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Fundas on the Shiva Linga and Hinduism

(August 1999)
Ajay Sathyanath

If you have any concerns or ideas regarding this page send mail to : Ajay

Disclaimer:

All what i have explained in this page, is, but one consolidated collection of material from various sites and various experts on the field. None of these stem from my first hand knowledge or research in the Vedas. This was part of an email I had once compiled for the benefit of a good friend.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Mono Theism and the Meaning of OM.
    Brahma
    Vishnu
    Shiva
    The Supreme
  3. Symbolism in Hinduism.
    Idols
    A Christian Reference
  4. The Meaning of the Word Linga
    A Muslim Story
    Shiva and Shakti
    Reference to Kundalini Yoga
  5. God's Many Appearances
  6. Conclusion

Introduction

Hinduism like many other monotheistic religions in the world, also believes in one and only one God. The names might vary, but the essence is one. This being so, one might find contradictions with millions of gods and goddesses, all dieties of one form or another. But the fact is, they propound the same meaning and not contradict it. Read on...

Mono Theism and the meaning of OM

To begin with, the word AUM or OM should be first explained. AUM consists of four parts:
Brahma:
The first part is "AH"; and common across all languages and all cultures of the world the expressions "AH" represents awakening... like in finding something after a long search -- people say... "AH.." . Hence all over the world "AH" denotes discovery.

This first part in hinduism denotes Brahma, and Brahma is the creator of this world. Actually this world itself is seen as maya or an "illusion of reality". Brahma is the creator of maya.

Vishnu:
The second part is "OH"; and across all languages and cultures, "OH" denotes wonder. "OH" is awareness. And hence Vishnu the second in the hindu trinity is represented by "OH". He is the god who helps preventing this illusion from falling into total chaos. In the spiritual journey, when one is aware that things around are maya, then he has started fighting against the chaos, he is now aware of a supreme.

Shiva:
The third part is "MMM". it is parallel to dreamless sleep, where one embraces nothingness. "MMM" across languages and cultures denotes, the prevalent doubt. Like, when one realises the trick the magician did one exclaims "MMM". It denotes realisation. and Thus Shiva is denoted, by this syllable. He is the destroyer of illusion and he is the one that puts the soul back to where it belongs.

The Supreme:
The fourth and the last part; is the silence that follows AUM. for a half note or one perhaps. This is the most important part of AUM. Silence is considered more powerful than all the words. this represents the supreme God Head, whose manifestations and projections are brahma, vishnu and Shiva. This god head is denoted by silence, because he is with and without form, with and without attributes, and since none of the words can describe him fully, they simply use "silence" to denote it.

This supreme God Head is called Brahman. (note not brahma). or sometimes it is called ParaBrahman. Shaivaites call him ParaShiva, and Vaishnavaites call him ParaVishnu or Narayana. But whether we call him by whichever name, he alone takes the role of the creator, sustainer and destroyer. Since it is one god head or one god, different groups would like to claim that their's is the ultimate. In truth all of them are right, and it makes no sense to squabble about it -- this is what the Vedas and Upanishads say.

Since it is now clear that hinduism is monotheistic, and that there is only one god. We come to the reasons of idol worship and then finally "Why the LINGA".

Symbolism in Hinduism

Hinduism is a religion that has perfected symbolism. However, now we have come to such an extent, in the modern understanding, that the fact is easily lost and all that remains are the symbols....And yet, symbols are useful to everyone to help r'ber and memorise things. Hinduism is very complex indeed, one story or one verse/sloka would have several meanings, each for use for various levels of the "user". For eg; the sanskrit sloka
Gopi Bhagya Madhuvrata,
Srngiso Dadhi Sandhiga,
Kala Jivita Khatava,
Gala Hala Rasandra.
means:
"O Lord anointed with the yogurt of the milkmaids' worship (Krishna), O savior of the fallen, O master of Shiva, please protect me."
But it also gives the value of PI = 3.1415... upto 32 decimal places!!! it says PI/10 = 0.31415926535897932384626433832792.

Amazing really huh... I was stunned when i first saw it. (there is a way to get these numbers, but that's outside our present topic). Anyways, coming back to our topic; symbolism is the key to hinduism.

Idols

By relating to an Idol of choice, we are able to connect that much easier towards our quest of the "ultimate". The idol becomes a symbol of our earnings and mental faculties and a representation of what cannot be seen, touched or heard, but just experienced. Since god is subliminal and since it is easier for common man to relate to more "earthly" objects, the idols were formed as a symbol of god. and since god is formless and since god can take any form and highlight any attribute of the set of all attributes, we have different idols and different names for the same god that highlights different attributes.

Sometimes the attributes are overloaded, like overloading a function in "C++" if you so desire. For eg: "Ganesha", a hindu deity though seen and represented as a guardian of good and remover of obstacles is sometimes overloaded with the qualities of the "Almighty" - viz. Parabrahman, Narayana, ParaShiva or whoever else as you might like to call. Why is this allowed and why is this done you might ask?? GodHead or God in Hinduism is like a hologram, to draw an analogy. Every part removed from the hologram can still provide the entire picture. It must be stressed here, though the same God takes many roles and represents a subset of all the attributes of God, He is still the same God and thus very much capable of having this universal set of attributes!

A Christian Reference

In fact, even in Christanity, the Biblical Character viz. Brother Lawrence, practiced idol worship. He saw god in trees, and flowers and used to spend time outside the church and in front of trees and flowers, worshiping them and hence the Lord.

The Meaning of the Word Linga

Getting to the worship of the Linga. Lot of non-hindus and a lot of hindus who don't know the real meanings behind his/her own religion, wrongly misinterpret the Lingam-Yoni as the male and the female sex organ.

But here is the reality. The sanskrit word Linga, means "Symbol" or "Sign". And the Sanskrit word "Shiva" means absolute perfection or purity, or absolutely auspicious/holy. The idol of shiva is among the oldest idols in hinduism. Shiva (here reffered to as ParaShiva, or Brahman, or the Supreme GodHead) is considered "arupam - roopam", or "saaguna - nirgunam". That is, he is both formless and with form, and he is with and without attributes. Since he is the maker, and destroyer all rolled into one, and since it was required to denote him by something or rather have a sign of him to worship him, or have a symbol of him to worship him; A blunt mound of sand or stone is used. Since it reminds people of nothing concrete, this was taken to be the symbol of Shiva. In other words, the lingam of shiva or the shiva linga. there is a line in sanskrit that goes like this: "Ekam Satyam, Anyam Shunyam". That is the truth or Brahman (god head) is one, but the expanse of the universe is infinite. philosophically one (ie 1) is used to denote - one god, and zero (ie 0) is used to denote - the expanse of his creation/universe. When one puts, together a 1 and a 0 in stone, we get a shiva linga.

There is another symbolic story to shiva linga, To denote the infinity of the supreme god. Once, Brahma and Vishnu set out to see for themselves the start and the beginning of god, who appeared to them as an infinite pillar of fire. Brahma took the form of a swan -hamsa, and vishnu took the form of a wild boar - varaha. Both of them returned having not seen the end or the beginning, and they then symbolised him as a pillar of stone for all of mankind to worship (which is called the shiva linga).

A Muslim Story

The following might be worth mentioning. Ibne-Kaseer, a renowned commentator of Quran (Koran), in the 8th century Hijra, in his famous commentary called Tafseer Ibne-Kaseer, has talked about the Kaaba (the black stone, that muslims worship and which is encased in mecca). This Kaaba was a symbol of God or sign of god and just a stone. Hazrat Jibriel (A character from the Quran) had brought the Hajar-E-Aswad (the present Kaaba) from Hind (In other words India). Hind in Arabic refers to Hindustan or India.

Some claim that this could be a shiva linga, while others take offence to it. There are however two schools of thought about this in Quran. While one agrees to the story as said by Ibne-Kaseer, the other doesn't, perhaps guided by their hate for Hindustan. But whatever be the case, and whichever group be true and from wherever the Kaaba was brought, both groups agree that the Kaaba is the sign of god, that which Mohammad the prophet kissed and that which every pilgrim to mecca kisses.

...So just like the kaaba, the shiva linga stands as a sign of god.

It might be interesting to note here, that in the ancient days, there were travellers from Arabia to Hind to find and discover the country and sciences. Thats how the westerners named numbers we use today as arabic numerals, because Europe got the number system from Arabia; while the arabs themselves called it as Al-Arqan Al-Hindu (translated as "indian figures", and mathematics in arabic is called as Hindi-Sat or the "art of Indians").

Shiva and Shakti

Shiva (once again as ParaShiva or supreme GodHead) is known as the maker and the destroyer, and is full of energy. He is both the consciousness and the power of maya. The power of maya in hinduism is called Shakti and the the supreme consciousness is called Shiva. It is said that Shiva is inert without Shakti, and for shiva to sustain his universe he needs shakti. It is this cosmic dance of Shiva and Shakti that produces, matter, energy and everything according to hindu philosophy. Prof Carl Sagan from NASA, USA in one of his books asserted that the dance of shiva represents the big bang and the creation. In fact there is a high energy laser in the Los Alamos Laboratory that is called Linga. Due to this great potence of shiva to create and destroy, some followers wrongly associate the shiva linga to be the phallic symbol.

Note however, that this too is a way of interpreting things; and the union with shakti denotes the creative power behind the cosmos. Thus some Nepali and some indian drawings wrongly picturise these unions. Though they are wrong, it is not that they are not right...!!! They are right in a small way.

Reference to Kundalini Yoga

There is one other meaning for Shiva and this comes from the subject of Kundalini Yoga. This gives the reasons for his portrayal with snakes etc..., there is a parallel in greek mythology too, it is called the Caudecus, and in fact you will find its symbol in every Ambulance and every red-cross vehicle all over the world. In Sanskrit it is reffered to as the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna (but thats outside this topic).

...Besides, for God, there is nothing evil. There is a saying in sanskrit that "the poison of the cobra is not a poison for itself". All things good, bad and ugly (!!), whether sorrow or happy, whether disgraceful or divine are all the "illusions of reality", or God's creation.

God's many appearances

There is another sloka in sanskrit that hindus recite, and yet do not take its meaning in its entirety. Krishna, in the Gita, says that He (Krishna, or supreme GodHead) will appear in many forms, again and again, whenever righteousness in a certain region or place falls. This is why good and true hindus are asked to be tolerant towards other religions. A true hindu, will thus revere all the prophets of Judaica, Jesus of Christanity, Mohammad of Islam, Buddha, Guru Nanak, and several others, because they are all to be seen as various representations of one and the same.

Conclusion

Anyways, according to me, (my opinion, as opposed to what i have said uptil now - which was not an opinion), none of this knowledge is required, whats required is a consciousness and the courage to stand for the truth. Be it relative truth or Supreme. Worship, comes easy in a million forms, when ones actions and deeds and thoughts are true. But then again, knowledge leads to wiser thoughts. Hmmmmm.....


Hoping this was informative, and has helped you in anyway. - Ajay Sathyanath