Because of the present upheaval in the world, it is common to have conversations about deep subjects – for example, about the purpose of suffering – or does it have one at all? For some, the dire situation of the pandemic calls to mind the Indian figure of Shiva, the third of the three great deities in the Hindu pantheon. In that religion, Brahma is the Creator, the divine Mind that fashioned the world from the formless and gave the first sacred Message in the Vedas. The sustainer is Vishnu, the one who keeps all things flowing, and Krishna, the tender lover who plays his flute and makes the world dance, is an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu. The third figure is Shiva, who is usually viewed as the destroyer, the one who brings everything to an end, and he is often portrayed with his forehead smeared with ash from the burning ghats or cremation grounds.
In the west, we have some difficulty seeing the divine at work in destruction. Sufi prayers tell us that God is the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, but, we might ask, where can we find love or beauty in the painful chaos of illness, dissolution and death?
To put this in context, it can help to remember that, in spiritual understanding, all that has a name or form is only a cover over the Creator. We admire the intoxicating beauty of the world, but the created cannot endure; it will always come and go, and someday be forgotten. This means that God, eternally present, remains unseen; He is veiled within His ever-changing Creation. And yet, being unlimited Love, He longs to be known; it is His longing reflected in the human heart that makes us seek Him. The work of the spiritual path, then, is to get beyond the limitations of the world, so as to recognise the eternal, all-pervading Truth, and Shiva is the epitome of the one who willingly leaves all behind in the fulfilment of that quest. If Shiva represents destruction, it is only the destruction of attachment for the sake of the Truth that can thereby be revealed.
From the spiritual point of view, then, we should hope to glimpse something through the painful changes the world is undergoing – a divine light, if only we are willing to let go of the veils to which we have been clinging.