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The quest for Shiva, whatever name we may wish to use, is perhaps the essence of humanity’s perennial search for immortality. Yoga as a sadhana or spiritual practice rests upon cultivating the Shiva consciousness of the highest awareness and bliss. This reality of Shiva is the power of silence, stillness, and non-doing, not the ordinary power of self-assertion and aggression. It works through inaction, peace and balance, in which one is centered in one’s own being and grasps the entire universe as a manifestation of one’s own thoughts. This power of Shiva is not the outer force that displays itself for personal gain, nor the outer effort to control that makes a show of itself to gain adulation. It is the spiritual force that turns things around, draws things within, and takes them back to their source, in which a deep unity remains. Shiva symbolizes this balancing and calming effect of all Yoga practices.
Shiva is the lord of cosmic sound or the cosmic music, particularly the great mantra OM from which all the Vedas and all mantras are said to derive, and the entire universe generated. The Sanskrit alphabet is said to arise from the beating of Shiva’s drum, whose resonance pervades all space. He has other important bija mantras of Hum and Haum or Haum Joom Sah. Hum represents the cosmic fire or Agni. Haum represents the Cosmic Prana, two important aspects of Shiva energy. Haum Joom Sah reflects the speed and power of his energy moving into us and taking us beyond from the standpoint of this Cosmic Prana.
Perhaps most notable for dealing with all of life’s difficulties and dangers is Shiva’s aspect as Tryambakam, the Three-Eyed One orMrityunjaya, the one who takes us beyond death, as the rishi Vasishta lauds in the Rig Veda.
Tryambakam yajamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam; urvarukam iva bandhanat, mriyor mukshiya mamritat.We worship the three eyed one, who is fragrant and increases nourishment. As a gourd from its stalk, may he release us from death but not from immartality.
This is the basis of the famous but much longer Vedic Rudram chant to Shiva in the Yajur Veda, in which one learns to honor the Divine power and mystery not only in beauty, bliss and happiness, but also in sorrow, difficulty and death. Shiva helps us embrace both sides of all dualities so that we can move beyond all dualities to te essence of oneness which is the deepest awareness. Shiva is the very death of death. He carries all time and existence in the winking of his eyes. Once we reach him, there is no more death and sorrow, which are revealed as but the shadow of a deeper unending light.
Relative to specific Yoga practices, Shiva is the master of asana; particularly the seated pose that is the most important of all the asanas. He is usually portrayed in either Siddhasana or Padmasana (lotus pose) often surrounded by animals that symbolize the other asanas as well.
Shiva is also the great lord of Prana or the cosmic life energy. The mantras Ham Sa and So Ham, the natural sounds of the breath, reflect the pranic dance of Shiva within us. They represent the voice of Shiva reverberating at the core of our being. In yogic pranayama we are cultivating the power of Shiva or the Cosmic Prana in one aspect or another.
Shiva is the great guide to meditation, the supreme guru, teaching us to observe, contemplate and not react, providing us with a cosmic view of the events in our lives and the emotions in our minds, so these can never overwhelm us. Yet Shiva is not the deity of a mere intellectual meditation or any mere personal self-analysis; he is the deity of merging the mind back into its source in the infinite, giving up the personal mind for the universal consciousness. Shiva takes us beyond the preconceptions of the mind to the consciousness that pervades all space and is not bound to any memory patterns, fears or desires.
Shiva as ogeshvara or the Lord of Yoga is the ideal ascetic, monk, swami and sadhu. Worshipping him we can master all aspects and practices of Yoga and meditation.
There are those who fear this Shiva energy or who would denigrate it as something harsh, uncontrolled, animal, or sensuous. Even many academicians take this approach to Shiva as a deity, reading human weaknesses, rather than cosmic transcendence into his mysterious symbolism.
This is because they misunderstand Shiva’s cosmic power as something negative,no more than the wild forces of nature that would disrupt our lives. However, Shiva is also the supreme healer, bringing rest, peace and rejuvenation to body, mind and heart. This occurs when we surrender to his power as holding a deeper love and bliss. In this regard, Shiva is also the deity of doctors, known as Vaidyanath or the Lord of all Ayurvedic physicians. Shiva as fiery Rudra helps us overcome febrile and infectious diseases and brings about purification. Yet as watery Soma, Shiva holds the powers of nourishment, rejuvenation and revitalization.
The worship of Shiva pervades the Yoga tradition from the most ancient to modern times. The Nath Yogis who gave us Tantric Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Siddha Yoga, were followers of Lord Shiva who is Adi Nath or the original Nath guru. This includes the great teachers Goraknath and Matsyendranath, who still have wide followings in India today.