Learning from the Great Bhaktas: Shiva

Bhagavan Shiva and Sriman Narayana have a great relationship together. In the Bhagavatam, there is a verse which says, 'vaiṣṇavānāṁ yathā śambhuḥ' meaning 'Lord Shiva is the greatest Vaishnava.'

EXCERPT FROM PARAMAHAMSA VISHWANANDA'S COMMENTARY

Srimad Bhagavatam

We talk about the mindless state and Shiva represents that mindless state. When we look at him, he is always in deep meditation, no? Someone who is mindless, who doesn't have a mind, on whom shall he meditate? He is meditating upon Sriman Narayana. That's why Lord Shiva here is called Hari Purna Bhakta Shiva, which means the ultimate devotee of the Lord. Bhagavan Shiva and Sriman Narayana have a great relationship together. There is this verse which says 'vaiṣṇavānāṁ yathā śambhuḥ' which means Lord Shiva is the greatest Vaishnava. Very often people may think we are Vaishnavas and ask why we have this big deity of Lord Shankara here. Why do we celebrate Shivaratri? 

Krishna Himself said, 'Those who are dedicated to My devotees are dearest to Me.' Bhagavan Shiva symbolises that completely surrendered mind, that mind which is always focused upon the supreme reality. That's what he calls people to focus upon. He is not focusing upon an emptiness, he is not focusing upon the void which many people think about. He is focusing upon the Supreme Lord. This is the ultimate reality for the mind to focus upon. It's a reminder that, even if we transcend it, there is always a little bit of our mind that stays. The mind that is surrendered is the crescent on his head, and that mind is focused only on the Feet of the Lord Himself. 

Sriman Narayana and Bhagavan Shiva have a great intimate relationship. Every time the Lord descends upon the Earth, Lord Shiva is always eager to come also, either to have His blessing or to manifest to serve Him. Like when He came in the form of Rama, Lord Shiva came in the form of Hanuman.

There is this beautiful story when Lord Krishna incarnated. There were many demons that Kamsa sent to kill Lord Krishna, but he was very unsuccessful. After 12 days, Lord Shiva decided, 'I should go down. It's not often that the Supreme Ultimate Lord Himself incarnates on Earth, so I must have His darshan. I must go to see Him.' 

He decided, 'Okay, if I go like I am, everybody will recognise me.' It would have been obvious that Lord Shiva had left Kailash to have darshan of Lord Krishna. He took the form of a brahmana but he was not feeling too happy about it. Even if He disguised Himself as a brahmana, he said, 'He is the Supreme Lord and He knows who I am. Let me go and worship Him as I am, as how I look.'

He appeared in front of Nanda and Yashoda’s house and asked for alms. He was asking for alms, and of course, Mother Yashoda came, 'I will give you rice, I will give you whatever you need.' Lord Shiva said, 'I don't want anything. My wife is Annapurna, I have enough of it. She feeds me enough. I just want one thing. I want to see your son.'

Hearing that, Mother Yashoda said, 'Not possible. He is small and I don't want to bring Him out.' In her mind, she was thinking that many demons have come and tried to kill her baby. By divine providence, she didn't know that He is the Supreme Lord Himself, so she was being safe. 

Again Lord Shiva said, 'I don't want anything. I only want your child. I want only to have a glimpse of your baby.'

Imagine somebody insisting so much, you say no to that person and then that person who has a snake around his neck and matted hair like that, and all white, covered with ash on his body, and coming in front of you—I'm sure you would not show your baby happily to that person. In spite of Him asking several times, she refused.

When a devotee has that eagerness inside, that strong desire, not for the world, not for maya, but the strong desire to see the Lord, how can He refuse him? Of course, the Lord also is very tricky sometimes. He likes to test His devotees because He likes to make them His object of everything? He wanted to test Lord Shiva, 'How long do you want Me? Will you just get upset and leave? Or no matter what, will you only want Me?'

Lord Shiva said to Yashoda, 'Mother, you are refusing me darshan. I am leaving right now, but you will call me afterwards.'

The moment Lord Shiva left, baby Krishna started crying nonstop. You see, even He fails. When someone has such devotion towards Him, even the Supreme Lord, as supreme as He can be, fails in front of that bhakti of Lord Shiva. After she tried everything, baby Krishna would not stop crying. 

Just as a devotee has this deep longing for the Lord, the Lord also has a deep longing for His devotee. First, the Lord said, 'Okay, I will test you,' and then the devotee said, 'I also will test you,' But not in the same manner. When the Lord tests, He stands always by you. But when the devotee has this longing and says, 'Okay, You are mine. I will play the game You are playing with me. You desire me. I desire You also. You want to keep me away? Okay, fine, I will go away.'

There was one sakhi - Parvati herself in the disguise of an old lady named Lalita - came to Mother Yashoda. She said, 'Remember when I went to Kailash for pilgrimage? I told you about this great yogi I met.' 

Funny enough, even Yashoda could not recognise Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva came with all his attributes: trishula in the hand, matted hair, crescent on the head, just as how you see him, but Yashoda could not see him; she could not recognise him as Lord Shiva. Why? Because she was so absorbed into the vatsalya-bhava, that sweetness of the parent's love for her child, that it was very difficult for her to perceive even Lord Shiva in front of her. When Parvati came in the form of Lalita and said, 'For sure you have let somebody go away from the house empty-handed.' 

In the Hindu tradition you should never let somebody who has come to ask for alms go away empty-handed. 'By doing this offence, I think that's what the baby is reminding you of.'

Yashoda said, 'Yes, there was this baba.' She described how he looked and then, of course, Mother Parvati went to look for Shiva. He was sitting on the bank of the Yamuna waiting for the Lord to call Him.

Finally, when he came, Yashoda gave baby Krishna to Lord Shiva. The moment he held baby Krishna, Krishna stopped crying. He started playing, laughing, smiling with Lord Shiva. It was strange for Yashoda to see that and then she was relieved. She felt that it was a blessing that this sadhu was giving to Lord Krishna. Of course, in the mother's eyes, He is still the baby. She said to the sadhu, Lord Shiva, 'You can't go home empty-handed. I will give you some butter.' Something clicked in the mind of Shiva, 'Oh, yes, Parvati wanted to come, but because of the journey she said that I should bring some butter from Vraj for her.' 

He said, 'Okay, I will bring it,' but Shiva was in so much ecstasy after meeting Lord Krishna, that only Krishna was in His mind. Krishna loves butter so much that, on the way to Kailash, without realising it, Lord Shiva ate all the butter.

Upon coming home, Parvati asked, 'Where is my butter?' He gave the pot to Parvati then he realised, 'Oops, there is no butter in it. 'I ate it.' Parvati became very upset but as he was in deep ecstasy and not realising what he was doing, the merciful Lord refilled the pot itself so that Mother Parvati could also enjoy that bliss.

This is only one instance. Of course, you know the story when the Maha-rasa happened how Lord Shiva disguised Himself and took the form of a gopi, but He was so huge and with lots of muscles; how would you hide that? Even wearing the sari, it would show!

He came and Lord Krishna accepted Him. Even Balarama, His own brother, was not accepted. But Shiva was accepted. This is how the relationship is between them. This is what single-pointed devotion is. 

People say, 'Yes, I love You, God. You are my everything.' But it's not true. Your 'everything', you are always focused only on things which you hold dear to you. That's what you love. Of course, you say you love God because that's what people have to say, but that intense longing for Him the way the saints, the way the true devotees of the Lord long for Him, that's what makes the Lord visible for His devotees.

One of the verses you will learn is from the Srimad Bhagavatam, teaching us of the beauty of Shiva's devotion. Listen to it here:

Srimad Bhagavatam, 12.13.16

nimna-gānāṁ yathā gaṅgā
devānām acyuto yathā |
vaiṣṇavānāṁ yathā śambhuḥ
purāṇānām idam tathā ||

Just as the Ganga is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Acyuta the supreme among deities and Lord Shambhu [Shiva] the greatest of Vaishnavas, so Srimad Bhagavatam is the greatest of all Puranas.

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