May 08 2013

Jnanadev – The Union of Shiva and Shakti

Published by at 8:24 am under Poetry

The Union of Shiva and Shakti (from Amritanubhav)
by Jnanadev

English version by S. Abhyayananda

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But when Her appearance is withdrawn,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

/ Photo by isvaracandra /

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.

Jnanadev, Jnanadev poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Jnanadev

India (1275 – 1296) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

Also known as Jnaneshwar or Jnandev or Jnanadeva.

Jnanadev lived in the Maharashtra region of India.

Jnanadev’s father initially left his wife to become a sadhu ascetic, but when his guru discovered that he had a wife, the guru insisted he abandon the renunciate life and return to his marriage. This entire drama was shocking to orthodox authorities and the family was generally shunned.

The couple had four children together, named Nivrutti (renunciation), Jnana (knowledge), Sopan (stairway), and Mukta (liberation). Jnanadev’s sister, Muktabai, was a great poet and saint in her own right.

When the children were all very young, their parents died and the children had to survive by begging. Yet from this family a spiritual vision of the greatest depth emerged.

Though his life was extremely short, he composed four great works: the Jnanesvari, (a translation of the Bhagavad Gita into Marathi, along with a commentary that is still devoutly studied today for its wisdom and insight), the Amritanubhava, the Abhangs, (spiritual songs and poetry), and the Changadeva Pasashti (a story of conversion from hatha yoga to a more deeply philosophical approach to God).

He was a strong influence and inspiration for other poet-saints in the region who followed, such as Namdev and Janabai.

Traditionally Jnanadev is said to have felt he had completed his purpose in life and left the body in conscious mahasamadhi (the final spiritual union of a saint at death), exiting life at the young age of 22, having already been acknowledged as a great saint and poet.

More poetry by Jnanadev

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Jnanadev – The Union of Shiva and Shakti”

  1. maryann moonon 08 May 2013 at 11:07 am

    Dear lover of poetry, Ivan

    Thank you for this poem that reminds us of the Unity that lives in the duality we see everywhere.
    For the poet, Jnanadev, who wrote this, somehow DOES remember that Unity
    is the ONLY TRUTH of all that is, and he does a great job in his effort to describe how
    Unity Is beyond what the ego or human body-mind can know at all. He tells us
    that the Goddess Shakti and the God Shiva can’t be separated into two, because they are
    “like a flowing stream of knowledge from which the human knower cannot drink unless he
    gives up himself.”

    Sometimes when I’m driving in my car, I think of God and His words which say the
    separated ego-human does not stop talking on the periphery of things, which is really constant and unnecessary chatter, and then somehow this thought of God’s really makes me laugh because, at some level, I understand it’s so true.

  2. Shaila Muljion 08 May 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Namaste Ivan,

    Your analysis of the poem on Shiva & Shakti is beautiful! Shakti had to
    re-awaken Shiva from his deep meditative state he put himself into.
    She re-incarnated after committing ‘sati’ as Parvati, daughter of Parvat,
    in order to get him out of his intensive meditative state as the world
    needed him to play his role! Parvati went to great lengths to get his
    hand in marriage once again (round two)!

    In the process, Parvati had to reach the great spiritual heights Shiva
    had made in order to get him out of the deep meditative state he
    had put himself into. Hence, they were bonded by an extremely deep
    spiritual bond that is never broken and never will be.

    From this we can understand the Shiva-Shakti that reside within each
    and every one of us. There is the “play” of the elemental energy of
    Shakti that is continually “witnessed” by the eternal presence of Shiva.

    In gratitude for all your thoughtful introspection that touches the lives
    of so many people to help define the myriad spiritual experiences
    we all have on a daily basis.

    Jai Shiva Shankar Hari Om Namah Shivaya! Jai Shiva-Shakti!

    In peace & gratitude,


  3. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 08 May 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Congratulations on your book signing, Ivan. May the next one be in New York City.

    And thank you for your meditation today–Again, it came at the right moment. This awareness of my ego
    needs obscuring the light of Divine Oneness is continually operating in me!!! I’m grateful for moment by moment revelations.

  4. Sobhanaon 08 May 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Shiva is Giridhaari & vice versa the meditating mountain, Mt Kailash In Hinduism he has 108 names
    Lila (Sanskrit) is the name of divine/godly game

    As usual another piece of superb commentary Thank you/dhanyabaad, Ivan

  5. Rajiv Desaion 31 May 2013 at 6:09 am

    This is GREAT!
    How else can one express THIS oneness- this Non duality.
    Great work of getting this superb though to us.
    Really Enlightening Poetry!

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