By Swami Tadananda
Śaiva Siddhānta is a dualistic religion which is based on redemption through devotion and the grace (arul) of God. Through the experience of suffering and bondage in the world, a soul feels the necessity to come in contact with a higher power which can give it peace and solace. This is the stage when the soul is ripe for release from bondage (mala-paripāka), which qualifies it for the descent of divine grace (śaktinipāta). The soul awakens to the sense of divine Reality, Power, Glory, Beauty, and Grace, and begins to consciously struggle towards God, Shiva, by gradually renouncing its entanglement with the world and engaging itself in spiritual discipline. According to the intensity of the śaktinipāta, the religious life of the devotee is divided into four stages: caryā, kriyā, yoga, and jñāna, each with specific physical and mental activities prescribed for cultivation of devotion.
Caryā and kriyā are the beginner’s stages of purification of the mind.
Caryā, which is fully external, includes worship of God with the aid of temples and images, and service to God’s devotees as well as to all beings. It includes easy duties such as lighting lamps, plucking flowers, sweeping and washing the temple, praising God, cooking food offerings, and assisting in his worship.
Kriyā is both external and internal in form and method. It comprises performing puja, reading and learning the scriptures, reciting prayers, japa, meditation, austerities, truthfulness, purity, love, and offering food.
Yoga is a purely psychological process of purifying the mind and body through the control of the organs of action and knowledge, through pranayama, and through contemplation and meditation on God and his infinite attributes. When the devotee is well established in the above three stages, God appears in the form of a guru to direct and guide him or her into the mysteries of jñāna sādhanā (or sanmārga, the way of truth), through which the devotee endeavors to attain final union with Shiva.
The practice of jñāna sādhanā is divided into three stages, which are again subdivided into ten states called daśakārya.
The first stage consists of tattva-rūpa, tattva-darśana, and tattva-śuddhi. Through these, the devotee attains a true knowledge of the tattvas (categories of nature) and realizes that they are products of maya, which is material, insentient, and impure. This knowledge confers the strength to cut asunder the binding influence of maya.
The second stage consists of ātma-rūpa,ātma-darśana, and ātma-śuddhi, through which the soul disengages itself from the control of the tattvas, realizes itself as pure and free intelligence, and identifies itself with the divine grace of God (arul-śakti).
The third stage consists of the states of śiva-rūpa, śiva-darśana, śiva-yoga, and śiva-bhoga. In śiva-rupa, the devotee attains the knowledge that the omnipresent Supreme Shiva, with the help of Parā-Śakti, is engaged in the five acts of creation, preservation, concealment, destruction, and bestowal of grace. In śiva-darśana, the purifed soul, freed from I-ness and my-ness, sees Shiva in everybody and everywhere and enjoys supreme bliss. The state of union in which the soul completely identifies itself with Shiva and sees that all activities and actions, both individual and of the world, flow from Shiva, is śiva-yoga. Śiva-bhoga is the state of liberation called jivanmukti. The soul is finally cleansed of all its impurities and dwells in Shiva, and Shiva dwells in it. It enjoys the supreme Bliss (śivānanda) which is beyond any subject-object relationship. In the Śaiva Siddhānta philosophy of liberation, the individuality of the soul is not annihilated, but the soul completely identifies itself with Shiva and appears as One. The Śaiva saint Arunagirinathar sings: ‘That which neither goes nor comes, which knows neither night nor day, which is neither without nor within, which is speechless and formless and without end, assails me ceaselessly and makes me Itself, conferring tranquility of mind. The blissful state is beyond expression, O Lord of six aspects!’