This little book is the Bhairava Tantra, one of the early teachings on yoga and meditation. The name, loosely translated, means “The terror and joy of realizing oneness with the Soul.” I say it is little because it is only about three thousand words in the original Sanskrit, perhaps forty minutes of chanting. It is astonishing that in so few words it describes the essence of many of the world’s meditation techniques. I call it The Radiance Sutras because it is so luminous.
A tantra is not poetry, although it may sound that way in the original and in translation. A tantra is a manual of practices. This one is a book of meditation instructions, set as a conversation between lovers. The focus is on full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and how to accept every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.
The text feels as though it was composed by a couple, a man and a woman who sang the verses to each other as they co-composed. They lived this teaching. The techniques that are described here occurred to them naturally, as an evolution of the questions they were asking of life, and their explorations of the body of love. As was the convention of the time, they frame the conversation as the Goddess and the God in them speaking. The conversation is about how to enter into the vibrant essence of the world with the dual balance of passion and detachment.
A translation of this tantra came into my hands about forty years ago, and I have worked with the methods every day since then. It has been a love affair, and I am blessed. One day I started to write a fresh version and it evolved into this book.
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 flow of delicious energies are revealed as one friend or lover would speak 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 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 aliveness, 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, to walk by the guardian of the gate, to face our terrors and make our way into the immense and timeless mystery that is always calling us.
Many of these meditations are surprisingly informal: Notice a powerful emotion, sensation, or desire, and enter into that awareness total abandon, so that you go with it right into the root movement of the universe. When making love, put your awareness into the flame of passion pulsating 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.