Mythology is deprecated by the modern mind. We act as if we have somehow outgrown myths. But myths are just stories in which we can participate, stories which do not merely inform our experience of the world but which allow us to experience aspects of the world which would not be accessible to us otherwise. To the yogi, therefore, each myth is a potential passage into the central channel which leads toward awakening to our true nature. A famous myth of how Lord Siva obtained His glowing blue throat may serve as an example.
Though the story is much longer and comes in different versions, for our purposes today it is enough to say that the Great Naga Vasuki threw up a mouthful of his own venom, halahala. Vasuki’s venom is so powerful that it would have killed the entire cosmos if it had fallen upon any surface, let alone into the divine Ocean of Milk in which the elixir of immortality lay obscured. We could dive quite deeply into the significance of the Ocean of Milk itself, if we wished, but it would be quite a detour. Thinking quickly, Lord Siva caught the noxious substance in a large seashell and quickly drank it down before it could eat through the shell and fall into the Ocean. Though Siva is quite indestructible, Ma Parvati’s love for Him made her react instinctively and she quickly grabbed His throat, halting the poison there so that it could not descend further into His body. The halahala became permanently lodged in Siva’s throat, turning it blue.
To see how this can be an element of sadhana for us, we must take a step back and examine the details individually and in relation to one another.
Halahala is none other than ignorance, the one thing which can destroy everything by its noxiousness. Vasuki is a Naga King, but also represents Lord Siva’s mastery of time, for Siva wears Vasuki as an ornament. Vasuki’s venom is also known as kalakuta, which can translate as both “black mass” and as “time puzzle”. Time hints at tamoguna, the universal quality of ignorance, of unconsciousness, and of entropy. And while Lord Siva is of course Himself in the story, any time He appears as a distinct individual rather than as the Cosmic Spirit, He also represents each one of us. There is a saying in Saivite nondualism: jiva (the individual soul) is Siva (the Absolute Soul). We each drink halahala just by existing in the universe, believing ourselves to be individuals separate from the Whole.
But there is another corresponding saying: that Siva without Sakti (Power) is sava (a corpse). What this means is that Siva is inseparable form His Power, which in terms of the manifest universe and the jivas who inhabit it takes the form of the five graces: creation, preservation, destruction, concealment, and revelation. Parvati, Sakti Herself embodied as Lord Siva’s consort, taking hold of Siva’s throat signifies being taken up by Her grace of preservation, the sattvik power which allows sentient beings to remain conscious and aware enough to engage with spiritual pursuits. Without Sakti’s intervention, we would have no chance to awaken from the sleep of ignorance.
Notably, She keeps the halahala from descending below the throat, and so keeping it from entering the Heart. When ignorance floods the Cave of the Heart, the jiva is entirely overcome by it, losing all sense of its true nature and falling into the grasp of the remaining four kleshas which depend on ignorance for their effectiveness. Though we locate the Cave of the Heart in the chest, nearby to the anatomical heart, it is in truth without particular location. It is simultaneously the tiniest point and an infinite expanse, accessible through meditation. It is here that we encounter Sakti in Her Essence. But to do so, we must be given the grace to peak behind the veil which makes us feel as if outsiders to the Heart. When She seizes us by the throat, we wake up—and, having awoken, we may decide to take advantage of the moment and enter the Cave now free of veiling sleep. This may at first be only a momentary awareness, but the more we yearn to return to the Cave of the Heart, the more opportunities Sakti will provide for us to do so.
Siva’s blue throat, then, is a reminder to us that with Sakti’s grace ignorance is not a permanent condition; it is not essential to us, but something which we have imbibed. But there is yet a reason why it remains in the throat rather than leaving the body. Once we have gained any degree of awakening, we may find ourselves in a position to communicate something of it to other souls. To do this, however, we need the veiling languages of this universe. In the throat, of course, we immediately think of words, but really any imaginable means of communication is equally intended, from visual art to telepathy. If we are conveying something of spiritual discipline or experience, we are using the means of ignorance to bring proximity to truth. So we hold halahala in our throats for so long as we maintain individual manifestation. Lord Siva appears in the throat center of each jiva as Sadasiva, the Eternally Kind One, and so if we make use of this halahala in ourselves to be of aid to the spiritual yearnings of others, we, too, embody the Lord’s grace.
We could go deeper and deeper into this one story, or begin to explore other stories in a similar fashion, and we will never fully plumb their depths. We needn’t do this eternally, as it will become just another distraction. But we can find the kernels of those myths which draw us in and plant them in our own mental gardens. We need only a few for an abundant harvest.
Om Namah Sivaya!