Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sage Shvetashvatara

We know Him who is the Supreme Lord of Lords,
The Supreme Deity of Deities, the Ruler of rulers;
Who is higher than the imperishable Prakriti
And is the self-luminous, adorable Lord of the world.
He is without a body or organs;
None like unto Him is seen, or better than He.
The Vedas speak of His exalted power,
Which is innate and capable of producing diverse effects
And also of His omniscience and might.
He has no master in the world, no ruler,
Nor is there even a sign of Him by which He can be inferred.
He is the Cause, the Lord of the Lord of the organs;
And He is without progenitor or controller.

May the non-dual Lord,
Who, by the power of His Maya, covered Himself,
Like a spider, with threads drawn from primal matter,
Merge us in Brahman!
The non-dual and resplendent Lord is hidden in all beings.
All-pervading, the inmost Self of all creatures,
The Impeller to actions, abiding in all things,
He is the Witness, the Animator and the Absolute, free from gunas.

There is a non-dual Ruler of the actionless many;
He makes the one seed manifold.
Eternal happiness belongs to the wise,

Who perceive Him within themselves and not to others.

He is the Eternal among the eternal,

The Conscious among the conscious

And though non-dual, fulfills the desires of many.

He who has known Him, the luminous Lord, the Great Cause,

To be realised by Knowledge and Yoga, is freed from all fetters.

~Shvetashvatara Upanishad (VI.8-13) of the Krsna Yajurveda.

Shvetashvatara (Śvetāśvatara) is an ancient sage connected with the Tradition of Shiva. The illustrious sage belonged to a school of the Krsna Yajurveda, and there is a celebrated and important upanishad known as the Shvetashvatara Upanishad that bears his name. This particular upanishad, thought to be compiled circa 5th century BCE, contains the teachings of Sage Shvetashvatara unto his disciples. For Shaivites, this upanishad is of particular importance because it contains overt Vedic Shaivite themes. The Upanishad identifies the Supreme Brahman with Rudra-Shiva in multiple occasions, it mentions the terms Pati-Pashu-Pasha (the Essential Triad), it speaks of Shakti as the Power of the Lord, and it borrows heavily from mantras of the Sri Rudram (Rudra-Adhyaya) of the Yajurveda as well as the Rudra hymns of the Rigveda. Some scholars have gone to the extent of suggesting that the Shvetashvatara Upanishad is the first written evidence of systematic Shaivite thought.

As is true with modern Shaivism guided by the Agamas, the aforementioned upanishad blends beautifully the theistic Sankhya and Yoga schools of thought. The Lord (Rudra-Shiva) is beyond Prakriti and Purusha and rules over them. All has originated through His creative Power (Shakti), through which He, the One, has become manifold. He is the Origin and Overseer of Brahmā, the personified Creator of all things. Yet the Lord indwells all of creation concealed within all beings. He is All. He is the fire, sun, wind, moon, stars, water, man, woman, boy, girl, etc. Only upon descent of His grace does He become revealed through divine knowledge as immanent and transcendent. And, those who gain this knowledge become immortal, i.e. are liberated. To that end, devotion (bhakti) toward God and one's Guru are of utmost importance. All these teachings of Shvetashvatara we find in modern Agamic Shaivism.

With regards to the composition of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and the sage bearing the same name, we know very little. Many have conjectured that the sage belonged to the Pashupata sect, an early form of Vedic Shaivism, which is also the precursor to all branches of Shaivism we know of today. If it is true that Sage Shvetashvatara belonged to a lineage of Pashupata ascetics, then he must have lived long before the time of Satguru Lakulisha (ca. 100 CE), the famous reformer and codifier of Pashupatism. While, it is tempting for Shaivites to conclude that the Shvetashvatara Upanishad was influenced by Agamic thought, we are as of yet not certain that the Agamas in written form existed at the time of this compilation (5th century BCE). It is not however out of the realm of possibility that an oral tradition of the Agama already existed. For now, we can be happy just reading what the upanishad itself says about the illustrious sage:
Through the power of austerity and through the grace of the Lord, the Sage Śvetāśvatara realised Brahman and proclaimed the highly sacred Knowledge, supremely cherished by the company of seers, to sannyasins of the most advanced stage. (VI.22)

Aum Namah Shivaya.
Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.
Read the Shvetashvatara Upanishad from this site or from an external site.

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