Devi and Shiva dancing and loving as they converse


The Bhairava Tantra is a conversation between the Goddess Who is the Creative Power of the Universe, and the God who is the Consciousness That Permeates Everywhere. For short, they call each other Devi and Bhairava, or Shakti and Shiva. They are lovers and inseparable partners, and one of their favorite places of dwelling is in the human heart. The teaching emerges from their love-play, reminding us that we are educated from within our own hearts in the spirit of love. The secret pathways in the body and the delicious energies that flow are revealed as one friend or lover would to another.

The conversation begins with the Goddess asking, “Beloved, tell me, how do I enter more deeply into the reality of the universe?” In reply Bhairava describes one hundred and twelve techniques of enlightenment through everyday life experience. Each of these is a way of attending to the rhythms, pulsations and sensuousness of the divine energy flowing through us always — and out of which we are made.

As we engage with these techniques, we are alerted to the presence of the sacred that is always permeating our bodies. All of these methods involve savoring the incredible intensity underlying the most common experiences. They work by activating the senses, extending their range further into the inner and the outer world. The basic dynamics of life – breathing, falling asleep, waking up, walking, loving, – all are used as gateways into alignment and enlightenment.

Each meditation is a dive deeper into life, into the underlying reality of what life is. Balance is there at every step: the unshakable serenity of the depths is used as a foundation so that we can tolerate the electrifying vastness of the universe. We are invited to cross the threshold, walk by the guardian of the gateway, face our terrors and make our way into the immense and timeless depths that are always calling us.

Many of these meditations are surprisingly informal: notice a powerful emotion, sensation, or desire, and enter into the awareness of that with total abandon, so that you go with it right into the root of the movement of the universe. When making love, put your awareness into the flame of passion flowing through the body, and become that flame. Falling asleep, pay attention to the transition from waking consciousness to unconsciousness, and catch a glimpse of what consciousness is in itself. Or go outside on a moonless night and be there for a long time, simply merging with the darkness and vastness of space.

The text also describes what we think of as traditional yoga meditation techniques – ways of savoring breath, sound and internal luminosity. The intimacy with the self implied in this teaching means that tantra is not a set of techniques imposed from outside. Rather, the techniques emerge naturally from one’s relationship with the Self and with Life. The tone is playful and exploratory: jump in and experience for yourself. Lose yourself in intense experience, and find your Self.

Taken as a whole, this teaching is startling in its breadth, in the huge range of human experience that it encompasses. It shatters the picture we have of what meditation is, or how meditation teachers too often present it — as a way of dissociating from the human experience and trying to rise above it. There is not a hint of the usual life-denial which permeates and distorts spirituality East and West. This tantra is about going deeply into experience, embracing it fully, without reservation. Nature is embraced as is all of human nature. Lust and passion become fires that illumine, and gusto is taken to its most refined degree possible. Meditation is presented as the nexus or meeting ground of light and matter, spirit and flesh, and the meeting is to be consummated with great joy.

You’ll find here in one place many of the essential techniques that are utilized in meditation traditions the world over. If some of the experiences the sutras describe seem familiar to you as you read this book, it may be because you have invented your own private meditation techniques, that you probably never tell anyone. Or you may have had inexplicable realizations in the midst of some life experience.

People who come for instruction in meditation often have one or more of these awareness practices already going on in their body spontaneously. Sutras such as these are there to remind us of what we already know. And they are there to invite us to go more deeply into the experience of being human.

It is likely that the same meditation techniques are invented or discovered independently around the world in different cultures, whenever people start paying attention to the subtle energies of the body. If this is true, then the Bhairava Tantra is a syllabus of the types of techniques that could be discovered anywhere. In my experience, they are discovered and rediscovered continually, by regular people and lovers.