We never call God by Its name, but rather, by adjectives and epithets. Ishvara, Bhagavan, etc. are all descriptors-as-titles. One such name associated with Shiva is Pashupati, Lord of the Animals. This is also one of his earliest names, dating to prehistoric times.
No human is without animality, no animal without divinity. We are bound in responsibility to animals, nature, humanity. In this work, we become more of ourselves.
Recognizing one’s own animal includes recognizing our innate drives for eating/sleeping/sex. In becoming aware, we can start to reflect and decide how much we use these activities to weigh us down versus to increase our intellect, love, sense of purpose, etc.
“Shiva looked at the suras [deities] and said, ‘It is not a disgrace to recognize your own animal. Only those who practice the rites of the brothers of the animals, the Pashupatas, will be able to overcome their animal nature.’ It was thus that all the suras recognized that they were the Lord’s cattle, and that he is known by the name of Pashupati, the Lord of Animals. Through the animals, forest spirits, satyrs, nymphs, faeries*, and protective spirits of creation, Pashupati is revealed in all aspects of the natural world.
“All those who consider the Lord of Animals as their God become brothers of the beasts. The most sacred Pashupata Yoga, the Yoga of the brothers of the animals, [through which the unity of living beings is realized], explains the structure of the universe and its ephemerality.”
(1st quote – Shiva Purana. 2nd quote – Linga Purana. Both trans. Alain Daniélou in ‘Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus’)
*I don’t have the original sanskrit for names of these different creatures, but I love the mix of European and Indian fantastical imagery, so I’ll leave it like this!
When we are born, we do not yet have the ability to communicate verbally, and have very limited abilities to see and hear. Our first mode of communication is through touch. We sense changes in tension, shape and movement flow in our mother/caregiver’s body. We learn how to interpret the meanings of changes in sensation, and consequently learn how to communicate through our bodies. Babies learn very early on how to arch their back away to avoid something, how to soften and melt their body into somebody they love. They understand when the person who is holding them is anxious or scared to be with them through the tension felt between bodies, and even changes they might feel in pulse. In fact, a large component of this understanding may be instinctual, not learned.
We never really lose this ability to communicate through touch. We learn to value verbal expression as our primary mode of communication, but we never really lose the ability to learn about how others feel about us and to communicate how we feel to others through touch. For example, by placing a hand on somebody’s shoulder from behind to get their attention, we can often detect what their mood or expression might be before we even see their face. It is the most primal way we learned to build relationships, learn our own value, seek affection and care, and build social interactions.
Thus, the world’s earliest religions communed with the divine through a physical relationship with the world. Rituals, via their property of physical touch, developed as a way to communicate with and make sense of what early humans must have believed was a very chaotic world. However, this sense-making is not the same as abstract philosophization. Ritual is not an attempt to predict and deconstruct through the mind, or logical and analytic faculties, as much as it is a means to grow intimacy with that which is unpredictable, unknowable. Continue reading
Condensed version originally posted on Coming of Faith
During my last semester of college, I took a Theology class with Father Whalen. One day, he asked us, “If I told you that God would be here tomorrow, ready to meet with anyone who would come, right in Marillac Hall, first floor, would you go?” The question spurred students to think about their faith or doubt, their relationship with God, their guilt or their love.
But I was struck by the image of God that came to my mind when he asked that question: an old White man in a suit, sitting awkwardly in one of our typical classroom desks. As a Hindu, who grew up with hundreds and hundreds of images from which I might visualize what God looks like, why did I end up thinking of an old White man? Perhaps because that is generally what American culture tells us God looks like (aside from the occasional Morgan Freeman). I thought again, conjuring up another image, and Krishna, the beloved raincloud-dark god, came to mind. Though the image was more familiar, felt closer to what moved my heart when I thought of “God,” why again did I think of a male form? After Krishna, I thought of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Surya, Ganesha, before any female forms like Durga or Kali came to mind. It seemed less because the image of keeping Kali pent up in a stuffy classroom would be a bad idea, and more because of something having to do with this word, “God.”
Is God an inherently gendered word?
These days, in the Hindu household, it seems like the way the young woman of the house dresses carries a lot of meaning for the entire family. Revealing a bit too much of her back in a blouse could nearly defame her father!
She should be beautiful, but should not be too revealing. She should look youthful, but not too free in dress. It’s a balancing act many young women face when dressing for religious events, in deciding whether armless shalwar-kameezes are okay (“What if my arms are covered with my dupatta the whole time? Or will that be too much work? But it’s so hot out…”), or if they should just opt for jeans and a t-shirt, to the disapproving tut-tutting of their elders complaining about how “westernized” our youth is getting these days.