Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Shivaratri, the cosmic merger of Shiva and Shakti, is celebrated on the dark moon of Magha, which is on February 25th this year. This union symbolises the concept of kundalini yoga in which Shiva goes to meet Shakti. It represents the awakening of consciousness at the material level of existence and uniting with shakti at the higher point in evolution. The word ratri used here refers to the 'dark night of the soul', the state just before illumination. Shivaratri is considered to be the most auspicious day for sannyasins and for taking sannyas diksha (initiation).

As the story goes, on Shivaratri, the darkest night of the year, Shiva, lord of yogis, sets out for the home of Parvati, daughter of the Himalayas. Shiva is the ascetic; he comes riding on a bull, naked, smeared with ash, and covered in snakes. His marriage party of demons and ghosts, symbolising the instinctive and animal propensities of whom he is controller, is equally horrendous. Some have no head, some walk on only one leg or maybe three. Some have huge elephant ears which flap in the breeze, others have a red eye in the middle of their forehead or in their belly. However, no sooner do Shiva and his companions enter Parvati's Himalayan kingdom then they are all instantly transformed into lovely beings with beautiful faces, fine clothes and glittering ornaments. The same instinct becomes intuition. Thus the marriage takes place amidst great wonder, joy and merrymaking. Then Shiva and Shakti go up to the top of Mt. Kailash, symbolising sahasrara chakra, where they embrace and merge in the highest bliss of cosmic consciousness.

After consummating their marriage, Shiva and Shakti descend together, symbolising that highest consciousness is now manifesting on the plane of duality. Shiva and Shakti having become one are now able to act in the world as two. This event is of great significance for the evolution of all beings for it also represents the process taking place in every aspirant who experiences a spiritual awakening and then returns with heightened awareness to work in the world.

In tantra Shiva represents the male principle, consciousness, beyond all action and change. Shakti represents the female principle, eternal evolution through action. She is negative to his positive; he initiates, she receives and transmits. Shakti is the creative energy that manifests the universe in response to the inspired consciousness of Shiva. We perceive them as two, but really they are the complementary aspects of the One, for energy without consciousness is dissipated and consciousness without energy is impotent. They are inherent in each other- like brightness in the sun - and their union is the primal image of blissful communion, and awareness of oneness through duality.

On the physical plane, sages have long maintained, and science now agrees, that matter, consciousness and energy are one. The basic unit of matter, the atom, is now known to be a static, positive core of energy balanced by a dynamic, negative force field - the union of Shiva and Shakti. What applies to the micro cosmic atom also applies to the microcosm which is held together by intermeshing energy fields. In the realm of the human psyche, the union of Shiva and Shakti is a deep rooted archetype of personal integration achieved when, through yoga, we come to understand the forces that constitute our personality. Within every man is the masculine ideal and by exploring this complimentary inner nature we can pass through to a richer mode of being. Through tantra we explore the dark terrain of the unconscious mind, granting conscious recognition to the unruly passions, violent impulses and irrational fantasies that are suppressed in the daily business of living. This instinctive part of our nature, as symbolised in our story by Shiva's demonic companions, is transformed when we yoke together the opposites within ourselves - positive and negative, masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti. An awakening takes place and the unfulfilled potential within our psyche becomes actualised, revealing our true inner nature. What we have long considered monstrous becomes divine.

Shiva is the eternal faculty of awareness, the unchanging, unmoving spark of the divine in each of us. Shakti gives us the mind and body that are our tools for the direct perception of this divine awareness. Shakti is the power that propels us to the peaks of expanded awareness. On the spiritual plane, the union of this cosmic couple is the primal image of blissful union with the absolute. In sexual rapture we forget our isolated selves and experience a fragment of joy, but this is just a foretaste of the eternal ecstasy that dissolves the individual consciousness into the supreme. The union of Shiva and Shakti is the primordial symbol of eternal communion with the divine. Here there is neither purity nor impurity, neither affirmation nor denial, neither form nor formlessness, but a state of super-conscious being that is beyond all duality. The union of man and woman becomes the union of Shiva and Shakti; the physical union becomes psychic union in the highest state of transcendental consciousness. The ordinary man and woman, the creatures of passion and ignorance, are transmuted into transcendental Shiva and Shakti, unconditioned and free.

Today many people are wondering how they can raise their level of consciousness so that this cosmic union becomes a reality in their own lives. To do this we must first ask ourselves, 'What is our real purpose in life, what is our basic need?' Do we need more sensual pleasures or do we need to find a higher, simpler more rewarding way of life. Of course there are different types of people. Some are completely sensual and are drawn to the world in order to fulfil innumerable desires and ambitions. Others are more moderate and live a balanced life, being able to integrate their inner feelings and perceptions with external sensual experiences. Then there are those whose sensual desires are marginal, having exhausted their worldly ambitions they are more drawn to spiritual life. For those who basically seek a higher mode of existence, the path of sannyas offers the most direct route to real inner fulfilment. Even for those who are moderately and totally sensual, sannyas offers a broader path into life, eventually culminating in the highest experience of liberation and attunement with the whole cosmos.

Most of us have many desires and ambitions. These in themselves are not bad, but when we make their fulfilment our sole purpose in life, we lose our divine direction. It is at this very point that life becomes a cursory existence full of frustration, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. People who are always looking outside of themselves for pleasure and contentment never find it. This is why nobody is satisfied. Everywhere you go you find husband is tired of wife, wife is unhappy with husband, parents are fed up with children, children won't listen to parents. Nobody is happy with their work, unions are on strike, students hate school, women no longer want to remain in the home. There is never enough money to pay all the bills, the house is too small, the car is too old, the clothes unfashionable. Even on the national level people are never satisfied with the political leaders and government schemes, taxation is too high and government funds are being wasted.

Nowhere is it possible to find any satisfaction, any peace in this world. Therefore, we must make our own peace, our own higher, simpler and satisfying life, and sannyas is the way. It is not necessary to be an ascetic to renounce the narrow confines of personal life and take up the broad path which encompasses all humanity. Sannyas is not only for those who have exhausted their desires, it is the key to a fuller life. It is the universal path on which we are able to fulfil our basic need to expand our experience and awareness of life by working in the world for the evolution of all beings. In fact this is the only true path to peace and satisfaction, especially for young people who are the most restless and dissatisfied of all. The time is not far off when we will see thousands of young people fulfilling their frustrated dreams through sannyas. We already have a bumper crop coming up and many more are on their way.