The Glance of Shiva
To the Trinity be praise!
God is music, God is life
That nurtures every creature in its kind.
Our God is the song of the angel throng
And the splendor of secret ways,
Hid from all human kind
But God, our God is the life of all.
-Hildegaard of Bingen (12th C)
I first met Shiva one evening in my dorm room during my freshman year at college. It was a few weeks into the first fall semester at Harvard. I had scored a single room as a freshman by claiming on my roommate questionnaire that I was impossible to live with, had erratic sleep habits and smoked minimally 2 packs a day, which was all true.
So I was given a room on the Radcliffe quad, which made a long and highly enjoyable sensory walk in the New England fall to the action in Harvard Yard. The view from my window was of a school playground across the street, and the melodic sounds of children playing and delighting in themselves would drift into the room. The room was mostly bare except for the furnishings provided, which were a single bed, and a really sturdy, serviceable oak desk, chair and bookcase. The bed was provided with a navy woolen blanket.
I was there to study Anthropology, a field which still fascinates and sets me on fire with curiosity. My intended focus: the topic of Ecstatic Religion.
There were a handful of people I knew in those days who meditated but the whole thing held no appeal for me: i thought it looked pointlessly unproductive and boring. But that afternoon I’d had a visit from a friend whom I liked and trusted and who meditated, so after he left, I thought I would privately try it. I sat on the bed cross legged, closed my eyes, and dedicated almost three whole minutes before deciding I was entirely unimpressed. Nothing. Feeling drowsy i lay down for a short nap. What woke me up was the sound of gasping and choking – it was my own breathing. I could open my eyes enough to see that my body was as rigid and as immoveable as a marble slab, and then i saw it jerking and shaking as i struggled with all my power to gain control. But suddenly my eyes rolled back and I was going, being sucked through a tunnel.
I became aware of the gently soothing sound of wind chimes and found myself seated in full lotus posture in the center of a grass hut about 20 feet in diameter. But now I had a male body, was bare chested, wearing a loincloth, and nothing like my usual self. I had the thought: “I feel like i am God.”
Into this grass hut came a young woman. She knelt down and started weeping about the world’s suffering – really sobbing her heart out. From the perfect detachment of my lotus posture, I glanced at her, and out of the corner of my eye started streaming the entire story of human kind. The story was composed of music. This music streaming out of my eye was so overwhelmingly beautiful and profound that there are no words to describe it. My glance was willing the universe and human history into existence. I saw the music creating eons of intense and sincere longing, passion, effort, striving, desiring, suffering, need and love, driving the human experience. This glance was pure intention, saturated with supremely luminous melodic love. It is hard to say what the music sounded like – it was choral singing, but if the beauty of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is one degree, this music was 360 degrees of glorious vocal sound – simply beyond the capacity of my normal nervous system to bear. It was so acutely exquisite and profound that molten teardrops cascaded down my face and fell exploding to the ground as the creation poured out of my eye into the eye of the young woman.
Then I became aware of being on my bed, in my dorm room, back at school and returned to the familiar. In the weeks and months that followed I remembered the incident privately not knowing what to make of it.
Some years later I would meet my teacher Swami Muktananda, and would learn about Shiva, and the myth of creation in which he creates the universe through his glance.
The story goes that Shiva opens his eyes and through his glance wills the universe into being; he is so moved by its beauty that he sheds tears of compassion. Where once i thought of myths as archaic, imaginary and wildly fictitious fairly tales, I came to understand they may contain deep esoteric truths within their structures.
The core philosophy of the branch of Tantra known as Kashmiri Shivaism, which is an elegant and refined spiritual map of the cosmos, was encapsulated in my vision that night, but I wouldnt know that for many years. Also years later I would stumble upon a photo of Muktananda during his apprenticeship with his Guru, Nityananda, sitting in front of that same grass hut i traveled to in the vision.
That was the first of many ecstatic and unnerving prophetic premonitions I had prior to meeting my Guru. Muktananda was a “shaktipat” Guru, meaning he awakened the Kundalini energy in seekers. After our meeting, during my five years of tutelage in residence in his ashrams, I was given deep inner experiences of the truth of the yogic scriptures as well as of the teachings of other mystical systems. I saw my past lives, traveled out of my body multiple times, and, just as interesting, traveled within the subtle body through the chakras to the glory of the crown center.
In the following pages i will try to convey the magnitude of the shattering encounter with great spiritual power that I experienced with my teacher. I disclose these spiritual visions and non-ordinary encounters in order to bear witness and to give encouraging insight to the enlightening doctrines of yoga. I also wish to provide a deeper perspective on the teachings of yoga and its place within the evolution of our culture and of our species.