By Swami Tadananda
The Pāśupatas (from Paśupati, meaning Shiva, ‘the Lord of souls’) are the oldest known sect of Śaivite ascetic monks. Their most famous places of worship are the Somnāth Temple in Gujarat and the Paśupatināth Temple in Nepal. Pāśupatism is primarily an ascetic path that rejects dialectical logic and prizes sadhana as a means to actuate Lord Shiva’s compassionate grace (karunā), which is essential for liberation or dissociation from all sorrow.
Pāśupata monks follow a brave, ego-stripping path meant to infuse the seeker with Lord Shiva’s compassion. They wander about, pounding the dust with iron tridents and stout staffs, their oily hair snarled in unkempt coils or tied in a knot, and their loins wrapped in deerskin or coarse cloth. Their faces wrinkle with intense devotion and their piercing eyes see more Shiva than the world—which is permeated by Shiva. The holy ashes which besmear the body are indicators of the monk being a Pāśupata ascetic. Their chief mantra is Om Namah Śivāya. Their awe-inspiring austerity and worship of Shiva is steeped in a profound awareness of the cosmos as Shiva’s constant becoming, and is accompanied by an almost frolicsome spirit of devotion towards him.
In the beginning of their sadhana, the Pāśupatas practice special disciplines such as japa, Shiva-intoxicated laughter, singing, and dancing. These are accompanied with strict codes of ethics, called yama and niyama, stressing continence (brahmacharya), non-injury (ahimsa), non-irritability (akrodha), and asceticism (tapas).
The next stage of sadhana is the performance of the pāśupata-vrata, which is a means of self-purification, of rooting out egoism, which is the fetter (pāśa) that estranges the soul (paśu) from its Lord (Paśupati). Pāśupatas believe that when a person is established in the path of asceticism, he is able to accept with equanimity all abuse and insult. Accordingly, the ascetics disperse into mainstream society and live incognito. There they purposely invite public censure by perpetrating outrageous acts such as making snorting sounds, babbling, walking as if crippled, gesturing wildly, and talking nonsense. Such behavior is meant not only to bestow fortitude but also to enliven the ascetic’s disinclination towards all worldly fame and honor. Thus they attempt to fully establish in their subconscious the knowledge that like and dislike, good and bad, and all such human ways of thinking and feeling are not different from one another if one’s love for Lord Shiva is sufficiently strong.
In the final stage, the seeker practices the Pāśupata-yoga, which enjoins the yogi to stay in a cemetery in order to intensify his renunciation without being subject to the attractions of the world; to have an ash-bath three times a day, to imitate the form of Shiva, and to dance, being intoxicated with devotion to him. He practices meditation by withdrawing his mind from all objects past, present and future—and devotedly concentrating it on Shiva. While meditating on Shiva, the aspirant should also meditate upon the Shakti of Shiva, as the whole world is pervaded by both of them. The ‘Vayaviya Samhita’ in the Shiva-maha-purana describes the Pāśupata-yoga as follows: The yogi is advised to sit still like a piece of stone and fix his attention on the tip of the nose. He should think of and meditate on Shiva and Shakti within himself, as if they were installed in the seat of the heart. Meditation should at first commence with an object; later on it becomes objectless. Pāśupatas believe that since Shiva is formless (niskala), and unassociated with anything that can be expressed by speech (vāg-viśuddha), his formless nature should alone be meditated upon. Continuous meditation culminates in sāyujya, which means being in perpetual contact with Shiva. Liberation in Pāśupatism means duhkhānta, to be eternally disassociated from all sorrows.
- ‘Vayaviya Samhita’, Shiva-maha-purana, 7.2.38