Who is Shiva? Man, Myth or Divinity. Many stories and legends surround this most prominent figure in the spiritual traditions of India. It’s a God? Or a myth constructed from the collective imagination of Hindu culture? Or is there a deeper meaning to Shiva, revealed only to those who seek?
The idea of Shiva
When we say “Shiva”, there are two fundamental aspects to which we are referring. The word “Shiva” literally means, “what is not.” Today, modern science is showing that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. The basis of the existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos is mostly nothing. Galaxies are just a small event – a pinch. The rest is all vast empty space, which is known as Shiva. That is the womb from which everything is born, and that is the oblivion in which everything is sucked back. Everything comes from Shiva and goes back to Shiva.
So Shiva is described as a non-being, not a being. Shiva is not described as light, but darkness. Humanity has been praising light only for the nature of the visual apparatus that it carries. Otherwise, the only thing that is ever, is darkness. Light is a limited event in the sense that any light source – whether a light bulb or the sun – will eventually lose its ability to give birth. The light is not eternal. It is always a limited possibility, as it happens and ends. Darkness is a much bigger possibility than light. Nothing has to burn, it always is – it is eternal. Darkness is everywhere. It is the only thing that penetrates everything.
But if I say “divine darkness,” people think I’m a devil worshipper or something. In fact, in some places in the West, it is being propagated that Shiva is a demon! That is only if you look to humanify things. Think of it as an thought, a concept, there is no smarter concept on the planet about the entire creation process and how it happened. I have been talking about this in scientific terms without using the word “Shiva” with my friends, 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 it unconsciously. The lifelong peasant, he talks about it without even knowing the science behind it.
The first Yogi
On another level, when we say “Shiva”, we are referring to a certain yogi, the Adiyogi or the first yogi and also Guru Adi, the first Guru, which is the basis of what we know as the science of yoga today. Yoga does not mean headstand or holding your breath. Yoga is the science and technology to know the essential nature of how this life is created and how it can be carried to its last possibility.
This first transmission of the yogic sciences happened on the banks of the Kanti Sarovar, a glacial lake a few kilometres beyond Kedarnath in the Himalayas, where Adiyogi began a systematic exposition of this inner technology for his first seven disciples, known today as the Sapta Rishis (Seven Sages). It dates before all religion. Before people invented ways to fracture humanity to a point where it seemed almost impossible to fix, the most powerful tools needed to raise human consciousness were made and propagated.
One and oneself
So “Shiva” refers both to “what is not”, and Adiyogi, because in many ways they are synonymous. This being, which is a yogi, and that non-being, which is the basis of existence, are the same, since to call someone a yogi means that he has experienced existence as himself. If you have to contain existence within yourself even for a moment as an experience, you have to be nothing. Only nothing can contain everything.
Something can never contain everything. A ship cannot contain an ocean. This planet can host an ocean, but it cannot sustain the solar system. The solar system can support these few planets and the sun, but it cannot support the rest of the galaxy. If you go progressively like this, ultimately, you will see that only nothingness that can contain everything. The word “yoga” means “union”. A yogi is one who has experienced union. That means that, at least for a moment, it has been absolute nothingness to experience the union with existence and be one.
When we speak of Shiva as “what is not”, and Shiva as a yogi, they are in a way synonymous, however, they are two different aspects. Because India is a dialectical culture, we switch from this to that and from that to this effortlessly. One moment we speak of Shiva as the last one, the next moment we speak of Shiva as the man who gave us all this yoga process.
Who is not Shiva
Unfortunately, most people today have been introduced to Shiva only through Indian art. They have made him a chubby man, blue because the artist has only one face in his mind for Shiva. If you ask for a drawing of Krishna, a flute will be added to the hand. If you ask for Rama, a bow will be added in his hand. Shiva will be drawn with a moon over his head, simple as that.
In yogic culture, Shiva is not seen as a God. He was a being who walked on this earth and lived in the Himalayan region. As the very source of yoga traditions, his contribution to the formation of human consciousness is too phenomenal to be ignored. All the possible ways in which the human mechanism could be approached and transformed into a last possibility were explored thousands of years ago.
The sophistication of it is incredible. Whether people were that sophisticated at the time is irrelevant, since they did not come from a certain process of civilization or thought – they were free. The process occurred from an internal realization. It has nothing to do with what was happening around him. He was just an outpouring of himself. In great detail, he gave a meaning and a possibility of what could be done with each point in the human mechanism. You can’t change a single thing even today, because he said everything that could be said in such a beautiful and intelligent way. Past all these years, one can try, but ultimately may spend an entire life trying to figure it out.
To know a little more about Shiva – read the following article – Shiva, the creator and destroyer – where we look to see what each object means in its traditional representations.