Kashmir Shaivism describes Shiva as Nirapeksha, the Absolute Being, the one without a second. The term ‘absolute’ is understood in two different ways: basically, it means that which exists by itself and needs no other support for its existence. The term relative, in contrast, refers to that which depends on some support.
Shiva, the absolute, is unborn and without beginning. As against this the world is relative, for it is dependent upon Shiva not only for its existence but also for its sustenance. The absolute thus is independent, while the relative is dependent.
Shiva is the absolute not only by virtue of being existent but also by being known. Awareness, is the very nature of Shiva, for Shiva is Consciousness. Insentient matter does not have the power to know, whereas ‘to know’ is the natural quality of consciousness. And part from knowing other things, consciousness also knows itself; it is svaprakasha, self-illumined. Thus, Shiva is both self-existent and self-illumined.
Absolute is also that which is all-pervasive. In Kashmir Shaivism, everything that exists is called Shiva. There is no ‘other’ in Shiva; it encompasses everything; the entire universe is a selfmanifestation, an extension of Shiva. There is no duality in consciousness.
The non-dual characteristic of Shiva is thus a natural corollary of its basic nature – absolute independence. Had there been a reality apart from Shiva, this reality would naturally impact the absolute nature of Shiva – the independence of Shiva would be restricted by this other reality. Thus, in order to remain truly independent, Shiva ought to be devoid of any duality. Shiva is therefore absolute, both in the sense of being perfectly independent and also in being a non-dual reality that encompasses everything in the universe, including the so-called insentient objects. There is thus no reality other than Shiva.
Non-duality does not mean the total absence of apparent duality; what it means is that the one and the same reality manifests itself in different forms. This can be substantiated by the example of the myriad diversities projected in the dream-world – though appearing to be different, they are in reality a part of the dreamer himself. This is because the dream objects are nothing but thoughts projected as things. In the same way, the universe, which is a projection of Shiva, is substantially one with Shiva. It would thus not be wrong to say that the world of duality is nothing but Shiva manifesting in different forms.
Though the absolute being, Shiva, is devoid of all diversities, yet all diversity emanates from him. The example of the liquid present in peacock’s egg, which is colourless, illustrates this. It is rather ironical that though the liquid is colourless yet all the colours of the peacock’s plumes come out of it.
Thus, Shiva, in the process of enacting his drama of manifestation as the wondrous universe with myriad names and forms, sheds his undifferentiated state and accepts differences of his own volition; hence his unlimited powers appear to have shrunk. Shiva thus is free to manifest the way he likes; he is also free not to manifest at all. Manifestation of the world is an act of absolute freedom on the part of Shiva. Creation is merely Shiva’s ‘lila’ (sportive activity), spanda – a free and spontaneous act without any determining factor from within or without.