Shivaratri – the night of Shiva, the dark night of the moon when God makes his presence felt most strongly… ahh, don’t you feel it somewhere deep and intimate? Of course I want to stay up all night and welcome him into that intimate union, and will. Puts a different spin on the phrase, “the dark night of the soul,” doesn’t it?
I love the enigma of Shiva.
Auspicious, Dangerous and Enigmatic
Most deities, in any tradition, are revered in full light, or at full moon, while Shiva is venerated in the dark of the moon. I could make a rash generalisation by saying that most deities have a fairly uncomplicated set of attributes which their devotees promulgate. Not so simple with Shiva. He is the Auspicious One who brings his blessings freely and will even whisper into the ear of the dying, to help ease their passage. He is the handsome, desirable husband of the beautiful Parvati, and in ancient myth found a home for himself and her in the garden paradise of Kashi, the City of Light in the Forest of Bliss – his home which persists to this day as Varanasi, though the forest is gone. He is also the Destroyer, who knocks down the structures we build in brick or as the fantasies of our personality. His favourite haunt is the cremation ground. He is the vigour of the world, and he is symbolised as the phallus. Yet he is androgynous, and his feminine counterpart is his very self. One expression of his feminine self, as Kali, tramples on his masculine form, reducing him to the ranks of the vanquished under her unremitting obliteration of all that is vain, egotistic, phoney and adharmic. Her tongue drips blood as she goes about her work.
Baffles the mind
Contemplating Shiva baffles the mind until it finally gives up its desire to control and run the world. He is Mahadeva, the God of Gods. As there can be no second to the One, he becomes all there is. He is the divine of all divinity, the Being of all beings, and you yourself are one of his forms. So look all around – what you see is Shiva. Even in the mirror you see Shiva. The person you like least, who has given you so much suffering, he or she is Shiva, too. You can try promoting your ego to “I am Shiva”, and he will not argue with you – but watch out for Kali. She will see through your vainglory and swing her bloody hatchet at your ambition. And yet she is Shiva and you are Shiva.
Broadens your perspective
So contemplating Shiva as the One pushes against the mind’s tendency to see only diversity. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the “I” or ego-self is the source of the diversity, because it posits itself as the centre of the multitude. And its most compulsive tendency is to suppose that its egocentric viewpoint is the means by which reality orders itself. It takes on itself the role of the great Adjudicator, and never notices its absurd pomposity in doing so. Until you come to contemplating Shiva. The One being, having become all, judges nothing; only the small I, born of neurons flashing, does it all the time.
A different sort of god
This Shiva, the Auspicious, the Destroyer, the unstoppable creative, is totally engaged in his creations. Unlike other deistic creators, Shiva is never unhappy with his creation or his creatures. They are himself, after all. They are his infinite pleasure of self-expression. He can never look down on them from afar, he is hidden in plain sight in daily life. Look at the person beside you and you will find him. He is not the distant non-person of the Vedic Brahma, and he is not a jealous god, either. If you prefer Allah or Yahweh, he is equally pleased and revels in the tensions that play out from it all. It’s more fun than the Goodies and Baddies of TV and film.
Neither is he meek and mild – he is as much at home in the roaring cylone and the adrenalin of war as he is disporting with Parvati in the Forest of Bliss or whispering gentle promises into the ears of the dying in Kashi. He is the whole of you and all you are capable of. Actually, you are always capable of more than your mind allows, because when you forget you are Shiva, you limit yourself to a personality that has been conditioned and socialised to such small aspiration. Yet Shiva never forgets that he is you. It just doesn’t bother him that you, his avatar-form, have forgotten him. One fine day he will remind you.
Twist in the tale
Ah, but then there is a further surprise in store. Shiva is all that is non-being, too. So if your mind likes the ego stroking of “I am Shiva”, try it out on “I have no being” or “I Am-Not”. Hahahaha… that puts paid to its little trip, eh? In fact, the mind cannot contemplate its non-existence, that is an oxymoron… and yet non-being is a true description of the personal self and its world view… ooohhh, mind-boggling….
Want to escape?
Well, you might like to escape from all this by saying, “Oh, I don’t believe any of that!” But I would have to say, “Who cares? I don’t believe either. Beliefs are just a bunch of neurons firing off, in your head or mine.” No, the only question that concerns me is, What is your experience? Is it narrow and repetitive, or do you find yourself stepping foot onto the vast, mysterious plains of reality that certainly can’t be contained in a pattern of neuronal activity?
Yes, but not from Shiva
And that is what brings me to Shivaratri – the experience of Being that is also Non-Being, that shatters the habitual way our minds conjure up the same egocentric view of what reality is and what self is, day after day after month after year after decade, till the whole lifespan is exhausted in minutiae and trivia.
And so I welcome the opportunity to sit up all night, allowing the presence of Shiva, and allowing the mysterious, and allowing the greatness of that which the bundles of neurons in my head are not able to grasp. I find Shiva intimate and extraordinary and my consciousness expands to spaces that my thinking can’t take me to. And I find that Shiva indeed is none other than all I am and all I see, and I weep for the intimacy of his love that has been there all the time, all through the long years of my arrogant, needy, isolated ego.
Ah, Rumi, you could have gone further
Rumi has been known to talk about the light of the Sun as the rationalising mind. He says, turn away from the Sun and seek the Moon – by which he means the numinous, the ineffable, that which can only be dimly perceived, and then by feeling and awareness, not by intellectualising. Shivaratri, however, invites you to go further – further from the Sun, further from its reflected light in the Moon, in to utter darkness – and find there, brilliance and power and a playful creativity that is full of love. To get it though, you have to give up control and judgment, so thoroughly that you as the I-self is totally in the dark and oblivious.