The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra

Between the eighth and twelfth centuries A.D, a distinctive school of yoga and philosophy flourished in Kashmir under masters such as Vasugupta, Somananda, Utpaladeva, and Abhinavagupta, Jayaratha and Ksemaraja.  For these Rishis, Shiva was not a destructive God or eccentric yogi but the eternal Self which resides in all beings [1].  This school is now called “Kashmir Shaivism”.  Beginning in the 1850s, the Kashmir research department, which was founded by Maharaja Pratap Singh to study the ancient heritage of the region, began recovering and publishing the extant texts of this ancient school[2].  Among the texts discovered was the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra which enumerates 112 Dharanas (methods of centering the awareness).   The Vijnana Bhairava states in verse 162 that it is the distillation of an earlier text named the Rudrayamala Tantra, a scripture which is now lost.  This article details some of the methods of inducing contemplation  listed in the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra.

The latest and best-known exponent of Kashmir Shaivism, Swami Lakshman Joo (1907-1991) wrote a commentary on this scripture which has appeared in a couple of books.  Here, I am adding a supplementary description based on my experience and the wisdom of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Winnie the Pooh.

Winnie the Pooh

Some verses from the Vijnana Bhairava

Verse 34: By fixing one’s mind on the inner space of the skull and sitting motionless with closed eyes, gradually, by the stability of the mind, one attains the supreme goal.

“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.” – Winnie the Pooh

There is a right way and a wrong way of doing this.  If you watch the skull with the closed eyes turned inwards, all you get is a turning inward of mental attention which has no positive effect.  To gain the benefits of this method, one needs to interiorize properly.   One must concentrate one’s consciousness in the heart and offer one’s aspiration upwards towards the Divine.  If you keep doing this, eventually there will arise a palpable feeling that you are actually seated in the heart and are gazing upwards at the skull. This is a sign that your consciousness has interiorised and you are awake in the subliminal.  In this condition, you can feel the subtle fire burning in the skull.

Verse 41: If one listens with undivided attention to the sounds of string instruments and others, which are played successively and are prolonged, then one becomes absorbed in the supreme ether of consciousness.

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.” – Winnie the Pooh

This method was discussed by the Mother in one of her talks.

Child: Mother, when one hears music, how should one truly hear it?

Mother: For this—if one can be completely silent, you see, silent and attentive, simply as though one were an instrument which has to record it—one does not move, and is only something that is listening—if one can be absolutely silent, absolutely still and like that, then the thing enters. And it is only later, some time later, that you can become aware of the effect, either of what it meant or the impression it had on you.

But the best way of listening (to music) is this. It is to be like a still mirror and very concentrated, very silent. In fact, we see people who truly love music . . . I have seen musicians listening to music, musicians, composers or players who truly love music, I have seen them listening to music . . . they sit completely still, you know, they are like that, they do not move at all. Everything, everything is like that. And if one can stop thinking, then it is very good, then one profits fully. . . . It is one of the methods of inner opening and one of the most powerful [3].

Verse 60: One should cast one’s gaze on an open (stretch of) land devoid of trees, mountains, walls etc. When the state of the mind is fixed there, then the fluctuating thoughts dissolve (by themselves).

“I was walking along looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn’t anymore.” – Winnie the Pooh

Sri Anirvan calls this method Akasha-Bhavana (contemplation on the vastness) and traces its origin practice to the Upanishads (I don’t know the chapter and verse).  It has also been discussed by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

The Mother spoke of it a few times:

“…The easiest way is to identify yourself with something vast. For instance, when you feel that you are shut up in a completely narrow and limited thought, will, consciousness, when you feel as though you were in a shell, then if you begin thinking about something very vast, as for example, the immensity of the waters of an ocean, and if really you can think of this ocean and how it stretches out far, far, far, far, in all directions, like this (Mother stretches out her arms), how, compared with you, it is so far, so far that you cannot see the other shore, you cannot reach its end anywhere, neither behind nor in front nor to the right or left… it is wide, wide, wide, wide… you think of this and then you feel that you are floating on this sea, like that, and that there are no limits… This is very easy. Then you can widen your consciousness a little.

Other people, for example, begin looking at the sky; and then they imagine all those spaces between all those stars, and all… that kind of infinity of spaces in which the earth is a tiny point, and you too are just a very tiny point, smaller than an ant, on the earth. And so you look at the sky and feel that you are floating in these infinite spaces between the planets, and that you are growing vaster and vaster to go farther and farther. Some people succeed with this.” [4]

And Sri Aurobindo alluded to it in The Synthesis of Yoga:

This image of the ethereal (Akasha) Brahman may indeed be of great practical help to the Sadhaka(aspirant) who finds a difficulty in meditating on what seems to him at first an abstract and unseizable idea. In the image of the ether, not physical but an encompassing ether of vast being, consciousness and bliss, he may seek to see with the mind and to feel in his mental being this supreme existence and to identify it in oneness with the self within him [5].

 For more on this method, see the page on “Widen the consciousness” and “Walking with eyes unfocussed

Verse 71: At the time of experiencing great bliss, or the joy of seeing a friend or relative after a long time, one should meditate on the rising of this bliss and, while merging with it, one’s mind will become one with it.

“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?” – Winnie the Pooh

Next time you get excited, you should pause and observe which part of your body is vibrating restlessly.  Is the heart beating rapidly?  Are the lips quivering? Is the throat pulsing nervously? Is the chest heaving too much?  It may be impossible to restrain them the first time you engage in this self-observation, but over time, you will find that the self-observation by itself reduces the nervous excitement.

This process was discussed in detail in an earlier article: “Four epistemic methods of consciousness

Verse 75: One should concentrate on the state when sleep has not yet come, but the external awareness has disappeared (between waking and sleep) – there the supreme Goddess reveals herself.

“There must be somebody there, because somebody must have said “Nobody.” – Winnie the Pooh

This is called yoga nidra or “lucid dreaming” in contemporary parlance.  Swami Lakshman Joo says of this method: “You do not go in the dreaming state. You never sleep. It is that point which gives you rest and relaxation and that relaxation of going to sleep is because of entering through that channeI.  You are not aware of your body. The body is not there. You do not see your body,  you do not see dreams, but you are aware of your being.  The body is not sleeping actually. Every other person will observe you are in samadhi. You do not see your body. You are conscious of the self only. But this is the real rest.” [6]

Verse 82: Either sitting on a seat or lying on a bed one should meditate on the body as being supportless.  When the mind becomes empty and supportless, within a moment one is liberated from mental dispositions.

Swami Lakshman Joo comments on this verse: “Imagine, you have thrown away the body as if it is nothing. There is not support for this body. Then, when thoughtlessness arises, the yogi enters in an instant in the thoughtless state of God consciousness” [7].

The Perfect Reactionary – by Hughes Mearns

“As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn’t there,
Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.”

Verse 102:  If one meditates on the universe as a magic show, or as a painting, or as a moving picture, contemplating on everything in this way, one experiences bliss.

“Mind over matter, will make the Pooh unfatter.” – Winnie the Pooh

In a pioneering study conducted in the  1950s, Robert L. Fantz, a psychologist at Western Reserve University in Cleveland (now, Case Western Reserve University) discovered that newly hatched chickens immediately start pecking for food.  The chickens possess an inborn ability to discern edible food, just as newborn human babies seem to have an innate ability to recognize a human face.  In this way, each species comes equipped with some inborn perceptual mechanism for basic survival.  This primitive knowledge provides the foundation for the accumulation of knowledge through experience [8].

The awareness of this innate system of perception which creates the separation between the subject and the object can also induce a state of contemplation.  From time to time, we should turn our mind away from the scene before us and shift focus onto the perceptual filter running within our brain which is constantly classifying shapes, colors and motion.  As our awareness grows, the thought process naturally comes to a standstill, dissolving all distinctions before us, until we see the phenomenal world purely as “Energy”.

Photo :Gotinha. Click image for source

Further Reading

If you want to read all the 112 Dharanas mentioned in this text, there are two books on the subject which come with Swami Lakshman Joo’s commentary.

Jaideva Singh.  Vijnanabhairava, Or Divine Consciousness: A Treasury of 112 Types of Yoga. (amazon) (google books) (flipkart)

Swami Lakshman Joo. Vijnanabhairava = Vijnana Bhairava : the practice of centring awareness.  translated from Sanskrit by Bettina Baümer. (amazon) (google books) (flipkart)

You can hear an audio rendition of some verses by Swami Lakshman Joo at http://universalshaivafellowship.org/usf/vijnana_bhairava0.html

References

  1. Chatterji, Jagadish Chandra.  Kashmir Shaivism.  Srinager, Research Department, Kashmir State, 1914.
  2. Kalla, Krishnan Lal.  The Literary Heritage of Kashmir, Delhi : Mittal Publications, 1985, p 8
  3. The Mother.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 381-82.
  4. The Mother.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 4, p 287.
  5. Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA 23-24, p 371
  6. Joo, Swami Lakshman.  Vijnanabhairava = Vijnana Bhairava : the practice of centring awareness.  Varanasi : Indica Books, 2007. pp 98-99.
  7. Ibid., p 107.
  8. Hock, Roger. Forty studies that changed psychology : explorations into the history of psychological research.   Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2009, pp 36-42.

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11 thoughts on “The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra

  1. nizken

    OMG this is such a wonderful post. I’m beginning to have the exact same experiences as you wrote under verses 75 & 102 but yourr notes are so apt and precise. [6] & [8]
    These have been quite frightening experiences to me in the boundary b/w waking and sleep state. I had considered them as some sort of a warning or my mind misbehaving before going to complete rest. Also the actual physical reality out there in the world is getting dissolved in my brain….so that forms like people, cities, locales, family are just dissolving.

    Sometimes when I’m walking outside or at workplace it feels like the whole world is a maya and I’m just stepping into one canvas after another in the stream of Time. It’s almost like the Platonic World of Forms is disintegrating & dissolving into nothingness.
    This had been bothering me for quite a while and I was afraid my mind was losing it’s grip on reality, but your words have done much to make me feel better now!! 🙂
    Thanks for the research and your words!

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      One thing I have learnt after all these blog posts is that I can never anticipate what reaction it might elicit in someone 🙂

      Be careful about the twilight state in dreaming though. It is a very vulnerable situation where one can come under the influence of deviant powers or forces.

      Reply
  2. nizken

    I have had some really weird dreaming states just before entering into the sleep state, it has been a re-occuring phenomenon, and I was caught unawares since I had no idea if there was any relation to my yoga till now. But most of these have been quite frightening like seeing a big isolated 2 story house covered in blood. I had no idea what to make of these things….

    By the way, i was always interested in Trika or Kashmir Shaivism and Abhinavagupta and his gurus. Did you know none of his works like Tantraloka/Tantrasara have been translated into English yet? It is a big dissapointment since Abhinavagupta and the Tantric tradition in general is so widely popular in India and is the closest to us (being just 1100 yrs old).
    I would have expected a bit better scholarship from the European scholars, but it doesn’t exist.
    Arthur Avalon and Lakhmanjoo are excellent though.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Nizken: But most of these have been quite frightening like seeing a big isolated 2 story house covered in blood.

      It might have more to do with the Hollywood movies you have watched.

      Nizken: Did you know none of his works like Tantraloka/Tantrasara have been translated into English yet

      No, I did not know. I am not intimate with the entire Kashmir Shaivism literature.

      What is this book listed on Amazon? Tantraloka with commentary by Rajanaka Jayaratha

      And here is another which claims to be a translation of Tantraloka

      I guess Navjivan Rastogi’s book “Introduction to Tantraloka” is just that – an introduction.

      Reply
  3. nizken

    Yes, it is probably that….a mere dream state. Navjivan Rastogi’s is his summary and introduction to tantraloka. The other book seems to be just a few chapters 2,3,4 of the Tantraloka. But amazon doesn’t have any further details, contents or comments listed. Tantraloka is pretty big with more than 30 chapters (as per Gnolli’s translation)

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      It’s all because of the honey that he ate, which is quite natural given that the Katha Upanishad says the Jiva (soul) is “madhvadaha” (one who eats honey)

      from Chapter 4 of Katha – http://www.vedarahasya.net/katha-4.htm
      That one who recognizes the Atma, which is residing very close to oneself in the form of Jiva drinking the honey (which is the result of the deeds performed earlier), and which is the master for all those which came and went, he does not worry about saving himself (since there will be no fear or joy as he identifies himself with everything else). That is that state which we are contemplating about (the state of no fear – arising out of knowledge of the Self).

      Reply

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