A text wherein the author described, in his own way, the significance of Lord Shiva’s different attributes like the snake around his neck, the trident, the damaru, his blue complexion and so on, inspired me to write and clarify the many prevailing misconceptions about Lord Shiva. Having learned about this amazing Lord from authentic scriptures, I could clearly see that the gentleman who wrote that article was seriously bewildered as to who Lord Shiva really is.
In India where people claim to know God and gods, there is a significant confusion about Lord Shiva. To such an extent that even those proclaiming to be saints or spiritual leaders go on to say that shiva is just a purified stage of consciousness, that we all can become shiavs and that one day we merge in shiva and cease to exist.
Simply awful, in the sense that they completely ignore the personality of Lord Shiva.
There is a great need of clarifying what and who Lord Shiva is. Is he really someone who holds trident? Did he really consume that deadly poison, halahal? Did river Ganga really descend on this planet by taking shelter of his mighty matted hair? Does he still live on the Kailash mountain and rides the Nandi bull?
How can we accept such a description as truth? This article deals exactly with this question. It is equally important to know the personality of Lord Shiva. Since understanding Lord Shiva is not a small subject matter, I would like to touch only a few essential points here showing who he is and how he is not just a mere imagination. He is a real person with real attributes and responsibilities in the universal affairs. For example, he has performed many inconceivable feats, like letting the personality of river Ganga descend on his famous Jata (matted hair on the head) along with her immensely forceful celestial waters, sanctified by the touch of Lord Vishnu’s lotus feet, and he was the one who consumed the halahal poison that came out of the celestial ocean during the famous sumudra manthan.
We need to understand that something that is not perceivable by human senses cannot be grasped by human intelligence unless they see it through sastra-chakshu , through the eyes of the scriptures, or hear it from saintly persons. For this reason it may be futile to try to show them the proof on their demand. Attempts to teach calculus to a person studying in class one is not wise. However, not one or two, millions of people know it without an iota of doubt that there are realities in the world which are not known to or seen by one and all, and that such truth is not obliged to appear before us on demand.
As mentioned in my previous article in this regard, the difficulty with modern people is, they are not only confused about God, His various incarnations and energies, but are either over-confident or hopeless about their views on spiritual realities. They are taught to discard anything that doesn’t fit in their limited intelligence. No surprise they call our scripture mythology. That’s what people have been learning since our English friends ruled India, and most of them are still suffering from that influence. As mentioned in my article Ma Durga – Going beyond myths, calling Vedic history mythology is the biggest myth of the world till date,
When we want to know about a particular company, the best source is the owner, or his close ones. We cannot manufacture our own views nor can such views be accepted by those who know the company well. When we want to know about someone, the best source is the person himself or his close ones.
Similarly, when we want to know about God and His multifarious energies, we have to hear from Him or from the knowledge He has given in Vedic scriptures. Unfortunately, when it comes knowing God and His management structure, all that we hear these days is concoctions. To add to this, many so-called religious leaders give their own opinions and promote philosophies found nowhere in the Vedic scriptures. And when they cannot satisfactorily explain the existence and personality God, they say that God is just a concept, we are all gods, none is god, everything is god, and all that.
Besides, merely reading scriptures is not enough for seeing the truth. The knowledge must be received through a bona fide spiritual master, or guru. If someone argues that why one must accept a guru, the answer is, because that is how God chooses to be known. He is fully independent and can also choose another way at His sweet will.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of ISKCON, has made some categorical statements about Lord Shiva, based on Vedic scriptures. The following conversation took place in Mauritius, on October 5, 1975. If you are not yet ready to accept this easy-to-understand explanation, you can still read it and go to the text that follows the conversation. Srila Prabhupada is responding to queries about Lord Shiva’s transcendental position.
“Indian man (7): Swamij, Siva is not another name of God?
Prabhupada: Yes. Shiva is next to God. Just like yogurt, dahi. You know dahi? What is this dahi? Milk. But it is not milk. Dahi is not anything but milk, but it is not milk. Similarly, Lord Shiva is nothing but Vishnu, but it is not Vishnu. Is it clear now? You can say, “Well, dahi is nothing but milk.” Yes. But it is not milk. If instead of milk you take dahi, the result will be different. And if you take milk instead of dahi, that is…, that will be different, although the milk and dahi is the same thing, same ingredients. So you have to understand in that way. Lord Shiva is nondifferent from the Supreme Lord. Everyone is nondifferent from Supreme Lord, but he’s still different. This is the perfect philosophy, achintya-bhedabheda, simultaneously one and different.
Indian man (7): Swamiji, in all the temples in Mauritius, the supreme deity…
Prabhupada: Supreme Deity is Vishnu.
Indian man (7): But we consider Lord Shiva to be the supreme deity because we…
Prabhupada: But that is your lack of knowledge. I have already explained that, that yogurt is not different from milk. It is milk but still, it is not milk. You have to understand like that. Lord Shiva is not different from Vishnu, but he’s still not Vishnu.
Indian man (7): No, but do we offer the prayer first to Shiva…?
Prabhupada: That you do. There is no harm. Lord Shiva is also called Mahadeva. Amongst the demigods, he is the chief. So if you worship Lord Shiva… We also worship Shiva. It is not that we disrespect Shiva. We offer our utmost respect to Lord Shiva. But that does not mean that he is the Supreme Lord.
Indian man (7): The difference that is there, Swamiji…
Prabhupada: Difference I have already explained. You cannot understand?
Indian man (7): No, no, we pray Shiva first and then we go to pray Krishna.
Prabhupada: So that you do. There is no harm. There is no harm. But you should understand what is Shiva and what is Vishnu. If you offer first prayer to Lord Shiva, there is no harm. It is good. He is… Vaishnavanam yatha shambhuh. He is our spiritual master. He is Vaishnava. Why not offer first respect to him? But if you take Lord Shiva as the Supreme, that is insult.
You are giving me respect as spiritual master, but if you give me overestimation, that “You are the king of the whole world,” that is insult. That is insult. That is not prayer. If you offer me prayer as I am befitting, then it is all right. But if you give me prayer for which I am not befitting, that is insult. That is insult. So you must know what is the position of… Lord Shiva is Vaishnava. He is the greatest devotee. He is the number-one demigod, and everything is all right. But if you say that he is the Supreme, then he will feel insulted, that “What is this nonsense saying?” So don’t insult him in that way. That will go against your credit. He doesn’t like that.”
Here is the point; people in general, including majority of the present day sadhus and religious leaders, have a very vague or no idea about what is God or Bhagavan and what is demigods or Devatas. Srila Prabhupada explains how Lord Shiva is not among ordinary demigods but at the same time he is not the Supreme Lord, and that calling him so is an insult to him and he does not like it.
Parasara Muni, a great sage and the father of Vyasadeva, who compiled all the Vedic literatures, has given the following definition of God, or the Supreme Lord:
Devatas, or Devas, are the appointed representatives of the Supreme Lord, or Bhagavan. Lord Shiva is called Mahadeva, meaning the chief among the Devas. Whenever Lord Shiva or other demigods are addressed as Bhagavan, it is to be understood that they are, in some ways, expansions or parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord. It is like we can say we are all Ishvaras because the word “Isvara” or “Ishvar” means a controller. We all could be considered controllers of our own little world but we are also controlled by other higher beings. That is why the scriptures talk about Paramesvara, meaning the supreme controller who is not controlled by anyone else.
Those who have scrutinizingly studied Vedic literatures in this regard will have no doubt that Lord Shiva is an expansion of Lord Vishnu, who Himself assumes the form of Lord Shiva for the purpose of dealing with maya, the material nature. In other words, it is Vishnu who expands into Shiva, not the other way round, and that shows the positions of and difference between Lord Visnhu and Lord Shiva. As Srila Prabhupada pointed out above, Brahma-samhita compares their positions with milk and yogurt respectively. Milk can turn into yogurt but yogurt cannot turn into milk. Just as milk is the source of yogurt, Lord Vishnu is the direct cause of Lord Shiva’s eternal existence.
Lord Shiva is neither one among demigods nor the Supreme Lord. His position is greater even than Lord Brahma, who is resides in the highest planetary system of this universe and who is approached by demigods like Indra, Vayu, Varuna and others whenever they face difficulties in universal management. However, as explained above from Vedic scriptures, Lord Shiva is not equal to or higher than Lord Vishnu. He is in his own unique category of existence which is originated from Lord Vishnu.
Lord Shiva is known to be ajanma, meaning one who did not take birth. This is a fact because Lord Vishnu has expanded as Lord Shiva even before and for the creation of the material world. Some Vedic texts give equal status to Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, nown as “the Hindu Trinity” by Western scholars. However, Srila Vyasa deva, the compiler of the Vedas, has himself clarified the different positions of these three gunavataras in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is a commentary on Vedanta sutra by the very author of the Vedanta sutra, who is, again, none other than Srila Vyasa deva himself. It is explained that Lord Krishna is the original Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead (krishnastu bhagavan svayam), whereas Brahma, although from tattvic point of view, a jiva, a soul like us, but on an extremely elevated level of consciousness, and Shiva, or Shambhu, is higher than Brahma but less than Vishnu. Shiva is not a jiva like us. Shiva tattva is higher than jiva tattva but lower than Vishnu tattva. Thus both Brahma and Shiva are engaged in serving Lord Vishnu.
The Shaivites, however, tend to see Shiva not just as the greatest devotee but as God Himself. There is some basis for this in scripture. In the Bhagavatam (4.7.50) Lord Vishnu Himself says, “Brahma, Lord Shiva, and I are the supreme cause of the material manifestation. I am the Supersoul, the self-sufficient witness. But impersonally there is no difference between Brahma, Lord Shiva, and Me.”
In other words, all three divinities are one because they are all avataras, or descents of the Supreme, for the creation, maintenance, and annihilation of the material world. In this context, they are known as guna-avataras, and they preside over the modes of passion (embodied by Brahma, the creator), goodness (embodied by Vishnu, the maintainer), and ignorance (embodied by Shiva, the destroyer). All three of these avataras are considered aspects of the same principle of Godhead.
The Mahabharata too (Anusasana-parva 135) says that Vishnu and Shiva are nondifferent and even counts the names Shiva, Sarva, Sthanu, Ishana, and Rudra—names traditionally identified with Shiva—among the thousand names of Vishnu. Such identification between Shiva and the Supreme Lord seemingly gives weight to the idea of contemporary Hinduism that all the gods mentioned in the Vedic literature are one.
But a close study of scripture shows that while there is reason to see Shiva as nondifferent from Vishnu, there is also reason to distinguish strongly between them. According to Bhagavad-gita, which is accepted by nearly all classes of transcendentalists in India—including Vaishnavas and Shaivites—Vishnu (Krishna) is the ultimate Godhead, to whom even Shiva must bow down. This is not a matter of opinion or sectarian prejudice. Krishna identifies Himself as the source of all material and spiritual worlds (Bg. 10.8) – http://www.krishna.com/topic-term/shiva
Thus we can see that Lord Shiva is not a myth. He is a real person with real attributes. It is the causeless mercy of Srila Prabhupada and the previous acharyas that today we are able to understand the actual position of Lord Shiva and offer our respects to him in a befitting way.
Being in charge of the mode of ignorance, Lord Shiva is also the master of false ego in all living entities and as such, it is Lord Shiva by whose mercy one can finally get relieved from the clutches of false ego and achieve permanent shelter at the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Only those with limited access to Vedic knowledge argue over whether Lord Siva is the master of Lord Vishnu, or if it is the other way round. Lord Shiva would never claim to be the master of Lord Vishnu because he is not. On the other hand, Lord Krishna, the original, primeval Vishnu, has clearly declared in Bhagvad Gita that He is the master of all and that there is no one superior to Him. We need to realize that He said so because that is what He is.
mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam sutre mani-gana iva
TRANSLATION: O conquerer of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread. (Bhagavad Gita 7.7)
Again, it is not about who is superior to whom, even though understanding such hierarchy is not out of place. It is about respecting Lord Shiva’s position the way he himself teaches. Lord Shiva is the original spiritual master of one of the four bona fide faculties, or sampradays, teaching the science of Vishnu bhakti. It is clalled Rudra sampradaya. The other three are from Lord Brahma (Brahma sampradaya), Goddess Lakshmi (Sri sampradaya), the Kumaras (Kumara sampradaya).
May the most merciful Lord Shiva, who is also known as Ashutosh and Shambhu, shower mercy on all conditioned souls so that they can develop love of Godhead.