Shaivism is one of the major traditions of the Vedic system, and centers around  the worship of  Lord Shiva. Those who accept Shiva as the supreme deity are called Shaivites. Its origin predates recorded history, but references to the worship of Shiva can be found in the Vedas and Puranas.

You  will  notice  that  a  devotee  of  Shiva  in  India  usually  wears  Vibhuti  or  bhasma,  the  sacred  ash,  on  his forehead, and  Radrakshamala  around  his neck  and  elsewhere. The  Rudra  bead  represents  the  third  eye  on  Lord Shiva’s forehead. He should worship the Shiva lingam with the leaves of the Bilva trees, and his meditation should consist of chanting the Panchakshara, “Om Namaha Shivaya”.

The  philosophy  of  Shaivism  covers  a  wide  range  of  Hindu  thought,  from  idealistic  monism  to  pluralistic realism, depending on the locality. As it changed through the years, a number of Shaivite sects were established, and the Pasupatas are considered the earliest. The Shaiva cults have had great popularity with village people throughout India, and use a form of asceticism for their means of spiritual  advancement. T his includes rising above anger and greed, engaging in deep meditation, and  concentrating  on  the  repetition of the sacred syllable om . Many Shaiva ascetics can be recognized by  their long matted hair, which may also be wrapped and piled up on the head. They often wear a horizontal, three-lined tilok mark on their forehead. Many initiates smear their bodies with ashes which come  from  the  sacred  fire  or  crematoriums.  They  chant  mantras  to  become  free  from  the  bondage  of  material existence, and sometimes dance and sing to induce trance-like states. So me of their practices  a re rather unorthodox, dependingon the school of thought, and , thus, some have met op position at various times. Much information about the practices of Shaivism is given in the Shiva Purana.

The  Pasupatas were  the  earliest sect of Shaivism. They based  their ideas on  two  works, both  said  to  be  by Kaundinya:  the  Pasupatasutra  (written  around  100 -20 0  A .D .)  and  the  Pancarthabhasya  (40 0-60 0  A .D .).  T hey expanded primarily into Gujarat. The Pasupatas accept the idea of a Supreme controller,  but do not use the Vedas. T hey establish the existence o f the Supreme through inference and say that  the Supreme, who they accept as Lord Shiva , is not the original cause of the material world, but is the  operative cause in that he simply used the material ingredients which already existed to form the cosmic manifestation. Therefore, through a combination of the potency of Lord Shiva and the material energy, generally regarded as Shakti or Mother Durga, the universe is created.

The conclusive Vedic literature, however, maintains that demigods such as Lord B rahma and Lord  Shiva are created by and subordinate to Lord Narayana , Vishnu, who is the creator o f the material worlds and all ingredients thereof. The Varaha Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana and many others specifically state that Narayana is the Supreme Personality of Godhead , and from Him Brahma was born, from whom Shiva was born. Therefore, the demigod s are not the Supreme but only dependent  agents of the Supreme who work under His direction. This is confirmed in many verses through out the  Ved ic literature. Although in some places we may find that demigods like Shiva, Ganesh, Surya, Indra, etc., are described a s the ruler and creator of all, we should understand that almost all prayers  to  the  demigods use  such  terms. But the  words should  be  taken  in  their  etymological sense  referring  to Narayana, or V ishnu, who is the source of the power that the demigods have. Shiva’s name as Pasupatimens “Lord of all souls,” Ganesh means “Lord of all beings,” Surya means “the goal of the wise,” Indra  means “the supreme ruler,” all of which ultimately refer to the Supreme Lord and that these demigods  are H is agents and represent the po wer of the Supreme.

The Vedanta-sutras point out many contradictions in the philosophy o f the Pasupatas or Shaivites  (Vedanta- sutras  or  Sri  Bh asya  2.2.35 -41).  It  concludes  that  if  one  is  serious  ab out  attaining  spiritual  enlightenment  and liberation, he must avoid this questionable philosophy, for in spite of the  uncommon austerities and lifestyle of the Shaivites, their  destination  after  death  is  not  certa in.  T he  reason  is  that,  though  they  may  worship  Shiva  as  the Supreme B eing , they generally believe that God  is an unembodied void into which they try to merge. M any of them accept  Shiva  or  any  other  deity  as  simply  being  a  material  manifestation  of  that  void  or  Brahman.  Thus,  their understanding of the Absolute Truth is faulty, and the process they use for spiritual realization is misdirected.

W e should point out, however, that the Vedic literature establishes Lord Shiva as one of the topmost devotees of Lord Vishnu or Krishna. Shiva is o ften pictured in meditation, and many verses from the Puranas explain that he is always  meditating  on  the  Supreme,  Sri  Krishna.  T his  means  that  Shiva  is  a  Vaishnava  of  the  greatest  caliber. Furthermore, he is also one of the most important demigods in the  universe. T herefore, as long as one understands Lo rd Shiva’s real position and avoids the impersonalistic philosophy that most Shaivites follow, there certainly is no harm  in  worshiping  or  offering  respects  to  Lord  Shiva  or  visiting  the  temples  dedicated  to  him.  In  this  case, worshiping Lord Shiva is simply offering respects to a superior devotee of God who can help one along th e way. In fact, as we have explained earlier, respect for Shiva is beneficial for such advancement.

There  are  many  other  sects  of  the  Shaivites  besides  the  Pasupatas.  The  Pratyabhijna  Shaiva  sect  is  from Kashmir. They were systematized by Vasugupta (80 0 A D ) based on the Shiva sutra and Spandakarika. T he latter was expanded  by the commentaries of Somananda, Utpalad eva, Abhinava gupta, and  Kshemaraja, who  wrote the summary teachings in his Pratyabhijna bridaya.

The Virasaiva or Lingayatas was another sect.  There was little notice of this sect until B asava, a brahmana from Kannada developed it. They may have developed from the Kalamukhas and worshiped the linga.

The Shaiva Sidd hantas was another sect in South India, having originated in the 11 th   and 13 th   centuries. T hey used S a nskrit texts, but these were later o vershadowed by the Tamil texts of the Nayanmar  poets,  which  lent  to  its bhakti or devotionally oriented system.

Additionally,  there  was  also  the  Lakulisha  Pasupatas  who  were  also  ascetics. The  Kapalikas  dwelled  in  the cremation grounds. Kalamukhas were ascetics similar to the Pasupatas. The Kashmir or Trika Shaivites had a three- fold  concept  of  God :  namely  Shiva,  the  shakti  energy,  and  the  anu  or  individual.  T he  smarta  or  orthodox  of Shaivism practiced the varnashrama system as enunciated in  the  smriti literature and the Manu-samhita and Kalpa Sutra. T he Natha or Kanphata yogis were a Shaiva sect said to be founded by Goraknatha.  This blended the Pasupata system with Tantric practices and hatha-yoga.

Shaivism essentially consists of believing and accep ting that Shiva is the Absolute, that he is  transcendental to time and space, and pervades all energy and existence. Shaivites believe that once the  influence of maya and karma are removed, they will be free fro m the bondage that prevents them from  perceiving that their spiritual identity is equal  to  Shiv a .  They  chant  obeisances  to  Shiva  on  a  regular  basis,  such  as  “Om  Namaha  Shivaya,”  or  simply “Namashivaya”. Shiva is known to bless his  devotees  with material opulence if he is pleased. And he can be easily pleased, or quickly angered. Yet many people offe r worship of some kind to Shiva and Durga in hopes of acquiring blessings for material facility.

T he basic process of Shaivism, summarized as follows, particularly of the Saiva Siddhanta school, consists of 1) maintaining  virtue,   2 )   doing   service  and   worship,  3)  yoga,  meditation,  4)  acquiring  knowledge,   and   then enlightenment and Self-realization.

To elaborate a little, the first step includes maintaining virtue and purity, which means to cause no injury to any creature, do no stealing, and maintain honesty, truthfulness, proper conduct, patience and  dedication, compassion, and  control  of  the  appetite.  These  are  the  basics  of  karma-yoga  as  w ell  as  the  building  blocks  of  any  spiritual process.

T he second step includes maintaining discipline in sadhana, or one’s spiritual practice and habits. T his is when we control the mind and absorb our consiousness in the higher purpose of life and  activities. T his is also called kriya, regulated exercises or methods. There is also worship of the image  of the divine or the deity to invoke the dormant spiritual love within us. Going to the temple or ashrama  to participate in the puja, worship, and to joyfully absorb oneself in hearing the Vedic wisdom and chanting or singing is also included.

The third step includ es the performance of yoga in which a person practice s pranayama and pratya hara, breath

control to steady the mind and senses, and withdraw them from external distractions. T hen through  concentration and meditation the practitioner becomes aware of G od within. Through this practice, the kundalini may also become active,  rising  through  the  chakras.  One’s  doubts,  faults,  mental  weaknesses  and  ignorance,  even  past  karma, becomes  reduced.  T hen  ecstasy  and  the  divine  energy  is  a ro use d .  Ultimately,  this  is  meant  to  give  way,  with practice, to nirvikalpa samadhi, or the experience of the timeless and form less Parashiva.

The fourth step is when a person becomes enlightened and Self-realized. In this sate, divine wisdom is a part of one’s every move. Though still living in this mortal world , the person k no w s and also perceives that he  is no t of it. H e is of a different, transcendental nature . This is a result of all his practice, austerity, sadhana, and devotional love. N o more does such a yogi experience the limitations of the mind or ordinary intellect. H e is free of it, or liberated, a jivanmukta, a liberated soul.

This process, as described in the above paragraphs, includes the basic steps that you will find in  most forms of yoga, no matter whether it is applied directly to Shaivism or not. However, in this day  and age, being able to take this system to its full perfection is not easy, and to attempt it thinking one can do so may be misleading. Nonetheless, as anyone can see, the basic step s of this process includes qualities and practices that can enhance anyone’s life and assist in whatever spiritual path is being pursued.

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