A Meditation on Shiva: The Dance of the Nataraj

Well, things have turned pretty Topsy-Turvey (if not Helter Skelter) within the early weeks of the year 2020, no? It’s a very good reason for understanding the process called “enantiodromia” — or sudden (ironic) reversals at the extremity (or, what is sometimes called “the flip-flop”, somewhat like a fish that has been extracted from its familiar element).

Time to reflect again on “the crisis of paradox” and on Jean Gebser’s “double-movement”, and I find contemplating the symbolism of Shiva and Shiva’s Dance in this times very helpful and very appropriate.

Dance of the Nataraj

Shiva’s Dance (Nataraj or “the Lord of the Dance”) is sometimes described as the dance of “creative destruction”. It is more appropriate to think of it as the dance of death and of resurrection from death. One World Age dies and another World Age is born from its ashes. The dance is thus a very appropriate symbol for what Jean Gebser means by “the double-movement” of death and resurrection (or disintegration and a new integration).

Each one of us is Shiva. Each one of us has an inner music to which Shiva dances his dance. When Nietzsche wrote that thinking should be like dance (and philosophers should be dancers) he was actually in tune with that inner music and that inner dance. Shiva is an emanation or avatar of the “Universal Humanity” called “the fourfold Atman” and, as such, a representative of the “life-pole” and “death-pole” (or eros and thanatos) of psychic energy. And given that Heraclitus held that Dionysus and Hades were the same, Shiva is also Dionysus-Hades in the dance.

Shiva’s Dance was also foretold by William Blake as his “Albion Reborn”, and Albion is fourfold as the Atman is fourfold and as Shiva is fourfold — the Tetramorph.

“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.”

You would have difficult understanding that passage as Albion’s “Glad Day” unless you knew the meaning, too, of Shiva’s Dance, for Shiva and Albion are the same. And if, as Jung avers, “all psyches are one psyche”, then the “You of you” is Shiva and the “You of you” is Albion.

The four arms of Shiva — of the fourfold Atman — are also the four Zoas of Blake’s “Albion divided fourfold”, and are also the equivalent of the four Cherubim (or “living creatures”) that surround the Throne of God in the Book of Revelation. Shiva dances his dance within a mandala-like structure, and Shiva’s four arms are also visible as the four radii of the Christian Cross, of the Buddhist mandala, and of the indigenous Sacred Hoop or Medicine Wheel.

Shiva (like Albion) dances his dance at the end of the kaliyuga, or spiritual dark age, for which reason he is depicted as dancing upon the corpse of ignorance. The four arms of Shiva also represent the classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but those elements also compose your physical form also — metabolic system, respiratory system, nervous system, circulatory system. These were the only real “dimensions” or cosmic forces known to the mythical consciousness, and together they comprised the realm of Physis — the lifeworld of growth and decay, life and death that we now call “Nature”. Today, these forces are called “gravity”, “electro-magneticsm”, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces whose action sustains a four-dimensional spacetime cosmos.

We cannot mention Shiva’s Dance as relevant for our times without referencing David Bohm’s “rheomode” (or flowing mode) of thinking, or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” or Jean Gebser’s “four structures of consciousness” also. They follow the same rhythm. They articulate the steps in the dance. They answer to Nietzsche’s “gay science” and his insistence that thinking should be like music or dance. And who knows what silent music Nietzsche was hearing when, upon his breakdown, his landlady found him dancing naked in his apartment in Turin? The reason Nietzsche could remain “cheerful” despite his anticipation of “two centuries of nihilism” was because of Shiva’s Dance.

This name “Nataraj”, or Lord of the Dance, certainly brings to mind The Dubliner’s song “Lord of the Dance“.

I danced in the morning when the world was young
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees
They wouldn’t dance, they wouldn’t follow me
I danced for the fishermen James and John
They came with me so the dance went on

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame
They ripped, they stripped, they hung me high
Left me there on the cross to die

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

I danced on a Friday when the world turned black
It’s hard to dance with the Devil on your back
They buried my body, they thought I was gone
But I am the dance, and the dance goes on

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the life that will never, never die
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me
I am the Lord of the dance, said he

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he

Is, then, Christ Shiva and Shiva the Christ also? There’s every reason for thinking they are the same “Universal Humanity”, given that Shiva, too, is an aspect of the Hindu Trinity or Trimurti of Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva.

(Remember the mad dancing craze in the Late Middle Ages? Not much different from Nietzsche’s own. What strange music were they hearing?)

Albion’s “dance of Eternal Death” is also the dance of Blake’s “New Age” as well, and the “four Zoas” of his fourfold vision that “reside in the Human Brain” are also the four-arms of Shiva and Shiva’s Dance — and the ideal symbol, too, for rendering Bohm’s idea of the “Universal Flux” and the “implicate order” within the universal flux.

It’s the dance of the Logos.

10 responses to “A Meditation on Shiva: The Dance of the Nataraj”

  1. lyleaolson says :

    There are many allusions made to Shiva in terms of movement (Shiva’s dance) and Shiva’s attributes in this discussion. My personal preference is to understand Shiva (there are many views) more in the yoga tantric view:
    Swami Krishnananda wrote “The Realization of the Absolute” to show how the Absolute (Shiva) cannot have attributes. Shiva is unmoving. In tantra, Shakti is the force of action and manifestation in the world. Shiva is the unmanifest from which Shakti takes direction, hopefully. The shivalingam, found throughout India and SE asia, symbolizes Shiva. The lingam is sometimes covered, protected, hidden, by the chatnag, a 5 headed snake symbolizing the 5 senses. So absolute reality is hidden from us by the 5 senses (to which the Buddhists wisely add a 6th, mental operations). We are left in “a cloud of unknowing,” in Christian terms. The meditator’s wish is to see through the colorations of the mind (self, with 6 senses). This whole shebang is an effort that is constrained by our encapsulation within dualism.

    That brings to mind a related issue: In Christian thought, there is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Or: God, Jesus, and Christ spirit (Christ is not the last name of Jesus…that one really gets me). Maybe it is also: Causal, Subtle, and physical realm.
    Are they the same? No. Are they different? No.
    Here, dualism gets befuddled by non-dualism.

    • Scott Preston says :

      WordPress is really messing up. I didn’t receive any notification of this comment.

      Can’t guess why “Shiva is unmoving” if Shiva is both dancer and the dance. The image, of course, is unmoving. But it would be Brahman who is the unmoved.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        In my (imperfect) understanding of Hinduism, this depiction of Shiva is of “Shiva” asthe Nataraja,” “Lord of the Dance.” “Lord of the Dance” doesn’t necessarily imply Shiva is “the Ddance” (or “the dancer). The “Nataraja” is the dance of Shiva in other depictions.

        This is a very subtle teaching in play here as well. Hopefully, a reader with more intimate knowledge of Hinduism can illuminate us as to what that is.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      (Christ is not the last name of Jesus…that one really gets me).

      Me, too. It certainly has become that over time, at least in certain branches of Christianity. But, yes. “Christ” was/is NOT Jesus of Nazareth’s last name! (Might I add, for God’s sake?) 🙂

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Here’s philosopher Johannes Achill Niederhauser discussing Nietzsche’s death of God. Not a bad presentation

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Came across this video of Mark Allan Kaplan explaining consciousness structures and the Big Picture view, which is worth watching.

  4. Steve says :

    Great book…. ” C.G. Jung and Nikolai Berdyaev: Individuation and the Person.”
    by Georg Nicolaus.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    There is a definite and noticeable intensification of efforts to think anew during this very trying time; to reconsider and re-imagine the terms of existence for our life on this planet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: