Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Shiva & the Apocalypse
I white-knuckled my way through yet another dentist appointment yesterday. I so wanted to be brave and strong, but even with the nitrous oxide, I whimpered and moaned. Tears and spittle running down my face - rather unseemly for an aspiring advaitan like myself, but I suppose dignity is one of the first things to be cast aside on the spiritual path.
While the hygienist was chipping away at my tartar with her jack hammer, I was appropriately thinking about destruction. The Book of Revelation is all over it. According to John the Prophet, the end of the world is nigh, and we're all about to get majorly creamed. It's not something that I get too worked up about anymore, but when I was an evangelical Christian, it kept me awake at night. I worried that when the Rapture happened, I'd watch the heels of the saved float peacefully up to heav'n, while my heathen feet remained planted firmly on earth. And then, once the born-agains are whisked away, the fun begins: fire and brimstone, vengeance and fury, gnashing of teeth (assuming that I have any left), and so on. But I now have bigger fish to fry in the worry department, and although the Apocalypse has been booted off my list, it still gets my attention just for the sheer magnitude of the destruction.
People have a hard time with the idea of destruction. It implies an end to something, and that's unsettling to a lot of folks. Even if their life's a mess, the idea of it - the mess - being destroyed makes them hysterical. If their marriage is shattered, they'd rather cling to it than allow it to transform, or end it completely. Familiarity is the lesser evil, and it trumps destruction most of the time. But what most people don't get is that destruction is the preliminary step to transformation. You can't shift to a better place if you're clinging to old habits, and you won't find a more suitable partner if you're buried in a dead relationship. If something isn't working in your life, wouldn't you like it to be destroyed so that it can be renovated? Some relationships need to be gutted, then rebuilt upon a new foundation. The Book of Revelation is all about destroying evil so that goodness and peace may prevail on earth as it is in heaven.
One cannot speak about destruction without bringing Shiva into the conversation. He's the Hindu god of destruction, and his chief concern is to destroy the ego wherever it pops up. Shiva has no patience for our egoic versions of reality, and creates a minor Apocalypse in our personal lives when we let this kind of false perception take over. Just about the time you start thinking of yourself as the center of the universe, Shiva swoops in to set things straight. His destruction is a form of tough love; he allows it to happen because he knows that it's the only way to destroy our ego-based fantasies about ourselves.
So although he's not mentioned in the Book of Revelation, Shiva will figure mightily in the Apocalypse. In advaitan terms, Shiva is the undivided Self, a symbol of our nondual nature. Jesus is the same symbol for Christians (he was both God and man), most often represented by the Cross. Dying to one's lower nature (ego) and embodying pure consciousness is the type of destruction that is ultimately prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
Meanwhile, back in the dentist's chair, it looks like my suspicions were correct - the good doctor is using my cavities, crowns, and canals to finance his new yacht, which should be paid for by the end of the year, the way things are going. The good news is that he's agreed to drop me off at Patmos, where I'll wait out the Apocalypse, because after he does all this work to my teeth, I'm not going to be able to afford to live here anymore. I figure I can live in a cave on Patmos with all my teeth, or stay here in New York with a natty set of dentures. Tough call.