Our scriptures clearly point out that the primary goal of human life is spiritual fulfillment which is known as by different names: 'moksha', 'Iswara prapthi', etc. The other goals that we pursue, i.e. material goals like procuring food for ourselves and our family are only subsidiary or secondary.
Even animals strive to accomplish this. They procure food and even train their young ones to do so. Therefore procuring food, finding shelter, raising a family and earning more money is not the goal of human existence. No doubt we can pursue these goals but keeping in mind that they are only secondary.
Spiritual accomplishment is the top priority. But since we do not know this, we have to be told by the scriptures. Not only do the scriptures have to tell us, they have to repeat it because even if we are aware of the spiritual goal, we do not have the time and keep postponing the spiritual pursuit. In
a well known verse in Bhaja Govindam, Sankara says the child is lost in play, the youth is consumed by passion, the old man is immersed in his sorrows, alas, there is none who yearns to realise the spiritual truth. When we are young, we think it is too early to start spirituality. By the time we are old, our mind is full of worries and our faculties are very weak. Throughout our life, we are preoccupied with something or the other that we forget the spiritual goal. It is for this reason that scriptures prescribe so many festivals and 'vratams', to constantly remind us that spirituality is our primary goal.
Festivals are of two types: those that are primarily for enjoyment such as Deepavali where we buy new clothes and ornaments, visit friends, etc. and those that do not engender enjoyment (vratams) but remind us of the spiritual goal. Sivarathri is not for enjoyment but withdrawing and asking the
question ‘What am I doing?’. Under the varnashrama system, as one progresses from grihasta to vanaprasta to sanyasa, the material pursuit should become lesser and lesser and the spiritual pursuit should become more and more. The time that we spend qualitatively and quantitatively must gradually change more for spirituality and less for material ends. Ultimately in the sanyasa ashrama, one hundred percent of the time is devoted for spirituality. So we must periodically ask the question ‘Is there a change in how I spend my time?’
Vratams emphasize two types of practices: 'upavasa' and 'sath katha shravanam'. Upavasa means fasting. We give up not only food but all types of enjoyment. Upavasa is also a prayaschitam. It purifies not only the body but also the mind. Sath katha shravanam means listening to the scriptures.
We are expected to follow these two practices on every 'ekadasi'. If our health does not permit us, instead of practising 'shuddha upavaasa' (total fasting), we can confine ourselves to consuming a simple meal. Even if this is difficult, we can fast once a year, on 'Vaikunta Ekadasi' or 'Sivarathri'.
Listening to the scriptures will remind us of the spiritual goal. Sankara says ‘You may have a lot of wealth, a kingdom, wife and children, a palatial house, many vehicles, friends. What is the use of all these? They are all perishable. Even if they are not, you are. Why are you spending your time on
something that is ephemeral? Take only the minimum (material possessions) and focus on the higher. Worship Lord Siva for the sake of moksha and take the help of a sathguru. Then real happiness is possible without relying on material comforts'. Sankara emphasizes 'Don't postpone. Everyday you
are growing older and older and you are assuming you are going to live a hundred years. Start today'.
Sivarathri is a very important function that reminds us of the spiritual goal. On this occasion we think of Siva and chant 'Rudram' 11 or 121 times. Chanting Rudram is very auspicious. It will remove all our 'papam'. Having removed all papam, we start the study of the scriptures, a very important part of 'sadhana'. And for this we must allot some time regularly, about half an hour or an hour every day. Today the study of scriptures is made easy by the availability of a wide range of books and cassettes. Also, many TV channels telecast 'upanyasams'. If we find scriptures like the 'Upanishads' a
little intimidating, we can take up a simpler text such as 'Bhagavatam', 'Ramayanam' or 'Mahabharatam'. The study of scriptures will give us knowledge.
On this auspicious occasion of Sivarathri, let us examine the meaning of the 'dhyana slokas' for 'Rudram' that are expressed in a few verses. All dhyana slokas contain certain peculiarities. The Lord is described in three different forms and this indirectly reveals Vedic teaching. First, God is described as a person. In the initial stages of the spiritual pursuit, a person can appreciate God only as a person because an abstract God is difficult to comprehend. Siva, Parvathi, Ganesha, Vishnu, Lakshmi,
Saraswathi are examples of God with a particular form. This is called 'ekaroopa Iswara'.
Secondly, the Lord is not with one form but is all forms. This includes not only God-forms (Siva, Vishnu, etc.) but all other forms including humans, animals, plants and even inert objects. This is called 'vishwaroopa Iswara' or 'anekaroopa Iswara' and indirectly suggests that we should expand our
mind to see the Lord in all forms. It is not uncommon to come across a staunch Saivite who will not go to Vishnu temples or a staunch Vaisnavite who will refuse to accept 'vibhudi'. Not only must we strive to see the Lord in all Hindu God-forms but also in Islam God-form, Christian God-form, etc.
Thirdly God is formless. God is the absolute, infinite reality and is called 'aroopa Iswara'. The Lord is like pure crystal known for clarity and purity.
The dhyana slokas describe Lord Siva as having three eyes. Two are regular eyes and the third is the 'gnana chakshu'. Siva has five heads that represent shristi, sthiti, laya, nigraha and anugraha, the
five-fold functions of the Lord. 'Gangadevi' flows out of His head that is adorned with a variety of ornaments. The digit of the moon and a snake also grace His head. Siva is the blue-necked one because He has taken poison. His dress is a tiger skin. He gives shelter to one and all. He holds a
'kamandalam' and a 'mala' in His hand for doing 'japa' and 'shoolam' (spear). He has 'jata' (matted locks) and water within.
Siva is described both as a 'bhogaswami' meaning the Lord of enjoyment (when He puts on all ornaments) and 'yogaswami' meaning the Lord of renunciation (when He renounces everything and is committed only to meditation). Siva plays both roles - 'grihasta' (when He is with Uma) and 'sanyasi'. We can worship Siva in either form. These two represent 'pravrithi marga' and 'nivrithi marga' respectively. Siva is soaked in 'amritam'. This represents immortality. He sits on a throne and is surrounded by 'digdevathas'. Siva is worshipped by both 'devas' and 'asuras' because He gives all boons. This is a description of Siva in the 'ekaroopa' form. In the 'vishwaroopa' form, Lord Siva is not a person sitting in 'Kailasa'. He is in Kailasa also, He is in 'bhoolaka' also.
The dhyana slokas describe formless Siva as 'aksharam' (imperishable), 'nityam' (eternal), 'suddham' (absolute), 'avyayam' (changeless). All these words indicate Siva is 'nirguna Brahma swaroopa'. Siva is free from all kinds of 'gunas' or properties (From the standpoint of Vedanta, guna is a dosha).
So on Sivarathri, according to our temperament, we can worship Siva as a person, as 'vishwaroopa' or as 'nirguna' and we must continue this practice regularly.