by Swami Krishnananda
(Spoken for Sivaratri in 1973)
Mahasivaratri is the glorious annual occasion when we offer special adorations to Lord Siva as the austere and the contemplative aspect of God the Almighty. We conceive God as glory, as creativity, and as austerity. Vishnu is glory and magnificence, Brahma is creativity and force, Siva is austerity and renunciation.
It is said that God is the embodiment of six attributes, of which renunciation is one. One may wonder how God can renounce things. He is not a sannyasi, He is not an ascetic like a vairagyi or a sadhu. What is He going to renounce? How can we conceive Siva as an austere yogin or a renunciate? What does He renounce? The all-pervading Almighty, what has He to give up or abandon?
Here is the secret of what renunciation is. It is not renunciation of anything, because there is nothing outside Him. Renunciation does not mean abandonment of any object. If that was the definition of renunciation, it could not apply to God. God does not renounce any object, because all objects are a part of His cosmic body. Then how is God represented as an embodiment of vairagya? Bhagavan, who is endowed with bhava or glory of a sixfold nature, is also an embodiment of vairagya. Do we identify Him with a sannyasin possessing nothing? As God is the possessor of all things, can He be called a renunciate, a sannyasin and a vairagyi?
The secret behind the concept or the consciousness of vairagya, or renunciation, is here in the identification of this attribute with God. It is only when we interpret things in terms of God that they become clear; otherwise, they get confused. We cannot know what goodness is, we cannot know what evil is, we cannot know what virtue is unless we refer all these values of life to the concept of God in its perfection. The only standard of reference for us in all matters of life’s values is the existence of God, so the concept of renunciation, which has been very much misused, becomes rectified, rarified and purified when it is understood with reference to the existence of God, whose special manifestation in this context is known as Lord Siva.
As God does not renounce anything, what is meant by ‘renunciation’ in this context? It is the freedom from the consciousness of externality. This is called vairagya. How can we abandon things? All things are there in front of us, such as trees in the forest. There is no abandonment of things, because they are internally related to us. Nobody can renounce anything, because everything is connected to everything else, as you have been listening to my repeating this great fact several times. As everything in this world is connected to everything else, how can anyone renounce anything? Then, what is vairagya?
Vairagya is not a renunciation of any object, which is impossible because everything clings to us. But the idea that things are outside us makes us get attached to them. This false attachment is raja, and its absence is viraga. The condition of viraga is vairagya. As God has no consciousness of externality because everything is embodied in Him, there cannot be a greater renunciate than God, and inasmuch as this consciousness of God is the highest form of wisdom, He is the repository of jnana.
In our religious tradition, Lord Siva is thus represented as an aspect of God the Almighty, who presents before us the ideal of supreme renunciation born of divine realisation – not born of frustration, not born of an escapist attitude, not born of defeatism, but born of an insight into the nature of things, a clear understanding of the nature of life, and a wisdom of existence in its completeness. This is the source of vairagya, or renunciation. We do not want anything, not because we cannot get things, but because we have realised the interconnectedness of things and the unity of all purpose in consciousness. All desires get hushed, sublimated and boiled down to the divine being only when this realisation comes.
God does not possess things. Possession is a relationship of one thing with another thing. But God is super-relation. That is why we call Him the Absolute. He is not relative. Anything that is related to something else comes under the category of relation. God is not related to anything else because He is all-comprehensive and thus, in His all-comprehensive absoluteness, which is the height of wisdom conceivable, there is also the concomitant character of freedom from the consciousness of externality – and therefore, as a corollary, freedom from attachment to anything.
Thus, Lord Siva is the height of austerity, the master yogin portrayed as seated in a lotus pose as the king of all ascetics – not that he has a desire for self-control, but he is self-control itself. He does not practice self-control; self-control itself is symbolised in the personality of Lord Siva.
Such a wondrous concept, such a glorious, majestic picture of the Almighty as Lord Siva is before us for the duration of the Mahasivaratri that we observe in this ashram and everywhere in Bharatvarsha. We observe fast during the day and vigil during the night. The idea is that we control the senses which represent the outgoing tendency of our mind symbolised in fast, and also control the tamasic, inert condition of sleep, to which we are subject every day. When these two tendencies in us are overcome, we transcend the conscious and unconscious levels of our personality and reach the superconscious level. The waking condition is the conscious level, and sleep is the unconscious level. Both are obstacles to God-realisation. But we are shifted from one condition to another – shunted, as it were, from waking to sleep and from sleep to waking every day – and the superconscious is not known to us.
The symbology of fast and vigil on Sivaratri is significant of self-control, rajas and tamas subdued, and God glorified. God is glorified, and senses are controlled. The glorification of God and the control of the senses mean one and the same thing, because it is only in God-consciousness that all senses can be controlled. When we see God, the senses melt like butter before fire. They cannot exist any more. All the ornaments become a solid mass of gold when they are heated to the boiling point. Likewise, in the furnace of God-consciousness, the sense energies melt into a continuum of Universality.
In the famous Rudra-Adhyaya of the Yajur Veda, known also as the Satarudriya, we have the majestic universalised description of Lord Siva, a chant which we are accustomed to hearing every day in the temple. Only those who know what Sanskrit is, what the Vedas are, and what worship is can appreciate what this chant is. The Rudra-Adhyaya of the Yajur Veda is one of the most powerful prayers ever conceived by the human mind. It is filled with a threefold meaning. According to the culture of India, everything is threefold – objective, subjective and universal. Everything in the world, from the smallest to the biggest, has an objective character, a subjective character, and a universal character. Objectively we are something, subjectively we are another thing, and universally we are a third thing. It all depends upon from what point of view we interpret a particular person, thing or object. When we objectively interpret something, it looks like one thing. When we subjectively visualise it, it is another thing. But from the universal point of view, it is a third thing altogether.
Likewise this mantra, the Satarudriya of the Yajur Veda, hymn to Lord Siva, has a subjective meaning, an objective meaning, and a divine celestial, supreme, supermental, universal meaning. Objectively it is a prayer for the control of the forces of nature, subjectively it is a prayer for self-control and rousing of the spiritual consciousness, and universally it is the surge of the soul towards God-realisation. It has an adhyatmika, adhibautika and adhidaivika meaning, as is usually said. The Satarudriya has a tremendous meaning. As the mantras of the Veda have a threefold or even fourfold meaning, it is difficult to understand the full meaning of any of these mantras. Ananta vai vedaha: Infinite is the meaning of the Veda. The meaning of the Veda is infinite; it has no end at all. It is mathematics, it is chemistry, it is physics, it is ayurveda, it is psychology, it is metaphysics, it is philosophy, it is spirituality, it is meditation, it is love, it is ecstasy. We will find everything in every mantra of the Veda. It all depends upon how we look upon it, how we see it. A person can be a father, he may be a brother, he may be a son, he may be a friend, but he is one and the same person. Only the attitudes are different on account of various relationships. So the Rudra-Adhyaya is before us, a majestic prayer for world peace, international peace, subjective peace, universal peace, and God-consciousness.
It is difficult to chant this Veda mantra called the Satarudriya because it requires training. For example, not everyone can sing well. It requires tremendous training for years together. Likewise, the chanting of the mantras of the Veda requires training for years together, and not for a few days only. It is said that just as one who does not know how to sing makes a jarring noise and we would like to get up and go away rather than listen to it, so also when we chant the mantra wrongly, the gods will get up and go away. They will not bear listening to it. So it requires training. But once it is learned, it becomes a protection for you from catastrophes of every kind – physical, psychological and what not.
So those who know the Satarudriya may chant it, recite it, and take part in its recitation every day in the temple, or at least during the worship on Mahasivaratri. Those who cannot do this because it is too difficult can chant the mantra om namah shivaya, a potent force, the Panchaksara Mantra of Lord Siva. It is a kavacha, a kind of armour that we put on, which will protect us from dangers of every kind. It will protect us, and it will protect all those whom we want to be protected. It will protect our family, it will protect our country, it will protect the whole world. It can cease wars and tension of every kind, provided we offer this prayer whole-heartedly, from the bottom of our heart.
Collective prayer is very effective. If a hundred people join together and pray, it will have a greater effect than one person praying. Of course, if that single person is very powerful, even one person’s prayer is sufficient. But where personalities have their own weaknesses and fallibilities, it is better for people to have a congregational prayer. Let all minds put together form a great energy which surges forth into God.
Let prayer be offered to Lord Siva as the master of yogins, as the incarnation of all virtues and powers, as a facet of Almighty God.