The Metaphor of Shiva
Shiva is the highest consciousness, anuttara—peerless, beyond the grasping power of the mind, embraced in the cosmic play of Shakti, the manifesting energy. Beyond attributes, He cannot be known. The only way to understand Him with the ordinary mind is through metaphor. Spirituality lives in the realm of metaphors. To paraphrase Nicolaus Cusanus, wisdom cannot be obtained without understanding that by using a metaphor, the untouchable is touched in an untouching manner. Such symbolic visions invite us to open our souls in devotion and empathy. Thus, we dive even deeper into this enticing journey, seeing ourselves as Shiva in all these personifications. This becomes a process of transformation that leads to the rediscovery of our cosmic nature, taking us beyond the boundaries of the ordinary.
How Can We Open to Grace?
Shiva is also grace, without which the recognition of our divine essence would not be possible. The outpouring of grace is continuous, limitless, and does not discriminate—just as the sun gives its light without favoring one flower over another. So what accounts for the difference between a saint and an ordinary person? Their ability to receive this constant shower of grace. How can we increase our openness to grace? Metaphor can be a support. It has the gift of creating a connection beyond the mind by using the mind’s limited capacity to understand. We need to bridge the personal and the universal in order to ignite the fire of aspiration, without which spiritual transformation is difficult, if not impossible. Metaphors create a personal relationship with divinity. Thus, they “humanize” a cosmic consciousness that is far beyond what the mind can grasp or understand.
By Destroying Desires, Shiva Returns All to Its Essence
For example, Shiva is seen as the ascetic, the one who is detached from the worries and passions of the world. Disturbed in meditation by Kama, the god of love and desire, Shiva turned him to ashes.
At the end of any cycle of existence, Shiva is responsible for manifestation’s return to transcendence. After creation, after the joy of experiencing life in duality, everything dissolves into absolute non-differentiation, from which it is possible to begin a new cycle. Attachment turns this process into something painful, a “death” instead of a return to essence, and that is why Shiva is often seen meditating in cremation grounds or cemeteries. He is the detachment necessary for surrender to transcendence, and so it is the serenity of meditation that provides the peace required to pass into the unmanifest.
The Master of the Cosmic Banquet
However, Shiva is not entirely an ascetic. Shakti draws him into the cosmic play of existence. Forgetful of the world, He spends all His time in loving union with energy. Though detached from the world, He enjoys its pleasures and, thus, is the “patron” of Tantra. For it is the same things that chain the ordinary person to oblivion that help those guided by Shiva reach transcendence. Thus, the world’s joy no longer represents a guilty pleasure denied by the ascetic, but is embraced as an offering to the presence of divinity everywhere and in everything.
The Dancer of the Cosmic Dance
Another beautiful metaphor is the representation of Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Cosmic Dance. Surrounded by flames (for he is Kalagni, the devouring fire of time), Shiva dances, balanced on one leg, crushing the demon of oblivion under His sole. His act of dancing is the very creation of the vibration in which the Universe unfolds.
In one hand, He holds the damaru, a small drum with which He gives rhythm to creation. This is spanda—the Sacred Tremor of the Heart. The world is vibration, music, because everything is rhythm, frequency. Two other hands form the gestures of removing fear and offering gifts, symbols of maintaining existence. And the fourth hand holds in its palm a flame, symbolic of dissolution and transformation. The cosmic dance is a succession of creation, preservation, and reabsorption into transcendence.
In the heart of the world, Shiva is what we are looking for. And, ultimately, we find that we are what we have been looking for…
Sebastian Teodor is a Hridaya Yoga teacher serving at our center in Romania.