Lord Shiva is depicted with a third eye on his forehead and we are told this eye destroys everything it sees. This attribute of Shiva definitely makes a great mythological spectacle, but there is something deeper and more profound that our forefathers are trying to tell us. In this article, let us try to understand the underlying meaning of Shiva’s third eye and decode what our forefathers mean when they say, “Shiva destroys the world by opening his third eye”.
In Hindu mythology, Shiva is one of the principal Deities. Amongst the three primary deities in Hinduism of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, he is the destroyer and reformer, with Brahma being the creator and Vishnu being the sustainer. Shiva has many iconographical attributes which includes
· Body covered in ash
· Sitting on Tiger skin
· A cobra around his neck
· Crescent moon on his head
· A trident in one hand
· A drum in other hand
· River Ganges flowing out of his matted hair
· And a third eye on his forehead
All of these attributes of Shiva have some significance associated with them and there are very interesting stories associated with all these attributes. I do plan on covering each one of them in the future videos however in today’s video, let’s just focus on his third eye, as in my opinion this one is the most profound. So, what is the meaning of Shiva’s third eye?
Shiva’s third eye is located on his forehead and most of the times remain closed. However when Shiva opens his third eye, it destroys everything that it sees. As an example, in Shiva Purana, there is a story where Shiva burns Kaam Dev to ash by opening his third eye. This happens when Kaam Dev shoots an arrow of desire on Shiva, to arouse affection in him for Parvati. You can take this story literally and appreciate it just like any modern superhero type story and of course it makes up a great story in itself. However, the true beauty of this story lies in the underlying meaning.
Think of this story to be happening inside your mind. Lets say that there is very a beautiful girl (or a handsome boy for my female readers) that you find very attractive. The desire in your mind for that person represents the Kaam Dev, who is shooting an arrow at you. Lets say you start pursuing them without truly understanding them for who they really are, then this is blind love, which is momentary and not going to last very long. Kaam Dev inside you therefore has succeeded. However if you stop for a while and look at your person of desire objectively, really understanding them as a person and then judging if they are suitable for you, then you will find true love that is going to last as lifetime. This is where the Shiva inside you has opened his third eye and destroyed the Kaam Dev. So Shiva’s third eye represents destroying your blind desires and taking the path of wisdom.
The question that now arises is, of all the things, why did our forefathers use the third eye on the forehead as an icon for depicting this. For this we will have to jump a little bit into understanding the physiology of human brain. It is a well know phenomenon in psychology that we have two levels in our brain. The lower animal-brain which runs on autopilot and the higher human-brain through which we make intelligent decisions. In his book, “thinking fast and slow”, which I highly recommend all of my audience to read, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman describes the difference between these two brains. He calls these two brains, system 1 and system 2. When we do thing on autopilot based on our instincts, we use system 1 or lower brain, while when we put an effort into a mental task, we use system 2 or higher brain.
It is this higher brain, which separates us from animals. Animals just follow their animal instincts and live their life within the limits of nature, while as humans we can overcome our instincts and act on our will. It is this capacity of humans due to which we are not limited by nature. When you blindly pursue a desire based on your instincts, you use your lower brain. When you pursue them consciously, after overcoming your instincts and carefully judging the pro and cons, you are using your higher brain. In other words by using your higher brain, you open the third eye of Shiva in you.
Through functional MRI, scientists have figured out, where is this higher brain located. Can you guess where it is located? Right behind our forehead where Shiva’s third eye us located. Our forefathers did not have functional MRI, but they did know where our seat of wisdom is located and that is exactly where they placed the third eye.
Shiva’s third eye signifies the destruction of the world of Maya. It is an eye of wisdom, which provides us the faculty to distinguish what is right and what is wrong.