Manifest and Unmanifest Divinity
and Unconditioned Consciousness
the Monistic Traditions
by Professor John L Griffin, PhD
A Consideration of Divinity & Consciousness
With Qualities (Saguna) & Beyond Qualities (Nirguna),
Focusing on Shiva as a Primary Mediating Symbol
In the Process of Self-Realization
In the practice of Devotional Yoga (Bhakti) in India, involving the Saguna aspect of the divine, focus of the mind on Shiva, the Lord of Yogis, is considered particularly efficacious by many Hindus. We will consider how Shiva represents both a direct route to the Transcendent Absolute and the Imminent Absolute as well. And we will see how conditioned consciousness (Chitta) may be trans-formed and liberated as unconditioned consciousness (Chit).
Indian philosophy-psychology posits a supreme monism - a "vastness," "immensity," or "wholeness" which encompasses all existence. In translation, these English words express the essential meaning of the Indian appellation Brahman, a neuter term in Sanskrit. The fact that the term is neuter is instructive, as this concept of Absolute existence is indeed neither male nor female, positive nor negative. It is beyond all qualities and categories, being Nirguna (Nir = "without" + Guna = "quality"), meaning "without qualities" or conditionedness — at least in the ordinary sense. In a more extraordinary sense, Brahman is considered to have three fully realized and operative attributes: Sat (Full Beingness); Chit (Full Consciousness-Awareness); Ananda (Full Bliss). These are absolute, unconditional terms rather than particular and finite terms of description. That is, Brahman is total and unconditional Being, total and unconditional Consciousness, total and unconditional Bliss. This "Is-ness" or unconditioned consistency of Brahman is realizable by human beings. After all, according to the monistic perspective of the Advaita (nondual) philosophy of Vedanta (the sum total of sacred knowledge), this all-encompassing, interconnected plenum of energy called Brahman is the very core of all our beings and consciousness. The advances of modern quantum physics increasingly align with this ageless spiritual perspective, as many scientists have now recognized.
The principles Sat-Chit-Ananda relate to absolute space, absolute thought, and absolute time in the conceptualizations of Indian philosophers. A good account of this can be found in The Gods of India, by the French Indologist Alain Danielou. Absolute Empty Space is seen as a limitless, undifferentiated, indivisible continuum in which the essentially "imaginary" divisions of relative space are perceived by our conditioned minds. Modern physics, especially quantum mechanics, has constructed a similar cosmology. The space within an atom is quite similar to a solar system and, from some perspectives, can be as immense in its own frame of reference. The divisions of space are ultimately mere appearances and relative to position and perspective. Absolute Thought is the second continua underlying all perceptible forms. Everything manifest appears with a form, within a coordinated system. It seems to be a realization or materialization of an organized plan or dream. In the Hindu view, the visible universe was conceived as the form of the thought of its creator. Whenever we go to the root of anything we do not find a solid physical form but rather a concept or process, whose nature can be identified with that of thought or consciousness. Sir James Jeans, the British physicist, made essentially the same observation about the universe following his exposure to quantum physics. Absolute Time is an ever-present eternity which seems inseparable from space. Relative time results from the apparent division of space by the rhythm and motion of objects.
From the nonduality of Brahman the manifest universe arises, but its reality is only relative as it is based upon the substratum of Brahman, the only truly and fully unconditioned reality. A beautifully concise Sanskrit verse expresses this relationship:
Purnam may be translated as Whole or Full. So, a "full" translation could be:
"That Fullness — This Fullness,
(or "That Wholeness — This Wholeness...")
Fullness unto Fullness.
Fullness emerging from Fullness,
Fullness indeed remains."
That Fullness, however, is full of Itself ("I am that I am") and is Sat-Chit-Ananda. This Fullness seems full of duality, division, discursiveness in the forms of qualities, categories, and things. However, if perceived by an enlightened consciousness, it is declared to also be Sat-Chit-Ananda because it is fundamentally the same Fullness or Substance. The famous holy man of South India who is considered an Avatar ("descent" or embodiment of divine integral consciousness) by millions, Shri Sathya Sai Baba, often speaks on this theme of the fundamental oneness of everything. However, it is one thing to see the Divine in everything and quite another thing to behave as if the things of the phenomenal world can be treated and used in an absolutely unitive way. Although conceding that situational or conditional truth as well as general or unconditional Truth are both operative in the phenomenal world, Sathya Sai Baba says that if one's perception has been truly clarified and the Divine is apparent underlying all things, one will really only honor the Divine essence and not the transitory things of the phenomenal world. On the way to attaining unconditioned consciousness we must awaken and use the faculty of Buddhi, which is the enlightened discriminating aspect of consciousness. That is, it discriminates between what is worthy and what is unworthy, what is abiding and what is transitory, what is ultimately real and what is ultimately unreal (only conditionally real). In Western terms, this could be equated to the concept of conscience.
Various Gods and Goddesses of Hindu religion are used to represent manifest attributes of the Divine essence underlying creation and the most popular representations are associated with the Hindu "triad" of Gods. A trinity of powers is posited to account for the primary forces at work in phenomenal or conditioned existence: Brahma (Creator); Vishnu (Preserver); Shiva (Destroyer or Transformer). Any of these can be worshipped by Hindus as representations of the Absolute, within the qualified Saguna aspect of the Divine. The Absolute has no form or quality in its Nirguna aspect and - though ultimately the goal is to realize the formless, non-dual nature of the Absolute and experience unconditioned consciousness - there is a human need for a personal, humanlike experience of divine consciousness, love and guidance. Devotion to the Saguna aspect of the divine, in whatever chosen form, can provide this personal connection. Focus of the mind on Shiva is considered particularly efficacious in this regard by many Hindus. We will consider how Shiva represents both a direct route to the Absolute and the Absolute itself.
As the Destroyer, Shiva removes our attachments to reputation, home, family, and— finally— to our very body. In this respect, Shiva is seen and even referred to by many Hindus, usually the more worldly, as Rudra. One meaning of Rudra is: "The Lord of Tears" or "He who makes us cry." The sages, though, say that only the ignorant call him Rudra. To the wise he is known as Shiva, "the auspicious." This is because the function of the destruction which Shiva represents serves the purpose of transformation into a deeper, or higher, integral awareness.
Shiva is said to reside on Mount Kailasa. Shri Sathya Sai Baba has been quoted in Sathya Sai Baba, Part I, as referring to it as "... Kailasa, the lofty mountain peak of Self-realization, the Paradise of Shiva." And in Translations by Baba, he describes it as "Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas, said to be the abode of Lord Shiva ... Also the highest pinnacle in our being where the supreme Lord resides."
Shiva is sometimes referred to as "The Lord of Sleep." As Alain Danielou explains this title:
"The state of dreamless sleep is connected with Shiva, lord of sleep. It is in nonaction, in the complete silence of the mind, that we may realize the higher states of consciousness, the perfect joy of pure existence. From the standpoint of human realization, Shiva represents the final dissolution of the individuality — and toward this end the metaphysically inclined mind will tend...."
(The Gods of India, p. 25)
Shiva is also known as Nataraja, the "King of Dancers," "Lord of the Dance," or "Cosmic Dancer." A bronze statue, copied many times over the centuries, was made of Shiva in this role. It was first cast in bronze at the city of Chidambaram in South India, where there is a famous Shiva temple. The name Chidambaram itself means "Consciousness Clad" (Chit "unconditioned consciousness" + ambara "garment"). This statue is famed for its elegant artistry and symbolism.
Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer as typically represented, is surrounded by a Circle of Fire symbolizing manifest creation and its manifold changes. Upon his brow is the Crescent Moon, a sign of his control of the mind and senses. The Serpent which he wears shows his mastery of Time, the Serpent Power (Kundalini), and Death. His Four Arms demonstrate mastery over all conditioned existence: One right hand holds the drum which beats out the primal rhythm of creation, while the other right hand forms the mudra "Fear Not". One left hand holds Fire symbolizing creation and destruction, and the other left hand forms the mudra "For I Am Here." Sathya Sai Baba has often used the phrase, "Why Fear, for I Am Here" and many of his pictures show him with his right hand held aloft in the Abaya ("Fear Not") mudra. Shiva's feet also show his divine mastery: One foot held aloft symbolizes his ability to release us from bondage to the world; the other foot is upon the malevolent dwarf-demon, symbolizing the overcoming of ignorance or a misdirected, "dwarfed" consciousness (the dwarf is usually depicted gazing in fascination at a snake, a symbol of the cycles of time and illusion). The dancer combines the male-female polarity, demonstrated by one earring being that of a male, the other that of a female. This cosmic dance is woven from the unrestricted creative consciousness of Shiva, the Lord of the Dance.
In The Dance of Shiva, Ananda Coomaraswamy quotes a passage from the Unmai Vilakkam in connection with Shiva as Nataraja:
"The Supreme Intelligence dances in the soul... for the purpose of removing our sins. By these means, our Father scatters the darkness of illusion (maya), burns the thread of causality (karma), stamps down evil (mala, anava, avidya), showers Grace, and lovingly plunges the soul in the ocean of Bliss (ananda). They never see rebirths, who behold this mystic dance."
(Dance of Shiva, p. 62)
Further, Coomaraswamy summarizes the various interpretations of Nataraja's dance found in the various scriptures and commentaries he cites in his text:
"The Essential Significance of Shiva's Dance is threefold: First, it is the image of his Rhythmic Play as the Source of all Movement within the Cosmos, which is represented by the Arch; Secondly, the Purpose of his Dance is to Release the Countless souls of men from the Snare of Illusion; Thirdly, the place of the Dance, Chidambaram, the Centre of the Universe, is within the Heart."
(Dance of Shiva, p.65)
Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer is a beautiful example of the pure creative play of the essentially non-dual reality underlying manifest existence. The Lord of the Dance requires nothing outside of pure beingness to generate, sustain, and change the varied and beautiful dance of creation. Dance is an activity which we can generate out of ourselves, without the need for external aids, partners, props, or any other thing.
The apparent affinity between the Cosmic symbolism of the Lord of the Dance and concepts of modern physics has been noted by other scientific commentators since the time of physicist James Jeans' statements, among the more prominent of whom has been Fritjof Capra. Capra made the following observation in The Tao of Physics, specifically about the Nataraja figure:
"For the modern physicists, then, Shiva's dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena. Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance... Modern physics has thus revealed that every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance, a pulsating process of creation and destruction."
(Tao of Physics, pp. 232-233)
The Nataraja symbolism, however, goes beyond the limits of conditioned consciousness and the manifested universe. It also contains powerful signifiers of the role Shiva plays as the liberator of consciousness, wherein he can take us from a conditioned and bound state of awareness to the state of being totally unconditioned and free.
In Indian tradition there is said to be a connection between the waning of the moon and the weakening of the hold which our lower mind has over us. In turn, there is a connection between this process and Shiva, who is the presiding Lord of the moon, its phases and the phases of our mind. Sathya Sai Baba has said the following in relation to the "Night of Shiva" (Shivaratri) which occurs once a month and to the famous "Great Night of Shiva" (Mahashivaratri) which occurs once a year:
"Out of the Manas [lower mind] of the Purusha [the cosmogonically symbolic figure within creation], the Moon was born. There is a close affinity between the manas and the moon; both are subject to decline and progress. The waning of the Moon is the symbol for the waning of the mind; for the mind has to be controlled, reduced and finally destroyed. All Sadhana is directed towards this end; Manohara, the mind has to be killed, so that Maya may be rent asunder and the reality revealed."
(Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume One, p. 111)
"Mind is presided over by the moon, and every month the moon is almost worn out on the fourteenth night after the full moon. One's ambition should be to destroy the mind's whims, fancies and vagaries and to strive his utmost on that night to increase his discipline to achieve victory of the forces of goodness, of the pure Self over the downward impulses. That night has to be dedicated to God."
(SSB, I, pp. 197-198)
The restrictive hold of the discursive and dualistic lower mind and senses must be eliminated to allow the higher intellect to assume control of our thoughts and actions.
The "Sign" (Lingam) of Shiva is seen in various representations all over India. Usually carved from stone and standing upright, they are often considered to be phallic symbols. This is true in one sense, but only on a lower and comparatively mundane level of generative symbolism.
While conceding that "sex is... one of the many manifestations of the Shiva-Shakti principle inherent in the lingam," the Australian writer Howard Murphet has described the relation of Shiva and the lingam in the higher spiritual or cosmic sense in his book Sai Baba: Man of Miracles. His explanation was based on information obtained from the Hindu Theosophical pundit Dr. I.K. Taimni, and Shri Sathya Sai Baba himself has given similar explanations:
"To put the matter in Hindu terms: from the one Brahman emerges Shiva-Shakti, the father and mother of all that is. We must note in this connection that Shiva is not only an aspect of the Triune Godhead— the destruction-regeneration aspect— he is also the highest God, the father of all the gods, the cosmic logos. Like all the gods of Hindu thought, Shiva has his consort, Shakti, or female aspect. And whereas the male or positive aspect represents consciousness, the female or negative aspect symbolizes power. Both are necessary for creation or manifestation in the planes of matter. It is significant, too, that the ellipsoidal or lingam form, which symbolizes the Shiva-Shakti principle, plays a fundamental part in the structure and working of the universe. It lies, for instance, at the base of all matter within the atom where the electrons apparently move in elliptical courses around the central nucleus. Again, at the solar level, we find the planets describing not circular but elliptical orbits around the sun."
(Sai Baba: Man of Miracles, p. 44)
In India, holy ash — a sacred symbol also found in other religions — is often called Vibhuti and is associated with Shiva. Vibhuti reminds us of the transitory nature of all earthly things and of the mortality of the body. It is also a symbol of purity and wisdom when viewed as the pure residue resulting from the burning away of ignorance through sadhana (spiritual practice), when desires and attachments have been reduced to ashes. The word Vibhuti has many meanings, including "glory," "might," and "wealth." According to the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba, we will have all these usually transitory qualities in a real and lasting sense when we finally "burn away" all of our lower impulses and attachments. Vibhuti is often materialized by Sathya Sai Baba. It has been known to have healing properties that affect both physical and spiritual maladies. The healing, however, is not automatic and is dependent upon grace and the inner receptivity of the devotee. Vibhuti is sometimes referred to as "Prasad" or "Prasadam" (grace in the form of food). It can be eaten or rubbed on the body (e.g., upon the area of the "third eye" between the eyebrows which has been called the "Eye of Shiva"). Devotees of Shiva in India often wear stripes of ash across their foreheads.
A final symbol connected with Shiva is his emblem or vehicle, the white bull known as Nandi (happy or joyful). This symbol should be of particular significance to most people engaged in the process of trying to uncondition their consciousness. Alain Danielou portrays Shiva's bull in the following way:
"The bull which wanders about, anxious to find a mate, is taken as the embodiment of the sex impulse. Most living creatures are governed by their instincts; they are ridden over by the bull. They are merely the appendage of their reproductive powers. But Shiva is the master of lust. He rides on the bull. With one glance of his third eye, the eye of higher perception, he reduces to ashes the Seducer-of-the Mind (Madana), the god of love, who disturbs his meditation. Only those who have attained knowledge are the masters of their impulses, can ride on the bull, and utilize for other ends the power of transmitting physical life."
(The Gods of India, p. 219)
Danielou quotes a line from Karapatri's Siddhanta: "Among those who have mastered the bull you are the bull keeper. O Lord! — riding on the bull — you protect the worlds." Shiva's bull is known as Nandi, "the joyful," because it has submitted to Shiva and serves as a vehicle for him. It can be seen as the power and pleasure principle in human beings, usually misdirected, which is only truly satisfied and joyful through submission to and close association with the Divine. The Yogi's own process of taming the bull can be quite difficult, especially in the early stages, and the efforts of spiritual teachers to help the student raise and purify the Kundalini generative energy can be arduous as well and too easily misunderstood, especially when removed from the Indian context.
In the Ch'an and Zen Buddhist traditions of China and Japan, originating in India and having an affinity with Advaita Vedanta, we find the "bull herding" or "ox herding" pictures. Here, too, the bull or ox symbolizes the lower, conditioned nature which wanders about indiscriminately sampling the transitory pleasures of the sense world. Finally, the bull or ox herder succeeds in turning the beast into a suitable vehicle for accomplishing a higher purpose — that is, one informed by a higher level of intelligence. This, too, is our own task in the de-conditioning of consciousness and the realization of our innate divine nature, freed from all boundaries and limiting qualifiers and conditions. In the process of the use of Saguna devotion to ultimately experience the Nirguna ground of all being, Shiva serves as a particularly comprehensive symbolic representative deity, exemplar, and ultimate guru (one who removes the darkness of ignorance).
© Professor John L. Griffin, PhD