Today the name Kashmir invokes images of violence and terror in our minds. It brings back memories of the horrific genocide perpetrated on Kashmiri pandits, reminding us, sadly, of brutal extremists in its midst. Even though Kashmir today epitomizes chaos, this is not what the real Kashmir –the land of sage Kashyapa – originally stood for.
Kashmir ranks amongst the most beautiful and pristine lands in all of India, reverberating with the sacred sounds from the Himalayas. The real Kashmir is the residence of Ma Sharada Devi – (recall the verse “namaste Sharada devi kAshmirapuravAsini”. Sri Adi Sankara after his visit to Kashmir, set up the Sharada Peeth here). Kashmir is the also land of the accomplished Kashmiri pandits – who Monier Willams described as being the ‘finest representatives of the Aryan race’ – and it is also the land which gave us the supreme philosophy of Kashmiri Shaivism.
The accomplishments of Kashmiri Shaivism alone more than surpass all contributions to Shaivism made by a majority of India put together. Kashmiri Shaivism is a philosophy that is entirely experiential in nature. It is also called the Trika or the threefold path that deals with understanding manifestations of Siva and Shakti. Instead of encouraging blind belief in dogmas that promise experience verifiable only after death, Kashmiri Shaivism provides an aspirant with tools enabling him to experience the divine right here and right now.
Looking at the political circumstances in Kashmir today, it is difficult for one to believe that this tradition is still alive and that as recent as the past century, Kashmir still produced a great master in this tradition. In a previous post on this blog, we have seen the story of Lalleshwari (link), another Kashmiri Shaivite saint who lived in the 14th century. This post is dedicated to the master Swami Lakshman Joo who lived between 1907 and 1991.
Swami Lakshman Joo, born into a pious pandit family showed spiritual inclination from a very young age. His parents were devotees of one Swami Ram. Under Swami Ram’s tutelage, the young lad Lakshman studied the scriptures and was initiated into the path of yoga. Swami Lakshman Joo spent his youth studying Sanskrit grammar and scriptures and literature of Kashmiri Shaivism as well as those of all allied schools of Indian philosophy. As a young boy of 20, Lakshman Joo was able to achieve realization of the Self and from then on, his urge to renounce the world and pursue an intense journey within the Shaivite literature and scriptures increased multi fold.
When he was merely 25 years of age, Swami Lakshman Joo added extensive footnotes to the Abhinavagupta’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. At Swami Lakshman Joo’s ashram – the Ishwara Ashram, in the village of Ishaber – he gave discourses and wrote commentaries on fundamental works of Shaivism – Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka, SAmbapancasika, the Siva Sutras, Yogavasistha, the Agama sastras, Vignana Bhairava Tantra, Utpaladeva’s Sivastoravali, to name a few. All important literature of Kashmiri Shaivism before Swami Lakshman Joo was written in Sanskrit. As Sanskrit usage among common people in India started declining, every subsequent generation of spiritual seekers began to find Sanskrit scriptures increasingly difficult to approach, let alone understand and practice. Swami Lakshman Joo’s contribution to Kashmiri Shaivism lies in making these arcane ideas accessible to a wider audience, using contemporary languages and modern idioms.