The Union of Shiva and Shakti (from Amritanubhav)

by Jnanadev

English version by S. Abhyayananda
Original Language Marathi

I offer obeisance to the God and Goddess,
The limitless primal parents of the universe.

They are not entirely the same,
Nor are they not the same.
We cannot say exactly what they are.

How sweet is their union!
The whole world is too small to contain them,
Yet they live happily in the smallest particle.

These two are the only ones
Who dwell in this home called the universe.
When the Master of the house sleeps,
The Mistress stays awake,
And performs the functions of both.

When He awakes, the whole house disappears,
And nothing at all is left.

Two lutes: one note.
Two flowers: one fragrance.
Two lamps: one light.

Two lips: one word.
Two eyes: one sight.
These two: one universe.

In unity there is little to behold;
So She, the mother of abundance,
Brought forth the world as play.

He takes the role of Witness
Out of love of watching Her.
But when Her appearance is withdrawn,
The role of Witness is abandoned as well.

Through Her,
He assumes the form of the universe;
Without Her,
He is left naked.

If night and day were to approach the Sun,
Both would disappear.
In the same way, their duality would vanish
If their essential Unity were seen.

In fact, the duality of Shiva and Shakti
Cannot exist in that primal unitive state
From which AUM emanates.

They are like a stream of knowledge
From which a knower cannot drink
Unless he gives up himself.

Is the sound of AUM divided into three
Simply because it contains three letters?
Or is the letter 'N' divided into three
because of the three lines by which it is formed?

So long as Unity is undisturbed,
And a graceful pleasure is thereby derived,
Why should not the water find delight
In the floral fragrance of its own rippled surface?

It is in this manner I bow
To the inseparable Shiva and Shakti.

A man returns to himself
When he awakens from sleep;
Likewise, I have perceived the God and Goddess
By waking from my ego.

When salt dissolves,
It becomes one with the ocean;
When my ego dissolved,
I became one with Shiva and Shakti.

-- from Jnaneshvar: The Life and Works of the Celebrated Thirteenth Century Indian Mystic-Poet, Translated by Swami Abhyayananda

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

A beautiful meditation on the dynamic play between duality and nonduality.

I offer obeisance to the God and Goddess,
The limitless primal parents of the universe.


In Hindu metaphysics, the primal duality is between the God and the Goddess, in this case Shiva and Shakti. The God, Shiva, represents the eternal, transcendent aspect of the Divine Reality. The Goddess is Shakti, that is, power or manifestation. Shakti is the Divine Reality in movement, expressing Itself as all of Creation.

On an individual level, Shiva is experienced as resting in the energy center of the crown, and Shakti is the Kundalini force that typically lies dormant at the base of the spine. When the latent Kundalini Shakti is awakened, She rises to the crown and joins in union with Shiva. This is the 'spiritual marriage' that initiates enlightenment and bliss--

How sweet is their union!

This is the dance of duality and nonduality that occurs throughout the universe, among galaxies, within individuals, even within the particles of the atom. Everything has its essence and its expression, and its expression is always seeking to reunite with its essence. Matter, manifestation is always seeking union with Spirit. But... on careful examination, one recognizes that the two, in fact, have never been separate. There is no dividing line; the one emanates from the other, like a fire and the heat it radiates.

Understanding this, the poem opens up into a precise description of the subtle nature of reality. "They are not entirely the same," because distinctions can be made between these two aspects of the Divine, "Nor are they not the same," because these distinctions are somewhat artificial, mental constructions. (Does fire exist without heat? Does heat exist without its source? Can we truly speak of fire apart from heat? We should more accurately speak of fire-heat as a single thing. The distinction is an artificial separation.) "We cannot say exactly what they are," because the truth is beyond the ability of the intellect to formulate into words; it can only be perceived directly.

When He awakes, the whole house disappears,
And nothing at all is left.


That is, when we completely reside in our true essence, everything we see and touch and taste and hear and smell is recognized as being part of that same essence. The distinction between things is lost. Form and space may still be perceived, but they are seen as empty, illusory. The 'thingness' of things is lost... "nothing at all is left." You lose even yourself, your identity as a being who is separate from that all-pervading living essence:

They are like a stream of knowledge
From which the knower cannot drink
Unless he gives up himself.


This perception of the 'thingless' nature of reality leads some masters speak of being blind or of not seeing the world. "In unity there is little to behold..." Which leads to the reason for the existence of duality in the first place, so the Eternal can come to know itself better: "He takes the role of Witness / Out of love of watching Her." It is a game, a form of love play, a sort of hide-and-seek the Divine plays with itself. Instead of pure Being, the Divine One pretends to be two, perceiver and perceived, in order to observe Its own nature. And we are a living part of that play of self-consciousness.

But, ultimately, the game of duality, of actor and witness, collapses in on itself, and the truth of unity can be denied no longer. Shiva and Shakti are "inseparable;" they are not two, but one. The crown and the Kundalini are not separated by some distance of space along the spine; they are two poles of the same being (you!). How can the Self be separate from its own self-expression? How can the fire be separate from its heat?

When we stop fighting so hard to perpetuate the game of duality, through the constant assertion of the ego and the endless chatter of the mind, then we are finally able to settle into the awareness that there is only unity and nothing else.

So, along with Jnanadev, to the divine game of duality, I bow. And to the fundamental unity that underlies it, I bow.

It is in this manner I bow
To the inseparable Shiva and Shakti.



Recommended Books: Jnanadev

Jnaneshvar: The Life and Works of the Celebrated Thirteenth Century Indian Mystic-Poet Jnaneshwar: The Guru's Guru Jnaneshwar's Gita: A Rendering of the Jnaneshwari The Nectar of Self-Awareness Jnaneshwari
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The Union of Shiva