The Pratyabhijñā system of thought is part of what is called Kashmir Śaivism, a name applied to nondualist forms of Śaivism that flourished approximately between the ninth and thirteenth centuries in Kashmir and other parts of northern India but also elsewhere. The importance of the Pratyabhijñā in nondualist Śaivism is underscored by the fact that Mādhava (fourteenth century), in the Sarvadarśanasaṃ-graha, a classical work on Indian religious and philosophical systems, describes this school as Pratyabhijñā. The doctrine was first formulated systematically by Somānanda (ninth century?) in his Śivadṛṣṭi, then by his disciple Utpaladeva in the Īśvarapratyabhijñākārikā (Verses on the Recognition of God) and in a subsequent commentary (Vṛtti ) on them. It was further elaborated by Abhinavagupta (tenth to eleventh century) in two important commentaries, the Īśvara-pratyabhijñā Vimarśinī and the Īśvarapratyabhijñā Vivṛtti-vimarśinī. Abhinavagupta's disciple Kṣemarāja gave a short and clear exposition of this doctrine in the Pratyabhij-ñāhṛdaya. These treatises, all from Kashmir, rank among the main Indian philosophical works.
The term pratyabhijñā is usually translated as "recognition." The word has been explained as knowledge (jñāna ) of an object to which one turns back (prati ) and which then faces (abhi ) the knower. It is the knowledge regained of the identity of the individual self and of the world with the Supreme Source of all.
For this school, to quote Kṣemarāja, "it is the divine Consciousness alone, self-shining absolute free will, that flashes forth in the form of the multitudinous universe": It is the unique cause, the inner reality and the substratum of cosmic manifestation, which it projects as a shining forth (ābhāsa ) on itself as on a screen. This consciousness, Śiva, is the one absolute reality. The world is insubstantial—though not illusory, for it is, in its ultimate nature, of the same stuff as consciousness, from which it has evolved and with which it remains merged. But this identity is hidden because of the action of māyāśakti, the limiting and obnubilating power of Śiva. The world, in such a vision, exists only as a kind of cosmic oblivion of reality, hence the role of recognition through which the "forgotten" truth is rediscovered. Pratyabhijñā is not remembrance, however. It does not result from memory, despite the important metaphysical role of remembrance—smaraṇa —in nondualist Śaivism, but from a synthetic activity of the mind that destroys the misconceptions veiling the real nature of the supreme Self and finally brings one to realize the truth: "I am Śiva, the only true consciousness, omniscient, the only active power of the universe."
This knowledge, brought about by intense spiritual concentration (bhāvanā ) and with the necessary help of God's grace (anugraha or śaktipāta, the "descent of divine energy"), is attained by the yogin after having reached the state of samādhi, where the yogin experiences a merging with (samāveśa ) or a unifying contemplation of (samāpatti ) the Supreme. It is said to shine as an intuitive vision (pratibhā ), destroying all illusion. When this state becomes permanent, the yogin is freed from all bondage and is totally identified with Śiva, master of the whole cosmic process. The highest cosmic bliss (jagadānanda ) is then experienced while one is still in life (jīvanmukti ); it is a state in which empirical awareness and perfect transcendental consciousness coincide.
A short and useful book on the subject is Kṣemarāja's Pratyabhijñāhṛdayam, Saṃskṛta Text with English Translation and Notes, 2d ed., edited and translated by Jaideva Singh (Delhi, 1977). Abhinavagupta's Īśvarapratyabhijñāvimarśinī has been translated "in the light of the Bhāskarī"—that is, in the spirit of a later commentary, by one Bhāskara—by Kanti Chandra Pandey in Bhāskarī, vol. 3 (Lucknow, 1954).
AndrÉ Padoux (1987)