June 8, 2014, Vijnana Bhairava I

Although my blogging has come to a standstill over the last six months, Monday Night Class continues in its brick and mortar form. This Spring we began working through the Shaivite text Vijnana Bhairava (Divine Consciousness.) I first encountered this text during my years in Siddha Yoga. In those days the only available English translations were Paul Reps’ minimalist add-on at the end of  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and Jaideva Singh’s scholarly version, Divine Consciousness, reissued by SUNY Press as The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment. A perfect title for this amazing work now available in a new translation, The Radiance Sutras, by Lorin Roche.

Where Singh explores the philosophical labyrinth of the text, Roche is steeped in the experiential. While  hard core scholars may be less than enthusiastic about his approach, I have to say that overall I find it inspired, respectful, and pulsating with luminosity.

Roche’s version has therefore become our main reference, fleshed out with commentary from Singh and whatever parallel readings come my way…

A few points about Vijnana Bhairava:

This is a work of Tantric Shaivism.
In this system, Bhairava is the metaphor for Divine or Supreme or Ultimate Consciousness. The text unfolds as a dialogue between Bhairava and “his” beloved, Paradevi or Bhairavi. This is a literary device. The commentaries make it clear that Bhairava and Bhairavi are one unified field.

Bhairavi is the shakti of Bhairava. Just as there is no difference between fire and its power of burning, even so there is no difference between Bhairava and Paradevi. [Singh, introduction, p. xxviii]

The entire text spans only 163 verses or sutras. Verses 1-23 prepare the ground for the experiential teachings that begin with sutra 24. These are exquisite practices [aka dharanas] designed to break the mind wide open so it rests in its true nature which is Bhairava/Bhairavi, aka the Great Heart, aka Supreme Consciousness, aka the inner Self, aka wonder, astonishment, and delight…

Around the time I decided to bring Vijnana Bhairava to class, I came across this poem. It struck me as a perfect blessing for embarking on a journey through this (or any) sacred text…

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.

-Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun), English version by Sonya Arutze

In the circular spirit that pervades Monday Night Class, i.e. no clear beginning, middle or end, I will end this post with the 24th verse in Roche’s translation. Fyi, this is actually the 47th sutra; Roche’s numbering begins with the actual dharanas.

 

This body is made of earth and gold,
Sky and stars, river and oceans,
Masquerading as muscle and bone,
Every substance is here:
Diamonds and silver, magical elixirs,
Ambrosia that gives visions.
Herbs that nourish and heal.
The foundation of the planet,
Immortal magnetic iron,
Circulating in the blood.
Every element in you loves the others:
Earth loves rain, sky loves sun,
Sun loves the space it shines through.
Space loves everyone equally.
In meditation, be drenched in knowing
This deep and simple truth.
Every cell is an organ of sense
Saturated with freedom.

 

* Regular visitors to this site may wonder why my blogging seemed to stop. This was mostly due to the all-consuming demands of my new music release, Daughter of the Mountain. Along with that however, editing class audio is extremely time-consuming. So, in order to get back to regular blogging, I’ll no longer include audio clips with each post.

 

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