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Sivaratri – A Celebration of Transcendence
by Swami Krishnananda

(Sivaratri message given on February 2, 1985)

Glory to God Who Alone can be regarded as glorious, Whose glory is reflected in the glory of this world, and the shadow of Whose glory is the magnificence of all this Earthly pageantry. To that great Lord Who is amusing Himself with a play of hide and seek under our very nose here, Who instructs us and teaches us, at the same time teasing us, as it were, to that Father and Mother of the universe, to that great Friend of all beings, to that Eternal Companion of every soul be our humble salutation and prostration at this moment on this holy day, at this holy spot on the bank of sacred Ganga.

This is holy Sivaratri. It is celebrated everywhere in the country as the date sacred to Lord Siva, an ideal of divinity, a great ideal of perfection which mankind has placed before itself in its principle occupation called the awakening into the religious consciousness.

The ideals of life, whatever they be, as long as they are ideals – we have to mark the word 'ideal' in its proper connotation – are values which are not necessarily visible to the eyes, and yet they rule the world. So long as these super-sensible ideals and values reign supreme in the life of mankind, it is to be considered as established once and for all that man does not live only for the sake of this Earthly sojourn, a little span of his life. If life on Earth was all-in-all and there was nothing more than that, there would be no such thing as an ideal. The ideal is an aspiration of mankind's internal secret, the hidden potentiality of an endless longing which is the reason behind a perpetual restlessness discoverable in the minds of all people in the world, irrespective of the large quantum of possessions and Earthly riches. The realities of life do not satisfy man; therefore, he reaches his consciousness to ideals which are transcendent to the realities of life.

We have to think a little cautiously and precisely here in the understanding of this circumstance in human nature. The ideal is not the real. The real is that which is tangible, concrete, substantial, sensible, graspable, and that which can be possessed, but the ideal is not necessarily an accessible, concrete, substantial, tangible something. It is an 'ought', a thing that must be, though it is not there. The thing that is does not satisfy and, therefore, we place before ourselves a norm called 'the ought'. The ought is what we call the ideal, and inasmuch as the ideal remains as an ought, it is not an 'is'; it is not the prevalent condition of life. If our ideals are identical with the existent state of affairs, if we are realising our ideals in our day-to-day existence, there would be no ideals because they become directly practical realities of our personal experience. We would not think of any such thing as an ideal if it does not remain as an ought, and if it is not in some way isolated from the prevalent conditions, our existent state of affairs, and our present possessions and satisfactions.

Our wealth, our riches, our status, our joys, the heights that we might have reached in social existence and in our personal lives are our realities. If these realities could exhaust all that our innermost being longs for, there would be no ideals in life, because an ideal is something which is placed as a norm in front of our mental eye which we would like to make a reality of day-to-day experience. In other words, we set up a standard of perfection before ourselves, and there would be no point in setting up a standard of perfection if it were already there prevailing in this world. So willy-nilly, knowingly or unknowingly, we are demonstrating by our acceptance of the necessity for an ideal in life a dissatisfaction with everything that is in this world, which cannot arise in the soul of any person unless there is the possibility of the realisation of that which is now remaining as merely an ideal or an ought.

Impossible things cannot be conceived by the mind. That which does not exist cannot become a content of our awareness. Though it may not be existent now to the eyes of our sense organs, it has to exist in some circumstance, in some condition somewhere under some given circumstance. An utter impossibility cannot be contained by the mind. The reaches of the mind cannot accommodate themselves to utter impossibilities. The conception of perfection which is the great ideal we place before ourselves in our lives, whatever be our notion of perfection – call it political perfection, social perfection, economic perfection, family perfection, religious perfection – so long as a thing called perfection is our desire, so long as this perfection does not seem to be accessible to our sense organs, so long as it appears that no man in human history has ever achieved it, to that extent is the demonstration of the presence of a masquerading transcendence invisible to the eyes, beckoning everyone and wanting everyone to be aware of its presence. This is why I said in the beginning that it seems to be playing hide and seek, compelling us to be aware of its presence and yet eluding our grasp, forcing us to remain ever restless in the absence of that great transcendent occupation, keeping us crazy, as it were, ever discontented with any kind of possession. Even if we reach up to the skies in our riches, we shall be discontented for other reasons. Thus keeping us ever in a state of discontent, it is teasing us. I deliberately use this word. It is playing with us as cats play with rats. Maybe it is a joy for the cat but it is death, a sorrow for the mouse.

Yet, at the same time, I mentioned it is not really a cat. It is the mother who is putting on the mask of a cat just to play with the little child, to terrify the child for some time in a mood of play and diversion. God is the greatest player. Nobody can act like Him to such accuracy and perfection, and in such precision.

We are not logical enough in our understanding of even the day-to-day events of existence in human history. We perhaps do not have the time to be capable of utilising the insight which is vivid before us as daylight – namely, that there is something beyond this world. How could you know that there is something above this world? Your own daily experience is a proof. A few instances of this proof I placed before you just now: your dissatisfaction with anything you are provided with is nothing but an indication that the world cannot satisfy you. If the world is not going to satisfy you, something else has to satisfy you. That something else is the ideal, and it has to be there. I also added a proviso that impossibilities cannot be aspired for. Even the idea of achieving the utter impossibility cannot arise in the mind. So a transcendent, invisible, super-Earthly existence has to be there in order to account for the miseries of human life and the sufferings of man and the perpetual discontent harassing the minds of even the greatest geniuses in the world. We do not require any more proof for the existence of God. Our own wretchedness is enough proof. The reason behind this inadequacy that we feel in our life, the utter finitude in every corner, is the proof of the presence of an infinite – or, if you would not like to call it infinite, a super-finite.

The longing of these haunting aspirations of mankind for an invisible something that does not seem to be in this world and yet seems to be immanent in this world, catching hold of our ears every moment, has been the occupation of certain great divine heroes. People of this type who were cocksure that the history of this world is guided by a super-historical manoeuvring agent have been produced in all the nations.

The events of life we call human history are not chaotic occurrences. It is not that something happens for no reason whatsoever and something else can happen tomorrow for any meaningless reason. Nothing is meaningless in this world. The movements of things we call natural history or human history seem to be chaotically taking place to the sensory perceptions of people like us because of the fact the man behind the screen is not visible to the eyes. The one who runs a puppet show is not seen. It is only the dancing of puppets that is visible to our eyes. Can you say the puppets dance chaotically? Those performances are mathematically conceived movements, well-motivated, conditioned, controlled operations, though it appears that these dolls dance hither and thither with no positive factors or reason or rationality behind them.

Our running hither and thither, struck with frenzy and anxiety for various reasons and pressures of occupations in life are not unintelligently directed chaotic dramas. Every event in life, even the movement of a leaf shed by a tree and driven by wind in a particular direction, is not a chaotic movement. It is a highly intelligent direction given by something which is not visible to the eyes. There is a supernal intelligence operating behind the apparently non-intelligent objects in this world.

Can we say that there is no intelligence in us merely because we cannot photograph the intelligence of a person? Nobody can see the intelligence of a person; nobody can touch, taste, hear or smell intelligence. Nobody can grasp intelligence with their hands; yet, man is nothing but what his intelligence makes of him. That which is seen, that which is touched is not man. It is a conch that you are seeing and touching. The sensorily conceived or perceived human personality is a dead mechanism. The value of a person is in the intelligence, the consciousness, the mind, which is not visible.

So do you believe that the human being is a super-sensible something? Even you and I are not visible objects, because what is visible is a dead machine. It has no life. And the meaning that you see in a person, the significance of an individual, the value of a person is the percentage of intelligence in the person, which is transcendent to the body that is visible. So even in our own day-to-day personal lives as human beings, we see a transcendent operation, although we do not seem to be concerned with anything that is transcendent. We are over-occupied with material comforts and pleasures, the machines that have no life. Very surprising!

The ancients conceived a modus operandi for keeping the human mind abreast of the situations of this world, which are not merely the visible historical movements but the operations of an invisible intelligence.

We cannot conceive intelligence. As I mentioned just now, it cannot be sensed. Therefore, it cannot be even imagined. That which we cannot see and hear, we cannot think, so we cannot understand what intelligence is. When we see an intelligent person, we do not see the intelligence of the person. We are only inferring the operation of intelligence in the person through the visible physical body. In the same way is the inference of the presence of a supreme intelligence in the whole cosmos, without which we cannot account for any event in this world. It would be a meaningless pursuit of a will-o'-the-wisp, a phantasm.

But no one believes that his or her action or occupation is without significance. Whatever we do seems to have some meaning. Are we engaged in meaningless activities? No. We see a meaning. But the meaning is an invisible something; it is a concept, an ideal. Therefore, even in the condition of this present-day twentieth-century over-materialistic, industrialised, mechanised world – a God-negating world, I may say – even in this so-called condition of despair, we seem to be living by the breath that is breathed into us by a transcendent presence, whether we accept it or not.

These great ideals are the ideals of religion. What is called religion is nothing but this aspiration for the great ideal of life implemented through the visible conduct and behaviour of our day-to-day existence. When the aspiration of our soul for an invisible ideal works through the visible mechanism of the human body and social relationship, we call it religion; therefore, religion is the be-all and end-all of human existence, finally. No one can live without it, because no one can be without longing for the realisation of an ideal. Inasmuch as this ideal is something which is all-comprehensive, no man can be satisfied with a little jot of joy. He wants a large Atlantic of satisfaction, and even that would not satisfy him. Nothing can satisfy us. Even if all the skies, all the stars become our possessions, they will not satisfy us. We want something beyond the stars, which is an indication that our ideal is an all-comprehensive super-presence.

It is, therefore, firstly, not a visible mortal object. Secondly, it is invisible for reasons obvious because our sense organs can contact only physical objects. Ideals cannot be seen or touched or sensed, and this ideal appears always to be before us. It is an ideal which does not appear to become a reality of our life because it is an ideal to our consciousness. As the mind, the consciousness, the spirit within us is invisible as intelligence within us is invisible, the ideal that we set up before ourselves also is invisible. It is the invisible in us that is asking for the invisible that is above, while the physical body that is here is likely to be satisfied by coming in contact with visible objects in this world. The visible can be satisfied with the visible, but the invisible cannot be satisfied by anything but the invisible transcendent.

Are you a visible thing? I just mentioned to you by an analogy that none of us is a visible object because the visible part is only a flesh-and-bone frame. Can you say you are only that? No. You are a great man, a very important person. This importance, this greatness, this value, this significance is not in your bones, flesh, marrow and nerves. It is something transcendent, and it is invisible. That transcendence in you is asking for a satisfaction which cannot be provided by anything visible in this world. So the religious ideal looks like a longing for a super-physical all-comprehensiveness.

Why should you long for an all-comprehensiveness? Why should you not be satisfied with a little salary? Why ask for something large? It is because at the back of your being is a large sea of dissatisfaction. There is a vast ocean of longing at your back and, therefore, it cannot be satisfied with drops of joy which are promised by the objects of sense.

What is religion? What is God? I need not go into further details. Any man with a little common sense would have read between the lines of what I told just now. There must be a God, and there must be religion.

We attempt to practically implement these concepts of religion and godliness in our day-to-day life by certain occasions such as the observance of Sivaratri, Sri Krishna Janmasthami, Ramnavmi, Christmas, and so forth, inasmuch as it would be humanly impossible for any one of us to be perpetually conscious of this predicament which I tried to analyse threadbare in a few minutes just now. We cannot be always conscious of our inward invisibility and a transcendent invisibility. We have become so identified with this flesh-and-bone frame of ours, we have become the body and lodged ourselves in the body to such an extent that we cannot imagine that there can be anything more real than what is presented to the sense organs.

But we are not to go to doom with this kind of idiocy of mere satisfaction of sensory contact. The great masters who were benefactors of mankind placed before us certain principles of disciplined conduct, at least occasionally, though not every day because the frail human mind is not up to the mark in the fulfilment of this otherwise-necessary discipline every day. These occasional disciplines are these religious observances where we muster in our energies and become, for the time being at least, what we are, and do not go on haranguing on what we appear to be. We do not look at our body too much, or look at the bodies of others. But we have no other occupation in life except connecting this body with other bodies, animate or inanimate.

Now is the time of this sacred occasion, and there are many such in our religious history, when we think certain true thoughts at least for a few moments, a few minutes, a few hours – true thoughts, not untruths masquerading as truths in life. That we are the son and daughter of somebody is an untruth which looks like a truth. That we are materially rich or poor is an untruth which looks like a truth. That we have to enjoy the material glories of this world through these physical organs is an untruth, but it passes for a great truth, and perhaps the only truth.

It is these so-called galvanised truths that we are expected to set aside for a few moments and become what we really are. In moments of great crisis we seem to realise what we are. Great men tumble down to the dust in one second as if they were never born. They raise the dust by falling off their thrones, which can happen in one second if the Director of the cosmos wills so for a purpose which is judicial in His own way, legal in His own way, and justifiable in His own way.

Are these not truths? The coming and going of beings, the fall of empires and the tragedy of kings who trod the Earth with their pomp and glory give us a retrospective look at human history. What happened to the great empires which rolled in gold and silver? What happened to emperors who slept on emerald couches? Where are they? Why should they vanish like that? What is that terrific law that seems to be operating in this world which snatches even without previous notice the greatest treasures of this world? Masters, kings, geniuses and most desirable persons, for the death of whom people cry for days together – such persons have been snatched. Who is snatching? Not me, not you. There must be somebody who is playing this game, who is seeing to it that it has to be done. Oceans become deserts, and deserts become oceans. Kings become beggars, and beggars become kings. Today's born dies tomorrow. What is this meaning? Who is the operator of this peculiar government of the comings and goings of things without any one of us having a say in this matter?

Are we to be awakened to these truths, or are we to die like flies as many have come and many have gone? Do we also feel that we shall die like anybody else? Crows die, animals die, flies die, and we also die. Are we to live like crows and flies? A dog also eats, it also procreates, it also sleeps. Are we also interested only in this much? Man is supposed to be endowed with a super intelligence, not merely ordinary intelligence like the animal's or the jackal's intelligence – a super intelligence which enlightens him about the facts of his own future destiny.

In the concept of Lord Siva relevant to the present occasion, we have the ideal of a god who is transcendentally unmoved by the winds that blow in this world, as the peak of a mountain which cannot be shaken by even a hailstorm. We see portraits of Lord Siva sitting in the position of a samadhi, with half-closed eyes and crossed legs in a position of meditation. The so-called transcendence, the ideal, the all-comprehensive mystery to which I made reference, is what we call God. He is portrayed, at least in the personality of Lord Siva, as a great meditator. God is a great meditator. Nobody can meditate like Him. Unmoving settlement of consciousness is called meditation, and who can be so unmoved as this Absolute – unmoved because it wants nothing, unmoved because it has everything, unmoved because it is everywhere, unmoved because it is at all times. Who can move it?

Such supremely satisfied inclusiveness and perfection is portrayed in this great composure of the personality placed before us of the great Siva, simultaneously with an injection into our brains of the power of his being. Indomitable is that person. No one can touch him. No one can go near him. Fearsome, terrible, awesome judiciary of the universe, and yet unconcerned with what is happening because the happenings are within the bosom of that being only.

There is yet a third proviso: he is a very well-concerned, all-knowing person. It is not an unmovingness of an unknown and unknowing person. We can be unmoved because we know nothing, but this is an unmoved condition which knows everything, which is all eyes, all ears, all hands and all feet.

Is it possible for us to be aware of everything and yet be unmoved? Inconceivable is that state. We can be idiots and be unmoved like stone, but this is the utter apex of intelligence – all-knowingness which is unmoved because of the perfection of that state, and at the same time because of the power that it wields. And yet, in spite of this awesome picture of God Almighty, we have also the most tender, motherly feelings associated with the Almighty. We call God Asutosh in Indian terminology: the very easily pleased. This awesome terror of a universal judiciary, which will drive us out of our wits if we think of him, is more kind than a mother, more useful than our bosom friend, and more intimate than our life partner. He is such kindness, such tenderness, such goodness, such compassion, such accessibility, and such concern for even the littlest of things.

There is a humorous story. We have plenty of stories. The consort of Lord Siva one day wanted to play a joke with Lord Siva. “Lord, do you feed everybody every day?”

“Yes,” Lord Siva replied.

“I heard that you feed everyone every day, even the ants.”


She was holding one ant in her hand so that no food could go inside. She was tightly holding one ant in her grip to falsify the statement of Siva that he feeds everyone without exception. “Have you fed everyone today?” she asked.

“Yes, I have.”  Lord Siva replied.

“Have you fed all the ants also today?”

“Yes, I have fed all the ants also.”

“Have you not forgotten even one ant?”

“No, I have not forgotten even one ant. All the ants I have fed today.”

She opened the hand to show him one ant which is not fed, and to her surprise it was munching something, some little seed. “How did it go inside? It was inside my hand.”

God has no inside and outside because the idea of inside and outside is due to space and time. God is beyond space, beyond time, so you cannot hold anything in the hand, as if it is hidden from His eyes. Well, this is just an analogy of the kindness and the overcautious consideration for every one of us little fellows here in this world – overcautious consideration He has for every little foolish person like us, also.

Such is Lord Siva, the great master, and we offer our humble obeisance to that great father, great mother, great friend, great benefactor, great judge, great everything.