Both And • 11 December 2007

Some sensitive came around today with the tip that active & receptive, will & surrender, are as Siva and Shakti: we contain both, and cheat ourselves in any reduction to one disposition or the other.

Which reminded me of the brilliant and controversial Wendy Doniger’s words on Siva as the embodied resolution of apparent opposites. Here.


[O]ne must avoid seeing a contradiction… where the Hindu merely sees… correlative opposites that act as interchangeable identities in essential relationships.… Tapas (asceticism) and kama (desire) are not diametrically opposed like black and white, or heat and cold, where the complete presence of one automatically implies the absence of the other.

They are in fact two forms of heat, tapas being the potentially destructive or creative fire that the ascetic generates within himself, kama the heat of desire. Thus they are closely related in human terms… opposed but not mutually exclusive.

The mediating principle that tends to resolve the oppositions is in most cases Siva himself. Among ascetics he is a libertine and among libertines and ascetic; conflicts which they connot resolve, or can attempt ot resolve only by compromise, he simply absorbs into himself and expresses in terms of other conflicts.

Where there is excess, he opposes and controls it; where there is no action he himself becomes excessively active. He emphasize that aspect of himself which is unexpected, inappropriate, shattering any attempt to achieve a superficial reconciliation of the conflict through mere logical compromise.

Indian mythology celebrates the idea that the universe is boundlessly various, that everything occurs simultaneously, that all possibilities may exist without excluding each other.

The myths rejoice in all the experiences that stretch and fill the human spirit; not merely the moments of pure joy that we want to capture, nor the great tragedies and transitions that transform and strengthen us, but all the seemingly insignificant episodes and repetitious encounters of banal reality which the myth… teaches us to sanctify and to value….

The conflict is resolved not into a static icon but rather into the constant motion of the pendulum, whose animating force is the eternal paradox of the myths.

                   Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Siva: The Erotic Ascetic
                                                                pp. 35-36 & 318