Sparks from a fire
Yesterday on the way to work, I listened to the “Thought for the day” on Radio 4. This program allows people with a variety of beliefs to give a three or four minute talk on a subject of their choosing. This particular talk was by the Rabbi Lionel Blue, and he talked about what a Kabbalist had told him about his view of God. The image he used was of God being nothing in the beginning, then withdrawing part of himself to leave a void. Into this void he sent divine sparks of himself.
According to the Kabbalist, the purpose of our creation is to allow these divine sparks to find their way back to God, to make him whole again.
It struck me how similar this is to the symbolism of the Mundaka Upanishad: Continue reading
Statue of Lord Shiva holding the trishula
A blog commenter recently suggested that I write about the symbols of Shaivism, the sect of Hinduism which sees Lord Shiva as God. Many of the symbols are not known or misunderstood by Westerners, so this is a good idea. In writing these posts I will also understand the symbols better myself.
I will start with the trishula (त्रिशूल), Shiva’s trident. Shiva’s trishula is the three pointed spear or trident, which Lord Shiva carries. The trishula has many symbolic meanings. As a weapon the trishula represents Shiva’s ability to destroy evil. The three points represent the acts of creation, preservation and destruction. To Shaivites, Lord Shiva fulfils all three of these roles. The three points also represent the three gunas or qualities which are exhibited in the physical world, rajas (dynamic enerjetic), tamas (negative, inactive, stagnant) and sattva (uplifting, balanced, perceiving).
Amba was getting her things together ready to go in the car with her family to the seaside town of Seaport, when her friend John called. He said that he was going to Seaport with his family, and would she like to see them off at the station.
“Sure”, said Amba, “I’ve got time. I’ll probably see you in Seaport”. John didn’t answer but looked glum. Amba wondered what could be wrong.
When she got to the station her friend John looked at her seriously.
“Look”, he said, “I know that your parents said that you were going to the seaside, but they were lying. Can you see the sign there”.
Last week the Pandit in our mandir told me of a poem by Kabir, a 15th century Indian saint. I later found the poem online (in both Hindi and an English Translation). The poems of Kabir are symbolic, using the imagery of a lover to represent God. A similar type of symbolism is used in the Song of Songs in the Jewish Tanakh/Christian Old Testament.
Our Pandit drew my attention to the last two lines of the following verse:
Some time ago I wrote about the similarities between Hinduism and Mystic Judaism.I thought that it might be interesting to look at the similarities and differences between Judaism’s ten commandments and the Hindu yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances). I made a diagram, which is not very easy to publish on WordPress. The best I can do is make a pdf version available and insert an image. You will have to click on the image to see the whole thing, and possibly zoom in :
I have used solid lines where there is a direct connection or even equivalence, and dotted lines where there is some sort of relation. Continue reading
Many people think of Hinduism as polytheistic. In fact most Hindus are monotheistic, and Shaivas, fall into this category. How do the other Hindu deities, Vishnu, Ganesha, Krishna, etc. fit into this perspective. Ultimately there is nothing but Shiva. All the other Gods, in fact everything is a creation, emanation, or view of Shiva. The way that the multiplicity of different Gods are viewed.
Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva, (the Trimurti)
Probably the most iconic image in Shaivism is the Nataraja, Shiva as Lord of the Dance. This pictures Shiva in the dance of creation, preservation and destruction. In this form Shiva holds a drum in one hand, representing creation, the fire of destruction in another. One of his right arms is in the Abhayaprada Mudra, a gesture meaning “no fear”, signaling preservation. His fourth arm is held in an elephant trunk like posture, alluding to Ganesha, the removal of obstacles, again showing help and preservation to all people. It is clear from this that Shiva holds the properties of Vishnu and Brahma. In other words Vishnu and Brahma are alternative views of Shiva. Whereas a Vishnava or would see things differently I don’t think it is useful to talk about better or correct views; this is out view as Shaivas and we acknowledge that others may see things differently. Shaivas (and Vishnavas) believe in a good and merciful God, and all will be redeemed so this means there is no need for the type of conflict with other beliefs that we see in Islam and Christianity. Continue reading
Lord Shiva is the great God, more than I could imagine. Perfect love, truth. The eternal creator, sustainer and destroyer. The one who veils us in ignorance and allows us the delight of lifting the veils. The simple lord, who is infinitely grateful for a seconds prayer from a devotee, though he is deserving of an eternity of praise. The one who will redeem all. The true consciousness and true self in every living thing. He is the whole universe, a whole universe for every atom in the universe and more yet he knows all. He is the light and the darkness. He is master of the physical, the mental and the spiritual. He is the giver of all, and the taker of all that is not real and eternal.
Aum Namah Shivaya!
If you have ever gone walking in hills and mountains you have probably come across false mountain tops. You are walking along happily, and the summit is in sight. You feel you are doing very well, people have told you that this is a two hour climb, yet you are almost there after a little more than an hour and a quarter. You push on at a brisk pace, realizing that before long you will reach the top, then it will be easier going.
Just as you almost reach the top, you see that it isn’t the top at all. It is just a ridge, or the slope of the hill flattens out slightly. The actual peak is still a considerable distance off. You look at your map and realise that you should have seen this coming. You are actually not even half way up. Rather than doing well you realise that you are slower than most people. You are probably feeling rather tired, disappointed, disheartened and rather silly. At this point some people would give up, I have been in a group where it has happened. Having thought a point was the top they reach it and feel they can go no further. When I was an inexperienced walker I used to reach these points, sit down in exhaustion, look at the map and try to work out where I really am and where I need to head, and when ready and rested continue. When I was a teenager I remember doing this three times on one mountain, each time convinced that I had reached the summit!
As a more experienced walker I can often see potential false-tops from contour lines on the map. If I am nearing what appears to be a summit I am prepared for it not to be, and continue at a steady pace.
The same thing can happen to us in spiritual progress. We can think we are doing very well, only to realise that we are are not doing nearly as well as we thought. This has happened to me recently, and made me realise that I am not nearly as experienced spiritually as I am as a fell walker!
Shiva appears in many forms. The abstract form of the lingam (sanskrit for mark or sign) helps us concentrate on the mysterious nature of Shiva, that is beyond comprehension or representation.
The lingam reminds us of the presence of God within all of creation, and within us all.
Then there is the canonical form of Shiva, meditating with the moon in his hair, holding the trident and drum. Continue reading
“Do you know who the most important person in town”, said Andrew, “It is the policeman. Without him we would not be safe, and traders would move away. He is the most important person in town.
Maria thought about this and replied. “What you say is true, but what is really important about this town? People miles away come and see it because of our famous author. Without him nobody would have heard of this place any further away than the next village.”