Verses 142b-155, Vijñānabhairava-tantra A critique of ritual
Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche
The ślokas 142b-153 constitute a critique of customary ritual, which it says is suited to those who are ‘gross’ and externalized, lacking in subtlety. The ślokas are, in turn, a statement of preference for those methods – the 112 techniques – which are part of everyday life.
2. The context of vv. 142b-155
In ślokas 1-21 the Goddess sets out the metaphysical system of Kashmir Shaivism. She knows a great deal, therefore, but she has some questions. She sets them out in 22-23, asking Bhairava to resolve them so that her understanding might be complete. In 24-138 Bhairava describes 112 techniques by which the highest state is achieved. The techniques cover a vast range of methods.
Those couplets 24-138 are composed of four half lines, of which the first three give the method and the fourth gives the result.
In vv. 139-142a Bhairava states that he has given the 112 techniques, and he goes on to give an extensive list of the results.
In 142b-144a the Goddess speaks a third time and now with a very different sort of question, namely what is value of the customary rituals. She names them: recitation, meditation/visualization, sacrifice, satiation, fire-sacrifice, and worship.
In 144b Bhairava begins by saying that such things are external and suitable only for those who are ‘gross’ (sthūla). He goes on, in 145-153, to take the various elements of ritual, as well as others the Goddess had not asked about, such as ritual bath, sacred site and offerings, and shows how the consciousness that is attained by means of the 112 techniques surpasses them. In 154-155 he speaks of the manifestation of the Goddess and the attainment of the God.
This critique comes from Bhairava himself, the highest authority. The God himself is rejecting the rituals in favour of the 112 methods.
The remaining ślokas form a set of concluding remarks. Firstly, as if they were a coda, 155bis-156 gives another technique, namely the cycle of breath and the pronunciation of the phonemes SA and HA. In 157-161a the Goddess is told that all these many techniques are to be reserved to those who are suitable, and these persons are described. In 161b-162 the Goddess speaks a fourth time: she cries out her joy: she is satisfied. Finally, in 163a she unites herself with Bhairava.
3. Verses 142b-155
श्री देवी उवाच।
śrī devī uvāca |
The illustrious goddess said
इदं यदि वपुर् देव परायाश्च महेश्वर॥ १४२॥
idaṁ yadi vapur deva parāyāśca maheśvara || 142 ||
O Lord Maheśvara, if that is the bodily form of the supreme [energy],
एवमुक्तव्यवस्थायां जप्यते को जपश्च कः।
ध्यायते को महानाथ पूज्यते कश्च तृप्यति॥ १४३॥
evamuktavyavasthāyāṁ japyate ko japaśca kaḥ |
dhyāyate ko mahānātha pūjyate kaśca tṛpyati || 143 ||
who, according to custom, recites [the mantra] and what is the recitation?
Who, O Great Lord, is visualized, to whom is sacrifice offered, and who gives satisfaction?
हूयते कस्य वा होमो यागः कस्य च किं कथम्।
hūyate kasya vā homo yāgaḥ kasya ca kiṁ katham |
Or to whom is the fire-sacrifice offered, and for whom is sacrifice made, and in what manner?
श्री भैरव उवाच।
śrī bhairava uvāca |
Illustrious Bhairava replied
एषात्र प्रक्रिया बाह्या स्थूलेष्व् एव मृगेक्षणे॥ १४४॥
eṣātra prakriyā bāhyā sthūleṣv eva mṛgekṣaṇe || 144 ||
O Lady with the eyes of a gazelle, that ritual practice is external; it is for those who are ‘gross’.
1 recitation (japa)
भूयो भूयः परे भावे भावना भाव्यते हि या। जपः सोऽत्र स्वयं नादो मन्त्रात्मा जप्य ईदृशः॥ १४५॥
bhūyo bhūyaḥ pare bhāve bhāvanā bhāvyate hi yā |
japaḥ so’tra svayaṁ nādo mantrātmā japya īdṛśaḥ || 145 ||
The act of contemplation, as it is progressively raised to the supreme level, is ‘recitation’. Sound arises there spontaneously, the sound that is the essence of the mantra. That sound is to be recited.
2 visualization (dhyāna)
ध्यानं हि निश्चला बुद्धिर् निराकारा निराश्रया। न तु ध्यानं शरीराक्षिमुखहस्तादिकल्पना॥ १४६॥
dhyānaṁ hi niścalā buddhir nirākārā nirāśrayā |
na tu dhyānaṁ śarīrākṣimukhahastādikalpanā || 146 ||
The perception, which is stable, without images and without support: that is visualization. The imagining [of deities possessed] of body, organs, face and hands etc. is not visualization.
3 worship (pūjā)
पूजा नाम न पुष्पाद्यैर् या मतिः क्रियते दृढा। निर्विकल्पे महाव्योम्नि सा पूजा ह्यादराल् लयः॥ १४७॥
pūjā nāma na puṣpādyair yā matiḥ kriyate dṛḍhā |
nirvikalpe mahāvyomni sā pūjā hyādarāl layaḥ || 147 ||
Authentic worship is not performed with flowers etc. When the mind is firmly established, in the highest heaven, beyond thought constructs: that indeed is untroubled worship.
4 satisfation (tṛptir)
अत्रैकतमयुक्तिस्थे योत्पद्येत दिनाद् दिनम्।
भरिताकारता सात्र तृप्तिर् अत्यन्तपूर्णता॥ १४८॥
atraikatamayuktisthe yotpadyeta dinād dinam |
bharitākāratā sātra tṛptir atyantapūrṇatā || 148 ||
When [the practitioner] is committed to even one of the [practices] given in this text, he progresses day by day to the highest state. Limitless stature here: that is the unbounded satisfaction.
5 fire-sacrifice (homa)
महाशून्यालये वह्नौ भूताक्षविषयादिकम्। हूयते मनसा सार्धं स होमश् चेतनास्रुचा॥ १४९॥
mahāśūnyālaye vahnau bhūtākṣaviṣayādikam |
hūyate manasā sārdhaṁ sa homaś cetanāsrucā || 149 ||
The elements (bhūta), the sense organs, and so on, are offered into the flames, into the great void, along with the mind: that is the fire-offering, consciousness is the ladle.
6 sacrifice (yāga)
यागोऽत्र परमेशानि तुष्टिर् आनन्दलक्षणा।
क्षपणात्सर्वपापानां त्राणात्सर्वस्य पार्वति॥ १५०॥
yāgo’tra parameśāni tuṣṭir ānandalakṣaṇā |
kṣapaṇātsarvapāpānāṁ trāṇātsarvasya pārvati || 150 ||
Blissful satisfaction, O Supreme Lady, is the sacrifice here. O Parvatī, all sins are destroyed, protection is given to all.
7 Sacred site (kṣetra)
रुद्रशक्तिसमावेशस् तत्क्षेत्रम् भावना परा।
अन्यथा तस्य तत्त्वस्य का पूजा काश्च तृप्यति॥ १५१॥
rudraśaktisamāveśas tatkṣetram bhāvanā parā |
anyathā tasya tattvasya kā pūjā kāśca tṛpyati || 151 ||
The union of Śakti and Rudra: that is the sacred site, the supreme object of contemplation. Otherwise what worship of that Reality would there be, and who would be giving satisfaction?
8 ritual bath (snāna)
स्वतन्त्रानन्दचिन्मात्रसारः स्वात्मा हि सर्वतः।
आवेशनं तत्स्वरूपे स्वात्मनः स्नानम् ईरितम्॥ १५२॥
svatantrānandacinmātrasāraḥ svātmā hi sarvataḥ |
āveśanaṁ tatsvarūpe svātmanaḥ snānam īritam || 152 ||
One’s Self is the stream of freedom, bliss and consciousness, in every respect. Entry into the very nature of one’s Self is called ‘the ritual bath’.
9 offerings (dravya)
यैर् एव पूज्यते द्रव्यैस् तर्प्यते वा परापरः।
यश्चैव पूजकः सर्वः स एवैकः क्व पूजनम्॥ १५३॥
yair eva pūjyate dravyais tarpyate vā parāparaḥ |
yaścaiva pūjakaḥ sarvaḥ sa evaikaḥ kva pūjanam || 153 ||
He, the Transcendent / Immanent (parāpara) worshipped or satisfied with offerings [and] the worshipper: all are one. What else is worship?
1 Kuṇḍalinī arises
व्रजेत्प्राणो विशेज् जीव इच्चया कुटिलाकृतिः।
दीर्घात्मा सा महादेवी परक्षेत्रम् परापरा॥ १५४॥
vrajetprāṇo viśej jīva iccayā kuṭilākṛtiḥ |
dīrghātmā sā mahādevī parakṣetram parāparā || 154 ||
The exhalation goes out, the inhalation comes in. Of her own accord the Curvilinear [viz. kuṇḍalinī] rises up, she, the Great Goddess, she, the supreme Sanctuary, she the Transcendent / Immanent (parāparā).
2 Bhairava is attained.
अस्यामनुचरन् तिष्ठन् महानन्दमयेऽध्वरे।
तया देव्या समाविष्टः परम् भैरवमाप्नुयात्॥ १५५॥
asyāmanucaran tiṣṭhan mahānandamaye’dhvare |
tayā devyā samāviṣṭaḥ param bhairavamāpnuyāt || 155 ||
Following the [rise of the Great Goddess], being committee to the method of the great bliss, [the practitioner], becoming one with the Goddess, attains the supreme Bhairava.
The statement in v.144b, that ritual practice is only for those who are ‘gross’, is a severe criticism. It does not correspond to the teaching of Kashmir Shaivism as a whole, which allows that there are four methods for reaching the divine state. The first three (āṇavupāya, śāktopāya, śāmbhavopāya) are related to action, knowledge, and will, or to the object of knowledge, the means of knowledge and the subject of knowledge respectively. The fourth, literally the ‘non-means’ (anupāya), underlines all other three. Thus there is an aspect of anupāya in the individual ‘way of action’ to which ritual particularly belongs.
Furthermore, some of the 112 techniques are very much concerned with action, such as the pleasure of music and food, the experience of sneezing or fleeing the field of battle, or walking through a forest with dappled light.
The criticism is a part of the custom of showing that the path one proposes is more effective than the paths proposed by others. It is an example of the rivalry between methods and traditions. It does make the valid point, however, that what counts is not the ritual itself, as though it were magical, but the mind with which it is done, and the experience which results.
The criticism is also liberating, for it means that ritual is not the only method, and that the ordinary events of life can become moments of profound and divine experience. It frees practitioners from what can become the straightjacket of ritual, from being tied to those who have the ability and authority to perform rituals.
However, the four methods should not be opposed. They are simply different emphases. Thus the person who has reached fullness will be involved in all four aspects in a harmonious way, and perform rituals and all the actions of life with knowledge of their meaning and as well as with detachment and a sense of transcending them. All four aspects have their rightful place.
The same issue attaches to all religions practice. It is false to oppose religion and spirituality, presuming religion to the involve the first two methods only, ritual and doctrine. A balanced approach involves all four.
Thus, in the Christian view, only the person who has has died with Christ and been raised with him, therefore who has reached the highest level of transcendence, can best perform the ritual, which then becomes transparent and manifests all four aspects. Ultimately there is no means, all depends on grace. But grace will manifest itself in every aspect of the person.
 Other editions read kaś.