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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Reprise—Putting It All Together, the Play of Gods

Handelman and Shulman (1997) summarize the fundamental intuitions and recurring perceptions that seem to pervade all of these panels:

that god moves into and out of himself, or upward and downward—from the density of being that reigns at the highest levels to the porous spaciousness that opens up inside him in the lower range; that god can, in some sense, fall into or through these very gaps in himself, and that he can get lost in the blackness; that slippage of this kind is, finally the major form his presence takes (for us); that these holes or spaces tend to congeal at their edges, thereby constituting our world;
that the Saiva cosmos is thus created, like the godhead, or like the psychic innerness of any living being, a pastiche of solidity and empty spaces, textured rather like Swiss cheese. Further that, for Siva this process is the only way to achieve selfhood and self knowledge, which are tenuous, perhaps unwelcome, and partly occluded or blind; that the way back from this descent into selfhood is through processes of internalization that melt down the congealed contours and recombine lost parts; that all this is play, uncertain, but far from random, initiated by the female persona within god and always requiring her elusive separation from the male persona, who is driven to pursue her from within his own being, that outer movement in this game is, finally destructive, while inner movement is erotic and integrating, though never finally so. (pp. 143-145)

The play of the gods upsets the current order of the cosmos, but Shiva gets to know himself better in the process, and maybe we can, too. There are lessons that we can learn from Shiva and the dice game. We, like Shiva have gotten so involved (literally) that we sit here having lost all of our divine attributes and our relation to the feminine as well, by becoming so involved in our game, we have forgotten who we really are. Like Shiva, and the joke is on us. In mythological Trickster tales, the Trickster in creating gets tricked himself, which results in boons to humanity and god gets to know himself better through his relationship with us. This is one of the reasons for the play in the first place. So now that we realize this and are fractured and fragmented as a result, like Shiva, how do we get out of this mess?

Shiva begins as undifferentiated oneness, and then through getting involved in the dice game separates and fragments and hardens. The parts of himself take on lives of their own and unexpected consequences occur. He relates to these parts in different ways and gets to know himself better in the process.

In order to play, Shiva needs to divide up into male and female halves, this gives us opposition and polarity. As Shiva plays, he is in a state of movement, it is chaotic and he also yearns for the prior wholeness before the game, where there was a density of being and interconnectedness and no discontinuities. But in this prior unified state, Shiva was unreflexive, because there was no other and thus no way to consciously know himself. The game brings the other and reflection, the ability to know himself through these interactions. Yet the game paradoxically in separating himself from himself makes him forget that he is everything.

How can he “come back to himself?” The myths show us three ways, through violence, erotic union, and tapas. Through these three processes, we are able to drive the cosmos inward to more wholeness. Violence attacks form and breaks it down, but it is messy and nasty; something is always left over and so violence is ultimately not a productive path. Note to humanity—this is not the way to go! Handelman and Shulman (1997) write that the erotic is a compromise between tapas and violence, melting differences into a soft undifferentiated flow. The erotic thrives on maya—the transformative power of phenomenal reality where nothing is as it seems or in which one thing conceals another. Shiva is taken in by his own maya, this cosmic game, the veil that allows him to play, to be self and other, and you and me as well. The erotic temporarily brings together separated forms, but is a lesser form of union. The internal heating of tapas is the ultimate form, because in the heat, transformation occurs, boundaries melt and burn away, and rigidity dissolves into fluidity. The fluidity and flexibility of play have a powerful affinity to the dense fluidity of higher levels of cosmic integration, and so while play got us into this mess, play can also get us out, with the prize of consciousness to show for it.

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