Meet Manoj's Murtis Part I: Shiva & Karma
Shiva Nataraja - The Lord of the Dance
Life is Uncertain. Anything can happen anytime to anyone of us. The real question is how does one live such a life of uncertainty with Certainty?
By Embracing the Dancer, the Shiva Nataraja, the Joyous Dancer. Nata means the Dance and Raja means King.
This is the dance of creation and destruction of the Universe that each of us co-creates. The circle of flames represent the world we have created. Everything we experience is due to the karmas we have incurred from the past, including past lives. The Sanskrit word Loka doesn't just mean world, it means the world we experience.
The circle of flames thus represent our destiny coming from previous karmic patterns. We possess free will however, and this is represented by the flame Shiva holds in his hand. This is likened to the fire in the belly we need in order to transform and get out of our comfort zone.
On the other hand, Shiva holds the Damaru, the Drum, the pulse beat of Creation. Time and Space comes from this beat. The whole Universe vibrates from the Damaru of Lord Shiva.
Thus the top two hands of Shiva symbolize creation in your life. However when you engage in creating something new in your life, the old thoughts, patterns and relationships drag you down. This is represented by the being of forgetfulness, Apasmra under Shiva's feet. The word Smra comes from Smriti which means "to remember". For instance, the Bhagavad Gita is a smriti, a remembered text. Apasmra means you literally forget, you get paralyzed by change, you get stuck in the same rut of life, you become like a deer caught in the headlights! Apasmra also represents the demons within us, the old ways of thinking, the old patterns (samskaras) and addictions that sometimes drag us down.
What Shiva does is to crush the back of Apasmra with his right foot and teach us that life is about creation and destruction, simultaneously. These demons are always there in our lives, that’s why Shiva steps on the back of Apasmra after breaking it, but the head is upturned upwards. One needs to always manage these demons with Sadhana or Spiritual Practice.
However another conundrum we face during conscious change is that we worry about the results of our transformation. It comes from our ego, we remember the past mistakes we have made or become uncertain of the future, results of our transformation and feel what if it doesn't work out. It's very natural to feel this uncertainty.
To address this, Lord Shiva does two things. He raises his left foot and brings his left arm over to point to his raised left foot (Sharanagati Mudra). This literally means "Let It Go", "Surrender" as shown by Shiva’s left hand gesturing to his left foot. The word surrender to an average person means giving up or losing something. To the yogi, surrender is like a drop of water merging with the Ocean. You essentially gain the Infinite. The individual drop is indistinguishable from the Ocean and that’s where the Certainty in our lives comes in: We realize that we are the Ocean that is never born and never dies.
When we truly surrender, Shiva raises his right hand in the Abhaya mudra (blessing). This mudra means that he removes fears and uncertainties from within us. But the process starts when you surrender. So the entire yogic path is a combination of effort and Grace. We do the effort, the sadhanas, the yogic practices to surrender and Grace smiles at you.
Interestingly, when Lord Shiva points to his left leg with his left hand, he crosses his heart. The crossing of the heart represents the deepest, darkest moments in our lives (the proverbial dark night of the soul). this miserable time is actually an opportunity to surrender and exponential gains can come in your spiritual path. That is why in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna received the highest teachings from Lord Krishna when Arjuna was at his most despondent state.
Most of humanity live on the circle of the wheel of samsara, as shown by the circular flames around Shiva. We are buffetted by waves of change, of creation and destruction. Change is inevitable whether we seek it or not. By the time you are reading this, you are not the same person you were a second ago; thousands of cells in your body have died and thousands have been born. But in a spinning wheel around Lord Shiva, something never changes; this is the Center. If youi look carefully at the murti of Nataraja, the center is where the Heart is. This is the seat of pure Consciousness, the "I Am". The Upanishads talk about this pure Consciousness residing in our Heart space. So Lord Shiva tells us, Life is a dance, its inherently chaotic, engage with it, create, destroy. Do not however make the dance into a drama. Know who you are, you are pure Consciousness, the stillness that is never born nor dies.
Symbolisms of the Cobras wrapped on Shiva:
The cobra represents desire because desire is like a cobra injecting its venom, when you get infected, its very hard to remove it. But Shiva is the ultimate yogi. He has desires but the desires don't control him. He wears the cobra as an adornment, as a decoration, as jewelry and even they are flying in the dance symbolizing that he is the Master of Desires. Finally, just like the way the cobra sheds its skin representing transformation, Shiva's cobra represents the alchemy of transforming our desires into the highest desire for Spiritual Awakening. This is also represented as the three and a half coiled spring cobra that resides in our muladhara chakra. This Kundalini serpent energy uncoils through us upon Kundalini Awakening and rises up through all the seven chakras.
Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people?
When we examine the Hindu doctrine of karma (the law of cause and effect) the answer becomes very clear. According to this doctrine, all voluntary human actions are said to produce two kinds of results. One is visible and immediate, and the other is invisible and remote. For example, imagine you see a person struggling with a heavy load and you offer to carry it for him. The immediate result is that the person beneﬁts from your kindness. However, your action also produces a positive consequence in the future. This is known as karma.
Furthermore, it is not merely an action that inﬂuences one’s karma, but rather, it is the intention behind the action. For example, if a person is approaching you on the street, and you suddenly shove her to the side so forcefully that she falls down, this may seem like a “bad” action, but if your intention was to save her from getting hit by an oncoming vehicle, then you would effectively earn good karma.
The length of time one must wait before experiencing the effects of karma can vary. An individual carries her karma like seeds in a jar which do not germinate until she reaches a conducive environment. When she has reached the appropriate time and place, her karma becomes fructiﬁed. Karma can also carry over into another lifetime, which explains why bad things can happen to good people, and vice versa. The results of good actions (punyams) manifest as good experiences, and the results of bad actions (papams) manifest as bad experiences.
There are three types of karma:
1. Cumulative karma from all the lifetimes previous to this one (Sanchita Karma)
2. Karma that is brought to effect in this lifetime (Prarabda Karma)
3. New karma earned in this life (Agami Karma)
A human birth is imperative in earning karma; this is because humans alone have free will. The cumulative karma earned by an individual in all of her human births that has not yet been exhausted is called sanchita karma.
Out of this huge pile of accumulated sanchita karma, a portion becomes exhausted in a particular lifetime. This portion is called prarabda karma. The length of an individual’s life is determined by this karma, for she must live until every last prarabda karma is exhausted.
Every time we ﬁnd ourselves in choice-less situations, we are facing our past karma. When we employ our free will to respond to such situations, we earn new karma called agami karma. Some of this agami gets added to the prarabda karma and the rest to sanchita karma.
Learning about karma has many beneﬁts. First of all, we can understand why it seems that there is little or no match between the character of an individual and the quality of her life experiences. Secondly, we can use this knowledge so that when we ﬁnd ourselves in difﬁcult life situations, we can direct our energy not toward self-pitying, but responding calmly. Thirdly, we will ﬁnd a new sense of agency in choosing our actions so that we may improve our future.
Jyothi Chalam is a scholar of Vedanta, the philosophy of self realization. Jyothi teaches workshops on the Upanishads at ashrams, yoga studios and yoga conferences. Jyothi is also an accomplished musician of the South Indian Classical tradition. Her music is the culmination of both her philosophical meditations and deep spiritual devotion.
Manoj Chalam uses humor and personal anecdotes in his workshops to illuminate Hindu mythology. An Indian-born scientist with a PhD from Cornell University, Manoj helps individuals find their archetypes in Hindu Yogic deities and teaches the 4 ways to work with their archetype. He has also compiled a book on the symbolisms of Hindu and Buddhist deities.