The Greatness of Shaivism
God Śiva is among the most mysterious, complex, compassionate and profound conceptions of the one Supreme Being to be found in the religions of mankind.
He is Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of all existence, the Cosmic Dancer who animates the universe from within. He is pure love, light, energy and consciousness. He is the timeless, formless and spaceless Absolute Reality, Para Śiva.
Those who worship the great God Śiva are Śaivites, and their religion is called Śaivite Hinduism. Śaivism represents roughly half, perhaps somewhat more, of Hinduism’s one billion members.
It shares far more common ground than differences with other Hindu denominations. Still, it is distinct.
Unlike the second major Hindu faith, Vaishnavism (which is strongly dualistic), Śaivism adds a meditative, yogic emphasis to a bhakti path.
For Śaivites, God and soul are essentially one. Unlike Advaita Vedanta, Śaivism is strongly devotional and theistic, believing in a one true God who is Personal Lord and Creator. The term “monistic theism” defines the essential resolution of duality and non-duality which typifies Śaivism’s philosophical stance.
Scholars tell us that Śaivite Hinduism is mankind’s oldest religion, the venerable Sanātana Dharma. They have traced its roots back 6-8,000 years and more to the advanced Indus Valley civilization.
A better-preserved history of Śaivism lies in the ruins of Dholavira, in Gujarat state, where another Indian civilization of about the same antiquity was unearthed in 1998.
Yet, sacred writings and legend tell us that there never was a time on the Earth when Śaivism did not exist. Ten of the eleven great religions existing today have a beginning in history, a birth date before which they did not exist. All other religions and faiths were founded by men. Not Śaivism. It had no beginning. It can have no end.
Through history Śaivism has given rise to other faiths, such as Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, as well as to a multitude of sects within Hinduism itself. This oldest of religions is also among the largest. One out of every six people on the Earth is a Hindu, and recent studies show that Hinduism is among the fastest-growing faiths on the planet.
It is neither antiquity nor size which makes Śaivism great. The real grandeur derives from a sweet tolerance for the views of others coupled with these:
a practical culture, an emphasis on personal spiritual effort and experience, the perception that God is everywhere present—and therefore no aspect of life may be divided from religion—and a joyous devotion to the one Supreme God who all people worship and Śaivism knows as Śiva, “the Auspicious One,” and the knowledge that Truth lies within man himself.
Each Śaivite is unique, yet all seek the same things in life: to be happy and secure, to be loved and appreciated, to be creative and useful. Śaivite Hinduism has an established culture which fulfils these essential human wants and helps us to understand the world and our place in it.
To all devotees it gives guidance in the qualities of character which are so necessary in spiritual life—patience, compassion for others, broadmindedness, humility, self-confidence, industriousness and devotion.
Śaivism centers around the home and the temple. Family life is very strong, and precious. Daily devotional services are conducted in the home shrine room. The massive and architecturally priceless temples— and a million other temples and shrines throughout the world—provide daily worship services and sacraments for life’s passages.
Śaivite worship is more individual than congregational, each approaching God directly. Yet during holy days the temple precincts resound with the genial voices of devotees gathered to sing God Siva’s praises.
It is imperative at this time in our history—that we continue to value and learn from ancient Hindu wisdom.
Long, long ago, great sages of India unfolded these eternal truths from within themselves and recorded them as scripture to be sung out through the voices of their representatives today. So great was their insight.
Truly, this eternal wisdom lives now and will live on into the next generation, the next and the next. Hear the famed prayer offered by rishis of yore:
“Lead me from unreality to reality. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality” (Śukla Yajur Veda, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.3.28).
While other religions are precisely defined by explicit and often unyielding beliefs, Hinduism condones no such constraints. For the Hindu intuition is far more important than intellect; experience supersedes dogma; and personal realization is held infinitely more precious than outer expressions or affiliations of faith.
Philosopher S. Radhakrishnan said it well:
“The mechanical faith which depends on authority and wishes to enjoy the consolations of religion without the labor of being religious is quite different from the religious faith which has its roots in experience.”
Hindu religious philosophy is based on experience, on personal discovery and testing of things. It does not say, “Believe as others do or suffer.” Rather, it says, “Know thy Self, inquire and be free.”
There are no heretics in Hinduism, for God is everywhere and in all things.
In such an open laboratory, Hindu spirituality has grown over the millennia so diverse and rich that it defies definition. Even knowledgeable Hindus, after a lifetime of study, will hesitate to say that Hinduism is one thing and not another.
When you believe that God is everywhere, in all there is, wherever it is, it becomes impossible to hate or injure or seek to aggressively convert others.
Hinduism Is an Eastern Religion
To place Hinduism in the context of world thought, it is first important to note that it is a religion of the East.
This is a vital fact, for there is a vast difference between the way seekers in the East and the West have traditionally viewed the ultimate questions: “Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?”
The East has tended to be intuitive, idealistic and introspective. The West has tended to be dualistic, materialistic and extroverted. Whereas personal inner experience is the crux of religion from the Eastern view, belief and faith are valued most highly in the West.
While Eastern religions are accommodating of other views, believing that all paths lead ultimately to God, Western religions tend to be dogmatic, stressing theirs as the one true God and the one true religion.
The Hindu View of Life
The soul, in its intelligence, searches for its Self, slowly ascending the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation.
It is an arduous, delightful journey through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth culminating in Self Realization, the direct and personal spiritual experience of God, of the Self, of Truth.
This alone among all things in the cosmos can bring freedom from the bondages of ignorance and desire. This is the highest realization. There is none greater.
Hindus believe that all men and women are on this path and that all will ultimately reach its summit. It is a glorious and encouraging concept—that every single soul will reach Truth, moksha, none left to suffer forever for human frailties and faults.
Hinduism is our planet’s original and oldest living religion, with no single founder. For as long as man has lived and roamed across Earth’s land and water masses, breathed its air and worshiped in awe its fire, the Sanātana Dharma has been a guide of righteous life for evolving souls.
While India is home to 94% of the world’s nearly one billion Hindus, nearly 57 million are scattered widely across the globe. Shortly into the twenty-first century, Hindu adherents will number over a billion. All of them are Hindus, yes, but they represent a broad range of beliefs, sadhanas and mystic goals.
While Hindus believe many diverse and exotic things, there are several bedrock concepts on which virtually all concur.
All Hindus worship one Supreme Reality, though they call it by many names, and teach that all souls will ultimately realize the truth of the Vedas and Agamas.
Hindus believe that there is no eternal hell, no damnation. They concur that there is no intrinsic evil. All is good. All is God. In contrast, Western faiths postulate a living evil force, embodied in Satan, which directly opposes the will of God.
Hindus believe that the universe was created out of God and is permeated by Him—a Supreme Being who both is form and pervades form, who creates, sustains and destroys the universe only to recreate it again in unending cycles.
Hindus accept all genuine spiritual paths—from pure monism, which concludes that “God alone exists,” to theistic dualism, which asks, “When shall I know His Grace?”
Each soul is free to find his own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation, yoga or selfless service (seva).
Hinduism’s three pillars are temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition. Hinduism strongly declares the validity of the three worlds of existence and the myriad Gods and devas residing within them.
Festivals, pilgrimage, chanting of holy hymns and home worship are dynamic practices. Love, nonviolence, good conduct and the law of dharma define the Hindu path. Hinduism explains that the soul reincarnates until all karmas are resolved and God Realization is attained.
Hindus wear the sectarian marks, called tilaka, on their foreheads as sacred symbols, distinctive insignia of their heritage.
Hinduism is a mystical religion, leading devotees to personally experience its eternal truths within themselves, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are forever one. They prefer cremation of the body upon death, rather than burial, believing that the soul lives on and will inhabit a new body on Earth.
While Hinduism has many sacred scriptures, all sects ascribe the highest authority to the Vedas and Agamas, though their Agamas differ somewhat.
Hinduism’s nearly one billion adherents have tens of thousands of sacred temples and shrines, mostly in India, but now located in every community of the global village where Hindus have settled.
Its spiritual core is its holy men and women—millions of sadhus, yogis, swamis,vairagis, saints and satgurus who have dedicated their lives to full-time service, devotion and God Realization, and to proclaiming the eternal truths of the Sanātana Dharma.
What Do Most Hindus Believe?
There are nine beliefs, or śraddhā, which though not exhaustive offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality.
1. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
2. Hindus believe in the divinity of the Vedas, the world’s most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God’s word and the bedrock of Sanātana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.
3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.
6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
7. Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.
8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, “non-injury.”
9. Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God’s Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.