Fundamental hypostases of Shiva
synthesis by eminent yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru
Shiva is the Absolute Light (prakasha) of undifferentiated Godly Consciousness, manifesting as all that exists. This Light is at the same time pure bliss as it is self-supporting by its very nature. Being unique, it is totally free, there being nothing else on which it depends.
Preceding space and time, to which it gives birth, it is omnipresent and eternal. It contains everything, no atom can exist outside it. Residing in the heart of every being in the form of the universal Subject (aham or the Absolute Self), it illuminates our whole life, all conscious psychic manifestations and enables us to perceive the external world. Without it we would be numb, blind and no experience would be possible. This is the reason for the exclamation of the great enlightened sage Utpaladeva: “To know Yourself, no help is needed, there is in reality no obstacle. Everything is flooded by the rushing torrent, overflowing with endless bliss, of Thy eternal existence!” (XII. 1) The Infinite and Supreme Reality in all its plenitude shines unceasingly above the world and in the world, without ever leaving its own nature.
In the Eastern tradition, several fundamental hypostases of the supreme Shiva are known.
SHIVA MAYAVIN – SHIVA, IN THE HYPOSTASIS OF MAGICIAN
If Paramashiva – the Undifferentiated Oceanic Consciousness and Bliss – is our own essential substance, why is it that we do not perceive it as such and are subject to delusion, fear and pain, being dominated by the body and ego? This aspect arises because Shiva is also a Magician, who through his creative and deceptive force, maya, hides in Himself from Himself through Himself – like the spider encircling itself in its own web – to play its prodigious game of enchainment and liberation, both at the macrocosmic and microcosmic levels. He perceives himself, therefore, fragmented into innumerable beings created by self-forgetfulness, for in giving birth to multiplicity, He hides himself, concealing unity. In this direction, the initiate Laleshvari says: “There is neither you, nor I, nor contemplated, nor contemplation, there is only the Creator of the Universe, who is hidden in the hearts of all beings, apparently lost in self-forgetfulness. If the blind, or, in other words, the ignorant, discover no meaning in Him, on the contrary, the wise, seeing the Supreme, melt ecstatically in Him.”
SHIVA PASHUPATI – SHIVA, IN THE HYPOSTASIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Shiva is the providence that takes care of all manifestation, finding for each being, for its own good, a specific place and purpose in the Universe and then directs its life according to its own sovereign will. Therefore, man’s fastest possible spiritual evolution is the fervent aspiration towards Him. As God the Saviour, Shiva saves the human being who is in the ocean of sorrow. He is the swan (hamsa) who extracts from the impure waters of illusion the pristine milk of discernment and, in his endless goodness, gives it to mankind. He is thus worshipped as Pashupati, the watchful and loving shepherd, who by his fire (tejas) impels his lost flock in the narrow straits of selfishness to find a new path: inwardness leading to the universal Heart (paramatman). Pashupati uses for this purpose the mysterious soothing energy, the grace (anugrahashakti), which is eternally at the heart of the human being.
SHIVA VIRUPAKSHA – SHIVA, IN THE HYPOSTASIS OF THE THIRD EYE MASTER (Ajna chakra)
The Shivaism sages often invoke Shiva as Tryambaka or Virupaksha, “Shiva with terrible eyes”, because of his third eye, located in the middle of the forehead and symbolising the complete opening of the secret center of force Ajna chakra. This fiery eye, a sign of Godly primordial oneness, is opposed to the usual view of the man enclosed in duality: “Without You, the whole Universe is endowed with a dual, fragmentary vision, revealing objectivity (the Subject-Object relationship). On the contrary, only You – the Master of this universe – possess a plenary unifying (non-dual) vision.” The same poet goes on to say, “A drop of Your happiness falling to earth gives birth to the Moon. A spark that springs from Thy fire, destroyer of illusion, gives birth to the Sun. O Lord, to Thee, who penetrates everywhere with Thy gaze, we offer our whole being as an offering to Thy third eye, the unique seal of inexpressible and transcendent greatness.”
SHIVA DHURJATI – SHIVA, IN THE HYPOSTASIS OF THE ASCETIC
The supreme ascetic, called Kapardin or Kapalin, with his hair in a bun, holding a snake as a sacred cord and holding the cosmic fire (agni) in the palm of His hand, animates and causes to vibrate, by his rhythmic leaps, the garland of skulls that He wears around his neck, which symbolises the celebration of the eternal cosmic dance. Under this aspect, Shiva symbolises the universal Godly Consciousness (Bhairava) which gives life, power and movement to the limited people, devoid of life and consciousness of their own. It is the Universal Godly Consciousness who dances in the immense “graveyard” of the Universe subject to time and becoming, drinking from a skull the intoxicating, sublime liquor that has the essential flavour of the whole cosmos. “Glory be to Thee, Supreme Consciousness, the only God who wears the garland of skulls around his neck”. “Those who have conquered the world and to whom Thou, who art everywhere, have bestowed Thy infinite love, O Thou who art omnipresent, should be worshipped by the whole Universe. Even the stormy and terrible sea of incarnation is for them no more than a lake in which they play.” – Utpaladeva
SHIVA UMAPATI – SHIVA, IN THE HYPOSTASIS OF UMA’S LOVER
The melodious voice of Uma Pashyanti, Shiva’s beloved, is the only one able to sing of God’s matchless greatness. Before Paramashiva can love, He needs to give up, so to speak, and obviously He does so in play, His pure Consciousness and His absolute freedom, and by seemingly tearing apart their undivided essence, He reveals to limited, personal beings, at times freedom (Shakti, vimarsha or nada) and at times Consciousness (Shiva, prakasha or bindu). And, through the miraculous play of Godly Freedom and Godly Consciousness, He thus creates the cosmos and beings (nara), all evolution ultimately springing from an act of love, Shiva loving Himself endlessly in His supreme creative energy (Shakti), eternally free and spontaneous, and loving in her the whole Universe. The reverse process of reabsorption starts from the universe, more precisely from the personal and limited being who, in love with the Universal Energy (Uma-Shakti) merges with it and, in turn, Uma dissolving into Shiva, she (Uma), thus carries the yogi towards the inexpressible Paramashiva.
SHIVA NATARAJA – SHIVA, DANCER AT THE GREAT CELEBRATION OF GODLY LIFE
Shiva’s cosmic dance, symbolising the universal flowering of the Supreme Consciousness in eternity, has as its essential source the primordial vibration (spanda), the germ of all movement. This infinitely subtle first movement springing from the Heart (the ultimate Godly essence – Atman) is expressed by Hara (the Enchanting Shiva), simultaneously poet and actor, who, vigilant moment by moment, having the universe as a theatre, interprets the cosmic show from beginning to end, assuming, at the same time and everywhere, all the roles. He carries out His multiple activities creating, sustaining and destroying the universe, hiding under the veil of illusion (maya) and, at the same time, revealing His true nature. “When You vibrate, reverberating in time and space, You unfold the whole world. When You become aware of Your essence, You become aware of the essence of the universe. And when You stagger to Your feet under the effect of Your own sublime and beatific nectar, the circle of existences sparkles!” – Utpala, XIII.15
SHIVA BHAIRAVA – SHIVA, TRANSCENDENT AND INEFFABLE, WHO MANIFESTS IN THE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT OF THE GODLY REVELATION, SHIVARATRI
Shiva envelops both light and darkness in incomparable transcendent radiance. He has no definite mode of being (for that would be a limitation). He is “the third wonder, beyond existence and non-existence”, thus being beyond all attributes. He is that hypostasis of the extraordinary and supreme God, whose distinguishing mark is that he has none. Thus, the yogi who aspires to identify with the state of Shiva accedes to “the ineffable Night, where there is no question of journey or stages”. The mysterious night of indistinguishability – representing the shadowless purity of Shiva, which replaces the day of illusion – is but one aspect of the unravelling leading to the state of final indeterminacy (nirvikalpa) of the consciousness merged with Shiva. “Wondrous light of all lights, mysterious darkness of all darkness! To these heavenly lights and to these mystic darknesses, ceaselessly manifesting peerless radiance, worship!” Abhinavagupta – Laghuvritti I.I.
April 13, 2023