The teachings and practices of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra by Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati
Known also as the ‘Shiva Vigyana Upanishad’, the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra is a text written around 800AD but based on Tantric techniques which are thousands of years old. It belongs to Kashmir Shaivism, a system of Tantra developed in the fertile environment of Kashmir in north-western India. Though it has a solid philosophical basis, it is a mystical science less concerned with ‘why’ things are the way they are and more with ‘how’ one can Realise for oneself the deeper Reality behind existence.
The system of Tantra, closely related to Yoga, is a vast and very practical system which says, in essence, that enjoying life and Spiritual awakening are not mutually exclusive. It has a lot to offer those of us who live in modern society with commitments such as family and work, but who would like to go deeper in Spiritual Wisdom.
The word ‘vigyana’ means – wisdom and insight; perception which is free of thought; ‘bhairava’ means – literally, the fearsome form of Shiva (Consciousness) which destroys ignorance and mental conditioning. Therefore the ‘Vigyana Bhairava Tantra’ is a manual of meditational practices which can be utilised in daily life to bring about a fundamental transformation in one’s perception and awareness.
One of the basic premises of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra is that we are not as substantial or material as we think we are; our individual nature is based on energy – in Sanskrit, ‘spandan’ – creative energy which exists everywhere and which has always existed; energy poised for creative expression and transformation. This concurs closely with the findings of modern science.
Tantra does not try to deny the world, or label it as mere illusion, but rather considers, and even worships, the world as a manifestation of Shakti, the dynamic expression of Shiva (the Fundamental Intelligence underlying all things). Nothing is rejected, and every situation has the potential to open our eyes to the wonder of existence.
However, on the deepest level, our nature is Consciousness – which is qualitatively different from matter and energy.
If we can refine our energy, then this can be the catalyst for an inner explosion of Awareness and Bliss and, in turn, an insight into the nature of Consciousness itself.
The 112 Techniques given in the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra are all means of centring Awareness even in the most mundane and seemingly worldly situations. In this sense, the text is unique in that it shows us how to be in a state of Yoga from moment to moment – how to live our lives more fully and how to celebrate and realise our Essential Nature, and that of all beings, in every situation.
All of the practices are designed to calm the turbulent mind and to bring it into the present moment, for it is only in the ‘NOW’ that transformation of perception is possible. It is only the present moment that is pregnant with promise – the promise of higher Awareness.
All of the techniques given in the text are non-moralistic and non-religious. Nor are they based on philosophical speculation, for the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra is not concerned with wordy descriptions and giving us intellectual answers but rather the means to attaining those answers. Here, Spiritual life is not about thinking and debate but Communion, existential contact with Consciousness. Some of the techniques are concerned with breathing; others with emotions such as love, frustration and anger. Some are concerned with our relationship with nature; others with relations with other humans and with animals; some others with natural sounds of nature; yet others, with visualisation. In each case, the practice points its finger to the Centre of your own Being, the Source of all perceptions. The other, the external, is not the Source of perception; the Source is always within us. Every situation is designed to bring us back to our own Centre.
Whatever emotion we are experiencing in the moment, can be the means of contacting our Centre.
- Make someone angry: watch and become Centred.
- Be angry: watch and become Centred.
- Make someone happy: watch and become Centred.
- Be happy: watch and become Centred.
- Make someone laugh: watch and become Centred.
- Feel hurt by someone: always watch, become Centred and be in contact with the Source.
In some techniques, we express; in others, we suppress. Whether you express or suppress is irrelevant. There is no difference, in a sense, for suppression is merely postponed expression and expression, but expressed suppression. In both cases, we are doing something and tending to forget the Source. The techniques of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra direct our attention so that we focus spontaneously on the Centre within.
It is said that the teachings of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra were transmitted by Shiva to his wife Parvati. Shiva symbolises Consciousness and Parvati, the Spiritual seeker who is looking for meaning in life, and indeed Truth itself.
Furthermore, Tantric teachings take place in an atmosphere of love; in that totally receptive state epitomised by the relationship of Shiva and Parvati. Just as Shiva and Parvati are absorbed in each other’s presence; so, when the individual is absorbed in the presence of Consciousness, s/he forgets his/her own mundane existence. When there is empathy between the teacher and the student therefore, then there is the possibility of transcending the ego and becoming absorbed in a heightened state of Awareness.
The techniques are not done to ‘attain’ anything as such, but to discover what is already there. They are techniques of ‘effortless effort’ – to know That which is beyond all techniques. Meditation requires no technique; it is sahaja – spontaneous; but requires first that you be on the point of being spontaneous. The techniques of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra remove blockages to spontaneity, thus preparing the ground. They put us on the brink so that we can plunge into Meditation. Tantric techniques create a space inside for the flowering of Bliss.
Application in Daily Life
There is no need to disappear into a cave or escape the world. On a deeper level, there is no split between spiritual life and worldly-cum-daily life – they are all part of a Totality. We can use situations that we encounter in our day to day life as a means of awakening Awareness. The Vigyana Bhairava Tantra shows us how.
Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, joy in the virtuous and indifference towards the unvirtuous
Patanjali Yoga Sutra, I 33
Course JUne 2005
Swami Nishchalananda will be teaching a 4 day course on the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra at the Burren Yoga and Meditation Centre.
Vigyana Bhairava Tantra by Swami Nishchalananda