is the observer? How can these proportions be

And what is the meaning of
the transformation when these are

The idea of the two minds
is the restatement of a metaphor that goes back to
the Rigveda 1.164.20 where the mind is likened to
two birds sitting on a tree; one of them eats the
sweet fruit while the other looks on without
eating. One of the birds represents the universal
consciousness while the other signifies the
individual consciousness. In reality, there is only
one bird; the second bird is just the image of the
first energized by the fruit! There is a paradox
here which is left unresolved. The resolution of
this paradox is within the nature of root
consciousness (Siva, prakasa, cit), which is what
makes it possible for us to comprehend any meaning.
Consciousness can also reflect on itself! In later
texts this capacity is called vimarsa.

Another metaphor that has
been used in the Vedic texts is that of the sun of
consciousness illuminating the associations in the
mind. This illumination is facilitated by
icchasakti, the “power of the will;” Uma represents
this sakti. As Uma illuminates specic associations,
the subject becomes the enjoyer with respect to
these associations. The subject ( Siva) becomes one
with the ground stuof the associations (Uma). This
is the union of Siva and Sakti that takes place
continually, representing a unceasing

Innate knowledge is taken
to emerge from the mind, which is equated with
mantra, taken here not as a formula but the
inherent capacity to re ect. Mantra merges into a
apprehension” (saks . atkara) of the reality that
lies beyond material associations.

Consider sound made
meaningful in terms of strings that, as words, have
specic associations. But what about the meaning” of
elementary” sounds? The \elementary” sounds are the
ones informed by the sakti underlying the senses.
This sakti comes into play as one opens the crack”
between the universal and the individual. The
individual then enters a state where knowledge is
the goal.

A detachment from
associations is the key to the knowledge of the
Self|the universal being. One is supposed to take
oneself (i.e. one’s psyche or mind) as an outsider!
By separating the senses from their associations,
one is able to reach to the heart of the

The fourth

The classication of
consciousness into the three states of waking,
dreaming, and deep sleep is an old one. Here it is
claimed that the transcending fourth state, where
one is creatively aware, can be experienced in any
of the three states. Such a creative awareness is
accompanied by insight and new connections. The
experienced world has a structure but this
structure can be comprehended only by the

The mind

SS uses a striking image
where the mind, embodied by various energies, seeks
an existence in which knowledge is its food. The
mind is the Self, but it must transcend its
conditioned manifestation to be itself. But there
are other questions. What we perceive as the outer
reality is created by the mind. The universe is
this dance which comes into form only when there is
an observer. Unity engenders a polarity. The mind
is dened as mantra. Since it enables the
acquisition of knowledge, so it is energized by the
breath of the eternal.

On transformation

Individual knowledge, in
itself, cannot lead to higher knowledge, although
it might be informed by it. The development of
individual knowledge does, however, set up a
process of self-transformation, which is described
in Part 3 of SS. This process requires a calm mind
and a reaching for the source of the cognitions. In
this sense, the search for individual knowledge
does facilitate the acquisition of universal

This part addresses clearly
how one transforms oneself from being the enjoyer”
to the observer.” But the self that emerges is an
actor (3.9). Nevertheless, this does not mean that
the individual’s humanity is diminished. In fact,
this allows for freedom and creativity (3.10). So
the process of creativity is a manifestation of the
universal. When separateness is gone, action can
lead to creation” (3.37). It is asserted that the
fourth (transcendental) state of consciousness
should inform the lower states (such as waking,
sleep, and deep sleep).Various wondrous attributes
of the free person are described.

The mind and the body are
coupled in a variety of ways. It is not surprising,
therefore, that one can heighten the awareness of
the mind through an awareness of the body. One must
breathe properly (3.23). Likewise, by meditation on
sounds and words one can separate and join
perceptions (3.25).

 The Siva Sutras




Consciousness is the


(Ordinary) knowledge
consists of associations.


Sets of axioms generate


The ground of knowledge is


The upsurge (of
consciousness) is Bhairava.


By union with the energy
centers one withdraws from the universe.


Even during waking, sleep,
and deep sleep one can experience the fourth state
(transcending consciousness).


(Sensory) knowledge is
obtained in the waking state.


Dreaming is free ranging of


Deep sleep is maya, the


The experiencer of the
three states is the Self.


The domain of the union is


The power of the will is
the playful Uma.


The observed has a


By fixing the mind on its
core one can comprehend the perceivable and


Or by contemplating the
pure principle one is free of the power that binds
(to associ-ations).


Right awareness is the
knowledge of the Self.


Blissful sight is the goal
of samadhi.


The body emerges when the
energies unite.


Elements unite, elements
separate, and the universe is gathered.


Pure knowledge leads to a
mastery of the wheel (of energies).


The great lake (of
space-time, of Self) is experienced through the
power of mantra.

2. The emergence of innate

2.1 Mantra is the mind.

2.2 Effort leads to

2.3 The secret of mantra is the
being in the body of knowledge.

2.4 The expansion of the mind in the
womb is the forgetting of common knowledge.

2.5 When the knowledge of one’s Self
arises one moves in the sky of consciousness|the

Siva’s state.

2.6 Guidance is essential (i.e., the
guru is the means).

2.7 The awakening of the wheel of
matr . ka (the binding energies).

2.8 The body is the

2.9 The food is

2.10 With the extinction of
knowledge emerges the vision of emptiness.

3. The transformations of the

3.1 The mind is the Self.

3.2 (Material) knowledge is bondage
(limiting association).

3.3 Maya is the lack of discernment
of the principles of transformation.

3.4 The transformation is retracted
in the body.

3.5 By the quieting of the vital
channels, the mastery of the elements, the withdrawal

the elements, and the separation of
the elements (is achieved).

3.6 Perfection is through the veil
of delusion.

3.7 Overcoming delusion and by
boundless extension innate knowledge is achieved.

3.8 Waking is the second ray (of

3.9 The Self is the

3.10 The inner Self is the

3.11 The senses are the

3.12 The pure state is achieved by
the power of the intellect.

3.13 Freedom (creativity) is

3.14 As here so

3.15 Emission (of consciousness) is
the way of nature and so what is not external is seen


3.16 Attention to the

3.17 Seated (in the highest power)
one sinks eortlessly into the lake (of

3.18The measure of consciousness
fashions the world.

3.19As (limited) knowledge is
transcended, birth is transcended.

3.20Maheshvari and other mothers
(sources) of beings reside in the sound elements.

3.21The fourth (state of
consciousness) should be used to oil the (other) three
(states of


3.22Absorbed (in one’s own nature),
one must penetrate (the language) with one’s

3.23Balanced breathing leads to
balanced vision.

3.24The lower plane arises in the
center (of the language).

3.25What was destroyed rises again
by the joining of perceptions with the objects of


3.26He becomes like Siva.

3.27The activity of the body is the

3.28The recitation (of sounds) is
the discourse.

3.29Self-knowledge is the

3.30He who is established is the
means and knowledge.

3.31For him the universe is the
aggregate of his powers.

3.32Persistence and

3.33Even when (there is) this
(maintenance and dissolution) there is no break (in

due to the perceiving

3.34The feeling of pleasure and pain
is external.

3.35The one who is free of that is
alone (conscious).

3.36(Owing to) a mass of delusion,
the mind is subject to activity.

3.37 When separateness is gone,
action can lead to creation.

3.38The power to create is based on
one’s own experience (of the Self).

3.39That which precedes the three
(states of consciousness) vitalizes them.

3.40The same stability of mind
(should permeate) the body, the senses and the


3.41Craving leads to the
extroversion of the inner process.

3.42When established in pure
awareness, (the craving) is destroyed and the

individual ceases to

3.43Although cloaked in the elements
one is not free, but, like the lord, one is

3.44The link with the vital breath
is natural.

3.45(The breath is stilled by)
concentrating on the center at the top (within the nose); of
what use (then) are the left and the right channels or

3.46May (the individual) merge (in
the lord) once again!

Concluding Remarks

This brief paper is just an
introduction for the layperson or the cognitive scientist to
the riches of the Kashmir school of consciousness. The
contents of SS are very cryptic and one

may not be convinced that it
represents any advance over the ancient Upanishadic
tradition. But later texts speak of important details in the
process of cognition. The structure of the Kashmir school of
consciousness goes beyond the categories of Sa nkhya. I hope
that others will examine other classics in this tradition
and see for themselves whether it has any lessons for
contemporary science; further connections between modern
science and this tradition are being investigated by several

Sanskritists who have worked on
Indian theories of consciousness have been ignorant of the
important insights of modern physics relating to the process
of observation. The argument that one need not know
contemporary insights since they were unknown when the old
texts were written is just plain wrong. This argument is
based on the assumption that the sages operated in the
milieu of materialist physics, and if they did not, they
ought to have! But materialist physics is a relatively
modern paradigm that may be traced back to Newton and
Leibnitz. Modern science has helped liberate analysis from
the straitjacket of this reductionist logic. So why
shouldn’t one take advantage of modes of thought which are
close to the logic of the visions of the sages of the

Schrodinger’s use of Vedic insights
is testimony to the fact that the metaphors in use by the
ancient thinkers were holistic and similar to that of modern
physics. But do we need to go beyond even this? Can the
process of meditation on the nature of consciousness lead to
insights that remain beyond the pale of our current
scientic” understanding of the nature of reality?

Kashmir Saivism deals with concepts
that also have a bearing on other questions: How do the
senses emerge in the emergence of the mind? Could there be
more senses than we possess? The whole mythology of Siva is
a retelling of the astonishing insights of the science of
consciousness. But just as matter coalesces into a variety
of substances according to laws (rta), can we nd the laws of
the manifestation of the Self through the various senses and
the mind?

Do the Vedic texts and the tantras
only describe the various levels of this manifestation, or
are these laws to be found too? Will there be a convergence
in the languages of myth and science?


I acknowledge the comments
made on earlier versions of this paper by Georg


1. 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


2. Moore, 1989; Kak,

3. Kak, 1995a-b,

4. For earlier
translations, see Jaideva Singh (1979) and
Dyczkowski (1992). Note that Jaideva Singh has 77
sutras whereas Dyczkowski has 79; for the reason
why the canonical text is likely to have had 78
sutras, see Kak (1994).

5. Kak, 1994,

6. This is the binding
problem of neuroscience to which no solution,
within the reductionist paradigm, is known; see
Kak, 1995a for details.

7. Uma is the dual to Siva
representing vitality and energy.

8. E.g. Abhinavagupta,
1987, 1989; Dyczkowski, 1987.

9. Kramrisch,



Abhinavagupta, 1987.
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Jayaratha, R.C.

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Abhinavagupta, 1989. A
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Press, Albany.

Dyczkowski, M.S.G., 1987.
The Doctrine of Vibration. State University of New
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Dyczkowski, M.S.G., 1992.
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Feuerstein, G., Kak, S.C.,
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Kak, S.C., 1994. The
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Kak, S.C., 1995b. The three
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Also in Learning and Self-Organization, Karl
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