Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: aldous huxley, contemplation, ego, Hinduism, psychology, symbols, The Dancing Shiva
Here is a wonderful description of the Hindu god Shiva – the great, dark, yogi, dancer, destroyer. In the clip, Aldous Huxley sees Shiva – within a ring of fire, hair flowing across the universe, in his dancing pose – as a comprehensive symbol of life that explains the cosmos / material world, gets human psychology right and recommends an essential spiritual existence.
Huxley’s underlying critique is that our own symbols – he invokes the Christian cross – are scientific and utilitarian, and fall short of sufficient for sustaining life. For H. symbols are embued with so much meaning that they structure how we think about and act in our world – to a degree to which they are ‘sustaining.’ ‘Can we get on,’ without them – ? he wonders in the final moments of his reflection.
The author’s cynicism is countered with his enthusiasm for Shiva, a comprehensive symbol which tells us that we must kill the ego to find our way, and learn to contemplate which will us free us.
I have transcribed much of Huxley’s six minutes below:
[0:30] The figure stands within a great circle, a sort of halo, which has flames going out. This is the circle of mass, energy, space, time: the material world. Within this Shiva dances; he is called Nataraja, the lord of the dance. He is everywhere in the universe; this is his dance.
[1:00] The manifestation of the world is called his leela, his play. He sends his reign upon the just and the unjust. He’s beyond good and evil; it’s all an immense manifestation of play.
[1:15] He has this long hair which is the hair of the yogi, contemplative, and it streams out to the limits of the universe, and so this yogic knowledge includes everything.
[1:30] He has four arms. In the upper right arm he holds a little drum which summons things into creation. In his left arm he holds a fire which is what destroys everything, he both creates and destroys.
His lower right hand is held up in this attitude which means be not afraid inspite of everything it is alright.
The other hand points down at his feet, and one foot is planted squarely on the back of a repulsive dwarf – an infinitely powerful dwarf – who is the ego and he has to break the back of the ego. What he is really pointing at is the other foot which is raised against gravitation and it is the symbol of spiritual contemplation.
[2:30] The whole thing is there: the world of space, time, matter and energy, the world of creation and destruction, the world of psychology.
[2:50] How do you get out of this? If you don’t break the back of the ego you’re lost. And if you don’t practice contemplation, there will be no liberation for you. We don’t have anything remotely approaching such a comprehensive symbol which is both cosmic and psychological and spiritual.
[4:15] As Buddha says I show you sorrow and the ending of sorrow. The ending of sorrow is putting your foot on the back of the dwarf, and raising the other foot against gravity and into the state of contemplation.
[6:35] The question is can we get on with the scientific symbols, with the realistic symbols and then concentrate on the immediate experience. I don’t know if this is possible as a general attitude toward the world.
From Reason & Existenz
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