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 . 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. 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.
If everything is consciousness (Brahman), then how does this conscious energy put on the appearance of material solidity. Why does the table appear solid? In order to bridge the gulf between consciousness and apparently durable matter, ancient Indian sages postulated (or “divined”) that all physical things are constituted of five subtle elements called Pancha-Mahabhutas – earth, fire, water, air, ether. These are not the elements known in the conventional sense (e.g. “water” does not imply the water, and “earth” does not mean soil) but are actually subtle conditions which together create the perception of forms which can be sensed by the human mind. The actual names of these five elements are Akasha (ether), Vayu(aeriality), Agni(fire), Apas(liquidity) and Prithvi(compaction). The descriptions of these five constituents are quite similar across Sankhya, Tantra and Buddhist philosophy and even Greek Stoic texts. Furthermore, as I point out later in this article, what is amusing is that these five elements were codified, probably inadvertently, in the Vishnu iconography seen in Indian temples!
It is always of interest when psycho-spiritual descriptions provided by one Yoga practitioner match up with those given by a practitioner of another system of Yoga. In the Gospel of Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna Paramahansa briefly mentions five ways in which the Kundalini rises. In his book Kashmir Shaivism, Swami Lakshman Joo discusses six ways in which the Kundalini rises. It is possible to identify some correspondence between their descriptions. Continue reading