Is Shiva A God? What Does Shiva Mean?

Summary: Is Shiva a God sitting up there? Sadhguru explains what does the word 'Shiva' actually mean and the significance of this in the spiritual process.

article originally published on

Shi-Va: A Device To See Life The Way It Is

Sadhguru: People keep asking me about whether they should believe in God or not. Let me ask you a question: Do you believe you have two hands, or do you know you have two hands? You don’t have to look at your arms to know that you have two hands because you know you do in your experience. Why is it that when it comes to hands, you know, but with gods, you believe? Essentially, it is because you are not sincere enough to admit that you do not know.

Belief comes because you are not straight enough to admit that you do not know. “I do not know” is a tremendous possibility. It is only when you realize “I do not know,” that the longing to know comes. When the longing to know comes, seeking will come. When seeking comes, there is a possibility to know. However, if you simply believe what you do not know, you have ensured that you will never know.

“I Do Not Know” is a Possibility

No true seeking can happen if one assumes what is at the other end. One does not know, only then his seeking is truly genuine. Seeking always comes from “I do not know.” You do not know, so you are seeking to know. Seeking comes from a certain state of innocence, a void from which you want to come out. Seeking is a searching – you do not know what it is; you are seeking, you are finding your way.

When we say, “Shiva,” we are not talking about some god. Literally, “Shiva” means “that which is not.”

Unfortunately, in the world, most people are not willing to strive, and belief systems have become an easy substitute. You just believe: “Yes, there is divine. Yes, there is devil.” You can fool yourself with this, but it is meaningless because you have made it up in your mind.

People have so many belief systems. People talk about heaven and imagine a place with all the things you could not get here – food, women, gods or whatever else. All that you are deprived of here, you put it “up there”. This is why in Indian culture, we said “Shi-va”, which means “that which is not.”

When we say, “Shiva,” we are not talking about some god. Literally, “Shiva” means “that which is not.” Physicists today have proven that the whole creation comes from nothing and will go back to nothing. The vast nothingness is the basis of existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos. The billions of massive galaxies are only a small sprinkling in this vast nothingness, which we refer to as Shiva.

Imagine No-Thing

So, what is up there? No-thing. How do you imagine a no-thing? Try hard and see! The more you apply yourself, it will dematerialize all the forms that you have in your mind. In this culture, they told you to say “Shiva” constantly because we are talking about demolishing every form you have created. Whether you created gods, ghosts or goblins, it doesn’t matter. You created them. If you don’t put them down, you will never see reality the way it is. You will always imagine that these things are floating around. So this was given as a methodology with which you can demolish all this.

You say “Shiva” because you are trying to conceptualize that which is not. The more effort you put into this, the more the mind becomes clean and flat.

The fundamental of a spiritual process is that you don’t assume anything. When you say “Shiva”, it is not that you believe Shiva is sitting up there. You are just using a sound as a device. This sound was not given without basis. We observed and realized what different types of sounds will do with you. Shi-va is a way of burning it out, so that life begins fresh every moment. Your psychological space will become like a plain mirror. It will just show you what is there, nothing more. That is how your mind should be. This is a useful mind. Right now, too many things are sticking to it. Just imagine if your house mirror became like this: whoever comes in front of it, it retains ten percent of the reflection. It would become useless in no time.

When you try to conceptualize that which cannot be conceptualized, you are trying to see something that does not have a form. If you really go at it, this is seeking. Then you will transcend physical creation. If you transcend physicality and if you are still here, that means you touched something else. That something else, we called it “that which is not.”

So, you say “Shiva” because you are trying to conceptualize that which is not. The more effort you put into this, the more the mind becomes clean and flat. What you like and dislike, what you love and hate, everything will go. Once you have a flat, clean mirror, you see everything just the way it is because the firmament of your mind is the only place you see anything in the existence. If you do not keep that clean and flat, you will see your own ghosts.

Fighting with Ghosts

Let me tell you a joke. A man got admitted for a medical checkup. He was a very modest man and he was not used to a physical checkup like this where they stripped him down and made him do this, that, weight, height, treadmill – all kinds of things. During all this, somehow, they did not let him go to the bathroom, and he could not help himself and it happened on the bed! He did not want the pretty nurse attending to him to see what he had done on the bed sheet because he was a very modest man. So, he picked up the sheet and threw it out the third floor window.

A drunkard was walking down on the street, trying to figure out the shape of the planet! Suddenly, this white sheet came floating down and fell on him. He began flailing his arms and legs and rolled around and this and that. Somehow, he got the sheet off, and the sheet was down there at his feet. He looked down at the messy sheet. Then someone came and asked, “What happened?” He said, “I think I just beat the shit out of a ghost!” This is what is happening with most people. You are fighting ghosts which do not exist. You can fight and win a war with them, but the more you win, the more you will be lost.

Seeking does not mean imagining something and trying to get there – that’s madness. You don’t imagine anything. How do you not imagine anything? Because once you have memory, imagination will come. So, this device was given – conceptualize that which is not. Try harder and harder, and you will see, mind will become poof!

What does Shiva mean?

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.

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!

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.

curated collections

Scroll to top