Why is Shiva sometimes depicted as sitting in the smashana or cremation ground? Sadhguru looks at the symbolism behind this representation and explores some fundamental aspects of life and death.

Sadhguru: The only problem that I have with people is that they lack the needed intensity. If they were intense enough, we would not have to work towards the ultimate for a lifetime – today, the work could be done. The moment of death or the possibility of death is the most intense experience in most human beings’ lives. Most of them would have never touched that level of intensity throughout their lives. In their love, in their laughter, in their joy, in their ecstasy, in their misery – nowhere else do they touch that level of intensity – only in death.

Because of that, Shiva went and sat in the cremation ground or kayanta, waiting. Kaya means “body,” anta means “ending.” Kayanta means “where the body ends” – not “where life ends.” It is a kayanta, not a jeevanta. All that you picked up on the planet, you have to leave behind. If you have lived in such a way that your body is all you know, then the moment when you have to shed it becomes the most intense moment of your life. If you know something beyond the body, it is not of great significance. For one who has realized the nature of who he is and what he is, kayanta is not such a great moment. It is just one more moment, that’s all. But for those who lived just as a physical body, when the time to part with all that you know as yourself comes, it is going to be a very intense moment.

Immortality is a natural state for everybody. Mortality is a mistake that you have made. It is a wrong perception of life. As for the physical body, kayanta, the end of the body, will definitely come. But if instead of being just a kaya, you become a jeeva, if you are not just a living body but a living being, then immortality is a natural state for you. Whether you are mortal or immortal is only a question of perception – no existential change is needed.

Shiva sits at the smashan, bored with you and your play, bored because the whole drama all over town is absolutely stupid. The only real thing happens at the cremation ground.


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That is why enlightenment is referred to as realization, not as an accomplishment or achievement. If you see it, it is there for you. If you do not see it, it is not there for you. It is only a question of perception – no fundamental, existential change. If you are equipped, not with the senses, but with your pragna, then you know not only the kaya but the jeeva, and you are naturally immortal. You do not have to work towards your immortality. You just have to realize that this is the way it is.

So, Shiva shifted his residence to kayanta or smashan. Shma refers to shava or corpse, shan refers to shanya or bed. Where the dead bodies lie, that is where he resides, because he realized working with living people is a waste of time. You cannot get them to the pitch of intensity that is needed. You have to do so many tricks to make people a little intense.

Intensity does not arise because you have made the instinct of survival the biggest thing within you. There are two fundamental forces in this living body. One is the instinct of survival – another is the longing to expand limitlessly. If you empower the instinct of survival, it always tries to play low, because survival means playing safe. If you empower the longing to become limitless, if you are seeking limitless expansion, if that is what all your energy is focused on, then there will be full intensity of life.

The instinct of survival is dominant in every other creature. With the phase of evolution where we have become human, a higher level of awareness and intelligence has entered into our lives – this is the time where the instinct of survival can be kept down and the longing to expand should be fired up. Out of these two forces, one is always trying to fuel the intensity in you, the other is always trying to keep you at a simmer. You may have to save resources that are scarce, but life is not scarce.

Shiva sits at the smashan, bored with you and your play, bored because the whole drama all over town is absolutely stupid. The only real thing happens at the cremation ground. Maybe at the moment of birth and the moment of death, something is happening. Maternity homes and cremation grounds are the only two sensible places, though maternity is happening a little too much.

Is it wrong to be limited? No. But it is painful to be limited. Is it wrong to be in pain? No. If you enjoy it, what is my problem?

Shiva is sitting at a place where life makes utmost sense. But if you are fearful, if you are on survival or self-preservation mode, this will not make sense to you. Only if you are longing to expand and touch the ultimate, it will make sense to you. He is not interested in those who want to survive. To survive, you just need four limbs and a few working brain cells. Whether they are earthworms, grasshoppers, or any other creature – they are all surviving, doing fine. That is all the brain you need to survive. So if you are in survival mode, if self-preservation is the most dominant thing in you, he is bored with you – he is waiting for you to die.

He is referred to as the destroyer not because he wants to destroy you. He is waiting at the cremation ground so that the body is destroyed, because until the body is destroyed, even people around do not realize what death is. You may have seen that when someone dear to them dies, people will fall all over the dead body, hug it, kiss it, try to bring it back to life – many things. But once you set fire to the body, no one ever goes and hugs the flames. Their instinct of self-preservation tells them this is not it.

This is not a question of right and wrong but of limited sense versus ultimate sense. Is it wrong to be limited? No. But it is painful to be limited. Is it wrong to be in pain? No. If you enjoy it, what is my problem? I am not against anything. The only thing that I do not like is if you want to go in one direction, but you are going in the opposite direction.

Senselessness is the only thing that I am against, because the essence of human life is that you have much more sense than any other creature – or you are supposed to, but a whole lot of people are trying to disprove that. Creation means intelligence. The Creator means ultimate intelligence. Unfortunately, a lot of people who are in all kinds of mess talk about God, and most people only talk about God when they are in a mess. If you have a nice, warm shower, you will sing a cinema song. If we put you in the cold theerthakund – “Shiva! Shiva!” The moment there is difficulty, Shiva comes to your mind. When life is going the way you want it, you will think of all kinds of people and all kinds of things. If someone puts a gun to your head – “Shiva! Shiva!” He is the wrong guy to call. He is waiting at the cremation ground. If someone puts a gun to your head, and you call Shiva to save you – he will not.

If you are not just a living body but a living being, then immortality is a natural state for you.

Trying to turn it backward is the one thing that will not work with life. If you run forward, whichever direction you go, whatever you want to do – you sing, you dance, you meditate, you cry, you laugh – as long as it takes you towards a higher level of intensity, it will all work. If you try to roll it back, it does not work. Most human beings you do not have to poke with a dagger to make them miserable. If you simply leave them alone, they will become miserable. Their instinct of self-preservation has crossed reasonable limits and is trying to curtail life and turn it backward. Sitting in the cremation ground, this is Shiva’s message: even if you die, it will work, but if you curtail life, it will not work. The question whether you curtail life or allow life to happen does not depend upon what you do and what you do not do, but upon how effervescent and how intense this life process is right now.

It is not a question of whether what you do is useful or not. If you can bring intensity into useless things, it will still work. But you need meaning for everything that you do. Unless it is meaningful, unless it is useful, you cannot throw yourself into it. In that context, meaningfulness and usefulness are important. Otherwise, meaningfulness and usefulness are essentially psychological. They are an inspiration, not an end in themselves.

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