Shiva: Embodiment of the Guru Archetype
Of the three major deities—Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer)—it is Lord Shiva who represents the archetype of Guru. The following stories from Lord Shiva’s life illustrate how He came to embody the Guru archetype.
Stories of Shiva
Shri Sati, the daughter of Dakshaji, who was the son of Lord Brahma, fell in love with Lord Shiva. The two were married against Dakshaji’s wishes. Dakshaji never accepted his son-in-law. Lord Shiva’s proclivity for hanging around cemeteries and His general appearance did not appeal to Daksha. He did not think the Lord was a suitable husband for his daughter. On more than one occasion Dakshaji insulted Lord Shiva, treating Him unkindly and with disrespect. Eventually, Dakshaji went too far: he held a great fire ceremony without inviting Lord Shiva. When Shri Sati discovered the insult, She felt compelled to defend Her husband’s honor by sacrificing Herself on the fire.
The death of Shri Sati caused Lord Shiva no small measure of pain. His grief and anger knew no boundaries. First, He cut off Dakshaji’s head. Then He retrieved Satiji’s body and, holding it in extreme sorrow, began to dance. Lord Shiva’s dance was so intense that it brought suffering upon the whole Universe. Finally, Lord Vishnu intervened as protector. He separated Lord Shiva from Satiji’s body and restored the Lord to His senses.
In order to break His attachment to Shri Sati and to overcome His anger at Dakshaji, Lord Shiva took up the path of yoga. First, He restored Dakshaji to life. Then He fasted, did japa, and performed austerities, plunging Himself into bliss through meditation. He succeeded in opening His third eye, spreading light and knowledge all over the world. Thus, yoga is said to have been created by Lord Shiva as a means to destroy attachment.
Eventually Shri Sati reincarnated, taking the form of Shri Parvati. As She came of age to marry, Shri Parvati waited for Lord Shiva to take notice of Her. Lord Shiva, however, was deep in meditation and unavailable. Parvatiji got tired of waiting. She began to perform austerities Herself in an attempt to get the Lord’s attention. She succeeded in turning Herself gold and received the name Umā, meaning ‘light’ or ‘beauty,’ but the Lord remained in meditation.
The gods sent Kāma, the god of desire, to visit Lord Shiva on Parvatiji’s behalf. Kāma succeeded in rousing the Lord from His meditation, but when Lord Shiva discovered the presence of Kāma (desire), He destroyed Kāma with the light of His third eye.
Finally, Shri Parvati deprived Herself of food and engaged in austerities to such a degree that She had nearly destroyed Her body. Lord Shiva had to come to her to stop Her from going any further. Eventually the two were married again. Lord Shiva became Shri Parvati’s Guru, instructing Her in yoga and meditation. Many teachings such as the Guru Gita—the definitive text and teaching on the Guru—as well as significant mantras were given to the world by Lord Shiva in the form of a teaching to Shri Parvati.
Lord Shiva is often pictured as an ascetic and a yogi. He wears a loincloth and is seated on a tiger skin asan with His hair matted upon His head. His prominent third eye pours light into the world, destroying ignorance and bringing about knowledge. He wears the crescent moon as a symbol of His ability to control the mind and create soma, the nectar of immortality. The snake coiled around His neck indicates His ability to control the Kundalini energy. His very image reflects the role of the Guru.
The name ‘Shiva’ literally means ‘welfare’ or ‘auspiciousness.’ Lord Shiva is also called ‘Bhairava’, or ‘The Destroyer.’ How can the Lord represent both welfare and destruction? The meaning is very similar to the word ‘guru’. The syllable ‘gu’ means ‘night’ or ‘ignorance’. The syllable ‘ru’ means ‘light’ or ‘knowledge.’ Thus, the Lord Shiva acts as the Guru, the Source of Light and Dispeller of Darkness.
The name ‘Shivaratri’ means ‘auspicious darkness.’ On this night, the moon, symbolizing the mind and the emotions, is in its very last phase. It is waning and losing its power. The last phase of the moon is the head ornament of Lord Shiva. The Lord easily controls the mind when the moon is in this phase. Because there is only a very small amount of the moon (mind) left, it is easy for the Lord’s energy to dominate. Simple practices such as fasting, staying awake and repeating the Lord’s name are enough to subdue the remaining mind and gain the Lord’s grace.
On Shivaratri, we worship Lord Shiva in the form of light. We stay awake all night, not by the power of physical light, but by internal light—God’s light and Guru’s light.
Dileepji has said about Shivaratri: “This night is the night of diamonds with rubies… This is His day, His night of extreme importance… The yogis make maximum use of the time to attain Shiva.”
Maha Shivaratri is falls on February 19th. Please make an effort to stay up for all or part of the night and chant. Contact your local center to find out what is planned for this special night.
Read more here about Maha Shivaratri.