Citanyamatma, Shiva Sutra, 1/1

“Thus the Shiva Sutras begin imparting that “Consciousness is the Self” … Such a short thread of wisdom, this statement has far-reaching implications for how we may understand the self, life, and ultimate reality.”

This article will give you an understanding about the Shiva Sutras, its link to Kashmir Shaivism, a tradition of Hinduism, and offer some simple meditation practices to aid you in tapping into the wisdom of the Shiva Sutras to your life by connecting to ultimate reality through your spiritual experiences.

What are the Shiva Sutras?

The Shiva Sutras is a sacred scripture of Hinduism which is a collection of short sayings or aphorisms that describe ultimate reality and how a spiritual seeker may connect with Lord Shiva as its supreme identity. (For more on Shiva check out this blog post.)

The origin of the Shiva Sutras is in fact quite legendary. Around the ninth century CE somewhere in Kashmir, Lord Shiva visited the Sage Vasugupta in a dream. Shiva told him that a secret doctrine had been inscribed on a rock located in an outcropping on Mahadeva Mountain, and instructed him to find that place. Once found, he was to share the teachings with those who were ready to receive that divine wisdom.

The Sage Vasugupta located just that place on Mahadeva Mountain indicated by Shiva and discovered there Sanskrit words of wisdom inscribed in the stone, appearing in the form of short phrases or aphorisms, called sutras. As instructed, he compiled the sutras into a text and began to share their philosophy and the inner yoga practices they mention. How his heart must have been filled with happiness to have received such grace from Lord Shiva!

This is the origin of what came to be known as the Shiva Sutras. They are comprised of 77 verses, divided into three separate sections. The Shiva Sutras belong to the Kashmir Shaivite tradition which holds much of its wisdom in texts called Agamas. 

As a system of philosophy, it is monistic, meaning it sees reality as ultimately being comprised of one element: consciousness, known in its supreme identity as Shiva. 

The world we see is the interplay of Shiva and Shakti. While the supreme identity of Shiva is consciousness, Shakti is its compliment and is the power of consciousness manifest in the world. All of reality arises from the pulsating dance of Shiva and Shakti, including the self, the realization of which can be called supreme awakening.

To perceive the true nature of reality, one must see with the heart. This is where the supreme identity of Shiva as consciousness is kept as a treasure. Unlocking this treasure, one sees all things as the result of Shiva and Shakti, consciousness and energy, as their pulsing union is emitted and again reabsorbed, giving rise to the eternal cycle of creation and cessation.

Yogis and Yoginis may use the wisdom in these verses to aid in understanding the Kashmiri Shaivite tradition and deepen their yoga practice by connecting with the ultimate reality they point to. The original “Shiva Sutras” can still be seen in the small Kashmiri village of Harwan where they are believed to be still located to this day.

If you want to undertake an in-depth independent study of the Shiva Sutras, Swami Lakshmanjoo provided a remarkable commentary to the Shiva Sutras which he titled the Supreme Awakening. Although Swamiji has since left his body, his wisdom still resonates in the teachings he left and is a good place to seek more information about the Shiva Sutras.

Otherwise, the assistance of a Guru, or teacher versed in the wisdom of the Shiva Sutras, is indispensable. The instruction of a Guru can open up the inner meaning of the Shiva Sutras for you as a Guru can provide knowledge or practices, such as yogic mediations, that are most appropriate for you.

Why Listen to the Shiva Sutras?

Shiva Sutras belong to the system of Agamas and according to its adherents are outside the Vedic tradition of Hinduism. They contain wisdom that has come directly from Lord Shiva, and are thus considered shruti, meaning they are the product of divine revelation. Reading them imparts this wisdom directly into the mind of the reader.

But listening to the Shiva Sutras is even better! Because they are communicated in the Sanskrit language, the sounds of the very words themselves possess a divine vibration. Even if you do not have a knowledge of Sanskrit, they can convey a sonic blessing to those that approach them with the open heart of a spiritual seeker. Better still, study the Shiva Sutras in English, as well as in their original Sanskrit in order to understand their meaning. 

3 Guided Meditations for Beginners

There are many ways to touch the ultimate reality described in the Shiva Sutras but meditation practices are among the most potent spiritual practices able to aid with your spiritual development. While committed meditation can most certainly bring spiritual awakening to a yogi, it can also bring states of calm and happiness as well as spiritual experiences of meditative absorption.

Generally, meditation is best practiced in a comfortable seated position, without the use of cushions. This results in the spine being in a natural upright posture. If you require a chair or other props that is also fine. Listen to your body, especially if you are a beginner.

Start your meditation session by finding stillness. Withdraw the senses and bring your awareness inside. Gently follow the inhale and exhale of the breath with your awareness for some time as your body and mind relax. When ready, introduce one of the following techniques:

  • Contemplate the opening Shiva Sutra: “Citanyamatma / Consciousness is the Self”

Bring the first Shiva Sutra, Citanyamatma / Consciousness is the Self, into your mind and let it settle into your awareness. This can be done with the English or, even better, with the original Sanskrit version of this phrase. 

Briefly consider what it means that the nature of the self in consciousness, and then cease the activity of the mind again and feel your presence as consciousness. The very present moment of that feeling is in fact consciousness, the self, and even more ultimate reality.

  • Observe the self as the inner witness

Even the thoughts that appear in the mind are the products of consciousness. Watch as they rise and fall, letting them pass through your awareness like clouds pass through a clear blue sky. Clouds can never diminish the sun’s glorious rays but only temporarily interrupt their view. Letting the clouds pass, or lifting one’s perspective above the clouds always shows the sun’s presence.

Just the same, witnessing one’s thoughts as they rise and fall shows that the self is not in fact the thoughts themselves. The self is the capacity for awareness inherent in consciousness. It is the sun that adorns the blue sky of consciousness, the field of awareness on which Shakti and Shiva dance. 

Find the perspective of the witness behind the thoughts of the mind and rest there in stillness.

  1. Repeat the Soham mantra

Although not mentioned in the Shiva Sutras, Soham is a well-known open mantra that has ancient roots in India, and beyond. This mantra connects one with ultimate reality, which we know from the Shiva Sutras as consciousness. 

The sounds “So” and “Ham” resemble the sounds of the breath as it is inhaled and exhaled. This can guide the practice and aids in the mantra recitation.

With each inhale internally, or even quietly to yourself, chant “So” and with each exhale chant “Ham” (it’s worth noting that when pronouncing “Ham” it rhymes with thumb).  This can be done for as long as one wishes, but 30 or 45 minutes can be an appropriate amount of time to aim for.


Further Guidance

With frequent committed practice these meditations can aid you to bring your awareness of both internal and external realities into the realm of the divine. 

If you have any questions about these practices or feel called to dive deeper into the philosophy of divine wisdom conveyed in the Shiva Sutras, you are welcome and encouraged to connect for additional guidance which is available upon request.