In the Hindu pantheon, Shiva is one of gods in the Divine trinity composed of Brahma, Vishnu and Himself, each representing one of the three aspects of the Divine, that is The Creator, The Sustainer and respectively The Destroyer of the Universe. Shiva is said to live in Svarloka, the realm of gods and demi-gods ruled by Indra, the greatest among them.
Shiva, as distinguished from Parama-Shiva, corresponds to that aspect of the ultimate Reality which is pure consciousness, pure subject, pure I, without even the slightest notion of “I am” or “I am this” or “I am here”.
In his Tantra-Loka, Abhinava Gupta refers to Shiva as “the Mother and the Father of the Universe”. Shiva is the seed, or origin of the multidimensional universe, giving rise to all other ontological categories. Yet, there is no duality in Shiva because he is still completely immersed in blissful union with Shakti.
However, in order to understand properly this fundamental concept of Tantrism, which is the masculine principle – Shiva, we should look back towards the roots of Tantra.
Tantrism enjoys suddenly an immense popularity among philosophers and teologicians as well as among “practitioners” (yogis, ascetics, etc.), its prestige reaching the folk strata. All great Hindu religions have thus assimilated Tantra in one form or another. This process had actually begun thousands of years beforehand, during the Aryan civilization and during the blending of the different co-existing traditions (Dravidian, etc).
The legend says that during these inflaming times a great man was born, named Sadashiva. His name means “the one who dedicated his life to the well-being of his fellows”. Sadashiva, known as Shiva, was an outstanding spiritual teacher or Guru. He was the one who first offered humanity a systematic presentation of a sheer spiritual thought. As the legend goes, he is the one to set the basis of spiritual dance and music in India and is therefore known also as NATARAJA, The God of Cosmic Dance.
Moreover, the real founder of Hindu traditional medicine and also the provider of a system and knowledge in this field (bearing the name Vadyak Shastra) is nonetheless Shiva.
Shiva played an extremely important role in the social area as well. He is the creator of the system of marriage, in which both partners accept equal responsibilities, disregarding caste or community. Shiva himself came from a mixed family and through his marriage to an Aryan princess helped a lot in unifying the warring fractions in India at that time. The Hindu sage Sri Shankar, expert in studies and research on Tantrism, considers Shiva as a real father of human civilization.
However, Shiva’s most important contribution to the development of a truly spiritual civilization represents the concept of DHARMA. DHARMA is a Sanskrit word translated literally as “innate characteristic”. Which may be the innate characteristic of a human being? Shiva explained that human beings seek and yearn for happiness placed beyond that originated in the satisfaction of the senses. The indisputable aim of all human beings, whether aware of this or not, is to obtain absolute peace and freedom, infinite knowledge and spiritual beatitude.
Shiva’s ideas were transmitted orally at first, then in written form. Parvati, his wife used to ask him questions on topics raised by the spiritual practice he taught.
The tantra-s (texts, writings which present the tantric philosophy and practice) are in fact the dialogues between Shiva and his wife Parvati, dialogues in which Parvati asks questions on spiritual matters and Shiva gives divine answers.
The tantra-s are divided into two great categories:
1. The theoretic principles of the tantric system. Tantric philosophy and conceptions on different matters are to be found in the writings named NIGAMA.
2. The practices through which the proposed aims may be attained; the different methods, techniques and procedures are to be found in the texts named AGAMA.
Many of these antique manuscripts were lost for good, others are damaged by time, and others still are unreadable by the mundane because of their coded text meant to hide the tantric secrets from the eyes of the unknowledgeable. This is also one reason for which the conceptions and fundaments of Tantra have not been completely decoded up to our days.
Part of Shiva’s original teachings were lost, other parts were spread on large areas, being assimilated in different ways and under different forms in the traditions and local schools.
Each Hindu believer followed his own path, according to their inner aspirations, choosing one spiritual current which implied the adoration of one of these three gods.
Thus, Tantrism and Yoga are specially oriented towards the adoration of Shiva and are therefore called Shaivites, and this spiritual current is named Shaiva. Others have turned towards the cult of Vishnu, named Vaishnava.
We should nonetheless carefully distinguish between different spiritual currents and opposing spiritual currents, which is not the case of Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Some Western studies have committed the error of sustaining the idea that there were
antithesis, competitions and even fighting between the two spiritual currents. The Western searcher should properly understand that for the Hindu, Shiva and Vishnu represent two complementary aspects of Brahma, The Creator. The first of these two gods, Shiva represents the destructive, transforming and reiterating principle of the infinite Creation, while the latter – the animating, conservative principle, which maintains the creation in its whole.
Unfortunately, nowadays Tantra appears to most people as a tenebrous, unbreakable and controversial mystery owing to a multitude of misunderstandings and misconceptions that occured in the minds of some of the “reputed” Western researchers of Tantra.
The Tantrics (that is the practitioners of Tantra) and the Yoghis (the practitioners of Yoga) belong to the Shaivite current. The aspect of the Ultimate Reality in the form of the Transformer, the renewer of an eternally vivacious, effervescent Creation suited best to their spiritual quest and ardor.
Shaivism presents Shiva as endowed with all the attributes of the Supreme Divinity, and therefore He is the Supreme Creator. His symbolic representation while performing the magic dance of creation is an iconographic theme quite rich in symbolism and offers us an idea about the rhythm of life of the whole creation, and as well of its destruction. We will discuss these aspects in detail further on.
The name Shiva signifies “the good and the kind”. Paradoxically, He is the designated God of destruction, but this must not be understood as the destroyer of human being, but the destroyer of ignorance and corruption in the human nature. Thus, He is an infinitely benevolent force as He rapidly casts away the restraining ignorance and allows human beings to contemplate His magnificence.