The Vision of Siva
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Have none chanted for Thee a chant of fullest welcome?
IT may have been that the fore-fathers saw it in the mountains. Or it may have been elsewhere. Somewhere it came to the Hindu mind that the beauty of snowpeaks and moonlight, and standing water, was different from all other loveliness of colour and profusion and many-channelled scene.
It was as though Nature, the great Mother, were clothed in raiment of green, broidered with birds and flowers and fruits, and veiled in blue, adorned with many jewels, and yet as if, amidst all the restless pomp and clamour of her glory, would shine through now and then, a hint of something different. Something white and austere and pure; something compelling quiet; something silent and passionless, and eternally alone. Even the beauty of the world, then, suggested a twofold essence. Wherever the Hindu looked, he found this duality repeated,--light and shadow, attraction and repulsion, microcosm and macrocosm, cause and effect. Nay, he looked into human life
itself, and he found humanity as man and woman, soul and body.
Here was a clue. On the plane of symbolism, the soul of things somehow became associated with the manly form, and the manifested energy (Nature, as we call it) with that of woman and motherhood. In this conception will be noted the deliberate statement that God and Nature are necessary to each other as the complementary manifestations of One, just as we find in the male and the female together, Humanity. That is to say, Nature itself is God, as truly as Nature's soul. "Are God and Nature then at strife?" cries, not only a great poet, but the whole heart of our western religion to-day. And far back from out of the dim centuries comes the hushed whisper of the Indian sages--"Look closer, brother! they are not even two, but one!" Under this aspect, the One Existence is known as Purush and Prakriti, Soul and Energy.
The highest representation of the Divine is always human. The
shadow of a great rock in a weary land is a beautiful presentment of some imaginary qualities of God, but not for one moment does it delude the mind into the belief that here at last it has the thing itself. So with the Light and the Door, the Mountain and the Shield. These were not images that could take captive both brain and heart, firing a man to die in their defence. Very different was it with those other pictures, the Good Shepherd, the Eternal Father!
Here a strange mental confusion is imminent. The mystery behind all form is at last named in a formula so convincing, so appealing, so satisfying, that distinction ceases; we forget that even this is not final, that beyond the expression, and apart from it, lies the whole immensity.
Hinduism has avoided this danger of fixedness in a very curious way. Of all the peoples of the earth, it might be claimed that Hindus are apparently the most, and at heart the least, idolatrous. For the
application of their symbols is many-centred, like the fire in opals.
This Purush and Prakriti utters a great principle. The relation of God to Nature is one demonstration of it. The soul and experience offer us another. The dynamo and the force that charges it would be a third.
This last illustration deserves a moment's attention. Everywhere we see the phenomenon of one waiting to be touched by another, in order to manifest power and activity. The two are known in India as Siva and Sakti. As the knight waits for the sight of his own lady, powerless without the inspiration of her touch, as the disciple waits for the master, and finds in him at last the meaning of all his life before, so the soul lies inert, passive, unstirred by the external, till the great moment comes, and it looks up at the shock of some divine catastrophe, to know in a flash that the whole of the without,--the whole of life, and time, and nature,
and experience--like the within, is also God.
It is the beatific vision, says the West: it is realisation of the Self, here and now, declares the East.
Of such a moment is the Kali image symbol--the soul opening its eyes upon the world and seeing God.
We have seen that anthropomorphic representation of the Divine is absolutely necessary to human nature. But to learn the manner and method of that expression, we must know the whole heart and feeling of a people. To us, ideal manhood includes the king, the master, and the father. He must be supreme. He goes forth before His armies as general and sovereign. He counts the very hairs of His children's heads. He avenges their wrongs, and He protects from pestilence. He owns the vineyard of the world, and Himself prunes and cares for the chosen vine. Perfect in love, perfect in administration, perfect
in power: ideal householder, ideal judge, ideal ruler. Such is the anthropomorphism of the West.
How strangely different is that of India! There, life has one test, one standard, and one alone. Does a man know God or not? That is all. No question of fruits, no question of activity, no question of happiness. Only--has the soul set out on the quest of realisation?
How literally this is the one passion we may see in popular drama. There, the romantic motive is of no account. That Jack should have his Joan (or not have her) is a mere incident, passed over with no superfluous words, at the beginning of things. But we sit for hours absorbed, enthralled, to know--when shall these men attain to God? Or even, when shall they discover that nothing but God is worth the having?
And of this stage of developement, renunciation is accepted as the outward sign. For in that moment when the red rose of the love of God springs and blossoms in a
man's heart,--so that he cries out: "Like as the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after Thee O God!"--in that moment, as Asia knows well, everything else falls away from him. All the manifold satisfactions of the flesh become a burden. Home and kindred and intercourse with the world are a bondage. Food and sleep and the necessities of the physical life seem indifferent or intolerable. And so it comes that the Great God of the Hindu imagination is a beggar. Covered with the ashes of His sacrificial fire, so that He is white like snow, His hair growing untended in huge masses, oblivious of cold or heat, silent, remote from men, He sits absorbed in eternal meditation.
Those human eyes of His are half closed. Though worlds are uttered and destroyed with every breath, it is nothing to Him. All comes and goes before Him like a dream. Such is the meaning of the curious unrealism of the image.
[paragraph continues] But one faculty is all activity. Within it has been indrawn all the force of all the senses. Upright in the middle of the forehead looks forth the third eye, the eye of inner vision. It is natural then, that Siva the Great God, set forth as ideal manhood, should be known amongst other names as the Wondrous-Eyed.
He is the Refuge of Animals. About His neck have wound the serpents, whom none else would receive.
Never did he turn any away. The mad and the eccentric, the crazed, and the queer, and the half-witted amongst men--for all these there is room with Siva. His love will embrace even the demoniac.
He accepts that which all else reject. All the pain and evil of the Universe He took as His share, to save the world, when He drank the poison of things, and made His throat blue for ever.
He possesses so little! Only the old bull on which he rides, and the
tiger-skin of meditation, and a string or two of praying beads--no more.
And, last of all, He is so easily pleased! Could any trait be so exquisite as this? Only pure water and a few grains of rice, and a green leaf or two may be offered to Him daily, for the Great God in matters of this world is very very simple, and sets no store by things for which we struggle and lie and slay our fellow men. Such is the picture that springs to the Indian mind, as representing the Soul of the Universe--Siva, the All-Merciful, the Destroyer of Ignorance, the Great God. Such is the form in which are uttered finally those first faint suggestions of the light of Himalayan snow peaks and the new moon shining on still waters. Perfect renunciation, perfect withdrawnness, perfect absorption in eternity,--these things alone are worthy to be told concerning Him Who is "the Sweetest of the Sweet, the most Terrible of the Terrible, the Lord of Heroes, and the Wondrous-Eyed."
Listen to the prayer that rises to Him daily from many a worshipper, through the length and breadth of India:--
From Darkness lead us unto Light,
From Death lead us to Immortality.
Reach us through and through ourself,
And evermore protect us,
O Thou Terrible!--from ignorance,
By Thy sweet compassionate face."
Such is Siva--ideal of Manhood, embodiment of Godhead.
As the Purush, or Soul, He is Consort and Spouse of Maya, Nature, the fleeting diversity of sense. It is in this relation that we find Him beneath the feet of Kali. His recumbent posture signifies inertness, the Soul untouched and indifferent to the external. Kali has been executing a wild dance of carnage. On all sides She has left evidences of Her reign of terror. The garland of skulls is round her neck; still in Her hands She holds the bloody weapon and a freshly-severed head. Suddenly She has
stepped unwittingly on the body of Her Husband. Her foot is on His breast. He has looked up, awakened by that touch, and They are gazing into each other's eyes. Her right hands are raised in involuntary blessing, and Her tongue makes an exaggerated gesture of shyness and surprise, once common to Indian women of the villages.
And He, what does He see? To Him, She is all beauty--this woman nude and terrible and black, who tells the name of God on the skulls of the dead, who creates the blood-shed on which demons fatten, who slays rejoicing and repents not, and blesses Him only that lies crushed beneath Her feet.
Her mass of black hair flows behind Her like the wind, or like time, "the drift and passage of things." But to the great third eye even time is one, and that one, God. She is blue almost to blackness, like a mighty shadow, and bare like the dread realities of life and death. But for Him there is no shadow. Deep into the heart
of that Most Terrible, He looks unshrinking, and in the ecstasy of recognition He calls Her Mother. So shall ever be the union of the soul with God.
Do we understand what the background is from which such a thought as this could spring? For the Kali-image is not so much a picture of the deity, as the utterance of the secret of our own lives.
The soul in realisation beholds the mother--how? The picture of green lawns and smiling skies, and flowers steeped in sunshine, cannot deceive the All-Knower. Under the apparent loveliness, He sees life preying on life, the rivers breaking down the mountains, the comet poised in mid-space to strike. Around him rises up the wail of all the creatures, the moan of pain, and the sob of greed, and the pitiful cry of little things in fear. Irresponsible, without mercy, seems the spirit of time--deaf to the woes of man, or answering them only with a peal of laughter.
Such is the world as the Hindu mind is predisposed to see it. "Verily," says the heart wearily, "Death is greater than Life, yea and better!"
Not so the supreme soul in its hour of vision! No coward's sigh of exhaustion, no selfish prayer for mercy, no idle resignation there! Bend low, and you shall hear the answer that India makes to the Eternal Motherhood, through all her ages of torture and despair. Listen well, for the voice is low that speaks, and the crash of ruin mighty:
"Though Thou slay me, yet will I trust in Thee!" After all, has anyone of us found God in any other form than in this--the Vision of Siva? Have not the great intuitions of our life all come to us in moments when the cup was bitterest? Has it not always been with sobs of desolation that we have seen the Absolute triumphant in Love?
Behold we also, O Mother, are Thy children! Though Thou Slay us, yet will we trust in Thee!
. . . . . .
The hour is gone, and the vision is passed away, the vision of the greatest symbol, perhaps, that man has ever imagined for himself. The hour is past, and we are back amongst the mountains in the early ages.
There is a gathering of the tribes for a Vedic sacrifice. Yonder, the bull majestically paces towards us, laden with wood for the sacrificial fire.
Now it is lighted, and from the central mass rises the blue-throated flame, while round the edge, leaving the fuel black and charred, curl those greedy red tongues of fire, to each of which the wise men give its separate name--the Black, the Terrible, and so on. The priests chant texts, and the people wait upon the worship. And we see faces-in-the-fire of the time to he, when the eyes of the poet shall rest upon the sacrifice, and shall fashion therefrom this mighty vision of God and nature, the soul and life.
For scholars say that Siva is but the fire of Vedic rites personified. He is the wood borne upon the bull, and the flame which is white, with a patch of blue colour at the throat.
As for Kali, She, it is claimed, was one of His powers, one of the red licking flames, which char and blacken the wood that is not consumed. In token of which we see to this day Her protruding tongue.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.