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The First Yogi Part 2 - A Discussion between Shiva & Parvati

The Vijnanabhairava Tantra is a discourse between the first Yogi Shiva and his consort Parvati. The words 'Vijnana-bhairava Tantra' means the technique of going beyond consciousness. 'Vijnan' (also spelt Vigyam) means consciousness, 'Bhairav' means the state which is beyond consciousness, and 'Tantra' means method or technique. According to legend, this Tantra is approximately 5000 years old.

Parvati is referred to as Devi or Shakti in this text. Devi meaning Divine and Shakti meaning universal energy. This text briefly presents 112 meditation methods or centering techniques (dharanas) where the aspirant can realise and ultimately reach a higher reality.

This higher reality in this text is referred to as Bhairava. This higher reality, or highest state of consciousness, or the supreme soul (all referring to the same highest reality) is the cause of all that exists. It is the pervasive, genderless, infinite, eternal truth and bliss which does not change, yet is the cause of all changes. In the western context this highest reality would be referred to as "God".

Shiva and Parvati are presented in the Vijnanabhairava Tantra as Shiva the great God and as Adi Shakti (the great goddess/mother nature), not in the simple man and woman form I presented in the earlier blog. In the context of this text, due to their divinity, there are no real barriers of knowledge or understanding between them. This discussion takes place due in large to the goddess wanting to hear Shiva speak in human language.

In hindu mythology, before the dawn of time, Shiva (the great god) sends Shakti (the goddess) to create existence (she is mother nature, the source of our existence), however this separation causes Shiva more anguish than he expected. Shiva without his Shakti is left feeling like SHAVA. Shava to mean dead or corpse (as in Shava-asana the corpse pose). Shiva spends aeons wandering the universe and finally earth (in human form), mostly in deep meditation trying to fill this internal void but one's soul cannot be replaced. Through many mythological trials and tribulations, Shiva is re-united with Shakti who is now also in human form. Her human form is the princess Parvati. Their re-union fills Shiva once again with life. The soul-less wandering yogi is now complete. His consciousness and soul are as one creating a feeling of bliss that cannot be explained in human language. Shakti is the medium of Shiva. Without her, Shiva remains inert, motionless and immersed in self contemplation. She is the doorway to Shiva and brings him alive.

This mythology can be looked at as a metaphor. This is the same plight our own individual soul finds itself when it is separated from the cosmic or universal soul (Highest reality/God). The soul spends its entire life striving to find the universal soul but on account of illusion of the world we live in, we look outside at objects around the world. We hope material objects will fill our void but they do not. In spite of all the material objects and wealth we accrue, we soon realise that these only give limited satisfaction. There is no permanence in the joy that is derived from material gains. The techniques explored in the Vijnanabhairava Tantra explore the innate qualities of man, not acquired ones. Once the individual soul (Shakti) unites with the universal soul (Shiva), the resulting union of energies completely overrides the mind and total illumination occurs. The soul experiences true bliss. Or in the context of this text, a state of Bhairava.

Shiva is also referred to as Bhairava in this text. Bhairava is a tantric term to refer to someone who has gone beyond consciousness. Parvati/Devi is also referred to as Bhairavi as she also, has gone beyond.

The Vijnanabhairava Tantra

Nearly all of the verses in the Vijnanabhairava are poetic and even cryptic. Earlier commentaries said that the language used was often 'secret', used on purpose to hide the real meaning from the "uninitiated". Also, some of the words used in the text have no direct English translation, and in some cases, the language used was not even understood by Kashmir commentators.

I have read that the Vijnanbhairava Tantra is written in the language of love. Love is the basic device needed to understand tantric wisdom. We try to understand ancient wisdom with a logical mind. The tantras where never written for the logical. When Pārvatī sits on Śhiva's lap and enquires about reality, there is no logic between the two. Just pure love. So tantra is written in the language of love. Not sex.

Although the verses are cryptic and can be difficult to follow, I have tried to make them as easy to understand as I possibly can without losing the essence of the verses. I have also added some notes underneath the translation to help you better understand the dialogue.

Devi begins:

"O Deva (divine being), I have heard in detail all that has been revealed through the union of Rudra (another name for Shiva) and his Shakti (Parvati)".

"O Supreme Lord, in spite of everything that I have heard, even today my doubts are not dispelled. What is your reality, O Divine One?"

Being Adi Shakti herself, Parvati already knows the answer to her questions. She is aware of the truths at the highest level but she wants Shiva to tell it to her in human language.

Shiva (referenced here as Bhairava) replies:

"Well spoken, O dear one! What you have asked about is the essence of tantra. Noble lady, although the matter is most esoteric, oh auspicious one, yet I shall explain to you. This is the most secret part of the tantras, yet I will speak to you".

"Bhairava (Bhairava meaning Shiva but also to mean a higher state of being) cannot be perceived by sound or any of the senses. Nor can it be seen even in the obstructed half moon, nor in the piercing of successive chakras, nor does universal energy constitute his essence".

"These things have been told (about the forms of Bhairava), like the tales used to frighten children, to induce people of immature intellect to follow the spiritual path, just as the mother entices her child with sweets".

"Ultimately (that state of Bhairava) cannot be measured in terms of time, space or direction, nor can it be indicated by any attribute. The highest state a human being can reach (a state of Bhairava) cannot be characterised or described in any human language".

The term Bhairava can be interpreted to mean many things. It can mean Shiva, a higher reality, a higher self, the universal soul, or even God. Whatever it is interpreted as, one thing is that the reality of what Bhairava actually is cannot be understood in human language. As many yogis have said over the years, the higher reality is not to be described, but is meant to be experienced.

"One can have this inner experience for oneself (the state of Bhairava) when the mind is free from modifications or thought patterns. The Soul of Bhairava, which is known as Bhairavi (referring to Parvati herself) is experienced as the bliss of one’s own inner awareness, a state free from all contradictions. This individual Soul, or the individual Bharavi, can then be united with the universal Soul (or Bhairava)".

This is the first reference to the concept of the soul. The individual's soul can only be experienced once the mind is free. Freedom from emotions, therefore, is implied as the first goal. This freedom allows you to experience your soul, or your Bhairavi as explained in this text. By experiencing Bhairavi, you find the doorway to the higher reality.

In many texts it is said that Devi is your salvation. In the Puranas, Shiva tells Parvati that she is the refuge for the universe. And that she is man's salvation. The meaning being that once you discover her, as your soul, the doorway to your salvation/ultimate freedom/emancipation is open.

Devi Says:

"By what means can that state of fullness of Bhairava be achieved, (and) how does Paradevi, the highest Shakti, become the face (or entrance of Bhairava)? Tell me (this), O Bhairava, in the manner (whereby) I shall know it completely".

Parvati enquires by what practice or technique can one reach a higher reality? What are the ways one can experience Bhairava directly, or experience the highest Shakti as the doorway to Bhairava?

Shiva responds with the first Dharana and then continues (I have selected only a few Dharanas for this blog). Dharana to mean technique but is more than that. Dharana also meaning one-pointed focus on something.

Pranayama/Breathing Technique.

Dharana 2 - "When the senses are open outwards, the attention is drawn inwards, then all thoughts cease. When Shakti in the form of vayu (wind) or pranic air is still, the breath neither goes out, nor does it come in, and then the nature of Bhairava is revealed".

This method of reaching a higher reality is based on breath retention. A Pranayama technique.

A Visualisation Technique:

Dharana 6 - "Concentrate on the shakti (dormant kundalini energy) arising from the root (base of the spine) piercing successively through all the chakras like the rays of the sun, gradually becoming subtler and subtler, until at last she dissolves in the place above the forehead and Bhairava manifests".

A visualisation of the kundalini energy where Shakti or energy meets Shiva. Or in this case the shakti meets the individual's consciousness. The meeting between an individual's dormant divine energy and their consciousness will reveal a higher state.

Modern Meditation Technique:

Dharana 11 - "Having closed the eyes, having fixed one's mind inwardly on the union of energy (Shakti) and consciousness (Shiva), and fixing the attention at the crown of the head, gradually stabilise the mind and direct it towards the goal (union of energy and mind), which will become discernible".

One who stabilises his mind and attempts to detach himself from the external world. By this practice, the sense of difference gradually diminishes; and the individual begins to view the entire universe as an expression of Shiva.

Mantra Chant:

Dharana 16 - "O Bhairavi, one who repeats the Pranava (Aum) perfectly, while concentrating on the void for protracted periods, experiences the void, and by that void the transcendental shakti is revealed".

The void refers to being free of all external or internal objects. The mind has to be free of all thoughts. Once the individual becomes immersed in AUM, he becomes free from pleasure and pain and experiences the void. Here, Shakti reveals herself. She is the doorway to Bhairava.

Modern Meditation Technique:

Dharana 25 - "One should contemplate on the skin of the body as a mere wall or partition with nothing inside it. By meditating thus, he becomes like the void, which cannot be meditated upon".

Every man is habitually identified with his body. When the yogi develops the practice of detaching his consciousness from the limits of the body, he develops a sense of all-pervasiveness. Once he achieves this, he has no object to meditate upon. Here, the highest reality (Bhairava) is revealed.

"These methods do not belong to any religion. Remember, they are not Hindu, just as the theory of relativity is not Jewish just because Einstein conceived it. Science does not belong to races and religion - and Tantra is a science. So remember, this is not Hindu at all".

My apologies to anyone who feels my explanations do not do justice to such a beautiful text. My mission with this blog is not to make myself appear an expert on this subject (which I am not). I am on my own journey of trying to understand this wonderful text myself and within that journey, I wanted to share some of what I have learnt with my Teacher Trainee students and anyone else who would find this subject interesting. I hope that by introducing you to this jewel of the Kashmir Shaiva tradition, that this will spark a light in you which will illuminate your own yoga journey as it has done my own.


The Manual for Self Realization: 112 Meditations of the Vijnana Bhairava (Lakshmanjoo Academy Book Series)

Vijnana-bhairava or Divine Consciousness: A Treasury of 112 Types of Yoga

The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment: A Translation of the Vijnana-Bhairava With an Introduction and Notes (Suny Series in Tantric Studies)

The Book of Secrets: 112 Meditations to Discover the Mystery Within, Osho.

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