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..:: Shiva ::..

By

Alan Schneider

                                                                           

              Shiva is the great Creator/Destroyer of the Hindu Trinity.  Brahma – the Initiator – and Vishnu  –  the Preserver  –  constitute the other primary deities present in this three state model of divine action at the highest level of manifestation. Shiva, as the personification of the Universal Male Principal,  is the most “human” of the three, and this is particularly evident in terms of his affiliation with Shakti, the Universal Female Principal. Although the additional two deities also have female aspects – Laksmi in the case of Vishnu, and Saraswati in the case of Brahma – the effect on the male energy involved is not as critical as in the case of Shiva, where the action of Shakti is the key to the divine manifestation involved. The Shakti energy expression literally activates the process of Chakra Manifestation in Yoga practice, and is the method seen in achieving further progress in this discipline, as the Kundalini energy/awareness develops. I will have more to say regarding this relationship at a later point in this essay.  

            The deity Shiva can be traced with certainty to the expression of Rudra, a pre-Shiva form of the Destroyer (and, in this case, Healer) processes in this life, and has been correlated with the Vedic Age, occurring from c. 1200 – 200 BCE. Rudra evidently held his role as Destroyer/Healer for most of the Vedic period, and was greatly feared in this regard, the Healing aspect notwithstanding. Rudra literally means “The Roarer” in Sanskrit, and he was the Lord of the Maruts, the storm gods, and as such held sway over nature’s most destructive forces. Three hymns in the Rig Veda are addressed to Rudra (numbers 2.33, 1.43, and 1.114), and entreat him with praise and supplications to be merciful to the helplessly mortal creatures on Earth! Rudra is portrayed as having a black belly (symbolic of the dark, occult “undersurface” of physical manifestation), a red back (representing bloodshed as the literal condition frequently accompanying physical manifestation), and being clothed in animal skin – an obvious reference to a wild and primitive condition. Apart from the  references to him as “Healer”, it is clear that Rudra was a primarily destructive entity. It is generally presumed in Vedic Scripture that the type of “healing” involved was essentially akin to culling – the selective elimination of disease by elimination of the diseased.  

            By the onset of the Epic Period of Hinduism – from c. 400 BCE to 800 CE – the image of Rudra had been “augmented” with that of Shiva. There are certain evident similarities in the two figures: Shiva also is generally portrayed as dressing in an animal skin skirt, and as seated on a tiger pelt – one that features the intact head of the tiger! The devotees of Shiva, known as Shavites, were also known to occasionally dress in animal hides as a part of their tradition.  However, where Rudra was considered to be a god of wild (or feral) and haunted places, and was felt to live apart from the spaces occupied by human beings in the original Aryan belief system, Shiva became an established, if still feared, element of the Hindu Trinity during the Epic period, mirroring the increasing sophistication of Hindu religious thought at this time, as the Upanishads were compiled. The Svetasvatara Upanishad is of particular significance here as an example of the transition from monism to the trinitarian manifestation of God, stressing the manifestation of both Shiva and Vishnu – and  eventually Brahma – as independent forms of spiritual expression.  

            The religious significance of Shiva is paradoxical. On one hand, he is referred to as “The Merciful”, and “The Auspicious One” in Hindu traditions, and is seen to be a destroyer of evil and sorrow (an evolved Rudra manifestation related to healing?). On the other, Shiva is prone to outbursts of towering rage and caprice – the well known elephant-headed God Ganesh was decapitated by Shiva while attempting to protect his mother, (and Shiva’s wife) Parvati. A repentant Shiva searched the cosmos for the severed head, but he had cast it beyond the realm of manifest form after removing it from Ganesh! In despair, Shiva finally removed the head from an elephant and used that for the replacement. So it is that Ganesh came to represent protection, and the removal of obstacles. The bicameral nature of Shiva is very extensive, and can be seen to include any pairs of polar opposites – static and dynamic, creator and destroyer, oldest and youngest, male and female, and so on. And  Shiva himself is an element of bicameral manifestation in combination with the female energy expression of Shakti. A distinctly Taoist philosophy of the primary interaction of male and female manifestation (yin and yang) as the essential components of creation can be seen in the Shiva/Shakti relationship. This relationship is expressed in the Hindu philosophy of Tantra, the divine love which creates the universe of manifest form. Tantra is probably the best way (although certainly not the only way)  to approach understanding Hindu beliefs about cosmology and creation. 

            Now we can return to the initial discussion of this essay – the Tantric interaction of Shiva and Shakti.  In the Taoist system, literally everything in evidence is the result of the cosmic interaction of Yin and Yang, in other words, of polar opposites combining to form some level of manifestation. The Taoist interpretation frequently does not assign primary causality: the interaction is often seen as balanced in nature across a continuum of manifestation between the polar opposites. But Hinduism does assign functional causality to creation, and the female Goddess energy is almost always seen as activating and empowering the male God energy. In this sense, Hindus could be said to espouse the doctrine of the universe as primarily female in nature, and the ultimate spiritual essence of the cosmos, the Brahman, is, in fact, considered to be female in Vedic cosmology. The male spiritual expression is seen as serving the female expression through the provision of motivating principals that the female expression then carries into manifestation. This characteristic extends to the literal physical bodies of men and women as well. The man is a necessary contributor to the woman through impregnation, for example, but from here on, it is the woman who has the primary power and responsibility in bearing the child, and for many years thereafter in parenting.  

            This emphasis on Yin (the female aspect of the Dao) as having primacy in creation is also present in Hindu cosmological thought as Tantric doctrine, particularly with reference to the Kundalini energy. This term means “coiled serpent” in Sanskrit, and refers to a theoretical “package” of female energy which resides in dormant form at the base of the spine in the First Chakra of Mulhadara, the Chakra representing the most basic level of human perception – the manifest physical plane of existence – i.e. external physical reality. With the initiation of various Yoga practices, the Kundalini is activated, and begins to ascend the spinal column through the succession of the Chakras, becoming spiritually directly perceptible in the Fourth Chakra,  Anahata, the Heart Chakra. It is at this point that depictions of the Chakras traditionally feature a portrait of Shakti in the form of a Goddess representation, although the Kundalini is presumed to be active through the entire process. Tantra on this bodily level is thought to be caused by the tendency of the female Shakti to seek “reunion” with the male energy of Shiva. This process continues to manifest in higher levels of perception as the Chakras are ascended, until Shiva and Shakti are finally reunited at the Seventh, and highest, level in Sahasrara,  the Crown Chakra. At this stage, the Kundalini energy is fully expressed, resulting in the profound state of religious ecstasy known as Samadhi – the direct perception of God. It should be noted here that it is the female energy of Shakti which is active throughout the Yoga process, and it is this energy expression that activates and ascends through the sequence of the Chakras – the female spiritual expression accomplishes the manifestation process, while the male expression motivates it. 

            In Tantra, the human body is seen as a microcosm of the universal macrocosm demonstrated by the cosmos. As such, we all contain the possibility of divine perception within us, although this remains dormant in many individual cases. Through the practices of Yoga, the microcosm of the body becomes the vessel of God-Realization, and becomes capable of sustaining the direct experience of the Divine Condition while still incarnate. It is one of the primary tenets of Hindu philosophy that this perception occurring in the microcosm is tantamount to the same perception occurring on the macrocosmic level, essentially as God pouring God into God

            The further outcome of the successful practice of Tantra (and this may take many, many lifetimes to achieve in Vedic cosmology) is the attainment of siddhis – magical  powers – something which is understandably a matter of hot debate in today’s academic circles – and the experience of divine bliss, Ananda, an ideally contented state of awareness. Bliss in this spiritual sense certainly is attainable in this life, however arguable the siddhis may be, although requiring much personal sacrifice as the price to be paid in the process. 

            Shiva is frequently considered to be manifest in the form of the lingam, or male organ of generation, while Shakti is manifest in the yoni, or female organs. It is the concept of the lingam which expresses and accounts for the identification of Shiva in his additional aspect as the Creator God, and this is also supported by his symbolic affiliation with the bull as an image of potency. And since all things that are created in one form or another are also eventually converted to other forms (i.e. destroyed), we must all eventually encounter him as his Destroyer aspect as well. It is perhaps significant that Hindu philosophy also equates the act of creation with the act of destruction in the combined process of transmutation of form on the physical plane.  This is described as yet another aspect of Shiva seen in Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer, who generates the universe in the continuous act of eternally dancing the transmutation of forms into existence seen on the physical level of perception.  

            Perhaps the most spiritually evolved expression of Shiva is the Seated Esthetic and Meditant, represented by his traditional home on Mt. Kailish in Tibet. It is held to be the case in Vedic cosmology that this mountain actually is Shiva seated in deep meditation, and that the river Ganges flows out of his matted “hair” as the First Form of his Shakti. Shiva is the God of the Yogis, who seek to attain his state of absolute repose and detachment from worldly involvement through the practice of yoga, meditation and austerities, eventually achieving Samadhi at the level of Sahasrara. The term Samadhi is quite interesting – its Sanskrit meaning is “to study thoroughly”. There are various levels of Samadhi as well, with Mahasamadhi considered as the ultimate one attainable – in the state of physical death! Vedic cosmology postulates that life as it is perceived in the senses is fundamentally an illusion, and that the further one can mentally “travel” from that illusion, the more one will come into contact with “reality”. Meditation is the common means by which one can make this journey, and this requires withdrawal from the entire sensory continuum in deeper and deeper trance states. Under this interpretation, the ultimate departure from life seen in death actually yields the highest manifestation of the truth of consciousness – the Supreme Absolute Truth, or SAT – equivalent to the Mind of God experienced as the Brahman.  This is the fundamental ground state of Shiva’s awareness in meditation – unknowable and indescribable, but the birth place of all subsequent manifestation of function and form, hence the root meaning of his Creator aspect. 

            As the final expression of the Hindu Trinity of Divine Manifestation, Shiva remains the most humanly comprehensible of the three, and represents the last vestige of ego-mediated perception in his human-like behaviors of passion, rage, and remorse. Beyond these emotional limitations, he assumes the more and more Divine characteristics  seen in his additional manifestations, and this transitional sequence represents the complete path of the Kundalini energy in Ascension culminating in the essence of the Brahman – the comprehensive merging with God in the state of absolutely non-dual perception and Ananda, as all remaining vestiges of ego involvement dissolve into the Sea of Bliss and Peace.  If this is what awaits us in death, we are indeed Blessed beyond measure!

                                           - With Love, Alan -

                                  (CR2008, Alan Schneider)

 

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