Shiva and the Warrior
Today I’m gonna share a story that I connect to on many levels. It’s the story of Shiva, Sati, and Virabhadra. Virabhadra is the Warrior so this is a story that some of you might be familiar with or perhaps familiar with some very popular yoga postures that take the name from this story: Virabadhrasana or Warrior’s Pose. We’ve got Warrior 1, 2 and 3, typically in many yoga classes out there. Those postures are said to have come from this story. Now it is important to recognize that in mythology, we are all the characters in the story but it’s also inevitable that we tend to recognize other people in our lives in the stories and it’s definitely that way with this story, in myself, in terms of relating quite a bit with Shiva in this story and I can see a lot of my loving wife in this story as well in the character of Sati. It’s a very interesting story about our higher selves, about ego, about the heart and love but also about the role of anger. Anger is something that often gets a very bad rep in our culture, or especially at least in spiritual communities.
It’s interesting because in a lot of ancient cultures, India being one of them, ancient Greece being another, the gods got angry. The gods were very human and a lot of the religious beliefs that we’ve inherited in the West … There is the Old Testament God in the Bible that gets quite angry but we’re often told, especially in spiritual communities, that anger is not a good thing. We’re not supposed to feel anger. Yet in so many of these more ancient stories, we see examples of God, or the gods, getting angry and what does it mean? What does it tell us about ourselves? It becomes a really wonderful opportunity to look at the role of particular emotions, in this case anger, in our lives and how it fits into our interaction with others. Many cultures, many religious traditions, tend to have a very poo-poo look on emotions. They look down on feelings and emotions. They say that they get in the way of higher stages of development but there are also many spiritual traditions that embrace the emotions.
Tantra, for example, utilizes the emotions as gateways to deeper layers of understanding the Self. So it’s important to recognize the context of this because it gives us a greater permission to be ourselves. I think what is difficult about traditions that say that you can’t have emotions or that emotions are bad, it creates a situation that when you have a very real and human experience of an emotion, there’s now guilt associated with it. It’s like, “Oh well, you’re adding extra layers of emotions onto feeling emotions because you feel like you’re not supposed to feel emotions.” It’s this horrible and toxic trap that we can find ourselves falling into. I think it’s really important that we do allow those moments where, “Hey, I’m having a human experience right now and man, I am pissed off!” But as we acknowledge that, how can we utilize that experience to channel ourselves into deeper layers of understanding? Eventually, as we’ll see in the story, how that anger leads to some greater things on the other side of it. Let’s begin our story.
Our first character we’ve actually seen before, King Daksha. We’ve seen him in the story of Chandra, the Moon. But here, Daksha, who represents rules and the established order, traditional society. He’s the keeper of ceremony and rites and ritual. He’s gonna be the start of our story.
So once upon a time, King Daksha had many daughters from his second wife. One day he was approached by Rakma, the creator god, who had asked him to encourage Devi, the great goddess, to incarnate in human form, and be born as a woman. He did his Tapas, he begged the goddess to come into incarnation as one of his daughters and she agreed and the Great Devi was born as Sati, which means the embodiment of truth. Daksha had all these different daughters who he had married off to suitable demi-gods and others just like we had heard in that earlier episode where he married many of his daughters off to Chandra, the Moon. But Sati was different. Sati was told from a very young age that she was to marry Maha Shiva, the great God of Transformation. While all of her sisters were always bragging growing up and imagining the men that they’re going to marry, Sati was always very reserved and quiet and never really talked about it but she knew in her heart of hearts that Shiva was the one for her.
But there was problem with this because for everything that Daksha represented, traditional values, ritual, conservative mentality, Shiva represented the exact opposite. He was about no rules. You can imagine in our culture it would be like the dirty hippie guy. He literally had dreadlocks. He would cover his body with ashes. All of his friends were ghouls and ghosts. He would hang out in cremation grounds. He wasn’t exactly the ideal type for any father to want their daughter to marry let alone this uber force of conservative values like Daksha. This was a problem anytime that it was sort of spoken about her as she was growing up but she was completely committed. She knew that that’s who she had to marry. As her life went on, as she grew up, she started to do all these really powerful Tapas and sodden of the spiritual practice to bring her closer to Shiva. It was so powerful that even the other Gods started to recognize but of course not Shiva ’cause Shiva was always up on the mountain top. He was meditating. He was in Samadhi. He wasn’t interested in women or in marriage. He was just interested in truth and being.
The other gods approached Shiva and they’re like, “Hey, we’ve got this great gal you gotta meet. She’s amazing. You’ll love her.” Shiva kind of responded, was like, “Hey, I’m not really interested in any of that. I mean, I’m more interested in meditation. If any woman was gonna catch my interest, she’d have to be interested in the same things and not bother me when I’m in Samadhi and kind of understand that. Really, what woman would be interested in me?” Because here he is this ash covered yogi. Doesn’t really care much about his physical appearance. He’s got his super long dreadlocks, which dreadlocks, if you’re not taking good care of yourself, those can get a little stinky, so he’s like what woman would want me anyways? The gods keep persisting. He goes off to describe the perfect woman. The only type of woman that could possibly catch his attention. The gods are like, “Well, hey, we just so happen to have such a lady.” So Shiva agrees to meet her. He agrees to meet Sati. Of course, he’s playing a little coy at first but they fall in love and they agree to marry. This is infuriating to King Daksha. He does not want his daughter to marry Shiva. He does not give his blessing for the marriage but Shiva and Sati go up to Mount Kailash, to his home, and they stay there. There’s some wonderful stories too about their interactions as well.
One day, Sati hears that her father Daksha is holding the biggest sacrifice. The biggest ceremony ever. Essentially everyone in the world is invited except Shiva. So because she’s with Shiva and is her husband, they didn’t get the invitation. So Sati, this embodiment of love, when she finds out about this is talking to Shiva and she’s like, “I don’t understand. This must be a mistake. There’s no way that my father wouldn’t invite us to this big ceremony if everyone’s invited.” Shiva tried to explain to her, “Look, your father doesn’t like me. He’s doing this particularly to insult me. Don’t worry about it. If you go, you’re just gonna get angry. It’s not gonna work out well for anyone.” But she’s like, “I’ve gotta go. This is my father’s ceremony. Of course, we’re invited. The invitation must’ve got lost in the mail. It’s fine. It’s my dad. Yes, he might not have approved but he loves me. This is fine.” Shiva tried to continue to explain, “It’s not gonna work out well but of course, you are your own person. You do what you feel best to do but I don’t think the outcome’s going to be what you want.”
And so she does, she goes to the fire ceremony. When she gets there and she arrives and Daksha and his court of advisors sees her, the advisors all start to kind of talk under their voice. They’re like, “Oh, there’s the wife of that Shiva fellow. He’s such a ragamuffin. He’s a hippie. He’s a bum.” And they start to insult Sati’s husband Shiva. Again, she has a really hard time with this. She’s like, “I don’t understand. This is the man that I’ve chosen to marry. This is Shiva. What he truly represents is everything. How can you have a ceremony without the Lord of Everything? This doesn’t even make sense let alone your insults that you’re lavishing towards him.” But it didn’t stop and Daksha even gets involved as well. He starts to insult Shiva and this just breaks Sati. If anyone that knows a truly emotional woman or a person, when someone lays into ’em, you just see them break physically in your eyes and it’s a heartbreaking thing. That happened to Sati. She literally just crumbles. “My father, how could he say these things.” She just says, “You know what. I can’t even believe that this is happening.”
In the Vedas, they say that the only true sacrifice can come when that sacrifice itself, when the offering itself, is God. If God is not being sacrificed, then there is no true sacrifice. Remember, Sati is the embodiment of truth. Knowing that no sacrifice can happen without God present, without Maha Shiva, that Lord of Everything, present. She says, “Well, then I will sacrifice myself.” She throws herself onto the fire. Burns herself alive. This shakes the world. It shakes the universe and way up on Mount Kailash, Shiva feels this. He feels and knows and understands everything that has happened and everything that has transpired and he gets furious. He gets angry. He just boils over with anger and he takes one of his dreadlocks and he rips it off of his head and he throws the dreadlock down into the Earth and that dreadlock buries itself all the way down through Mount Kailash. All the way down to the plains to where Lord Daksha’s palace is.
That dreadlock becomes Virabhadra. It becomes the Warrior. This fierce aspect of Shiva, this force of nature and anger itself, rises up out of the ground, in the middle of the fire ceremony and just starts laying waste to everyone present, killing everyone in sight. Ultimately, chops off the head of Daksha. There is just utter carnage left at the ceremony. Into this waste … think of just a battleground littered with bodies and smoke … in walks Shiva. Shiva, at first, is still furious at what happened. Then he sees what that anger has done. He sees the destruction that it’s caused. He sees his wife burned and dead and his anger turns to sorrow. His sorrow turns to compassion. In his compassion, he decides to restore the life of Daksha but instead of putting his own head back on he gives him the head of a goat. Shiva, in his sorrow now, he picks up the burned lifeless body of Sati and he begins to dance in his sorrow.
He’s said to get so ecstatic in his dance that he starts to travel all around India. In that dance, in that travel, parts of her body fall off and they land. Those spots that have actually made a 108 temples of the goddess where there are these places in India where it is said that a part of Sati’s body fell and there’s that potent Shakti energy there and so they’ve erected temples there and people do goddess worship there. After that, after he mourned the loss of Sati with this beautiful ecstatic dance, he retreated. He retreated to the mountains. He retreated to Mount Kailash. He want back into meditation. He wanted nothing to do with the world again. He was done with the world, at least for the time being. How he comes back into the world is a story for another time.
What’s going on here? First of all, let’s talk about the yoga postures, right, because why not? The yoga postures of Warrior 1, Warrior 2, and Warrior 3 are said to be those moments where Virabhadra comes up from the Earth and that’s Warrior 1, that lifting up out of the Earth. Then he slices off King Daksha’s head and that’s Warrior 2 with the sword slice, swish. Warrior 3 is after Virabhadra has cut off King Daksha’s head, he reaches out and he places the head on a stake. It’s that movement through of this ferocity of righteous anger. Ripping through the Earth, cutting off the head of Daksha, who represents the ego. Anytime you hear in an Indian story, someone’s getting their head cut off, we’re talking about the removal of the egos so Warrior 2 is that removal of the ego. Then putting it on display, Warrior 3. This is what happens to the ego. It’s like Kali displaying her heads in a garland around her body.
So there are a few things going on here that are helpful to understand. We’ve got Shiva and Shiva represents the higher self. The highest possible self and Virabhadra is literally anger but he’s that righteous anger. Shiva has a right to be angry. His wife died completely unnecessarily. She died because of Daksha’s ego. It was that fire of Virabhadra that eventually is able to annihilate the ego Daksha. But what is this all in the name of? It’s in the name of love. It’s in the name of the heart of Sati and here’s what she’s representing, is that we’re moving through that sometimes, you know what, anger is an entirely appropriate response to something especially when done in the act of love. What makes that transition, what makes it important, is the transition. Where Shiva’s anger … yes, it transitions into sorrow and that sorrow transition into compassion. There are a few things that we’ll see in trying to bypass our emotions, right? Like, “Oh, I’m a Yogi. I’m not supposed to feel anger.” So we suppress that aspect of ourselves and then we don’t allow the natural progression.
When you try to force yourself into something and say, “Well, I’m not supposed to feel angry and I’m supposed to feel compassion for people.” It doesn’t work. You can’t force yourself to be compassionate. Just like you can’t force yourself not to be angry. So what this is saying, is saying allow the experience to come through yourself, if done for the right reasons. If you see your child about to walk across the street and get hit by a bus, you don’t just kind of, “Namaste little one. No problem. Get hit by a bus. We’re all one anyways. It’s all good.” Like no, you yell, you scream. You run after your child, like “Oh my gosh! What were you doing? You almost got hit by a bus!” That’s an appropriate response to the situation because it’s done out of love. I love that about these types of stories that allow us not only permission to be human but tells us the importance of having our human experience and our human emotions. It doesn’t end with rage. It doesn’t end with anger. It ends with compassion.
The compassion came because he felt the anger, because he felt the sorrow. Not because he suppressed his anger. He didn’t stop and say, “Ooh, I’m the Lord of Everything. I will not feel angry. I’m just going to love and be compassionate towards you all.” No, he went through the experience and that’s a powerful, powerful message for all of us to allow yourselves your human experiences. In particular when you’re doing it for the right reason. When you’re doing it to overcome your ego. When you’re doing it for the love of something. What is love if not something done for something larger than the ego? When you love someone it means you’re willing to put that person ahead of your own ego. Ahead, pun intended, I guess, where you’re slicing off your own head for love. I love that. I love that we can do that as beings. That we an actually overcome this oppression of our egos, which most of us spend the vast majority of our lives appeasing our egos. Trying to serve our egos and get its needs and desires.
Here we have the story how the universe moves through us, through our human experience, for love, for the greater good. Of course, everyone is learning from this because Daksha’s losing his ego as well. That is us but it’s also that character, losing the ego and recognizing truth. It’s a beautiful message for all of us. What is the role of the feminine of Sati? Sati is to bring Shiva, to bring this universal consciousness into the world. It’s through the love of the feminine that brings the masculine into the world. Shiva was happy being up on the mountain top by himself, with nobody, not engaging the world. It’s the feminine that brings him into the world through love. It’s in that world that you encounter emotions. You encounter anger. You encounter sorrow. You encounter disappointment. It’s really easy to be up on the mountain top and live that idyllic yogic life of namast’aying to everyone and lets all just be love and peace because you’re not interacting with the challenges of life and the interactions of ego but that’s the purpose of the feminine. This is Prakriti and Purusha, right? Ultimate spirit and matter coming together as one for, in this case, the sake of love.
It doesn’t end well, necessarily. The story itself is giving us this beautiful lesson but don’t worry, Shiva does come back. Sati is eventually reborn again so it does work out well. That again becomes the role of the feminine to bring Shiva out of his yogic states and trances, wanting to disconnect from the world all the time. A lot of people you’ll meet that have really profound meditation practices and I can say this for any of the times that I’ve really gone deep into my meditation practices, I don’t really want to connect with the world. That inner experience, that world, is so beautiful, so powerful, that you don’t want to leave it and it’s so much easier than the complexities of life. If there’s one lesson that I get smashed into my face every single day being back in the world, in the Western world, is how complex it is and how difficult it can be and the times that I long for just being back on my little island and being able to sit in my hut and meditate all day or do yoga practice or do nothing, it’s strong. Again, that’s the beauty of the feminine to say that’s not what life is about. It’s not about sitting up on the mountain top. It’s not about hiding in a cave somewhere. It’s about being in the world and having the totality of the human experience.
Truly, that’s what we need in this world right now. We need people willing to get messy, to get dirty, but to do it for the right reasons. There’s plenty of people out there right now already doing it for the wrong reasons. They’re doing it for Daksha. They’re doing it for the ego. There are people interacting with the world to satisfy their ego. What we need is people in that space of connection to everything. That comes from meditation. It comes from these practices but coming into the world, allowing themselves the human experience but again doing it for those righteous reasons. Doing it for the right reasons. Doing it for love. Doing it for something other than the ego.
So I hope next time that you start to have an emotion and you’re thinking about suppressing it or the next time you want to hide away from the world because it’s easier, I hope you remember Shiva and Virabhadra, the Warrior, and lovely Sati and the sacrifice that she made so that we could have this human experience.
Listen to the story here: