When we say “Shiva,” there are two fundamental aspects that we are referring to. The word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” Today, modern science is proving to us that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. The basis of existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos is vast nothingness. The galaxies are just a small happening, they are a sprinkling. The rest is all vast empty space, which is referred to as Shiva. That is the womb from which everything is born, and that is the oblivion into which everything is sucked back. Everything comes from Shiva and goes back to Shiva. So Shiva is described as a non-being, not as a being.
On another level, when we say “Shiva,” we are referring to the Adiyogi or the first yogi, who is the basis of the yogic science. Yoga does not mean standing on your head or holding your breath. Yoga is the science and technology to know the essential nature of how this life is created and how it can be taken to its ultimate possibility.
This being who is a yogi, and that non-being which is the basis of the existence, are the same, because a yogi is someone who has experienced the Union – experienced the existence as himself. If you have to contain the existence within you even for a moment as an experience, you have to be that nothingness. Only nothingness can hold everything. Something can never hold everything. This planet can hold an ocean, but not the solar system. The solar system can hold the planets and the sun, but not the rest of the galaxy. If you go like this, you will see only nothingness that can hold everything. When we talk about Shiva as “that which is not,” and Shiva as a yogi, in a way they are synonymous, yet they are two different aspects.
This transmission of yogic sciences happened on the banks of Kantisarovar, a glacial lake a few miles beyond Kedarnath in the Himalayas. This predates all religion. Shiva started a systematic exposition of yoga in a scientific manner to seven disciples, the Saptarishis. He began propounding the whole mechanics of life, not intellectually as a philosophy, but experientially. He explored every nut and bolt of creation and brought forth yoga as a technology with which every human being can evolve consciously. This is a way of stepping beyond the limitations that physical laws impose upon us.
Physical nature has set laws within which all life needs to happen. But the fundamental nature of the human being is always longing to go beyond those limitations. Spiritual process is about breaking the laws of the physical.
In the yogic culture, Shiva is not seen as a God. He was a being who walked this land and lived in the Himalayan region. As the very source of the yogic traditions, his contribution in the making of human consciousness is too phenomenal to be ignored. Every possible way in which you could approach and transform the human mechanism into an ultimate possibility was explored thousands of years ago. The sophistication of it is unbelievable. The question of whether people were so sophisticated at that time is irrelevant because this did not come from a certain civilization or thought process. This came from an inner realization. This had nothing to do with what was happening around him. It was just an outpouring of himself. In great detail, he gave a meaning and a possibility of what you could do with every point in the human mechanism. You cannot change a single thing even today because he said everything that could be said in such beautiful and intelligent ways. You can only spend your lifetime trying to decipher it.
The planetary positions on Mahashivarathri night are such that there is a natural upsurge of energy in the human system. This process of raising one’s energies to their ultimate pitch, to dissolve oneself and become a part of the cosmic oneness, has happened in abundance on this night. A nightlong festival has been established to make use of this possibility by remaining awake and keeping one’s spine erect. May this Mahashivarathri be not just a night of wakefulness, but a night of awakening.
~ Adapted from Isha Blog