Tonight is Maha-Shiva-Ratri [maha – great, ratri – night], one of the most important of the all the Hindu festivals. Commonly, Shiva represents one of the three principal deities in the Hindu trinity. But more importantly Shiva represents the formless and the infinite divinity. Tonight marks the celebration of the limitless dimension in oneself by identifying it with the Universal infinite principle of Shiva.
The occasion behooves the mention of Adi Shankara, the young Indian scholar and philosopher from the 8th century AD, who propounded the concept of Advaita or non-dualism (a-non, dvaita-two/dual). Advaita holds that the Creator is not distinct or separate from the Creation; that finite beings born of the Infinite are, therefore, themselves Infinite. So, as a young boy of eight wandering in search of a guru, Shankara encounters a seer who asks him “who are you?” Shankara responds in these six exalted Sanskrit stanzas that would be known as the Atma Shatakam. Below is a concise and beautiful translation of the sublime verses I took from the acclaimed spiritual classic and one of my favorite books, Autobiography Of A Yogi.
One of the renditions of Atma Shaktakam (also called Nirvana Shatakam) that I love the best is from the album Sacred Chants of Shiva:
When I look back at the years gone by, I feel that I had an eventful life. I always had a certain structure in mind that I thought my life would fit into, or will look like. But things that happened to me threw me off my premeditated ideal. I didn’t know to what I should attribute it all to: the choices that I had to make (there’s such an irony in the statement) which would turn out to be ‘wrong’ in time to come, or to ‘fate’. The latter approach, I realized, seemed comforting as it salvages you from the never ending ‘analysis – paralysis’ loop and you concede to the fact that things happen the way they have to irrespective of the choices we make.
None of the above theories could convince me deep down, until a few years back, when I came across this interesting book that caused a paradigm shift in me. Illusions by Richard Bach has been one of the best books I have read so far. It spoke to my soul, and when I most needed it. At the beginning, there is this parable that is very profound which is reproduced below:
“Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all — young and old, rich and poor, good and evil — the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current was what each had learned from birth.
But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.” The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed against the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!” But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the messiah, come to save us all!” And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”
But they cried the more, “Savior!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a savior.”
The current, the flow probably knows where it is going, if we don’t. That’s so reassuring. This philosophy could be likened to the higher concept of being “sahaj” found in the Hindu philosophy, and in Sikhism. So is it reflected in the teachings of great saints known to be associated with various religions. Spiritual teachings and the philosophy therein does offer answers to problems, difficult life situations and ambiguity life puts us into. On an individual level, I did find solace in these teachings and this theory.