By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati
The first time I studied in an Ashram in India, we chanted a beautiful Sanskrit text to Shiva every evening. The melody captivated me as much as the words, weaving a lyrical poem to the One Ultimate Reality. From the mantra I had been given, I knew the name Shiva but I had never before encountered such rich and beautiful symbolism as this text described. It was echoed in the many statues in the extensive gardens, statues I really knew nothing about. Yet each night when I left the chant, the statue of the dancing Shiva drew me close.
The Nataraja was installed at a curve in the pathway back to my dorm room. It was about 4 feet tall, but installed on a pedestal almost as high as a bench, so it was taller than me. I slowed in front of it, lingering a bit longer each night. One night I bowed to it. As I tipped forward, my head came to the level of Shiva’s feet and internal heat climbed my spine. I could feel it distinctly, starting at my tailbone and climbing all the way to the top of my head. I knew that inner fire intimately, as I had been having ecstatic Kundalini experiences for over a year. That’s why I was in India, to spend time with the Guru who had given me this great gift.
After that first time, I bowed to Nataraja every night. Every night I felt that extraordinary fire climb my spine. I realized there was something very real about this statue and, by extension, all the others, so I began to learn about them. Now I love the statues, paintings and batiks and most especially the stories of the gods and goddesses, who are the forms of the formless. The most important reason to understand them is that it helps you understand yourself, as you are a form of the formless as well.
Called by many names, there is only the One. Yoga gives it the name Shiva. Other meditative traditions call it by other names, while religions also have their names. The unique thing about yoga is that it says that you are that One Reality. The formless takes form — as you. To fully understand this radical statement, you have to personalize it. Say it out loud, or even whisper to yourself, “I am the formless, ever-existent Reality that pervades all things and has become all things.”
The hidden purpose of all the yoga practices is to know your own Self. Only the Shaktipat Masters really know how to make that happen. That’s why I studied with my Baba, and that’s why I serve you.