Sometimes I feel I am spinning around some burning sun, a celestial body held in orbit by forces I cannot see or fully understand. On my sattvic days I move closer to the warmth and light at the center of my galaxy. Other days I inevitably and inexorably move further away. The cycles come and go.
During my Jivamukti Yoga teacher training I decided to begin to use the name Pashupa as my own. In the Rigveda pashupa means ‘protector of the cattle’ and is a name of the Vedic solar deity Pushan, related to the Hindu god Shiva’s epithet Pashupati. I had learned of Pashupati through the writings of my teacher Sharon Gannon, who translated Pashupati to mean ‘protector of the animals’. This resonated with me so much that I had it tattooed onto my right calf earlier in the year (and it occurred to me just now that I have ‘protector of the cattle’ on my ‘calf’…).
Also gleaned from Wikipedia, “The Pashupatinath Temple is the most important Hindu shrine for all Hindus in Nepal and also for many Hindus in India and rest of the world. The name has also been applied to a figure, probably a deity, depicted as sitting among animals, bearing a strong identical resemblance to modern day Shiva, on a seal discovered in the context of the Indus Valley Civilization.”
Names are just one aspect of identity. I was blessed with the given name Derek, meaning ‘power of the tribe’ or ‘leader of the people’, which is hard enough to live up to I suppose. As I have spent some time in this incarnation searching for who I truly am it has become apparent that my dharma is to serve the farmed animals of the world; the most oppressed, tortured, terrorized, brutalized, misunderstood and disregarded of all sentient beings. If I am to lead human people anywhere it is to be away from the diets and lifestyles that perpetuate unimaginable horrors upon the souls who have incarnated into these gentle animal forms.
It has been several months now that I have worn the name Pashupa in various places. I tell my yoga students that it is my yogi name, but that is just a partial truth. I am still discovering for myself what the name means to me. While I was traveling to photograph the National Conference to End Factory Farming (photos here) I had some epiphanies and decided to try to put them into written words.
For me, Pashupa is the sun that I orbit around. It is my higher self, who I aspire to be. There are so many distractions that pull me away. The wondrous celestial bodies and hearts of the women who fill my life, seeming to offer some mysterious completion of my self. My struggles with money, which flows through my life but never seems to accumulate or offer relief. My back taxes and college loans that follow me like hungry ghosts, increasing every year instead of diminishing. My addictions to coffee and sugar. All these ‘flaws’ that make me fully human. All these manifestations of ego.
When I speak of Pashupa, it is usually in the third person. “Hello, I am Pashupa.” “You can thank Pashupa for giving you the opportunity to do urdhva dhanurasana.” “Pashupa loves you, holy beings.” For one thing, it makes me smile to speak of myself this way. But, I am also speaking of a specific aspect of myself. The part of me that lives his highest intentions, that teaches & practices yoga out of compassion, that is humble, selfless and kind. Pashupa is the me that I aim to be, and in naming that part of me it reminds me where I am going.
It still warms my heart to hear other people call me Pashupa. We all have our inner equivalent of Pashupa, and reflect it back to others. We all have the evolutionary urge to be Pashupati. There is a web of compassion, obscured by avidya, that connects us all. When I hear the name from others, it reminds me that they can see my inner Pashupa. My ignorance drops, my heart opens.
May we all find our inner Pashupa, whatever sound or song we may choose to call it by.