There is neither teacher nor teaching, learner nor learning, neither thou nor I, nor this empirical universe; I am universal self-consciousness, the reality which is untinctured by any modification. I am the secondless, supreme and attributeless Bliss of Shiva.

Shri Shankaracharya

 Shiva is the supreme principle of potent ideation and constructive imagination, bridging the unconditioned and the conditioned, the unlimited and the limited, the boundless and what is bounded in the realm of time. Shiva represents a noumenal intelligence ceaselessly at work in the life process through all the elemental, mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms of Nature. Shiva is also accessible to each and every human being, not only the highest and the holiest, but also the most sinful and depraved whenever they have a flash of true repentance. The mundane realm, of course, is that wherein most human beings encounter a host of difficulties, because they cannot connect disparate elements of fleeting experience or else are victims of false connections that bombard them from outside. Human beings must resolve to stand on their own. They need to wake up to the fact that each is alone in this world, that in the end each is the custodian of his or her own hopes and promises, and that each is the only agent able to make a radical change in his or her own kingdom. This is not a task that can be transferred to any other agent.

 A person who comes to understand this is ready to contemplate Shiva as a yogin, as the archetypal Man of Renunciation, as the paradigm of the pilgrim soul who has been through every possible experience of every possible human being. But Shiva can also be seen constantly at work destroying the froth of complacent illusion through disintegration. Shiva represents the universal frustration of all the foolish and faulty plans of deluded souls. In other words, Shiva epitomizes the insight that most of human history is based upon a terrible expenditure of emotion, an attempt to force upon this world schemes which must inevitably be frustrated because they are based upon the lie of separateness and cannot be supported by the cosmos. Beyond the lower realms of Nature and beyond the human realm, Shiva is the living metaphysical link between the unmanifest and the manifest Logos.

 Since most problems arise in the middle or human realm, wherein individuals must learn to take a stand, Shiva is initially most relevant as the archetype of every seeker on earth. There is a specific point at which individuals are ready to take stock of the sum total of their experiences and to cut through the compulsive succession of dreamy, illusionary experiences. For the individual at this crossroad, Shiva becomes the paradigm of the perfect human being who is fully self-conscious. Within all the traumas and tragedies of human beings there lies latent the seed of self-awareness which enables an individual -- whether in a future life, or at the moment of death, or many years later in this life -- to cut through the froth. Shiva represents the pristine seed of a new beginning rooted in the Truth that makes one fearless. This signifies a new kind of courage -- to see all the phases of life together and to cut through the process of samsara.

 Unfortunately, too many human beings are ready to renounce only after they have been burnt out by their previous refusals to renounce and by the enormous burden of their exaggerated and ever-growing attachments. There is, therefore, a certain sadness in the eyes of a person who starts the climb towards the mountains, often at an advanced age, in the hope that at least his few remaining years may not be wasted in delusion. When one renounces separateness, one's life opens itself up to all human lives, to the enormity and vast Himalayan scope of the human pilgrimage, encompassing not only friends and relatives, but all human beings -- strangers in the city, strangers in the streets, millions upon millions of persons who live and toil in extreme conditions of deprivation and desolation. Everywhere human beings are caught up without meaning in a life that is extremely hard economically or enormously wasteful in its focus upon providing for the passing fancies and endless consumption of other human beings. Everywhere there is the pain of emptiness, of fatigue, excess and self-indulgence. But there is also the pain of actual deprivation and the pain of loneliness.

 The challenge of Shiva today is to learn to relate to all these beings. What has always been true has now come much more to a head. Many human beings are living lives of utter waste, yet the very impulse that gives one the courage to go back to sleep after a trying day can become something more. It can become the courage to renounce the whole concept of the self bound up with memories and frustrations. It can quicken a sense of a larger self, a sense of involvement in the self of all humanity, and a concern for the wider horizon of human consciousness transcending the visible, the partial and the transitory.

 In that fearless willingness to renounce, such a person has not only the actual inspiration of Shiva as an ideal or object -- whether as a linga, or a statue, or as the author of certain texts, or as the supreme god Maheshvara who presides over and transcends the process of creation -- but also as an actual hierophantic yogin. In Gupta Vidya, Shiva is Dakshinamurti, the Initiator of Initiates, responsible for the Mysteries in the Third, Fourth and Fifth Root-Races. Shiva was involved in all the triumphs and travails of the human race going back to Atlantean times, and Shiva will also be involved in all the heroic struggles of human beings for millions of years into the future, until the emergence of the Sixth Race. It is as if all the knowledge of all human souls in their desperate gropings towards the Mysteries is engraved within his sphinx-like face. He is the silent witness to their terrible failures. At the same time, he also bears shining witness to the vital hint of hope that all may one day begin anew and make a fresher, cleaner, better start.

 Shiva, then, has a universal meaning, whether one has explicitly heard or thought much about him or not. No human being who experiences suffering and deep disappointment, no one who is frightened by what lies ahead when death draws near or who deeply reflects upon the suffering of humanity can help but see that something new is needed to understand the human predicament. Something is needed which involves going within, and it comes from silence rather than speech, from brooding rather than verbalizing. It involves thinking deeply and with total honesty about oneself, acknowledging every tendency of prevarication, doubt, procrastination, contradiction, ambivalence, ill will, envy, jealousy, hatred, pride and vulnerability. The willingness to enter into the dungeon within the psyche in which these demons exist, and the strength to come out of it courageously, vindicate Shiva. Shiva represents the assured capacity to reduce delusions to ashes. The fire of spiritual perception and objective honesty, the light of pure manas, can burn out psychic dross which is powerful only because of a misplaced allegiance to a false persona. This is a long and painful process of purification. It takes years and lives to complete. If it is a true beginning, however, it will have the benediction of all those who have made similar beginnings and who have attained to some level of success on the side of that which is strong in the human race.

 What characterizes wise men, Initiates, Teachers and Mahatmas is the unconditional faith they can place in every single human being, against all odds, despite the past and whatever the record. This is not faith in something merely potential, but faith in that which is omnipresent, sacred and indestructible. It is like a cry to the divine and an affirmation of willingness to persist, to be tested, to sift and select ever more clearly and wisely. Such a faith implies increasing silence, with less propensity to manifest in the coming years, so that one begins to take on the burden of living with more deliberation and more dignity. This resolve and the very desire to make it, as well as the willingness to persist in it, draw upon that which Shiva represents. Rather than being a negative view of human despair, it is a fearless recognition of the myriads of forgotten instances of extraordinary redemption. Something Christ-like and Buddha-like has happened again and again among millions of human beings, and yet it has been accompanied by a colossal sense of waste, suffering and frustration caused by false consolidation of the ego. All this involves vast magnitudes. To talk of Shiva is thus to get beyond a narrow focus upon one's own horizon and to take one's own place within the larger whole. This is not something vague. It requires hard work, the effort of thinking through the problem and beginning to look at all beings in a different way.

 While many of the obstacles that emerge are the familiar ones, they appear in different forms. One of them provides a clue to the subtle connection between love and asceticism. Shiva represents that strength which results from voluntary self-control carried to its highest point, where it becomes effortless and full of joy. As the paradigm of yogins, Shiva is often depicted as besmeared with ashes, carrying a necklace of skulls. This signifies a clarity of vision in which there is no truck with human fantasy, desire or ambition. It represents a courageous recognition of the underground in which most human beings live. This terrible Hades exists owing to the ugliness of human presumption. While there is so much of this everywhere and everyone can see it in themselves, nonetheless, something else that transcends understanding is involved in this perception. A kind of veiling has taken place. One could not see all this ugliness if one were not more than the sum total of all that is repellent, if there were not a seed of Platonic divine discontent moving one constantly towards an ineffable beauty. Shiva stands outside time. He carries in his right hand the drum, which represents the cyclic beat of time, but he himself is beyond time. Even the iconography and mythology of Shiva are amongst the oldest that exist. They precede all known religions and go back five to seven thousand years, to ancient coins and seals. They are part of the prehistoric folk memory of mankind. Shiva always has to do with the truth of the human condition, the truth of human failure, the truth of human persistence, and especially the truth of the possibility of human redemption which can only come with freedom from illusion.

 Certainly, the effortless asceticism of Shiva was an ideal beyond all possibility for Parvati. As a young girl, totally devoted to Shiva and feeling totally unworthy of him, she nonetheless wanted to give her whole life to Shiva and to receive his guidance and love. Therefore, Parvati went into a tremendous tapas lasting thousands of years. It is quite overwhelming to think of so great a preparation -- strengthening, purging, purifying oneself -- but people have done these things and done them life after life, thus earning proximity to the great hierophants of the human race. Parvati, propelled by one-pointedness and unconditionality of love, was able to penetrate the veil of Shiva's totally impervious, impartial and cold-seeming impersonality. She was able to touch that in Shiva which knew all along that she had to go through the fire of purgation and trial. Then he could expound to her the most magnificent mystical truths about initiation, reveal to her the magic that is possible in human life, in terms of fundamental philosophical and metaphysical principles, so that she herself came to be revered as a custodian of the Mysteries, invoked like Kwan-Yin for her boundless compassion. She is on everyone's side, and she is immensely resourceful in showing how the door can open for every single being. At the same time, however, she has no illusions, and sees to the core of every human heart.

 The essential meaning of the story of Shiva and Parvati involves the hidden heart of the cosmos, the secret heart of humanity and the inflnite depths within one's own immortal heart. No education in terms of the imperfect, tortuous and complicating mind has anything to do with true concentration and understanding. Many an athlete learns to concentrate better than a person burdened by words and concepts that have nothing to do with the power of ideation. When the soul's true power of understanding is aroused, it can take wings and remain in a state of deep abstraction for hours, days or even months, visualizing that which must ultimately represent the incarnation of universal Good. Genuine training in this direction can begin with the exercise of thinking outward through a series of concentric and expanding circles. It is not easy to expand one's horizon to include all visible human beings on earth today, much less to include all human beings. Yet to understand the heart of humanity, one must enlarge one's vision to encompass all human souls that are disembodied. This includes all those who died in recent centuries, leaving their shells in kamaloka, as well as all those who died earlier and who are in various stages of devachan, ranging from hundreds to thousands of years in duration, and who wake up at different times and come as babies onto the earthly scene, becoming involved in different parts of the world, in different families, as puzzled strangers. To think consciously of all human souls in this enigmatic way is to bring one's mind closer to the perspective of Shiva, for Shiva sees all humanity at once.

 In principle, it is possible for a perfected being with such an infinite horizon to be an ideal for imperfect human beings only if we presuppose that all souls can free themselves from captivity to images, captivity to the present and, above all, captivity to the froth that surrounds their conceptions of perfected beings. Even though there may be something precious and noble at the root of one's conception of Shamballa, El Dorado or the Golden Age, psychic excitement is generated the moment one materializes it. This excess produces a plethora of escapist tendencies which result in pathetic and irresponsible human beings who cannot do the most elementary things like sitting, reading or writing. Victims of their own fantasy, they want to escape but find there is nowhere to go. The entire delusion is based upon a lie that is fed by popular literature and movies from which a few make a lot of money trafficking in human illusion. It invades the psyche of millions of human beings, so that they hardly begin to live or to take any responsibility for their lives. Instead of maturing, they are retarded, pushed towards the doom of nihilism. What provides the pressure behind all this is the toughest peer pressure of all, which comes out of kamaloka. One may think that it comes from contemporaries, but in fact it comes from kamaloka as the raucous cries of those on the verge of annihilation. They are bitter because they were self-righteous before, and even now have no humility or honesty, but curse and curse with unmitigated fury. With their evil-eyed cocksureness about human weakness, they are convinced that there will be more and more hosts of victims coming out of this world who are going to be taken in, trapped in the sacred name of freedom which is misused, and reduced to a condition that is a prelude to disintegration.

 Think, then, of the compassion involved in a being who must know all of this. Looking at the world, Shiva can immediately see its pure potential in the golden embryo of every baby. At the same time, seeing the way so many live and the karma they are creating, he can also see them tortured. This torture is psychological. Though artists may sometimes render it in graphic images or poets like Dante may convey it through metaphors of fire and ice, it is in reality terrible mental self-torture. Once set into motion by one's actions, it is inevitable, because all the life-atoms one has ever misused come back to render one completely coiled, impotent and powerless. No amount of cries for forgiveness can cancel the karma. So much toughness is needed by beings who would take all this into account that one is speaking of a perspective far removed from all but the very greatest of human hearts. Only a Buddha or Shakespeare or Jesus could truly begin to understand the immensity of the human condition, the immensity of the human tragedy and the immensity of the cost of illusion. That is why Shiva is so often shown in a terrible form, dancing in the crematorium, garlanded with skulls. He has seen it all, and he has seen through it all. He has seen all the fake yogins and pseudo-fakirs, and has also seen the sadder victims, who never learnt how to think for themselves or how to use imagination, speech and self-command to initiate a current for the general good.

 As one expands awareness of humanity through ever-increasing concentric circles, in a mythic and mystical sense one is going to enter Hades. One is going to confront the torment of millions of human souls who are snuffed out like candles. This is true whether one considers human beings presently incarnated on the earth -- which looked like a necropolis to some in the Victorian Age and is still the same -- or whether one begins to be aware of human beings in the invisible realms. The difference between the invisible world and the physical plane is little indeed. To be able to see all this and still believe that there is meaning to it, that everything is totally just and exactly what it is because of long chains of causation going back over hundreds of lives and thousands of years, and yet refuse to condemn a single soul, requires extraordinary courage. No wonder, then, it is impossible to convey such an experience. It requires the wisdom of Hermes to assimilate such a perspective, but that wisdom is not only for the living. It is for the future, when Initiates will come into this world disguised and disseminate the self-regenerating modes of new social structures.

 Something of this vast perspective can be glimpsed by looking into the Puranas. Even if one reads just a few passages from the many volumes of the Shiva Purana, one will be amazed at its scope. The perspective is inclusive of all gods, all Rishis, all classes of souls. To begin to get a sense of this is to begin to awaken from the utter absurdity of pseudo-knowledge and gross over-generalization. It takes courage to recognize that one knows too little of the human condition and still less of universal good. Yet one can nonetheless find the strength to enter a series of self-regenerative meditations. That is what Shiva represents and it is what Buddha did archetypally. It is what all great beings have done in the past, and it can be done again at any time by anyone who is ready to go into the deepest series of meditations. If one cannot do it indefinitely and sustain it, one can make small beginnings, using a week or a month, taking advantage of the cycles of the sun and the moon, and especially times such as Shivaratri, the vigil night of Shiva. Such times should be used for spiritual self-regeneration on behalf of the humanity of the future. One may prepare by spending several days living quietly but remaining wide awake, sleeping less than normal and eating less. One could use the time to think about the universal human condition and one's own life in that context. Courage is needed for this kind of extended meditation, because once one has begun it, one cannot get out of it. Yet one is glad at certain times to enter a deeper meditation which is even more detached and in which one can tap an even profounder realm of calmness. Then one can empty out everything that comes out of this conditioned world -- touch and taste, the waters, the sky, the fire, the flame, the aether, the fire mist, even the most ethereal vesture which is ever invisible behind the cosmos.

 At this point, Shiva becomes a link between Parabrahm and Ishvara. Shiva, indeed, is in another part of himself Vishnu, and in yet another part Brahma. These are all words for a single host under a single, supreme Logos. When Shiva has, so to speak, a foot in Parabrahm, Shiva has gone to sleep. This is the immovable Shiva, totally indifferent to clime and change, unaffected by earthquakes, cataclysms and geological changes. Untouched by everything, he is the immovable rock, the eternal pillar of light, one with Parabrahm, the divine ground in the Divine Darkness. Shiva is also connected to Ishvara, the creative Logos, but Shiva knows that even something so overwhelmingly glorious as Ishvara is only an appearance and a veil. It may last for billions of years, but still that is nothing for Shiva, merely a matter of a few days, according to the old books. What for a human being is a full lifetime is like a moment for Manu, and what is a lifetime for Manu is like a day for Vishnu. But what is like a lifetime for Vishnu is only a day for Shiva. The same immensity of perspective is found in the Yoga Vasishtha, panicularly in the discourse of Bhusunda to the Sage Vasishtha. Bhusunda is only another name for the immovable Shiva, the Witness of all cycles and vast epochs of manifestation, myriads of worlds and galaxies. This reaches beyond the solar system and what are called stars and constellations in the myths connecting Shiva with Dhruva or Rohini.

 This level of contemplation is so timeless and boundless, and at the same time so subtle and mobile, that it is often symbolized by Shiva as the dancing wanderer or beggar who travels in rags and who can be in any and every situation. This perspective is so extraordinary that it is no wonder all the old pictures of Rishis and Mahatmas show them ceaselessly bowing down to Shiva, prostrating before him. They who do so much for humanity over millions of years are in a state of total awe before the immensity of the boundless mental horizon of Shiva. It is mysterious and magical that something so vast and remote is accessible to each and all, and that it can help to regenerate oneself. To earn this help, one must try to burst the boundaries of one's mental and conceptual maps, transcend the luggage picked up along the way through various religions. In talking of Shiva, one is talking of that before which one has to stand speechless because it is so overwhelming. It is like trying daily to look at the sky in order to see one belt of light through all the myriads of stars, and then to go beyond that to an even deeper darkness. This challenge -- open only to the mind which is wakeful, courageous and willing to dare -- has to do with the ancient Mysteries, which Newton called a pristine science. One cannot go far in learning without recognizing one's place in relation to those who have gone before, those who stand as Teachers and elder brothers. Ultimately, one cannot do this without earning the privilege of entering through meditation into a state of consciousness wherein one can sit and prostrate before the Ishtaguru. Only the Ishtaguru can light up those centres in human consciousness where one can experience and at the same time accommodate incredible flashes of recognition, seeing one's connection with every being on earth.

 There are initiations upon initiations, and Shiva is portrayed as the Initiator of Initiates. As Dakshinamurti, he is depicted in many temples, especially in South India, as a Sage seated cross-legged. He becomes the Teacher, the Initiator of Initiates; the yogins he is teaching are the highest human beings in evolution. Yet so great is their overwhelming love for their fellow beings that they sit together like brothers ready to make a new start. Seated in contemplation, Shiva assumes a very specific posture which represents mental and spiritual heroism. This heroism has nothing to do with external conceptions, but involves going into the most arcane recesses of humanity and plumbing to the depths the secret storehouses of all the human race. An extraordinary form of courage is needed for this. Hence, many are called but few are chosen. And of the few that are chosen, few indeed go all the way to complete enlightenment. This is why, as Buddha taught, there can never be more than one such being active in any system.

 Shiva encompasses levels upon levels of consciousness which go far beyond everything one has ever learnt or anything one has ever thought. All this is merely a foot-rule too paltry to measure what is so immense. That is why Mount Kailas is an appropriate symbol of the abode of Shiva. It is not the postal address of the hierophants, but rather a sacred representation on earth, amidst the mightiest mountains and snow-capped peaks, of innumerable secrets and hidden storehouses. Behind the pure virgin white snow, all that is good in humanity is preserved, all that is lofty, all that is elevating, all that comes down to the present from the time man became a thinking being through the lighting up of self-consciousness eighteen and three-quarter million years ago. Every noble thought, everything that is inspirational, altruistic and benevolent is recorded. The beautiful flora and fauna of Mount Kailas are such as one can see nowhere else on earth. They are literally beyond the capacity of biologists to understand or analyse. Mount Kailas is a place where the sheer wealth of Nature's material expression mirrors the inexhaustible potentials of the invisible world. But what are inaccessible potentials in the present age were actualities once, and remain so now for those who know. One day they will again become actualities for the humanities of the future. Within so vast a perspective, it can become as natural as breathing to take one's place in the human family, to do that for which one can respect oneself, without props but with the right reminders. One can face past mistakes and be willing to go into the uttermost contrition. One can also release a resolve, in the name of the Guru, with the Grace of Shiva and all the hierophants of humanity, and so move towards a better position at the moment of death, from which one may return to relieve human misery and ignorance, planting seeds for the enlightenment of future humanity.

Hermes, February 1987
by Raghavan Iyer