• Who’s the Goofy Elephant-headed God? ELEPHANT JOURNAL SEPTEMBER 2016

    Posted in Articles by Eric Shaw

    Most yogis know Ganesh is the Lord of Wealth and the “Remover of Obstacles.”

    And it’s by taking apart his myth that we learn what this activity means.  


    The father of this elephant-headed guy is the god, Shiva.

    Shiva is a yogi who hangs out mostly alone in the mountains.  He symbolizes being.

    Ganesh’s mother is his wife, the goddess, Shakti—who represents doing.

    They come together and it’s Do-be-do-be-do!


    Shiva is a yogi.

    We see images of him in forests and mountains meditating.

    He is the power of emptiness.

    Shakti is his wife. She acts and creates.

    She is the power of fullness.

    She is the power behind samsara—the “All Flow.”  This is the word that the tradition uses to describe the whole of the world we live in.


    The myth of Ganesha’s birth begin simply.  They tell us Shakti just wanted a child.

    Desire and wanting are important in Indian philosophy.

    They call desire, iccha, and it is a first principle of the universe.


    Because she is a Goddess, Shakti was able to creat Ganesh with a “virgin birth.”

    Sitting in the bath, she pushed the dirt off her body to form him as if from clay—very much like the way Yahweh created the first man, Adam, as the Bible tells us.

    She was in the flow, in her bath, in dreamtime.

    She made the boy up from the ideal world of dreams.

    Then she set him up as the guardian of bath chamber.  He protected her waters of flow.

    We humans like this.  Don’t get me out of bed!  My dreams are streaming sweetly.  Don’t rain on my parade!  I want to keep going along just as I am.

    Ganesh was set up to protect Shakti’s dreamy fantasies.

    This is human. We try to protect what is meaningful to us by using rigid ideas–or even angry ideas—that guard us from what is contrary or real.


    Shiva is emptiness. He is all possibilities that come out of emptiness.  He is everything that comes from the abyss of the unknown; hence, he is called “The Destroyer.”

    His beingness is greater than anything that is less than being.

    Shiva is all being, the All-in-All.  He is greater than any human idea of the self or the world.


    Shiva and Shakti, being and becoming, the uncreated and created, must move toward each other.

    Shiva loves Shakti. He meets the boy guarding his wife and cuts his head off.

    Upon birth, Ganesh was “headstrong.” Seemingly pure—like an “Ivory Tower”—he expressed a mere ideal. He was his mother’s dream of a perfection (as boys tend to be) and he stood inside his own oedipal dream that he could come between his father and mother.

    He stood for a fantasy. He blocked life’s real flow.

    He prevented the movement of Shiva toward Shakti––never a good idea.

    Shiva destroys every idea.

    In fact, he destroys all that is, was, or will be.

    He is eternity, and eternity swallows everything that has odor, taste, touch, color, sound or thought in this world. All things fade, change, dissolve and disappear. Only being is eternal.


    When Shiva decapitated Ganesh, Shakti was mortified.

    She was shocked by the absoluteness of Shiva’s act of destruction.

    As wives do—she berated Shiva, and—as husbands do, because the grace and flow of the feminine is holy to them—he moved to appease her.


    He found an elephant. One who is said to have also died defending his mother. He chopped that head off, too.

    He melded it to Ganesh.


    We say, “Elephants never forget.”

    They symbolize the ups and downs of the past, and the wisdom that results from pain and experience.

    Walking heavy and slow, they represent the reflection arising from the flow of years.

    “Things are not black and white,” we say. Elephants are gray.

    They symbolize the retreat from extremism, the lightness of belief in a perfect world.

    Elephants symbolize the painful heaviness of the real.

    Life is wisdom and experience. Life is the change of ideals into the real—that unexpected, wild and self-contradictory thing that life always is.

    The surreal elephant, with its tree-legs, butterfly-ears, and a nose that is a snake, represents this.

    When all dualities come together, we have the ultimate.

    Shiva made Ganesh a god.

    His big head is the big, real world.


    The transformed Ganesh represents life “as it is” (as the Buddhists say) and he assumes a new position as the guardian of Shakti as the captain of Shiva’s army of ganas, his ghosts, or reminders of being.

    Ganes is the isha or pati (both mean “ruler”) of these ghosts; hence, he is called Ganesha or Ganapati.

    In esoteric understanding, he is said to lead the “ghost” of the body (the life force).  In maps of the subtle body, he is positioned at the low power center (the root chakra) called Muladhara which negotiates our connection to the animal power, tribal support and the Earth.

    Here he controls the “obstacles” to our flow.

    To make things happen, life force flows into us and into the world of being.  It creates doing, deciding and duality.

    Ganesh can open us to the door of infinite bliss, infinite flow and infinite possibility.

    This is why people put statues of him around the house.

    His fat belly is satisfaction–all things made by doing—all wealth.

    His godly vahana (“vehicle”) is the mouse, which means he crushes the worrying, scurrying mind.

    Opening the gate to flow, he is the alpha state of the mind—what we need to make books, art, or music.

    So Ganesh is also the lord of scholars, artists and musicians.


    Ganesh opens Muladhara. He secures us to the ground of being, helping us to sacrifice what is over-detailed, meaningless and mousy in the world, so the heights of being can be had.

    He stops us from being “headstrong” or stiff-necked (as the Bible says the Jewish people were when Moses tried to take them to Israel).

    He opens up the head and neck’s higher power centers, making us available to the blessings of divinity and doing.

    These two are represented by Ganesha’s wives:  Siddhi (Holiness) and Riddhi (Wealth).


    Every obstacle yields to flow. Everything yields to Ganesh.

    That is why some sects of India make him the chief Spirit.  They see Ganesh as important because he guides our way to the material world—or the divine—or both.

    We praise him with a phrase that means, “Victory for Ganesh!”  We sing,   “Jaya, Jaya, Jaya! Ganesh!”


  • 2 Responses to "Who’s the Goofy Elephant-headed God? ELEPHANT JOURNAL SEPTEMBER 2016"

    1. Jennifer Keeney March 1, 2016 07:13 am

      Love this Eric! Thank you for sharing yourself and your knowledge so enthusiastically and joyfully with us this weekend in Lubbock…

    2. Eric Shaw March 2, 2016 17:01 pm

      Thanks for looking in, Jenny. I hope I see you all again in E. Texas! Cheers, E

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