Introduction to the Upayas

In Kashmir Shaivism there are three Upayas (means) that guide us on our journey Home from the contracted state to the state of God consciousness. The Sanskrit word Upaya comes from the verb upa-i, ‘to approach’. Thus an Upaya is a way to approach the Truth, a spiritual means to remove the three malas. Mala is the path into contraction. Upaya is the path back to wholeness. It is a two-way street, the same road with two directions.

The three means are sambhavopaya, saktopaya, and anavopaya; plus an additional no-means called anupaya. One must understand that the diversity of the means does not affect the goal—i.e. there is no means that is higher or lower than another.

If many means are described someone may enter (the state of samavesha, or divine Consciousness) through any one of them.

– Kshemaraja

Kashmir Shaivism offers many paths, many ways, a menu of diverse possibilities. Don’t worry about what is not working for you on a particular day, look for what works. There is always a way to God.

What is the Goal?

Upaya is the means to approach upeya, ‘the goal’, which is simply the ability to recognize “Shivo Hum”, I am Shiva.

The Highest Comes First

Like the structure of most ancient scriptures, we hear of the highest, most direct means first. We should always aim to understand the highest view possible. If we are unable to absorb that, then we move down to the lower means. The Hindu tradition honours all beings with the understanding that since everyone is divine in nature, no one is too dull to hear the highest truth first. That truth will resonate somewhere within the seeker even if they are not yet ready to understand them. There will be some benefit gained, and the terrain of Consciousness will have become more familiar.

As we go on penetrating into the teachings, we will go an penetrating into the fundamental essence of who we are most fundamentally. As we travel this path, we discover a growing sense within us that much needs to be done that we cannot do, only Lord Shiva can do it for us by the power of His grace.

– Mark Dyczkowski

The three means rest inside the body of “cognitive energy”, for it is cognitive energy alone that can carry you towards the subjective energy of Lord Shiva. The purpose of cognitive energy is to develop your capacity and ability to receive God consciousness. These means are handled and practised according to the ability of the seeker.


Supreme means.

Sambhavopaya is that path of pure Consciousness. No physical or mental means are used here. The yogi must develop his awareness of Consciousness without the support of mantraspranayamayoga asana, meditation on deities, and so on. By his constant awareness of Consciousness, the individual self becomes united with God consciousness and the yogi becomes enlightened.

This path is meant for those seekers who reside at the highest level of ability. One in Sambhavopaya is completely free from thought—immersed in the awareness of the Self. One doesn’t have to eliminate all thoughts, but simply pay no attention to the content of the thought, and aim for the context of all thought, the background, that is, Consciousness. Thoughts can continue to play, but one should keep their focus on the space beyond thought, the space that contains thought, the witness of thought.

The shambhavopaya method is popular in Zen and is called Dzogchen in Tibetan Yoga.


Intermediate means.

Saktopaya is the path of the Mind. One must develop awareness of Consciousness by means of some particular spiritual thought. It is purely a mental effort. Again, there is no support of mantraspranayamayoga asana, meditation on deities, and so on. The single thought of pure Consciousness will alone carry him to the Supreme State of enlightenment.

As a result of purification, Consciousness, which is brought to the most evident and elevated condition, attains the stainless state of thought.

– Abhinavagupta

Abhinava’s beautiful image of the ‘stainless state of thought‘ may refer to the thought-free (avikalpa) state or it may equally refer to that kind of thought in which vikalpas occur, but the underlying feeling is so pure and free from ego and negative emotion, that such thought reflects the purity of the Self.

Saktopaya is meant for those who have neither the highest nor the lowest power of meditating energy. Meditation on pure Consciousness is usually considered an advanced practice, but this technique is so direct it can create a big shift in our understanding, even if we are only able to hold it for a moment or two.


Inferior means.

Anavopaya is the path of the Body. It is the cultivation of right actions on the level of the body. One who has an inferior capacity of mind and meditation must develop awareness of pure Consciousness by using the support of mantraspranayamayoga asana, meditation on deities, and so on.

In this third inferior path one has, of course, to develop awareness of pure Consciousness, but, as he is not gifted with higher meditating capacity, he has to seek the support of these inferior methods so that finally he may be carried to God consciousness. This is done purely through the intention of the desire to be Self aware of Consciousness.


No means.

The Sanskrit word anupaya literally means “non-means.” As the name implies, anupaya is not actually an upaya, for in anupaya there are no means. The one who has attained anupaya has only to observe that nothing is to be done. Just to rest in his own pure awareness is enough. In anupaya the aspirant experiences that everything is filled with his own God Consciousness. It is not different from the state of samadhi, the state of enlightenment and the goal of Kashmir Shaivism.

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