The Meaning of Shiva Nataraja

In this retreat teaching, Shunyamurti continues the study of the Nataraj and explores more of its secrets.

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The Meaning of Shiva Nataraja

We’ll continue our study of the Nataraj this evening and explore more of its secrets.

This is a very recent statue—it comes from the Chola Kingdom period in classical India in early AD’s—way, long after the ancient period of the Vedic and the pre-Vedic culture. Originally, it was forbidden to make any imagery of Shiva, and the only way Shiva was presented was as the famous Shiva Lingam: that oval stone that you see in Shiva temples—not as a person, not as a deity. And there’s a reason for that. And that is that the word “Shiva”, which is the earliest name for the supreme Source of our Being is—it means “zero”. “Shiv” literally means zero, Zero Point. In India, they actually make the zero with a point; they don’t use the oval.

What happened is that the Arabs—or the Muslims who invaded India—learned about the zero, because in the West there was no zero, or the Middle East; they didn’t have that. Remember Roman numerals? There’s no zero in Roman mathematics, which held back scientific progress in the West tremendously—and when the concept of zero was brought to the West from India, it was revolutionary—and it became the basis for all of what is now taken for granted as modern mathematics, which couldn’t exist without the concept of zero—nothingness. But it was not there prior to its being retrieved in the West from India, and the Shiva Lingam became the icon of zero in Western numerology. So, you are making an Arabic version of a Shiva Lingam every time you write a zero. And, of course, it’s the same symbol that’s in the Kaabba Stone in Mecca. And because it also has the shape of a candle flame, it became the Ner Tamid, or the “eternal light”, in the Jewish synagogue, and is above the arc of the Torah.

And so, the Zero Point is both the flame, the fire, the agni, that gives that birth to all that is, that emerges from the fire, and the fire of purification and cremation into which all returns. And so, you have the ring of fire here, to signify that planetary destructive fire at the end of time, but which is also the stargate of the fire of the new creation that is being brought into being.

But what’s important is that not only did the concept of zero enter Western mathematics, but it entered Western theology. And it entered even before the Arab invasion, because there was contact between the Greeks and the Indians—in fact, the earlier Egyptians and the Indians—there was, the East did meet the West back in the ancient world—and so the Zero was already present in the esoteric schools, and gradually Zero or Nothing became the primary name of God in the West.

If you read Christian mysticism, it is clear that “Nothing” is the primary name of God for Christians. The same as Shiva. You read Meister Eckhart—it’s all through it. You read Marguerite Porete, you read Gregory of Nyssa, you read Gregory Palamas, you read Dionysius the Areopagite—all of them who come from the Neoplatonic tradition, because Alexander the Great, you remember, when he got to India, he learned all of this, and it was brought back into Greece from India back then, and it became a Greek philosophy called Pyrrhonism, that said that we have to nullify all of our beliefs if we are going to encounter the reality of our Being. And that became the basis of what later came to be called Skepticism. But Skepticism itself is already a degradation, because that’s a belief that you shouldn’t believe—but what Pyrrhonism was, was that you have to go beyond belief and disbelief, to a state of consciousness that is Nothingness—it contains no thought—and that’s when you encounter that level of consciousness that is the Godself.

It is a Nothingness that is transcendent of thought—not that is not capable of thought—it’s not the lower nothingness that is lack and defect and incoherence—but super-coherence that intuitively knows everything without having to think it out in some kind of logical form. It is all-knowing, and that all-knowingness comes from the Nothingness, which became, again, the same concept in Buddhism—Shunyata—that Nothingness or Emptiness that is the core concept of Buddhism, and you’ll find it in Taoism—the Wuji—and you’ll find it in Islam in Sufism—it’s all the same. There’s really only one religion throughout the world. They are exactly identical. When you study Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism (at least in its Kabbalistic form and I would say also say in its ancient Essene form)—they are all the same exact religion. They correspond point to point, they are simply using different linguistic terminology and cultural mythologies to elaborate that point. But that point is the attainment of Nothingness—of a mind empty of thought so that the Fullness of that which transcends thought can fully emerge in your consciousness and awaken you to the dimension of the Real that the logical mind cannot comprehend, and has, in a sense, fallen away from, through the use of language rather than the direct intuitive knowing of the Real.

And so, the concept that is being expressed here is a concept of transcending the dwarf’s form of thinking, which is that of linear, two-valued thought—good and evil, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—for that transcendent Real that is Truth that is beyond good and evil, and beyond Being and non-being. A Nothingness that contains all.

I don’t know if this particular version of Nataraj has enough detail to notice it, but the Shiva, here, is wearing two earrings: on one side it’s a male earring, and on the other side it’s a female earring. This is a version of Ardhanarishvara—which means “the Lord who is half woman”—that it is understood that God is not the Father only, but the Mother, the Source that contains both the yin and the yang, the masculine and the feminine, love as well as wisdom and truth, and that there is a complete balance, not any superiority of a patriarchal form, but a power that expresses the wholeness beyond gendered difference.

Another aspect—well, of course, you have the wild, flowing hair of the sadhu, and in the hair is the Ganga, the holy river Ganges, that flows down, which is the water of human kindness, the water of life, that is given from the head of Shiva—light comes out from the Source of Being. It is fire, but it is also water, so you have both elements. And then, of course, you have the earth element, you have the air, as mind, and you have the ether in which this Nothingness, which is also the unified quantum field, gives birth to the quantum wave functions that produce the forms of the world.

Another aspect of this that I think is important, is the four hands. And if, again, you notice four arms, two legs, and the head—you have seven—you have this same seven-fold aspect of the Godhead, but the forward left hand which is moving downward, which is backed up by its back left hand which is holding the agni, the sacred fire, this hand is called the gaja hasta mudra, which represents an elephant trunk. And it represents Ganesha—Ganesha is the son of Shiva—and so the message here is that just as in Christianity the Son of God is one with the Father—the Son is the expression of the Father. The Son’s job is the destroyer of obstacles. What is the obstacle? The ego. And the ego becomes destroyed through the recognition of its futility, its stupidity, its incoherence, and it is burned away, it is annihilated. And in the death of the ego comes the emergence of God-consciousness again.

In the same way, in the other pair of arms, you have the back arm is the damaru—time—but time is an illusion: there is eternity in which the illusion of time is contained—but because time—the word is “kal”, the same word for death—is an illusion, Shiva is known as Mahakal—the great death—the death of the illusion of death. And therefore, the forward arm on that side is saying “be not afraid”—death is a myth, an illusion, there is no death for the Real Self, fear not anything in this phenomenal world which is simply a show, a lila, a play, and nothing should ever be able to disturb you.

So, we have, in the middle of world destruction, a message: don’t take this seriously. Nothing is being destroyed that is real. This is only a holographic illusion, and soon there will be a paradise that will appear. But we have to go through this, which tests our faith in that Nothingness that transcends all that seems to appear. Because the real Nothing—because remember the world is a reflection in the mirror of God—is actually made of nothing. What is a quantum wave function? It’s nothing—there’s nothing material to it. There’s no reality to it—that’s why the Buddhists say that the world is empty—it’s a flux, nothing stays the same—there is nothing real to hold on to.

And in this constantly moving illusion, the only way that we can remain at peace and understand it is to let go of any attempt to try to grasp or hold on—you cannot catch the wind. You cannot capture reality through the attempt of the mind to conceptualize it, or of the attempt to control any objects or beings in the world—there’s no possibility of that. The only empowerment comes from withdrawing into the Nothingness and realizing that that Nothing is all-encompassing, all-creating, and all-containing—but without any need for anything from its own reflection. And so, therefore, one attains freedom and swatantrya, or independence.

And through realizing that the world is empty of any essence, there is nothing to be gained from any experience. There’s only gain from the annihilation of the ego that wants to experience things, in order to get some kind of fuel, some kind of stimulation, some kind of identity from someone else, some kind of validation. The only real validation comes from the realization of the Godself, not from anything you can get externally—and the best you can get externally is someone pointing you to the Godself—that’s the role of the guru function, but not to then bow and worship the guru, but to recognize the guru is within all, equally, and there is no hierarchy when it comes to the Truth of our Being—hierarchies are all within the relative frame of reference of organizational logic but has nothing to do with the Truth of our Being, in which all of us are equally and fully manifestations of God, and therefore absolutely perfect, regardless of the role that the ego might be playing in the world, that has nothing to do with who you are and what you are. And so whatever role that might be, is within the perfection of the intelligence of the God-mind. And that is why, then, this cobra appears, which represents both the kundalini, the kundalini risen, and the conquest of the passions—the cobra that can bite you and poison and kill you, that has been conquered.

So, once you have realized the Godself and the emptiness of the world that has nothing to offer you, that the only real offering comes from the Source, then nothing can tempt you, nothing can distract you, nothing can take your heart from the Godself and pour it into any object of desire—you belong to that Source and you manifest as that power in the world that keeps you totally stable and able to move through the world with grace.

So, this image is enabling you to reach the level of consciousness of timelessness and formlessness. And in the same way that Christ is half-God, half-man, or all God, if you wish, the image of Ganesha is both half-human and half-elephant, if you will. But the elephant represents that superhuman power of nature to create beings that are monumental, and it represents that incorporeal greatness of the Self that can manifest even in a very ordinary form. But it is this recognition that no matter how your form is, you are always the manifestation of the formless. And so, never get worried about what you look like or how you appear to others; it is only your non-appearing, quality-less Self that is real. That’s the whole meaning of Nirgun Brahman—Brahman which is the impersonal version of the same absolute consciousness means “without qualities”. Without qualities means Nothing.

So it is that no-thing-ness that is beyond the creation, not less than, or a defective version of, but that which is beyond and has no need to condescend to exist or to take form. And the only way that this infinite consciousness could possibly take form is as an entire cosmos, because its absolute simplicity contains infinite potentiality. And therefore the cosmos is the work of art—I wouldn’t say it’s a result of vanity so much as of creative intelligence and joy in creating infinite forms of beauty, and enabling those to be shared with a multiplicity of versions of the Self in order to increase and augment the amount of joy and bliss in the world, to infinite proportions.

And so, it is all about joy and it is all about beauty, goodness, and truth—it’s not about suffering. But once the dwarf comes in, who through the being conquered by beauty and wanting to possess it because it has forgotten its quality-less nature and has taken it, mistakenly, as a defect and a lack, has entered into a state through the power of its own consciousness, because it believes in its lack of being, now it has a lack of being—it has created a structure of consciousness that in fact has fallen into illusion and ignorance of its own nature. But that had to happen in order for the joy of the revelation of that nature again to be able to appear. So, without ignorance you wouldn’t have the astonishment of awakening and illumination, and who would want that? Right?

So, there has to be this cycle of day and night, awakening and then falling into the sleep of ignorance, and then awakening again, and this Nataraj represents this moment of awakening. And the moment of awakening to the Godself also happens to be the destruction of the world of the dwarves, and the restoration of the world of the gods and goddesses who will be the avatars of that Nothingness, and who will be able to maintain that level of awakened consciousness for another age, so that life becomes again a party, a place of total joy and absolute magical capacities that have atrophied because we have projected our desire for magic into technology. And so, we prefer the magic of an iPhone to the magic of telepathic communication with each other, without needing any phones, all right? And we somehow prefer Facebook to the faceless Self that can have its internet connection with everyone—but it’s that holy communion in which all of us are once again connected to one another without the intermediary of computers and of electricity that enables the world to function with absolute perfection without getting in each other’s way—or our own way—because our own consciousness has become incoherent.

But to make all of the fragments of consciousness coherent, they all have to point to the same Source, they have to point toward the Nothing that has emanated them into apparent beingness, or at least becomingness. And that can only happen if all of the fragments of your ego simultaneously rise in love with God. OK? With the Source. They’re never going to love each other because they’re antagonistic fragments, in the same way that there will be two norths of the magnet that will never come together—the elements of the ego are in conflict, and they all want different things, and that’s why the ego had to dissociate from its own center in order to be able to develop and maintain conflicting goals, because it wanted to satisfy the demands of different people, and different forces within the social order, which required different sub-personalities.

But once we recognize that we are not subjected to that order, except voluntarily, and we decide to surrender to God rather than the big Other of society, or the medium other of a family system, then we will, once again, have the power of that Source drawing us back into that core of the Zero Point, and all of the ego fragments will melt in the fire of purification, and the Godself will re-emerge as who you are, with the knowledge that this is who you have always been, and cannot be any different, because the Self is changeless and beyond time or space or form, and therefore beyond being a thing that could be changed—the Self is not a composite, it’s not made of parts, and its absolute simplicity is never disturb-able, then, by any events.

So, this is the consciousness that we are to regain through meditation, but we can only do that when we recognize that there is a level of consciousness transcendent of thought—and we have such a level of curiosity about it that we want to know, “Who am I who is beyond thought and creating thought?” So that higher thoughts, more intelligent kinds of thoughts, can be put into the mind from that Source, rather than the repetitive thoughts that have been placed on the tape machine of the mind in childhood and through a faulty educational system—but the thoughts that come directly from the Source that are accurate and that can therefore understand the universe.

So, it is an educational process to let go of all of the beliefs that the ego has and is, in order to recognize the non-egoic Self, uncreated, ungendered, without form, without any objective correlative, that is pure Presence, pure awareness, pure intelligence, pure light, pure love—and that is what emerges within everyone if you are willing to discover who you really are, and not settle for an illusory self-image that you’ve been you are or that others want you to be for their sake. When you are free to discover and to abide as who you are, you will discover that you are none other than the supreme Beingness—not a person, the gyani, the one who gains the knowledge, gains it at the cost of believing him or herself to be a separate person. There is only gyana, not a gyani. This is a very important point—the knowledge that is gained in God-consciousness can never be appropriated by an ego who will then feel superior and try to use that knowledge to gain control over others—it’s a failsafe method. You can pretend to do that, but the moment the ego comes back and wants to say “I am God” and say that from the perspective of an embodied being, all of that knowledge is lost, and one is back in the imprisonment of a megalomaniac ego with psychopathic tendencies, but without any power to effect the power of God.

And so, it is important that we respect the truth and not try to have a pretense of the gaining of God-consciousness as an egoic-formed being, but, therefore, the humble surrender to the Godself that transcends any individual form, and the recognition of that Godself manifesting though everyone, is an essential, ethical element of the spiritual journey toward truth and love, and the recognition that there is nothing special about any particular being, and the only real specialness comes from the destruction of the belief in that separate being.

And so, interestingly, your salvation comes from your annihilation, and the two are the same, and so therefore the Mahakal, the great death, is also the eternal light and life, and you can’t have one without the other.

OK, I think that covers the main symbols. There’s a lot more that we could go into, the sacred veshti that is flowing here is the kind of clothing that Brahmin priests would wear, but the Brahmin—and he also has the sacred thread of the Brahmin—but this is, there are, you see two threads that become one; it is the unification of duality. And that brings one into the highest level of human consciousness which in the Vedic level of conceptualizing of the society was the Brahmin. The Brahmin represented that class of beings who, for Plato, in his republic, would be called the “philosopher kings”, or the “prophets” in the Hebrew tradition. The prophets are not the kings, the philosopher kings are not the actual rulers, the Brahmins don’t want any power, but their wisdom is such that they can veto any mistaken laws made by the king or the parliament or whatever—because their wisdom is recognized by the social order and, thus, the society can be kept on an even keel, and actively and incorruptibly moving through time, so long as there is a class of beings dedicated to being in God-consciousness and who are not interested in rule or in wealth or in prestige or power of any other sort, than the transmission of wisdom.

And this gave birth to the whole idea of a class of wise beings raised separately from those who would be involved in political power, military power, mercantile success and profit or any of the other classes of society—and these are the shamans within a tribal context. And shamans are very often transgender; they cannot be identified as either male or female. There’s the transcendence of desire which takes one beyond the limitations of the erotic differential that brings about desire and fear.

And so, this state of consciousness brings peace, and it creates a space of a sanctuary, of a holy temple, in which all can come and feel safe. If there is not a place in society where all can come for refuge, then the society becomes a jungle in which there is not an ability to overcome paranoia. And once that was lost, once the function of the Brahmins as a social order was degraded and no longer able to function accurately, then society became much more violent, and in order to eliminate feuds and conflicts between members of society who would often fight over a woman or over a hunt—prey—or some finding of a treasure or whatever—whatever that conflict was, it would only then be able to resolved through sacrifice. There would have to be a ritual killing, whether of an animal, in some cases, or of a human sacrifice.

And so, that sacrificial order replaced the original order of the sacrifice of the ego, that would enable society to have a safe place in which differences could be resolved, mediated, arbitrated, and determined peacefully without the need for violence. But once violence came in, then there was a need for the sacrificial action, and gradually the sacrifices were not sufficient to appease the bloodlust of people whose anger was now out of control in the dwarf-consciousness and wars began and out of control social systems. So, this was the original will of God to keep the society at peace, and able to resolve its conflicts with wisdom and with love, and not with violence.

And it’s that return to non-violence—to a communal non-violence—a community that is a refuge and a place where people can come to be unburdened by their inner conflicts and outer ones, that is the function of the ashram, or the monastery in Western terms. And it is that function of the monk, or of the yogi, to be able to maintain an oasis of peace, even in a world at war. And so, we are continuing that great tradition and hoping that these oases from the grassroots will gradually sprout up in all various regions of the planet and give birth to a new network of peaceful, social orders, that are integrate-able and in harmony with that supreme principle of love and truth.

And so, you’re all invited to be a part of this great movement of awakening, and the creation of these oases of peace that the world itself is meant to be.



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