Shiva Sutras 3.9, 3.10, 3.11, & 3.12 - The Players and the Played

Shiva Sutra 3.9

nartaka atma

The idea of the universe as a dance or drama goes back to Samkhya, the philosophy systematized by the sage Kapila in the sixth or seventh century BCE. Samkhya is said to be the pillar of many branches of Indian philosophical and metaphysical thought. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna connects his teachings to Arjuna into Samkhya thinking; and its roots are said to go back to the Vedas and the Katha and Svetashvatara Upanishads.

In the Samkhya Karika, verse 60, the moment of enlightenment is described in terms of a dancing girl. She dances for the audience only when her performance is desired. When the audience, as the observer, realizes that she is merely a girl dancing, performing, acting - she will cease to perform. In other words when the observer is no longer entranced in and deceived by her graceful seductive movements, she has been ‘seen’ and knowing that her arts of illusion are finished, she will not dance again.

The dance of Maya’s power of Illusion will cease for us, as observers of the universal drama, when we come to understand - through a focused discerning awareness - that what we have taken as Real, was in fact our own deluded limited consciousness projecting our desires out into the hologram.

Here in Shiva Sutra 3.9, the Sanskrit word narataka means the dancer or actor on the world stage and atma is the Self, the God within. The God within you is the observer enjoying the ‘universal dance’ of Its own making. Everything you experience in your own life “birth, death, joy, sadness, depression, happiness, enjoyment. All this forms part of the universal dance, and this dance is a drama. [SLJ]”

Just as an actor knows they are playing a role in a play, so the God within us is ever aware that although we are entranced and mesmerized - these scenes of our lives are just the ‘play’ of Its universal drama. When you realize that your drama has been created by you, through the mind and the five senses, then you are like the actor who knows that he is only playing yet another role. The drama does not affect you – you can take off the mask and go Home.

“The actor is he who conceals his real nature. [SLJ]” The actor within you is God, and all this that entraps us in its beauty and drama is the ‘Play’ of God consciousness. “His real action is his being in his own universal God consciousness in each and every moment of revealing his differentiated forms. [SLJ]”

I understand that many find this idea of God’s ‘play’ cruel. What kind of God finds the death of thousands of innocents play? Consider the idea that all beings are God dwelling within the living and the dying. This is a polarity universe. The Oneness both enjoys all our creative hopeful achievements and suffers every demonic catastrophic event throughout the Cycles of Time.

“A colossal universal drama …”

In truth, the only real understanding of the magnitude of God’s awe-filled polarity based universal drama is to Become that God consciousness for yourself. Once you ‘switch’ into the state of Being God consciousness, every pain and doubt will be transmuted to Joy, to the bliss (ananda) of understanding it was all your doing all along. You become the ‘player’ and cease to be ‘played’ by self-created Illusion. That bliss waits within us all.

“So, this entire universe is actually the result of a colossal universal drama which is taking place. And who is the hero in this drama? Here the part of the hero is played by the internal soul who is also the universal soul in disguise. [SLJ]”


Shiva Sutra 3.10


Ranga is the stage, the place where the universal soul can play out innumerable roles. Antaratma is the internal soul that has taken the form of the subtle body (puryashtaka). The subtle body carries the residual traces of our good and bad deeds from one life to another. [Jaideva Singh]

We are each the perfect composite of our every thought, act, and deed in all our previous lives. There is no place for a blame-game in this thinking. We are each responsible for everything that happens to us, for both our talents and abilities, and our darkest compulsions and inevitable tragedies.

“There, in that field of drama, the internal self steps in and begins his dance, revealing this drama of the world by infusing the movement (spanda) of his organs…all of this is his play. In actual fact, he is neither laughing nor dreaming nor sad nor joyous – he is one, just as he has always been. [SLJ]”

The internal soul is acting in the three states – waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. The awareness of these three is important in Kashmir Shaivism because we must become conscious in all three.

“By entering into the subtle body (puryashtaka) found in the dreaming state, he journeys in each and every womb in this universe. He is known as the interior self (antaratma). [SLJ – Svacchanda Tantra 11.85]”


Shiva Sutra 3.11

prekshakani indriyani

The sense organs are essentially the audience, the spectators of the universal drama. The Sanskrit word used for the sense organs is indriyani, and comes from the word Indra who is the king of the gods who are said to dwell in heaven. The gods in fact live in you, in every one of us as the sense organs. These are the five senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell; and the mind with its intelligence that can discern; and the ego that is imbued with the sense of ‘I am’ and therefore can experience differentiated limited perception and feel separate from the One.

“Thus, for a yogi, the observers of this drama are his own (sense) organs (indriyani). [SLJ]” While people who have not reached God consciousness are lost in their self-created dramas, the yogis who have remembered their Real nature are “not overwhelmed in this way because they are absolutely aware of what they are doing in this world. [SLJ]”

The enlightened yogi does not evaporate into white light. Rather he/she continues life in a heightened state of awareness, observing the acts and thoughts transmitted through the senses. “He knows whatever happens in this world, it is just play. [SLJ]”

When the God within you is concealed and you are self-deluded, the sense organs exist to draw you out into Time and Space, to experience ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ in the temporal illusory hologram. The moment you reach God consciousness, the God within reveals that you have always been That - and in a sort of cosmic reversal, your sense organs become the vehicle for your Return to unending Bliss, your Real eternal state.

“When that reality of the Self is revealed by these (sense) organs, the inherent difference (vibhagam) is totally destroyed and vanishes. His organs become filled with universal joy and absolute independence (svantantrya). [SLJ]”


Shiva Sutra 3.12


For the yogi who attains the “reality of his supreme intellect” he achieves the state “where he feels and experiences that he is actually acting in this world. [SLJ]”

By observing the patterns of our behavior, over time we will come to see how they repeat and repeat again and again. We realize that we have existed in a sort of prison-like-blueprint that always compels us to repeat the same patterns in the same way. This ‘cage’ of compulsions appears to do what is always does, no matter how we try to control it.

When we observe these confining patterns, we begin to detach from them and they no longer have the power to provoke our reactions. We come to feel that this is only one role of many, perhaps hundreds that we have played throughout the cycles of time. Remembering our past lives will make this very evident. The individual personality self in this current life is only one of hundreds. We can drop the role.

Our blueprint-like patterns of behavior are described by Krishna in the final Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, XVIII 59-61. Krishna tells Arjuna that even if deluded by ego, he thinks “I shall not fight” such resolve will be hopeless in vain because his own nature (prakriti’s gunas) will command and control him.

Our inborn material nature will always drive us into habitual actions and compulsions. “The Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, and by the power of Illusion, causes them to wander as if fixed on a machine.”

The Sanskrit word is yantra-rudhani: yantra is a machine like mechanism and rudhani suggests that we are attached or mounted on a machine, which J.A.B. van Buitenen translates as the water-wheel. This mechanism is the collection of all the remnants of tendencies we have accumulated throughout all our lives, the samskaras. These ‘residual impressions’ compel each of us to act in predictable ways as if helpless within an inescapable enclosure, a matrix of our own making.

The enlightened yogi realizes that he/she is not that machine, matrix, yantra-rudhani of compulsions. He is not the actor, not the Doer. These wise ones are the ‘heroes’ who have Become God consciousness, Parabhairava.


:721026_sm.jpgSwami Lakshmanjoo



Samkhya Karika of Isvara Krishna, Translated by Swami Virupakshananda; Sri Ramakrishna Math Printing Press, 1995.

A Brief History of Samkhya


Bronze Chola Statue depicting Shiva dancing as Nataraja. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Winthrop Sargeant; State University of New York Press, 1994.

The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata, A Bilingual Edition, Translated & Edited by J.A.B. van Buitenen; The University of Chicago Press, 1981



A detailed description of Prakriti’s Gunas: The Mechanics of the Matrix