Reflections on the Shiva Purana: A Call to Yoga Practice
Over the last year I have had the honor of holding continuing dialogues with many exquisite minds who have challenged me and moved my thinking in different directions. Responding to my previous posts on Buddhism, yoga, and Mindfulness, a friend, computer scientist, yoga practitioner and Hindu thinker felt there was need for a discussion of Shiva-Shakti consciousness. Below, we present a summary of some of the events of the Shiva Purana. The Puranas are ancient Hindu texts, highly inconsistent and composed of multiple sometimes conflicting accounts, that offer encyclopedic writings on cosmology, medicine, genealogies of gods, mineralogy and much more. These writings have been told, written, read, rewritten, and reread for thousands of years. Here, we offer an overview of one Purana, and close with a short commentary on the implications of this story for our time.
Shiva and Shakti: The Source of the Universe
According to Hindu mythology, before the beginning of time, there was only dark energy and dark matter in the universe. The universe was a complete vacuum, a state referred to as Shunya, the formless manifestation of the god Shiva. According to De Broglie's concept of matter, matter has two forms, that of wave, and that of particle. Similarly, the god of gods in the Hinidu pantheon, Shiva is in the form of a duality. At once Shiva embodies the stable particle state which is his physical masculine form (pictured here with crescent moon adorning his dark hair, and snake wrapped about his neck). Simultaneously, Shiva is also a wave. This wave is the vibrational energy that is Shakti, embodied physically by the goddess Parvati. Hindu cosmology explains that the coming together of these two forms, Shiva and Shakti led to the birth of the universe that we can observe and experience today. Thus, in Hinduism, Shiva and Shakti are the source of our world, the parents of this universe.
The creation of the universe marked the first period of time out of four in the Hindu cycle of time. These periods or eras are called Yuga. Shiva is one of three gods who came into form at the creation of the universe composing the Hindu trinity of supreme divinity, called trimurti. The other two are Vishnu, the maintainer of the universe, and Brahma, the creator of the universe who decides the reincarnation of all things according to their karma. Shiva, who is god of destruction, along with Vishnu and Brahma progress Hindu cosmology and move the universe through the cycle of time.
Shiva, the lord of yoga is depicted as an austere and wise man meditating in the Himalayan mountains. Through the power of yoga practice and meditation, he is said to have achieved the highest state of realization atop Mt. Kailash. Mt. Kailash, in the Kailash range of modern day Tibet, is a site that remains important not only to Hindus, but also to Buddhists and Jains whom refer to the site as Mt. Meru. It is told that where Shiva sat to meditate atop this snow-covered mountain, green grass flourished as he became bright as the sun. The trees around him bore heavy juice-filled fruit, and as he sat in single-focused attention, flowers bloomed to their fullest and the creatures around him were in bliss.
As is all too apparent in our current world that Brahma, the god charged with creation, also formed demons, beings filled with greed, lust, anger and all other forms of suffering. Some of these demons performed severe austerities, or tapasya hoping to become immortal. The gossip amongst these demons was that Shiva’s one-pointed focus was so strong, he would never become a house holder nor bear children. Thus, they prayed that their only weakness would be to the children of Shiva, thinking such children would never come. When these demons spread through the universe they began to wreak havoc upon all; the Gods, the demi-Gods, humans and the environment, and as we can see, they continue to do so. Brahma and Vishnu, hoping to put an end to these demons prayed for Shakti to take on physical form to conquer Shiva's heart knowing that they would bear a child, the god Ganesh, a remover of obstacles and destroyer of demons.
After much prayer, Shakti took the physical form of the goddess Parvati. Parvati was determined to meet Shiva, entice him and to marry him, no easy task given Shiva’s advanced meditative state. At first, she was not able to break Shiva's focus and sought after him using many tricks. After some time, she realized that she had forgotten her true identity, of which the searching for, and acceptance of is Shiva’s sole interest (that practice of self-discovery being of course, yoga). She thus began to meditate rigorously to achieve a one-pointed focus, that of the level of Shiva.
After years of an austere Kundalini yoga, a tantric yoga that includes the chanting of mantra, breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation, Parvati lost all of her weight and became pale. At this time, she reached the same vibrational frequency as Shiva. Shannon’s information theory simply states that communication can happen when two parties are at the same frequency, and Parvati having reached Shiva’s state asked the secret of his strong focus. Shiva, about to tell Parvati his secret, suddenly fell asleep. Annoyed, Parvati lost her one-pointed focus. It is said that it took her 108 births to achieve the same level of meditation once more. After 108 births, she again achieved one-pointed focus. Parvati became as radiant as the sun and more powerful than Shiva. Shiva awoke and accepted Parvati as partner. The birth of two sons followed, Ganesha, the representation of good luck and positivity, and Karthikeya, the symbol of power. This cosmic family of gods to this day reside on the ever-radiant Mt. Kailash. Many thousands of people continue to this day to make pilgrimage to this holy site.
Our Shared Interpretation
The Shiva Purana helps us to understand the power of yoga. As the food we eat supplies us with physical power, the meditation that we do provides us with mental and spiritual energy. This energy in a sense builds a protective shield around us and cleanses our mind, allowing us to let go of worries. Our aura, our wellbeing is renewed. If we practice yoga, the stability of mind that we can achieve, in tandem with the deep sense of compassion for our self and others that is produced is an enormous step towards the production of a more stable and just world. The practice of yoga can calm the negativity that surrounds us and pervades our minds, and allows us to engage with the world with intention and stability. In this way, the earth can be a place as beautiful and resplendent as the mystical Mt. Kailash. Achieving a state of one-pointed focus did not come easy for the goddess Parvati, so there is no question that it will not come easily for us. The message is that regardless, as Parvati, we need to persevere and continue our practice.
We all possess the courage, drive and perseverance of Parvati because we are that direct one manifestation of Shiva-Shakti energy. We are that primal universal force, which means that we are capable of achieving what Shiva and Parvati themselves have achieved. The events happening around us today urge the Shakti energy within us to come forth and take birth as Parvati. By practicing yoga, we invoke the feelings of kindness and love for all creatures. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to achieve that state (108 births), but we have to stay determined until we unite Shiva and Shakti within us, which gives birth to positivity, power and happiness (Ganesha and Karthikeya). That birth is an end to the ignorance of our true Self. Our true Self being that that is divine oneness. When we know and act as if we are that one universal force to be revered, then we also know that all other beings require the same reverence. That is a realization that can dispel the million demons plaguing our time.
As Parvati had forgotten her true identity while pining after Shiva, most of us have also forgotten our real identity —loving manifestations of Shiva-Shakti energy. Thus, we make a call for everyone to practice yoga. Yoga that is not just physical posture, but a difficult, deep, unceasing practice that challenges us to look within ourselves to confront our fear and our pain. A practice that is both personal and internal, as well as external in our very human and flawed world. With every breath taken consciously in yoga practice, we experience rebirth and renewal, allowing us to become more present with, and more compassionate of the human experience.