In Search of the Greatest Vaishnava
“Lord Shiva, the spiritual master of the entire world, is free from enmity. He remains ever peaceful and self-satisfied. Among the devatas, no one is greater. How, then, is it possible that Daksha could be inimical towards such an auspicious personality?” (SB 4.2.28)
Recently, I had a long conversation with a self-styled European Shaivite. Having paid an undisclosed sum to a poseur “guru” for the privilege of “becoming God,” he was unwilling to admit that his money had been lost in a sort of quasi-spiritual ponzi scheme. He claimed the usual hackneyed impersonal fantasies: the dream of merging into a whatever-it-is, and leaving behind this whatever-is-not. I told him I would like to meet his wife, Maya Devi the Goddess of Material energy. When he politely declined with an uneasy chuckle, I asked to see his tandava nritya so I could get a front row seat of the Universe scorched in the flames of its last gasp. Suddenly he remembered an appointment, and though we would part company as friends I had failed to change his mind.
As he stood up to leave I prodded him one last time with a little friendly advice to “chant Hare Krishna.” He nodded a polite “shivo’ham” (“I am Shiva”) and darted towards the door. The conversation caused me to reflect again how far beyond the conceptual abilities of impersonalists it is to understand that the very Lord Shiva they claim to worship in their fruitless quest for Godhood is a Vaishnava. Indeed there is not one Vaishnava who can equal him. Shiva, the husband of Parvati, is none other than an eternal and unparalleled servant of Lord Krishna. Lord Shiva finds the highest bliss while meditating upon the pastimes of the Supreme Lord in an attitude of sacrifice and devotional service. What then can be said for his “worshippers” who claim to have become God? This question is answered in the pages of the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
Indeed, such counterfeit Shaivites are themselves unknowing victims of the curse of the great sage Bhrigu Muni. At the yagna of Daksha, Bhrigu uttered his prophetic words (full verses at SB 4.2.27-32): “Those who are avowed to follow Shiva will certainly become atheists who are diverted from the path of shastra. The followers of Shiva will foolishly imitate him by growing their hair long, drinking wine and eating flesh. They will blaspheme the Vedas and the holy brahmanas.”
Commenting on the curse of Bhrigu Muni, Shrila Prabhupada states in his Bhaktivedanta Purport (to SB 4.2.31):
“…Therefore to follow the Vedic system is to follow the standard etiquette of society. But the followers of Lord Shiva, (those) who are drunkards, who are addicted to intoxicants and sex life, who do not bathe and who smoke ganga are against all human etiquette. The conclusion is that persons who rebel against the Vedic principles are themselves the evidence that the Vedas are authoritative, because by not following the Vedic principles they become like animals. Such animalistic persons are themselves evidence of the supremacy of the Vedic regulations.”
Such so-called Shaivites genuinely harm society by misleading the general mass of people into sinful activities by calling illicit sex as an act of yoga and intoxication as a sacrament. Recently in San Francisco one such self-appointed acolyte of the lord of tamo-guna created a large following during morning outdoor worship ceremonies around a huge “Shiva linga” that he claimed had self-manifested in Golden Gate Park. When the park officials pointed out that they had trucked in and unloaded the granite block as a traffic break, the mayavadi responded by demolishing the huge rock with a sledge and then advertised the pieces in the newspaper for hundreds of dollars each.
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My tête-à-tête with the imitation Shiva was still echoing in my mind as I strolled home that evening, absorbed in meditating upon Lord Shiva’s actual identity with each step. It is said that as oil mixed with water will rise to the top, so at last does truth. And the truth is that only a servant of a Vaishnava can have insight into the mood of the supreme Vaishnava Lord Shiva. Taking a shortcut through green fields while mulling over Shiva’s glories, I was moving beneath a canopy of stars while my mind was embarking upon a sort of manasa tirtha yatra. My thoughts focused upon darshan again at some the great temples of Shankar that I have visited in India over the years.
I recalled how once in Tanjore an Iyengar follower of Shri Ramanuja Acharya had advised me that it is useless to preach to Shaivites because “it will take them ten births to become Vaishnavas.” Ignoring his well-intentioned counsel, that very evening I had found myself sitting in a circle with several dozen Shaivite brahmanas. I was the only one among them with vertical tilak. Their leader, an otherwise friendly Iyer, challenged me to prove that Shiva is not the Supreme Lord. Recalling the instructions of Shrila Prabhupada in such matters of debate, I responded, “If he is the Godhead Himself, then upon whom is he meditating and from where is his source of bliss?” The group spoke in hushed tones amongst themselves and fell into a thoughtful silence as though on cue. None could reply.
It is not that we Vaishnavas do not respect Lord Shiva; we honor his actual position. A journey through the Bhagavatam as seen through the lens of the Bhaktivedanta Purports reveals some of the myriad facets of Lord Shiva: husband, yogi, renunciate, mystic, philosopher, demi-god, destroyer of the material Universe and withal, protector of devotees. And experience tells me that at each of his shrines Lord Mahadeva appears to display a different mood. Yet still he meditates, for each facet of Mahadeva’s inconceivable personality is absorbed trying to understand the Supreme Lord Hari. Hari, Lord Krishna, is the inconceivable Achintya, the Godhead Who pervades this material world yet is beyond it. Indeed, Lord Shiva is such a great devotee of Lord Krishna that he actually refuses all opulence–even though he is the husband of the Goddess of the material creation–because he knows all wealth belongs to Krishna. Though blockheads are drawn to him thinking their prayers will turn them into God, Shiva himself is the meekest servant. Though greedy materialists kneel before him begging for a lavish lifestyle, Lord Shiva doesn’t even own a house of his own.
The great sage Kashyapa Muni describes Lord Shiva to his wife Diti (see full verses at SB 3.14.25-28):
“Though the chakra-like whirlwind of dhuli-dhumara (dust and smoke) at the smashana (burning grounds) has covered his matted locks, and his rukma-deha (reddish body) is smeared with bhashma (ashes), he remains amala (untainted and spotless). He sees all with his three eyes. He regards no one as his relative, and neither does he consider anyone as either favorable or repulsive. Though his character is unimpeachable and he is followed by great souls seeking freedom from nescience, he appears himself as some sort of devil who grants salvation to devotees. Unfortunate fools who do not realize that he is absorbed in self-realization laugh at him. Such fools are simply engaged in maintaining their bodies with fine clothing, ornaments, garlands and unguents although the body is fit for consumption by dogs.”
Other than us Vaishnavas, who are the worshippers of Lord Shiva? Shrila Prabhupada answers this question in his Bhaktivedanta Purports (to SB 3.14.28): “There are two kinds of devotees of Lord Shiva. One class is the gross materialist seeking only bodily comforts from Lord Shiva, and the other class desires to become one with him. They are mostly impersonalists who prefer to chant shivo’ham, ‘I am Shiva,’ or ‘After liberation I shall be-
come one with Lord Shiva.’ In other words, the karmis and jnanis are generally devotees of Lord Shiva, but they do not properly understand his real purpose in life. Sometimes so-called devotees of Lord Shiva imitate him in using poisonous intoxicants. Lord Shiva once swallowed an ocean of poison, and thus his throat became blue. The imitation Shivas try to follow him by indulging in poisons, and thus they are ruined.
The real purpose of Lord Shiva is to serve the Soul of the soul, Lord Krishna. He desires that all luxurious articles, such as nice garments, garlands, ornaments and and cosmetics, be given to Lord Krishna only, because Krishna is the real enjoyer. He refuses to accept such luxurious items himself because they are only meant for Krishna. However, since they do not know this purpose of Lord Shiva, foolish persons either laugh at him or pointlessly try to imitate him.”
Proof of Lord Shiva’s Vaishnava conviction is that Lord Shiva himself chants the names of Rama. During His South Indian pilgrimage, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught a brahmana devotee of Lord Ramachandra to chant Hare Krishna by quoting the very words of Lord Shiva from the Padma Purana (CC Madhya 9.32)
rama rameti rameti
rama rameti rameti
“Lord Shiva addressing his wife Durga as Varanana explained, ‘I chant the holy name of Rama, Rama, Rama and thus enjoy this beautiful sound. This holy name of Ramachandra is equal to one thousand holy names of Lord Vishnu.’”
Still, Mahaprabhu pressed on with a verse from Brahmanda Purana (CC Madhya 9.33):
“The pious results derived from chanting the thousand holy names of Vishnu three times can be attained by only one utterance of the holy name of Krishna.”
Finding my way home I soon returned to my desk with my chance encounter with the imitation “Shiva” still on my mind. Though I hadn’t convinced him, at least I would pound out an homage to Mahadeva and the evening’s manasa tirtha yatra. Here then is my recollection of a long personal journey in sacred India in search of the greatest Vaishnava.
Part Two: Homage to the Greatest Vaishnava
O Shiva, most-auspicious one, we have heard via disciplic succession that among all servants of Lord Hari, you are supreme. You are the leader of all Vaishnavas. Your influence of your hands is seen by all yet you yourself are known by none. The major centers of your worship are India’s dwadasha jyotir lingas (twelve temples of light). Yet how is it those who approach you with ulterior motives (and thus claim to be your “followers”) so quickly descend into darkness? Though you are known everywhere, you are unknown. Still you have appeared as Vaidyanath, Bhima Shankar, Trimbeshwara, Grishneshwara and in many other forms only to impart devotional service to the world.
O Kailashnath, those who consider you merely a great yogi meditating away in the snowy Himalayas only succeed in trying to limit you in their ignorance. Likewise, those who consider you to be God do not understand your humble mood of pure devotion to Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Who can understand you? Although you are worshipped in the snowy mountains as Pashupatinath and Amarnath, you meditate in the bright sunlight at Amarkantaka. There your divine droplets of perspiration from the intense heat of the Sun (and from the heat of your penance) form the emerald Narmada, your river goddess daughter whose waters are narma-dayini, the giver of bliss.
O Umesh, you are easily pleased by the Lord’s genuine devotees who praise and worship you throughout the universe. Yet–whether man or demigod—he who could hope to equal your exalted status is yet to be born. You are very dear to Lord Vishnu. Although you are unattainable, you never fail to bless the servants of Shri Hari who seek your favor, just as in your form as Lord Rameshwara you blessed the army of vanaras marching off to Lanka.
O Girish, those who approach you with imprudent desires to become one with you fruitlessly covet your unassailable position. Which senseless supplicant seeking to copyright your laurels as his own is willing to drink halahala poison, and (while wearing that venom in his throat like an indigo-colored ornament) save the world from destruction? Though they adorn their bodies with bhashma and carry tridents, no furious cobra ever adorns the neck of your deluded imitators. You alone are the lord of the nagas, worshipped (near Dwaraka) in your form as Nageshwara. The snakes which encircle your neck are representatives of Lord Sankarshan, Who mystics approach through you (to gain release from the falseness of egoism).
O Gangeshwara, you have captured the heavenly Mandakini in your long ascetic locks for the safety of the world. For the purification of mankind, the river goddess in your hair flows as the Ganga past innumerable holy ghats. That celestial stream called Patita Pavani gave liberation to the ancestors of King Bhagiratha, and to this day delivers all others who seek their salvation by the grace of her waters. You are worshipped as Vishwanath alongside Gangamayi (between the sangams of the Varuna and the Asi), and her waters are used in your daily adoration.
O Chandrashekhar, your crowning ornament is the krishna-paksha Moon on the trayodashi day of Phalguna. Even Lord Chandra kneels before your form as Somnath at Prabhas Patan where he begs for the ability to wax again (and thereby becomes relieved from the curse of Daksha).
O Shambhu, along with Brahma and Narada, you are one of the twelve mahajans, the most learned and realized personalities in the world. You are honored with the words vaishnavanam yatha shambhu. Even those who think that they can worship you with the mantra, om namo shivaya, must bow to Lord Hari in His form as Omkara before they can address you, His servant. Though you are called Omkareshwara at the island temple of Mamaleshwara, you yourself sing the praise Lord Hari with the three letters AUM.
O Parvatinath, during vanavasam Arjuna met you in the Himalayas masquerading as a hunter and, unable to defeat you, did battle with you till his weapons ran out. As he retreated to worship your linga form with wild flowers, he observed fragrant blossoms falling from the heavens upon your body (disguised as you were). Thus you revealed your divine form as the carrier of the trident, and bestowed celestial weapons upon Arjuna presaging his victory over the Kauravas. To this day deep in the jungle near Hastinapur, you are revered as Pandaveshwara in celebration of your gifts to Arjuna.
O Rudra, at Bhera Ghat the thousand-armed Banasura worshipped you by creating millions of your linga representatives from the earthy banks of the river. To this day your egg-shaped forms (marked with chakras, yagnopavit, etc.) become self-manifested at the very spot where rugged waterfalls meet marble cliffs. Not far from there, your cave of Gupteshwara is an entirely self-manifested temple wherein the greatest of sages since time immemorial have arrived for your darshan. From here beneath the waters of the Narmada your svyambhu lingas have traveled all over the world for the benefit of humanity. Yet although you are worshipped in every quarter, few understand your Vaishnava character.
O Nataraja, bewildered impersonalists who confuse their adulation of you by “becoming you” are merely unfortunate victims of the same tamo-guna that you yourself control throughout the Universe. Though you are the destroyer of creation at the time of pralaya, the devotees of Shri Hari are saved while those who worship you for material benefits must become repeatedly reborn and annihilated (in this and ensuing cosmic manifestations).
O Mahadeva, the very tilak worn by mayavadis consisting of three parallel lines represents only horizontal entanglement in the ever-broadening net of Maya. In their unconscious conundrum of confusion impersonalists find their concocted process confounded by their own consternations. Dimwits who think they have become God can neither supplicate you properly, nor can they imitate your activities. Where is the “Godhood” when fallible replicas linger here doomed to re-cycle in gross ignorance? Though you are the master of material elements, your so-called votaries remain entwined in the very energies they seek to enjoy, like hunters caught in the traps they have set. Yet, because you are the caretaker of the five expanding material elements under Lord Vishnu’s direction, you are worshipped as the pancha-tattwa lingas: Ekambareshwara at Kanchi (prithivi), Jambukeshwara at Shri Rangam (jal), Arunchaleshwara at Thiruvanamallai (tej), Shri Kalahasti near Tirupati (vayu) and Nataraja at Chidambaram (akash).
O Shankar, the Rudra Vaishnava sampradaya headed by Shri Vishnuswami descends from you as one of the four bona fide disciplic chains even to this day. Yet, following the direct order of the Personality of Godhead Lord Narayana Himself, you founded the fifth (impersonal) sampradaya. You appeared as Shri Shankaracharya and propagated the asat shastra of mayavada all over India (establishing maths a Shringeri, Dwaraka, Badri and Puri). By so doing you repulsed the Buddhists and re-established the Vedic scriptures, paving the way for future world Vaishnavism under the leadership of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
O Maheshwar, greatest of the demi-gods, in your form of Mangalnath you blessed Lords Krishna and Balarama as They attended the gurukula of their Guru Maharaja Shri Sandipani Muni at Avantika. There in that ancient town of King Vikramaditya, you are also worshipped alongside the peaceful Kshipra as Mahankaleshwara. In that form you are the mystic lord of time and the position of your linga marks the 0º of longitude for the world. With the beat of your dim-dim drum you keep track of the ebb and flow of the Universe. The message of the tick tock beating of your drum is that time is running out for our embodied state (which means that now is the correct time to fully surrender to Krishna.)
O All-seeing Trinayana, in converting the masses to Krishna consciousness, Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited countless numbers of your temples all over India and millions of your so-called followers fell under the tidal wave of sankirtan yagna. At Shri Sailam, He saw you in your form as Lord Mallika Arjuna and there induced all your worshippers to rejoice to the singing of the mahā-mantra. Hearing your worshipful Lord Krishna praised in this way by the Lord Himself in the Form of His Own Devotee how delighted you must have been! Mahaprabhu then proceeded to introduce the yuga dharma to your temples of Vriddha Kashi, Shiva Kanchi, Trikalahasti, Pakshi Tirtha, Chidambaram, Gosamaja, Vedavana, Amritalinga, Kumbhakonam, Tanjore and to the shore of the Shiva Ganga.
O Lord of Nandi, when Nanda Maharaja desired to move from Gokula to protect his Son, your worshipful Lord, from the wrath of Kamsa, he moved to the hill between Barsana and Govardhan. That hill is the very incarnation of you and there you protected the Cowherd of Nandagram in your form as Nandishwara.
O Ishwara, though you are always honored as the “greatest of the demi-gods”, you are happiest when your mood of pure devotion to Krishna is recognized. As the supreme Vaishnava, you alone guard the janma bhumi of Lord Krishna in the mood of dig-pala. In your sacred form of Gokarneshwara you guard the north, as Pipaleshwara you guard the east, as Lord Rangeshwara you guard the south, while your form of Bhuteshwara keeps watch over the western direction of Mathura.
O Ashutosh, you are the supreme devotee and thus you are very easily pleased by the Lord’s devotees. But nowhere else do you give pleasure to the Shri Krishna’s own elects as in Vraja Mandala where you are the guardian of the entire dham. In your form as Rangeshwara you witness the destruction of Chanura and Mustika and the killing of Kamsa by the fists of the young bluish-blackish Lad. As Gopishwara you witness from a short distance the rasa dance of Madan Mohan and His most intimate associates. As Kameshwara you fulfill the desire of each devotee to serve Shri Krishna in a mood of self-surrendered humility. And as Chattaleshwara you guard the pure devotion of the dham.
O Chattaleshwara, you sit in the shadow of Giri Govardhan gazing into the waters of the lake created from the mind of Lord Krishna Himself, the Manasi Ganga. Lord Hari Deva, before Whom Lord Chaitanya danced in ecstasy, stands just opposite the lake from you. Your eternal spouse Parvati in her form of Manasi Devi also meditates upon those waters. As far as this patita is concerned, your mood at Manasi Ganga is supreme amongst all your shrines for here you blessed Shri Sanatana Goswami as you both delighted in the never-ending ecstasy of meditating upon Krishna’s pastimes.
O Shiva, this foolish disciple of 108 Shri Shrimad Abhaya Charana Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada falls down like a stick before you and begs for your merciful blessings. As this rascal stumbles along the divine path of Krishna consciousness, please teach me the secret of advancement in seva unto Guru and Gauranga in whatever moments this body has left.
This essay is humbly dedicated to “Bhagatji, Shri Shrimad Vishwambhar Dayal, who was very dear to Shrila Prabhupada and who encouraged and guided all his disciples in the early days of ISKCON Vrindavana. It was he who took me for my first darshan of Lord Chattaleshwara, who is also known as Shri Chakreshwara to the Brijabasis.