Dear Divine Souls,
I hope that--by God's grace--this finds you and all your loved ones in the best of health and happiness at this holy and sacred time of Maha Shivratri.
There are many important messages and meanings to take into our hearts on this divine occasion. I will share a few with you.
Shiva as Divine Destroyer
In the trinity of gods--Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva--Lord Shiva is the one who destroys or dissolves that which is old and impure, in order to make room for a new creation of that which is pure and divine. Lord Shiva annihilates our egos, our attachments and our ignorance. Many fear Lord Shiva's destructive capacity, and yet it is destruction for the purpose of regeneration. Without death, life cannot begin anew. Without the annihilation of old habits, attachments and ego, we cannot progress toward the goal of God realization.
The stories and the messages of Bhagwan Shiva are innumerable; however, one of the most important is the story of how He--for the sake of humanity--swallowed the poison which emerged from the ocean.
Shiva as Mahadeva--the Swallower of the Poison
The story says that the Gods and their brothers, the Demons, were churning the ocean in search of the pot of the nectar of immortality. However, after a great deal of effort, what emerged was not nectar, but poison!! The Gods and demons knew that in order to continue churning, and ultimately to unearth the Divine nectar, they could not simply toss the poison aside. Someone had to drink it. But, naturally, no one was willing to drink the poison. Everyone had some excuse for why he or she was too valuable to be sacrificed. Finally, Bhagwan Shiva came forward and said "I will drink the poison if it will preserve peace and enable my brothers and sisters to attain the nectar of immortality."
However, if He swallowed the poison it would harm His internal organs and His physical body. If He spit it out, it would destroy the world. Thus, He kept it in His throat--hence the name Neelkanth (which means "blue throat")--and sat peacefully in meditation for eternity.
Poison in Our Own Lives
In our lives, in our families, so much poison emerges - between parents and children, between husband and wife. We wait and wait for the divine nectar to emerge, but it seems that only poison comes. So many times people come to me, complaining, "But why should I always be the one to compromise? Why should I always be the one to give in?
Why should I always say I'm sorry? It's not fair!"
On this night of Shivratri, as we worship Bhagwan Shiva, it is also the night that we must pray for the strength to take His message to heart! Let us not only worship Him, but let us emulate Him. He who is willing to peacefully swallow the poison, he who is willing to sacrifice for the family, for the community and for humanity is the true Mahadev.
Bhagwan Shiva went to the Himalayas, to the land now called Neelkanth to meditate after He drank the poison. The message is--when poison emerges in the home, when poison emerges anywhere in our lives, when we feel like if we swallow it we will die, but if we don't drink it then the fight will continue - the secret is to meditate! You don't have to go to the Himalayas. Just create your own Himalayas. Wherever you are. First, be the one to accept the poison. Be the one to sacrifice, apologize and concede humbly. Then go, sit and meditate peacefully. This is not weakness, but strength.
Poison always comes; obstacles always come. When we work for good causes, when we embark upon divine work, the poison always comes before the nectar. However, we must never get discouraged. We must never give up. If the Gods and demons had forfeited the churning at the sign of poison, it would have been a tragedy for humanity.
Similarly, we must always have faith that the nectar WILL come. It is only a matter of time. We must be willing to churn and churn, no matter what comes--be it poison or nectar.
On the night of Shivratri as we remember the churning between the Gods and Demons for the nectar of immortality, we must take another lesson to heart. On the night of Shivratri as we remember the churning between the Gods and Demons for the nectar of immortality, we must take another lesson to heart. This battle between the gods and the demons does not exist only in our scriptural stories. Rather, the battle also exists within ourselves.
After the nectar emerged, the demons tried to abscond with it in order to become ever more powerful and ever more able to destroy their brothers, the Gods. However, through a series of divine interventions, the Gods emerged the victors and the ones with the gift of immortality.
Similarly, by the grace of Bhagwan Shiva, the night of Shivratri is especially auspicious for winning the battle within ourselves, the battle between the Gods and the Demons, between right and wrong, between poison and nectar, between death and immortality. Let us use our puja, our prayers, our meditations on this night to pray for the divine intervention that within ourselves the good might vanquish the evil, that the nectar within us might emerge, rather than poison, that we too may be carried from death to immortality.
All on this Earthly Plane is Transitory--Live in Peace not in Pieces
Lastly, Bhagwan Shiva is portrayed with ash on his forehead, and devotees of Lord Shiva frequently apply sacred ash to various parts of their body. This is symbolic of the fact that everything which today has a form on the Earth once was ash in the ground and again will be reduced to nothing but ash. Therefore, the ash serves to remind us that all that we are, all that we do, all that we earn and acquire will only be reduced to ash one day, and therefore we should live our lives dedicated to God, rather than to the accumulation of temporary possessions and comfort.
It is our greed, our expectations, our attachments and our desires which lead us to fight with one another and to live our lives in pieces rather than in peace. When we realize that everything we accumulate, everything we desire, everyone whom we envy, everything and everyone to which we are attached will someday be nothing but ash as will we, ourselves, then the question arises: "Why to fight? Why to lose our peace? Why to covet? Why to envy? Why to anger?"
A deep awareness of the transitory nature of all people and all things, coupled with a deep awareness of the permanence of our soul allows us to focus on that which is truly important rather than that which is not. At the end of our lives, nothing we've acquired, nothing we've fought for, nothing we've been attached to can come with us.
However, our karma does come with us - only to be cleared in a future time. So, although the new car itself cannot come with us into the next life, the negative karma we may have accrued by earning the money in less than honest ways or stepping on someone else's head to get the raise -- all of that karma DOES come with us.
Therefore, let us be aware of the ephemeral nature of all of that which causes us to lose our peace, and the eternal nature of the Divine itself, focusing our lives on the latter rather than on the former.
Happy Lives are Healthy Lives
Let us pledge to be calmer, more peaceful, more loving, more giving and sharing. These qualities not only make our lives here on Earth more peaceful and joyful but also more healthy. So many scientific studies have shown that those whose lives are filled with joy, gratitude, appreciation, and acceptance are not only more peaceful but actually live healthier, stronger, more productive, successful and longer lives. Further, to focus on giving, sharing, appreciating, accepting and sacrificing also ensures that whatever karmas travel with us after we leave the Earthly realm are only positive, liberating and Divine rather than binding and negative.
Let us, at this sacred and auspicious time, pledge to live each day with the awareness that someday we--and everything we possess--will be turned to ash. Thus, let our every moment and every minute be used in the service of the world, to help the needy, to cultivate our spiritual awareness and to get closer and closer to God. Let our attention go to the things which truly matter, those aspects which are eternal, rather than those which are fleeting.
Let us become the "Mahadev" wherever we are--always prepared to quietly and peacefully hold the poison in our throats (neither letting it harm us nor harm anyone else) for the benefit of humanity.
With love and blessings to you and all your loved ones.
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati
© PROMETHEUS 116/2007
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 116, February 2007