Is Śiva a Destroyer?

Śiva is often translated as the destroyer, this is a linguistic error during translation. Destruction and dissolution are separate concepts, where destruction means to damage the composition of an object, resulting in remnants. For example, if we destroy an apple, the apple loses its shape but the parts or pieces of the apple are thrown apart or burnt to ash; hence destruction always has a byproduct or a leftover. Dissolution means, the product merges into something else and loses its independent existence. This is very similar to the conservation of Quantum Information. Say an apple is destroyed beyond visible recognition; whatever information that consists of, the quantum properties that make up the apple are never destroyed. Hence, the word “destroyer” creates a vague interpretation as if Śiva attacks people or things and distorts them. In fact, Śiva as Rudra is Pralaya Karaka, what does that mean? In the case of Pralaya (the closest word is dissolution), the object merges into the source as one (the concept of laya) and distribution is a part of the process and not the whole. This is done in 3 ways (complete article on laya): Swalpakalika LayaAatyantica Layapra:laya / mahapra:laya. At the highest level, the throbbing within the Singularity just subsides. (Swami Venkatesananda. 1993, TED-Ed Quantum Information. 2019)

Let’s now look at how Rishi Yājnavalkya explains the dissolution process in Mahabharatam Itihasa:

Yājnavalkya said: Listen to me how Brahman, who is eternal and undecaying, and who is without beginning and without end, repeatedly creates and destroys all created objects. When his day expires and night comes (metaphorical), he becomes desirous of sleep (inertness). At such a time the unmanifest and holy one urges the Being called Maharudra, who is conscious of his great powers, (for destroying the world). Urged by the unmanifest, that Being assuming the form of Surya of hundreds of thousands of rays, divides himself into a dozen portions each resembling a blazing fire. He then consumes with his energy, O King, without any loss of time, the four kinds of created beings, Viz., viviparous, oviparous, fifth-born, and vegetable. Within the twinkling of the eye all mobile and immobile creatures being thus destroyed, the Earth becomes on every side as bare as a tortoise shell. Having burnt everything on the face of the Earth, Rudra, of immeasurable might, then quickly fills the bare Earth with Water possessed of great force. He then creates the Yuga-fire which dries up the Water (into which the bare Earth has been dissolved). The Water disappears, and the great element of Fire continues to blaze fiercely. Then comes the mighty Wind of immeasurable force, in his eight forms (astamurti tatva), who swallows up quickly that blazing fire of transcendent force, possessed by seven flames, and identifiable with the heat existing in every creature. Having swallowed up that fire, the Wind courses in every direction, upwards, downwards, and transversely. The space of immeasurable existence swallowed up that Wind of transcendent energy. Then Mind (awareness) cheerfully swallows up that immeasurable Space. Then that Lord of all creatures, viz., Consciousness, who is the Soul of everything, swallows up the Mind. Consciousness, in his turn, is swallowed up by the Mahat-soul who is conversant with the Past, the Present, and the Future. The incomparable Mahat-soul or Universe is then swallowed up by Sambhu, that Lord of all things, to whom the Yoga attributes of Anima, Laghima, Prapti, &c., naturally inhere, who is regarded as the Supreme and pure Effulgence that is Immutable. His hands and feet extend over every part; his eyes and head and face are everywhere, his ears reach every place, and he exists overwhelming all things. He is the heart of all creatures; His measure is of a digit of the thumb. That Infinite and supreme Soul, that Lord of all, thus swallows up the Universe, After this, what remains is the Undecaying and the Immutable One who is without defect of any kind, who is the Creator of the Past, the Present, and the Future; and who is perfectly faultless, I have thus O king, duly told thee of Destruction.

Mahabharatam Itihasa Shanti Parva 313 non-Jaya Section

In creation, everything from the largest to the tiniest aspect is cyclic (perpetual) in nature and each cycle has both manifestation and dissolution. Hence, in Nirvana Shatakam, Śrī Śankaracharya addresses Śiva as “Cit:Anandat:Rūpa” – meaning, the essence of Ananda (Supreme bliss) in Cit (Supreme Infinite Consciousness). Similarly, the Kśhetra/temple in South India “Chitambaram”, where “Cit” means Supreme Consciousness and “Ambaram” to wear it as a garment. On the other hand, Viṣṇu is Jagannatha (Jagat+Natha), meaning He is the only destiny (Natha) to be reached in Jagat. As Jagadguru Shri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvatī said “Sarvam Viṣṇu:mayam jagat”, meaning when one realizes that Jagat itself is Viṣṇu, then the one realizing this ceases to exist as a Jīva and becomes Ekam (Singularity); this state is Śivam (Supreme state of Bliss), hence “Sarvam Viṣṇu:mayam jagath: Śivam”. That is why the hymn from Nārāyaṇa Sukta (Mahanarayana Upaniṣhad) of Yajur Veda says one should meditate upon Viṣṇu (the all-pervasiveness) as the means of realizing the self, which is Nārāyaṇa. Since Viṣṇu is the only thing to achieve, a Ḍharma:patni (wife) addresses her husband as Pati or Natha or Swami. In the ceremony of Vivaha (weddings) the groom is treated as Viṣṇu and the bride is treated as Lakṣmī. This very Viśvām is nothing but Viṣṇu. To depict this, we have the story of Kṣīrāsagara manthana – in which the cosmic ocean was churned and both prosperity (Lakṣmī) and anti-creation (Halāhala) emerged. Lakṣmī (prosperity) went to the all-pervasive preserver Viṣṇu as his consort, the Halāhala was devoured by PāramaŚiva. Hence the profound quote, “we grow as we dissolve” (no reference found for this quote).

As explained by Rishi Vaśiṣṭha to Śrī Rama during the narration of Prahalada’s events:

“Lord Viṣṇu is the self of all and whatever notion arises in him materializes immediately. His manifestation is uncaused, but it has the sole purpose of creating the infinite creatures in this universe. By the attainment of self-knowledge, lord Visnu is realized; and by the adoration of lord Viṣṇu, self-realization is attained”

(Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

Since Śiva is Cit:Ananda, His consort is Cit:Śakti. Through Cit:Śakti, creation unfolds or propagates as Prakriti. Śiva is not a being with a specific existence or basis, Śiva is all-inherent auspiciousness. Śiva is not a name with an origin; hence, Śiva is Svayambho (self-evident auspiciousness of Cit:ananda), and “Nirguṇa Pārabrahmā Swarūpa” (meaning an abstract representation of the formless or un-manifested aspect of Pārabrahmā). Hence, the mantra from Niralamb Upaniṣhad widely recited during Yogic Kriyas as Guru Smarana:

oṃ namaḥ śivāya gurave, satccidānanda mūrtaye, niṣprapañcāya śantāya| nirālambāya tejase

 (Nishprapanchaya. 2019)
 (Nishprapanchaya. 2019)

Meaning, my salutation to my Guru who is thy Śivā, who is ever auspicious. He is Cit:ananda – the joyous conscious state – and peace beyond creation and the sensory world, who is unmanifested and illuminates beyond any source. (Nishprapanchaya. 2019)

The source of the above statement traces back to the famous mantra called Panchakshari “Oṃ namaḥ śivāya” from the Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā – Śrī Rudram.

Similarly, Rudraṣṭakam, a magnificent composition by Rishi Lomash, enclosed within Rama Charita Maānas of devout poet Tulsidas says:

Namaam-Iisham-Iishaana Nirvaanna-Ruupam
Vibhum Vyaapakam Brahma-Veda-Svaruupam |
Nijam Nirgunnam Nirvikalpam Niriiham
Cidaakaasham-Aakaasha-Vaasam Bhaje-[A]ham ||1||

Kalaatiita-Kalyaanna Kalpa-Anta-Kaarii
Sadaa Sajjana-[A]ananda-Daataa Pura-Arii |
Cid-Aananda-Samdoha Moha-Apahaarii
Prasiida Prasiida Prabho Manmatha-Arii ||6||

(Green Message Rudrastakam. n.d.)

The only witness to Śiva is Śakti (śakti); hence, She is called “Maha Pralaya Sakshini”, meaning the only witness to His Pralaya (dissolution). One should never interpret the above message to designate supremacy among various concepts of Brahman. These classifications (Iśvara, Cit:Śakti, Visnu, Siva, Devi, Brahmā) are only for our interpretation and not to draw conclusions as to who is superior. Such adamant conclusions are childish and immature and arise out of vasana and lack of Sanskara. One, with self-effort, has to explore scriptures and view Cit:Ananda and Cit:Śakti as a duality of Brahman; while Cit:Śakti creates and preserves (sustains or expands), Cit:Ananda dissolves it back to Ekam (involution or redemption). The cycle of expansion and dissolution is ever in play (keli or lila). (Bho Shambho, Shiva Shambho. 2010, Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh said:

“The Vedantin speaks of Nirupadhika Brahman (Pure Nirguna Brahman without Maya) and Sopadhika Brahman (with Upadhi or Maya) or Saguna Brahman. It is all the same. Names only are different. It is a play of words or Sabda Jalam. People fight on word only, carry on lingual warfare, hair-splitting, logical chopping and intellectual gymnastics. In reality the essence is one. Clay is the truth. All the modifications such as pot, etc., are in name only. In Nirguna Brahman, Sakti is potential, whereas in Saguna Brahman, it is kinetic or dynamic.”

Swami Sivananda of the Divine life Society

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