History of Shaivism
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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