Selfrealization and enlightenment is love-bliss

Go to content

Main menu

Spanda Kārikās

Classic Scriptures

Comments on the Divine Vibration

A new translation and commentary


A "kārikā" is a collection of explanations about a philosophical subject. The subjects at hand being Spanda, which is a technical term for the divine throb or vibration out of which everything arises and which permeates everything. Spanda is the dynamic aspect of Shakti, which is the energy of the Self. Spanda is not a fantasy or a merely philosophical concept, it can be experienced and felt directly.

Spanda Karikas is a classic text of Kashmir Shaivism from the 10'th century AD. Some ascribe authorship of the Spanda Karikas to Vasugupta, others ascribe it to Kallata, a disciple of Vasugupta. But whoever wrote it, it is an important text of Kashmir Shaivism and its content is unique.

Spanda Kārikās

1) We praise that Shankara, who is the source of all forces and by whom, in a mere twinkle of the eye, the universe springs forth or is absorbed.

"Shankara" means the Absolute.
"Twinkle of the eye" is a translation of "unmesa", which can also mean "coming forth".

2) The pure nature of Him, from whom this universe comes into existence, is not obstructed anywhere.

"Him" refers to Shankara, the Absolute.

3) One's own innate spirit remains untainted through different states, like waking, dreaming, etc., where divisions occur.

After having having praised the Absolute as the source of the cosmos, the text turns to the individual person and states that he arises out of pure being ("one's own innate spirit").

4) States of consciousness such as I am happy, I am miserable, I am attached, etc. clearly all depend on a primal state on which they are strung together.

"Strung together" like beads on a string should be understood in the sense that the primal state of pure being not only supports the relative states, but that the relative states have indeed sprung from the primal state.

5) That is the highest wherein neither pleasure or pain exist, nor where cognizable objects or cognizer exist, but which is not the ignorant state either.

It is important to understand that this highest state is not a dull blankness, it is vibrant life (Spanda) and is your Self. From this Self pleasure and pain, as well as cognizable objects and cognitions, will be witnessed. One will not be caught up in them.

6) Because the divisive activity confuses one and makes one foolishly believe oneself to be divided, one should patiently destroy and annihilate this persistent condition in toto.

"The divisive activity" refers to the dynamics of consciousness, such as afore mentioned pleasure, pain and cognitions.

How is this annihilated? The next verses explain.

7) Carefully obtain the essence and examine it with zeal. Do this because everything is produced from it by His free and omnipresent play.

To "obtain the essence" means to get Self-realized or at least to get to know the Self through direct experience.

8) Why should you be concerned with removing the urging desires, when you with your own strength can merge with the pure being of the Self?

Traditional yoga teaches you have to restrain yourself and kill urges, fluctuations of the mind, etc., but here we are told that such strenuous practice is not necessary at all. One can simply step out of it and into the Self.

9) Even one who is incapable of doing this, due to his persistent impurities, may reach the highest state when his agitation disappears.

If one can not do the highest practice, described in the previous verse, on can resort to calming down the agitations within. When agitations cease, then the silence can function as an opening to pure being. The next verse confirms this.

10) Then, due to such natural merit, knowledge of the ever present characteristic of the doer will emerge. At that time he knows and does all that is desirable.

Getting rid of persistent impurities and calming agitation is merituous. The more so if it leads to merging with pure being. Here pure being is called "the doer", though in truth pure being does not act as such; what is meant is the source of action, of doership. The next verse clarifies this.

11) How can He, the ruler whose inherent nature is to smilingly observe, be as if in the cycle of deception?

Now pure being is called "the ruler" and it is made clear that the Self is a happy witness to everything and is not caught up in the action and play of consciousness. Oddly, this is not the reality for most people, for most it appears as if the self is caught up in psychological dramas and inner turmoil. This verse states that though it may seem this way, it is in actual fact not the case. The Self is eternally free.

12) Nothingness can not be the object of meditation since awareness will be absent there. Nothingness is not absence of ignorance. Thus claims of experiencing nothingness are just opinions and convictions.

This verse refutes the common misconception amongst yogis that the Self is an empty void, nothingness. It also states that any claims of experiencing or having experienced nothingness are epistemologically unsound. If the nothingness really is nothingness, then there can not be a cognizer of it, nor a memory of it, hence it can not be spoken about. Therefore, anyone who claims to have realized nothingness is merely stating beliefs.

13) Therefore consider nothingness to be a fake object of knowledge, somewhat like deep sleep. It is not by recollection of nothingness that the Self is known.

In short, seeking nothingness leads nowhere.

14) There are two states: "the doer" and "the done". The product of deeds is subject to decay, but the doer is imperishable.

There is a thin line separating pure being (the doer) and what springs from one's pure being in the form of something done. This separation ensures that the doer remains free from the done. In other words that ones essential being remains pure. Though this is not your experience unless you are Self-realized, it is never the less also the case for the unenlightened. The unenlightened, however, is not capable of retaining awareness at so subtle levels of consciousness and therefore is not aware of the supreme purity of the Self.

15) In kevala samadhi only the effort of doing vanishes. One who does not know better thinks kevala means the doer has ceased to be.

"Kevala" means "alone" or "absolute". This type of samadhi is what comes the closest to void, but even here awareness of the Self remains.

16) However, the inner Self, which is pure being, is the abode of all knowledge, and everything arises out of it. It can never cease to exist just because something objective is not perceived.

"All knowledge" is a translation of "sarvajñatva" which is often translated as "omniscience". However, as the context does not deal with supernatural powers, the given translation is the more likely. Similarly "everything arises out of it" should not be understood as omnipotence, it refers to the duality of doer and done, mentioned in verse 14.

17) The fully enlightened yogi has uninterrupted awareness of the Self throughout all three states, whereas others are only aware of it at the beginning and end of each state.

"The three states" are waking, dreaming and deep sleep. It is possible to become aware of pure being in a flash just before falling asleep and just when waking up. Similarly pure Being can be experienced during sleep just before a dream arises and just when the dream ends, but this requires much practice and is of little benefit. This verse does not advocate making a practice out of this. The sole point is to show that the Self is already here. The Self is not something that has to be developed or something that one grows into. The Self is your Self already, you just have to realize it.

18) Shakti along with supreme maya appears as both knowledge and knowable. As such the foundation is omniscient, so what is there but pure intelligence?

"Māyā" is a technical term that is often translated as "illusion", however, this is unsatisfactory. Originally māyā meant "creative power" and refers to three basic forces of nature, called the three gunas, responsible for creating, maintaining and destroying phenomena. "Māyā" acquired the negative meaning of "illusion" in Vedanta, but in Kashmir Shaivism māyā indeed is a creative dynamic force.

"The foundation" is of course pure Being, which is one with Shakti.

The text here turns towards the question of how the relative world inside (knowledge) and outside (knowable) arises. The answer is that Shakti and māyā are responsible for that. The next verse clarifies the relationship between Shakti and māyā.

19) Spanda flows forth as the gunas, which never cease to be Spanda. Therefore nothing can ever obstruct what the enlightened has realized.

"The gunas", see previous verse.

Here we are introduced to Spanda, and we are informed that the gunas, meaning also māyā, are a manifestation of Spanda. The previous verse informed us that there are two principles: Shakti and māyā, but now we are told that māyā is a manifestation of Spanda, leaving us with two other principles: Shakti and Spanda. What, then, is the relationship between these two? Spanda is the primal vibration or throb of Shakti. Spanda is not different from Shakti, the word Spanda simply denotes Shakti in action. Pure Shakti is one with pure being and as such is unmanifest and absolute. When something arises out of pure being it is Shakti manifesting it, but the correct term for this active manifestation is Spanda. Some misguided teachers teach that there is a polarity between Shakti and Shiva (pure being), but this is not so: the are one, have always been one and eternally will remain one.

The beauty of this is that once you are Self-realized, you can never lose it again. Where should it go? Self-realization is realization of that prior to the gunas, meaning prior to change.

20) However the gunas make healthy, but unenlightened, people fall down into the dreadful course of samsāra, so hard to get out of.

"Samsāra" is the cycle of transmigatory existence: Birth and rebirth in a seemingly endless cycle, where one is tangled up in the consequences of ones actions (karma) and the desires to act and experience as a limited individual ego.

21) Therefore, one should constantly exert oneself to the utmost to discern the Spanda principle. Then one will soon attain the Self even in the waking state.

It is important to note that Self-realization takes you out of samsāra, because the Self is prior to the fluctuations driving samsāra. The Self can be realized as pure being alone or as Shakti or as Spanda or any combination. In either case one will get out of samsāra. But realizing the Self as Spanda is so much more fun than merely realizing pure being alone. This is because, if you realize Spanda, you perceive the absolute at play in everything, which is very blissful.

22) When greatly exasperated, overjoyed, confused or running for your life, take refuge in the stable foundation of Spanda.

No matter what happens or what state you are in, it is Spanda at work. Therefore you can realize Spanda in anything or any state. The prerequisite to this is of course that you have some acquaintance with Spanda, which is most easily acquired through meditation and shaktipat initiation. Without shatipat, it will be very difficult to realize the Spanda principle.

23) Hold on to this state of Spanda. Abide in Spanda by deciding to submit to what ever Spanda bids.

Once you have become acquainted with Spanda, you would do wise to practice perceiving, or feeling, Spanda as often and as clearly as possible.

24) Abiding in Spanda, the sun and moon set and Shakti follows the sushumnā path to brahmarandhra.

The "sun" and "moon" refer to the two subtle energy channels (nādīs) called pingalā and idā. They are the normal conduits of life-force (prāna shakti), but in order to reach enlightenment one has to change the flow so that shakti rises through the central channel, called sushumnā, located in the center of the spinal column.

"Brahmarandhra" is the location of the crown chakra on the top of the scull. The goal of kundaliniyoga, Shaktiyoga or Spandayoga (the three are the same) is to get kundalini-shakti to brahmarandhra and merge Shakti with pure being in the crown chakra. This is no easy task, but by abiding in Spanda it happens by itself.

25) Then, when by this means the moon and the sun remain hidden, some enter the great heaven and become fully enlightened, but the ignorant merely enter a state of stupor.

"When the moon and the sun remain hidden", means when shakti has ceased to flow through idā and pingalā. The verse points out that it is not enough to simply stop the flow of shakti into idā and pingalā, you have to get the shakti flowing in sushumnā. If you merely turn off idā and pingalā, nothing more will result than a stupor reminiscent of deep sleep. If, however, you get shakti flowing in the spine and up to "the great heaven" of the brain, then you will eventually "become fully enlightened".

26) When on this powerful path use mantras endowed with the power of omniscience. Advance beyond reasoning and the embodied soul.

"Mantras" are phrases or words one mentally repeats, or merely remembers, in a more and more subtle manner in order to reach the Self. One classic mantra is "Soham". Remember the syllable "soo" on the in-breath and "hamm" on the out-breath.

"Endowed with the power of omniscience" makes it clear that not all mantras are equal. A preferable mantra is one whose meaning embodies the supreme.

"Advance beyond reasoning and the embodied soul". You are not your mind and you are not the personality you presently occupy in this incarnation. In order to achieve Self-realization you have to move your awareness out of identification with these.

27) There, in that suitable state of serenity, which can never be known as an object, the mind of the aspirant gets dissolved into Shiva.

"There" means "beyond reasoning and the embodied soul", as stated in the previous verse.

"Suitable state of serenity" is the state of supreme bliss. If you are not in supreme bliss, you are not in a state suitable to merge with Spanda. If you can not merge with Spanda, you can not realize the mind as Shakti and not dissolve fully into Shiva. "Supreme bliss" must be understood clearly as a characteristic of a state, where you have transcended everything manifest (hence it can not "be known as an object"). Mere happiness or joy will not do at all.

"Shiva", as in all Kashmir Shaivism texts, refers to the supreme state of pure being. You can get a kind of Self-realization, which is perfectly viable, where you have only realized the unmanifest pure being, not the mind as Spanda. This kind of Self-realization does not include supreme bliss and can be a rather unpleasant state, since everything may seem utterly meaningless, empty and illusory.

28) Because the limited individual is essentially one with pure being, which is the cause of all limited sentiments, the limited individual identifies with the awareness he has of these sentiments.

Rhetorically, this verse is a bit odd in that it expresses reality from both the enlightened view and the ignorant view at the same time. The enlightened one is one with pure being and thus does not identify with the sentiments. On the other hand the non-enlightened person, the limited individual, identifies with the sentiments. The verse maintains that this identification comes along because the sentiments are merely fluctuations in pure awareness which is essentially Self. In other words: because they are essentially You, you identify with them, but because you identify with them, you lose the sense of Self and become restricted to the fluctuations of the mind.

29) Thus there is no basis of thoughts, words or meanings that is not Shiva. The experiencer of pleasure and pain is always and in everything abiding as the sentiment of pleasure or pain.

"Shiva" again means pure being.

"Abiding as" ... Pure being and Spanda are one, and everything arises out of Spanda, therefore there is nothing that is not your pure being (Shiva). From this it follows that when you experience pleasure and pain, it is a fluctuation of Spanda, which is basically still your pure being and your essential nature as Self.

30) He who is blessed with this understanding and sees the entire universe as play, he sees the Self continuously and is beyond doubt liberated while living.

Here is described the state of liberation. But what about those who are not liberated, but are merely serious meditators? The next verse clarifies.

31) This is the arising of pure meditation in the meditator's awareness, in which the aspirant of resolute will has the realization of his pure being.

If you only have the experience described in the previous verse temporarily while you meditate, then that will also take you to your Self.

32) This is the attainment of the nectar of immortality that gives Self-realization. This is initiation for liberation that bestows Shivahood.

"Nectar of immortality" is translated from "amrita" which has many associated meanings. It can refer to the rising of kundalini up the spine. It can also simply mean Self-realization since the Self is immortal and blissful.

"Initiation for liberation" is actually "initiation for nirvāna" ("nirvāna-diksha") . "Nirvāna" literally means "blown out" (like the flame of a candle) or "extinction". What goes away is false identifications and ignorance about the Self.

33) The great benefactor brings that about, which the will requests from the heart. During the waking state, He makes the sun and moon rise in the embodied man.

"The great benefactor" is Shiva.

"Requests from the heart" means the yogi's deep longing for Self-realization.

"The moon and sun" refer to the two nadis idā and pingalā and the in-breath and out-breath. . Making the sun and moon "rise" means to utilize the flow of breath to get their mother-energy, kundalini, to rise up the sushumnā in the spine . The two shaktis of idā and pingalā are linked to the breath. On the in-breath shakti flows in idā, on the out-breath. in pingalā. By following the breath while sensing energy rising in the spine, the two shaktis can merge and enter the spine. This may actually awaken kundalini and give rise to the blissful experience of Spanda described above, as well as the "nirvāna-diksha". This practice can be done "during the waking state", meaning throughout the day.

34) Similarly, in the dream state, He vividly reveals the desired object in response to the prayerful request. During the dream state He resides in sushumnā.

"The desired object" is still the yogis heartfelt desire for liberation. If one has practiced as described in the previous verse, then the shakti will operate in sushumnā even during the dream state.

35) Otherwise, in the case of worldly people, the generation of images happens during dreaming and waking in accord with the character of the person.

"Worldly people" means anybody who has not been subject to the "nirvāna-diksha" mentioned in verse 32.

36) Surely, as an object may be seen indistinctly at first, despite ones full attention, it will later become clear when observed with ones full power.

37) Similarly the highest truth at last becomes firmly established for the persevering yogi using his strength in a one-pointed manner.

Verse 36 and 37 together state that just as your eyes can trick you but you can get out of the illusion by concentrated effort, similarly you can get of the illusion of false identifications by concentrated effort.

38) Just as a starving man can still his hunger, so can a weak man achieve his goal by resorting to That.

"His goal" is still Self-realization.

"That" is the focused will fused with Spanda, and also the practice described under verse 33.

This verse states that anybody can reach Self-realization. You do not have to be a fit and firm hatha yogi or anything. You just have to really and deeply want it and make a serious effort to get out of illusion.

39) When the body is permeated with Spanda, one knows everything inside it. Similarly when one's pure being is permeated with Spanda, one understands everything spiritual.

"Pure being" is here a translation of "svātmani" which, according to Ksemarāja, means one's imperishable Self. Throughout this work I have used the expression "pure being" for this imperishable Self. There is essentially no difference between the Self, pure being and Spanda, but in the progress of realization, pure being is usually realized before one begins to realize Spanda. This verse refers to the advanced yogi who already knows the Self and is beginning to sense Spanda.

40) Exhaustion ravages the body of the ignorant because of his ignorance. How can ignorance continue to exist in the absence of its cause? So It is destroyed by the coming forth of pure being.

"Coming forth " is a translation of "unmesa", which also means "expansion". In verse one unmesa meant "twinkle of the eye", which is the regular translation, but which is metaphorical here in the sense of opening ones eyes to pure being. "Unmesa" will be explained further in the next verse.

41) When one persistent thought is replaced by another, pure being comes forth in between. One should notice this for oneself.

"Comes forth " is a translation of "unmesa".

This is actually a description of a meditative practice. Deliberately occupy yourself with one thing. You could use the light of a candle or a black dot on a piece of paper, it dies not matter what. Hold it in your awareness, then let it go completely. Before the next thought arises, there is a coming forth of pure being. Dive into this.

42) Out of this arises light, sound, form and taste which are disturbances, in the form of limited stimuli.

Everything arises out of this coming forth of pure being. This verse uses the senses to categorize the various classes of disturbances that may arise. Such imaginary sense-impressions are subtle stimuli that disturb the mind and cause more thoughts to arise. When this happens, remember the previous verse: Simply observe the stimulus, stop the thought and merge back into pure being.

43) When (the yogi) abides in that which permeates everything and desires to know the meaning of everything, then there is no point in saying much for he will experience for himself.

44) Keeping awake at all times, the yogi stays in the field of spiritual knowledge. Seeing everything as identical with That, he is never troubled by anything.

"That" is of course the Spanda principle of pure being.

"Awake" should be understood metaphorically for the deliberate act of "staying in the field of spiritual knowledge". This verse does not advocate sleep-deprivation, but awareness throughout the waking hours.

45) He who is deprived of his spiritual status by the forces of concealment becomes a victim of the forces of words. Thus he is known as fettered.

"The forces of concealment" is translated from "kalā", which is a technical term in Kashmir Shaivism.

"The forces of words" can also be translated the "forces of sounds". What is meant is the domain of concepts, thoughts and speech. Most people think. Words and concepts structure the basic noise of consciousness. There is no language in the Self; those who think the self is structured in and of language are mistaken. Language conceals the Self.

46) (The yogi) looses the supreme nectar and his independence, when convictions take hold of him. He has at that time gone into the domain of subtle elements.

"Supreme nectar" is a metaphor for supreme bliss.

47) Language penetrates awareness when the state of pure being is lost. Thus subtle forces are always ready to conceal the Self.

48) This Shakti of Shiva's, when characterized by doership, binds the fettered soul. But when understood and set free on its own path, it brings perfection.

"Perfection" means perfection of the yogi's endeavor, which is Self-realization.

The same divine energy, Shakti, is the giver of both bondage and liberation. In order to make Shakti set you free, you need understanding and to set Shakti on course so it rises as kundalini up the central channel, in the spine.

49) Bewitched by the appearance of the subtle elements that reside as the subtle body, in the form of I AM-ness, the mind and the determinative faculty, man is closed inside the state produced by convictions, feelings, etc.

50) Subject to the controlling power of these subtle indulgences, man is bound in transmigatory existence. Thus we will explain how to end this situation.

51) When he is sincerely merged with Spanda and dissolved in compassion, then he blocks the indulgences and the fluctuations and arrives at mastery over the cycle of transmigration.

52) I pay homage to the wonderful speech of my guru, whose words yield wonderful meanings. They act like a boat to cross the fathomless ocean of doubt.

Back to content | Back to main menu