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Shiva< Lord of the Dance

Shiva-Nataraja,
Lord of the Dance


"Breathe deeply," said Vijaya, "and as you breathe pay attention to this smell of incense.

Pay 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.

Perfume, women 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.

Together 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 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.

Dancing through time and out of time, dancing everlastingly in the 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," Robert insisted. "Look still more closely."

After a long minute of silence, "Dancing in all the worlds at once."

"In all the worlds. And first 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. It stands for Nature, for the world of mass and energy.

Shiva-Nataraja dances the dance of endless becoming and passing away.

It's his lila, his cosmic play.

Playing for the sake of playing, like a child.

But this child is the Order of Things.

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 high.

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.

At play within every living thing, every sentient creature, every child and man and woman.

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 dances.

His play is impartial to death and life, of all evils as well as of all goods.

In the uppermost of his right hands he holds the drum that summons being out of not-being.

Look at the uppermost of his left hands.

Brandishing fire by which all that has been created is forthwith destroyed.

He dances this way - what happiness, the awe, the ephiphany !

Dances that way - and oh, the hideous fear, the terror, the isolation!

Then hop, skip and jump.

Hop into perfect health.

Skip into cancer and senility.

Jump out of material life into dissolution, out of dissolution again into life.

For Nataraja play is an end in itself, everlastingly purposeless.

He dances and the dancing is his maha-sukha, his infinite and eternal bliss."

"Eternal bliss," Robert repeated but questioningly, "Eternal bliss?"

"For the unenlightened there is no bliss, only the oscillation between awe and terror and a sense of outrage at the thought that pain mixed with pleasure is an integral part of Nataraja's dance - our dying as our living."

"Suffering and sickness," 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 triumphantly.

"Open your eyes again and look at Nataraja up there on the altar.

Look closely.

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 destroying fire.

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 signify?

It signifies 'Don't be afraid; it is LIFE ! '

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 wrong!

Nataraja has the answer. Look now at his lower left hand.

He's using it to point down at his feet. And what are his feet doing?

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 it isn't at this trampling right foot that he points his finger; it's at the left foot, the foot, as he dances, 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 liberation.

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 Silence, of Brahma, of Lumière Infinie . . . "

"And now," Robert went on after a moment of silence, "I want you to look at the other statue the image of Shiva and the Goddess.

Look at them there in their little cave of light.

And now shut your eyes and see them again - shining, alive, glorified.

How beautiful!

And 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.

Nirvana identified with samsara, the manifestarion in time and flesh and feeling of the Buddha Nature."

" 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 and beauty.

"Liberation," 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.

Like 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?

All 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 opportunities.

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 grace.

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 the altar."

"Shivayanama!"

The 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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