the Lord of
"Breathe deeply," said
Vijaya, "and as you breathe pay attention to this smell of incense.
your whole attention to it; know it for what it is - an ineffable fact beyond
words, beyond reason and beyond explanation.
Know it in the raw.
Know it as a mystery.
and prayer - those were the three things that
Muhammad ibn 'Abdullāh loved
above all others.
The inexplicable data of breathed incense, touched
skin, felt compassion and beyond them, the mystery of mysteries, the One in
plurality, the Emptiness that is all, the Suchness totally present in every
appearance, at every point and instant.
So breathe," he repeated,
"breathe," and in a final whisper, as he sat down, "breathe ."
"Shivayanama," murmured the old priest ecstatically.
they moved forward, climbed and, three quarters of the way up
the altar stair sat down side by side
in the penumbra between darkness and the light of the lamps.
quietly Dr. Robert began to talk about Shiva-Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance.
"Look at his image," he said. "Look at it with these new eyes that the
moksha-medicine has given you.
See how it breathes and pulses, how it
grows out of brightness into brightness ever more intense.
through time and out of time, dancing everlastingly and in the eternal now.
Dancing and dancing in all the worlds at once.
Look at him."
Scanning those upturned faces, Will noted, now in one, now in another,
the dawning illuminations of delight, recognition, understanding, the signs of
worshiping wonder that quivered on the brinks of ecstasy or terror.
"Look closely," Dr.
Robert insisted. "Look still more closely."
a long minute of silence, "Dancing in all
the worlds at once," he repeated.
"In all the worlds.
of all in the world of matter.
Look at the great round halo, fringed
with the symbols of fire, within which the god is dancing.
for Nature, for the world of mass and energy.
Within it Shiva-Nataraja
dances the dance of endless becoming and
It's his lila, his cosmic play.
the sake of playing, like a child.
But this child is the Order of
His toys are galaxies, his playground is infinite space and
between finger and finger every interval is a thousand million light-years.
Look at him there on the altar.
The image is man-made, a little contraption of copper only four feet
But Shiva-Nataraja fills the universe, is the universe.
Shut your eyes and see him towering into the night, follow the
boundless stretch of those arms and the wild hair infinitely flying."
"Nataraja at play among the stars and in the atoms.
within every living thing, every sentient creature, every child and man and
Play for play's sake.
But now the playground is
conscious, the dance floor is capable of suffering.
To us, this play
without purpose seems a kind of insult.
What we would really like is a
God who never destroys what he has created.
Or if there must be pain
and death, let them be meted out by a God of righteousness, who will punish the
wicked and reward the good with everlasting happiness.
But in fact the
good get hurt, the innocent suffer.
Then let there be a God who sympathizes
and brings comfort.
But Nataraja only
His play is a play
impartially of death and of
life, of all evils as well as of all
In the uppermost of his right
hands he holds the drum that summons being out of not-being.
the uppermost of his left hands.
It brandishes the fire by which all
that has been created is forthwith destroyed. He dances this way - what
Dances that way - and oh, the pain, the hideous fear, the
Then hop, skip and jump.
Hop into perfect health.
Skip into cancer and
Jump out of the firmness of life into nothingness, out of
nothingness again into life.
For Nataraja it's all play, and the play
is an end in itself, everlastingly purposeless.
He dances because he
dances, and the dancing is his maha-sukha, his infinite and eternal bliss."
"Eternal bliss," Dr. Robert
repeated and again, but questioningly, "Eternal bliss?" He shook his head.
"For us there's no bliss, only the oscillation between happiness and
terror and a sense of
outrage at the thought that our pains are as integral a part of Nataraja's
dance as our pleasures, our dying as our living."
sickness," Dr. Robert resumed at last.
"Old age, decrepitude, death. I
show you sorrow. But that wasn't the only thing the
Buddha showed us. He also
showed us the ending of sorrow."
"Shivayanamar" the old priest cried
"Open your eyes again and look at Nataraja up there on
In his upper right hand, as you've already seen, he holds the drum that
calls the world into existence and in his upper left hand he carries the
Life and death, order and disintegration, impartially.
But now look at Shiva's other pair of hands.
The lower right
hand is raised and the palm is turned outwards.
What does that gesture
It signifies 'Don't be afraid; it's All Right.'
how can anyone in his senses fail to be afraid?
How can anyone pretend
that evil and suffering are all right, when it's so obvious that they're all
Nataraja has the answer.
Look now at his lower left
He's using it to point down at his feet.
And what are his
Look closely and you'll see that the right foot is planted
squarely on a horrible little subhuman creature - the demon, Muyalaka.
A dwarf, but
immensely powerful in his malignity, Muyalaka is the embodiment of ignorance,
the manifestation of greedy, possessive selfhood.
Stamp on him,
break his back!
And that is precisely what Nataraja is doing.
Trampling the little monster down under his right foot.
notice that it isn't at this trampling right foot that he points his finger;
it's at the left foot, the foot that, as he dances, he's in the act of raising
from the ground.
And why does he point at it?
That lifted foot, that dancing
defiance of the force of gravity - it's the symbol of release, of moksha, of
Nataraja dances in all the worlds at once - in the
world of physics and chemistry, in the world of ordinary, all-too-human
experience, in the world finally of Suchness, of Mind, of the Clear Light. . .
"And now," Dr. Robert went on after a moment of silence, "I want you to
look at the other statue the image of Shiva and the Goddess.
them there in their little cave of light.
And now shut your eyes and
see them again - shining, alive, glorified.
in their tenderness what depths of meaning!
What wisdom beyond all
spoken wisdoms in that sensual experience of spiritual fusion and atonement!
Eternity in compassion with time.
The One joined in marriage to
the many, the relative made absolute by its union with the One.
identified with samsara, the manifestarion in time and flesh and feeling of the
" Shivayanama." The old priest lighted another
stick of incense and softly, in a succession of long-drawn melismata, began to
chant something in Sanskrit.
On the young faces before him Will could
read the marks of a listening serenity, the hardly perceptible, ecstatic smile
that welcomes a sudden insight, a revelation of truth or of beauty.
"Liberation," Dr. Robert began
again, "the ending of sorrow, ceasing
to be what you ignorantly think you are and becoming what you are in fact.
For a little while,
thanks to the moksha-medrcine, you will know what it's like to be what in fact
you are, what in fact you always have been.
What a timeless bliss!
But, like everything else, this timelessness is transient.
everything else, it will pass.
And when it has passed, what will you do
with this experience?
What will you do with all the other similar
experiences that the mokhsha-medicine will bring you in the years to come?
Will you merely enjoy them as you would enjoy an evening at
the puppet show, and then go back
to business as usual, back to behaving like the silly delinquents you imagine
yourselves to be?
Or, having glimpsed, will you devote your lives to
the business, not at all as usual, of being what you are in fact?
that we older people can do with our teachings, all that Pala can do for you
with its social arrangements, is to provide you with techniques and
And all that the moksha-medrcine can do is to give you a
succession of beatific glimpses, an hour or two, every now and then, of
enlightening and liberating
It remains for you to decide whether you'll co-operate with
the grace and take those opportunities.
But that's for the future, Here
and now, all you have to do is to follow the mynah bird's advice: Attention!
Pay attention and you'll find yourselves, gradually or suddenly, becoming aware
of the great primordial facts behind these symbols on
old priest waved his stick of incense.
At the foot of
the altar steps the boys and girls sat
motionless as statues.
-adapted from Aldous Huxley, "Island"
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