The Meaning of Sivaratri and Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Mahasivaratri: A time of striving to realize Parasiva. In our teachings yoga is the restraint of mental activity (chitta vritti). Nivritti marga-the path of renunciation. Pravritti marga-the path of action or life in worldly society. Ashrama dharma, a mental resting place within the 4 ashramas in life. The day before the new moon, as in monthly Sivaratri, nivritti energy is strong, an excellent time for austerity and meditation. Six Shum words defined related to meditation-withdrawal: kashum, nikashum, shumnikashum, bishumnikashum, abibishumnikashum, haiiaiibishumnikashum. Drawing energy up in to the transcendental Source of energy. Imkaif: Absence of awareness aware of itself. Nonexperience.

Master Course Trilogy, Dancing with Siva, Sloka 97.

Twelve Shum Meditations-Gurudeva's Introduction to the Advaitin.

Master Course Trilogy, Merging with Siva. Lesson 1.

Unedited Transcript:

Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Mahesvara, Guru Sakshat, Parabrahma, Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha.

Good evening everyone. Mahasivaratri.

Starting the talk with the term vritti. It's easier to spell than pronounce-vritti. Sanskrit word. In English we spell it: v-r-i-t-t-i, vritti. Most common use in our teachings is in the raja yoga terminology where yoga is defined as: "The restraint of mental activity." Mental activity is a translation of chitta vritti. With citta as mind and vritti as activity. That's the normal context in which we see it and the verse reads: "Yogas chitta vritti nirodha." Yoga is the restraint of mental activity. So we're looking at it in a different context but that's just to refresh your memory of where we do encounter it.

Without the chitta, without the mental, vritti by itself generally refers to activity in the world. So vritti, activity in the world. And that usage we have pravritti for "engaging in the world," and nivritti for "withdrawing from the world." Pravritti and nivritti.

Another use of the term is in the margas. Marga means path. So we have the nivritti marga. That's defined as: The path of renunciation, the sannyasa. Pravritti marga: The path of action or life in worldly society. And we have nivritti margi, is a renounciate; pravritti margi is a householder. That all make sense? There's a test on it afterwards so pay attention here. That's the terminology. We're getting to the interesting part which is not a talk on lexicons, fortunately. But we needed that as background. Then, we get a refinement. Instead of just the idea, well, pravritti just refers to the householder and nivritti refers to the sannyasin, we're going to say they both refer to both. So that's more accurate. They both refer to both.

Well Gurudeva has a nice quote on that which involves the idea of ashrama dharma. So if anyone doesn't know what ashrama dharma, I'll explain it very briefly. Ashrama means a resting place. So normally when we hear the word ashram or ashrama we think of a building, right? Well that just one type of resting place. Ashrama dharma is a resting place; it's mental. So, it's based on age. Dividing up life into the four age groups. Bhramachariya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa, each of which is 24 years long. So the first half of the definition is brahmachariya and grihastha. The busy time of life, getting married, getting a job. Conceiving, raising young children. Then the less busy time of life, vanaprastha and sannyasa ashramas.

Gurudeva says: "The first two ashramas make up the pravritti marga, the way of turning toward the world through the force of desire and ambition. Got desire again. We had desire in Gurudeva's talk. Force of desire and ambition, which is good for the grihastha to turn toward the world with the force of desire and ambition up to age 48 is what you want; that's a good thing.

The last two are the nivritti marga: "Moving away from the world through introspection and renunciation." So somewhere around age 40, age 50, is a natural change in individuals. They naturally start to be more inwardly drawn. So the ashramas are based upon physical, emotional, mental and spiritual maturization. All four work together to create these four stages of life.

A monastic is also both. We can see that in the two goals of monastic life are: to realize God and to serve humanity. So, if you're sitting there in deep meditation you can't serve humanity, right? So, that's the pravritti part.

Mission activities of service such as the temple, publication is a type of pravritti. It's a type of engagement in the world to accomplish a religious mission. And of course, the nivritti is the striving for realization which is along the lines of Gurudeva's talk of earlier this evening. We need realization and the resolving of all karma to achieve moksha. That's what he's saying in the talk. It's not just realization. We need to not have any karma. It has to be worked out on the earth plane.

What does that have to do with Mahasivaratri? Well we're getting closer.

So we need to understand the cycles of the moon. Pravritti and nivritti also relate to the cycles of the moon. So, the moon is, for those who aren't familiar, it's in two fortnights. In English we say, 14 lunar days, and then a new moon, 14 lunar days and then the full moon. In Sanskrit they're called paksha. Shukla paksha. Krishna paksha. So, paksha means a fortnight, 14 lunar days. So lunar day is shorter than a solar day so you get more lunar days than a solar month. So we have a moon calendar. Course we follow, we follow two calendars. Our festival calendar is the Tamil calendar which is solar. Based on the position of the sun. But we also have a moon calendar which is used for the days on and days off. So our days on and day off work on the moon calendar, lunar calendar. Our festivals are calculated on the solar calendar.

So the lunar calendar you can start it in two places. More common is you start it the first day after the new moon . That's the common lunar calendar. Ours starts the first day after the full moon which is less common. So, therefore, when you go through all the days, the last day is called the 27th sun. It's the day before the full moon and the pravritti energy is very strong the day before the full moon. And it's a great day for planning activities. One of our writings says: "The 27th day of each moon was a very important day, a day of culmination of administration throughout all Saivite monasteries, a day of lecture, of speeches and classes, of reports and review, and the establishment of goals for the ensuing moon, for the ensuing moon circle and cycle." We won't get into circle and cycle; we'll let that go. That's clearly pravritti, right? We're doing major planning here. Major planning for the world. So, it's a great day for pravritti.

The day before the new moon, the nivritti energy is strong and is an excellent time for meditation and of course, that happens to be today. So those are called chaturdasi tithi. Chaturdasi it means just 14, just a number. Chaturdasi tithi, 14th lunar day. So the 14th lunar day before the new moon is great for meditation. The nivritti energy and the 14th tithi before the full moon is a pravritti energy and great for planning. Great for external activity.

Here we go. Oh, one more story; I have to tell a story first. Stories are the best part. This happened many many years ago. This is one that I was in India, I got to travel on the bus and the train. So it's very simple to travel on the bus. You just look for the script, you know. Tiruvannamalai, okay, you jump on the bus. I did that once for, which place? Haridwar. I jumped on the bus in India, it said Haridwar. So I jumped on the bus. Turned out it was a local bus, Stopped every few miles. So it has its limitation when all you know how to do read the sign on the bus.

Worked in this story, was Navaratri time. So we were starting our pilgrimage at Kailash Ashram. Kailash Ashram in Bengaluru is a Shakta Tradition so Navaratri is, I'd say their major festival. Very, very grandly celebrated. So we were there for a couple of days, and grand homas, and you know they're putting golden saris into the homa pit which is just this huge pit. Kinds of offerings. You've got Chaturveda Parayana, you've got the four Vedas being chanted in, all day long and so forth. So it was very nice way to get started.

And then we took a train to Palani Hills to worship Murugan. Got there on the sixth and the temple was almost empty because it was Navaratri. And so everybody was worshiping Shakti and no one was worshiping Muruga except a few staunch people. So we had a very nice private experience of the Palani Hills Temple.

Then we jumped on a bus and got over to Chidambaram. And it has six festivals a year for Nataraja which are on different timings. This one fell on Chaturdasi right before the full moon. So it was very energetic.

And then we went to Tiruvannamalai for Girivalam on the bus and walked around on full moon day. A very nice time, nice pilgrimage; we managed the best we could with train and the bus. And the interesting thing was how the energy just kept getting stronger and stronger. And that's the point, that's the point of the story. This pravritti energy just kept getting stronger and stronger and you're very aware of it because you are worshiping in all these different places for a major festival. So, could just see it's a marvelous time for doing things. When right before the full moon.

From, but this is now Sivaratri, and the day before the new moon is called Sivaratri and the one that's this month is Mahasivaratri. So there's Sivaratri every month. The day after pradosha usually. But they're lunar days so they don't align exactly 12 midnight to 12 midnight.

So, I was pondering that Mahasivaratri is the night when for a few hours everyone is a nivritti margi. So welcome to the nivritti marga tonight. You are all nivritti margis for one night. And it's interesting because most Hindu festivals that we celebrate are on or near the full moon. So this is very unusual in being on the new moon. And there is a, Deepavali is on the new moon but it's not a festival of fasting so it's there for another reason. Could be a calendar reason. Starts the calendar, in some parts of India start the day after the new moon, which is Diwali, starts the whole year. So it's a number of the Hindu calendars, one starts the day after, which is the first day after the new moon. It's Deepavali.

But this is unique in it's really a day of austerity, Mahasivaratri. Which is unusual for a festival, right? Ganesha Chaturthi there's no austerity, right? You just try not to eat too many ladhu. No austerity at all, just the opposite. You're fasting, you're staying up late or all night and it's obviously a very different kind of festival for Siva. And, it definitely, we're all on the nivritti marga or we're nivritti margis tonight.

So Gurudeva explains Mahasivaratri this way in our Dancing with Siva catechism:

"Mahasivaratri is the night before the new-moon day in February-March. We observe it both as a discipline and as a festivity, keeping a strict fast and all-night vigil, meditating, intoning Siva's 1,008 names, singing His praise, chanting Sri Rudram, bathing the Sivalinga and being near the vairagis as they strive to realize Parasiva."

So, that's what relates to Gurudeva's talk. He's talking about realizing Parasiva is the goal on Mahasivaratri. And in fact, in one of my dictionaries it defines nivritti marga is the path of return to Parabrahman. So that's the same as Parasiva. That's the Vedanta term so... The goal of the nivritti marga, withdrawing from the world is to return to Parasiva or Parabrahman.

So we do the best we can tonight. That's the philosophy of nivritti and pravritti. In terms of meditation or a specific practice, the practice that relates to nivritti or withdrawing from the world in Sanskrit it's called pratyahara, withdrawal. The image is the tortoise withdrawing all the limbs into the shell. So pratyahara, withdrawal. Withdrawal is practice in meditation is very similar to falling asleep. When we fall asleep we're withdrawing all the senses. We can't hear, we can't see, but in meditation we're withdrawing the senses and we're staying awake. It's very parallel to just falling asleep; there's a withdrawal of senses. Gurudeva made reference to this when he talked about taking the energy from the legs, taking the energy from the arms and putting it up in the head. That's a type of withdrawal.

In the Shum language, Gurudeva's language of meditation it's called "nikashum". And in the language Gurudeva has what are called extensions. So you have up to six words that relate to one another and each word is more subtle than the previous one. Those are called extensions. So, this one starts with a "kashum". Kashum is a guha; it's the monks meditation structure. "The cave-like chamber where swamis, yogis and sadhakas meditate, study and sleep." A guha.

And you have "nikashum" which is "...withdrawing energy into the spine through the use of pranayama."

And we have "shumnikashum": "Feeling the psychic heat while withdrawing prana into the ajna chakra." So we're withdrawing energy up as Gurudeva did in the talk.

"Bishumnikashum" "Withdrawing prana into the refined realms of the sahasrara chakra through the use of pranayama." So that's what Gurudeva said is you want to draw the energy up into the head. He, I'm sure he touched his head when he said that, said this chakra. So he didn't say it, you know, it's one of the troubles when you have gestures in a talk. But he meant up here.

Then: "abibishumnikashum": "Withdrawing all odic prana into the actinic energy."

And the last one is: "haiiaiibishumnikashum" "Withdrawing the actinic prana into the self; the ultimate pratyahara."

So that's what Gurudeva was talking about, just drawing energy up: Gross into subtle, subtle into more subtle and finally into the source. He was talking about: It's the Source. Transcendental Source of energy.

There's a helpful description but it only is useful if you're close to that experience. Otherwise it doesn't make any sense. But, I'll read it anyway. Intellectually it's fascinating. This is from Gurudeva's writing called the Advaitin which he wrote in Ascona, 1968. So that's almost 50 years ago June. Fifty years in June, he did dividing of the Advaitin and brought through the Shum language.

" The inmost center of consciousness--located only after the actinic forces dissolve concepts of form and even consciousness being conscious of itself--is found to be within the center of an energy-spinning force field. This center--intense in its existence, consciousness only on the perimeter of the inside hub of this energy field--vitalizes all external form.

"Losing consciousness into the center of this energy field catalyzes one beyond form, time and space. The spinning hub of actinic energy recreating, preserving and dissipating form quickly establishes consciousness again. However, this is then a new consciousness, the continuity of consciousness having been broken in the nirvikalpa samadhi experience. Essentially, the first total conscious break in the evolution of man is the first nirvikalpa samadhi experience. Hence, a new evolution begins anew after each such experience. The evolutional patterns overlap and settle down like rings of light, one layer upon another, causing intrinsic changes in the entire nature and experiential pattern of the experiencer."

Gurudeva comments on this in Merging with Siva.

"This intimate experienced must be experienced while in the physical body. One comes back and back again into flesh simply to realize Parasiva. Nothing more. Yet, the Self, or Parasiva is an experience only after it has been experienced. Yet, it is not an experience at all, but the only possible nonexperience, which registers in its aftermath upon the mind of man. Prior to that, it is a goal. After realization, one thing is lost, the desire for the Self."

What does it mean to call it a nonexperience, right? Interesting question. Well, what, 'what experiences'? In English we call 'what experiences' awareness. Awareness is that which experiences. So how can there be a nonexperience? Awareness is experiencing. Experiences this, experiences that. So there can only be a nonexperience if awareness doesn't exist for a split second. So that's the idea of "imkaif". Gurudeva's Shum term for realizing Parasiva. It's the absence of awareness, imkaif. Or: absence of awareness aware of itself, to be precise. The absence of awareness aware of itself; it's not there temporarily. So you only know it wasn't there afterwards. So, it's only realized in the aftermath. That's what Gurudeva's saying. Very interesting idea.

So, to try and summarize that, what we're saying is that Mahasivaratri is a very special night designed for deeply within, as deeply as we can go and that's the idea behind it. It's perfect time for pursuing the nivritti marga and we're all temporarily nivritti margis. So, Gurudeva's idea is to go within as much as we can and then the monks are trying to go in as far as each of them can and take advantage of this special internalized push that the moon cycle gives to us this one time a year.

Photo of  Gurudeva
It is an error to say that the universe is mere illusion, for it is entirely real when experienced in ordinary consciousness, and its existence is required to lead us to God.