:: The Great Unknown :: We live in a magical and mysterious universe pervaded by an unseen intelligence and subtle energies, which reach far beyond the merely human concerns that dominate our minds today. There is a sacred order to the cosmos, reflecting vast and eonic forces working at a different level altogether than our ordinary historical, personal and social preoccupations. This power of consciousness behind the universe is transformational and cataclysmic in nature; it does not conform to our expectations, needs and demands, or to the formulations and opinions of our intellect. We usually dwell at the surface of this greater cosmos, afraid of its unpredictable currents, in which all our civilizational achievements can seem but a glimmer or a shadow. Yet besides our usual desires for the enjoyments of our familiar outer world, we also possess a strong inner urge to connect with this greater unknown reality, even if we do not have any clear idea about what it may be. This drive for transcendence becomes the basis of religion and spirituality, among other deeper searches for truth, though we may reduce these to more mundane compulsions and keep them scaled down into the human world. This sacred cosmic mystery has been formulated in many ways in the different cultures of the world going back to the dawn of our species. It has become the prime concern of many esoteric groups, including various orders of monks, renunciates and spiritual communities of different types. If we look at India and its great Yoga tradition, we find union with that mysterious unknown reality as the essence of India’s cultural striving and the subject of a massive civilizational development. “Not what is known by the mind, by that through which the mind is known,” Vedantic philosophy brilliantly echoes this search for what is beyond the known. The ancient Vedas reflect this cosmic mystery in strange mantras of light and fire that cannot be translated and defy logic in their formulation. That supreme truth takes us beyond all names and forms, words and ideas; yet we must approach it through some type of expression in order to relate to it and bring it into our lives. :: The Enigma of Lord Shiva :: It is probably in the form of the great deity of Lord Shiva that we most confront the great cosmic mystery in Yogic thought and imagery. What is the reality behind Lord Shiva, who is regarded as the great Lord of Yoga, and the supreme deity beyond all limitation? Shiva is perhaps the most misunderstood of the Hindu pantheon, an enigmatic figure who suggests a reality beyond the bounds of convention or even reason. Shiva with his retinue of wild animals and ghosts, his trident, matted hair, the crescent Moon on his head that also bears the descent of the heavenly Ganga, and his behavior that acts in defiance of all ordinary norms stands apart from all other deities like the harbinger of a different order of reality. This mysterious reality of the Cosmic Shiva is not merely a cultural or religious issue, some strange aspect of Hindu thought, but is relevant to the spiritual well-being of every individual. It reflects the great mystery and the cosmic power in which we all live, but which overrides and transcends all that we of our own efforts attempt do in our ordinary lives. To reach and unfold the power of the Cosmic Shiva is the key both to our ultimate personal well-being and to the upliftment of the human race as a whole. Indeed, that Shiva consciousness is also seeking to enter more deeply into humanity and bring us into a greater alignment with the cosmos that can spiritualize all that we are. We can ignore this great unknown for a time, but we remain surrounded by it on every side and it holds the key to our future as well as to our origins in the dark night of time. Our modern humanity trapped in the illusion of information and technology needs to confront and is beginning a new reckoning with this supreme mystery. Shiva, we should note, is not the simply name of a Hindu deity. Shiva, which means “that which is auspicious,” refers to the auspicious effect of our contact with the unknown, the nameless, the great mystery, what is beyond all limitation, time, space and action. In this regard, Shiva has no name and also an infinite number of names. It is this inner reality of Shiva that we need to understand, not simply Shiva as a religious deity or a cultural form. Chanting the name of Shiva means going beyond all names. It is the resonance of the cosmic silence. :: The Universal Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva :: Probably, the simplest and most common explication of Shiva, which one finds in the traditional literature, is that there is a trinity of divine forces governing the process of time in the universe with Brahma as the Creator, Vishnu as the Sustainer, and Shiva as the Destroyer. Yet this description also causes the shadow of a destructive force to be cast upon Shiva – as if his cosmic role was to promote negativity and death. However, according to the view of Vedic philosophy, which is unlike that of western theology, there is in truth no real creation or destruction of anything in the universe. The visible universe is but a manifestation of the timeless unmanifest, like the waves arising from the sea. We do not attribute the ocean with the action of creating and destroying waves. The wave arises from and returns to the sea, being nothing but water all along. When the wave goes back to the sea, it is a return, not annihilation. Shiva is that power of eternal return and transformation, not a mere force of destruction. There is a process of manifestation only. In this regard, Lord Brahma initiates the manifestation, setting forth the prime laws and principles behind the universe. Lord Vishnu protects and sustains the manifestation, and Lord Shiva dissolves or completes it. According to this view, Shiva is the great deity who dissolves all limitations, difficulties, sorrows and bondage, taking us back to the freedom of the unmanifest. Shiva is the state of mergence to which all things must return. However, according to another and deeper view, Shiva represents the transcendent (what is called Brahman or the Absolute in Vedanta thought), Vishnu the cosmic lord (Ishvara), and Brahma the cosmic mind (Mahat Tattva). The Divine power in its higher essence beyond all manifestation is known as Shiva. When it enters into human beings it becomes Vishnu, and when it becomes the basis of our intelligence it becomes Brahma. We can only have an intimation from our mortal world of that supreme immortality. Vishnu, on the other hand, takes a human form to guide, protect and save us. Brahma is ever present as knowledge, teaching and ritual. :: Shiva as the Supreme Reality :: As the primal reality, Shiva is looked upon in four main ways. Shiva is first the original light of reality, Prakasha. Second, he is the immortal life force, Prana. Third, he is primal sound, OM or Pranava. Fourth he is the primal being or pure consciousness, Atman or Purusha, our own inner Self and true nature. Shiva as the primal power of light and awareness represents our own higher search for Self-realization, and is not simply an external deity. That inner light is the real basis of life and is beyond all birth and death. It is ever resounding as the cosmic vibration that is both the manifest and unmanifest reality. It is our true being beyond the limitations of body and mind, which are but its instruments. Shiva is the embodiment of mystery. His true nature cannot be known and does not dwell in the domain of speech or mind, word or thought. We contact Shiva when we realize the limited nature of all that we can know or think. This makes Shiva something of a terrible deity, the power of the great unknown that renders our lives but a grain of dust in the cosmic dance. Shiva is the deity of paradox. He stands above all dualities. He is beyond good and evil. He is the being of cosmic consciousness far beyond the constraints of any creaturely mind and its compulsions. Shiva is also the great deity of nature, the lord of animals or Pashupati. He is the lord of the wild. He really has no human form. We find his face and form hidden in nature, whether in the mountain, tree, the cloud, the animal or the rock.