The Icon and Invocation
The name of the icon in the header of this website is Dakṣiṇāmūrti. This icon and the invocation verses that appear next to it both reflect the site name, avagamanam, meaning knowledge or discernment. Dakṣiṇāmūrti is a representation of Śiva, a teacher who imparts knowledge that dispels ignorance. This ignorance is not just ignorance of things, but the fundamental ignorance of taking myself to be this body and mind and seeing duality in the world, God, and myself. This ignorance of my true nature is what one may call original ignorance. Lord Śiva as Dakṣiṇāmūrti, the teacher, destroys this ignorance of myself, thus imparting spiritual knowledge. One sees this icon in all Śiva temples, facing south; and one can see people in front of this idol, sitting in meditation or standing and uttering a prayer to the deity.
The name Dakṣiṇāmūrti. is a Sanskrit compound word. It can be understood in different ways. The most common and popular meaning is “a south-facing form.” Why is this icon facing south? There are two possible explanations based on the Purāṇas (mythology). Lord Śiva faces south, the direction of death, because He dealt with Yama, the Lord of Death, to guarantee immortality to a devotee who was supposed to die at sixteen. From the spiritual perspective, real immortality is freedom from any limitation; and the means of gaining this freedom from limitation is what is taught by Dakṣiṇāmūrti. A second explanation of the name is that the abode of Lord Śiva is in Kailāsa in the Himālayas, at the northern extreme of India. Thus He faces the south where His seekers live, as He imparts this knowledge of freedom from limitation.
Another meaning provides a deeper insight into the name.The same compound can be resolved as “formless competent one.” The word ‘competent’ here implies the power of the Lord as the creator, sustainer and absorber of this universe. The word ‘formless’ tells us that there is no form associated with these competencies.
A third way one can interpret the word comes from the mechanism of word formation. Based on etymology, the meaning is “the limitless that is formless.” This meaning conveys the fact that the teacher of limitlessness must be limitlessness, and thus one cannot ascribe to that teacher a limited form, confined in space and time.
The first meaning is at the gross level of dualistic worship, asking for higher knowledge from the Lord as the teacher. The second meaning is at the phenomenological and theological level of the Lord as the creator, but removing the concept of an associated form. The third meaning is at the subtlest level, representing the core of the teaching.
The teaching imparted by Dakṣiṇāmūrti is that you, the seeker, are indeed limitlessness, referred to as Brahman in the Upaniṣads. This teaching is enshrined in statements like “That from which these beings are born, by which these are sustained and unto which they resolve, may you know that. That is Brahman.” (Tattirīyopaniṣad, 3-1).
It is traditional in almost all religions to offer a prayer when starting a venture, sacred or secular. The successful outcome of any task depends on three factors: adequate effort, time, and a third factor that is beyond our control. An example often cited to explain these three factors is planting a coconut palm. Though one may put in adequate effort to plant and care for the tree, one must also allow time for the tree to grow and become fruitful. Even if the effort and time are sufficient, a storm may fell the tree before any harvest is possible. This third and last factor, which is beyond our control, may be called fate, chance, probability or luck. Hindu tradition calls it Īśvara or daivam, meaning God.
A religious person, therefore, invokes the grace of the Lord to achieve his/her goal, even if the goal is just a material gain. This is based on the understanding that everything is the Lord’s creation, and I seek grace for all my endeavors in this world.
As I launch this website for the benefit of all spiritual seekers, I offer two verses of invocation dedicated to the teacher, Dakṣiṇāmūrti.
Om namaḥ praṇavārthāya śuddhajñānaikarūpiṇe.
Nirmalāya praśāntāya Dakṣiṇāmūrtaye namaḥ. (1)
Om! I bow to Dakṣiṇāmūrti, who is the content of praṇava (the syllable Om),
who is free from any blemish, who is peace, and whose form is pure consciousness.
Īśvaro gururātmeti mūrtibhedavibhāgine
Vyomavadvyāptadehāya dakṣiṇāmūrtaye namaḥ. (2)
I bow to Dakṣiṇāmūrti, who appears as though divided into three forms of the Lord,
(my) teacher, and myself, (but) whose body is omnipresent like space.