Shiva illustration - Who is Shiva?

Who is Shiva? Many stories and legends surround this most prominent figure of Indian spiritual traditions. Is he a god? Or a myth constructed from Hindu culture’s collective imagination? Or is there a deeper meaning to Shiva, revealed only to those who seek?

Sadhguru: When we say “Shiva,” there are two fundamental aspects that we are referring to. The word “Shiva” means literally, “that which is not.” Today, modern science is proving to us that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. The basis of existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos is vast nothingness. The galaxies are just a small happening – a sprinkling. The rest is all vast empty space, which is referred to as Shiva. That is the womb from which everything is born, and that is the oblivion into which everything is sucked back. Everything comes from Shiva and goes back to Shiva.

The word “Shiva means literally, “that which is not.” On another level, when we say “Shiva,” we are referring to a certain yogi, the Adiyogi or the first yogi, and also the Adi Guru, the first Guru.

So Shiva is described as a non-being, not as a being. Shiva is not described as light, but as darkness. Humanity has gone about eulogizing light only because of the nature of the visual apparatus that they carry. Otherwise, the only thing that is always, is darkness. Light is a limited happening in the sense that any source of light – whether a light bulb or the sun – will eventually lose its ability to give out light. Light is not eternal. It is always a limited possibility because it happens and it ends. Darkness is a much bigger possibility than light. Nothing needs to burn, it is always – it is eternal. Darkness is everywhere. It is the only thing that is all pervading.

But if I say “divine darkness,” people think I am a devil worshiper or something. In fact, in some places in the West it is being propagated that Shiva is a demon! But if you look at it as a concept, there isn’t a more intelligent concept on the planet about the whole process of creation and how it has happened. I have been talking about this in scientific terms without using the word “Shiva” to scientists around the world, and they are amazed, “Is this so? This was known? When?” We have known this for thousands of years. Almost every peasant in India knows about it unconsciously. He talks about it without even knowing the science behind it.


The First Yogi

On another level, when we say “Shiva,” we are referring to a certain yogi, the Adiyogi or the first yogi, and also the Adi Guru, the first Guru, who is the basis of what we know as the yogic science today. Yoga does not mean standing on your head or holding your breath. Yoga is the science and technology to know the essential nature of how this life is created and how it can be taken to its ultimate possibility.

Sadhguru at Kanti Sarovar

This first transmission of yogic sciences happened on the banks of Kanti Sarovar, a glacial lake a few miles beyond Kedarnath in the Himalayas, where Adiyogi began a systematic exposition of this inner technology to his first seven disciples, celebrated today as the Sapta Rishis. This predates all religion. Before people devised divisive ways of fracturing humanity to a point where it seems almost impossible to fix, the most powerful tools necessary to raise human consciousness were realized and propagated.

One and the Same

So “Shiva” refers to both “that which is not,” and Adiyogi, because in many ways, they are synonymous. This being, who is a yogi, and that non-being, which is the basis of the existence, are the same, because to call someone a yogi means he has experienced the existence as himself. If you have to contain the existence within you even for a moment as an experience, you have to be that nothingness. Only nothingness can hold everything. Something can never hold everything. A vessel cannot hold an ocean. This planet can hold an ocean, but it cannot hold the solar system. The solar system can hold these few planets and the sun, but it cannot hold the rest of the galaxy. If you go progressively like this, ultimately you will see it is only nothingness that can hold everything. The word “yoga” means “union.” A yogi is one who has experienced the union. That means, at least for one moment, he has been absolute nothingness.

When we talk about Shiva as “that which is not,” and Shiva as a yogi, in a way they are synonymous, yet they are two different aspects. Because India is a dialectical culture, we shift from this to that and that to this effortlessly. One moment we talk about Shiva as the ultimate, the next moment we talk about Shiva as the man who gave us this whole process of yoga.

Who Shiva is Not!

Unfortunately, most people today have been introduced to Shiva only through Indian calendar art. They have made him a chubby-cheeked, blue-colored man because the calendar artist has only one face. If you ask for Krishna, he will put a flute in his hand. If you ask for Rama, he will put a bow in his hand. If you ask for Shiva, he will put a moon on his head, and that’s it!

Shiva, sculpture at the entrance of Adiyogi Alayam

Every time I see these calendars, I always decide to never ever sit in front of a painter. Photographs are all right – they capture you whichever way you are. If you look like a devil, you look like a devil. Why would a yogi like Shiva look chubby-cheeked? If you showed him skinny it would be okay, but a chubby-cheek Shiva – how is that?

In the yogic culture, Shiva is not seen as a God. He was a being who walked this land and lived in the Himalayan region. As the very source of the yogic traditions, his contribution in the making of human consciousness is too phenomenal to be ignored. Every possible way in which you could approach and transform the human mechanism into an ultimate possibility was explored thousands years ago. The sophistication of it is unbelievable. The question of whether people were so sophisticated at that time is irrelevant because this did not come from a certain civilization or thought process. This came from an inner realization. This had nothing to do with what was happening around him. It was just an outpouring of himself. In great detail, he gave a meaning and a possibility of what you could do with every point in the human mechanism. You cannot change a single thing even today because he said everything that could be said in such beautiful and intelligent ways. You can only spend your lifetime trying to decipher it.

Editor’s Note: Download Sadhguru’s ebook, Shiva – Ultimate Outlaw, alongwith Vairagya, an album of sacred chants (also available as an Android App). They’re free!

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POSTED IN:Yoga & Meditation, History of Yoga
TAGS: Adiyogi, Know Shiva, Shiva
  • Tarakeshwar

    is this argument supported by the Vedas??

  • Sumant2711

    Marvellous article on ‘Shiva’!

  • Sivakumar Kumar

    It is wonderfully aligned with science…. that is an unique and the beauty of Shiva!

  • Puja Thakur

    superb explanation

    • bhupinder gupta

      the statue ”Shiva, sculpture” above is very similar face to tv actress kamyia punjabi .

  • Vishnu Modur

    This is quite informative and enriching but I have a doubt. In some other literature the word MAYA is also referred to as ‘that which is not’, so, are both the same thing?

    • Hitesh

      MAYA is illusion… that which is actually not while Shiva is NOTHINGNESS . Beyond Matter, beyond energy.

  • Manoj Muthukuru

    Wrote this poem and created a postcard as a Facebook feed on Jan. 31st. Reading this article, I could not resist recollecting the poem and sharing:

  • Kalyan

    Nice article. But I have a question about the process of creation that you spoke of in the below lines. Can you explain that more, what we know already but dont realize it?

    “But if you look at it as a concept, there isn’t a more intelligent concept on the planet about the whole process of creation and how it has happened. I have been talking about this in scientific terms without using the word “Shiva” to scientists around the world, and they are amazed, “Is this so? This was known? When?” We have known this for thousands of years. Almost every peasant in India knows about it unconsciously. He talks about it without even knowing the science behind it.”

    • Sivakumar Kumar

      Very good understanding. Nice comment. Thank you Kalyan

  • vs

    Shambho is the auspicious one. And why pray to him? Just use the technology he invented (or created).

  • kskumaran

    Sadhguru, Amidst all these beautiful yogic explanations, how did Siva in real time look like, please show us….

  • sita

    pranam sadhguru,
    help “me” to dissolve…

  • Jaya

    Why would a yogi like Shiva look chubby-cheeked?

    Devi offer some food to Shiva………Please maaaaaaaaaaa :-)

  • Sivakumar Kumar

    There is a concept that Shiva is without beginning and without ending,- It belongs to which level, either Adiyogi or nothingness/non-being?

    • vizzi

      Well nothingness of course, isn’t it?

  • Sivakumar Kumar

    Darkness, Nothingness, If the God is nothingness. How one come from zero?

  • hr

    Its a mocking mystery that one comes from zero ! If God himself is dark then how can he lead others ?? So the blind leads the blind ????

    • Tony Bressi

      Does one not accept that one plus a negative one equals zero? Modern science readily accepts particles and anti-particles which when combined obliterate each other. Particles and anti-particle pairs bubble out of “empty space” and disappear back into it – this is necessary for all quantum field theories to work. Nothingness never remains nothingness. It is quite unstable. But everything arising from this nothingness, must return to it. This is an aspect of our universe – nothing becoming something and then returning to nothing and the cycle repeats endlessly. It would be a mistake to get too hung up on this aspect.

      Do not think of Shiva in the way in which most think of a “God.” Shiva as a teacher, showed humans that their senses in fact blind them to reality. He taught how to remove all this “noise” and discover one’s true nature and that of our universe. Physicists will tell you that this world has many more dimensions than the three spatial and one time dimensions that are normally perceived by people. Shiva does not require worship as a God, in fact Shiva would see it as rather pointless, instead he should be respected as the greatest of teachers. That is not even necessary, no demands were or are made. The techniques that Shiva gave were a gift, free for anyone to practice. But it is left to the person to decide whether to make use of this gift or ignore it.

      I will tell you this – the reality of yourself and this universe cannot be understood by explanation. You cannot get it from a book or a website. I can give you all the physics of golf and a thorough detailing of the principles and how to play it. But does that make you a golfer? Does it make you a world class player? Of course, it does not. The same goes here, only magnified a million times. So many go around saying they are enlightened and describing what it is and what they experienced. So many more read or watch and follow them. One does not become enlightened by reading a book, just as reading a book on golf does not make one a world class golfer. One doesn’t need to intentionally follow the techniques, given by Shiva so long ago, to become enlightened. Many have become truly enlightened around the world, without consciously knowing they were following a technique given by Shiva. But in the end, the principals underlying these techniques are the only ways and in all the other effective techniques others have given or described, it is always these principals which are responsible for success. My advice practice these techniques, what does one have to lose? No need to give up belief in nor take up a particular religion – the techniques require no worship.

  • Sivakumar Kumar


  • Sunil Jain

    In Jainism Adinath Trithankar is also referred from Kailash Pravat, where he had his Samadhi. His is also symboliased with Bull as Shiva. Is there any connection between them. Could anyone enlighten me in this topic?

  • Sharmila

    When i think of Shiva i think of the circle of life.
    Is there anyone who can tell what the difference is between Shiva and Mahesh?

    • monish

      He answer this (somewhat) in page 48 of the book Circus of the Mind. It’s there on google books.

  • bhupinder gupta

    Who Is Shiva: Man, Myth or Divine? —- one of the criminal ,fatefull , killer