Saturday, October 4, 2014

Harvard Prof. Diana Eck on Shiva Linga worship

Last updated on 5th October 2014

Note: This post has small excerpts related to Shiva Linga worship from Eck's book, India: A sacred geography. In my considered opinion, her treatment of Shiva Linga worship (in these excerpts) is sensitive, spiritually wise and balanced. However, she does mention some insensitive and inappropriate interpretations after which she provides the spiritually wiser and sensitive interpretation. Some readers, especially devotees of Lord Shiva, may find the insensitive and inappropriate interpretations to be offensive, and so, I request such readers to consider skipping reading the rest of this post.

Excerpts from India: A sacred geography by Prof. Diana L. Eck, pages 203 & 207-209 - paperback, are given below. I have also provided some comments of mine.

[Ravi: The excerpt below is part of a summary made by the author (Eck) of a beginning section of Shiva Purana]
Suddenly, between them, the ground of the cosmos opened and there appeared a fiery shaft of light. It rose up from the depths below and extended upward through space as far as the eye could see. This was the jyotirlinga-the linga of light. It was a column of fire too brilliant to look at, inexpressible in its glory.

...

Shiva's second boon was the linga itself. He says, "This pillar, without beginning and end, will become small in size so that people may behold it and worship it, dear sons." [Ravi: The reference for this quote is Siva Purana, Vidyeshvarasamhita 9.19] The myth, then, ascribes to that fiery theophany of light the origin of the symbolic linga to be found at the center of Shiva's worship and in all of Shiva's temples. With such splendid origin, it is no wonder that many Shiva lingas in temples large and small are said to be svayambhu, "self-born" or spontaneously manifest, rather than established by human hands.
[Ravi: That's the origin of the term jyotirlinga! And the linga in the temple is a symbolically small version of this infinite pillar of light! Very interesting for me, as I am utterly fascinated by Shiva worship nowadays.]

The self-limitation of the cosmic, the shrinking of the immense to be accessible on a human scale, is a theme played on with brilliance in the mythic lore of many Hindu temples. In one sense every temple contains small images that represent a vast and unfathomable reality. This is the very meaning of the symbolic sensibility at the core of religious life everywhere.
[Ravi: Terrific! Hats off to Prof. Diana Eck for her superb understanding and expression of the core Upanishadic/Vedanta type beliefs in the imagery and mythology associated with Hindu temples.]

...

The divine expands, evolving as if from seed, and stretching into the immense, indeed infinite reality of the cosmos, which lives and breathes. And, in tum, the divine withdraws that vast complexity into the seed of Being itself. This dynamic streams through the vivid symbolic realms of Hindu thought and image, and the linga in this world is the symbol par excellence. The infinite contracts and is concentrated in image and form so that the sacred may be present to human sense and vision.
[Ravi: Awesome, man, awesome!!!]

...

Unfortunately, even in the 1970s, the translators of the first English edition of the Shiva Purana decided to translate linga as "phallic emblem," perpetuating this symbolic distortion. Such a translation is not completely erroneous, but it does not in the least convey what Hindus have seen and understood in this symbol. It is as inadequate as would be an interpretation of the Christian eucharist that saw the rite first and foremost as ritual cannibalism, eating the body and drinking its blood, and could not get beyond such an interpretation to any deeper and more complex understanding.

[Ravi: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist: The Eucharist, also called Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a sacrament accepted by almost all Christians. It is reenacted in accordance with Jesus' instruction at the Last Supper, as recorded in several books of the New Testament, that his followers do in remembrance of him as when he gave his disciples bread, saying, "This is my body", and gave them wine saying, "This is my blood."
--- end wiki extract ---

What a fantastic comparison (Eucharist) to show to those Christians who look down upon linga worship! BTW Prof. Diana Eck was raised as a Christian, and seems to now have an interfaith approach.

It seems to me that a vital aspect of spiritual enlightenment involves broadening the mind and transcending mundane bodily realities (and the body does have quite a few unpleasant mundane realities). It is all in the vision. If one chooses to look at a religious object/image only from a narrow-minded worldly perspective then one gets trapped in that perspective. Instead if one chooses to view it from a spiritually and/or religiously broad perspective (infinite contracted to smaller form so that humans can worship the sacred) then one gets higher spiritual/religious benefits from that worship.]

...

But the linga, as is clear from the myth of the jyotirlinga, is the symbol or emblem of nishkala Shiva -the fractionless, transcendent, and supreme Lord. The linga is the emblem of Shiva's unfathomable presence.

---- end excerpts from Prof. Diana Eck's India: A sacred geography ----

Readers may also want to view this post of mine, Sathya Sai Baba Lingodhbhavam and his views on Shiva Linga worship, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2014/10/sathya-sai-baba-lingodhbhavam-and-his.html.

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