A Wave of Beauty

Swami Yogakanti Saraswati

After giving guidance on sadhana for a few minutes, Swamiji strolled on. Like the devotee who wanted no boon from his Lord but whose shadow is blessed to give life to everything it falls on, behind him a set of new realizations sprang to life.

In verse 54 of Saundarya Lahari, the beautiful hymn to Devi, it says:

Shariram tvam Shambhoh shashi-mihira-vaksoruha-yugam
Tavatmanam manye Bhagavati navatmanam anagham.

The poet is speaking to the Devi, known as Shakti or Bhagavati – who is, of course, the manifest universe, and says: “Really, you are the body of Shambhu, with the sun and the moon as your two breasts. In truth your being is the flawless Shambhu, having nine aspects.”

These nine aspects (nava atmanam) are the nine limitations or manifestations through which the unmanifest Shiva, or Shambhu, becomes manifest. They are:

  1. Kaala – time
  2. Kula – colours (the one light’s spectrum)
  3. Naama – names (in the beginning was the word say so many of the world’s religions)
  4. Jnana – knowledge (descending from omniscience through names and other forms of differentiation)
  5. Chitta – mind (including memory, intelligence, discrimination, ego, senses i.e. the organ of knowledge)
  6. Nada – sound which has four forms, starting with para (transcendental), pashyanti (where sound becomes vision), madhyama (mental) and vaikhari (audible, e.g. music or speech)
  7. Bindu – the six chakras, from ajna to mooladhara, emanate from bindu and their yantras manifest from their bija mantras once the vibration reaches the pashyanti level (the yantra being the spatial blueprint for manifestation of that particular form)
  8. Kalaa – in this context referring to the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, which are also called matrikas (little mothers). They form the petals of the chakras and are connected with the nadis that conduct the energy flows animating the physical body.
  9. Jiva – the individual soul (the enjoyer housed or ensnared in the golden cage of the body for a lifetime).

The verse continues to explain the relationship between Shambhu and his consort:

Atah shesah shesity ayam ubhaya-sadharanataya
Sthitah sambandho vam samarasa-parananda-parayoh.

“So when we discuss who is subservient (shesha) and who is the principal (sheshi), both Shiva or ananda-bhairava (parananda) and Devi or ananda-bhairavi (para) are equal in their mutual relationship (ubhaya-sadharanata).”

We can say that really there is no distinction between Shambhu and Devi. Shakti is the body of Shiva and Shiva is the inner being of Shakti. From the point of view of the macrocosm, when cosmic manifestation, or creation, takes place, Shakti is the dominant principal and Shiva remains the subservient base. This is seen when the goddess Kali, representing Time, dances on Shiva’s recumbent body. During the second half of the cosmic cycle, however, when destruction of the universe takes place, Shiva comes forward and Shakti is very much subsidiary. This is symbolized when Shiva comes forward and dances as Nataraj. Thus the roles of principal and accessory alternate between Shiva and Shakti and are common to both.

From the point of view of our personal microcosm, all of us human beings combine Shakti-bodies and Shiva-consciousness. For the most part, in worldly life, Shakti is the dominant principale and Shiva is the subservient accessory. This covers the period between birth and death. However, in our own journey we experience life (with Shakti manifesting around us) and death (where there is no longer any manifest world for us but only consciousness – Shiva). The jiva is ensnared in the body’s cage for a lifetime but meets Shiva, smeared with ash and garlanded by snakes, in the cemetery or the burning ground where all becomes ashes.

What is that experience of Bhairava? Silence? Space? Union? Light? Like the phoenix, we are continually reborn from the ashes, continually fly in the cycle of life and death and move between the different dimensions of the tree of manifestation, the world tree which we learn about in the Bhagavad Gita.

Adhashchoordhvam prasritastasya shakha guna-pravriddha vishaya-pravalah
Adhashcha moolanyanusantatani karmanubandhini manushyaloke. (15:2)

“Below and above spread its branches, nourished by the gunas, and with sense-objects as its buds. Below, the roots are stretched out, bound by karma to the world of human beings.”

Swami Sivananda says that this tree is called Asvattam, meaning ‘not standing or enduring till tomorrow’ and Sri Krishna says it can be cut down with the axe of non-attachment. If that’s so, how come it so deludes us that we are blinded continually into thinking there is really only half a cycle – from birth to death? That somehow things just pop into existence at each birth without any causal link? Why do we cling so adamantly to life, denying the reality of death?

Utkramantam sthitam vapi bhunjanam va gunan-vitam
Vimmodha na-anupashyanti Pashyanti jnana-chakshushah. (15:10)

“The deluded can’t see the One departing or staying, enjoying or engrossed in the gunas, but those with the eye of knowledge see.”

For most of us life is too fascinating and we are bound to sensory pleasures like the monkey with his hand stuck in the jar because he won’t let go of his peanuts. At times we realize there is something more and try hard to renounce and to discipline ourselves, but one cannot become non-attached merely by trying hard to be so. It needs a different perspective, an ability to actually perceive the subtle cause of things steadily, that effortless non-attachment of one who needs nothing, wants nothing from the world anymore. Who is, it seems, devoted to something else entirely. It needs someone established in their own nature, free of faults, attentive to the subtle spirit and absorbed in that. And such a person, free from the snare of the world, simply blesses it by their very presence. That’s probably why Rishi Patanjali recommends:

Vitaragavisayanam va chittam (1:37)

“Or make a person beyond human passions the object on which you concentrate the mind.”

Then the obstacles to understanding are overcome spontaneously and the light shines through.