Paramahansa Yogananda – The threefold nature of God as He demonstrates Himself in the phenomenal worlds is symbolized in Hindu scriptures as Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and SHIVA the Destroyer-Renovator. Their triune activities are ceaselessly displayed throughout vibratory creation. As the Absolute is beyond the conceptual powers of man, the devout Hindu worships It in the august embodiments of the Trinity …Mythological tales in the Puranas give the Himalayas as the abode of Shiva. The Goddess Ganga came down from the sky to be the presiding deity of the Himalayan-sourced river; the Ganges is therefore poetically said to flow from heaven to earth through the hair of Shiva, “King of Yogis” and the Destroyer-Renovator of the Trinity. …. God or Shiva [also spelled Siva] in His para or transcendental aspect is inactive in creation; His shakti (energy, activating force) is relegated to His “consorts,” the productive “female” powers that make possible the infinite unfoldments in the cosmos.
Daya Mata and Sister Revati visit Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh, India 1959
Shivaratri falls on the 13th (or 14th) day of the dark half of Phalgun (February-March). The name means “the night of Shiva”…. This is a festival observed in honour of Lord Shiva.
Swami Sivananda Explains the Inner/Esoteric meaning of Shivaratri
The Story of King Chitrabhanu
In the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma, whilst resting on the bed of arrows and discoursing on Dharma, refers to the observance of Maha Shivaratri by King Chitrabhanu. The story goes as follows.
Once upon a time King Chitrabhanu of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who ruled over the whole of Jambudvipa, was observing a fast with his wife, it being the day of Maha Shivaratri. The sage Ashtavakra came on a visit to the court of the king.
The sage asked, “O king! why are you observing a fast today?”
King Chitrabhanu explained why. He had the gift of remembering the incidents of his previous birth.
The king said to the sage: “In my past birth I was a hunter in Varanasi. My name was Suswara. My livelihood was to kill and sell birds and animals. One day I was roaming the forests in search of animals. I was overtaken by the darkness of night. Unable to return home, I climbed a tree for shelter. It happened to be a bael tree. I had shot a deer that day but I had no time to take it home. I bundled it up and tied it to a branch on the tree. As I was tormented by hunger and thirst, I kept awake throughout the night. I shed profuse tears when I thought of my poor wife and children who were starving and anxiously awaiting my return. To pass away the time that night I engaged myself in plucking the bael leaves and dropping them down onto the ground.
“The day dawned. I returned home and sold the deer. I bought some food for myself and for my family. I was about to break my fast when a stranger came to me, begging for food. I served him first and then took my food.
“At the time of death, I saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent down to conduct my soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. I learnt then for the first time of the great merit I had earned by the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. They told me that there was a Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves I dropped fell on the Lingam. My tears which I had shed out of pure sorrow for my family fell onto the Lingam and washed it. And I had fasted all day and all night. Thus did I unconsciously worship the Lord.
“I lived in the abode of the Lord and enjoyed divine bliss for long ages. I am now reborn as Chitrabhanu.”
Spiritual Significance of the Ritual
The Scriptures record the following dialogue between Sastri and Atmanathan, giving the inner meaning of the above story.
Sastri: It is an allegory. The wild animals that the hunter fought with are lust, anger, greed, infatuation, jealousy and hatred. The jungle is the fourfold mind, consisting of the subconscious mind, the intellect, the ego and the conscious mind. It is in the mind that these “wild animals” roam about freely. They must be killed. Our hunter was pursuing them because he was a Yogi. If you want to be a real Yogi you have to conquer these evil tendencies. Do you remember the name of the hunter in the story?
Atmanathan: Yes, he was called Suswara.
Sastri: That’s right. It means “melodious.” The hunter had a pleasant melodious voice. If a person practices Yama and Niyama and is ever conquering his evil tendencies, he will develop certain external marks of a Yogi. The first marks are lightness of the body, health, steadiness, clearness of countenance and a pleasant voice. This stage has been spoken of in detail in the Swetaswatara Upanishad. The hunter or the Yogi had for many years practised Yoga and had reached the first stage. So he is given the name Suswara. Do you remember where he was born?
Atmanathan: Yes, his birthplace is Varanasi.
Sastri: Now, the Yogis call the Ajna Chakra by the name Varanasi. This is the point midway between the eyebrows. It is regarded as the meeting place of the three nerve currents (Nadis), namely, the Ida, Pingala and the Sushumna. An aspirant is instructed to concentrate on that point. That helps him to conquer his desires and evil qualities like anger and so on. It is there that he gets a vision of the Divine Light within.
Atmanathan: Very interesting! But how do you explain his climbing up the bael tree and all the other details of the worship?
Sastri: Have you ever seen a bael leaf?
Atmanathan: It has three leaves on one stalk.
Sastri: True. The tree represents the spinal column. The leaves are threefold. hey represent the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna Nadis, which are the regions for the activity of the moon, the sun and fire respectively, or which may be thought of as the three eyes of Shiva. The climbing of the tree is meant to represent the ascension of the Kundalini Shakti, the serpentine power, from the lowest nerve centre called the Muladhara to the Ajna Chakra. That is the work of the Yogi.
Atmanathan: Yes, I have heard of the Kundalini and the various psychic centres in the body. Please go on further; I am very interested to know more.
Sastri: Good. The Yogi was in the waking state when he began his meditation. He bundled up the birds and the animals he had slain and, tying them on a branch of the tree, he rested there. That means he had fully conquered his thoughts and rendered them inactive. He had gone through the steps of Yama, Niyama, Pratyahara, etc. On the tree he was practising concentration and meditation. When he felt sleepy, it means that he was about to lose consciousness and go into deep sleep. So he determined to keep awake.
Atmanathan: That is now clear to me; you certainly do explain it very well. But why did he weep for his wife and children?
Sastri: His wife and children are none other than the world. One who seeks the Grace of God must become an embodiment of love. He must have an all-embracing sympathy. His shedding of tears is symbolical of his universal love. In Yoga also, one cannot have illumination without Divine Grace. Without practising universal love, one cannot win that Grace. One must perceive one’s own Self everywhere. The preliminary stage is to identify one’s own mind with the minds of all created beings. That is fellow-feeling or sympathy. Then one must rise above the limitations of the mind and merge it in the Self. That happens only in the stage of Samadhi, not earlier.
Atmanathan: Why did he pluck and drop the bael leaves?
Sastri: That is mentioned in the story only to show that he had no extraneous thoughts. He was not even conscious of what he was doing. All his activity was confined to the three Nadis. The leaves, I have said before, represent the three Nadis. He was in fact in the second state, namely, the dream state, before he passed into the deep sleep state.
Atmanathan: He kept vigil the whole night, it is said.
Sastri: Yes, that means that he passed through the deep sleep state successfully. The dawning of day symbolises the entrance into the Fourth state called Turiya or superconsciousness.
Atmanathan: It is said that he came down and saw the Lingam. What does that mean?
Sastri: That means that in the Turiya state he saw the Shiva Lingam or the mark of Shiva in the form of the inner lights. In other words, he had the vision of the Lord. That was an indication to him that he would realize the supreme, eternal abode of Lord Shiva in course of time.
Atmanathan: So it appears from what you say that the sight of the lights is not the final stage?
Sastri: Oh no! That is only one step, albeit a difficult one. Now think of how the story continues. He goes home and feeds a stranger. A stranger is one whom you have not seen before. The stranger is no other than the hunter himself, transformed into a new person. The food was the likes and dislikes which he had killed the previous night. But he did not consume the whole of it. A little still remained. That was why he had to be reborn as King Chitrabhanu. Going to the world of Shiva (Salokya) is not enough to prevent this. There are other stages besides Salokya. These are Samipya, Sarupya and finally Sayujya. Have you not heard of Jaya and Vijaya returning from Vaikunta?
Atmanathan: Yes, I have understood now.
Bro. Bhaktananda Meditating in front of Shiva Lingam, Ranchi
The “sky-clad” Shiva devotee ~ Paramahansa Yogananda
In Hindu art Shiva is often shown wearing an antelope skin of velvet blackness, symbolizing the darkness and mystery of Night — the sole garment of Him who is digambara, “sky-clad.” Certain Shiva sects wear no clothing in honor of the Lord who owns nothing — and everything.
One of the patron saints of Kashmir, the 14th-century Lalla Yogiswari (“Supreme Mistress of Yoga”) was a “sky-clad” Shiva devotee. A scandalized contemporary asked the saint why she observed nudity. “Why not?” Lalla replied tartly. “I see no men about.” To Lalla’s somewhat drastic way of thinking, he who lacked God-realization did not deserve the name of “man.” She practiced a technique, closely allied to Kriya Yoga, whose liberating efficacy she celebrated in numerous quatrains. I translate one of them here:
What acid of sorrow have I not drunk?
Countless my rounds of birth and death.
Lo! naught but nectar in my cup
Quaffed by the art of breath.
Undergoing no mortal death, the saint dematerialized herself in fire. Later she appeared before her grieving townspeople, a living form enwrapped in golden robes — fully clad at last!
BACK TO SAINTS OF ALL RELIGIONS