The Symbology of the Shiva Lingam

“Out of Mother Divine comes everything and every being. Out of some way of spacetime enfolding itself or folding back on itself, we can find the explanation for any being or any form or any phenomenon. These are all variations of the enwrapping of Mother Divine.”

Thom Knoles

One of the mistakes often made by those outside of India is to look at Vedic symbology in superficial terms.

The Shiva Lingam is one such symbol. Frequently viewed as a representation of male and female genitalia, it actually has a much deeper and richer significance than this.

Thom gives us an entry-level look at the subject in this episode, correcting the misuse of the term Shiva Lingam, and clarifying its symbolism. 

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Episode Highlights


A Sacred Form



Shakti: The Fabric of Creation






Parashakti and Parashiva



Union of Yoni and Lingam



Masculine and Feminine in Vedic Perspective



Ardhanarishvara: Fusion of Masculine and Feminine



Interplay of Masculine and Feminine Energies






Shiva and God Consciousness



Consciousness Through Different States



From Transcendental to Cosmic Consciousness



Five Facets of Supreme Being



Shiva – The Supreme Being



Every Being is a Manifestation of Mother Divine


Jai Guru Deva


The Symbology of the Shiva Lingam

[00:45] A Sacred Form

Jai Guru Deva.

Let’s spend a bit of time talking about Shiva before we talk about the murti or form known as the Shiva Lingam.

Shiva is a word in Sanskrit that means the auspicious one. Shiva is very often mentioned in the triumvirate of creation operator Brahma, maintenance operator Vishnu, and destruction operator Shiva.

But we have to understand destruction properly. And to understand Shiva Lingam, we have to understand what there is, at least, in brief, to know about Shiva. We could spend our whole life talking about Shiva and the purest form of it so that we have an understanding of the relationship between the concept of Shiva and the concept of pure consciousness, which we touch upon every time we practice Vedic Meditation.

There is a moment where mantra disappears, and no thought replaces it, even if it’s only for a second. It’s a moment of supreme inner knowingness and we’re going to make a relationship between that and Shiva and the symbology or expressed value of Shiva in a murti—a murti means a sacred form—known as Shiva Lingam.

To start with Shiva, we have to start with the mother of Shiva who, primordially, is also the lover of Shiva, and we make a reference here to the Divine Feminine, Mother Divine, also known in Sanskrit as Shakti, S-H-A-K-T-I, Shakti.

[02:40] Shakti: The Fabric of Creation

Think of Shakti as an enormous all-encompassing fabric of creation, the totality of the universe with all of its congealed aspects, the stars, the black holes, the dust, the planets, everything there is, space and time, as an enormous shawl or blanket of fabric.

And now think of sitting down in that shawl and then wrapping it around yourself. Imagine if you’ve ever done this on a cool day where you felt you wanted to meditate but you needed to wrap up a bit, so, perhaps, you took a shawl and placed it over your back and then stretched it out with your arms to the left and to the right and then wrapped it around yourself, making you into a column surrounded by what had before that been a flat blanket.

And now you’ve enwrapped yourself with that blanket. This is Mother Divine enwrapping the form of Shiva, and this is the formation of a Shiva Lingam. A Shiva Lingam, in India, we see these very frequently and properly, they are referred to not as Shiva Lingam, which is a tautology.

You know what a tautology is? I’ll teach you in case you don’t know. T-A-U-T-O-L-O-G-Y, tautology. Akin to say, the two words following each other, I descended down, well, you either descended or you went down. You don’t need to say I descended down. I ascended up, you either ascended, which means you went up, or you just went up, you don’t need to say both of them.

[04:31] Yoni

And one of the favorites of mine is when foreigners come into India and go to a cafeteria or a chaiwallah, someone who provides tea, and they say, “I’d like some chai tea.” Well, chai means tea, and so to the Indian ear, that’s like saying, “I want some tea, tea.” All there is is chai. A tautology would be Shiva Lingam. Shiva and Lingam are the same thing.

Properly, this form of what looks like a cylindrical phallic symbol… 

And, for those of you who missed out on some of the readings of Sigmund Freud, a phallic symbol is virtually anything that is longer than it is wide.

Any cylindrical object which somehow conceptually has an association either subconsciously, archetypally in human consciousness, or perhaps more vividly and very consciously as a symbol of the male organ, the phallus. A phallic symbol, Shiva Lingam.

But this phallic symbol, Shiva Lingam, always is found having a base around it. The base around it, around the cylinder, the upright cylinder, is referred to as Yoni. Y-O-N-I. Yoni is the all-encompassing name for the feminine organ of sexual acceptance and birth canal. Entry into the birth canal. Yoni.

Sometimes the womb, sometimes the vagina, and certainly all of the aspects of the feminine organ are on display in a proper depiction of a yoni. So, around the base of this masculine-looking feature is the yoni. The yoni, which is the feminine, and we see this cylindrical phenomenon emerging up out of the yoni.

[06:44] Parashakti and Parashiva

And the yoni part is referred to as Parashakti, meaning transcendental Shakti. And the lingam part, the cylindrical phallic symbol, is referred to as the Parashiva. And so then, when properly constructed, this kind of statuary, which we don’t use the word statue in the Vedic way of describing things, we prefer to use the word murti, M-U-R-T-I, murti.

A murti is a sacred form that is an expression of a consciousness phenomenon. An expression of a consciousness phenomenon come into manifestation is referred to as murti, M-U-R-T-I, murti.

We refer to Guru Deva as Kevalaṃ Gyana Murtim. Kevala, that which is sole and alone. Kevalaṃ Gyana. Gyana is knowledge. Murtim is the murti, the embodiment of self-sufficient knowledge.

Kevala is closely related to Maharishi Patanjali’s word, Patanjali, Maharishi, M-A-H-A, Maha, Rishi, R-I-S-H-I, a great seer. Patanjali, who lived some 2,700 years ago, the founder of Yoga philosophy, the founder of, the writer of the Yoga Sutras, a being who was a great seer.

Maharishi Patanjali used the word Kaivalya, K-A-I-V-A-L-Y-A, complete, encompassed, self-sufficient knowledge. Self-sufficient, Kaivalya. Kevalaṃ Gyana is you know that Kaivalya, that all togetherness, alone and self-sufficient. Gyana; knowledge. Murtim; Embodiment. This is a description of Shiva.

[08:57] Union of Yoni and Lingam

So we have Shiva, well-formed, and we have Mother Divine, Shakti, somewhat amorphous. Amorphous Mother Divine, when enfolding on herself, folding in on herself, encases and embodies knowledge, and causes knowledge to coalesce, causes knowledge to condense and compactify.

And when that knowledge condenses and compactifies in its primal form, that is to say, least expressed, it is the image of the lingam. When the lingam is allowed to gestate, then its gestated form becomes hands and face and legs and whatnot. We have the upright form of a being known as Shiva.

Shiva in cocoon form is a lingam. Shiva, in his expressed form, is seen as like the butterfly that comes out of the cocoon and covered with beautiful beads with a cobra, the Bhujaga, B-H-U-J-A-G-A. Bhujaga. Bhujaga.

Bhujaga is a cobra in Sanskrit. Bhujaga-endra, the king of the snakes, is wrapped around his neck, the cobra. And he has a cobra encircling his biceps, his very masculine-looking character.

Why do we say that this image, this murti, is not complete unless properly it is depicted as a yoni lingam? And that is because, and this is not for your children’s ears, so trigger alert for children, but for the adults in the room, we know that a lingam can only be erect and cylindrical and have its rigidity if it’s surrounded by something that encircles it or enwraps it. And this is the feminine function. The feminine function is the creator of the masculine function.

[11:01] Masculine and Feminine in Vedic Perspective

So let’s take yoni away from the imagery, and what do we have? Flaccidity. We have a flaccid, non-erect, limp bit of amorphous tissue and that, when properly encircled, enwrapped, enveloped, encased, becomes lingam.

Lingam has no existence without yoni. And this is telling us something. There’s a few things in this. This imagery, when we see it from the position of the viewer of it, it tells us we are living inside the womb because this is the internal vision of sexual congress. It’s the internal vision of what, if you could be the observer inside the sex act, what the sex act would appear to be.

A cylindrical thing surrounded by an amorphous mass that encases it, envelops it, includes it, and, in fact, manifests it. It comes into being by virtue of that that surrounds it.

You’re living and viewing from inside the womb. What is this womb? This is The Universe. The Universe is Mother Divine. Uni, that which is one. Verse, that which is diverse. Diverse, all in one, Universe.

[12:34] Ardhanarishvara: Fusion of Masculine and Feminine

Universe is, in its most expanded version, Mother Divine. Mother Divine has a concept, and the concept is, “Wouldn’t it be nice to encircle something to actually create a format in which something else that appears to be other,” and other is always an appearance. “Other” in Vedic philosophy always is merely a concept.

“Something other than me could be inside this.” And so Shiva is a conception. So we love to say, and you’ve heard me say many times in other episodes, consciousness conceives the human body, consciousness constructs the human body, consciousness governs the human body, consciousness becomes the human body.

Mother Divine conceives Shiva. Mother Divine constructs Shiva. Mother Divine governs Shiva. Mother Divine prints herself out as Shiva. There’s also a part of the Vedic literature that refers specifically to the Ardhanarishvara. Ardhanarishvara, Ardha means half, ish means divine, vara means form.

Ardhanarishvara. Ardhanarishvara is the process of the transformation of the feminine into the masculine, the conceiving, the constructing. This process when Mother Divine is moving into Shiva, if we take a snapshot when this is halfway complete, we have this imagery of a divine being, half of whom is Mother Divine and wearing all of the stereotypical kind of garb and jewelry and whatnot that one might imagine being in the feminine realm, and the other half is very masculine, Shiva, Ardhanarishvara, the Supreme Being who is half-half.

This is a snapshot of a process. The process is an ongoing one; it is not static, and then the completing of that process is when the feminine allows herself utterly to become the masculine, Shiva.

[15:12] Interplay of Masculine and Feminine Energies

There’s a tremendous amount in this. Very often, I’ll have people who are concerned about same-sex approaches to life and living that don’t like this masculine feminine thing, and we need to get over that .

Because whenever during same-sex sexual acts, there is something cylindrical that is being encased by and enveloped by, cushioned by, absorbed by and stimulated by something non-cylindrical, that is to say, there is something that is the enveloping mechanism, and there’s something else that is the enveloped mechanism, then we have masculine and feminine.

So even in same-sex sexuality, whether it’s the forefinger and the armpit, then the forefinger is the masculine, and the armpit is the feminine.

In case, you know, that’s the way we enjoy our sex acts. Anybody can do anything and have all kinds of sexual experiences, but what is happening is an interaction between the masculine and feminine, irrespective of the genitalia of the performers of the act. And so, in the Vedic, worldview we don’t get stuck on these things.

We see masculine and feminine in everything. In the masculine body, there are so many feminine aspects. In the feminine body, there are so many masculine aspects. And we can see all of these things on display fully to the clear eye that is not taken up with the exhausting effects of guffawing about sexuality; one is able to take a clear-eyed view and study this in an academic and scholarly way.

[16:59] Omnisexuality

We see masculine and feminine absolutely everywhere. In every masculine form, there is feminine. In every feminine form there is masculine. There is a blend of these things on display everywhere. They are not homogenized. They are apposite, so they are, means they are paired.

And we can see this pairing going on everywhere in every form and every phenomenon, whether we’re looking at the world of astronomy, the astrophysics world, universal structures, or we are looking at the individual anatomy of an ant crawling around on the face of the planet Earth,we can see masculine and feminine absolutely everywhere on display.

I deal with this in far greater detail in my course on Omnisexuality. Omnisexuality is the understanding of sexuality from the Vedic perspective, and we won’t visit all of that here in great detail because of limited time on a podcast, but we do need to acknowledge the omnisexual nature of everything .

And omnisexual does not mean that we’re advocating for gender binary, gender nonbinary, homosexuality, heterosexuality, or any other kind of letter of the alphabet. These are simply expressions of the omnisexual nature of the human condition. No one of them can completely explain the condition of the universe or the human expression with reference to the totality of the universe.

These are all individuated expressions. And they have their value in a limited context of time and place. And fundamental identity is the underlying one indivisible whole Cosmic Consciousness state.

[18:59] Shiva and God Consciousness

What are you? You’re not merely a letter of the alphabet because that’s a doing, not a Being. On the level of Being, you, all individuals, all individual statuses and structures are waves of an underlying ocean of consciousness that has Totality in it.

So Shiva. Shiva is a very interesting form and one that’s worthy of much study. Shiva happens to be one of the facets of Supreme Being phenomenology, which may emerge in the state of God Consciousness. God Consciousness, which is the sixth state of consciousness. We’ll count them now very briefly.

Sleep consciousness, the least conscious state. Dreaming consciousness, the consciousness state in which though you can describe a dream to an avid listener, and it does take an avid one in order to listen to your dream. Dream consciousness, while it’s being experienced, is not able to be a shared experience.

Sleep consciousness; Nil Consciousness. Dream consciousness, consciousness is there, but its potential for being shared in lifetime is very, very small.

Waking consciousness, we have a degree of capacity to have shared experience. It’s a modicum of shared experience. So if I say, “I love you,” and you say, “I love you too,” we’re pretty convinced that we’re both experiencing the same thing until we get down to describing it in detail.

[20:42] Consciousness Through Different States

And then it can get a little frustrating to try to figure out what it is that we mean when we say, “I love you.” The idea here is that, in waking state, though we can find a modicum of unity, there’s a relatively small amount of it on display, and we have to explain ourselves in order to really find unity points, and we can do that, and there’s joy in it. We call that joy love.

As we grow and grow, we eventually run into meditation, and in Vedic Meditation, very specifically, we learn how to transcend. How to step beyond all of the limitations of the first three consciousness states: sleeping, dreaming, and waking. We can step beyond the limitations of these and experience that which underlies all of them.

This is what we call transcendental consciousness. That state of consciousness that is the underlying reality which lies underneath the curtains, or behind the curtains of the sleep state, the dream state, the waking state.

So now we have four consciousness states as meditators. We can step beyond thought and experience pure consciousness. Once we’ve done that many, many times through regular twice-a-day practice with eyes closed, sitting upright comfortably, we sit in, dive into that state, come out saturated with it. That state means what? That unity state, that transcendent state, becomes awakened enough that we’re able to experience it with eyes open.

[22:22] From Transcendental to Cosmic Consciousness

Eyes open experience of the underlying, that which was once upon a time transcendental, meaning beyond, the word transcendental means beyond, no longer is transcendental. It is that which is the underlying, silent, unbounded consciousness field out of which all the other consciousness states emerge.

Now, we have the fifth consciousness state because we have stabilized the fourth state, and it’s being experienced during the waking, the dreaming, and the sleeping. And this is a fifth state of consciousness on its own. We name it Cosmic Consciousness.

As Cosmic Consciousness stabilizes and develops, then through a mechanism that we’ve described elsewhere in great detail, and you can look up my episode on the subject of Soma, S-O-M-A, as the body produces more of this superfine celestial biochemical Soma in Cosmic Consciousness, living life on a daily basis, our senses of perception start to become hyperacute.

And this hyperacuity of sensory perception begins to yield a product. We begin to see something, many things, that always were there but are now being revealed to us by virtue of our super acute perceptual capability: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound.

The ability to perceive into the subtlest reality of the ever-changing relative world. And what we discover there is a world of beings. And among those beings, we find someone who is supreme, supreme to us.

[24:11] Five Facets of Supreme Being

And in the Vedic worldview, there are five facets of Supreme Being. This is the sixth consciousness state, which we call God Consciousness, in which we get to experience that value, which for us is supreme in the relative world.

And there are five potentials, each one of them associated with a bhuta. Bhuta, B-H-U-T-A. Bhuta means an element. The five elements are earth, water, air, fire, and space, in that order. Prithivi, earth. Apa, water. Tejas, fire. Vayu, air. Space, space element. Prithivi, Apa, Tejas, Vayu, Akasha.

The earth element is the grossest. The next less gross is water, the next less gross is fire, the next less gross is air, and the subtlest of all is akasha. Akasha is space element.

And when we experience the finest in the relative, depending on the spectral array, that is the combination and permutation of elements that are in that moment making us up, then in that moment, we’re going to experience that supreme value of personified consciousness. What we could call, if we wanted to use the Western word, God, that is Supreme Being for us.

One of those five is Shiva. The other four are Mother Divine, Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, Surya, the Sun, S-U-N, Sun, and Vishnu. Vishnu means, it means the maintenance operator of all of The Universe. Vishwa is The Universe, Vishnu is that which embodies the whole universe. Vishnu, Surya, Ganesh, Mother Divine, Shiva.

[26:20] Shiva – The Supreme Being

So Shiva may pass before your awareness and be experienced by you as supreme in a moment of elemental array when you are experiencing the subtlest, finest celestial layer of creation. And so, who is the Supreme Being? Well, the answer is always going to be another question. Who are you at the moment?

Because knowledge is different in different consciousness states. Knowledge is different in the different spectral arrays of the elements as they play within our physiology at a given moment; we look through, our consciousness looks through the prism of our elemental array, and experiences that which is supreme. One of these aspects is Shiva.

Shiva may be experienced in the more expressed manifest form as a being who takes on all of these qualities of individuation like eyes and ears and nose and mouth and hands and feet and legs and all of that, or we can go all the way back to primal and then one step beyond that to primordial Shiva, which then is the cylindrical form that is a construct of the enwrapment, the enveloping of the consciousness of Mother Divine.

[27:52] Every Being is a Manifestation of Mother Divine

Out of Mother Divine comes everything and every being. Out of some way of spacetime enfolding itself or folding back on itself, we can find the explanation for any being or any form or any phenomenon. These are all variations of the enwrapping of Mother Divine.

So there’s a little bit on the subject of Shiva, Shiva Lingam, properly known as Yoni Lingam, not to make the tautology. Chai tea? No. Just chai will be just fine. When you come to India, just ask for chai, and you don’t need to say the tea part. Shiva Lingam is Lingam Lingam or Shiva Shiva. We don’t bother with that. We just say Yoni Lingam. Yoni Lingam is the totality of the murti, the form, the sacred form is a Yoni Lingam.

So there’s a few minutes worth on the subject of something that we could literally talk about for weeks and months, possibly years if there were any questions on it. 

Jai Guru Deva. 

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