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On Iswara

Salutations to that Lord Shiva…

Lord Shiva is one of the Trinities and there are many puranas that glorify the Lord as Iswara. In the familiar sloka,


Just as all the water that falls from the sky ultimately reaches the ocean so does  all the salutations offered to all Gods ultimately reach the Lord Keshava. Kehsava means Ka + Isha, and Ka stands for Lord Brahmaji, and Isha stands for both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu – Hence all the namaskars ultimately reach the trinities representing creation, sustenance, and dissolution. That in essence, is Brahman from the Advaita perspective as Brahman is indicated by the Brahmasutra as ‘jnanmaadyasyayataH’. It is an indicatory (tatasthalakshana) definition that says Brahman is one who is the cause for the creation, sustenance, and dissolution cycle. That is one appearing as many via the creative process – that stands for Shiva.

This is echoed by the famous mantra 7 of the Mandya Upanishad that says, naantaHprajnam, nabahiHprajnam, nobhayataHprajnam, etc., and in the end – shantam, shivam, advaitam, chaturtammanyante, saaatmaasavijneyaH. Thus, Shivam word is used to describe the ultimate reality and that needs to be inquired into – says the Upanishad.

Shiva word is also used as one of the names of Lord Vishnu in the Vishnusahasranaamavali. It starts with – Visvam, VishnuH, indicating that Lord Vishnu is the whole Viswam or the Universe, with all the names and forms. Furthermore, He is the one who really pervades all the names and forms and therefore is called Vishnu –  vyaapakatvaat, that who pervades.

Shiva also means that who is most auspicious, mangalaanam cha mangalam. Hence despite all the apparent plurality represented by the word, Visvam, we have to use our subtle minds to see that which pervades this entire universe, who is Lord Shiva, the most auspicious, unaffected by the changing names and forms or attributes. Krishna says in Geeta,

mayaa tata idamsarvamjagatavyaktamuurtinaa।
mastaanisarvabhuutanina ca ahamteshuavathitaH॥

I pervade this entire universe in unmanifested form. All beings are in Me, but yet I am unaffected by the individual attributes and modifications.

We have to cognitively recognize the presence of Lord Shiva by rejecting all the superficial names and forms, using our purified minds, as indicated by the scriptures, as neti, neti, not this, not this – but recognizing that which pervades all ‘this.’The notion that ‘I am = this’ is also the essence of ankaara or ego as everybody’s biodata says, I am this, this, and this where any ‘this’ refers to the attributes of the body, mind, and intellect (BMI).

I am reminded of two slokas here, one from Avadhuta Geeta of Shree Dattatreya, who is considered as the very incarnation of Lord Shiva, and the other from the Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s Sat Darshanam.

In the Avadhuta Geeta, Shree Dattatreya says:


I do not know who is Lord Shiva and how can I describe Him, I do not know who is Lord Shiva, how can I pray for Him; because he says:


I am that Lord Shiva, representing the highest truth that pervades everything like space, yet supremely undifferentiated, unaffected all-pervading pure consciousness.

In the Sat Darshanam, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, in his introductory salutational sloka to Lord Shiva, says:


Recalling the story of sage Markandeya, who went to Lord Shiva, who is mrutyumjaya (the conquer of the Lord of Death, Yama) to protect him from the jaws of death, Maharshi says, instead of protecting the devotee, the Lord destroyed the devotee who came to surrender himself. It looks very unfair.  What Lord Shiva did was – He destroyed the devote-deity duality that is clouding in the mind of the devotee. The devotee is now free from Death, that is, his identification with all changing names and forms.

Constantly reveling in the Lord and His Glories helps in the purification of the mind that can help see Lord Shiva, the most auspicious truth underlying this world of names and forms.

I am taking to liberty to take a copy of a few pages from my book, ‘Self and the Supreme’.

The poet Potana in Telugu Bhagavatam says through Bhakta Prahallada says,

చేతులార శివుని బూజిపడేని
నోరునొవ్వ హరికీర్తినుడువడేని
దయయు సత్యబులోనుగా దలపడేని

One who does not pray to the auspicious Shiva, the one who is the remover of all our sins (Hari) the one who said, अहंत्वासर्वपापेभ्योमोक्षयिष्यामि,’ that supreme Lord, his life is a waste. If one who does not sing the divine glories of the Bhagavan, giving birth to such a person is a terrible waste, says Potana.

Bhagavan’s leelas, therefore, have to be understood as divine plays with deep inner meaning for those who revel with bhakti. For example, Leelasuka, in his enchanting work, Sri Krishna Karnaamrutam, first introduces himself as,

शैवावयं न खलुतत्रविचारणीयम्,

He says we are Shaviates. By using ‘we’, the implication is the whole family that he comes from that tradition where Shiva bhakti is practiced from his childhood. Then the question is – was he involved in daily Vishnu aaraadhana? He says no – he does pancaakshariijapapaaraayanamnitaaraam – thus consistently does Shiva naamajapa. However, he says there is no need to be concerned about these either – nakhalutatravicaaraNiiyam. Even though he is doing all the time panchaakshariijapa, his mind is always dwelling on little Krishna all the time. madiiyacetaHgopavadhuukishoramsmarati – His mind is constantly locked in the vision of Lord Krishna that too in the form of a child of gopavadhuua gopicastree – yasoda. He does not say even the son of Nanda baaba. – He is the son of an innocent cowherd lady whose whole life is spent in rendering the cows, their milk, butter, etc., since that is all their wealth. Hence even though I come from a family of Shiva bhaktas, my mind is constantly dwelling on the Lord in the form of a little Krishna running around his mother, Yasoda, holding her dupatta. He describes Krishna as ataseepushaavabhaasamatasee (do not know what equivalent English name is) is supposed to be a dark blue flower, and it is said that even when it is dry and the tree is shaken, it makes the sound of bells.

Leelasuka imagines Krishna as a beautiful little flower-like atasee flower, with full of brilliance – avabhaasam – The light of consciousness because of everything shines after – tasyabhaasasarvamidamvibhaati. Yet it is manifesting in the form of a small child who is drinking the milk of Yasoda and growing slowly by that. Here is the Lord who himself has no birth – ajo nityaH – has no parents – causeless yet cause for all –the one who is beyond the six modifications – asti, jaayate, vardhate, etc., now longing to drink the milk of mother Yasoda while growing up in her lap like any other baby – yet constantly aware of His true nature. Even the Gods are envious of Yasoda and Nandabaaba, as Lord is seen playing in the dust of Gokul.

The same Krishna leelas are taught later to Arjuna as His Vibhutis in the 10th Chapter of Geeta. There Krishna mentions that His Vibhutis are infinite, but He is only going to indicate some, what Arjuna was familiar with, and wondered about.

We define wonder as that which one observes, but yet the intellect cannot comprehend. The intellect becomes blank. This state of wonderment from the point of Jnaana or bhakti is looked upon as His Vibhuti or His Leela. We do not understand the whole creation, its magnificence, and its limits, nay, we do not understand even what life is or what it means – We just wonder. When the intellect goes numb with wonder, it is the beginning of its surrender to the higher intellect, if properly understood or appreciated. In the vision of a beautiful flower, in the smile of an innocent baby, in the love of a mother, in the magnificent expression of Nature such as Niagara falls, majestic Himalayan mountains, etc.,– our minds get arrested in the beauty with no thoughts to express. In that wonder, the mind goes blank, and we become one with the universe. That is a surrender of the mind at the awesome expression of Iswara, even if it is a momentary surrender.

Jnaani wonders all the time, not just momentarily. Jnaani sees the wonder of creation all the time – in every expression of Nature, in the crawling of the baby or an insect on the floor, in the movement of leaves and branches of a tree due to the gushing wind, standing in an unbearable hot sun or pouring rain, in the cool breeze and smell following the thunderstorms- everything is a wonder. One cannot but wonder – colorful varieties of life expressions – in beautiful vibrant colors of all different vegetables – all coming from the same mud and water – yet expressing completely differently from one another– looking at pure white milk made by black cow eating useless green grass, in the tastes of varieties of tastes with the help of tasteless water (rasohamapsukounteya) – it is all a wonder. Thus a jnaani sees the whole creation itself as Vibhuti of the Lord or Leela Vibhuti– paadosyavishvaabhuutanitripaadasyaamrRitam divi–says purusha suuktam. This magnificent universe that is seen by the human intellect, as His Leela Vibhuti, is only one-fourth of His glory, and there is other three fourth that needs to be realized that is called divyaVibhuti, and to see that dhi– or a trained intellect is required, and that is amrutam or unchanging aspect in all the changing Leela Vibhutis– it is 10 inches above the human comprehension – that is, it is untouched by a human intellect -it is not objective knowledge.

To understand Krishna-amrutam we need the scriptures as pramaana or else, as Leelasuka says in the following sloka as,


Leelasuka says I am going to reveal where you can find the simple and absolute truth, which is difficult to grasp by even the Vedic scholars who are struggling hard to find. It is like finding the 10th man who is missing and whom everybody is searching all over in the forest of life, where the seeker himself is sought.

nigamavaneshu – Oh! Scholars, who are roaming around to find the way out for salvation in the deep forest of the Vedas, nitaantacaarakhinnaaH !,  who are going round and round in circles and become desperate in the process, (reminds me of Vivekachudamani sloka – shabdajaalammahaaranyamcittabhramarakaaraNam – the Vedas are like dense forests and without a proper guide one can get lost and will end up going round and round in circles without knowing a way out); To them, Leelasuka says- for your welfare, I am going to give you a way out for your problems. varam imam upadeshamadriyadhvam – please listen to this small advice that can help you from your suffering. The truth is always simple, but we make it sound complicated. The truth is directly seen, right here and right now; but you can find only if you have a discriminative intellect to see properly –Leelasuka says – The essence of all Upanishads, it is there for you to find, but – it is uluukhalenibaddham – it is tied to the mortar, vallaveenaambhuvaneShu – in the houses of Gopikas; therefore you have to seek and find out – vicinuta– please search and find that truth.

I was told that the above sloka is engrained in one of the walls of a mutt, reminding us all of what needs to be done to find this absolute truth.

We can unravel this sloka a little bit for our understanding since Leelasuka says the whole of Upanishad teaching is there for us to find. Uluukhalais, the mortar – an inert entity, but in one of his Leelas, Yashoda ties him to that, and he pulls that mortar between the two trees and make the trees fall and in the process liberating the two fallen jeevas residing in those trees – which are living but with no knowledge of themselves or the world around. Their whole life is being spent in gathering food, growing, and dying one day without any further trace (the six modifications via matter, asti, jaayate, etc.), the biggest accomplishments for many. We see in every generation, millions of being born, grow, become old and die, and generations have come and gone in the perennial flow of the rivers of time. We too, who are trying to accumulate that this is mine and that is mine etc. are going to go down the stream without any trace and without taking with us an iota of what we have gathered as ours. This life itself is a wonder.

Consciousness tied (as though) to the matter is prakruti, which Krishna calls as one’s lower prakruti (aparaaprakruti) in Geeta Ch. 7. How Krishna consciousness is being expressed in the inert entity – the world of things and being – the two diagonally opposite entities, consciousness, and inertness – is indeed a wonder – it is anirvacaneeyam, inexplicable, says Shankara. It is just a wonder how that happens –…mahatbhuutaanirvacaneeyaruupa.

It is difficult to catch little Krishna, who is running around as his mother Yosodamayyaa who was chasing him and trying to catch him. She was not giving up her pursuit to catch him and was getting exhausted in this run-around. With compassion for his mother, Krishna lets himself get caught. Any amount of guna (rope) to bind him was not enough unless He himself decides to get bound as He is beyond all gunas. aghatitaghatanaapatiiyasee, maayaa – says Shankara – making impossible possible is the power of maayaa. Bhagavatam says the one, who is infinite and in whom all the 14 lokas are embedded, and whom both sages of the yore as well as the staunch enemies, rakshasas, have been trying to bind him but could not, is now letting himself bound by the love of a mother, an innocent Gopika lady.

Bhakti is the essential ingredient required to see Krishna tied to inert prakruti – the mortar –Without this bhakti all we will see is only an inert mortar or all we can see is just the inert world in front of us. To see Krishna that is bound to the world, we need the bhakti of innocent gopika, along with the desire for the knowledge to see Krishna. Every religion says Lord is everywhere, but unfortunately, no one sees Him anywhere, as everybody is looking for Him – he being puurnam is the embodiment of happiness that everyone is longing for. Infinite cannot be seen or known as an object; it requires a recognition of what I see is nothing but Krishna only with all names and forms, pervading in all names and forms, yet different from all names and forms and unaffected by the changing names and forms. That is the culmination of Bhakti and Jnaanam. In that there is no more bhakta left; the devotee and deity have become one with no more divisions – yomaampasyatisarvatrasarvan ca mayipasyati, tasyaahamnaPraNasyaamisa ca me napraNasyati – one who sees Me everywhere and everything in Me, he has become one with Me – from the Bhakti point and sarvabhutasthamaatmaanam, sarvabhuutanicaaatmani – who sees himself in all and all in himself – from jnaanam point.

Hence Leelasuka says – this is my simple advice for those who are getting lost in the forest of Vedas and looking desperately to discover the truth. One can find it right in front that is tied to the world as the very existence supporting its existence. There is no other way you can find the truth.

In essence, one who sees oneness that pervades everything  ‘ekatavamanupasyati’,  oneness that pervades all names and forms, oneness in Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu  – Lord says – tasyaahamnapranasyaamisa cha me napranasyati – he is never away from me nor I am from him.

On a personal note, I was born in a staunch Vishishtaadvaita family. My father, in fact, was offered to head the Parakala Matt, but I was told that he had to decline it since my mother did not agree for him to taking sanyaasa, a prerequisite to accept this position. He has, however, written many books and articles on Vishishtaadvaita that were published by Tirumala Tirupati Devathanam (TTD). I have discussed some of his writings in my book ‘Self and the Supreme’, published recently by the Indic Academy.

(Image credit: Jaya Sethi,

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