Shiva’s Dwarf

Dance of the Nataraj

If Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has become iconic of the Western sensibility, the Dance of the Nataraj is that for the East. Both are master artistic achievements. Meditate upon them long enough and you will come to appreciate what differentiates the cultural traditions of East and West. They have become iconic of those traditions because they both touch on the realm of what is called the “numinous“. And, in some respects, the numinous can also be described in terms of “Factor X” (as discussed earlier).

For me, the Dance of the Nataraj (or Shiva’s Dance) is iconic of the whole turbulent period we are presently passing through, which we are calling “chaotic transition” — the crucible of times; the irruption of the paradoxical. Jacob Bronowski, in his book The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, credits the current “crisis of mechanism” in the sciences (and by extension, in consciousness and culture more generally) with the irruption of the paradoxical.

Shiva’s Dance represents all that — that dance of what we might also describe as the paradox of “creative destruction”. William Blake also calls this “the Dance of Eternal Death”.  We can only understand the meaning of what Blake means by that through insight into the paradox of the Nataraj — the “Lord of the Dance”.
Shiva dances the apocalypse, and the word “apocalypse” can be translated to mean, also, “creative destruction” — the truth that comes only as shattering revelation.

Albion rose from where he labour’d at the Mill with Slaves:
Giving himself for the Nations he danc’d the dance of Eternal Death. — Blake, “Glad Day”

Glad Day — or “Albion Rose”

It is thought by some that Blake’s inspiration for “Glad Day” came from a verse of Shakespeare,

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

If so, “Night’s candles are burned out” is also represented in the Dance of the Nataraj — as the corpse of the dwarf upon whose prone and prostrate frame Shiva dances his whirling dance.

Who is this dwarf? In a nutshell, the dwarf represents what Aristotle once called the Mikropsychos. Translated, the word signifies the mean-spirited, the petty-minded, the small-souled. Aristotle contrasted this with what he called the “Megalopsychos“, which here does not mean “megalomania”, but is more akin to the meaning of “Mahatma” or “Great Soul” — the overflowing soul; the superabundant soul that can’t help but give of itself continuously, and which, in fact, must give of itself and its superabundance continuously and generously or it becomes sick.  This superabundance — whether of life, light, love, joy, strength, knowledge — was the original meaning of the word “virtue”.  We sometimes call such a soul “expansive”.

Shiva’s dwarf represents the opposite of all that. The dwarf represents contraction. In Gebser’s terms, this is referred to as a “narrowing” — a narrowing of the possibilities of awareness into the “point” — the “point-of-view”, as contrasted with what he refers to as a “universal way of looking at things”. In effect, then, the dwarf symbolises that human “all-too-human” condition (Nietzsche’s phrase) that is also diagnosed by Blake, for the dwarf represents, in effect, the narcissistic soul

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”

In effect, too, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra was his ideal of the Megalopsychos or the Mahatma, the superabundant soul that overflows. Yet, even Zarathustra was only proto-type and prophet of the transhuman. Those who have not understood Aristotle’s meaning of the Megalopsychos, or the Mahatma, or the meaning of Blake’s Albion on his “Glad Day” will have completely also misconstrued the meaning of Nietzsche’s “overman” — likewise, Sri Aurobindo’s “supramental consciousness” or what Jean Gebser calls the “diaphainon“.

It is sometimes said that the dwarf upon whose corpse Shiva dances represents “ignorance”. True enough in that sense, although that is a somewhat limited way of understanding the meaning of the dwarf. In broader terms, the dwarf represents everything associated with the mikropsychos — the petty-minded, the mean-spirited, the small-souled, or, if you prefer, what is sometimes described as “sensate consciousness” or the “ego-nature”. In other words, it is our own “Selfhood”, as we understand this. The dwarf could very easily be said to be the perfect symbolisation of what we call “the culture of narcissism“.

Blake, by contrast, saw his task as being

To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.

If we know, then, who or what the dwarf is, then who or what is Shiva? Well, in many respects Shiva represents what Jill Bolte-Taylor calls “The Life Force Power of the Universe”, and a force with which the “You of you” is identical. It would be quite permissible, in those terms also, to think of of Shiva and the dwarf in terms of Iain McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary”.

What would you rather be? Shiva? or the dwarf? That’s also the question that Bolte-Taylor poses at the end of her TED talk on her “stroke of insight”, after all, isn’t it?

Shiva corresponds to Blake’s “fourfold vision”. That’s signified by the dancer’s four arms. Among other matters, Shiva’s four arms are reflected in Blake’s “four Zoas” who, for Blake, “reside in the Human Brain”. In those terms, therefore, Shiva is a symbolisation of integral consciousness, and is also the symbolisation of what Meister Eckhart called “The Aristocrat”, or what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “The Oversoul“.

Shiva is Blake’s Albion, and Albion is, for Blake, human destiny and man’s true nature — the “You of you” presently in process of manifestation that Blake tried to describe in his “prophetic books”. And this is what Gebser calls “the diaphainon” also. Shiva is, then, also the diaphainon. In those terms, Shiva is the representation of Gebser’s true “universal way of looking at things”. And it might also be said, in those terms, that the whirl of Shiva’s arms in the dance is also that theme of the “vortex” or apparent “chaos” or “havoc” through which we are currently passing.


24 responses to “Shiva’s Dwarf”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Wow. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury certainly has delivered what the title promises. It’s an amazing thing to watch an administration disintegrate so thoroughly. If people still back Trump to “shake things up”, they’re certainly getting more than they bargained for.

    As they old saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it”.

  2. erikleo says :

    In the Ten Bulls pictures of Zen, the herdsman returns to the marketplace ‘with bliss-bestowing hands’.He has struggled with the energies of the unconscious, with egoic tendencies, and won through to a new perspective; cleansed the doors of perception. This is also represented by the Zen saying about, in the beginning, mountains and trees are mountains and trees and once we start ‘doing something about ourselves’ they are no longer mountains and trees. Later, they become mountains and trees again!

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Zen and the Art of Housecleaning

    Sounds trite (at least to some who have commented below the line) but Shoukei Matsumoto’s piece illustrates the Yogic principle “Tat Tvam Asi” — thou art that. Chaos within/chaos without.

    Shouldn’t be too difficult to appreciate in today’s turbulent and chaotic milieu.

  4. mikemackd says :

    The proximity of this article to my quoting the poem by Robert Clark about one’s ego as a robe reminded me of this quote from the Gospel of Thomas:

    (36) Jesus says:

    “Do not worry from morning to evening and from evening to morning about what you will wear.”

    (1) His disciples said: “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”
    (2) Jesus said: “When you undress without being ashamed and take your clothes (and) put them under your feet like little children (and) trample on them,
    (3) then [you] will see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.”

  5. Scott Preston says :

    A fascinating article from Politico on the restructuration of work, and the employee-employer relation. Actually, it’s a description of what we call “the Precariat” in other respects.

    In the UK, this situation is referred to as “zero hours contracts”. The Politico article refers to this as “contingent work”.

    • Abdulmunem Othman says :

      On Job ladder, spiritual restructuring is highly needed, not regulation restructuring. It is a sick psychological environment of the ruling elites. The cake owners who refuse to share their cakes with others, not only that but they do not care for the suffering of those who make their cakes and enhance their profit share as long as they shut up and keep working despite of what happen to them . Die slowly and let the experts study and make graphs and statistical tables. It is a blind elites dancing on the body of honesty and truth yet they are still speaking of an already dead dream. It is god revealing to his creatures the sick trajectory of their blindness. In pain we grow thank you Scott.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      “This problem is not new,” said Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, one of the few lawmakers who has proposed a comprehensive plan on federal labor law reform. “But it’s being talked about as if it’s new.”

      Indeed, it is not. In the US, at least (which appears to be the focal point of most everyone’s analyses these days as the US is obviously the world leader in the matter of such “crumbling relationships”), we are three generations into the phenomenon at this point. Rather than waiting around for more research, representatives in Washington might ask themselves why business does “move faster than Congress can keep up.” (I suspect it has a great deal to do with the all-but-complete deregulation every administration in living memory has pursued.)

      The research doesn’t seem to include the redefinition of full-time work from forty hours per week to thirty hours per week; ever-increasing instances of under-staffing and other maneuvers intended to relieve companies of the responsibility not only to hire a sufficient number of people to handle the workload (and, need I say, at a living wage) but, of course, to provide benefits to the workers they do employ. If it does, it hasn’t been reported here along with the more egregious examples of the phenomenon, e.g. senior workers being laid off and asked to return one year later at half the pay with reduced or no benefits, some now paying in excess of $2000/mo. merely for their families’ insurance coverage.

      At least we now know who we can address respectfully and expect to be heard, if nothing else. I suppose that’s a slight improvement over Obama’s solution, which was to appeal to said companies in speeches that (roughly translated) said, in essence, “Pretty please, do the right thing.”

      If “our representatives” in the US do plan to rewrite “the social contract,” they might want to consider speeding up the process being that the natives are more than just a little restless at this point. I don’t foresee that happening, however. “Leadership” is so far out of touch with what is actually happening “on the ground,” there would appear no way to bridge that divide.

      There is yet hope, however. We Can Reimagine and Reinvent Our Society in 2018.

      It’s too late to think we can make incremental tweaks to our current systems and be OK. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy will not share their wealth, and if we continue current practices of extraction and pollution, all life will be threatened.

      The 2016 election [is] a disaster that we can’t recover from—at least not with a few fixes around the edges.

      “Around the edges?” Okay. No comment.

      Instead, it’s time to build something new…. Today, 41 million Americans live in poverty in the wealthiest country in the world. “The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power,” United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said in a report of his December tour through the United States….

      Leaving behind the illusion that we can fix a broken system frees us to work for genuine change.

      Preferably a full-scale transformation. Local community initiatives, at least, seem to be on the right track.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    A very good article in today’s Guardian by Lucia Graves about the duplicities in the political discourse (actually, propaganda) about “identity politics”.

    As Pope Francis once put it “duplicity is the currency of the day” (that is to say, a loss of integrality/integrity), and that is about as succinct a description of the breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness as you’ll find, I think, or what Rosenstock-Huessy also referred to as the disintegration of the character and personality structure of “modern man”.

    This is why things seem so bewilderingly confused and chaotic. Social media simply amplifies this to a shriek.

    • Scott Preston says :

      For a contrasting approach to the issue of “identity”, and the situation of the “Precariat” as well, I recommend (again) reading this synopsis of Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Multiformity of Man and the description of his “eco-dynamic laws of society”.

      As you can see, this conception of human “multiformity” effaces the notion of a singular identity or “point-of-view”. You might think of Rosenstock’s four eco-dynamic laws as comparable also to Blake’s “fourfold vision” and to the four arms of Shiva.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    By the way, I should probably have mentioned in the posting that Shiva’s Dwarf would be the equivalent of what Blake calls “Single Vision”, while Shiva represents “fourfold vision” — the four radial arms of the central figure of Shiva being that. Shiva, in that sense, represents the integral principle.

    So, in those terms, too, I think it permissible to see Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” also represented in Shiva, as well as Gebser’s four “consciousness structures” — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational, also as Shiva’s arms. Parabolic to this, the arms are the primary elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, and therefore, correspondingly, metabolic system, respiratory system, nervous system, and circulatory system. Shiva’s dance would, in those terms, be the dance of homeostasis or of equilibrium, and what looks like “destruction” or chaos, is actually a correction of a disequilibrium — a loss of tempo, a loss of rhythm. Shiva is balance. Shiva is THE balance.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    Another way of reflecting on Shiva’s dance is this: Shiva dances what Gebser calls “the law of the Earth”. That may seem frightful, but that is one reason Shiva has one hand raised in benediction or assurance — a gesture that says “fear not”.

  9. Scott Preston says :

    This came across my feed today, right after reading the article by Lucia Graves on identity politics in The Guardian.

    This is an excellent meditation on identity and identity politics (and the crisis of identity), and quite relevant in terms of the posting on Shiva’s Dwarf, too. I can’t think of any better one.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      That speaks directly to my question re: resilience vs resistance, among other things. Thanks for sharing. Most excellent. Shared. (Not widely enough, perhaps, but it will do.)

  10. Scott Preston says :

    A very interesting experience and meditation upon “emptiness” by a scientist, which he wrote up for The Guardian

    It brought to mind Rumi’s poem “Essence is Emptiness”

    Essence is emptiness.
    Everything else, accidental.
    Emptiness brings peace to your loving.
    Everything else, disease.
    In this world of trickery emptiness
    is what your soul wants.

  11. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    Oh Scott how do you find such jewels that make our social non-conformity comfortable, God said it, oh humans, if you forget me you will forget yourselves, forget the multitudes inside you which Whitman ask us to celebrate, that once you become aware of it, it will save you from the absurdity of clinging to any strand of identity. Yes recognizing our impermanence and mutability our unseen changeability fuel our creativity. I am only reliving what I am experiencing in words. It is sad how many of us have turned the malls and theaters into temples to worship the false idols of money and commodities and celebrity.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      forget the multitudes inside you which Whitman ask us to celebrate

      Whitman may have been misinterpreted here.

      1) The learned think that microcosm is concealed in the creation of man and the macrocosm is the outer space that surrounds us. For prophets it is just the opposite: The outer universe is microcosm and the macrocosm is hidden in them. [Full Quote Here. In Christianity, that would be: “The kingdom of Heaven is within (and among) you.”]

      2) You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover. ~ Shams Tabrizi

      More on Shams Tabrizi for the interested:

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Hmm. Not sure how that last link tuned into a book preview. (It was a link to all the Tabrizi translations available on Amazon.) At any rate, you might also like to know that Tabrizi has become just as popular in the West as his student. : )

        • Abdulmunem Othman says :

          Thank you infinite warrior. Going back to the post, Scott made reference to Aristotle distinction between the mikropsycho the small self which Lasach called the minimal self and the makropsycho the great self which Emerson called the oversoul. I understood the multi of Whitman as the the self-eternity of the human which Shams spoke about ,when he said, do not try to know the eternity of god or his universe but try to know your own eternity as an entrance to the wider realm that never give itself only to those who work on their eternity . It is not what they say it is what I say. God does not want me to know what others advocate and stop there, bu see what my heart wants convincingly to advocate. It is a personal journey in the wide frame alluded to. I am trying and thank you all for your help in this trial.

      • Dwig says :

        “The kingdom of Heaven is within (and among) you.” I hadn’t seen the parenthetical phrase in that quote before. It reminds me of something a friend once said: “Wisdom is not between our ears, but between our noses.”

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          The translation from the original Aramaic is fortunately catching on. Aramaic was a much more subtle language than it’s often given credit in modern translations.

  12. Scott Preston says :

    About time for economics to catch up with quantum reality, don’t you think? Daved Orell does

  13. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    Self updating is a must in response of an impermanent cosmos that never stop renewing itself, even death is a sign of renewal. Updating is the foundation basis of transformation of self, thoughts and systems . Who made the physics both of the grand and the petite we are trying to decipher. What is the purpose of all these jumps and leaps quantum. What is our purpose in this cosmos of jumps and leaps where all particles and waves are parceled themselves in different forms to make an understandable and meaningful messages. What is the purpose of consciousness that pervades everything but to accomplish the appropriate message designed to the form made. The humans are the only creatures that have been given consciousness to accomplish their errand and look at the mess they have created across the globe. Even perversion is in-built in our cosmos, the paradoxical pair that made the process of accomplishment positively or negatively possible. Any system founded on shaky assumptions is rotten, that is what the article conclude regarding the so called modern science of economics which is built on two false premises that of rationality and scarcity denying the divine abundance of god they are utilizing and exploiting with no rational limit and negating the divine values replacing them by human fabrications of conquest, invasion and greed. How astonishing how so many are cheated by such embroidery of deceptive words and remained entranced so long. They made to believe that the governments and corporation are the sustainers and their life maintainers and should not fall to the mythical story that god is the sustainer and life maintainer. The leaps and jumps of letters in words are reminders to the humans that nothing in this wide cosmos are created in vain, The message of the prophets that have been delivered to humanity are not done in vain, only to prove that what they have delivered is the truth, the truth we will encounter in ourselves and across the horizons of our cosmos. It is time of disclosure to prove that anything humans have done wrong will fire back. No body knows definitely the precise timing of the strikes of the corrective cycles that they never come without warnings. The warnings signs are scattered all over the globe lest the humans say we have not been warned and He said that we destroy no village, town and city without clear warning. There is a verse in the Koran which say that we do not speak to humans but through the spirit or from behind a veil or we sends a messengers to whisper in the ears of the one who is meant to receive the message, that is from the realm of the high the wise. If only we pay attention to the forces that fill us and fill our cosmos. When our hearts are going to leaps with the inner forces to contact the spiritual forces in a ceremony that will never be forgotten.

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