This group worships and bases its practices on tuning in and harmonizing directly with consciousness. It personifies consciousness in the form of Lord Shiva, who is the substratum from which the manifested world arises by the action of Shakti. It is a sect that tends more towards renunciation, both mentally and physically; though for practical purposes it is only the mental renunciation that is really important. The basic philosophy of shaivism is the same as the shaktas. It says that the absolute Brahman is both static and dynamic. It is all pervading and transcendental (consciousness) and dynamic (energy). The static is Shiva and the dynamic is Shakti. The entire created universe is no more than a play of Shakti. The whole world is not really an illusion, in a higher sense, but the expression of Shakti. Shaivites worship the static aspect, whereas the shaktas worship the dynamic aspect. The practices of shaivism are based on the static aspect, whereas the shakta practices are based mainly on the dynamic, manifested aspect. The purpose and the end point are the same.
The worshippers or followers of this sect are called shaivites and have a particularly large following in South India. There are various schools of shaivism of which the main ones are:
1. Northern advaita, which is also called Kashmir shaivism and trika (i.e. the system of the trinity – supreme consciousness, individual consciousness and the material world).
2. Southern shaivism, which is also, called Shaiva siddhanta, the principle or doctrine of Shiva. Other sects include nathas, kramas, bhairavas etc.
The aim of shaivism is to dissolve all mental modifications so that one can see that which is beyond thought. To bring about this experience it utilizes a large number of practices. In fact, we can say that yoga in its many forms is the very essence of practical shaivism. Probably the most important mantra is Shivoham (I am Shiva) which is repeated over and over again in the heart centre.
It is said that there are twenty-eight traditional texts of shaivism, supposed to have been revealed by Shiva personified in an aspect with five heads. Each of the five mouths is said to have spoken and contributed to the total 28 texts. The name of each of these tantras is well known but they are not readily available. Possibly they have all been destroyed. Information on them is rather vague.
Apart from these traditional texts there are large numbers of other texts, especially within the two principal shaiva sects that we have previously mentioned. The southern shaiva school has produced many elevating and inspiring texts that combine the highest realm of thought with overwhelming devotion. For example, the Shiva Rahasya (the essence of shaivism) is a masterpiece, especially a section called the Ribhu-gita. Another wonderful book is a tantric text called the Tirumandiram which outlines the precepts of shaiva siddhanta. It was written by a great sage called Tirumular. The text clearly states that the Vedas and the agamas (of tantra) are all inspired spiritual works; they only differ in the emphasis on specific practice. Each of the chapters is actually called a tantra. It is full of sensible instruction and the power of devotion. Though the text is devoted to Shiva, it clearly points out that one will eventually accept and encompass all other deities and beliefs, for they will be seen to be one and the same. There are a large number of other texts on shaivism in the languages of South India. It is strange, however, that for some reason these wonderful texts have never received as much attention as they deserve by people outside shaivism.
Kashmir shaivism has also produced tantric texts that reach the loftiest heights of philosophical thought combined with practical application. Its principal scripture is called the Shiva Sutra (science of shaivism) and is said to have been revealed to the great seer Vasugupta in the eighth or ninth century. It is a text that fully encompasses the Samkhya philosophy (used in the path of jnana yoga) and adds much more. It maps out the path of evolution of the manifested universe (which includes each and every individual) from the absolute to the material. It is a masterpiece. It says that both Shiva and Shakti originate from the absolute, which they call Parasamvit. You must read the text for yourself. This same school of Shaivism has also produced many other books, such as the Paramarthasara (which roughly translates as the meaning of the supreme essence), Vijnanabhairava (science of the shaivas), Pratyabhijnahridaya (the essence or source of knowledge of the absolute) and Shivastotravali (hymn of Shiva). There are many other books, too numerous to mention here.
Shaivism is intimately connected with the shivalingam. This is a beautiful symbol that in the highest sense represents consciousness. Many systems throughout the world, past and present, have also worshipped the same symbol or a similar symbol. It is for this reason that we can say that the essence of Indian shaivism is universal. It is only the localized expression that is different.