You must have seen the pictures of Lord Shiva sitting on Mount Kailash, surrounded by the white snowy serenity around him.
There is deep symbolism to the images our ancestors have created, specially the ones created by enlightened ones. Shiva is one such symbol.
In this image, what does the colour white indicate? It indicates purity of mind. A person, who is blessed with purity of mind, has a very different vibration. He is tuned.
Likewise, our body is a receiver and has to be tuned. Just like the image of Lord Shiva amidst the pure white snow-clad mountains; that is symbolic of purity of mind.
What else is there? There is a snake wrapped around his neck. What does that symbolize? The snake indicates the ego. But Lord Shiva has the ego in control; he has a trident with which he has full control on his ego.
The moon resides on top of Shiva’s head. What does the moon indicate here? The moon symbolizes peace and calm. It means despite the snake wrapped around Lord Shiva’s neck, there is peace. The snake is peaceful. If the ultimate understanding is in the head, ultimate reality in the hair, then the person is at peace.
And what does Shiva’s third eye signify? It signifies the ultimate understanding of reality. An open third eye symbolically represents the understanding required for awakening to Truth or consciousness.
But what does Shiva himself symbolize. Shiva symbolizes consciousness – the thing that is within each of us and within which we exist.
Shiva is a fixed constant; the centre around which everything revolves.
The Shivaling is a symbol too. There are vibrations everywhere. Everything is an ocean of vibrations. Amidst this ocean of vibrations, there is a centre that is fixed. Just like when you look at the moving blades of a fan, you see its axle in the centre, which is still.
All around your body there are waves. They are vibrations, an energy, a force. Why do we say Shiva-shakti? Shakti means energy. What is energy? The top part of the Shivaling, which is visible…that is energy… that is Shakti. This universal energy has been referred to with various names…it is also called Reiki or even Metta, or Chi. However many names you might give it, they all refer to the same thing, the same universal energy.
So there is this energy within and around all of us. Whatever can be seen, heard, or felt is this energy. And then, there is this fixed thing; the centre of all of this.
Did you know that as much as there is the visible part of the Shivaling that protrudes out, there is also a part below that is not visible? The part that is not visible is actually Shiva. That which is visible, on which you offer milk as a ritual, is not Shiva.
All these are just symbols.
Even the offering of milk is a symbol. Why is that pot hanging on top of the Shivaling? And the bell that is hanging outside the temple? What is the Nandi bull doing sitting outside? All these are there for a symbolic reason.
The entire universe is made of vibrations. The Shivaling appears to be round. Why is it circular? Because a circle is endless, it has no beginning, no end. This world was never born and will never die. People keep declaring dates when the world will come to an end. The dates come and go, but life goes on, the world continues. There are cells within our body; because the electrons within these cells revolve at high speed, energy is available for the body to function. If the electrons were to stop revolving, everything would collapse. At the center of every cell is a nucleus. At the end of every atom too, there is a nucleus, a fixed centre. What really is the nucleus? The fixed centre around which everything revolves.
The ling inside the Shivaling represents Shiva. Shiva-shakti is a combination. Ardha-nareshwar is a picture that symbolizes this combination of Shiva and Shakti. They are symbols. Actually, they are all within us. Nothing is outside. Everything is within.
When you visit the temple of Lord Shiva, there is offering of hemp. It is considered as Lord Shiva’s favourite drink. People get intoxicated by drinking hemp juice. But what really is hemp that is being spoken about there? It symbolizes illusion. It resembles the tendency of Shiva to be lost in His own illusion, to be lost, so to say, in the expression of Shakti.
When you look at the Shivaling, there is a saucer around it and an outlet. When you offer milk, you do it with a copper pot. What does this pot symbolize? The pot represents awareness. Milk is symbolic of ‘knowledge of truth’. We are actually pouring the ‘knowledge of truth’ from ‘awareness’. From where the knowledge arises and flows out is also the way for it to come in. This is an interesting fact.
If you are lost in a cave, how do you find your way out? You need to light a matchstick and see which side the flame blows. The air is coming from the opposite side and it is this side that you will find the door or exit from the cave. And the same would be the entrance to the cave as well. This is the understanding of truth from awareness. It arises from awareness and leads into awareness!
When you stand in front of the Shivaling, where do you see the outlet? It is on the right side. The right side is right, right understanding, which is the actual truth.
What is the first thought that you have when you open your eyes in the morning? It is not about brushing your teeth, going to office, bathing your child, or making breakfast. The first thought is of ‘I’. ‘I am present, I am awake, I am’ is the first thought. So the first thought from your inner Shivaling is ‘I’.
After that comes ‘I am a girl’ or ‘I am a boy’ or ‘I am a housewife’ or ‘I am the boss’ or ‘I am an Indian’! There are several offshoots of ‘I’ like ‘I am so-and-so’s brother’ or father, etc. Then come the extensions to these identities. For example, with ‘I am the boss’, there will be ‘this is my office’ or ‘he is my employee or boss’ and other things. These are the branches. These branches just keep growing to form the mental world – the world made up in the mind.
What is ‘mind’? It is the Nandi bull outside the Shiva temple. Is he facing away from the temple or inward? Inward. He always faces the Shivaling. Why? Because, if we turn our minds inwards, the thought branches, which were growing outward, will also reverse and reduce in number. We will find that our thoughts are reducing.
The ‘I’ thought dips within and merges with the ‘I’; ‘I’ merges in Shiva.
Why is the Nandi bull looking inside the temple? Because, if he were to look outside, he would see red clothes…sarees or shirts. And you know that red colour drives the bull crazy! This is symbolic of the mind, because this is what happens with the mind.
It is the mind that wanders and then worries about irrational and unimportant things. Why did this happen? It should not have happened like this…and so on. Nandi bull is the symbol of our mind. If it were to turn inside, it would become Shiva. The Nandi bull is an indication for you to turn the mind inward and dwell on Shiva, the truth.
Inside our body-mind are the seven chakras (energy vortices) with a fixed centre. This centre, which is beyond the chakras, is Shiva that we need to grasp.The day we realize Shiva through direct experience will be the day of enlightenment for us.