Tonight, December 9, 2011, is a very special full moon, celebrated like every year on the calculated correct date in the South Indian small town of Thiruvanamalai, with an especially big fire lit and burning the whole night with thousands of liters of clarified butter, ‘ghee’, on top of the sacred hill of Arunachala. Like for every other full moon as well since about a year, a bus is organized by some persons in Auroville to take there the Aurovilians and guests from Auroville who want to attend.
Arunachala itself is a sacred hill, a place of the great god, Lord Shiva; it is in his honor that this ceremony with that huge fire happens every year, drawing thousands and thousands of pilgrims and devotees not only to the big temple down in the city, but to the hill even more, for walking all around it up to its top on that very special full moon night.
Lord Shiva is the god of the will-power, of the inner strength, of the inner fire of ‘Tapasya’ which enables human beings to make the efforts necessary to make progress, and particularly spiritual progress, though austerities and asceticism; he is the power to be alone if necessary and persevere alone until the solitary spiritual goal is at last achieved. He is the Hermit meditating in his cave or on the lonely top of the snowy mountain, clad only in a tiger skin, enduring the harshness of the weather without care for his body or the pleasures of this world. He is the call of realms higher than this one, and his calm sovereignty gives him the perfect poise for his role as the Lord of the Cosmic Dance, ‘Nataraj’, who by his Dance keeps the Cosmic Energy whirling about in its endless wheeling galaxies. The peace and silence of the night, with only the pale but blissful light of the moon, is the best approximation of the purity and inner peace of the Spirit, away from the world of Matter. This is why he is usually represented sitting cross-legged in meditation, his eyes-closed, a moon-crescent in his matted hair, from which spring also towards the Earth the holy waters of the Ganga, the Ganges River revered all over India.
All of the above is only my own feeble attempt to render something of what Shiva is; here is now the poem written by Sri Aurobindo, one of his sonnets, titled ‘SHIVA’, showing the irresistible relationship of mutual attraction and secret oneness between Spirit and Matter, out of which the Earth’s evolution happened:
On the white summit of eternity
A single Soul of bare infinities
Guarded he keeps by a fire-screen of peace
His mystic loneliness of nude ecstasy.
But, touched by an immense delight to be,
He looks across unending depths and sees
Musing amid the inconscient silences
The Mighty Mother’s dumb felicity.
Half now awake she rises to his glance;
Then, moved to circling by her heart-beat’s will,
The rhythmic worlds describe that passion-dance.
Life springs in her and Mind is born: her face
She lifts to Him who is Herself, until
The Spirit leaps into the Spirit’s embrace.
There is some influence of Shiva, like of all other ‘gods’, in every human being. As far as I am concerned, it is rather strong. I definitely tend to be the silent loner rather than the loquacious socializer. I know I have been a monk or a nun in many lifetimes (as well as the very opposite in many other lifetimes!…) and although I like the ocean even more, I am definitely attracted also to the the summits and their calm loneliness. The only thing I really enjoy while flying when I need to travel far, is to be flying so wonderfully high, above the clouds and in the open vastnesses of the sky…
As for the full moon, it has actually given me my first spiritual experience, at a time when I had no idea what spirituality was:
As a child and a young teenager, I had very intense feelings of adoration and love for God in general and Jesus-Christ in particular, and the Communion Sacrament was giving me every time much inner joy, with the feeling of having my beloved God within me. But this was in the framework of the Catholic religion I had been born and raised in.
Nature too was for me somehow full of the Presence of God in the many small ways that can speak to a child that age.
What happened one night when I was about twelve was another matter, though:
We were still living in Africa, at that time in what is now Mali, which then was known as French Sudan. Our house was located on top of the hill of Koulouba, just above the capital city, Bamako, sprawling in the vast plain that the Niger river would flood during the Rain Season.
It was late at night, everybody was asleep in the house when for the first time ever at such an hour I woke up: I was thirsty.
To go from my room to the kitchen where the drinking water supply was kept, I needed to cross the entire terrace joining the two wings of the house.
I put my little night slippers on and courageously went out of the secure space of my room, into the night outside.
As I started walking across the open terrace, I realized there was a lot of light, and I looked up to see where all that light was coming from. Right there in front of me but high up, illuminating silently the whole night, was the full moon, bright and soft at the same time, bathing the entire earthly scene of the plain with the city lights and the Niger shining in the background, and making the sky an immense, limitless, infinite expanse of white light, suffusing the very air and atmosphere with an ineffable ethereal quality. The other-wordly beauty of everything was breath-taking. I was enveloped in total peace, the silence itself felt as some other dimension of space. Suddenly my consciousness shifted. I wasn’t anymore a little girl standing alone on the terrace of her house, I was moonlight and sky and infinite vastness, all at once in the Oneness of the true Reality underlying the superficial one we know. The sense of time was gone with the sense of separate self, I was Eternity together with Infinity.
I have no memory of how or when I came back to my senses, still standing there alone in the middle of the night; I don’t know if I ever went finally to get that glass of water I had originally wanted to drink; perhaps I went straight back to my bed, still dazed from that so intense and mysterious experience; but the memory of the experience itself is still living in me even so many decades later, etched for ever in the depths of my being, and now I know it was my first real, spontaneous taste of what my whole life would later be about: Spirituality, that is, the Divine Reality we all truly are.
As I write this, the full moon is rising in the night sky outside of my house; I’ll go to the terrace upstairs and watch the white light softly flood everything, from space to the ocean, with its other-worldly beauty…