The Cosmic Theater

shiva lingam
September 13, 2023

Lord Shiva is an artist, a magician. He’s contemplating and enjoying his own creative productions. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

You've heard me mention that Shiva is sometimes called the artist or the magician. These two words are really related in the tradition. Because the appearing of everything is magical.

That something appears as opposed to nothing ever appearing is like a magical display. This is how the appearing of all worlds and people and circumstance are talked about. And that's inclusive of Dzogchen and Trika Shaivism.

There's a special word that means appearings, and I always get it confused with another word, but I think it's abhasa or abhasya. I'm not sure. I have to look that up.

But in any case, it doesn't mean appearances. It doesn't mean that everything is just appearances. It means that things appear and have this magical esthetic quality, which is really not separate from its magical-ness.

So when we do our visualization in the morning and we're visualizing all this color and form and light, we are trying to get a direct experience of that. The magical-ness of things appearing.

One of them having so much variety, so much color and form and crazy, crazy variety that's going on here. So this is the work of, I would hyphenate it and say, artist-magician. That what the artist conceives of appears. That's pretty magical.

The other thing which is written about is the relationship of yogic visualization to that process of magical appearing of things. Abhinavagupta wrote that when we visualize things in our minds that we're participating in some aspect of this process.

But also when we create art, we are also participating in that same thing that all of reality is doing. It's the same process. It's just that our way of doing it is not as subtle as Lord Shiva's, and obviously not as cosmic.

That quality of the relationship or what is called in Dzogchen, the contemplation, the natural state of contemplation, is contemplating all of the appearings that are coming out of the Self. That the Self is in a state of contemplation of itself.

And what I have compared this to, I think very accurately, is when we create something. Like we bake a cake or a beautiful loaf of bread. Or we paint something. Or we write a poem or we make a piece of music. Or we make some clothing.

Or whatever it is that we do. I mean, even we just paint a wall in our apartment, or something like that. Or plant something, there's always the moments when we step back and appreciate it.

We step back and we gaze at it or we listen to it or we taste it or we just contemplate it in some way. And there's this feeling of both enjoyment of our own creations.

But also there's a kind of an uncanniness to the experience. That something that was once, something that we just thought of, has now appeared as this thing outside of us. And the uncanniness comes because we can't quite tame the magical-ness of the process, of thinking of something and then having it appear.

Even in our very, very ordinary experience, that magic is still there in that moment when we step back and we contemplate our own creation. There's a kind of a magnetism to that and a fascination in that moment.

It's not ordinary. You should try to capture that, try to catch yourself at that. And contemplate that moment. You'll see that it's not ordinary. There's something indefinable, something that outruns just the fact that, oh, I made a cake and now I'm appreciating it.

There's something that outruns that ordinary description of that scene. And that keeps us fascinated with the things that we have made. This is exactly the state of contemplation of Lord Shiva.

Which is also a kind of self-fascination with the creative process. And the fact that we have this shakti, this power to make things appear.

That's enjoyed in an esthetic way for form and color, but it's also the emotions which are part of that experience. Just like when we go to see a movie, we're not just looking at it as shapes and colors and forms moving across the screen.

We're also participating with our whole body, energy, and mind, having responses to that movie. This is the same with Lord Shiva. Sensory experiences are folded into that esthetic experience.

It's not just a distant gaze. It's something that Lord Shiva, or you could just say this alive, aware reality, is completely immersed in. The experience of all of life kind of announcing this magical, creative process.

And re-experiencing that over and over and over again. The word uncanny, if you're not familiar with it, you should look it up. It's a very, very interesting word.

It's something that has also been written a lot in literary theory. I don't know about other arts, but the experience of the uncanny is something that draws us to it and magnetizes us.

It's this quality of outrunning the ordinary that makes it uncanny. We can't quite get over this, like even just some little thing that we do. This wonder that just keeps happening that I made that.

It might not be articulated like that at all. And you might not even pause to even reflect on what you're doing when you enjoy the things that you make.

This could just be like picking out great clothes in the morning and feeling that sense of, I put this outfit together. Or all the ordinary things we do. Those moments are happening whenever we enjoy something that we made appear. It's kind of amazing.

When I was younger, email was just coming around and people were using email much the way I think they wrote letters like in the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries. Where you would just have these on-going conversations with people.

And we do that, of course, texting and writing on social media. But it's a very different kind of writing than—email's long form, or it was then. Now, email is just a pain-in-the-ass and very business-like and no one pays any attention to it.

But for a few years, email had this really kind of wonderful life as this resurgence of letter writing. I had several people that I was just writing long things to on a daily basis. Like reams and reams and stuff.

And, I always used to marvel that I would always read my emails more than I would read the other person's emails. I was more interested in what I was writing to them than in what they were writing to me. [laughs]

It always struck me as completely odd. Like, why was this? Someone would write me, even someone I had a crush on, and I'd be like, yeah, yeah, whatever. And then I'd be reading my own email over and over and over again. [laughs]

It's this fascination with what you've made. I finally realized later that I wasn't fascinated with what someone else had made. I was only fascinated with what I made, which I don't know what that says about me.

So there's that aspect, and then there is the drama aspect, the sense that there's a play happening. Of course, the word play is kind of a double entendre in this tradition.

We have that word lila, which also means sport, like playfulness. If we say someone is sportive, it's a very old-fashioned way to talk about it, but it also has a high-handed, a little bit of a trickster-y feel to it.

And of course, play also means drama, a play. So it has both of those meanings in the tradition. And this is why Abhinavagupta wrote a lot about theater.

And you've heard me talk about this a million times. That everything here is like this great play that's being put on by the Lord for the enjoyment of all of the experiences here. And the communication, the enjoyment of that.

But there's also this esthetic quality that is identified in the word rasa. Rasa has a lot of meanings in this tradition. In an ordinary language sense, it just means taste.

Like something you eat and you taste it and the taste is rasa. There's even some junk food company in India called Rasa, I think. They have snacks that they sell at the Indian grocery store.

But in any case, it has another meaning, which is the sweet taste of life. This deep eternal sweetness of life is another meaning of rasa. What you encounter when you encounter the essence of reality that it tastes sweet.

If you think of a cheap-o snack that you buy in the store that's very sweet, that's like the very gross form of the rasa that we experience when we taste the sweetness of life. And that sweetness, that rasa is something we also experience through esthetic experiences.

When we have wonderful esthetic experiences, whether it's music or painting or poetry or drama or whatever it is, we touch this rasa. We touch this sweet taste.

It's that word I always want to use, but no one knows what it is, imbricated. It's like together with this sense of magical-ness and uncanniness.

This sweetness that we encounter in the esthetic experience is because we're engaging with what the Lord does. Like the life process of this reality is creative, we're encountering that. But we're also encountering that creativity as a source of wonder in and of itself. Like, we did this or I did this.

And even when we're experiencing great poetry or great drama or whatever it is, we still recognize that there's something we have in common with the person that created that. Even though we think, oh, so-and-so made that. How wonderful.

But we also, somewhere in us, could have the thought, well, another human being made this. That there's something we share in this creative process that's really marvelous and the sense of wonder, again, can arise.

Sometimes I think that when I watch really, really creative and well-made movies, it's like, wow, we did this. This is incredible. And then we also do all this other crap, which isn't so incredible.

But in any case, it's really that we occasionally do something really incredible, and then we can enjoy that and feel that we're part of it. Even though we didn't make it ourselves.

And I think all of these things are something we can all experience. But a lot of us don't stop to experience them. Hopefully, you can now pause a little bit.

And experience what is your relationship when you cook a meal, or when you experience some art. Or when you make art or when you make something? Can you notice that feeling of just amazement that you did it, that you thought something and now it's there.

It's like when someone gives birth to a child, I'm sure they feel the same thing big time. Like, oh, my God, that came out of me. And this is why a lot of people who even feel maybe their lives haven't been so successful, when they have a kid, they think, oh, I did that.

That's a great thing. I feel my existence is now justified. And I think this is something of what anyone who makes stuff feels. When we engage in making something, we can feel more of our own value.

I think it's fascinating too, how much continuity in organization and shared experience there is. Like, it could just be a bunch of random imaginings, but it's not. It's like we all share in it together.

Yeah. And also when you think about how much of our day is engaged in esthetic experience. And this is because all of Lord Shiva's day is about that. [laughter]

But we get up, we make something and we enjoy the qualities of that. And then we put some clothes, on and maybe we do something with our face, and we're enjoying that.

And then we go have some conversations. And we're in architecture and we're seeing all kinds of visual things that people have made, and we're forming our sentences in a certain way. Our whole life is basically esthetic.

Looking at the scenery.

yeah, looking at the scenery. Then we watch a bunch of TV. [laughter] Read some books.

Look at social media.

Look at social media. I don't know how much of this is in Abhinavagupta's book about drama. Probably not much of it, but that's pretty much all I've got about that. [laughs]


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.