Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 126)

Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

Vijñānabhairava-tantra 126

Technique: equanimity

na dveṣam bhāvayet kvāpi na rāgam bhāvayet kvacit |
rāgadveṣavinirmuktau madhye brahma prasarpati || 126 ||

“One should entertain neither hatred nor attachment to anything. When one is free from attachment and hatred, brahma moves in the centre.”

The practitioner has neither hatred (dveṣam) nor attachment (rāgam) to anything (kvacit). This technique is easily stated; its execution is extremely difficult, for the natural reaction to injustice is hatred; and the human being is naturally full of desire.

The technique is to consider those situations where the natural response is hatred or attachment, to acknowledge the evil or the pleasure and to see them as limited states, and respond to them with equanimity, to be simply free of hatred and attachment (rāgadveṣavinirmuktau).

As a result there is an influx of brahma.  The word brahma has a number of meanings. It is etymologically related to growth or increase, but can also refer to bliss. ‘Bliss is the form of brahman’ (brahmaya-ānanda).

The word prasarpati is linked to the word ‘serpent’ (sarpa) and suggests the gliding movement of the snake. The kuṇḍalinī is often described as a snake.

Then brahma spontaneously moves the middle (madhye). The term ‘middle’ has several meanings. One is more general, meaning the very centre of one’s being, the core of one’s reality, in the very heart, at the deepest level. Another refers to the suumna, the central channel, which is felt in the region of the spine.

Thus in the very midst of turmoil and pain, there is a joy and a bliss that nothing can take away. This bliss becomes perceptible to all who meet us. The sense of brahma spreads through our whole body and our whole existence.

The Christian attitude is is proactive. It involves replacing hatred with love, and attachment with poverty of spirit. This requires great strength of character and is possible only by acquiring the divine mind. It is in fact one of the greatest powers (siddhi), far greater than the eight powers such as the ability to make oneself extremely light (laghimā) or immensely heavy (gurimā) etc., powers much admired in the literature. It is the sweetest revenge: to make use of evil and turn it into good. As a result, far from doing us harm, evil is now to our advantage. It is disempowered by a greater power.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 40)

Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

Vijñānabhairava-tantra 40         

Technique: focussing on the emptiness at the beginning and end of a sound

yasya kasyāpi varṇasya pūrvāntāv anubhāvayet |
śūnyayā śūnyabhūto ‘sau śūnyākāraḥ pumān bhavet || 40 ||

“He should focus on the beginning and end of any sound. By becoming ‘void’ due to the power of the void, the man takes on the form of the void.”

Any (kasyāpi) sound or phoneme (varṇa) arises out of non-sound, out of the emptiness (śūnya) of sound, and ends in the reabsorption of sound. The technique is to experience (anubhāvayet) the moment when the varṇa arises and the moment when it is absorbed, its beginning and end (pūrvāntāv).

The beginning and the end of a sound are moments of particular power. They manifest the relationship of Śiva and Śakti. If Śiva is I am (aham), then his self-awareness, ‘I am’, is his Śakti. These stand in the relationship of light (prakāśa) and auto-illumination (vimarśa). They are in eternal union, one never without the other, inseparable.

This self-awareness, ‘I am’, is the supreme word (paravāc  or vāc), and this primordial ‘word’ is the origin of all words; this essential ‘mantra’ is the basis of all mantras and permeates them all.

Thus in the act of recitation there is a double aspect, the absence of sound and the spontaneous arising of sound and its equally natural disappearance. It is spontaneous because Śakti is freedom itself (svātantrya). Beginners start the sound with an act of the will but, when recitation becomes perfect, the sound arises spontaneously from the depths of their being. This spontaneity means that the sound becomes natural (sahaja) to them.   It arises from the void for Śiva is emptiness, and return to the void.

This ‘emptiness’ is open, welcoming, without limits, without barrier or duplicity.

Disciples wish to hear the words of the guru, which spring spontaneously and intelligently, wisely and energetically from him. The more his words spring from ‘emptiness’ the more energetic and powerful they will be. The disciples listen to the words but also perceive the immense void and restfulness from which the words come and to which they lead. The guru’s words enter them but his silence enters them also and they become silent in his silence. Silence inspires silence.

The word śūnya (empty) occurs three times in the one line.

One becomes ‘empty’ (śūnyabhūto) ultimately not by means of the will but by the sheer power of emptiness (śūnyayā). Nothing can control emptiness. It is something to be experienced (anubhāvayet) and in this sense is happens spontaneously. Emptiness is its own source. No object or means can produce emptiness. Emptiness occurs by means of emptiness. The result is that a mere man (puman) becomes śūnyākārah. The word akārah means‘sound’ or ‘letter’; the word ākāra means ‘shape’ or ‘form’. The man therefore becomes Śiva/Śakti, both emptiness and sound (śūnya-akārah). Or having become empty, he is the image (ākāra) or manifestation of Śiva who is emptiness (śūnya). These two meanings impact on each other and explain to the richness of the result.

This emptiness moves the heart and mind of the reciter so that he becomes perfectly still and void of all ambition, of all desires and attachments, free at last.  The practitioner becomes ‘empty’, and the sound resounds in him without hindrance.

The beginner will need to recite the sound over and over, many lakhs of times, but the more proficient he becomes, the less need there is to recite it. Indeed, ultimately there is only one utterance of the one sound. The auto-illumination of Śiva occurs once and forever, perfectly. The yogī will eventually reach the state when, in saying the sound once, he will have said it perfectly and need not repeat it. But that is at the end of a long path.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 69)

Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

Vijñānabhairava-tantra 69          

Technique: sexual intercourse

śaktisaṃgamasaṃkṣubdhaśaktyāveśāvasānikam |
yat sukham brahmatattvasya tat sukhaṃ svākyam[1] ucyate || 69 ||

“He comes to the śakti; the śakti is fully aroused; he enters into the śakti; the climax occurs: – the pleasure [experienced at that point] is ‘Brahma’; that pleasure is his very own.”

The word ‘śakti’, that is ‘sexual partner’, is used three times in the first line: ‘he comes to the śakti (śaktisaṃgama); the śakti is fully aroused (saṃkṣubdha); he enters into the śakti (śaktyāveśa). The stages of the process are listed in due order. Emphasis is placed on the concluding (avasānikam), climactic moment.

The śakti is fully aroused in every sense, her energy, her freedom and all her faculties are engaged. She is fully aware and wholeheartedly desires to be the Śakti to her Śiva, the Kula to his Akula.

It is into the śakti at this point that the practitioner enters. The word aveśa has many meanings. He penetrates into her body and mind, into her emotions and her very being. This is when the orgasm occurs.

The second line mentions the pleasure (sukha) twice: “the pleasure [experienced at that point] is ‘Brahma’” (sukham brahmatattvasya), “that pleasure is his very own” (sukham svākyam). In other words, the highest divine pleasure and the practitioner’s own pleasure are identical. His pleasure is the divine pleasure. He experiences divinity at this climactic moment, which is the whole point of the practice.

This same teaching is found in a quotation Jayaratha supplies for Tantrāloka 29.99-100.

“He, whose mind, at the moment of emitting semen, i.e. within the split-second of time, has spontaneously settled in respect of all the fluctuations of thought, all at once there arises in his mind the consciousness of bliss. The resulting form is perfectly described as ‘pertaining to brahman’ (rūpaṃ tad-brahmaṇaḥ samākhyātam).

Jayaratha provides another quote: “The form known as ‘the bliss of brahman‘….” (brahmaya-ānanda-ākhya rūpam), namely semen.

The Kula ritual as described by Abhinavagupta develops this whole process, especially in 29.96ff. In doing so he gives the term brahmacārī, which usually means ‘celibate’, a totally opposite meaning: namely someone who uses sexual activity as the means to reaching full consciousness. The term brahmacārī will be given a different meaning in my commentary on śloka 70.

This entry (aveśa) can be practised at three levels: objective,  (sthula), subtle (sukṣma), and supreme (para). The purpose of the practice at the levels of sthula and sukṣma is to arrive at the level of para, for Śiva dwells supremely at the para level. There the emotion is most intense, the awareness of Śakti most complete, the penetration most full.

The term sukha alone is used in śloka 69 while sukha is contrasted with ānanda in śloka 70.  The difference is significant, as will be seen.


[1] For ākyam read ākhyam  ‘named’, ‘called’, ‘declared’. The word svākhyam can be spelt out as sva-ākhyam ‘deemed to be his own’.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 116)

Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

Vijñānabhairava-tantra 116

yatra yatra mano yāti bāhye vābhyantare ‘pi vā |
tatra tatra śivāvāsthā vyāpakatvāt kva yāsyati || 116 ||

“Wherever the mind is directed, whether outside or inside, there Śiva is found. Since he is all-pervasive, where could one go?”

The śloka ends with a rhetorical question: “where could one go” (kva yāsyati). The answer of course is ‘nowhere’, since Śiva is everywhere. Indeed, in the teaching of Kashmir Shaivism, Śiva acts in five ways, by emanation (sṛṣṭi), maintenance (sthiti), dissolution (samhāra), concealment (tirodhana) and grace (anugraha). Śiva is therefore everything and everywhere. Because he pervades (vyāpakatvāt) all, he is present (avāsthā) in every place.

In the teaching of Kashmir Shaivism, Śiva is ‘I am’ (aham). Therefore the state of Śiva is essentially personal. All is ‘I am’. Śiva does not say ‘I am not’. There is nowhere where he is not present, in the external world (bāhye) as in the internal forum (abhyantare). He does not say that he is not in this chaos, in this turmoil, in this evil, in this injustice. He is every state and is found in every state, even in the wretchedness of our lives, or the evil that humans do to each other.

The mind (mano) is powerful, and the more it focuses on an object the more that object is transformed and becomes the ‘I’, as Abhinavagupta teaches in his commentary on Paratrimsika verses 3–4.[1]  The mind gradually evolves in itself and also changes the object on which the gaze is directed. By focusing the mind on every circumstance (yatra yatra), that circumstance is turned to good. It is transformed by the power of the mind. This attentiveness is the grace of Śiva at work. Thus our pain is transformed when the mind is able to focus on it.

The mind that cannot focus because it is craving and confused does not perceive the reality of things and remains in its illusion.

The enlightenment that is wrought by the 112 methods of the Vijñānabhairavatantra is to be able to see Śiva in every circumstance.


[1] ‘Person-to-Person: vivarana of Abhinavagupta on Paratrimsika verses
3–4.’ In Indo-Iranian Journal 44: 1-16.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 70)

Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

Vijñānabhairava-tantra  70         

recalling a sexual encounter

lehanāmanthanākoṭaiḥ strīsukhasya bharāt smṛteḥ |
śaktyabhāve ‘pi deveśi bhaved ānandasamplavaḥ || 70 ||

“O Mistress of the Gods, bliss surges even in the absence of a śakti, through the act of recalling intently the pleasure experienced with a woman, the kissing, the embracing, the clasping.”

The operative word is ‘recalling’ (smṛteḥ). It presupposes an earlier experience.  It is not fantasizing, or imagining what has not happened.  It is not a form of pornography or voyeurism. It is not compensation or make-believe. It is the act of recalling a delightful episode, which did in fact happen.

This recalling is to be distinguished from the karmamudrā in Buddhism, which is the experience of union with a real woman (mudrā), or the jñānamudrā which is the contemplation of womanhood. Note that similar terms, karmadūtī and jñānadūtī, appear in the Āgamarahaysa where the word dūti refers to the sexual partner. Note also that the word dūti is prominent in the description of the Kula Ritual in chapter 29 of Abhinavagupta’s Tantrāloka.

The term sukha forms one item of the pair sukhaduhkha, pleasure – suffering. This reliving of pleasure (sukha) with a woman (strī) leads to the experience of that bliss (ānanda) which is the state of Śiva and Śakti in their 1000 year intercourse (maithuna) (the figure 1000 being code for ‘everlasting’).

Śiva and Śakti, in their eternal union, are the basis of all reality. Everything that exists is the outflow of their sexual intercourse. Therefore the individual man and woman in their joining are expressions of Śiva and Śakti, and are united with all the copulations that occur in every moment, for the whole world is one vast field of love-making. That is why the couple senses such harmony with the whole universe. All mirrors all.

The pleasure was powerful at that time in the past because it was an inkling of the bliss that belongs to Śiva and Śakti in their eternity.  The act of remembering returns the practitioner to that moment.

The previous śloka 69 refers to the concluding moment of an actual sexual act, therefore to the sthūla (objective, ‘gross’) level.  This  śloka 70 is a dhāraa at the subtle level based on the power of memory (smṛti). Both lead to the sense of maithuna at the supreme (para) level, since all is derived from para.


The question arises then about the brahmacārī who has not experienced pleasure with a woman.  Is he excluded from practicing this dhāraa. Yes, of course, since he has not had a past sexual encounter.  But the sexual encounter of that sort is limited by its very nature. It did not, could not, last. The brahmacārī by contrast, does not seek “the kissing, the embracing, the clasping” (lehanāmanthanākoṭa) as the means to experiencing the eternal union of God and Goddess. Rather, he seeks to experience the supreme (para) divine intercourse from the outset. The desire arises in him for an eternal maithuna, which is found in every circumstance. This is his desire, his intention (samkalpa) from the start.

By a powerful gift of grace he experiences already at the highest level the union of the Divine Couple. He knows he is already Śiva in union with Śakti but also in union with all the śaktis that emanate from her. He experiences the stillness and energy that lies at the very origin of all things. He knows the divine maithuna at the deepest level of consciousness, for that godly sexuality is the heart of reality.

He is inverting the procedure, therefore, not proceeding from the lower to the higher but allowing the higher to inform the lower. As he rests in this state of bliss (ānanda) his whole person, his word, mantra, mind, emotions, feelings, his very body and all its faculties are filled also with the delight (sukha) that is sexual. He knows both the ānanda and the  strīsukha. Thus, at every moment, the brahmacārī experiences intercourse ever more frequently, ever more consciously. He has the fullness of sexuality and is united with the whole of the universe. This is described by Abhinavagupta, in Tantrāloka 29.79, as follows:

Moreover, having by his own nature become the sole Lord of the Kula, he should satiate the many śaktis by pairing [with them], he who possesses every form.

Jayaratha, in his commentary on TĀ 29.79 reinforces this statement with a quote

“His śaktis are the whole universe …….”

In Christian terms, the teaching has always been that the truly dedicated virgin, male or female, experiences already both the original and the future state:

For in the Saints who consecrated themselves to Christ
for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,
it is right to celebrate the wonders of your providence,
by which you call human nature back to its original holiness
and bring it to experience on this earth
the gifts you promise in the new world to come.

(Roman Missal, ‘Preface of Holy Virgins and Religious’)

This teaching receives a fuller explanation in the light of śloka 70.


Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 145)

Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

Vijñānabhairava-tantra 145                   

Contemplation is recitation

bhūyo bhūyaḥ pare bhāve bhāvanā bhāvyate hi yā |
japaḥ so ‘tra svayaṃ nādo mantrātmā japya īdṛśaḥ || 145 ||

“The act of contemplation, while it is being progressively brought to the supreme level, is a ‘recitation’.  Sound arises there spontaneously, sound that is is the essence of the mantra. That is the recitation to be performed.”

Contemplation (bhāvanā) develops progressively (bhūyo bhūyaḥ). When it reaches the supreme level (pare bhāve) it is in fact the mind of Śiva himself. While there are methods and techniques to help the beginner on the road of contemplation, the act of contemplation becomes increasingly natural and effortless. This is because the Divine lies at the very heart of each human, essentially. To discover one’s centre is to discover Reality, which is both divine and the source of one’s humanity.

The guru perceives this inner essence of the disciple and brings it into the open.  The guru does not give what was not there, but brings into the open and into effect that which lay concealed. This teaching is found in St Paul: “[God] has let us know … the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning”. (Eph 1.90)

This process of becoming increasingly contemplative enables the individual to reach the divine state, which is in fact the interplay of light (prakāśa) and auto-illumination (vimarśa), of self and self-knowledge. The relationship between self and self-knowledge is a vibration, and in this sense is a recitation (japa). In fact it is the highest form of recitation of which all other forms are a preparation.

From the state of the Self there arises the awareness (vimarśa) ‘I am’. This is the primordial ‘sound’ (nado), which arises spontaneously (svayaṃ) from the Self (‘tra). It is not so much an audible sound as the perfection of the Word. It arises of its own accord, in all freedom, and is not a distraction to be avoided. It is also called the ‘unstruck’ sound (anāhata). It is also called ‘the essence of the mantra’ (mantrātmā), since all other mantras are imbued with it just as the sesame oil permeates through all parts of the seed. It is not a product of the contemplator’s will, for it is spontaneous. He (she) surrenders to it, not unwillingly but in full freedom.

The contemplators will progressively come to a state where they too say ‘I am’, for they are Śiva.

How does this relate to Christianity? The aim of Christian spirituality is theosis, namely divinisation. As St Athanasius famously said, ‘God became man so that man might become God. The Christian acquires not just the mind and heart, but the very being of God, becoming “a participant in the divine nature”. (2 Pt 1:4) God can be known fully only by those who have acquired the fullness of his being. Then there is no division between contemplator, contemplation and contemplated. All are one.

When a person reaches the heights of contemplation their whole person is suffused with the divine reality, such that even “ordinary language becomes a recitation” (kathā japaḥ).