Swami Paramananda Saraswati
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Initially, whenever I sought a divine form for the Absolute, I leaned to Krsna because of His words in the Bhagavad Gita. However, the patron deity of my order is Siva. After my initiation, I, knowing that all divine forms are but manifestations of the one Absolute, switched allegiance to Siva. Although nothing in the literature of Siva can match the Bhagavad Gita, the image of Him that I've chosen, seated in lotus position in deep meditation, at one even with the cobras coiled about His body, is more inspiring to my particular practice than any of the customary representations of Krsna. The statue of Him so posed that I have here at Dharmanath is a miniature of the one in my Guru's ashram.
The stories about the Hindu Gods are compiled in eighteen books known as the Puranas [Footnote 1] which weren't finalized until after the time of Buddha. Yet, many of the stories within them are considerably older; the references made in the Upanisads to Puranas may be to some earlier compilation of them. Of the eighteen Puranas, six are devoted to Brahma, six to Visnu and six to Siva, together with their respective incarnations. Some of the stories in the Puranas dedicated to each of these Gods are intended to demonstrate His superiority over the other two. Usually the chosen God is represented as the toughest Deity on the block, the God to be called upon to save the day whenever the devas are unable to handle some situation, especially in their perpetual battle with the asuras. The different Puranas do contain many similar stories, differing mainly in which God is the hero and which God plays the fall guy. The more important of the Puranas are lengthy; I haven't attempted to read any of them through, certainly not the voluminous Siva Purana. [Footnote 2]
Power may be the predominant worship of man. Not only are his Gods chosen because of their reputed might but, more often than not, he'll describe his human Guru as possessing this or that occult power rather than as being morally perfected or as knowing That which transcends all potencies. However, the true devotee of Siva, or any of the Deities of the Puranas, isn't content to think of Him as merely more powerful than the rest of the Gods yet subject to the same anthropomorphic frailties, emotions and desires as the others, but as an embodiment of the Absolute and beyond worldly attributes. The Siva Mahimnah Stotram, the Ode to the Glory of Siva, was written to assert that Siva is truly the Supreme Being, above the possibility of human conceptualization. It was ostensibly written by a Gandharva, a musician deity, named Puspadanta, literally "flowery teeth", who wished to regain the good graces of Siva after having incurred His wrath by treading on some flowers offered to Him. Although in the Puranas Siva is often depicted as displaying human emotion, wrathful behavior isn't expected of the Supreme Being. Thus Puspadanta sought to remind Siva of His absolute nature. In addition to asserting it directly, he employed the tactic of making light of some of the principal legends about Siva in which He seems to act as something less.
It's impossible to give the Siva Mahimnah Stotram a date, but from references within it, it must have been written after the the Puranas, when Hinduism had already been revitalized in India but before Buddhism had ceased to be an important force. Nowadays, the members of my order often sing it in unison; on the whole, it's probably the most recited hymn to Siva. It's a rare example in the Hindu literature of real joviality. Even its meter, four lines of seventeen syllables each per verse, has a syncopated beat. Yet, most people recite it with dead seriousness that overlooks all the irony within it; the Ramakrishna Order edition [Footnote 3] I have treats it so solemnly that it even expurgates a verse.
The tone of the Siva Mahimnah Stotram is set in its very first verse.
"If praise of You by someone who doesn't realize
the scope of Your glory is unworthy,
Then so is that of Brahma and the other Gods.
But, if no one may be criticized for praising You
within his own capabilities,
Then this attempt of mine to compose a hymn is untainted."
Thus Puspadanta began by casting himself in role of a true devotee and expressing his own inadequacy before his Deity, yet he snuck in a jab at the other Gods by placing them in the same category of inferiority to Siva as himself. Gandharvas are only part way up in the hierarchy of the divine beings and stand several levels below the devas. But this verse places Siva as the Absolute, above and beyond all.
In the next two verses, Puspadanta continued to dwell upon Siva's transcendental nature. After stating that He's beyond both mind and speech, Puspadanta wondered not only how to glorify Him but also what value his tiny bit of praise could be to Him. However, the Supreme Being, without compromising His absolute nature, showers His grace on the host of deluded souls by assuming cognizable forms. Thus Puspadanta solved the dilemma of how to glorify Siva by deciding to speak of Him through His manifestations, and that of the value of praising Him by hoping that, although he couldn't see his praise as magnifying Siva, by composing a hymn he could purify himself and regain His good graces.
In the cosmic drama, the Supreme Being plays the part of the Lord of the Universe, the Creator, the Protector and the Destroyer. In the fourth verse, Puspadanta described Siva as such, divided into three bodies according to the three gunas, but voiced regret that certain thick-skulled people, referring both to atheists and to theists who deny God's role as Creator, devise arguments against Him which although pleasant to themselves, are really despicable. In the next verse, Puspadanta listed the objections they raise to creation.
"With what motive, in what body, from what material,
by what means and supported by what,
Did the Creator make the three realms?
Such arguments concerning You
whose rule over the universe is beyond reason
Are advanced by these numbskulls to delude the world."
The pure devotee considers the fact that his Deity is beyond reason to be sufficient to overcome any scholastic argument raised about Him. Yet, in the sixth verse, Puspadanta offered a counter argument.
"How could the realms be unborn since they have parts?
How could the universe have been created without an Author?
Who, beside the Lord, could have attempted this creation?
Because of their foolishness,
they entertain doubt about You."
It's easy to question the authenticity of this verse. After examining the wealth of proofs of the existence of God put forward in both East and West, and the equally weighty body of counter arguments, it's hard to conclude anything else but that nothing about God can be established by reason alone. This is the only scholastic argument advanced in the Siva Mahimnah Stotram and the logic behind its first line is dubious. Furthermore, the last thirteen verses of the Siva Mahimnah Stotram were clearly tacked on after it was written; this sixth verse may also be a subsequent insertion. However, the Siva Mahimnah Stotram was composed at a time when scholasticism was flourishing and when arguments like this seemed more cogent than they do now. Puspadanta, while not resting his faith on such arguments, may simply have wished to demonstrate that he could defeat any sophistry with some of his own, and may have believed that even though reasoning cannot establish anything positive about the Lord, it can be used to do away with nonsense. Although Sankaracarya maintained that the ultimate questions can only be settled through direct realization, he countered objections raised against his philosophy with his own lines of reasoning. So, this all too straight-faced verse may be part of the original after all.
In the next verse, Puspadanta returned to depreciating scholasticism rather than debating against it. He listed some of the Hindu schools and stated that although some say this one is highest or that one is proper, all these paths, directly or indirectly lead to Siva, just as all rivers reach the same goal, the ocean. In the ninth verse, Puspadanta expressed his bewilderment at the arguments, raised principally among the Buddhists, as to whether the universe is eternal, momentary, or some intermediate between the two, and proclaimed that all he could do in the face of them was to unabashedly praise Siva.
Then Puspadanta began to tackle some of the specific legends about Siva. In the tenth verse, Puspadanta referred to the story that once, when Brahma and Visnu were arguing over who was greater, Siva appeared as a pillar of fire. They both tried to measure It, but couldn't. Finally they fell to worshipping It and Siva revealed Himself to them. Puspadanta concluded the verse by asking Siva rhetorically, "Does turning to You ever fail to bear fruit?"
However, Siva also granted boons to evil beings who worshipped Him. The eleventh and twelfth verses tell of Ravana, the ten-headed asura, who lopped off his heads one by one and offered them to Siva. After the ninth head was cut, Siva offered him boons and he chose weapons. He conquered the three realms, but then tried to attack Kailasa, the abode of Siva Himself, whereupon Siva put him down with the tip of His toe and he didn't even retain a place to rest in the realm of Hell. On the surface, this story pictures Siva as selfish, willing to sacrifice the three realms to an evil being for a modicum of worship, and moving against him only when His own interests were threatened. Its deeper significance is that the evil, by their own inherent nature, will act to cause their own downfall. Puspadanta concluded by alluding to this fact. Similarly, those who take power gained through the practice of yoga and use it for base material ends, suffer great downfalls.
Although the devas and the asuras were usually at war, they did once unite and churned the ocean in order to obtain the nectar of immortality. However, their first attempt at churning produced instead a lethal poison which threatened to destroy all beings throughout the three realms. Everyone ran to Siva who saved them all by drinking the poison Himself. As a result, He got the blue discoloration on His throat which appears in most representations of Him. The fourteenth verse alludes to this legend and then concludes,
"... That stain on Your throat
doesn't do anything to You, but is beautiful.
Even a blemish is becoming
upon the allayer of the world's fear of poison."
"The allayer of the world's fear of poison", is a free translation of a single compound "bhuvanabhayabhangavyasaninah", (bhuvana = the world; bhaya = fear; bhanga = destruction; [Footnote 4] vyasaninah = intent upon). Indeed, the Siva Mahimnah Stotram is full of compounds, like this one with its thrice repeated "bh", which make German names for rodents look tame. If Puspadanta had been in a serious frame of mind, he would have chosen a less preposterous way of expressing himself. Since he only allotted a verse or two to each legend, Puspadanta never told a legend in full, but merely mentioned it and then used some verbal play to belittle it. After all, can a discoloration really mar the Absolute? After Siva imbibed the poison the devas and the asuras joined to churn the ocean once more. Yet, their truce was short-lived, for as soon as they obtained a pot of nectar, a fierce battle began for its possession.
The fifteenth verse treats the story of Smara, a Cupid-like God, who shot arrows of passion that always had effect throughout the three realms. The devas needed assistance to overcome the asura Taraka, but Siva was engaged in deep and prolonged meditation. Smara offered to wake Siva by shooting one of his arrows of passion. However, Siva opened His third eye and burnt Smara to ashes. On the surface this story pictures Siva as a hot-tempered Deity, willing to do in anyone who disturbs His meditation. Its true meaning is that Siva is the destroyer of passion, and internally, that passion can be destroyed through meditation on the inner soul. Again, to indicate Smara's demise, Puspadanta used an alliterative play on words, "Smarah smartavyatma", (Smara; smartavya = is to be remembered; atma = soul) "Smara is a soul to be remembered".
Eventually Siva did come around to aid the devas and the eighteenth verse tells of the flamboyance with which He destroyed the three cities of Taraka.
"The earth was Your chariot,
the sun and the moon, its wheels,
Brahma, Your charioteer,
Mount Meru, Your bow, and Visnu, Your arrow.
Why did You use all there accessories
to burn the three cities like straw?
Oh, He was only playing for the Lord
isn't dependent upon anything else."
The universe itself is nothing but a play of the Lord. Siva could have destroyed the three cities by opening his third eye, or simply by willing it, but by employing the heavenly bodies and the other Gods, He put together a more spectacular show. This verse does summarize the Puspadanta's attitude to these legends, which to him are only acts in the cosmic drama.
Siva is also a great prankster; His stealing of one of a thousand lotuses readied by Visnu for His worship is the subject of the nineteenth verse.
"Visnu would offer a thousand lotuses at Your feet.
Since one was missing, He plucked out
His own lotus-like eye and offered it.
Because of this supreme devotion it turned into the discus
With which, Destroyer of the Three Cities,
He remains on guard to protect the universe."
In the Siva Mahimnah Stotram, Siva is addressed with a wealth of titles, like "Destroyer of the Three Cities". Siva's test of Visnu's devotion was whimsical, to say the least, but true devotion is always rewarded.
The twenty-second verse reads,
"Brahma, in a fit of passion,
lusted after His own daughter,
Assumed the body of a deer and took her by force.
You, as the archer, struck Him with an arrow
and returned Him to the Heavens.
But even today, the wrath of the Hunter hasn't left Him."
The edition I have censors the first two lines in its English translation, presumably because of its mention of incest. Yet, the purpose of this legend is clear. Incest and other base passions arise as a matter of course from the creative faculty of the mind and are eliminated only by fixing the mind upon the inner soul. Dwelling upon the desire, with feelings of guilt and sin for having entertained it, doesn't help to eradicate it. Seeing that Brahma, the Creator, was also struck by the same passion which was only destroyed by the intervention of Siva, helps counter the attitudes of guilt and sin which lead the mind to linger upon the intrusive desire.
Although Siva is the destroyer of base desire and passion, He will reward true love and devotion. The twenty-third verse treats His marriage with Parvati who had set Her heart upon Him and who, with endless tapa, had demonstrated unshakable devotion to Him. Siva took pity upon Her and allowed Her to occupy half of His body, but the verse makes light of all this.
"If, after having seen the archer burnt like a straw,
Parvati, proud of Her beauty, thinks that,
Although She won the privilege of occupying half of
Your body through tapa, You were aroused by Her,
Then, Bestower of Boons, young women truly are foolish."
Many diverse traditions are brought together in the worship of Siva; one of them is the subject of the twenty-fourth verse.
Destroyer of Smara, You frolic in cremation grounds
with ghosts as Your playmates;
You smear Your body with the ash
and wear necklaces of skulls.
Completely inauspicious is Your conduct.
Yet it's most auspicious to those
who think of You as such."
One branch of the ascetics who worship Siva, spend their time at the cremation grounds, smeared with ash, in emulation of Siva. While the general populace views them with a mixture of awe, fear and contempt, to themselves, devotees who are sincere in this practice, are doing nothing but seeking the Lord. By way of contrast, the twenty-fifth verse states that, through disciplined regulation of the breath and control of the mind, yogis attain transcendental bliss which is truly that of Siva. No matter which of the many traditions is followed, the end is He.
The twenty-sixth verse dismisses the ordinary praise of Siva.
"You're the sun, the moon, air, fire,
Water, ether, and earth. You're also the spirit.
The erudite have such limited conceptions of You,
But I just don't know what You are not."
Siva truly lies beyond the mind; scholars who try to grasp Him with their intellects lose Him within their limiting verbiage.
Although Siva cannot be described directly, He can be indirectly indicated with words. The twenty-seventh verse indicates Siva through the sacred syllable "Aum". It alludes to the thesis of the Mandukyopanisad, that the three component sounds of "Aum", "a", "u", and "m", represent the waking, the dreaming and the deep sleep states respectively, and that the undivided sound "Aum", represents the fourth, the transcendental state. Siva is manifest as divided into threes, the three Vedas, the three states, the three realms and the three Gods, indicated by the three sounds taken separately, but Puspadanta asserted that He truly is That which is represented by the undivided "Aum". In the twenty-eighth verse, Puspadanta listed the eight principal names of Siva, but joked that these were only a start.
The twenty-ninth verse points to Siva as confounding ordinary reason. Unlike the preceding verses which contain complex plays on words, it's simple and straightforward. Nevertheless, it maintains the same meter.
"Namo nedisthaya Priyadava davisthaya ca namo.
Namah ksodisthaya Smarahara mahisthaya ca namah.
Namo varsisthaya Trinayana yavisthaya ca namo.
Namah sarvasmai Te Tadidamatisarvaya ca namah.
(Namah = reverence; nedisthaya = the nearest; Priyadava = Lover of Forests; davisthaya = the furthest, ca = and; namah; namah; ksodisthaya = the smallest; Smarahara = Destroyer of Smara; mahisthaya = the largest; namah; namah; varsisthaya = the oldest; Trinayana = Possessor of the Third Eye; yavisthaya = the youngest; ca; namah; namah; sarvasmai = to all; Te = You; Tat = That, the Absolute; idam = this, the universe; ati = transcending; sarvaya = all; ca; namah)
Reverence to the Nearest, Lover of Forests,
and to the Furthest, reverence.
Reverence to the Smallest, Destroyer of Smara,
and to the Largest, reverence.
Reverence to the Oldest, You of Third Eye,
and to the Youngest, reverence.
Reverence to You Who are all and to That
which transcends the whole universe, reverence."
Namah is a complex word indicating an attitude of reverence and respect. It's used in many ways, including in greetings. It's frequently translated as "bow" or "prostrate before", but these physical gestures, outward expressions of it, don't truly express its meaning which is an internal attitude. This verse, through its listing of contradictory attributes for Siva places Him as the attributeless possessor of all attributes.
The thirtieth verse tells of Siva's appearing to exist in three bodies according to the three gunas, and existing, undivided, beyond them.
"Reverence to the Creator, Who,
when raja guna predominates, issues the universe.
Reverence to the Destroyer, Who,
when tama guna predominates, withdraws the universe.
Reverence to the Protector, Who,
when sattva guna predominates, makes creatures happy.
Reverence to Siva, the resplendent Being,
devoid of the gunas."
The thirteen verses after this, which conclude the Siva Mahimnah Stotram, are clearly not part of the original. They abandon the catchy rhythm of the first thirty verses, as well as their spirit, and mostly contain the bland sort of praise both of Siva and of the benefits of reciting the Siva Mahimnah Stotram, that the earlier verses so thoroughly demolish. Only one of these thirteen add-ons retains something of the flavor of the Siva Mahimnah Stotram.
"Tava tattvam na janami kidrsosi Mahesvara
Yadrsosi Mahadeva tadrsaya namo namah"
(Tava = Your; tattvam = essence, true nature; na = not; janami = I know; ki = how; drsosi = You appear; Maha = great; Isvara = Lord; yad = whatever; drsosi; Maha; deva; tad = that; drsaya; to appearance; namo namah = repeated reverence)
"I don't know Your true nature
or how You're manifest, Great Lord,
But whatever is Your manifestation, Great God,
to that manifestation, eternal reverence."
Drsosi comes from the root "to see". Neither able to grasp Siva's imperceptible true nature nor even able to discern any logic behind His visible manifestations, the devotee merely worships His manifestations as they come.
However, the verse that follows is more typical of the last thirteen verses, and states,
"Anyone who reads the Siva Mahimnah Stotram
once, twice or thrice
Is purged of all sin
and is glorified in the realm of Siva."
Don't waste time devising esoteric interpretations for such verses. They mean what they say.
Although the Siva Mahimnah Stotram cannot stand before the Bhagavad Gita, it does contain something crucial that's absent in the Gita. The Gita, spoken on the eve of one of those ultimate confrontations between good and evil, a battle which few would survive, is a somber work in which Krsna didn't crack a single joke. If something in an edition of it seems funny, it's probably a mistranslation.
The general humor, and delight in ridicule, of the Upanisads, seems to have been lost in Krsna's time. Granted, there are stories of Krsna's childhood mischief, and some of His behavior, like making away with the clothes of the local girls while they were bathing in the Yamuna River, was downright naughty, but the Krsna tradition takes even these stories in a serious vein. The detachment that the Gita so elegantly prescribes for karma must be extended to bhakti and jnana as well. The ultimate manifestation of detachment, and the only possible expression of the absolute truth as well, is a good hard laugh and that the Siva Mahimnah Stotram provides. After all, the chuckle of the cosmos is Death Himself.
* * *
Since I've brought a statue of Siva to Dharmanath, I must perform a minimum of worship. However, the statue sits in the rear of the cave; after the first winter's storm, it's blocked by snow. If I dig Him out too soon, snow will just drift in again and repack His space. Thus, I must wait until the cave is well-sealed before tunneling back to Him; I haven't been reaching Him until late January or early February. The rear of my cave is His temple; until I dig through to Him, I consider His temple to be closed.
When a temple is closed, the customary way to worship the Deity within is to circumambulate it. That I do, often at the risk of my life. The entrance tunnel to my cave points south. Of course, there are days when I don't manage to get out, but if I do dig my way to the open on a marginal day, I grab my ice axe and see if I can circle the rock that caps my cave. By mid-winter, the tunnel projects twenty feet out, so the first thing I must do is to head back towards the rock. Because it's less steep on that side, I make a right turn from the entrance, take a few steps, turn right again and start upwards. Heavy snow by itself cannot stop me, although a few times each winter I turn around at this point and put on my snowshoes. I don't think there was a day when I made it around with snowshoes that I couldn't have made it around without, but when deep loose snow is lying around, it's good to pack it down by walking about with snowshoes so it doesn't all blow away with the first strong wind. Wind alone can stop me. Sometimes, even before I can climb above my entrance tunnel, I'm halted by its gusts, and find myself sliding back into my tunnel and walling myself in. However, if I do get going and reach the rock, I'm standing ten or fifteen feet above the level of my entrance. Since the wind blows from the north or the northeast, as I near the rock I do get protection.
The proper direction for circumambulating a temple is clockwise as seen from above, that is, with the temple on your right side. If you inadvertently happen to circle a temple once in the opposite direction, then any merit you might have attained through your last round in the proper direction is negated. Thus when I reach the rock I turn to the west, cross over the entrance tunnel, dip down slightly and then head up to the cornice on the west side. On this part of the circuit the rock breaks the wind. The west-side cornice is never too steep but sometimes it's glazed and forces me to give a few hard kicks to surmount it. Once I'm on it, I'm about twenty feet above my starting level and am exposed to the full blast of the wind. From this point back to my entrance tunnel is still an easy downhill scamper. There have been days when I've stood on the cornice, crouched a few moments in the wind, turned around and dashed back down.
If I continue on the circuit, I must face into the wind and go about thirty feet upon gently down-sloping wind-swept snow on which I can occasionally manage a short slide. This slope leads me to a shallow alcove at the back of the cave about eight feet below the level of the cornice. There I must check to see if any wind channels are forming between the snow and the rock, and plug them as best I can. This shallow alcove gives a slight protection from the wind, but next I must climb five feet onto some boulders which are always swept clear of snow. I've built substantial walls of snow to try to lessen the force of the wind blowing across these rocks, but I've seen these walls eroded to nothing within a day. On days when the wind is just too much, I've retreated from this alcove behind the cave. From it, I can run up the slope to the west side cornice with my back to the wind, jump over the cornice and be protected from the full force of the wind the rest of the way down to the entrance tunnel. If I go any further, I become committed to complete the round.
To obtain the benefit of circumambulating a temple, not only must you physically circle it, but while doing so, you must keep your mind fixed upon the Deity within. The remembrance of Siva grows stronger as I face the wind and fight my way over the boulders. This stretch is often stop and go, as I crouch on my ice axe when hit by a gust and move forward in the following lull. Ten feet further, I again reach snow. I can walk more easily and turn my face away from the wind as I head toward the east-side cornice. Still, I must watch my step for, at this point, a moat, often twelve feet deep and corniced at its lip, separates me from the rock.
The east-side cornice is narrow. Minor shifts of wind cause it to build up a few feet or erode a few feet. On its side facing away from the cave is a vertical drop of eight or ten feet which wouldn't be a pleasant fall. Hence, I get off the east-side cornice by glissading in towards the rock. Early in the winter, the glissade is about seven vertical feet. Since each time I glissade, I pack down some snow, by the end of the winter the drop is only three to five feet. However, it's steep and I must be careful not to lose my balance and go crashing head first into the rock. Down from the cornice the wind is less. Loose snow often piles steeply against the rock. Sometimes, at the beginning of the winter, I kick some off and go sliding down about five feet with it, but by mid-winter I've packed a track and the going is easy. This puts me above the entrance tunnel once more. The length of the circuit is only about 150 feet and on fine days it's trivial, but there are days when at this point, I feel as if I've circumambulated the Himalayan Mount Kailasa. On such days, once around is enough and I return to my tunnel. If the first time around wasn't too rough, I follow my tracks and circle twice more.
Once the way to Siva is shoveled, in addition to circumambulation I set a wick of ghee aflame, ring a little bell and give Him a full-fledged worshipping. Although I light incense when worshipping Him in the summer, in winter, because of my confined quarters, I skip burning incense. All in all, I must violate every rule in the book, for the book was written for warmer climes. He must laugh as He sees a heavy-booted, unwashed figure approach Him with flame and bell in hand. There's nothing He needs from me. What more can I do for Him than to amuse Him?
I also worship Him by camera but, with flash upon white marble and snow, the results are ethereal, and candlelight produces eerie shadows and hues. Since He's back in an alcove, for close-up shots of Him, I must hold the camera at arms length and point it without looking through it. After each winter, the film I develop is full of surprises. Although the surrealistic effects could be explained by frost on the lens or vagaries of the flash, it does seem that He simply appears as He wishes.
Outsiders often misunderstand the Hindu worship of idols. An image is not the Deity Himself but only a representation of Him. To mistake the statue for the Deity is the same error as to mistake your body for yourself. An image is just a temporary representation of a Deity, empowered only by man's worship of it. Indeed, in India, for certain festivals, handsome images are made of unbaked clay and straw. They serve as idols for the duration of the festival, sometimes only a day, but then are carried to the river and submerged to dissolve back to the elements. Even an image of stone can only last a finite time. The statue at Dharmanath, along with the whole formation about it, would certainly be swept away by the next glacial advance. Even before, a substantial earthquake could unstabilize the rock and crush the statue. If the rangers happened to find it, it would be carted away to the nearest dump. The Hindu worship isn't dependent upon any particular idol or temple. When the Muslims invaded India, they razed many temples, including the sacred Visvanath Temple of Benares, and built Mosques in their place. Subsequently, the Hindus built a new Visvanath temple a short distance away, and worship there as if nothing had changed. The Mosque at the original site still stands. A true image of Siva sits within my heart; worship of anything external is only for dramatic effect.
There are two principal mantras dedicated to Siva, "Aum Namah Sivaya", "Reverence to Siva", and "Sivoham", "I am Siva". To truly know Siva is to realize the fundamental identity of the two. "Aum Namah Sivaya" enunciates the apparent situation. He's the Lord of the Universe and you're an insignificance dependent upon Him for your very existence. "Sivoham" states the absolute truth. Your true nature, devoid of all attributes, and His, are one and the same. However, the realization of this doesn't make you into the Lord of the Universe, for as soon as the Universe or any appearance is entertained by your mind, then the identity between you and He is beclouded. Yet the end result of both mantras is the same. Through immersion in Him as the Lord of the Universe, and, without attachment, by relegating everything to Him, you'll realize His absolute nature and yours as well. Likewise, if you realize the essential identity of yourself with Him, whenever you do happen to perceive the universe and act within it, you'll neither form attachments nor lust after power, but will gladly show Him the reverence He's due and will joyfully entertain Him with your worship.
* * *
As February grows older, the sun gains altitude rapidly. As it ascends higher above the horizon, it penetrates further into the cirque. At midday, I begin to receive not only its direct radiation, but reflections from more and more of the snow fields about the cirque. Sooner or later, I get a clear hot day when I can strip and really cleanse my body with snow. I can also wash some of the accumulation of dirty clothes but water for this must be melted on the stove. The rocks remain cold; collecting melt water doesn't work as it does in October when the rocks still retain some of their summer warmth. The clear days and the stormy days are intermingled; the rocks don't have much chance to warm in their occasional few hour-sessions of sunshine.
Sivaratri, the principal festival of Siva, occurs sometime between mid-February and mid-March, two days before the moonless night. For it, many pilgrims from the Indian plains travel up to the Pasupatinath Temple in Nepal. By Sivaratri, the coldest weather there has passed, but the Nepali people say that a few cold days always come around Sivaratri, just to show the pilgrims from below, who like to bathe at dawn, what a frosty morning near Kathmandu is like. Similarly, here at Dharmanath, Siva seems to save up a goodly storm to grace His festival.
Since my first winter here, I've entertained the fantasy of a mid-winter steam bath, of hollowing myself a deep, well-protected alcove in the snow, boiling a pot of water with both of my stoves at full blast, stripping and basking in the hot vapors. It would be a luxurious waste of fuel, but it would be worth doing, just for once. During my earlier winters, this fantasy came to nought. Although I made starts at excavating a bathing alcove, other tasks, like digging through to Siva or simply maintaining my entrance tunnel took priority. In the fall of 1986, I built my entrance tunnel more quickly than before; I finished opening the way to Siva for full moon on January 14, 1987; I then began working on the bath alcove in earnest. I did have a good snow rub in early February; yet I kept enlarging the bath alcove to be sure that I would have a bath, either inside or outside, for Sivaratri which would fall at the end of the month.
As His festival approached, Siva gave his customary display of stormy weather during which I deepened the bathing alcove further. On Sivaratri I poked a hole to the outside, saw it was windy and snowing, plugged the hole and began melting snow for an indoor bath. Once the pressure cooker was full and starting to boil, I fired my second stove for extra heat and stripped. When I opened the pressure cooker, the alcove filled with vapors, but they were never really warm for the thirty-two degree snow walls cooled the steam as quickly as it formed. I mixed some of the boiling water with snow in another container; as long as I kept dumping this warm mix over my body I would be comfortable but as soon as I stopped I would feel cool. My stoves just weren't putting out enough heat for a sauna effect. Yet I rationed my hot water and enjoyed pouring it over myself as long as I could. Once it was gone, I quickly rubbed myself dry with a towel and put on fresh underclothes. I'm sorry that I hadn't brought my thermometer in to see how warm it really was in the alcove; later in the day, when I went outside, I saw that the temperature was twelve. I estimated that I consumed ten ounces of fuel in the venture; it probably would take two more such stoves and twice the fuel to make the operation really work. Yet Siva took mercy and rewarded me for my effort. A week later came three consecutive warm calm sunny days, when the thermometer read 110 in the sun. Then I cleaned myself thoroughly with snow and felt hot throughout. Yet I was glad that at least once I had a bath at Dharmanath on Sivaratri.
March is the month of greatest northward movement of the sun. By the end of the month, sunlight can hit my cave for a full six hours. However, by the time of the equinox, the midday sun changes from a welcome source of warmth to a fierce blaze that can burn my skin and blind my eyes. Instead of getting out for every moment of it, I begin to hide from it. I may strip and bathe for a short while in its heat, but I save my walks and climbs for the end of the day when it has dipped beneath the rim of the cirque. The March sun melts any snow that clings to the walls; this melt water trickles down the rock and forms great icicles during the night. When the sun hits again, or even if a moderate wind picks up, these ice formations come crashing down. Some of the routes out of the cirque, which pose no danger in January or February, become lethal by the end of March. In March, the storms come warmer and the cycle of afternoon mountain storms, generated by moisture rising from the surrounding low lands, begins for the year. If the cirque gets coated by one of these afternoon storms of sticky snow, then if the sun shines the next morning, it all comes down in a series of little slides. More and more, I shift my climbing from the gullies, the avenues for slides, to the ribs and ridges. The gullies remain my routes of rapid descent. I often stay on the rim until the sun goes under and slide my way down a chute. The storms in the twenties aren't as fearsome as the storms at zero; I sometimes climb as a storm moves in and wait until it strikes before zooming back down to the cave.
March is also the month of emptying canisters. In October, my canisters are tightly packed with food and some of my spare equipment hangs from the roof of my cave. By December, things are better organized. My spare equipment is moved into the canisters and the packing is loose enough so if I rummage through a canister to find something, I no longer have to repack it with forethought to make everything fit back in. Sometime in January, I even have an empty canister and in February I may empty another. By March, I have to start thinking of going down. I've always left by mid-April even though I've always had extra food. If I were to stay any later, I could be hit by a thaw. A thaw could open the streams and swell them so they couldn't readily be crossed thus blocking the low way out of Dharmanath. There's also a high route out which traverses the ridges and avoids any significant stream crossings, but it's exposed to the weather. May in these mountains is a month of cloud and wet snow. The high route can be closed for weeks at a time. Unless I prepare to stay until June, I really must get out in April. May wouldn't be a pleasant month to be in my cave. A few hot days would cause the snow to recede from the rock and break the seal of my cave. At some point, the inch-long ice crystals that form on the roof of my cave would all melt and drip over everything. If I were to move outside, I would be exposed to the heavy wet snows and again would be finding myself out shoveling snow in the middle of the night. The thaw isn't a pleasant time in the mountains; I've always opted to enjoy some real spring in the land below.
During these six-month winter stays at Dharmanath, my musculature changes. All the shoveling and carrying blocks of snow builds my arms, but my legs suffer from inaction. The ascents to the rim are strenuous leg exercise so my legs remain strong, but the distance covered is rarely a mile. Furthermore, these climbs use a different set of muscles than ordinary walking. When I start heading out, I may move ten miles in a day. I do so without problem, but the following days I'm terribly sore. Thus, as the years have passed, I've tried to spend more time, especially in March, walking in a more normal manner either on the glacial slabs or on the wind-swept meadows below my summer cave, with the hope of keeping my legs looser for the trip out. None of this seems to make much difference; after the first day out, I feel it. Aches and pains are part of the world; That which transcends them lies neither up here nor down below.
1. Strictly speaking, in addition to the eighteen major Puranas, the Mahapuranas, there are eighteen auxiliary Puranas, the Upapuranas. [Return]
2. Siva Purana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970, an English translation without commentary, totals 2093 pages in four volumes. [Return]
3. Siva Mahimnah Stotram: Swami Pavitrananda (Translator) Calcutta:Advaita Ashrama, (1980) [Return]
4. Bhanga (f.), from the same root, denotes cannabis sativa or a beverage prepared from it. [Return]
Continue to Chapter 9.
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