The Upayas

The Means to Reveal Our Ultimate Nature

In Kashmir Shaivism, upaya refers to the means to reveal our Ultimate Nature, Shiva Consciousness. The upayas unify the fettered soul with the Supreme. Shaivism asserts that there are three upayas (ways) that lead to this state:

1. Shambhavopaya or Icchopaya—The Means of Shiva

Shambhavopaya is the path to reveal Shiva consciousness through Shiva (the Supreme Reality). It is a perpetual state of freedom from thoughts that allows the realization of the divinity. In this condition, there is no object or support on which the mind is to be steadied or fixed, and the mind ceases to play an active role. Because of this, it is also known as niralamba yoga (supportless yoga).

In this state, practitioners see only the play of Consciousness everywhere. Wherever they look, they see nothing separate from Shiva. They understand that all is Shiva, who has merely assumed different inner and outer forms. The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (116) suggests this spiritual freedom very clearly: “Wherever the mind is oriented, either outward or inward, right there, there is the state of Shiva. [Meditate on the idea:] ‘Since Shiva is omnipresent, where else could the mind go?’”

Jnaneshwar Maharaj said: “You can attain that state only by stealing it from all the senses.”

In Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme, Swami Lakshmanjoo wrote: “A lightning bug shines only for himself, jewels shine not only for themselves but for a few others also, the stars shine for even more, the moon shines for still more, and the sun shines for the whole universe. In the same way, he who is established in the shambhavopaya state shines like the midday sun for the whole universe.”

Shambhavopaya is called also called icchopaya because it originates from iccha shakti (the power of the pure, divine will). The aspirant reveals the ultimate simply through this willpower—which is actually not personal, but pure and divine. Swami Lakshmanjoo explained: “In shambhavopaya, there are no means to travel upon. It is the meant. There is nowhere to go. You must reside only in the meant.”

2. Shaktopaya or Jnanopaya—The Means of Energy

Shaktopaya is the path to reveal Shiva consciousness through shakti (cosmic energy). It is a spiritual approach in which a thought naturally and constantly returns to itself, the source of the “I,” Shiva. Thus the duality of subject-object is perpetually dissolved.

3. Anavopaya or Kriyopaya—The Inferior Means

Anavopaya is known as the inferior means as it uses the mind, senses, and body for Self-revelation. This “individual path” is the lowest spiritual approach in which there is always a subject-object duality. It is a path of “doing.” Its practices may include asanas, pranayama, rituals, recitation of mantras, concentration, etc.

Beyond the Upayas

Beyond these three upayas, another means is mentioned in Kashmir Shaivism. It is called anupaya, meaning “no upaya.” Like the fourth constituent of other Indian mystical progressions, is not a true upaya as such, but represents the transcendence of the upayas. In anupaya, aspirants only have to observe that nothing is to be done but to reside in the Self. Anupaya is also called anandopaya (the path of bliss).

The Purpose of the Upayas

 All the upayas share the same purposes:

  • Revealing the central core of reality, which is Shiva
  • Eliminating ignorance
  • Helping us attain liberation in this lifetime

Speaking about the efficacy of the upayas and emphasizing that they aim for the same goal, Swami Lakshman Joo affirmed: “Anavopaya will carry you to the same point of God consciousness, but say, in a cart. Shaktopaya in a train. Sambhavopaya in a jet.”

Upayas in Buddhism

In Mahayana Buddhism, upaya signifies a “skillful means,” an action that helps others have insights. For an action to be upaya, it must be done with wisdom and compassion, and it must be appropriate in its time and place. In a broader context, upaya can refer to a teacher’s ability to tailor the teachings to their audience. The concept of upaya is based on the understanding that the Buddha’s teachings are a provisional means for realizing enlightenment. In the raft parable (Majjhima Nikaya, 22), the Buddha compared his teachings to a raft no longer needed when we reach the shore.