Vijnana Bhairava: The practice of centring (sic) awareness
Commentary by Swami Lakshman Joo
2007, Indica Books
Published in India with the verses translated by an eminent scholar Bettina Baumer; this book, is a very important work in light of the recent interest in ‘mindfulness’ based meditation practices. It is also a profound contribution to the understanding of the philosophical basis for Tantra known as Trika Kashmir Shaivism. The actual verses of the book might be familiar to some from other sources like Osho’s Book of Secrets or the older Paul Reps rendition in Zen Flesh Zen Bones. Neither of these sources have a full rendering of the text of the Vijnana Bhairava. The late Swami Lakshman Joo, who was the foremost proponent of Kashmir Shaivism before his death, provides the commentary. His commentary on the verses in the text is to the point, sometimes a little obscure to the novice, but provides the student with a better understanding of most of the practices presented in the text.
The Tantric’s understand that we have four urges in common with all animals from a one celled organism to an elephant. Those urges are for food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation. The practices in this text address many of these. For those who equate Tantra with tantric sex there are a few verses in this text that address this aspect of our human nature and use it for transcending that very nature. A group of verses from 69-74 specifically address the pleasure of sex, food, music etc., but allude to the fact that ultimately the pleasures sought are a reflection of the bliss that lies within us all. In a prelude to the actual practices the text relays that these practices are analogous to what a kind mother does for a child not yet aware of the way of the world. If the child needs harsh medicine she will do just like Mary Poppins and provide a spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. The bitter medicine being that our true nature shines through our lives incessantly and we have only lost our way in being aware of this. This awareness is peace, bliss, and happiness beyond human understanding.
There is this idea in the text, according to Kashmir Shaiva understanding, that the practices being presented are for three different types of student. What this really alludes to is the preparation of the student. Some students, for example, might require a grosser approach to awakening such as mindfulness of the physical breath. Other students, more prepared, and able to grasp subtler things will be attracted to more subtle practices.
The text closes with a profound group of verses that say that “Meditation (dhyāna) is an unwavering awareness, formless and without support. Meditation does not consist in imaginative visualization of the body (of the deity)…The real worship consists …in setting one’s mind firmly on the supreme void of thought-free consciousness.” Those who are prepared to take the bitter medicine to be free will be inspired by this book.