Friday, May 12, 2017

Who is Shiva

Who is Shiva? Many stories and legends surround this most prominent figure of Indian spiritual traditions. Is he a god? Or a myth constructed from Hindu culture’s collective imagination? Or is there a deeper meaning to Shiva, revealed only to those who seek?

When we say “Shiva,” there are two fundamental aspects that we are referring to. The word “Shiva” means literally, “that which is not.” Today, modern science is proving to us that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. The basis of existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos is vast nothingness. The galaxies are just a small happening – a sprinkling. The rest is all vast empty space, which is referred to as Shiva. That is the womb from which everything is born, and that is the oblivion into which everything is sucked back. Everything comes from Shiva and goes back to Shiva.

So Shiva is described as a non-being, not as a being. Shiva is not described as light, but as darkness. Humanity has gone about eulogizing light only because of the nature of the visual apparatus that they carry. Otherwise, the only thing that is always, is darkness. Light is a limited happening in the sense that any source of light – whether a light bulb or the sun – will eventually lose its ability to give out light. Light is not eternal. It is always a limited possibility because it happens and it ends. Darkness is a much bigger possibility than light. Nothing needs to burn, it is always – it is eternal. Darkness is everywhere. It is the only thing that is all pervading.

But if I say “divine darkness,” people think I am a devil worshiper or something. In fact, in some places in the West it is being propagated that Shiva is a demon! But if you look at it as a concept, there isn’t a more intelligent concept on the planet about the whole process of creation and how it has happened. I have been talking about this in scientific terms without using the word “Shiva” to scientists around the world, and they are amazed, “Is this so? This was known? When?” We have known this for thousands of years. Almost every peasant in India knows about it unconsciously. He talks about it without even knowing the science behind it.

Shiva (pronounced Sheeva or Sheewa) is a very important God in modern Hinduism. He is one of the three Gods of the Hindu trinity, who represent Creation, Preservation, and Destruction. Shiva is the destroyer. Not only the destroyer of creation when the time comes, but also the destroyer of ignorance and the destroyer of misery. There is an entire branch of Hinduism who puts Shiva as the One True God (Shivites/Shivaism).

Why Worship Shiva?

It is he who destroys what is no longer good or needed in order to pave the way for rebirth. He can destroy bad karma when you are devoted to him and he can grant you long life. He crushes ignorance beneath his feet and loves his devotees so much that he has granted blessings to people who worshiped him without realizing it. He is both a family man and one who meditates. Parvati is his wife and Ganesha is his son. He is the one that women pray to for good husbands and the one they thank when they have a good husband.


There are two factions: devas, who are angelic-type beings and asuras, who are demon-like beings. The two groups are often fighting one another. But when they found out that there was a nectar of immortality (amrita) in the ocean, they formed an alliance to find and share it. In order to obtain this nectar, it had to be churned from the ocean. The devas were on one side and the asuras on the other, using a mountain to churn into the ocean and a great snake wrapped around it to move the mountain.

However, before they reached the amrita, other things emerged from the milky ocean.  One of these things was a powerful poison that could destroy the world. Shiva ran in and swallowed the poison before it could harm anyone. His wife, Parvati, was close behind and she grabbed hold of his neck to keep him from swallowing. And so Shiva held the poison in his throat, causing it to turn blue. He is often known as the blue-throated one. (The devas and asuras did eventually get to the amrita and then broke their alliance and fought viciously over which side would get it. Vishnu intervened and saw to it that it was the devas who drank). There’s a lot more detail and symbolism to this story, but the part with the poison is the part relevant to Shiva.

Apasmara Purusha is a demon of ignorance, laziness, jealousy, ego, and hatred. He  used to trouble mankind until people prayed to Shiva, who descended and performed a divine dance called Ananda Tandava (dance of joy), crushing the demon beneath his feet. In this dancing form, Shiva is called King of the Dance: Nataraja. Classical Indian dances are based on his cosmic dance of destruction and rebirth.

It used to be that the Ganges river (actually named Ganga) flowed in the heavens. There was a king who was cursed with no offspring and he felt he needed to wash away the sins of his forefathers and cleanse his kingdom with the Ganga. So he prayed that she might come to earth. Ganga wanted to, but she was so powerful that if she flowed down to earth, she would crush it with the force of her waters. And so Shiva stepped in and allowed the Ganga to flow through his hair (usually depicted to be in dreadlocks) so soften her decent to earth.

Parvati is an incarnation of Shakti, feminine energy. She was born to draw Shiva out of his meditative asceticism and bring him back to caring for the world. A powerful demon was torturing humanity and devas alike. No one could defeat him except, it was said, Shiva’s child. But Shiva’s wife Sati had died and he was meditating alone in a cave, not interested in coming back into the world. People prayed to the great Goddess (Mahadevi) and she incarnated herself in Parvati, born to the king of the

Himalayan mountains.

When she grew up, Parvati went to Shiva to make him fall in love with her and marry her, but he would not even open his eyes or respond to her at all. She tried everything she could think of: decorating his cave, bringing him flowers and sweets, even getting Kama (God of desire) to shoot Shiva with arrows of lust. Shiva was so annoyed that he opened his third eye and reduced Kama to ash.

The Gods were very worried that now men would no longer desire women and the human race would fall apart. Parvati determined that Kama could be reborn as their child if she could just get Shiva to love her.

So she took a different tac and began meditation and austerities as well. She lived in the forest and did not eat or shield herself with clothing. The ascetics of the forest were very impressed with her. After some time, Shiva was impressed as well. He stopped his meditating and emerged from the cave to marry her. She reawakened in him his care for the world. Shiva was able to become a perfect blend of family man and hermit.

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