Elements of yoga in Tantras

Despite the fact that some traditions criticise methods of other sampradāya, sometimes it happens, however, that they themselves utilise them. For example, Abhinavagupta and others criticised Patañjali’s methods. Even though you can often come across the usage of methods of yoga in Kaśmir Śaivism and other tantric traditions, they are actually considered there as an integral part of tantra. In the same way as tantra, they are supporting elements on the path of yoga. I can cite a simple example of such quotations from the description of several techniques from Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra (VBT), which were commented by Śivopadhyaya. In one part, he explains a method from VBT quoting Patañjali, and in another he quotes Viveka-mārtaṇḍa of Gorakśanāth.

सर्वस्रोतोनिबन्धेन प्राणशक्त्योर्ध्वया शनैः |
पिपीलस्पर्शवेलायाम् प्रथते परमं सुखम् || ६७ ||

sarvasrotonibandhena prāṇaśaktyordhvayā śanaiḥ |
pipīlasparśavelāyām prathate paramaṁ sukham || 67 ||

By blocking all channels (jñānendriyas), the force of prāṇa slowly goes upwards. Then there is a sensation like the motion of an ant, and it comes the highest state of euphoria.

First of all, it is clear that it is a description of yoni-mudrā (or ṣaṇmukhi-mudrā). Also, there is an interesting description of kuṇḍalinī movement, which is characterised as pipīlikā-calana (like the motion of an ant) in Nātha texts. That could often be found in Nātha texts in the description of Śakti uprising, in addition to some other motions like vihaṅgama (bird), sarpa (snake) etc. Furthermore, Śivopadhyaya, in his comments to this technique quotes Patañjali, where he defines prāṇāyāma.

.बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृित्तः देशकालसङ्ख्यािभः पिरदृष्टो दीघर्सूक्ष्मः॥५०॥

bāhyābhyantarastambhavṛttirdeśakālasaṅkhyābhiḥ paridṛṣṭo dīrghasūkṣmaḥ 50

The fluctuations of prāṇa could be outward and inward (exhales and inhales), it could also come to a standstill (of breathing). It should be observed, that this process would be elongating, subtle, happens according to time, place and quantity.

Also, Śivopadhyaya cites sutra 49, where Patañjali defines prāṇāyāma as a cessation (vicchedaḥ) of inhales and exhales (śvāsapraśvāsa). Although the term ‘viccheda’ could indeed be translated like that, I would define it in other way. It could also mean ‘cutting off’, like something that is no longer needed ‘comes off’. If the goal of prāṇāyāma is calming of consciousness and prāṇa (with which it’s connected), than it is exactly ‘cutting off’ prāṇavṛtti and cittavṛtti. But, it is actually happening in a natural way with the involvement in the process of proper contemplation. Consciousness, being agitated by the sensual experience is unable to calm down, it is fragmented. Only when the practise enables an involvement in higher orientations and higher dimension, it subsides and everything in excess ‘comes off’, ‘cuts off’ by itself. It happens as at the level of sensual perception, as well as of prāṇa and mind.

Equally interesting explanation of the quotation from the Viveka-mārtaṇḍa, also the Bhagavadgītā appears in the description of a technique from VBT in the other part of the text:

मध्यजिह्वे स्फारितास्ये मध्ये निक्षिप्य चेतनाम् |
होच्चारं मनसा कुर्वंस् ततः शान्ते प्रलीयते || ८१ ||

madhyajihve sphāritāsye madhye nikṣipya cetanām |
hoccāraṁ manasā kurvaṁs tataḥ śānte pralīyate || 81 ||

With the middle of the tongue (it is the tip, if you look at it from the particular angle), pointed in the centre of something that is widely open (the head area – ‘ākāśa’), you should mentally recite the uprising sound ‘ha’, dissolving your mind in calm.

Śivopadhyaya quotes this śloka:

कपालकुहरे जिह्वा प्रविष्टा विपरीतगा|भ्रुवोरन्तर्गता दृष्टिर्मुद्रा भवति खेचरी ॥

kapālakuhare jihvā praviṣṭā viparītagā|bhruvorantargatā dṛṣṭirmudrā bhavati khecarī

When the tongue points backwards and enters the cavity of skull, and the look is directed between the eyebrows – it is khecarī-mudrā.

Śivopadhyaya points out that it is from the Viveka-mārtaṇḍa (68), although you can come across it in many texts – it seems that many authors have copied it from Gorakśanāth. You can see it in the Dhyānabindu Upaniṣad, the Yogacūḍāmaṇi Upaniṣad, in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā etc. It’s quite obvious that Śivopadhyaya implies khecarī-mudrā, which is known in haṭhayoga in particular, in spite of the fact that in Kaśmir Śaivism it is also known as the practise performed inside consciousness. It is clear, that in India, some masters could claim that practises from different traditions cannot be mixed, but other gurus boldly mixes them and see their interconnection. I incline towards the latter approach. It is interesting that Śivopadhyaya quotes śloka from the Bhagavadgītā while commenting this śloka from VBT:

स्पशार्न्कृत्वा बिहबार्ह्यांश्चक्षुश्चैवान्तरे भ्रुवोः।
प्राणापानौ समौ कृत्वा नासाभ्यन्तरचािरणौ ।।५.२७।।

sparśānkṛtvā bahirbāhyāṃścakṣuścaivāntare bhruvoḥ
prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantaracāriṇau ।। 5.27।।

Leaving with external (world) the tangency (of consciousness), concentrating the look between the eyebrows, a yogin balances prāṇa and apāna.

This technique is known in haṭhayoga as bhrūmadhyadṛṣṭi or śāmbhavī-mudrā. It is for a reason, that it is often associated with sādhana of khecarīmudrā. However, in Kaśmir Śaivism, this practise means the way to achieve pratimilanasamādhi, or bhairavīmudrā (the union of internal and external spaces), that is often acquired through the practise of maithuna in kaula ritual. Then in accord with the Tantrāloka and the Mahārtha Mañjarī (the text which is connected with Gorakśanāth according to nāthas), the sound ‘ha’, which is made during mahākśobha (orgasm) – is the sound of anāhata, which dissolves (laya) the mind. However, it is more likely that in this practise it is implied ‘the internal coition’ of Kuṇḍalinī Śakti, upraised to Śiva in sahasrāra cakra, where Śakti was released in the space above the crown of the head.

All these methods, actually, could become the one unified process for those who don’t stuck in modern yoga, where everything is being ‘divided’,everyone ‘comes up with something new’ because of the obsession with markets and trade concepts.


Elements of Kaśmir Śaivism mentioned in ‘Amaraugha-śāsana’ of Gorakṣanāth

Right at the beginning of the text “Amaraugha-śāsanaGorakṣanāth describes various processes, connected with different types of Śakti. The highest ultimate space (parama-sukha) could be acquired via ūrdhva-śaktinipātāna (descent of the upper Śakti), adhaḥ-śaktikuñcanā (folding of the lower Śakti) and madhya-śaktiprabodhena (awakening of the middle Śakti). Further, Gorakṣanāth tells about a practice named ṣaḍadhvagā-sāraṇā (unfolding of six flows), these ṣaḍadhvagās are also described in Trika texts. I’ll briefly explain what that practice is about. Bindu and a tendency to create are manifested through tension of nāda, which is generated by Śiva, playing with Śakti. Then Śiva manifests himself in the forms of vācaka (he who manifests speech) and vācya (what is manifesting), which are designated as arthas (objects). Such self-manifestation of Śiva has three levels: para (supreme), sūkṣma (subtle) and sthūla (gross), each of whom are divided in two, the one where vācaka (subject) prevails and the other, where vācya (objectivity) prevails. On the para level the subject is vārṇa (mātrikas) and the object is kalā (aspects of creation). On the whole, different mātrikas cover certain kalāsvārṇa क्ष corresponds to nivṛtti-kalāvārṇas ह to ट correspond to pratiṣṭhā-kalāvārṇas ञ to घ correspond to vidyā-kalāvārṇas ग ख and क are located in śāntā-kalāvārṇas from visarga to अ are located in śāntyatīta-kalā. Further, mantras and their manifestations as 36 tattvas are located on the sūkṣma level. Pada (word-forms) and manifested worlds of bhuvan are located on the sthūla level. A considerable amount of different mantras, padas and worlds are described in texts. All in all these elements have a match for each other, Śiva manifests them as Macrocosm, whereas they are presented in us as a microcosmic structures. A practice, where these elements are used, is given in “Vijñānabhairava-tantra”:

भुवनाध्वादिरूपेण चिन्तयेत्क्रमशोऽखिलम्।
स्थूलसूक्ष्मपरस्थित्या यावद् अन्ते मनोलयः॥ ५६॥

bhuvanādhvādirūpeṇa cintayetkramaśo’khilam |
sthūlasūkṣmaparasthityā yāvad ante manolayaḥ || 56 ||

It is necessary to contemplate dissolution from bhuvan etc. to all adhvas, from the gross level (sthūla) to the subtle (sūkṣma), and further, to the supreme level (para) and to achieve the dissolution of the mind in the end.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 35)

Verse 35, Vijñānabhairava-tantra

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

“The central channel stands at the centre like the stem of a lotus. By meditating on this space within, the God shines forth, because of the Goddess.”

मध्यनाडी मध्यसंस्था बिससूत्राभरूपया।
ध्यातान्तर्व्योमया देव्या तया देवः प्रकाशते॥ ३५॥

madhyanāḍī madhyasaṁsthā bisasūtrābharūpayā |
dhyātāntarvyomayā devyā tayā devaḥ prakāśate|| 35 ||

This śloka is concerned with the context in which the Goddess can be effective.  She is the major operative force in his śloka. It is because of her that the God becomes evident.

The first line of the  śloka gives a set of balances.

1. The first is between the left (iḍā ) and right (piṅgalā) channels of the body.  Iḍā is described as ‘white’, ‘feminine’, ‘cold’, and represents the ‘moon’ while piṅgalā is described as ‘red’, ‘masculine’, ‘hot’, and represents the ‘sun’. The channels start from the base chakra (mūlādhāra), cross from side to side of the body, and finally meet at the point between the eye-brows (ājñā). The subtle-breath (prāṇa) circulates through them.

Between iḍā and piṅgalā is the central channel (madhyanāḍī) which is called   suṣumnā. It is where the left and right channels balance their energies.

The Spandakārikā, another of the texts of Kashmir Shaivism, associates the practice of this śloka with the outward (prāṇa) and inward (apāna) breaths. The contrasting forces of exteriority and interiority are balanced. Persons with an extrovert nature, if not balanced by a sense of interiority, become bombastic. Likewise persons with an excessively introvert character lose touch with reality. A balance of outward (prāṇa) and inward (apāna) is necessary.  A balanced personality will be both self-aware and outer-aware.

From another yogic viewpoint, the balance of the prāṇa and apāna lead to the from of subtle breath called samāna (‘equality’, ‘evenness’) and from this comes the ‘upward rising subtle-breath’ (udāna) which in turn leads to the vyāna and the full flowering, the energizing of the all the centers, and faculties, so that in the end the whole person is empowered.

It is also the state of bhairavamudrā where inner and outer coincide. When Bhairava looks within himself he sees the whole world, since all things proceed from him. If he looks at the world outside he recognizes it as his very self.

2. The second balance is between upper and lower. The image is that of the lotus stalk (bisa-sūtra), which comes out of the mud, rises and flowers on the surface of the water. The stalk links lower and upper, immanence and transcendence, the transience (saṁsāra) of water and the infinity of space. Both upper and lower are present, neither is rejected.

The stalk is a tube, and therefore is empty in its inmost core. This is the suṣumnā, the central channel, which is not anatomically visible but is experienced in the body, particularly along the spine.

The first half of second line of the śloka describes the practice

The practitioner meditates (dhyātā) on the emptiness (vyoman) of the ‘stalk’ within himself (antar), located between right and left, between base and height. In this way he ensures there is openness and freedom; he makes sure there is neither rejection nor control.

The second half of second line of the śloka describes the result

As a result the Goddess is free to function. She becomes active and energetic, and under her influence (devyā) the suṣumnā becomes a place of movement, as the energy unfurls from the base (mūlādhāra) to the highest level, to the thousand-petalled lotus (sahasrāra) at the crown of the head. The goddess rises spontaneously and brings the practitioner to fullness of knowledge. Because of her (tayā) the God (devaḥ) shines forth (prakāśate).

It is then that the practitioner realizes he is not just like Śiva but is Śiva.  He is full of light, he is light.




Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 31)

Verse 31 Vijñānabhairava-tantracontracting the eye-brow centre

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

“He quickly permeates [his being] with the [subtle-breath] right up to the crown of the head; [then] breaking through [this spot] by using the contraction of the eye-brows as a bridge, his mind being free of all thought constructs, he transcends all, he is above all.”

तयापूर्याशु मूर्धान्तं भङ्क्त्वा भ्रूक्षेपसेतुना। निर्विकल्पं मनः कृत्वा सर्वोर्ध्वे सर्वगोद्गमः॥ ३१॥

tayāpūryāśu mūrdhāntaṁ bhaṅktvā bhrūkṣepasetunā |
nirvikalpaṁ manaḥ kṛtvā sarvordhve sarvagodgamaḥ || 31 ||

There are four stages in this process.

1. “He quickly (aśu) permeates (āpūrya) [his being] with the (tayā) [subtle-breath] right up to the crown of the head (mūrdhāntaṁ);
Lilian Silburn, Bettina Bäumer and Jaideva Singh all interpret the word tayā to mean the energy of the subtle breath. Silburn and Bäumer interpret mūrdhāntaṁ to mean the crown of the head and identity this with brahmarandhra. However, Jaideva Singh says the brahmarandhra is a space covered by twelve finger widths from the middle of the eyebrows. There is some uncertainty here. In any case the whole body is filled with subtle breath (prāṇa).

2. “breaking (bhaṅktvā) through this spot by using the contraction (kṣepa) of the eye-brows (bhrū) as a bridge (setunā)”
The next step is to contract the eyebrows. Silburn, Jaideva Singh and Bäumer all readily acknowledge that this technique is now lost. Nevertheless, the following considerations may be of value. 

a. Is the technique related to the bandhas that are made in yoga at the perineum or the stomach or the throat? These contractions are designed to overcome blockages (granthi).
b. Although the practitioner is filled with subtle breath and therefore experiences no blockage within his own being, there is perhaps a further step to be taken. Does this next step represent a release of the energies that are contained within him like the rush of waters held back behind the wall or the bridge (setunā) of a dam.
c. Lilian Silburn and Jaideva Singh both speak of the energy of consciousness (citśakti).
d. The act of contracting the eyebrows occurs when mind and will are focused on something. It is the projection of energy.
e. So, according to the Devīmahātmya, when Durga was involved in battle with the demons, she frowned, and from her frown Kālī leaped forth to destroy them.
f. The eye-brow centre, where the iḍā and piṅgalā come together and join their energies, is also the cakra point of ājñā, which means authority.
g. Bäumer makes the comment (p. 77 fn. 69) that eye-brow centre is where the guru places sandal paste, for example, so as the bring the disciple to a heightened consciousness. The practitioner, having filled himself with prāṇa and not distracted by any limited thought constructs (see below), now contracts his eye-brows. This has the effect of projecting the energy beyond the limits of the body into the highest realm. In this way the practitioner is transported to a consciousness he did not have before.

3. ‘his mind being free of all thought constructs’
The practitioner is no longer distracted by the multiplicity of thoughts, but is completely focused, spontaneous, free of calculation or doubt, or of any attempt to categorize and understand. There is totality in his action.

4. ‘he transcends all, he is above all’
The practitioner transcends his own body and achieves a consciousness, which is beyond all limitation. The repetitive nature of the phrase ‘he transcends all (sarvagodgamaḥ), above all heights (sarvordhve)’ emphasizes the surpassing nature of this consciousness.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shlokas 142b-155)

Verses 142b-155Vijñānabhairava-tantra  A critique of ritual

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

1. Introduction

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[1] 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.

4. Commentary

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.

Christian Tantra

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.

[1] Other editions read kaś.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 34)

Verse 34, Vijñānabhairava-tantra             focusing on the centre of the skull

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

“After closing the eyes, one should focus the mind within the skull.
Gradually, with unwavering mind, one discerns  the eminently discernible.”

कपालान्तर् मनो न्यस्य तिष्ठन् मीलितलोचनः।
क्रमेण मनसो दार्ढ्यात्लक्षयेत्लष्यम् उत्तमम्॥ ३४॥

kapālāntar mano nyasya tiṣṭhan mīlitalocanaḥ |
krameṇa manaso dārḍhyātlakṣayetlakṣyam uttamam || 34 ||

The word used in this śloka is ‘skull’ (kapāla), not head (siras) though this might seem to do as well. It is not karoṭi although this means ‘skull’, ‘cup’, ‘basin’. It is not mūrdhan, which can also mean ‘skull’. This is because kapāla has many resonances, some of which are listed here.

1. The tantric tradition is closely associated with the Kapālika tradition where the skull was an important ritual instrument. Legend holds that Bhairava, after being falsely accused of killing a Brahmin, had to spend many years in penance. He carried the skull of the Brahmin, drank from it and frequented the cremations rounds. This austerity and its association with death only served to increase his powers. The custom then arose to use the skull in ceremonies, placing in it all manner of repulsive items, such as flesh and wine and bodily fluids. The skull became the source of horror and power, liberation and mystery.

2. The skull is also the place from which the nectar of immorality (amṛta) flows down and is absorbed into the body.

3. It can be compared to a lotus flower. The following śloka 35 speaks of the central channel (suṣumnā) being like the stalk, which leads up the spine to the head, which is like the lotus flower.  In fact a thousand petalled lotus (sahasrara) covers the head and signfieis the fullness of consciousness.

4. It can be compared to the void. The previous śloka 33 speaks of the ‘empty space’, the ‘wall’ or the ‘vessel’ as the object of contemplation.

5. Between these two ślokas, mention is made of the interior (antar) of the skull as the focus of meditation. This is the locus of the pineal gland, which has an important function in regulating aspects of the body.

6. There are yogic techniques which consist of drawing the breath (prāṇa) in through the eye-brow centre (bhrūmadhya), which is the place of authority (ājña), to the interior of the skull and from there breathing out again through the same spot. This is stimulating.

7. There is also the idea that the Śakti, which lies dormant at the base of the spine  (mūladhāra), is aroused and rises up the suṣumnā to join Śiva in intercourse at the crown of the head.

 8 . Kālī wears a garland of skulls round her neck and a belt adorned with the forearms of her victims. Thus she disempowers all her enemies, both in their mental as well as their physical strength. The skull is the place of powr.

9. The two parts of the word kapālaka and pāla – have been interpreted to mean Śakti (ka) and Śiva (pāla, literally ‘protector’). Thus the skull is the place of the union of the god and the goddess, who are the source of all the worlds and the resting place of their reabsorption.

10. It is customary, when consecrating a building, to place five skulls in the foundations, one of which is human. Such skulls are readily available in village cremation grounds, such as one near Puri where they lie scattered among the ashes and the encroaching vegetation.

11. The custom is for the eldest son, at the time of cremation, to break open his father’s skull so as to release the prāṇa, which resides there most notably. 

12. The idea of head as the place of authority is known in many languages – chief, captain, head, capital, etc. etc. – such that the image of head and the idea of ruler coincide.

The skull or head has acquired all these associations because, irrespective of legends and practices, it is instinctively sensed to be of prime importance. Indeed the stories and rituals coalesce around the skull because it is a natural symbol of the infinite. It is the sort of ‘bulls-eye’, the centre of all, from which all comes and to which all returns. The practitioner should fix (nyasya) his mind (mano) within the skull (kapālāntar). It is the focus.

The text goes on to state that the practitioner should ‘close the eyes’ (mīlitalocanaḥ). This closing signifies the reabsorption of all things, whilst the opening of the eyes (unmīlina) signifies the emanation of the universe. This śloka therefore involves the act of dissolving the universe in order to return it to its source, namely the union of Śiva and Śakti.

The phrase lakṣyam uttamam can be taken in two ways.

 1. The mind (manaso) is focused (lakṣayet) unwaveringly (dārḍhyāt) at this place, which is the target (lakṣyam).  By its inherent significance, one is taken gradually (krameṇa) to the Ultimate (uttamam).

2. The Infinite, the Ultimate is the most discernible (lakṣyam uttamam). For those who are still on the way the supreme seems to be elusive. But once it is perceived it is perfectly obvious. The uttamam is the most discernable.

The Christian dimension is quite simple.

Christ is acknowledged as the head of the Church, indeed of all creation, with many of the meanings given above to the term ‘skull’.  Therefore by focusing on ones own head, one also focuses on him as the head, and we are lead into the infinite. 

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 46)

Verse 46, Vijñānabhairava-tantra       becoming Void

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

“He should, for a moment, contemplate emptiness in a part of his body. [The result is] freedom from thought constructs. Being devoid of thought constructs, he becomes the Void itself ”

तनूदेशे शून्यतैव क्षणमात्रं विभावयेत्।
निर्विकल्पं निर्विकल्पो निर्विकल्पस्वरूपभाक्॥ ४६॥

tanūdeśe śūnyataiva kṣaṇamātraṁ vibhāvayet|
nirvikalpaṁ nirvikalpo nirvikalpasvarūpabhāk || 46 ||

“He should contemplate emptiness”

The term “emptiness” (śūnyatā) has many facets. On the one hand it refers to the essential instability of all matter, therefore of any “part of his body” (tanūdeśe), for all is transient. Matter has no absolute reality. It is in keeping with verse 29:64 of the Tantrāloka, “I am not, …. I am only energies (śakti)”. This verse contrasts with the famous phrase ‘I am Brahman’ (aham brahmāsmi). The primary stain (mala) is to give absolute value to the ego (ahamkāra). Nothing exists in itself. It is only a combination of śaktis. Solidity and reality are attributed to the body, but that is an illusion.

That teaching applies not only to the body but also to all aspects of one’s person: the faculties and memories, one’s history and reputation. These are all empty.

This practice is difficult, for it involves detachment in every regard. It implies a rejection of the sense of identity and self-absorption. It means not worrying about what to eat, what to have, what to be. It means attaching no importance to fame and honour, popularity or acceptance. It means giving up the many fears and desires that dominate society.

This emptiness can be considered in a more positive sense also, since all arises out of the transcendent, which is beyond all understanding and definition. The transcendent cannot be classed as a being among beings. It rises above all such things. Therefore at the heart of all matter, and therefor at the heart of any part of the body, there is the Void (śūnyatā); there is something apophatic that cannot be described. There is a profound freedom at the centre of what seem most inert and material. Thus insubstantiality and indefinability and freedom and transcendence are contemplated there, in what touches us most closely: the body.

This is not a prolonged act of contemplation. It is “for a moment” (kṣaṇamātraṁ).

“freedom from thought constructs”

As a result there occurs an abandonment of thought constructs (nirvikalpaṁ). The categories disappear because they are irrelevant and can longer interest the mind. The practitioner has gone beyond them.

Being devoid of though constructs

This attitude penetrates the practitioners such that they themselves become identified with the absence of thought constructs. They can be named as ‘devoid of constructs’ (nirvikalpo), of ideas and categories and all limitations.

“he becomes the Void itself”

But the practitioners go further. Śiva himself is Akula, without the aspects that belong to Kula. Śiva is without form and so, like a mirror, can take on every form. This absence of innate form is not weakness but strength. Since Śiva is nothing he can be everything. Since he is empty he can receive all without barrier or inhibition.

The practitioner, therefore, takes on the very being of Śiva. He becomes the very “essence of lack of thought constructs” (nirvikalpasvarūpa). He becomes Void. He is ‘fully empty’, so to speak. He is nothing; he is everything, not in his limited self, but in his essential being.

This in turn transforms the practitioner’s being, which now manifests the infinite. The body, which is still mortal and corruptible, takes on surpassing beauty and infinite worth. Its loveliness does not depend on externals such as youthful good looks, but on inner radiance. Even in old age magnificence shines forth, because the divine is manifest in the human. It is transfiguration.

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 90)

Verse 90, Vijñānabhairavatantra      reciting the phoneme A

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

“O Goddess, as a result of reciting the phoneme A without either or
the great flood of knowledge arises powerfully, Parameśvara himself.”

अबिन्दुमविसर्गं च अकारं जपतो महान्।
उदेति देवि सहसा ज्ञानौघः परमेश्वरः॥ ९०॥

abindumavisargaṁ ca akāraṁ japato mahān |
udeti devi sahasā jñānaughaḥ parameśvaraḥ || 90 ||

The symbolism of the 50 phonemes:

The 50 phonemes in the Sanskrit alphabet starts with A and finishes with KṢA. The sequence is not haphazard; its very sequence expresses a theology.

The 16 vowels come first, and the 34 consonants come next. The vowels are considered to be ‘masculine’; the consonants are deemed to be ‘feminine’. The first vowel, A, starts at the back of the throat, and moves to the lips, as a sign of increasing manifestation. The first consonant, K, also starts at the back of the throat, and moves to the lips.

The fifteenth ‘vowel’ is the phoneme Ṃ, which is called ‘drop’ or ‘point’ (bindu) or ‘subsidiary vowel’ (anusvara). It is like the crest of the wave when it is about to crash. It seems to hover; all the power of the crash is there, but nothing has yet happened. The sixteenth ‘vowel’ is Ḥ, which is called ‘emission’ (visarga). It is like that split-second when the wave begins to crash.

This symbolism is continued in the orthography. The bindu is written as a single dot with the letter : all is contained in the point. The visarga is written with two dots, : , signifying the differentiation that occurs on emission.

The phoneme K, pronounced at the back of the throat, symbolizes the very first moment of manifestation, like the breaking of the wave. The following phonemes are understood to represent the manifesting of the universe.

This śloka 90 relies on this symbolism.


The A is pronounced briefly, such that there is no mental activity of any sort associated with it. Indeed, the brevity of the recitation involves the cessation of breath (kumbhaka). The practitioner is to recite the phoneme A without bindu or visarga, which are very often the concluding phonemes of a mantra, and therefore without any hint of manifestation, and so in the state of pure subjectivity and supremacy. As a result this is the simplest of mantras. Indeed, it is the first step in pronouncing the mantra AUM, the prāṇava, which is considered to be the primordial sound.

The phoneme A, the vowel at the very start of the fifty phonemes, symbolizes Śiva himself, who is at the origin of all. It is his phonic form. (The second phoneme, Ā, symbolizes his consort, Śakti.) To recite the phoneme in all its simplicity is to come to unity and simplicity, and to the very basis of all mantras and words.

The practitioners by reciting the phonic form of Śiva will, by his grace, come to identity with him. They will in fact be Śiva reciting Śiva, Śiva expressing himself in what symbolizes him perfectly. There is identity between the sayer (vacaka) and the saying (vacya).

Yet, nothing is automatic. Even a parrot can be taught to recite A. What counts is the level of grace, the knowledge and will and the purity of motivation, as well as the correctness of the pronunciation. The saying will be total if the identification with Śiva is total, but time and practice may be required before identity of sayer and saying is attained. If the practitioners were able to recite the phoneme A in all fullness, they would need to say it only once. There would be no need to repeat.

The sound A is also emitted at moments of wonder (camatkara), pleasure, beauty and surprise, and also before what is horrible. In these moments of amazement the person goes beyond the limitations of mind and arrives at transcendence.

The moment of transcendent amazement cannot be contained, and defies all attempts at definition. Thus A contains all knowledge. It is the ‘flood of knowledge’ (jñānaughaḥ).

The Sanskrit word sahasā means ‘powerfully, ‘mightily’. It is intentionally chosen. The acts of inhalation and exhalation are symbolized by SA and HA, which are the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ breaths, and are found in well-known mantras such as haṃsa or so ‘ham. But because the breaths alternate, each is limited compared with the utter simplicity of just A. There is more power in the single phoneme A than in SA and HA and the mantras that are based on them.

Then because of the identification with his phonic form, Parameśvara himself arises.  



Vijñānabhaiva-tantra (Shloka 162)

Verse 162, Vijñānabhaivatantra

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

“Hearing these words, the Goddess, merged into the throat of Śiva.”

इत्युक्त्वानन्दिता देवि कण्ठे लग्ना शिवस्य तु॥ १६२॥

ityuktvānanditā devi kaṇṭhe lagnā śivasya tu || 162 |

The Vijñānabhairavatantra is a dialogue between the god and the goddess. She began the tantra by asking for enlightenment on a number of issues. From śloka 24 to śloka 138 the god reveals 112 methods for reaching fullness.

This final verse, in fact a half line, gives the conclusion to the whole tantra. He has enlightened her, and she is filled with bliss (ānanditā).  She embraces him, merges (lagnā) into him at his throat (kaṇṭhe), precisely at the place from which all these words have sprung. The genitive form ‘of Śiva’ (śivasya) can have two meanings. One is ‘ at the throat (kaṇṭhe) of Śiva.’ Words spring from his throat and now she joins herself to his throat  Words have been the means of union. The other, that the goddess is ‘of Śiva’, she belongs to him, is identified with him. She had been separated from him by her doubts and ignorance and now she is one with him.

There is a progressing, grammatically, from objects – the words spoken (ityuktva) – to the goddess (devi), and then to the god (śivasya). The three dimensions of reality – words,  Devī and Śiva – are one. It is the climax of the tantra.

The śloka finishes at the half line, as though to say that once the union of Devī and Śiva occurs, there an on-going profound eternal silence.

The purpose of the whole tantra is to arrive at the union of god and goddess. This can occur only by true knowledge.  

Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 135)

Verse 135, Vijñānabhairavatantra

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

“Bondage does not apply to me, nor liberation. These are bogeymen to frighten people. This universe is mirrored in the intellect like the reflection of the sun in water.”

न मे बन्धो न मोक्षो मे भीतस्यैता विभीषिकाः।
प्रतिबिम्बम् इदम् बुद्धेर् जलेष्व् इव विवस्वतः॥ १३५॥

na me bandho na mokṣo me bhītasyaitā vibhīṣikāḥ |
pratibimbam idam buddher jaleṣv iva vivasvataḥ || 135 ||

It is Śiva who is speaking (me). Since he is the source of all things, he cannot be bound (bandho) and he cannot be liberated (mokṣo).  He is always free, even when he takes on ignorance. He cannot be liberated, for he is beyond categories.

This is true of all beings, but they are not aware of it. They divide the world into bound and free.  But these divisive concepts have the effect only of frightening (bhītasya) people like the bogeymen (vibhīṣikāḥ). Thus, when people believe they are bound, they are anxious and take great efforts to become free. They lament their lack of liberation.

Of course, we are essentially free, so Kashmir Shaivism teaches, but do not know it. Abhinavagupta, towards the start of the Tantrāloka, tells the story of a young woman who has heard about a great prince, so handsome and so brave. She falls in love with him and yearns to see him. One day he does in fact come to her but she is still caught up in her dreaming. Then the moment comes when she does at last recognize him. It is the moment of recognition (pratyabhijñā). By this tale Abhinavagupta is saying that we do in fact know that we transcend the limitations of bondage and freedom but do not realize it.

What then is the value of rituals? ? If we think that by them we attain freedom we do not already possess, we are mistaken. But by them we do come to truly appreciate that we are free. They enable the realization to grow in us and to be expressed in us in, in our actions and attitudes, so that we radiate the freedom, which is essentially ours.

The śloka makes comparison between seeing the sun reflected in water and seeing the sun directly. Those who say they are liberated are still bound, for they are using the divisive categories that occur in the buddhi, which is a limited state of consciousness. It is not consciousness as such (samvit).

This same idea is taken up by St Paul, who says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” And he goes on: “I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Cor 13:12)