Human beings have been connecting to the aspect of higher consciousness we now call Shiva since before recorded history began. A seal recovered from archaeological excavations in Pakistan seem to indicate that Shiva, in his form as Pashupati (Lord of Animals) was known to the Indus Valley civilization. In the Vedas, he was named Rudra (Howler), and had a fearsome reputation as one who existed outside the boundaries of conventional morality. The Shiva that we know today emerged from the Krishna Yajur Veda around 1100 BCE. This collection of verses includes a hymn called Shri Rudram Chamakam, which contains the first scriptural references to Shiva’s root mantra, om namah Shivaya, and the Mrityunjaya Mantra (victory over death), both of which are still commonly practiced today. Some of the most profound revelations in yoga have emerged from meditation in the Shiva consciousness, and it is fair to say that what we know of as yoga today has been shaped by this connection.
Shiva is often referred to as “the Destroyer,” but this is an incomplete understanding of the role this aspect of consciousness plays in the cosmos. Shiva is perhaps better referred to as “the Transformer,” the energy of the cosmos that causes things to change from one form to another. In his role as the motive force of transformation, Shiva is paired in a dualistic partnership with another divine energy called Vishnu. Vishnu is known as “the Preserver,” and his energy is responsible for holding things in their current form. It is the interplay between Vishnu and Shiva, stasis and change, that gives rise to the universe as we know it. For example, it is Shiva’s energy that causes the planets to move, but it is Vishnu’s energy that holds the planets in a stable orbit. We could not exist without both of these energies, and when they become unbalanced, great suffering ensues.
Shiva is known to us in two principal forms. As Nataraja (Lord of the Dance), Shiva acts on a cosmic scale: the explosion of the Big Bang, the birth and death of galaxies, stars and planets, the whirling dance of protons and electrons in the sub-atomic realm, and anywhere that movement and change are happening in the universe as a whole. Shiva is also called Yogeshvara (Lord of Yoga), which presents a very different symbolic image. Yogeshvara sits in perfect stillness, meditating, the very opposite of the vital action portrayed by Nataraja. The secret is that for Yogeshvara, the transformation is happening on the inside. Although his outer body seems immobile, the dance of consciousness expansion is occurring within. Through the fire of yoga practice, his energy vibration is purified and transformed, becoming one with all the cosmos.
This dual nature of Shiva’s energy gives us much to think about with regard to our own lives. Nataraja looks outwards, transforming the nature of the universe that surrounds us and affecting everyone and everything. Yogeshvara looks inwards, transforming the nature of the consciousness within and affecting himself alone. Shiva applies himself to both with equal fervor. As Nataraja, he does not only concern himself with the world around him, he knows that to effectively change the world, he must change from within. As Yogeshvara, he does not only concern himself with the world inside him, he knows that to effectively change himself, he must be a part of the world outside and work to transform that as well.
This is the great balance of yoga in the new aeon. Gone are the days when retreating from the world could be seen as a valid pathway to enlightenment. Our liberation requires that we interact with the reality around us, that we work to transform it for the happiness of all beings, so that we can find that peace and happiness within ourselves. Likewise we must not always look out to the world for fulfillment, even in good works, at the expense of our own inner development. The toughest battles we face may not be the guns and bombs of conventional war, the demons inside us can be far worse. Shiva tells us, in no uncertain terms: “Find the state of balance, and all things are possible!”