by Swami Krishnananda
We may look at the whole thing from another angle of vision. The Sanskrit word 'Sivaratri' means 'the night of Siva'. On this holy day we are to fast during the day and keep vigil during the night. You may be wondering why Siva is connected with the night and not with the day – otherwise we could observe vigil during daytime and fast during the night. Instead of that, why has the whole thing been put topsy-turvy? Siva being connected with night has a highly spiritual and mystical connotation. It is not that divinity as manifest in the form of Lord Siva has any special connection with the period we call night. If you study deeply the Upanishads and such mystical texts of high spiritual significance, you will realise that the Supreme Being, the Absolute, is designated in its primordial condition as a Supreme Darkness due to excess of light. This adjective or qualification 'due to excess of light' must be added. It is darkness because of the excess of light. When you look at the sun directly for a few minutes and then look elsewhere, you will see only darkness. The sun has dazzled you to such an extent that all else appears as darkness. It is said in the Mahabharata that when Lord Sri Krishna showed the Cosmic Form in the court of the Kauravas, everything was dark, as it were. The intensity of the light was such that it looked like darkness to the eyes of man. In one of the famous creation-hymns of the Rigveda we have a similar reference made to the original condition of creation. There is the hymn of the Veda called the Nasadiya Sukta, wherein it is said, "Tama asit tamasa gudhamagre":Darkness there was; at first concealed in darkness. According to us, light is perception of objects, and therefore non-perception of objects is regarded by us as night, because knowledge or consciousness unrelated to the perceptual process is unknown to the human mind.
Generally, to know is to know an object; and if it is not to know an object, it is not to know anything at all. For example, take the state of deep sleep. Why do we fall asleep? Do you know the reason? What is the cause for our going to sleep every night? Where is the necessity? The necessity is psychological and, to some extent, highly metaphysical. The senses cannot always continue perceiving objects, because perception is a fatiguing process. The whole body, the whole nervous system, the entire psychological apparatus becomes active in the process of the perception of objects. And without our knowing what is happening, the senses get tired. They cannot go on contemplating things all twenty-four hours of the day. Why should they not be contemplating objects of sense throughout the day, all twenty-four hours of the day? The reason is that perception is an unnatural process from the point of view of consciousness as such. Perception of an object is the alienation of an aspect of our personality through the avenue of a particular sense in respect of its object. All this is difficult for many to grasp. This is a highly psychological secret. Consciousness is indivisible. This is a simple fact. Many of you would have heard about it. Consciousness is undivided; it is incapable of division into parts. So it cannot be cut into two sections – subject and object. On the basis of this fact there cannot be a division between the seer and the seen in the process of perception. To make this clear, let us see what happens in dream.
In dream we see objects like mountains, rivers, persons, etc. But they are not there. Things which are not there become visible in dream. Now, did the mountain you saw in dream exist? It did not. But did you see it? Yes, you saw it. How did you see, when it was not there? Is it possible to see a non-existent object? How can non-existent things be seen? It is contradictory statement to say that non-existent things can be seen. What do you see when things are not there? You will be wonderstruck! What happens in dream is that there is an alienation of the mind into the objects of perception; and the mind itself becomes the mountain there. There is tension created due to the separation of a part of the mind into the object and a part of it existing as the perceiving subject. That is why we are restless in dream. We cannot be happy. It is neither waking nor it is sleep. It is very difficult to be happy in this condition because a tense situation of consciousness is created. What happened in dream, the same happens to us in the waking condition also. Just as the mind in dream divided itself into two sections – the perceiving subject and the object that was seen – in the waking state also, it divides itself into the subject and object. It is like a divided personality. It is as if your own personality has been cut into two halves, of which one half is the 'seer' and the other half is the 'seen'. It is as if one part of your personality gazes at another part of your own personality. You are looking at your own self as if you are a different person. You are objectifying yourself; you alienate yourself. What can be more false and undesirable than this situation? It is a mental sickness.
Now you are able to understand this situation in dream on account of the comparison that you make between waking and dream. When you wake up, you do not see the dream objects, and then you begin to analyse the condition in which you were when you were dreaming. You say, when you are awake, that you are in a world of reality, whereas in dream you were in a world of unreality. How do you know that the world of dream was a world of unreality? It is merely because you compare it with the waking condition which you consider as real. How do you know that the world of waking is real? You cannot say anything about this, because there is nothing with which you can compare it, as you did in the case of the dream. If you can know another standard of reference, higher than the waking condition, you would have been able to make a judgement of it – whether the waking condition is real or unreal, good or bad and so on. When you are dreaming, you do not know that the objects are unreal. You consider them as real and you take it for granted. The comparison between the dream and the waking world is responsible for our judgement of the unreality of the dream world. But with what will you compare the waking world? There is at present nothing to compare it with, and therefore you are in a condition which is self-sufficient, self-complacent and incapable of rectification.
When you feel that you are perfectly right, nobody can teach you. Nobody can set you right, because you think that you are right. The question of teaching arises only when you feel that you are ignorant and you need teaching. The waking world is only an indication as to what could be happening or what is perhaps happening. You cannot know what is happening actually, unless you transcend this condition, which you have not done yet. But, by the conclusion that you can draw from an analysis of the dream condition, you can conclude to some extent that in the waking state also you are in a fool's paradise. What is the guarantee that you will not wake up again from this waking world, into something else? Just as in dream you did not know that you were dreaming, in this waking also you do not know that you are in a state similar to dream. You think that this world in waking is a hard fact and a solid reality, just as you believed the world of dream also to be real. To the senses an absence of perception is equal to darkness – the darkness that we experience in deep sleep.
Let us come back to the subject of Sivaratri, the night of Siva. When you perceive an object, you call it waking. When you do not perceive it, it is darkness. Now in the waking condition – the so-called waking world – you see present before you a world of objects, as you are intelligent. In dream also there is a sort of intelligence. But in deep sleep there is no intelligence. What happens? The senses and the intellect withdraw themselves into their source. There is no perceptional activity, and so the absence of perception is equated to the presence of darkness. The cosmic Primeval condition of the creative will of God, before creation – a state appearing like darkness, or night – is what we call the condition of Siva. It is very important to remember that the state of Siva is the primordial condition of the creative will of God, where there is no externality of perception, there being nothing outside God; and so, for us, it is like darkness or night. It is Siva's night – Sivaratri. For Him it is not night. It is all Light. Siva is not sitting in darkness. The Creative Will of God is Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence – all combined. Sometimes we designate this condition as Isvara.
The Supreme Absolute, which is indeterminable, when it is associated with the Creative Will with a tendency to create the Cosmos, is Isvara in Vedantic parlance, and Siva in Puranic terminology. This is the very precise condition described in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Veda as Tamas or darkness. This is, to repeat again, darkness due to the excess of the Light of the divine Absolute. If you look at God, what will you see? You will see nothing. The eyes cannot see Him because He is such dazzling light. When the frequency of light gets intensified to a very high level, light will not be seen by the eyes. When the frequency is lowered and comes down to the level of the structure of the retina of the eye, only then you can see light. There are various kinds of lights, various intensities or frequencies, and the higher frequencies are incapable of cognisance by the senses on account of their structural deformity. So if you see God, you will see nothing.
As a matter of fact, we are seeing God even now. But we are not able to recognise Him. The world that we see before us is God Himself. There is no such thing as the world. The world does not exist. It is only a name that we have given to the Supreme Being. Call the dog a bad name and then hang it. Who asked you to call it a world? Why do you give such a name? You yourself have given it a name and say, "Oh, this is the world!" You can call it by another name. You are free to give any name to it. Really there is no such thing as a world. It does not exist. The world is only a name that you give to a distortion created in the perception of your consciousness due to its isolation into the subject and the object.
To come back to the analogy of dream again, the mountain that you saw in dream was not a mountain; it was only consciousness. There was no mountain. But it looked like a hard something in front of you, against which you could hit your dream head. You see buildings in dream. It was consciousness that projected itself into the hard substance of bricks and buildings, mountains and rivers, persons and animals, etc., in dream. The world of dream does not exist. You know it very well, and yet it appears. What is it that appears? The consciousness itself projects itself outwardly, in space and time created by itself, and then you call it a world. Likewise, in the waking state also the Cosmic Consciousness has projected itself into this world. The world is Cosmic Consciousness. The Supreme Divinity Himself is revealed here in the form of this world. As the dream world is nothing but consciousness, the waking world also is nothing but consciousness, God. This is the essence of the whole matter. So you are seeing God. I am right in saying that. What you see in front of you is God only. It is not a building. There is no such thing as a building. But you call it a building due to an error of perception, due to ignorance and due to not being able to analyse the situation in which you are involved. We are caught up in a mess, in a paradox, in a confusion; and the confusion has entered us, entered into the bones, as it were, into the very fibre of our being and made us the fools that we are today. It is to awaken ourselves from this ignorance and to come to a state of that supreme blessedness of the recognition of God in this very world, that we practise Sadhana. The highest of Sadhanas is meditation on God.
On Sivaratri, therefore, you are supposed to contemplate God as the creator of the world, as the Supreme Being unknown to the Creative Will, in that primordial condition of non-objectivity which is the darkness of Siva. In the Bhagavadgita there is a similar verse which has some sort of a resemblance to this situation. "Ya nisa sarvabhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami; yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh": That which is night to the ignorant, is day to the wise; and that which is day to the wise, is night to the ignorant. The ignorant feel the world as daylight and a brightly illumined objective something; and that does not exist for a wise person. The wise see God in all His effulgence; and that does not exist for the ignorant. While the wise see God, the ignorant do not see Him; and while the ignorant see the world, the wise do not see it. That is the meaning of this verse in the second chapter of the Gita. When we see sunlight, the owl does not see it. That is the difference. The owl cannot see the sun, but we can. So, we are owls, because we do not see the self-effulgent sun – the Pure Consciousness. And he who sees this sun – the Pure Consciousness, God – is the sage, the illumined adept in Yoga.
Sivaratri is a blessed occasion for all to practise self-restraint, self-control, contemplation, Svadhyaya, Japa and meditation, as much as possible within our capacity. We have the whole of the night at our disposal. We can do Japa or we can do the chanting of the Mantra, 'Om Namah Sivaya'. We can also meditate. It is a period of Sadhana. Functions like Mahasivaratri, Ramanavami, Janmashtami, Navaratri are not functions in the sense of festoons and celebrations for the satisfaction of the human mind. They are functions of the Spirit; they are celebrations of the Spirit. In as much as we are unable to think of God throughout the day, for all the 365 days of the year, such occasions are created so that at least periodically we may recall to our memory our original destiny, our Divine Abode. The glory of God is displayed before us in the form of these spiritual occasions.