A View of Reality From the Mountaintop
Man searches for himself, slowly ascending the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation. It is an arduous, delightful journey through samsara culminating in God-Realization, the direct and personal spiritual experience of Siva, of Self, of Truth. This alone among all things in the cosmos can bring freedom from the bondages of ignorance and desire. This is the highest realization. There is none greater.
Hindus believe that all men and women are on this path and that all will ultimately reach its summit. It is a glorious and encouraging concept- that every single soul will reach Truth, none left to suffer forever for human transgression. Along the way the pilgrim encounters many teachings, many philosophies many visions of Reality- including those that deny that there is a Reality.
It is a fact that the mystics of all religions, not only Hinduism, have spoken of an "indescribable oneness" with God, a non-dual or advaitic union that the Vedas intimated in the simple words Thou art That. Meister Eckhart, the German Christian, and Abu Yazid, the Muslim, were both staunch monists- even thought their traditions officially denounced their professions of the fundamental Oneness of existence.
Not everyone holds such a view. Many see the world as divided into two or more realities: good and evil, light and darkness, God, soul and world. Even Vedanta philosophy as understood today-by taking monism to the extreme of denying real existence to the world or the soul-implies yet another subtle form of duality between the real and the non-real. Such dualism is not wrong. Rather, it is a partial truth.
We explore here a view of Reality that is the oldest of all realizations- monistic theism. It is the essential teaching of the Hindu faith, and most especially of the six sects of Saivism. It finds its fullest expression in the 5,000-year old Saiva Siddhanta theology (saivism's major southern school) as scripturally codified in the Tirumantiram by Saint Tirumular (a siddhar of the Natha Sampradaya who lived 2,100 years ago). "Siddhanta" literally means "ultimate knowledge" or "final conclusion" Saiva Siddhanta, which encompasses both Vedic and Agamic traditional is monistic in that it believes in a one Reality and in the advaitic or non-dual identity of man with that Reality. It is theistic in its belief in God as personal Lord, immanent in the world, and in the Gods or Mahadevas. Thus, Saiva Siddhanta encompasses the non-dual and the dual, both advaitic Vedanta and dvaitic Siddhanta. (For a pluralistic view of Saiva Siddhanta as expressed by Meykandar 800 years ago, see the center box below.)
Monistic theism reconciles certain theological problems and apparent opposites. A little story offers a parallel in science. Scientists have long been perplexed by the strange nature of light. In some experiments it behaves like particles, while in others it acts clearly like waves of energy. Argument flew back and forth. It couldn't be both, so which was it? In just it was theorized that light behaves like particles on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and like waves during the rest of the week!
If a physical phenomenon like light has so eluded great minds, how much greater the difficult to fathom the spiritual realities of God and soul. It is only by direct cognition, personal experience at the deepest levels, that the mystery of Being can be known. To grasp Reality requires a transcendent point of reference which reconciles that dichotomy of being and becoming the contradiction of God's eternality and temporal activity, the confusion of good and evil, the impasse of one and two.
For centuries the Siva Yogaswami Guru Paramparai of Sri Lanka (of the Natha Sampradaya) has taught such a philosophy-monistic theism-within Saiva Siddhanta. It is a progressive path of chariya, kriya, yoga and jnana. Like all Saivite sects, Saiva Siddhanta accepts the existence of Pati, or God, pasu, or individual soul and pasa, or the bonds that confine the soul to earthly existence. Its simplest summary is this: God Siva is Creator and Creation.
Siva is All: Saivism lays great emphasis on striving, on purification, on sadhana, on the effort to "know thy Self by thyself." And just what is this Self? It is the knowledge that Siva is the essence of all things that He a alone performs all actions, that He is the Knower as well as the Known. In truth, there is nothing in this universe but Siva, there is not a single place He does not exist, All objects sentient and insentient are Siva. Unity and diversity sity are Siva. You are Siva. The Self of all is Siva. This world which appears to be different from Him, is actually created by Him, made of His very being.
Once the seeker knows himself as Siva thereafter he sees only Siva wheresoever he may look. This is the highest teaching Saivism. It is this realization toward which Saiva Siddhanta leads. It is this attainment toward which all other experiences in life are leading.
Saivism describes three perfections of God Siva. The highest is Parasivam, timeless, formless, spaceless and causeless. This is Siva's transcendence, His inmost core and Being for which no description is possible, except to say "Not this. Not that."
Satchidananda is Siva's immanent perfection, often described as Pure Consciousness, Love, Light and Energy pervading all things. It is the Primal Substance of which all else is made, the "clay" of the cosmos.
Saivism is highly devotional, and Siva is worshipped and hailed as Lord and Father, as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. This is His third perfection of Primal Soul or Mahadeva a conscious and divine Being, a personal God. He is the Beginning and the End, the Author of Existence. He is both material and efficient Cause, and thus His act of manifestation is likened in scripture to sparks issuing forth from a fire or a web spun from the body of a spider.
All three perfections of Siva are necessarily inadequate descriptions of His one, indivisible Reality, which is forever perfect and complete. Soul and world do exist and are not equal to Siva any more than a drop is equal to the ocean, though both are of the same essential nature (hydrogen and oxygen). Thought Siva is His creation (immanent), He is more than creation (transcendent). Thus, theism and the devotion and worship associated therewith are an essential part of Saivism.
Dual/Non-Dual: Webster defines monism as "the doctrine that there is only one ultimate substance or principle, that reality is an organic whole without independent parts." This is the opposite of dualism, which he defines as "the theory that the world is ultimately composed of, or explicable in terms of, two basic entities...the doctrine that there are two mutually antagonistic principles in the universe, good and evil." Pluralism is defined as "the theory that reality is composed of a multiplicity of ultimate beings principles or substance."
Stated most simply, the monistic school of Saiva Siddhanta holds that God Siva created (by emanation from Himself0 everything and that each soul is destined to merge in non-dual union with Him, as a river merges into the sea. As spiritual essence, the soul is always one with Siva; as form it evolves over time and ultimately merges in Him.
The individual soul-which is a conscious being, a body' of light-is created, evolves on the wheel of samsara from incarnation to incarnation, ultimately merging in undifferentiated union with God Siva, which oneness may be called identity. The essence of the soul, which is Satchidananda and Parasivam, is eternal and uncreated, does not evolve but is forever perfect. This essence of the soul is not different form Siva. The world and the soul are, in truth but various forms of Siva Himself, yet He also transcends His creation and is not limited by it. Also, the world and the soul cannot stand independent of God, a fact which makes it clear that they are evolutes and not eternally separate entities. When would and soul are absorbed in Him at the time of Mahapralaya-the end of the cosmic creational cycle-the three bonds of ego, karma and illusion (called anava, karma and maya malam) are annihilated and the soul's individual existence ceases, losing its separateness thought union and fulfillment in Siva. After the Mahapralaya, Siva alone exists until creation issues forth from Him in yet another cosmic cycle.
The Cosmic Creation: Consider the question of creation. Did this would always exist (and therefore no Creator is required to account for it) or did God Siva create the world and the individual soul? Saint Tirumular is unequivocal on this point, stating time and again in his Tirumantiram that God Siva has created or emanated everything from Himself.
Saivites generally use the word create in the specific sense of manifestation or sometimes Siva's will, activity or overflowing radiance. The Sanskrit word for creation is sristi, meaning "to let loose," which corresponds closely to the definition of creation as found in the Tirumantiram. Tirumular uses the Tamil word padai. Here are a number of the relevant verses from the Tirumantiram which demonstrate Tirumular's doctrine of emanational creation.
If the cardinal directions are all Siva
Why speak of someone else, O you men!
All smoke emanates from fire,
All creation arises from our Primal Lord.
Of your He created the world seven,
Of your He Created celestials countless
Of your He Created souls without number,
Of your He Created all-Himself,
As Primal Param, Uncreated, (Verse 446)
When the Creator dances, the worlds
He created dance. (Verse 2786)
There are different views of creation. One form describes God's cosmic creative act as analogous to a potter who fashions a pot. In this description of creation, God is the Potter (called the efficient cause) who, through the use of a wheel (called the instrumental cause and thought of as God's power of Shakti) molds from an already-existing clay (called the material cause and thought of as a primordial Matter or Maya) a pot (the effect of these three cause). If we hold such a view of the creative act, then naturally the destructive act is abhorrent, for it merely is the ruination of the pot or its return to formless clay.
But there is another, and more traditionally Hindu, understanding, of God Siva's creation. Creation of the soul is like a spark issuing from a fire, like a wave, a bubble or river arising from the ocean, like the dance of a dancer. In this analogy (which is also imperfect, but will serve to make the point), the wave or river has a beginning, an evolution and an end. Does something arise out of nothing? No, water arise out of water. Does that water cease to exist when it return to the vast ocean? No, it merges back into the ocean. It ceases to be a wave or a drop of water and it becomes oceanness. That merging is fulfillment, not destruction. That union in God is the ultimate blessing, the most glorious goal imaginable, the consummate condition of the soul as it returns to its Source.
The soul body emanates from Siva, evolves in physical and non-physical worlds and ultimately merges back in Him. Is it destroyed in that merging? No, it is made complete and perfect. It becomes Siva. Jiva becomes Siva. This is the conclusion of monistic theism.
Siva Nataraja's dance is perhaps the very nest analogy for creation. Unlike other forms of creation, in dance there is no "thing" which is separate from the creator, like the pot is separate from the potter or a painting from the artist.
The soul is Siva's emanated creation, existing within the Divine Mind of Siva. It is not an eternally separate entity. God Siva is the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, the Alpha and Omega of existence. As Yogaswami taught, "Everything emanates from the Great Silence. Nothing exists apart from God. It is like the waves and the ocean."
Evil: If God did create, then the question arises why there is evil in the world. Many people deny the existence of the Divine because they cannot see how a good, compassionate God could have created (or even allowed) an apparently imperfect world. It's certainly true that on the surface this world appears full of sorrow, injustice, evil, disease, death and all manner of imperfection. The soul, too, seems tainted with ignorance and limitation. Does that mean that God could not have created the world? Does it imply that there are forces beyond His control (for a compassionate God would assuredly not permit evil if He had the power to eliminate it)? Or, as, Omar Khayyam noted, "Did the hand then of the potter slip?"
The mystic's answer is that this world is, in fact, perfect, thought that fact is not apparent to the causal observer. The world and the soul are God Siva's divine and flawless creation. It is superficial to say that sorrow and death are evil, that only joy and life are good. That is an unenlightened view of the pairs of opposites which, taken together, comprise a perfect whole. Life is precious, indeed possible because of death. Light depends for its existence on darkness, and joy on sorrow.
The view of Saiva Siddhanta as expounded by Saint Tirumular, the Saiva Nayanmars and Siva Yogaswami is that this world is, when viewed from superconsciousness, perfect and that God Siva has purposefully created each thing and its opposite: good and bad, beauty and deformity, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, life and death. Siva Yogaswami taught us that "There is not even one evil thing in the world." He urged us to "See God everywhere," not just in the obviously good. "Sarvam Sivamayam-All is Siva's maya," the Sat Guru exclaimed.
From our ordinary consciousness, this may be difficult to understand, especially when we personally are confronted with disease, death, violence, poverty and all forms of misery. Yet, it is these very sets of opposites that provide the means for the soul's maturation through the mechanism of karma, that make us to seek beyond the world of duality, that remove the bonds and bring each soul to Siva's Holy Feet. From the enlightened summit reached by the siddhars, all is seen as necessary and good. All is seen as God Siva Himself, in Him and of Him. A perfect world has issued from a perfect Creator.
Final Destiny: What about the soul's ultimate destiny? Is it to be a blessed relationship with God in heaven, unending enjoyment of divine association or the sundering of the joy/enjoyer state and loss of self in Self? Saint Tirumular teaches of a complete and irrevocable union of the soul in God Siva, a union which is identity. This identity is ever-existent for the essence of the soul. However, with respect to the soul body, identity comes after the soul has completed its sojourn in samsara, the cycle of earthly births and deaths, and after further evolution in inner worlds. Saint Tirumular's conclusions are powerful and compelling. Here are a few verses from the Tirumantiram which reflect the siddhar's teachings and the highest monistic doctrine of Saiva Siddhanta:
The soul which in its real condition
Was of the form of Sivam
Was confined and conditioned
By its original anava malam.
When this malam ceased to obstruct the soul,
The soul resumed its original form of Sivam.
Even as a shadow disappears with the body,
Even as a bubble returns into water
Even as a flame of camphor leaves on trace,
So it is when Jiva into Param unites.
Thus stand, freed of all sectarian shackles;
Adore the Feed of Paraparai
And with Siva one become-
That is the way Siddhanta
Is fulfilled. (Verse 1437).
Monistic theists accept both Siddhanta (which is highly theistic) and Vedanta (which is boldly monistic). More precisely, they realize that Vedanta is the summit of the vast mountain of Siddhanta-Siddhanta is the whole and Vedanta is the part, but the highest part of that whole. Here we speak of Vedanta not as the denial of all but the Absolute, not as modern interpretation which makes everything, including the soul and its evolution, an illusion, but we speak of the original and pristine Vedanta of the Upanishads. No awakened Siddhantin will ever deny the Truths of Vedanta, for they are the jewels which adorn the Saiva Siddhanta theology.
Siva Yogaswami taught us, "When the Vedas and Agamas all proclaim that the whole world is filled with God, and that there is nothing else, how can we say that the world exists and the body exists? Is there anything more worthy of reproach than to attribute an independent reality to them? Sages, too, have declared: 'Those who have become Your won are not other than you.' Thus for several reasons of this kind, there is nothing other than God."
Scriptural Basis: Monistic theism has its roots in the Vedas. Scholars like Max Hunter Harrison, author of Hindu Monism and Pluralism, have long noted that the Hindu scriptures are alternately monistic and theistic. It is not a criticism, but a valid observation of a theology that manages to encompass both.
"The Svetasvatara Upanishad is theistic in character and identifies the Supreme Brahman with Rudra (Siva) who is conceived as the material and the efficient cause of the world...Nature or pradhana is not an independent entity, but belongs to the self of the Divine, devatma-sakti. God is the "Mayin," the maker of the world which is "maya or made by Him. The Upanishad teaches the unity of the souls and the world in the one Supreme Reality (of Siva)."
The above quote, taken from page 707 of "The Principle Upanishads" by the renowned Indian philosopher Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, summarizes the essence of monistic theism which is the essential teaching of Hinduism, of Saivism and of Saiva Siddhanta. One cannot read the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Agamas and the hymns of the Saivite saints without being overwhelmed with theism as well as monism.
In the West these two have historically been held in opposition. The theists (Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Ramanuja, Kant and virtually all devout Christians and Moslems) held that there is eternal duality between God and world, good and bad, Creator and created. Thought they believed in God as Lord and Creator, He was a distant God, ever separate, ever aloof from man and the world.
The monists, on the other hand, tended to be pantheists (Sankara, Spinoza, the Stoics, Buddhism's Asvaghosha, etc.) and their views did not permit of a God in the normal sense as Lord and Creator. Taken separately, both monism and theism are fatally flawed for neither alone encompasses the whole of truth. This is the conclusion of scores of great rishis, siddhars, Sat Gurus and even Western mystics and philosophers. The greatest philosophical minds throughout history have thus been what Professor William L. Reese terms "dipolar" in their philosophical conclusions. In other words, it is not a matter of either the God-is-man-and-world monism of pantheism or the God-is-separate-from-man-and-world duality of classical theism; it is both.
"Panentheism" is the formal philosophical term for the view that embraces the polarities of oneness and twoness. To the pantheist God is immanent, temporal, becoming-He is creation itself (the material cause). To the theist He is transcendent, eternal, Being Creator (as efficient cause). But each of these limits the Unlimited, views only one side of God's Being and is thus incomplete. For the panentheist (the monistic theist), He is both transcendent and immanent, eternal and temporal, Being and becoming, Creator and created, Absolute and relative, efficient and material cause. All dichotomies are lost in Siva.
Siva is Cause and Effect: Professor Charles Hartshorne finds in a Vedic Hymn an example of God as both efficient and material cause and observes. "We submit that it would be hard to imagine a clearer statement, in primitive mythical form, of the doctrine that becoming is the inclusive side of the duality, being-becoming, than the Atharva-Veda "Hymn to Time." The striking figure of the wheel pictures immortality as deity's axle; by implication, then, the temporal world of becoming is the wheel's rim revolving about the changeless axle. The conclusion would appear to follow that real temporal as well as eternal, components make up the reality which is God. And how better to convey the notion that the Supreme is both cause and effect, both creator and creature, both productive and receptive, that by describing the 'Lord of all' as both father and son of the worlds?"
Concluding Thoughts: For the Sivabhaktar, which means for 99.9 percent of all Saivite Hindus, theological issues such as those under discussion and a thousand others, are of little consequence. What is important is to be following the Saivite path, to be living a good life, to be guided closer to Siva by scripture and by the enlightened sages. God is seen as Love, worshipped as Love and by that Love all the interests and activities of this earthly life are made purposeful, even holy. While great minds discuss philosophy, greater minds merge into the Reality of which no philosophy can adequately describe.
The real spiritual life which our Saivite heritage demands is based on personal practices and expressions of faith, on yoga and sadhana, on the heart's outpouring in holy hymns and temple devotions, on silent meditation, on the light-filled words of the illumined Sat Guru and chanting of Siva's sweet names in the hours before dawn. Each one must seek himself, must find Truth within, climb the mountain of consciousness.
It is a thousand times true and it must be shouted from the rooftops that love, humility, sacrifice, selfless service and silent introspection are the path that brings the soul to knowledge of Siva. Let these be the compass to guide the inward journey. Let these be the ideals for which lesser things are renounced. Let these be the treasures of the heart, more cherished than all the world's wealth, more precious than any possession. Until these are known, one cannot rise above the forest of maya and "know the Self by thyself."
Article copyright Himalayan Academy.
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