The Real Significance of Shiva

“Shiva is the divine dancer . . . There is the dance of Nataraja. It shows him at the centre of the Universe. He has four arms; in one right hand he holds the drum, standing for creative sound; with the other he makes the sign of Abhayam or “do not fear”; in the third hand he holds fire – the fire of change and destruction, and the fourth points to his triumph over the dwarf. Around him is a halo of fire. This is his eternal dance of creation, maintenance, destruction and deliverance. The macrocosmic dance must find its reflection at the microcosmic level, in the heart of the individual.” (from “Shiva – The Yogi of Yogis” in “The Theosophical Movement” magazine)

“The adept sees and feels and lives in the very source of all fundamental truths – the Universal Spiritual Essence of Nature, SHIVA the Creator, the Destroyer, and the Regenerator. As Spiritualists of to-day have degraded “Spirit,” so have the Hindus degraded Nature by their anthropomorphic conceptions of it. Nature alone can incarnate the Spirit of limitless contemplation. “Absorbed in the absolute self-unconsciousness of physical Self, plunged in the depths of true Being, which is no being but eternal, universal Life,” his whole form as immoveable and white as the eternal summits of snow in Kailasa [i.e. Mount Kailash in Tibet, considered a sacred mountain by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains] where he sits, above care, above sorrow, above sin and worldliness, a mendicant, a sage, a healer, the King of Kings, the Yogi of Yogis,” such is the ideal Shiva of Yoga Shastras, the culmination of Spiritual Wisdom.”
(Mahatma K.H.)

The name “Shiva” literally means “Auspicious One.” There are five main views or ideas of who or what Shiva actually is or of who or what is actually represented by this name. The two most popular and pervasive concepts of Shiva are in fact the most distorted:

(1) The most popular is the general Hindu conception of Shiva as a personal, anthropomorphic God living in the heavens and desirous of prayers, worship, and rituals. This popular approach to Shiva tends to be almost entirely Bhakti (devotion) oriented and usually has little to do with philosophy or metaphysics.

(2) Then there is the Hindu tantric concept of Shiva. Virtually all the forms and systems of Hindu tantra revolve around Shiva and his Shakti or feminine power or aspect, which is often represented by the names and imagery of Durga, Kali, and Parvati. Theosophy is not opposed to tantra in itself, seeing as tantra can be either “white” or “black.” But the majority of Hindu tantric systems, like those of Tibetan Buddhism, ultimately centre upon sexual tantra and this is the worst type of black magic, according to H. P. Blavatsky and her Adept Teachers. It is unfortunate that the name and image of Shiva has been sullied in this way. For explanations regarding pure forms of Hindu tantra, such as Sri Vidya, which is associated with Adi Shankaracharya and Advaita Vedanta, please see the relevant sections in a long article here.

The three lesser known views of Shiva are all valid and legitimate from the Theosophical perspective and although they may at first appear to be referring to three different things, they are in fact all interrelated and in cosmic correspondence with one another:

(3) One is that Shiva is a term for the power or force or energy of destruction and regeneration within the Universe, on all of its planes and levels. This destroyer–regenerator energy is one of the three main energies of the Logos. The Logos by definition is not the Absolute or the Infinite but is the one all-ensouling light and life of the Universe and which was projected forth from the Absolute when the Universe came into being. The Logos is not a Being or an Entity or “God” and so Shiva can never be properly understood if thought of in the popular Hindu way outlined at the start. Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva (the Hindu Trinity or Trimurti) symbolise the creative (or formative), preservative (or sustaining), and destructive (and then regenerating) forces in Nature and in man. Interestingly, HPB states that Shiva is “in his character of Destroyer higher than Vishnu, the Preserver,” because while Vishnu preserves things as they are, Shiva “destroys only to regenerate on a higher plane.” Theosophically, as among some Hindus, the term “Shiva” has sometimes been used, however, for the entire collectivity of Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, and not only for the latter.

(4) Shiva can also be a name applied to Atman, the Higher Self of each of us, our Seventh Principle in Theosophical terminology. The One Universal Self of All, pure eternal spirit, CONSCIOUSNESS ITSELF, is of course nameless, but no less an Initiate than the great Adi Shankaracharya – the main codifier and formulator of the Advaita Vedanta (non-duality, non-dualism) form of Hinduism – sometimes used “Shiva” as a synonym for “Atman.” The name “Shankara” or “Shankar” is one of Shiva’s numerous synonyms in Hindu tradition and the man we know of as Shankaracharya was given that name of Shankara-Acharya (literally “Shiva-Teacher”) as he was considered an Avatar of Shiva. Most Advaitis tend to feel more of a connection to the name and figure of Shiva than to Vishnu or Krishna, who is most greatly venerated by the Vishishtadvaitis (semi-dualists) and Dvaitis (dualists). Shankaracharya wrote the Ten-Versed Hymn (Dasha Shloki), the first nine verses of which all end with the affirmation, “I am the secondless, supreme and attributeless Bliss of Shiva.” That is true not only for him but for all of us. Whatever name we may apply to the highermost part of our being – whether Atman, Brahman, Shiva, Krishna, Christos, Buddha Nature, etc. – it is the Ultimate ONE, not a He or a She but a THAT. The Ten-Versed Hymn concludes: “Say not that It is One, as there can be no second, nothing other than That. There is neither uniqueness nor commonality, neither entity nor non-entity; this secondless One is neither void nor plenum. How can I convey this supreme wisdom?” Bhavani Shankar, a chela of the Theosophical Mahatmas, says that when one reaches to the point of enlightenment, “his Jiva [i.e. used here in the Hindu context of “individual soul”] has become Shiva, the Self.”

(5) The least known of all views about Shiva is one which is not found in Hinduism, nor any other religion, for it belongs to the Secret Doctrine, “the anciently universal Wisdom-Religion” as H. P. Blavatsky has called it, also known as the Gupta Vidya, the Esoteric Philosophy, the Ageless Wisdom, Occult Science, and so forth. Those are all synonyms for Theosophia (literally Divine Wisdom), the knowledge of the Masters of Wisdom, who authorised a portion of that Wisdom to be made available to the world in the teachings we call Theosophy. “The Secret Doctrine” tells us that Shiva, although not the personal anthropomorphic god of popular belief, is nonetheless a name (one of many) applied to an actual great Being, the greatest of all Beings that live upon this Earth. Directly associated with Shambhala, he is the supreme Head, Chief, and Guru of all Adepts and Masters, and also stands behind the evolution of humanity in its Third (Lemurian), Fourth (Atlantean), and the present Fifth (Aryan, i.e. Indo-Caucasian) Root Races. This “Wondrous Being,” also called the Great Sacrifice, the Initiator, the Solitary Watcher, and “The Tree from which the Adepts grow,” is understood to be in some sense an incarnation of the Universal Logos.

With these points and explanations in mind, we can perhaps now derive the most benefit, understanding, and inspiration from the following collection of Theosophical quotes about Shiva.

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Siva (Sk.). The third person of the Hindu Trinity (the Trimûrti). He is a god of the first order, and in his character of Destroyer higher than Vishnu, the Preserver, as he destroys only to regenerate on a higher plane. He is born as Rudra, the Kumâra, and is the patron of all the Yogis, being called, as such, Mahâ-Yogi, the great ascetic. His titles are significant: Trilochana,“the three-eyed”, Mahâdeva, “the great god”, Sankara, etc., etc., etc.” (H. P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 301, Entry for “Siva”)

Trimûrti (Sk.). Lit., “three faces”, or “triple form” – the Trinity. In the modern Pantheon these three persons are Brahmâ, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. But this is an afterthought, as in the Vedas neither Brahmâ nor Shiva is known, and the Vedic trinity consists of Agni, Vâyu and Sûrya; or as the Nirukta explains it, the terrestrial fire, the atmospheric (or aërial), and the heavenly fire, since Agni is the god of fire, Vâyu of the air, and Sûrya is the sun. As the Padma Purâna has it: “In the beginning, the great Vishnu, desirous of creating the whole world, became threefold: creator, preserver, destroyer. In order to produce this world, the Supreme Spirit emanated from the right side of his body, himself, as Brahmâ; then, in order to preserve the universe, he produced from the left side of his body Vishnu; and in order to destroy the world he produced from the middle of his body the eternal Shiva. Some worship Brahmâ, some Vishnu, others Shiva; but Vishnu, one yet threefold, creates, preserves, and destroys, therefore let the pious make no difference between the three.” The fact is, that all the three “persons” of the Trimûrti are simply the three qualificative gunas or attributes of the universe of differentiated Spirit-Matter, self-formative, self-preserving and self-destroying, for purposes of regeneration and perfectibility. This is the correct meaning; and it is shown in Brahmâ being made the personified embodiment of Rajoguna, theattribute or quality of activity, of desire for procreation, that desire owing to which the universe and everything in it is called into being. Vishnu is the embodied Sattvaguna, that property of preservation arising from quietude and restful enjoyment, which characterizes the intermediate period between the full growth and the beginning of decay; while Shiva, being embodied Tamoguna – which is the attribute of stagnancy and final decay – becomes of course the destroyer. This is as highly philosophical under its mask of anthropomorphism, as it is unphilosophical and absurd to hold to and enforce on the world the dead letter of the original conception.” (HPB, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 340-341, Entry for “Trimurti”)

“There is seen to be a double atmosphere around Shiva. On the one hand, he is terrible, a destroyer of ordinary passions and desires. On the other hand, he is auspicious, as far as man’s higher strivings and aspirations, love for knowledge, etc., are concerned. To this aspect in us, Shiva is auspicious. Thus, we are assured that there is a power in the Universe, which supports and is ever ready to help if we decide to live the spiritual life. Shiva is called Pashupati – the shepherd, the lord of the flock, because all souls attempting to learn the esoteric truths are tended by Shiva.

The Secret Doctrine describes Shiva as the fountainhead, “the ever-living-human-banyan” from whom all the historically known Sages and Hierophants, such as Rishi Kapila, Hermes, Enoch, Orpheus, etc. have branched off. He is the MAHA GURU (the great guru) under whose guidance other less divine teachers and instructors taught the first lessons of arts, sciences and spiritual knowledge to infant humanity and laid the first foundation-stone of the ancient civilizations. An inspiring passage in the S.D., describes Shiva as a GREAT SACRIFICE, a being who has nothing more to learn and yet remains in the atmosphere of this earth – in contact with human misery – in order to help humanity to cross over the ocean of life safely. Thus:

“Why does the solitary Watcher sit at his self-chosen post? . . . Because the lonely, sore-footed pilgrims on their way back to their home are never sure to the last moment of not losing their way in this limitless desert of illusion and matter called Earth-Life. Because he would fain show the way to that region of freedom and light, from which he is a voluntary exile himself, to every prisoner who has succeeded in liberating himself from the bonds of flesh and illusion. Because, in short, he has sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, though but a few Elect may profit by the GREAT SACRIFICE.” (S.D., I, 208)” (“Shiva – The Yogi of Yogis,” “The Theosophical Movement” magazine, February 2007, published by the United Lodge of Theosophists in India)

“He [i.e. the spiritual aspirant at the point of enlightenment] has relinquished all possessions, he is devoid of the sense of ‘mine’-ness. He does mere bodily action, which means that his actions are strictly restricted to keep his body living, as regards which, again, there is no idea of possession in him. His body is not his but has now become a temple of Divinity, as his Jiva has become Shiva, the Self.” (Bhavani Shankar, “The Doctrine of The Bhagavad Gita”)

“Each aspirant has to perform daily actions in the natural course of his life, using his own free will and knowledge. He has to eat to build his body as a shrine of his soul; again, he has to sacrifice himself to fulfil his obligations to his inner life and self-discipline; further, he voluntarily gives of himself and his possessions as gifts – all these are acts of austerity, of mortification, resulting from his tapas-meditation, held out as silent, secret and sacred oblations to the Inner Ruler, and to the Guru to whose bidding he has devoted his life and whose Hand is extended in protecting love over him.

“By this process the secular life is made holy; the performance of this continuous Yagna or sacrifice is the means whereby the good and pious soul who has hitherto undergone human evolution on the Path of Forthgoing, Pravritti Marga, enters the Nivritti Marga, the Path of Return. No more need he propitiate the devas by rites and ceremonies, following the precedent of Daksha, the Archetypal Ritualist and procreator of the good but mortal man. He now comes under the regenerative power of the Egyptian Thoth, the “Thrice-great Hermes,” Shiva-Mahadeva, the Maha Yogi, the Patron Saint of all Yogis, the Archetypal Renouncer, the Teacher par excellence of Immortality. He is called “the first divine physician,” “for he cures the disease called mortality”; and so he is “the auspicious.”” (B. P. Wadia, “Sacrifices and Sacrifice,” “Living The Life” p. 154-155)

“Siva-Rudra is the Destroyer, as Vishnu is the preserver; and both are the regenerators of spiritual as well as of physical nature. To live as a plant, the seed must die. To live as a conscious entity in the Eternity, the passions and senses of man must first DIE before his body does. “To live is to die and to die is to live,” has been too little understood in the West. Siva, the destroyer, is the creator and the Saviour of Spiritual man, as he is the good gardener of nature. He weeds out the plants, human and cosmic, and kills the passions of the physical, to call to life the perceptions of the spiritual, man.” (HPB, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 459)

“. . . Siva, the destroying deity, evolution and PROGRESS personified, who is the regenerator at the same time; who destroys things under one form but to recall them to life under another more perfect type.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 182)

“In India, God is called in various dialects, Eashoor, Esur, Iswur, and IsVara [i.e. Ishwara], in Sanskrit the Lord, from Isa, but this is primarily the name of Siva, the Destroyer . . .” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 114)

“Let us remember that Siva is pre-eminently and chiefly an ascetic, the patron of all Yogis and Adepts . . .” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 282)

“. . . Rudra Siva, the great Yogi, the forefather of all the Adepts – in Esotericism one of the greatest Kings of the Divine Dynasties. Called “the Earliest” and the “Last,” he is the patron of the Third, Fourth, and the Fifth Root-Races.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 502)

“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 VidyaShiva 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, indeed, is in another part of himself Vishnu, and in yet another part Brahmā. 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 Ishvarathe 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, particularly 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. . . .

“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 at any given time.

“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.” (Raghavan Iyer, “Shiva and Self-Regeneration,” “Hermes” magazine, February 1987, published by the United Lodge of Theosophists, Santa Barbara, California, also in “The Gupta Vidya”)

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Adi Shankaracharya was mentioned at the start of this article. One of his hymns is called the Dakshinamurti Stotra or Stotram, which many Theosophists believe – and Bhavani Shankar stated – is referring to the Maha-Guru, the Great Sacrifice, the Lord of Shambhala, of “The Secret Doctrine,” mentioned earlier:

“It is strange to see the very old disciples, sat around the Teacher of ever-youthful appearance, who sits beneath the Banyan Tree. The Teacher always teaches in silence, yet the disciples receive the answers to all their questions. Salutations to that Dakshinamurti, who is the meaning of the Pranava – OM – who is the personification of unalloyed Wisdom, who is crystal clear in his thought, and who is the epitome of peace. Salutations to that Dakshinamurti, who is the Teacher of the entire world, who is the doctor to those afflicted by the disease of birth and death, and who is the treasure house of all knowledge.”

Shankara said that this was the Adi-Guru, meaning the First Guru, the First of all Spiritual Teachers and he recognised him as an embodiment of Shiva. Although the above paragraph is the best known part of it, the full version of the Hymn to Dakshinamurti or the Dakshinamurti Stotram consists of ten paragraphs or stanzas. It can be read in full by clicking here.

“Dakshinamurti” literally means “the one who faces south,” which suggests an image of a great Being who is sat at the top or very highest or uppermost point, perhaps the apex of a triangle, and embraces the entirety of the world within his far-reaching gaze. A short extract from it used to be included in every issue of “The Theosophical Movement” magazine, when B. P. Wadia was editor: “Ah! the wonder of the Banyan Tree. There sits the Guru Deva, a youth, and the disciples are elders; the teaching is silence, and still the disciples’ doubts are dispelled.”

Mount Kailash in Tibet

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