(Excerpts from the Satsang of Pujya Bapuji)
The fourteenth day of dark fortnight in the month of Falgun (Magha in Gujarat & Maharashtra) is celebrated as MahaShivaratri. This is the festival of increasing asceticism, self-restraint, and sadhana; of infusing simplicity and naturalness in life; of seeking contentment in the Shiva of True Self; of observing Mauna.
MahaShivaratri is the festival of reposing in the True Self beyond the body, in the Absolute, in the Ultimate Truth. It is not the day to drive oneself out of wits under the influence of opium (bhaang). It is the day to make your heart pious by imbibing the nectar of Lord's Name. Exercising self-restraint and proceeding on the path of reposing in the True Self is verily the meaning of MahaShivaratri.
MahaShivaratri is the night to stay awake and get engaged in sadhana and Bhakti. 'Shiva' means well-being. Thus, MahaShivaratri means the night of great well-being. Staying awake in this night, observing fast and doing japa and meditation contemplating the meaning of the mantra being repeated, affords great religious merit. It is mentioned in the 'Brahmottar Khand' of Skand Purana, "The Shivaratri fast is extremely rare. Further, staying awake in the MahaShivaratri night is even more rare for human beings. Lord Brahma and other gods, as also sages like Vashishthaji, shower a lot of praises on this fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Falguna. One observing fast on MahaShivaratri gets entitled to religious merit more than what is obtained by a hundred sacrifices."
Staying awake at night brings awakening in life. Awakening in life means not being carried away by pairs of opposites like favorable and adverse circumstances; it means waking up in the Shiva of True Self, the changeless one, even while living in the body and the world, both of which are constantly changing. If you stay awake in the night with a sense of discrimination intending to save your life from being wasted in meaningless sense-enjoyments and to engage it in attaining the goal of God-realization; you are moving towards attaining of awakening in life, which is the goal of staying awake in the night of MahaShivaratri.
One worshipping Lord Shiva, singing His praises, and meditating on Him gets entitled to repose in the real Lord Shiva, the Ultimate Truth. The puja of Lord Shiva is performed with three joined bilva leaves indicating to us, "O sadhak! You too are joined to this body by the three qualities of nature. Surrender the three qualities to Lord Shiva. Make an offering of Sattvik, Rajasic and Tamasic thoughts and actions to the Indweller Lord Shiva."
The fragrance of bilva leaves cures your body of Vaata and Kapha disorders. As you worship Lord Shiva, you simultaneously make your body healthy. While offering bilva leaves to Lord Shiva, make an offering of the three qualities of nature as well. While offering panchaamrit (the mixture of five nectarine substances - milk, curd, sugar, honey and ghee) to the Lord, offer your ego to the Pure Consciousness, the power behind the five elements of nature. This will make for your oneness with the Lord. Lord Shiva, the Ultimate Truth is your True Self and your True Self is in substance same as Lord Shiva, the eternal entity fully representing Transcendental Existence, Knowledge and Bliss.
On MahaShivaratri day, Lord Shiva is worshipped with panchaamrit. Others worship mentally and also by meditating and filling the heart with His love. It is childish to insist on beholding a form in meditation. One should rather meditate on the all permeating Ultimate Absolute Substratum, more pervasive than even the sky. Chant "Om...Namah....Shivay...." in protracted intonation and get engrossed in the thoughts of the Absolute.
The festival of MahaShivaratri awakens us to the idea that as Lord Shiva lives on the snow-clad mountain-top of cool equanimity, we too should, if we want to elevate our lives, establish ourselves at the pinnacle of sadhana, unmindful of the pairs of opposites like happiness and sorrow. Don't go headlong in enjoying pleasure; rather put it to appropriate use by sharing it with others. Don't be miserable in adverse circumstances. Instead take advantage of such circumstances. Get rid of diseases through fasting and self-control. If a friend betrays you, know that the Lord wants to rid you of attachment and "my-ness" through this betrayal. All the troubles in the world are brought to you to deliver you from attachment. Make good use of them.
When you go to Lord Shiva's temple, you see Nandi, the ox. The stupid in the society are likened to an ox. They are deprecated. But the ox is given respect in Lord Shiva's temple. The implication is that even the one as dumb as the ox is worshipped, if he renders selfless service, worships the real God, the Ultimate Truth and undertakes the Lord's work. What is Lord's work? Whatever is done for the good of all, for the happiness of all is Lord's work. "बहुजनहिताय, बहुजनसुखाय". One who worships Lord Shiva, that is, works for the good and for the happiness of others, intending to serve the Indweller Lord thereby, will be worshipped sooner or later, even if he is dumb fellow in the eyes of society - this is the message from worship of Nandi.
Lord Shiva has serpents around His neck. The Enlightened ones know the art of reforming even those evil people who are venomous like serpents, to make them useful for the society. Lord Shiva is called Bhole-Nath, i.e. He always protects the innocent. Those who want to cross the world of transmigration, but are tormented by the arrows of lust are protected by Lord Shiva when they remember Him.
Lord Shiva adorns the moon of the second lunar fortnight on His head. The Enlightened ones acknowledge even the smallest virtue in others. The Ganga flows from Lord Shiva's head. Waves of knowledge flow from the head of those who have reached the heights of equanimity. That explains why a halo is always shown behind the head in the pictures of gods of Sanatan Dharma.
By reducing Cupid, the god of love to ashes, by opening His third eye, Lord Shiva gives the message, "O Man! The Shiva Consciousness is hidden in you too. Open your third eye of discrimination to reduce your desires, passions and bondages to ashes."
Lord Shiva remains ever immersed in the bliss of divine communion. Hence His aura is so powerful that even animals, which are born enemies of each other, remain established on the throne of equanimity in His presence. A single meeting between a lion and a bull, a serpent and a rat is enough to bring about the end of the latter in both cases, but in the presence of Lord Shiva, they forget their mutual enmity because of the equanimity in Lord Shiva's eyes. Hence, you too tread the path of experiencing the Self so that you get rid of the feeling of hatred in you. Hatred pollutes the blood. So, Shivaratri is the festival that brings us the message that we should transform such mental modes which burn the heart, into the mode of Brahman, and realize our Brahmic Self.
Lord Shiva drank the poison Halaahal, during the churning of the ocean. He neither swallowed nor vomitted the poison; but held it in His throat and is hence called "Neelkanthh" (one with the blue throat). You too are the Lord Shiva of your family, your house. Whenever any good thing is brought to the house, give it to your children, wife/husband, family, etc. and whenever there is Halaahal in the form of obstacles and troubles, hold it in the throat and you will remain ever ecstatic in Self-Bliss like Neelkanthh. The senior members of a samiti, family, neighbourhood, monastery, temple, institution, village, etc should like Lord Shiva, take the initiative in any endeavour and let others take the credit for success.
If you are a wife, remember Ma Parvati, the universal Mother Jagadamba as to how she co-operates with Lord Shiva in His samadhi! You too should think how you can help your husband tread the path of Self-Realization. And if you are a husband, think how you can help your wife to become great as Parvati.
The festival of Shivaratri brings us the message that the more we are selfless and compassionate, and the more we restrain ourselves from finding faults with others and meditate on the Divine Supreme Being, the more will our Shiva Consciousness be enhanced, and lesser will we be influenced by pleasures and pains. We will awaken into our equanimous nature, our Divine Being, and our heart will overflow with bliss, love, courage and sweetness.