Sri Sri Ravi Shankar lovingly called as Guruji, the founder of Art of Living Foundation through which He relieves the stress at individual levels, thus reducing violence, sufferings and conflicts and spreading the love, harmony, peace throughout the world in various societies.
Q: Gurudev, can you please tell us about the Nataraja form of Lord Shiva? (Referring to the form of Lord Shiva engaged in Cosmic Dance of Creation)
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: In the history of Mankind, the most beautiful Tattva (a fundamental underlying element or principle) that has been conceived or discovered is the Shiva Tattva, and in that too, in particular is the form of Lord Shiva as Nataraja – the Lord of Dance.
The essence behind Nataraja is in itself so unique and beautiful. Our life is composed of different stages or levels. Life is not experienced at just one level alone.
Scientists today say that our brain is a frequency analyser. For example, if you set your television to a particular channel, then you get to see and hear only that channel. Isn’t it so? When we change the channel, then we see and experience another different channel. Our brain works in the same way like the TV and its channels. There is a multitude of channels across the whole world today, but we are tuned into and living in one particular channel – and that channel is this World, this Creation. When we change the channel, then an altogether different world, a different realm gets revealed to us – and that is the subtle world. In this subtle world, there is a constant dance of consciousness.
This world before us, and whatever we are going through and experiencing (at the level of the gross material world) are actually the effects or results of this cosmic dance at the subtle level. When Nataraja’s dance comes to an end, the entire creation too will come to an end.
Nataraja's dance is eternal, and has been constantly in motion in this creation.
It is not that the Divine performed this cosmic dance some 10,000 or 20,000 years ago. It cannot be dated back in time. People have a wrong notion about this and say that this dance happened on a particular day, at a certain time. No, it is not so. Nataraja’s dance is eternal, and has been constantly in motion in this Creation. The Purush Tattva, or God (the Cosmic Being as the substratum and most fundamental principle of Existence) is that which pervades and permeates every particle of this Creation – and that is whom we call as Nataraja.
In the idol representation, you will see that Lord Nataraja is standing with one foot on top of an asura (demon). That demon is called Apasmara. Do you know what Apasmara means? Apasmara refers to the disease of Epilepsy. It also represents ignorance and inertia. When one overcomes the inertia and negativity, then one dances in pure bliss – and that is called Ananda Tandava. The demon here represents that inertia which is beyond one’s control. It is inertia that comes when the mind depends on external or outward sources for happiness, and strays outwards through the senses. When the mind overcomes this inertia and turns inwards to repose in the Self; when it returns to the real source of all joy, then it is a sign of being established in the Shiva Tattva.
How is Lord Nataraja depicted in idols and pictures? He is shown dancing in absolute bliss and has four arms. In the palm of one hand, he holds Agni or fire element. Here, the fire element represents Shakti - the totality of the Energy of this Creation. This Energy is upheld and supported by the Shiva Tattva, the Divine consciousness. In the other hand, he wields a Damaru (a small two-sided musical instrument). The Damaru represents infinity. You must have seen in Mathematics also, that when one writes the symbol for infinity, it is written in the form of a Damaru. The Damaru represents both the Space element, and the Air element.
The quality associated with the Space element is Shabda or sound. It is said that when the Damaru plays, then from its sounds was born the science of language, grammar and phonetics.
When Nataraja’s dance comes to an end, the entire creation too will come to an end.
Every child since its birth is a born Yogi. Does anyone teach the baby how to hold its thumb in Adi Mudra; or how to fold the fingers in Chhinna Mudra? When a baby is born, its fingers are clasped in Adi Mudravery naturally. Babies and young children are effortlessly able to perform the Bhujangasana or the Cobra Pose; Pavanamuktasana pose; Hasta-padasana etc. Every child at that tender young age is able to do these Asanas very easily and naturally. Has anyone taught them these at that age? The Shiva Tattva that pervades in every particle of this Creation – this knowledge comes from that very Shiva Tattva. Who has taught the birds how to chirp? Who showed the birds how to build nests? When you think about these aspects, then a deep sense of wonder dawns within you. You then realize that there is one Supreme underlying Intelligence which has all the knowledge and Lord Shiva is the personification and representation of that Divine knowledge.
Lord Shiva is said to have three eyes. The Third Eye represents knowledge that is beyond the reach of the senses. One kind of knowledge is that which we receive through our sense organs. The other kind of knowledge is that which is beyond the limited comprehension of the senses – which is represented by Lord Shiva.
One of Lord Nataraja’s hands is placed in Abhaya Mudra (the pose dispelling fear and giving blessing and protection). It means to convey, “My dear one! There is nothing to fear. Be free of worries, be happy. Have patience and total faith”. This is what is represented by the Abhaya Mura. The other hand is swayed across and slightly bent downwards, pointing to the feet. What does that mean? It means to say, “Dance! Rejoice and celebrate! Be humble in life, but also walk confidently with your head held high.” One who is arrogant is not necessarily free from fear. Here, it means to be free from fear and yet not stiff with ego. It means to be simple, to be natural. It means to become a Sharanagati – to be totally surrendered to the Divine. You have everything with you that you need – this is what is meant by the position of the other hand. This is the deeper meaning behind the representation of Lord Shiva in Ananda Tandava.
Life itself is a dance – we have to take the material and the spiritual aspects of life together, hand in hand.
There is a snake around Lord Shiva’s neck. What is the meaning behind that? The snake represents awareness, alertness. It means to be free from inertia and ignorance. What is the meaning behind Mother Ganga flowing from the matted locks of Lord Shiva? Ganga here does not indicate a certain lady, or the waters of the divine river. Ganga represents knowledge. There is a deep inseparable connection between knowledge and the River Ganga; just like the connection between River Yamuna and Love. Countless immortal tales of love have taken place at the banks of the River Yamuna. All the sacred congregations and gatherings for spiritual knowledge have taken place on the banks of the River Ganga.
Here in India, we have since time immemorial believed in the inseparable connection between Love and Knowledge. It means that both the Buddhi (intellect) and Bhava (feelings or emotions) have their place in Life. This is why Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “When you unite and become so totally one with Me, then not only shall your intellect become sharp and endowed with knowledge, you shall also not have any lack of intense love and emotion”. In the absence of feelings and emotions, you cannot experience peace.
There is a verse in the Gita which says, “Nasti buddhir ayuktasya na cha-yuktasya bhavana. Na cha-bhavayatah shantir' ashantasya kutah sukham”. (2.66)
Lord Krishna says, “One who does not surrender and unite totally cannot experience the intense feeling of love, devotion and bliss. Such a person becomes so dry and emotionless, as if a living corpse. Yet, he who becomes one with Me, experiences intense feelings of love and joy; his eyes shine and radiate love; his intellect becomes sharp and one-pointed”.
Lord Krishna has spoken about all the signs one experiences when one surrenders to the Divine. When feelings of love arise from within, and at the same time the intellect becomes sharp - only then can one experience deep rest and peace.
Life itself is a dance – we have to take the material and the spiritual aspects of life together, hand in hand. Let one foot rest upon the Earth, and let the other foot rise upwards into the Heavens – then that is when a dance happens spontaneously. If both feet get firmly planted on the ground, then you cannot dance at all. And if one takes both feet up in the air – meaning that if one is not steady and well-grounded; when a person only talks or acts superficially without depth, then also dance cannot happen. For dance to happen, one foot should lightly be in touch with the ground, while the other should be raised upwards off the ground. Having a very slight contact with the Earth (material world), while simultaneously elevating the rest of the body skywards to the Heavens such that it sways and rejoices in the subtle, invisible ethereal Space – this is the deep meaning of Nataraja’s dance.
There is another story associated with Lord Nataraja. As the Lord was dancing merrily, one of his earrings became loose and fell on the ground. Then it is said that the Lord lifted that small earring by the toes of his foot. What is the meaning behind this? There is a great secret behind this. That is why this is also called as Chidambaram-rahasyam (the secret of the infinity).
In South India, if someone tries to keep a secret, then others can ask him saying, “My dear! What are you trying to hide? Is it some sort of Chidambaram-rahasyam? ” People jokingly ask this to one another in the South. As the story goes, when the Lord effortlessly lifted the small earring merely by the toe of His foot, the entire creation was struck with wonder and amazement. Here, what it means is that we grow accustomed to whatever we are listening to around us. We do not find anything amazing or unique in that. It does not astonish us; it does not create a sense of wonder in us. But when that trivial small earring was lifted off the ground by the Lord, then one suddenly gets a glimpse of the subtle, the invisible infinity. Here, it shows that this mysterious creation does not operate the way you think it does. There is a deeper, hidden, miraculous Divine power at work behind everything. You must make space in your life for that miracle of the Divine to manifest. This is the deep meaning of the story. Otherwise, we usually go through life by our own limited understanding. We tend to think we understand how everything in creation operates, but it is not really so.
The possibility of the miracles that are hidden in every moment is what is represented by the Lord lifting off the small earring from the ground and effortlessly placing it back on his ear.
Who knows and who can really say? Anything can happen at any time! When we realize this, an altogether different dimension of possibilities opens before us. The possibility of the miracles that is hidden in every moment – is what is represented by the Lord lifting off the small earring from the ground by His toes and effortlessly placing it back on His ear.
It is said that whatever you read in the Vedas, the Puranas and the Upanishads is not superficial or shallow. It is literally the Truth and you can see and experience it all in this vast Creation, and in this very lifetime. This story is mentioned to illustrate and assure this fact.
There is consciousness present within our whole body, and it is divided in the upper and lower halves of the body. This divine force or consciousness is called as the Kundalini Shakti. The other meaning from this story is to elevate and raise this Kundalini Shakti from the lower centres to the higher centres of the being (From the Sanskrit word ‘Kundala’ literally meaning an earring). When this Kundalini Shakti is awakened and rises within us, then our entire life becomes a dance of joy and bliss. Then nothing in the world can trouble us, and the entire world becomes amazed in wonder when the power of consciousness gets awakened and enlivened within you. When the Lord Shiva seated deep within you rises and dances in absolute bliss, then the entire Creation is struck with amazement and wonder. This is what happened when Lord Nataraja lifted off the fallen earring from the ground even as He was engrossed in blissful dance. All the gods and goddesses were amazed to see this. It is said at that moment, huge waves of infinite love and bliss swept over the whole of creation and everyone was steeped in joy and happiness, even the gods themselves. And then, in that same state of wonder and bliss, each started dancing in joy. This is what it means.
When you awaken from within, you perceive this entire creation dancing with such joy and total bliss. Everywhere you go, you find the nectar of the Divine pouring. Even when a bird chirps, you find it so beautiful and divine. When the Sky takes on different colours in the day, then that scene also exhilarates you from within. It is that same kind of amazement and happiness that you feel when you meet your beloved. That inner experience brings forth a glimpse of beauty and deep love within you. You find sweetness in everything everywhere. Everything appears new, and fresh. If a baby is crying, then also you find sweetness behind it. If you see a man or a lady walking, or an animal – then such trivial things too fill you with sweetness and adoration. Every particle in this Creation then appears to shine with a different and unique Light; there is uniqueness in everything. You experience the real beauty of creation and this becomes revealed through Lord Shiva’s Tandava as Nataraja. This is the essence behind the story.
When you awaken from within, you perceive this entire creation dancing with such joy and total bliss. Everywhere you go, you find the nectar of the Divine pouring.
So, when you awaken from within, with knowledge and awareness – then you experience the cosmic dance happening every moment within you, and you are the very Lord of that dance. The soul within you, the Shiva Tattva within you unfolds and manifests.
Here during Satsang anyway everyone is dancing happily. But usually it is the outside World that makes you dance (through desires or feverishness). The entire creation is the cosmic dance of Purusha and Prakriti. Every person in the world today is dancing to the tunes of one thing or another. So, at first it is Prakriti or the Mother Divine who makes you dance – to the tunes of anger, desire, lust, greed, egotism etc. What all kinds of actions people do when they are caught in this dance. Is it not a dance? Under the influence of these, people engage in all sorts of activities and drama. There is no dearth of such actions. Wherever you look, you will find people dancing to the tunes of anger, desire, etc. But when the spirit within you strives against these influences of Prakriti, then it rises above these lower urges born of desire and ignorance, and gets engrossed in a dance of bliss and joy – the Ananda Tandava. At that moment, Prakruti is struck with amazement and becomes enamoured to behold this divine dance.
The Devi was not able to fathom and match what Lord Shiva was able to do. We often say that a strong and one-pointed mind can support a feeble body, but if the mind is weak and stuck in negativity, then even if the body is physically strong, it cannot support or take that body forward in life.
This is one of the depictions brought out from this story. The Devi or Prakriti danced and put forward a question to Lord Shiva to unravel. Through Her movements, the Devi says, “O Lord! I dance before you through the eightfold aspects of My divine nature. Would you be able to match my steps and dance along with Me?”
That means, your body (as Prakriti) is asking the Soul (Lord Shiva), “Can You be one with me?”
So, when the soul awakens, it rises in a blissful dance and proclaims, “O Devi! O Prakriti! You are mine and a part of me only. I am the Supreme Lord of all creation”. By way of this divine dance of bliss, the Shiva Tattva dwelling deep within us all establishes its sole lordship and presence as the Master of all Creation – being endowed with all divinity and beauty.
Have you noticed that there is a ring of fire all around Lord Nataraja? It means that this divine dance is not something that takes place at the gross material level of the World. It happens in the subtle world, which is the world permeated by Shakti, by the Divine primordial energy. This divine dance is a scene set within the subtle invisible realms of creation, and is happening at all times ceaselessly. There is a ring or large halo of flames around Lord Nataraja’s dance to show its inseparable and underlying connection with the Shakti or the primordial Energy.
What is the relation of this dance with Mahashivratri? On the occasion of Mahashivratri, when the entire atmosphere becomes so filled with positivity, when all the planets are favourably placed and aligned, then you are able to go deep into meditation very effortlessly, and are able to experience the blissful Shiva Tattva. You are able to connect with the Shiva Tattva and also feel the omnipresence of the primordial Energy (Shakti). This is the importance of Mahashivratri.
It is only with a great amount of technology that we found that Jupiter has 12 moons, but some 10,000 years ago, the ancient people wrote that Jupiter has 12 moons. It is so fascinating; one wonders as to how people in the ancient time knew all this?
In school, we studied that Galileo found out that the Earth is spherical, but thousands of years ago, Aryabhatta and others wrote in the scriptures that the Earth is spherical. Bhugol, in Sanskrit, is the word for Earth, gol means spherical; these things were said back then. Sometimes it is amazing to see how the macrocosm and microcosm are connected.
Dear Gurudev, is it okay if I surrender to you as my master but pray to Jesus at the same time? Isn’t it like sitting on two chairs at the same time?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
No, don’t worry. Actually, this word surrender should be removed from the dictionary, it has been so misused and misunderstood. You just relax, that is good enough. Relax with this knowledge and faith that you are being taken care of! It is this most relaxed and happy state that is called surrender. Otherwise we try so hard to surrender; whom to surrender to, where to surrender? And what is it that you need to surrender? You don’t surrender your good qualities, do you? That is what you are, so you don’t need to surrender them. You need to give up or surrender what you don’t need, and what are they? Negative qualities, negative tendencies and negative thoughts, which you don’t want to have! And if that is what you call surrender, then that is good! Do it every day, as much as you can! But then also, wake up and see; neither the positive nor the negative qualities are yours! They just come and go!
You don’t hold on to a car passing by your house and say, “I’m going to push this car, it is mine!” Similarly, thoughts are like cars on the street, they don’t belong to you, they are just moving on their own, and they go away. If you say, “Okay, I am surrendering this car, the next truck” (laughter); if that’s your way of having fun, you can have fun.
Nature knows that these thoughts are not yours. When you are saying that I am surrendering this car, nature is having fun. The Universe has a lot of fun with people who are trying to surrender. Just relax!
You have the most beautiful knowledge here, and there is no conflict either. Everybody is one there; Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, they all have a good pact with each other. Just like the Euro can work in France, Italy, Germany and Greece, so also, there is a good pact between these master; whichever form or whatever name you see, it all goes to the same source.
Dear Gurudev, does it matter where we sit during the satsang; more in front or at the back?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
(Laughter) It does matter whether you sit by the window or in the middle. If you feel too cold, don’t sit by the window because you want to close the window while others want it open. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter where you sit.
Yes, one thing, if you are too shy, and have a tendency to sit at the back, then just elbow everybody and come and sit in front (laughter). If you are a backbencher, then in satsang you better come to the front. And if you are always sitting in front, holding on to your seat, nailing your backpack to the floor, then get up and sit at the back.
Dearest Gurudev, how and why does a soul choose a specific body to be born?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
It is one of the five secrets that cannot be shared; these are called The Great Secrets, which cannot be fathomed; death is one, birth is another.
One thing I can tell you – your last thought can cause you your next birth. Just before dying, if you are thinking of chicken, you will most probably find yourself in a poultry farm, coming out of an egg. Similarly, if you are too fond of dogs, for sure, in the next lifetime, you will become one. This is because the deepest, strongest impressions in the mind takes you to the next life. This is the reason why a mouse, which is afraid of a cat, becomes a cat in its next life. A worm, which is afraid of a bird, will become a bird. Thus, your fears or cravings will bring you the next birth! I cannot say any more.
Gurudev, I am wondering, am I enlightened or not? If not, why? And will I be?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
You don’t go and ask others, ‘Do I have a headache?’ If you have a headache, it is very clear to you, you don’t need someone else to tell you; right? Enlightenment is as obvious as the pain in your head or your feet.
Now, in spite of that if you get such a doubt, it is good that you ask. If you feel you have gotten enlightened, and you don’t doubt that, then in that case, you must come and ask, so this question makes sense! Don’t worry, you are on the right track. It is inside of you and it will come out.
I would like to investigate the movement of Prana more precisely; what is the most helpful practice for this?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
You should sit and watch the breath; there are so many things about it. What you do on the Advanced Program is already very helpful and useful; the Hollow and Empty Meditations are about polishing and observing the breath.
The breath has been burnt down due to excess usage of our body externally; too much food, sex, sleep (even lack of it), too much watching; too much of anything burns down the Prana. And when the Prana is burnt, then you can’t find yourself; it is as though there is a crowd inside, and you feel you don’t exist there. The purpose of all these different meditations that you are doing is to help your Prana become healthier, stronger and tangible. How many of you feel that your Prana is more tangible? (Many in the audience raise their hands) . When you do a little bit of meditation, at least you can find it flowing in one line, otherwise it is all broken, and you can’t find it at all!
Sometimes, time can also do this. At some specific times, celestially, suddenly you feel a cloud of negative energy getting onto you. You feel a sense of heaviness, dullness, and the brain doesn’t seem to function. That heaviness, restriction, contraction, and the feelings of getting solidified and constrained are associated with such energy. Sometimes one would feel like getting it out, but you don’t know how to do it! How many of you have had such an experience? (Some raise their hands) .
A few minutes of chanting, pranayama, and I don’t think there is anything better than the Sudarshan Kriya can help you get it out. Sudarshan Kriya can quickly put you back on track. Ujjayi breathing, meditation and chanting also helps. And your connection to the Master helps; whomsoever you think of, that’s what your brain immediately catches on. You can think of a very negative person, immediately your whole psychology and brain cells start behaving like them. Hasn’t this happened to you? How many of you have experienced it? That is why enlightened masters are called pratah smarami in Sanskrit, which means they have to be remembered in the morning as soon as you wake up, so that your whole day, your whole system is tuned to them. Good or wise people are called pratah smarami, worth remembering in the morning. The reason one remembers them first thing in the morning is because the whole day goes with what you start with.
Gurudev, today you ignored me again; why don’t you want to look at me?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Let me tell you a secret; you are very special. I ignore only very, very, special people, otherwise I attend to everybody.