Maha Shivratri Blessings from Pujya Swamiji
Dear Divine Souls,
I hope that – by God’s grace – this finds you and all your loved ones in the best of health and happiness at this holy and sacred time of Maha Shivratri. There are many important messages and meanings to take into our hearts and our lives on this divine occasion. Here are just a few:
Shiva as Divine Destroyer:
In the trinity of the divine manifestation – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva) – Lord Shiva is the one who destroys or dissolves that which is old and impure, in order to make room for a new creation of that which is pure and divine. Lord Shiva annihilates our egos, our attachments and our ignorance. Many fear Lord Shiva’s destructive capacity, and yet it is destruction for the purpose of regeneration. Without death, life cannot begin anew. Without the annihilation of old habits, attachments and ego, we cannot progress toward the goal of God realization.
It is the leaves that have dried in the summer and fallen in the autumn that provide the rich soil for Spring’s blossoms. In order for there to be life, there has to be death. It is a cycle – creation, sustenance, dissolution. The nature of the universe changes on a minute to minute and moment to moment basis. The sky tonight may look identical to the sky of last night; however, any astronomer can point out innumerable differences. The more we are able to align our own nature with the nature of the universe the more our lives will be peaceful, rich, fulfilling, content and divinely joyful. The more rigid and unyielding we are, the more we hold on to our ideas of yesterday, our grudges of last week, our pain from last year, the more we will suffer and face obstacles.
We tend to not want to allow the process of dissolution to take place, in order to move on, in order to blossom, we must. We must allow that which is “old” within us to be dissolved to make room for who we are becoming. But it is hard, of course. Our habits become rigid and old; we call it discipline. Our beliefs and ideas are rooted in the reality of yesterday, not today; but we call it virtue. Emotionally we respond not to what we hear, see and receive today but to how it reminds us of what we heard, saw and received yesterday, the day before and 30 years ago. Erroneously, we call it truth.
We are so busy complaining about the damp chill of winter that we don’t notice the bright rays of the spring sun peeking through the clouds. This is not the way to live. Like the tree who gladly gives her green leaves of spring to the Divine Painter to turn red and yellow in Autumn, and then lets them fall to the ground as the winter frost sets in, similarly, in order to stay ever-young, ever-free and every-joyful we need to be able to let go.
On this night of Shivratri, we pray to Bhagawan Shiva to remove that within us which is old and holding us back so that we, like the tree, can blossom into the newness of Springtime. It is important to note here that the change must take place within, it is not about someone else or something else. In order to create the fertile ground for Spring’s growth, the tree does not have to change locations. She does not have to try to remove all the other trees around her. She simply needs to let the Divine Plan take over in her life.
The Divine in All Forms
The holiday of Shivratri is celebrated by performing special Shiva puja and abhishek as well as by remaining awake at night in meditation, kirtan and japa. Lord Shiva is represented, most commonly, either in the form of Nataraja (the Cosmic Dancer), in the form of meditating, or in the formless aspect of the Shiv Linga. What this means is that even while we are dancing or doing yoga, we are also meditating. And, even while we’re meditating, we are dancing. Whether we are dancing or meditating or doing yoga or doing anything else, we should always stay deeply connected to the Supreme, Infinite Reality which is beyond names and beyond forms.
When we offer our abhishek to Shiva, it is a symbol of offering ourselves, our devotion and our surrender.
Bhagwan Shiva is portrayed with ash on his forehead, and devotees of Lord Shiva frequently apply sacred ash to various parts of their body. This symbolizes two things. Everything that today has a form on the Earth once was ash in the ground, and again will be reduced to nothing but ash. The ash serves to remind us that all that we are, all that we do, all that we earn and acquire will be reduced to ash one day, and therefore we should live our lives dedicated to God and dedicated to serving humanity, rather than to the accumulation of temporary possessions and comfort.
When we apply the sacred ash or see it, we are reminded, “Ah yes, it is only by the grace of Lord Shiva that I am still here today, and that I have not yet been turned to ash. It is His grace that my home, my family and my possessions are still with me and that they have not become ash. Therefore, I should remember Him, pray to Him, and devote myself to Him.”
Shiva as Mahadeva – the Swallower of the Poison
The stories and the messages of Bhagwan Shiva are innumerable; however, one of the most important is the story of how He – for the sake of humanity – swallowed the poison which emerged from the ocean. The story says that the Gods and their brothers, the Demons, were churning the ocean in search of the pot of the nectar of immortality. However, after a great deal of effort, what emerged was not nectar, but poison!! The Gods and demons knew that in Finally, Bhagwan Shiva came forward and said “I will drink the poison if it will preserve peace and enable my brothers and sisters to attain the nectar of immortality.”
In order to continue churning, and ultimately to unearth the Divine nectar, they could not simply toss the poison aside. Someone had to drink it. But, naturally, no one was willing to drink the poison. Everyone had some excuse for why he or she was too valuable to be sacrificed. Finally, Bhagwan Shiva came forward and said “I will drink the poison if it will preserve peace and enable my brothers and sisters to attain the nectar of immortality.” However, if He swallowed the poison it would harm His internal organs and His physical body. If He spit it out, it would destroy the world. Thus, He kept it in His throat – hence the name Neelkanth (which means “blue throat”) – and sat peacefully in meditation for eternity.
Poison in Our Own Lives
In our lives, in our families, so much poison emerges – between parents and children, between husband and wife. We wait and wait for the divine nectar to emerge, but it seems that only poison comes. So many times people come to me, complaining, “But why should I always be the one to compromise? Why should I always be the one to give in? Why should I always say I’m sorry? It’s not fair!”
On this night of Shivratri, as we worship Bhagwan Shiva, it is also the night that we must pray for the strength to take His message to heart! Let us not only worship Him, but let us emulate Him. He who is willing to peacefully swallow the poison, he who is willing to sacrifice for the family, for the community and for humanity is the true Mahadev.
Be the one to accept the poison. Be the one to sacrifice, apologize and concede humbly. Then go, sit and meditate peacefully. This is not weakness, but strength.
Bhagwan Shiva went to the Himalayas, to the land now called Neelkanth to meditate after He drank the poison. The message is – when poison emerges in the home, when poison emerges anywhere in our lives, when we feel like if we swallow it we will die, but if we don’t drink it then the fight will continue – the secret is to meditate! You don’t have to go to the Himalayas. Just create your own Himalayas. Wherever you are. First, be the one to accept the poison. Be the one to sacrifice, apologize and concede humbly. Then go, sit and meditate peacefully. This is not weakness, but strength.
Poison always comes; obstacles always come. When we work for good causes, when we embark upon divine work, the poison always comes before the nectar. However, we must never get discouraged. We must never give up. If the Gods and demons had forfeited the churning at the sign of poison, it would have been a tragedy for humanity. Similarly, we must always have faith that the nectar WILL come. It is only a matter of time. We must be willing to churn and churn, no matter what comes – be it poison or nectar.
On the night of Shivratri as we remember the churning between the Gods and Demons for the nectar of immortality, we must take another lesson to heart. On the night of Shivratri as we remember the churning between the Gods and Demons for the nectar of immortality, we must take another lesson to heart. This battle between the gods and the demons does not exist only in our scriptural stories. Rather, the battle also exists within ourselves.
After the nectar emerged, the demons tried to abscond with it in order to become ever more powerful and ever more able to destroy their brothers, the Gods. However, through a series of divine interventions, the Gods emerged the victors and the ones with the gift of immortality.
Similarly, by the grace of Bhagwan Shiva, the night of Shivratri is especially auspicious for winning the battle within ourselves, the battle between the Gods and the Demons, between right and wrong, between poison and nectar, between death and immortality. Let us use our puja, our prayers, our meditations on this night to pray for the divine intervention that within ourselves the good might vanquish the evil, so that the nectar within us might emerge, rather than poison, and we too may be carried from death to immortality.
With love and blessings,
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati