Satsang at Ganga Darshan

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Who is Shiva?

Lord Shiva is the destroyer, the transformer, the catalyst for change. In creation, he is part of the Hindu trinity in which Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the transmuter. Shiva is the first or original yogi as well. He is considered to be the greatest of all the gods, the emperor, yet he lives not in heaven but in the cremation ground where material life is destroyed and a new journey begins.

Shiva’s body is a composition of different symbols. Imagine him as a yogi with matted hair. On his head the Ganga emerges as a stream, representing the fountain of purity, youth and eternal life. He is the only god who has three eyes. When his two eyes see the world of duality, his third eye remains closed. The eye of unity only opens when the eyes of duality are closed, at which time everything dissolves in one single identity. That is why the opening of the third eye is also seen as the bringer of death and destruction to duality.

At vishuddhi chakra, in his throat, he retains poison, blue in colour, so he is called Nilakantha, blue-throated. To save creation, Shiva drank poison churned from the ocean of milk by the gods who were seeking the nectar of immortality, retaining it in his throat where it could not harm him. What does this mean? In kundalini yoga, bindu is the seat of this nectar. When khechari mudra is performed, bindu is stimulated. If the drop of nectar goes down the throat into the stomach, manipura converts it into poison, but if the drop remains in the throat, it stays as nectar. Therefore, yogis try to perfect khechari mudra.

Shiva’s body is smeared with ashes. Ash is what remains after all the elements or tattwas are burned and fused into one. The body has five elements: matter, water, fire, air and space, but when the body burns, everything becomes one tattwa – ash. Matter represents existence. Ash represents non-existence. Symbolically, ashes represent the essence of birth and death.

While the other gods live in beautiful palaces in heaven, Shiva lives in an absolutely desolate area – the plateau of Tibet and the mountain of Kailash. While the other gods wear beautiful clothes and ornaments, he wears a tiger skin, which symbolically represents prana shakti or energy. As ornaments around his neck, arms and waist, Shiva has snakes, which represent awakened kundalini shakti.

Shiva is considered to be the ishta devata, symbol or hero of sannyasins, because of his ability to maintain perfect spiritual balance. It is no easy task for him to keep the balance in his personal life. Nor is it simple to differentiate between the two eyes of duality and the third eye of unity, because creation and destruction are happening at the same time. In the Indian tradition Shiva is the symbol of the equipoised person. He is a yogi who always finds balance in life, although he does not live in the peaceful environment that we all crave. He has the habit of accumulating people and animals that are always after each other’s blood. If you have ghosts, demons, ghouls and spirits as your assistants, how can there be peace?

Shiva also has a wife, Parvati, and two sons, Ganesha and Kartikeya. Each member of his family has an animal for a vehicle. Shiva’s favourite mode of transport is a bull. Shakti has a tiger, Ganesha has a rat and Kartikeya a peacock. The ornaments on Shiva’s body are snakes. Imagine the jugglery Shiva has to perform to maintain order in his home. The bull is always in fear of the tiger, the peacock is always watching the snakes, the snakes are always watching the rat. In this household of tension and frustration, Shiva represents the perfect being who maintains equilibrium in every situation.

Shiva, the yogi, was once a real man, not a mythological person or part of the religious trinity. He lived an incredible wild life in the mountains, not tied by any social conditions. Shiva represents yoga because in duality, conflict and confusion, he remains stable in his identity and at peace. Swami Satyananda has said, “There is no peace in the Himalayas and there is no noise in the world. It is in our own mind. If the chattering of the mind continues, even in the remotest corner of the Himalayas you will not find peace, but if the mental chattering has been stilled, you will find absolute silence even in the middle of the market.” Shiva represents this purushartha or attainment.

Shiva means the auspicious one, the benevolent one. He is the one who always wants what is right and appropriate for creation. It is we who misuse the potential and facilities given to us. Instead of being creative and constructive, we condition ourselves. Instead of being open and receptive, we close ourselves in with our own thoughts, beliefs and ideas. Instead of trying to learn from and understand another’s viewpoint, we overemphasise our own views. Instead of learning to flow with life, we find happiness and strength in struggling, in doing the opposite to what we should do.

The ability to know and to do what is appropriate and auspicious is the power of Shiva. Once an invocation is made to that auspicious nature and the reins of life handed over to that force, life takes on a different meaning. Worship of Shiva, the spirit which is in everybody, is a connection of your mind with your inner benevolent and auspicious self. Some people call it atma, spirit, some call it jivatma, individual spirit, but according to kundalini yoga, it is Shiva, the consciousness which resides in sahasrara chakra. As part of that eternal consciousness, chit, it is also eternal truth, sat. Because it is eternal truth and consciousness, seeking to uplift everyone and bestow freedom from bondage, it is also ananda, bliss or auspiciousness.

—January 2005

In the Ramayana we learn that when the Earth was overburdened with evil and could no longer bear the weight, Rama was born to relieve the suffering. It seems that today the Earth is going through the same suffering again. Will another Vishnu avatara be born to relieve the planet?

This question can be answered in two ways: firstly, at the level of avatara and, secondly, at the level of the individual human being. Mythologically, the Vaishnava tradition speaks of different avataras or incarnations of Vishnu. In the trinity of gods in the Indian pantheon, Brahma is the creator, Shiva is the destroyer and Vishnu is the preserver. Vishnu has been given the mandate to sustain and nourish creation, and the maintenance of creation is a multidimensional activity. The strength and the mental energies of many beings have to be stimulated, nourished and kept alive. The subtle energies and states of consciousness continue to interact with each other in the subtle and psychic dimensions. Therefore, there is a need for maintenance at both microcosmic and macrocosmic levels.

Vishnu takes birth to change the negative tendencies and to establish joy and righteousness. Ten avataras have been described in the Bhagavata Purana: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Ramachandra, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki. Nine avataras have appeared, the ninth being Buddha only 2,500 years ago. The tenth, Kalki, is awaited and will come at the end of Kali yuga, which is still a long way away. We are at the beginning of Kali yuga, which has a very long cycle of 432,000 years.

The process which brings joy into people’s lives and the process which establishes dharma is expressed differently in each avatara. Buddha avatara used the instruments of serenity and adherence to the ideals of non-violence and peace, ahimsa and shanti, patience and forgiveness, dhairya and kshama, to deal with the negative tendencies existing at that time. This approach and attitude was adopted by many other luminaries of the past.

A radical, lord-like approach was adopted by Parashurama who, according to mythology, wiped out twenty-one generations of the ruling class. Then Lord Krishna appeared, who expressed love for life. He said that happiness is not alien to spiritual life, that you can live a full life and be spiritual at the same time. So different methods have been adopted by different avataras to bring joy, to establish dharma and to deal with the prevalent environment and situation of the time.

We also need to look at the role of the individual in eradicating suffering. First we have to define what is evil on Earth. Why is there suffering? What are the causes? Many thinkers, seers and aspirants have conceived of different processes to eradicate human suffering and find solace, peace and fulfilment in life. Historically, the outcomes of their thoughts and understandings have been religions, which have developed the idea that peace can be attained through connection to God, through bhakti and surrender. Religious ideas, including those of tyaga, renunciation, and tapasya, austerity, indicate this drive and motivation. These different processes lead to the eradication of suffering in life, the root of suffering being the human mind.

The Earth has the potential to create anything. That potential can be depleted by misusing the Earth and increased by uplifting the Earth’s energy. Similarly, there are virtues in the mind, yet the negative tendencies of tamas cloud the virtuous, wisdomful aspect of sattwa. The thought processes and ideas which became entrenched in people’s memories as religions, belief systems, philosophies or lifestyles are an attempt to alleviate suffering. As individual suffering is alleviated and the mental tamas is reduced, not only God, but also human beings must play their role in the eradication of evil.

Human nature is very resilient, it can survive. It can find its peace, then be hypnotised by the next achievement and become disturbed, then again find its peace until hypnotised by the next success and the rajasic effort to maintain that success, and again find peace. The human mind is a not a rigid force. The cause of suffering is the tamas of the mind. Tamas, rajas and sattwa are the constituents of prakriti or nature. These three qualities are intertwined and combined in all the spheres of creation and in each individual personality. Sattwa, rajas and tamas are the natural evolutes contained in the process of creation and evolution. So, it is not only at the level of avatara but also the individual human being who has a role to play in the eradication of suffering from life.

—June 2003